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Hortus Sanitatis

Mainz : Jacob Meydenbach, 1491

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The Hortus, or Ortus, Sanitatis, the Garden of Health, is a rich compendium of information and misinformation which combines elements of natural history with those of the herbal.To some extent it is a translation of an earlier Latin work but it gives more information as to the medicinal qualities of the plants included and it contained new, long., sections on animals, fish, birds and minerals.

The animal section is particularly interesting with woodcuts and discussions of all manner of mythical as well as real animals including merpeople, unicorns, basilisks and monkfish and dogfish which are portrayed respectively as having the real heads of monks and dogs. Although ostensibly medical in purpose, the book also features many of the standard medieval bestiary accounts including the story of the phoenix, of how bear cubs were born formless and licked into shape by their parents, and how the pelican pricks its breast to feed its young with its own blood.

The world of fable extends to the botanical area. Included for example the "Bausor Tree" which was believed , like the Upas Tree, to give forth a narcotic poison - in the accompanying woodcut two men are shown beneath it, deep in the sleep of death. Another plant to appear was the mandrake.

The rich variety of the woodcuts makes this a very attractive book. The engraver was a skilled craftsman, but there is some botanical retrogression, since he did not always fully understand the plants he was copying from previous cuts. Full page illustrations introduce each section. One of the things to look for is the representation of qualities by symbols e.g. "Bread" is illustrated by a housewife with her loaves; "wine" by a man gazing at a glass: "water" represented by a fountain.

Gerarde, John. The Herball or General historie of plantes...

London : John Norton, 1597

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This is probably the most famous of the English herbals. John Gerarde, 1545-1612, was apprenticed to one of the leading surgeons of his day and eventually rose to become warden of the Barber-Surgeons Company. As the officer responsible it was his role to examine and license to practice, all those who aspired to become surgeons. His true interest however lay in botany and he cultivated a celebrated garden in Holborn from which, in 1596, he published a list of his plants.

He dedicated his herbal to Lord Burghley, whose gardens both in the Strand and at Theobalds were in his charge. It is probably true that most of his work was taken from the Stirpium Historiae Pemptades Sex of 1583 by the Belgian botanist Rembert Dodoens. This was being translated into English by one Robert Priest, who died before the completion of his work, and John Norton, the publisher, handed the unfinished manuscript to Gerarde. Gerarde altered the arrangement to fit the system of the French botanist Matthias de l'Obel and added information derived from his practical experience, such as places in England where the plants could be found, and uses in medicine, cooking etc. For example, Gerarde is the major source of information on Elizabethan plant dyes, and it was from here that William Morris was able to obtain the information for his Arts and Crafts movement. Unfortunately he also included mythical plants such as the barnacle tree.

In addition, Gerarde had obtained somehow the series of woodblocks which had been used at Frankfurt for the production of the work Eicones plantarum by Jacob Dietrich of Bergzabern, better known as Tabernaemontanus. These he included in his work but sometimes, either through ignorance or impatience, he sometimes placed the wrong descriptions against some woodcuts. Gerarde, to give him his due, does include a number of new plants, one of the most important and now familiar of which was the potato.

A second, revised edition which was edited by Thomas Johnson appeared in 1633. This edition corrected many of Gerarde's earlier mistakes.

Topsell, Edward. The History of four-footed beasts and serpents

London : Printed by E. Cotes for G. Sawbridge ...., 1658

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Edward Topsell, ?-1638, was one of those clergymen who over the years have provided the backbone of English science. Educated at Christ's College, Cambridge, he was first the rector of East Hoathly and then the perpetual curate of St Botolph's in Aldersgate. His first book was entitled the Reward of Religion.

This, his major work, was first published in London in 1607 and re-printed in 1658. Topsell's History came at a transitional time in science and intimations of what we would now call "proper scientific method" are clearly visible, yet Topsell is also anxious to defer to the authority represented by classical sources. This results in the situation where we have exotic attributes being assigned to well known animals as well as fantastic creatures being represented.

Some examples of this are that weasels give birth through their ears, that lemmings graze in the clouds, and that elephants become pregnant by chewing mandrake etc. In addition Topsell reports that dragons are extremely partial to eating lettuce but avoid apples because they cause stomach upsets. People of Topsell's period accepted these stories because they were circulated by the authorities of the time.

NEWTON, Isaac. Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

London : Societatis Regiae, 1687

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Isaac Newton, 1643-1727, the great English mathematician and physicist, is rightly considered one of the greatest scientists in history. He made contributions to many fields of science. He was, for example, one of the inventors of the branches of mathematics called calculus - the other was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz - and he solved the mysteries of light and of optics. Even if he had not done any of these things however his fame would still be secured by this one book, the Philosophiae Naturalis Pricipia Mathematica, the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, published in 1687 and still widely regarded as the most important book in the history of science.

In 1684, the Royal Society comissioned Edmund Halley to look into some of the problems surrounding the principles of planetary motion. On visiting Newton, Halley was told to his surprise that Newton had already solved the problem i.e. that the force between the sun and planets, resulting in an elliptical orbit, operated according to an inverse square law and that Newton had proved it. Halley and Pepys, the then President of the Royal Society, pressured Newton into writing a book. Newton who was reluctant to publish anything, partly because of his long running dispute with Robert Hooke, only reluctantly agreed, and then only if Halley would undertake all the costs of publication and see the book through the press. Newton is estimated to have completed the manuscript draft inside seventeen months.

With the publication of the Principia, Newton established the modern science of dynamics by formulating his three laws of motion, which appeared here for the first time. Newton applied these laws to Kepler's laws of orbital motion and derived the law of universal gravitation, which explains how all bodies in space and on earth are affected by the force called gravity. Newton thus explained a wide variety of previously unexplained and unrelated phenomena - the eccentric orbit of comets, the tides and their variations, the precession of the earth's axis, and the motion of the moon as well as explaining the behaviour of orbiting bodies, projectiles and pendulums. This work alone was to establish Newton as the greatest of all physical scientists.

The number of copies printed, including reissues, is thought to have been around 250. They sold out immediately upon publication, so any copy of the first edition is a great rarity. This copy is much more than that. It had long been known that Newton, and his asssitant Roger Cotes, had sent copies to other mathematicians for their comment, in order to eliminate any errors in a second edition which was to eventually appear in 1709. At least three of these annotated and corrected copies were known to exist, two in the University of Cambridge Library and the other in the Library of Trinity College. The University of Sydney copy, a fourth of this type, was first noted to exist as late as 1952.

Originally it was thought that the corrections and five pages of manuscript notes relate to the copy given by Newton to the Swiss mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier and completed by Roger Cotes. It has now been determined, after further study, that these notes are in the hand of John Craig, 1663-1731, a noted Scottish mathematician and a friend of Newton who wrote several works on the new calculus. Other marginal annotations, and occasional alterations to the diagrams, are in two other hands, and are based on these main notes and corrections. Those corrections to the diagrams have been claimed to be by Newton himself. Certainly many of them appear in the second edition.

The book was given to the University of Sydney Library in 1961 by a Miss Barbara Bruce-Smith of Bowral. It had been the treasured possession of her father, the late Hon. Arthur Bruce-Smith, barrister and Queen's Counsel, who had been a member of both the New South Wales and Federal Parliaments, and who was one of the drafters of the Constitution.

Bruce-Smith acquired the book in 1908 from a Sydney resident, Mr H.C.Elderton, who had received it as a portion of personal property in an estate which had been in Chancery. According to Elderton, the copy had belonged to a family named James, of Ightham Court in Kent, more specifically one Sir Demetrius James, who is supposed to have been knighted about the year 1685. The Principia, along with a number of other old books, formed a small collection which had been packed away in oak chests stored in an old clock tower where they had remained for nearly 200 years before being brought to Australia.

Galilei, Galileo. Philosophi ac mathematici summi systema cosmicum in quo dialogis IV ...

Lugduni Batavorum : Apud Fredericum Haaring et Davidem Severinem, 1699. Siderius nuncius. 1653

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Galileo Galilei, commonly known as Galileo, was a native of Pisa where he became professor of mathematics. Here, from the study of falling bodies, (dropping them off the leaning tower) he discovered the laws of dynamics. In 1610, with the aid of his invention of the telescope, he discovered the four moons of Jupiter and revolutionized the study of astronomy. He adopted the Copernican theory of the solar system which he elaborated in his Siderius Nuncius and other works. This brought him into conflict with the Inquisition as the Church still espoused the Ptolemaic system.

In 1616, the Copernican theory was condemned at Rome and Galileo was forbidden "to hold, teach, or defend it". The Church took a long time to act in the case of Copernicus, some 73 years as De Revolutionibus was published in 1543. This was probably due to a number of factors: Copernicus was a canon in a monastery and he dedicated the book to Pope Paul III; it contained a preface (later discovered by Kepler not to have been written by Copernicus) that stated that the geocentric system proposed was only an hypothesis and made no claims about how the universe was really consituted. But with Galileo's writings, which reached out to a wide audience and brought the Copernican arguement into the mainstream of educated discourse, the Church finally acted.

In 1632 Galileo broke silence and published the Dialogo.Though his works represent one of the great turning points in the history of human thought, in 1633 they were turned over to the Inquisition and banned by Pope Urban VI as a heresy and a breach of good faith. Galileo was examined by the Inquisition under threat of torture. He was sentenced to imprisonment and to public recantation of his beliefs. His famous words "Eppur si muove" - "None the less it does move" - are probably apocryphal. He was released after a few months imprisonment.

After his death in 1642, his common-law wife submitted his manuscripts on telescopes and pendulums to her confessor who destroyed them as heretical works. They were to remain on the Index of Prohibited Books until 1824.

NEWTON, Isaac. Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

London : Societatis Regiae, 1687

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Diagram detail.