Feature of the month: commemorating Konrad Gesner

The newe iewell of health
Konrad Gesner
London: H. Denham, 1576
[D.-L.L.] X9 [Gesner] SR

The year 2015 marks the 450th anniversary of the death of the Swiss naturalist, physician, [botanist, bibliographer and linguist Konrad Gesner, or Conrad Gessner (1516-1565). The newe iewell of health, ‘gathered out of the best and most approved authors by that excellent Doctor Gesnerus’, commemorates Gesner here in his capacity as a physician.

Gesner produced the first part of the work anonymously under the title Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri, De remediis secretis in 1552. The second part was published posthumously in 1569 as Euonymus, siue, remediis secretis, pars secunda. Among other things, the work produces a lengthy abstract of the Paduan Gabriel Fallopius’s oak galls test for vitriol or alum when determining the ingredients of a mineral water, and hence popularises a test which was less well known through Fallopius’s own work (1564).

Gesner’s text deals with distilled medicines, seen as better than all others. The ailments, if not the remedies, remain familiar. Distilled water from crab apples, three ounces to be sweetened with sugar and drunk three times a day, helps to cure dysentery and cleanses the kidneys and bladder, while washing the face with unripened crab apple water cures facial sunburn and removes pimples. Rubbing the head with the water of peach tree flowers cures headache. Water from mallows is especially versatile. Four ounces, sweetened with sugar and drunk four times, cure stitches or pleurisy and purges wounds; applied to the temples, this water promotes sleep; rubbed on to the feet of a feverish person it procures rest and does away with thirst;  dropped into the ears and applied outside them it eliminates abscesses behind the ears; if it is drunk and if linen clothes are dipped in it and placed on the belly it cures diarrhoea; and dropped into the eyes several times a day it restores decayed sight.

The work was speedily translated into French (1573) and German (1576) as well as English. This English translation is by George Baker (1540-1600), a surgeon and Master of the Barber Surgeons Company who wrote and translated a number of medical texts. This copy contains underlinings and marginal annotations by an early owner.

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