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A Tudor Herbal

In the era before artificial chemicals, herbs were an essential part of popular culture, vital to almost every aspect of existence from cookery and cleaning to medicine and personal grooming. Illustrated books known as herbals systematically described plants of all kinds. This rare herbal is Leonhart Fuchs's De historia stirpium of 1542. Fuchs—for whom the plant and the color fuchsia are named—was one of the German fathers of botany, and the woodblock illustrations in his work are both accurate and elegant.

This hand-colored copy of Fuchs's work is of special interest because it was once owned by the sixteenth-century English naturalist Henry Dingley. Dingley's copious annotations date from the time when Shakespeare was ten years old, and they include some 25 plants Dingley saw on the banks of the Avon River. Among them was the winter cherry, or Chinese lantern plant, seen here on the righthand page with Dingley's accompanying note in brown ink, "This growithe in the beare garden at evyssham and in other gardens in evissam and in stradforde vpon avon in grete plente." (Or, in modern English, "This groweth in the Bear Garden at Evesham and in other gardens in Evesham and in Stratford-upon-Avon in great plenty.")

Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium. Basel, 1542.

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