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Gerard, John

Gerard, John

(b. at or near Nantwich, Cheshire England, 1545; d Holborn, London, England, February 1612)

botany, pharmacy, horticulture.

Gerard belonged to a branch of the family of Gerard of Ince in Lancashire. He received a grammar school education at Willaston (Wistaston), Cheshire, and was apprenticed at the age of sixteen to a London barber-surgeon, Alexander Mason, for the customary seven years. Some time thereafter he traveled, presumably as a ship’s surgeon, aboard a merchant ship of the Company of Merchant Adventurers in London trading the Baltic, for he stated later that he had been in Denmark, Sweden, (Swenia), Poland, and Russia (Muscovia). He then settled in London and probably carried on his profession of barber-surgeon while developing his horticultural interests.

By 1577 he had become superintendent of the gardens belonging to William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, at the Strand, London, and at Theobalds, Hertfordshire, a post he held for the next twenty-one years. He possessed a garden of his own at Holborn, London, so well stocked in 1597, according to George Baker, surgeon to Queen Elizabeth, with “all manner of strange trees, herbes, rootes, plants, flowers, and other such rare things, that it would make a man woonder, how one of his degree, not having the pursue of another, could ever accomplish the same.” He added, “Upon my conscience, I do not thinke for the knowledge of plants, that he is inferior to any.” In 1596 Gerard issued a catalog of his plants, the first such in England, followed by a second edition in 1599. This period was one of horticultural expansion in England, many new plants being introduced from abroad through the powerful influence of Cecil and others. Gerard undoubtfully acquired a detailed firsthand knowledge of them, which reflected in his Herball. His standing as a barber-surgeon, which necessitated a knowledge of medicinal plants, and as a practical gardener led to his appointment from 1586 to 1603 or 1604 as curator of a physic garden belonging to the College of physicians of London. In 1597 he was elected junior warden of the Barber-Surgeon’s Company and in 1608 master.

The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, first published in 1597, is the best-known and most often quoted herbal in the English language. Its lasting repute due not so much to its originality and accuracy, which are offtimes questionable, as to its entertaining Elizabethan descriptive style, its interspersed anecdotes and comments, its antique remedies, and its woodcuts.

It occupies 1,392 pages plus introductory matter and index, and has nearly 2,200 woodcut illustrations, most of which, had already been used by Tabernaemontanus (Bergzabern), whose woodblocks had been obtained from Frankfurt am Main. The work is divided into three books. The first (pp. 1-176) deals with monocotyledons, described as “Grasses, Rushes Come, Flags, Bulbose, or Onion-rooted plants”; the second (pp. 177-1076), with “all sorts of herbes for meate, medicine, or’sweetesmelling use”; and the third (pp. 1076-1392), with “trees, shrubs, bushes, fruit-hearing plants, Rosins, Gums, Roses, Heath, Mosses, Mushroms, Corall and their several kinds.” These books are divided into numerous short chapters, each dealing with a small group of plants and setting forth “the kinds, description, place, time, names, nature, and virtues, agreeing with the best received opinions.”

At the beginning Gerard, genially states his intene: “Now with our friendly labors, we will, accompagnie thee, and lead thee through a grasse plot [i.e., an account of the Gramineae], little or nothing of many Herbarists heretofore touched…Then little by little conduct thee through most pleasant gardens, and other delightfull places where any herbe or plant may be found, fit for meate or medicine.” Such a vast work was necessarily compiled from other works and much of it came from Dodoens’ Stirpiurn historiae pemtades ex (1983). Account 1584 a young London physician and Cambridge graduate Robert Priest, was requested by the London printers and booksellers Bonham and John Norton (who later published Gerard’s Herball) to translate Dodoen’s Latin work into English, and they retained his services until 1590, but this translation had evidently not been completed when he died in 1596 or 1597.

The fate of Priest’s manuscript is not known. Gerard in his preface “stated that “Doctor Priest, one of willing Readers” stated that “Doctor Priest, one of our London ’Colledge, hath (as, I heard) translated the last edition of Dononaeus, which meant to publish the same, but being prevented by death, his translation likewise perished.” Stephen Bredwell, however, in his preface to the first edition of Gerrd’s Herball implied that it then still existed. Johnson in 1633 declared, presumably on the authority of Mathias de L’Obel, that “this translation became the groundworke whereupon Mr Gerard built up this work,” thus directly accusing Gerard of dishonesty concealing his major source. The whole truth of this matter can never be known. It would seem probable, as indicated by Jeffers, that Gerard, with the help of L’Obel, was engaged in compiling a book about plants before Priest began his translation of Dodoens; that Gerard’s book had not reached a state fit for publication when Priest relinquished his task; and that Norton then requested Gerard to produce a work of like character which became the Herball.

To what extent Gerard was indebted to Priest’s work is quite uncertain. Although this book is probably not so gross an example of successful piracy and plagiarism as it is sometimes considered, Gerard’s honesty has certainly been much questioned and little defended since the adverse comments and accusations rendered in the preface to the second edition (1633) by its editor and reviser Thomas Johnson (1604-1644): His Chiefe commendation is, that he, out of a propense good will to the publique advancement of this knowledge, endeavoured to performe therein mote than he could well accomplish; which was partly through want of sufficient learning.” The care bestowed by Johnson in correcting what Raven calls “the errors of Gerard’s book, the misplaced pictures, the confused species, the blunders of fact” and madding much new material made his edition (often cited as Ger. emac., i.e., Gerardus emaculatus) a popular and standard work, which proved of especial value in promoting the study of the British flora well into the eighteenth Century. Yet, the Herball as published contains so much that undoubtedly came from Gerard himself, and its production, even with the possible aid of Priest’s translation, was so massive a task that it seems charitable to credit him with the whole, It remains a valuable source of information about the plants available in western European gardens at the end of the sixteenth century and about the Latin and vernacular names then applied to them.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. The two eds. of Catalogus arborum fruticum ac plantarum tam indigenarum, qua, exoticarum in horto Johannis Gerardi (London, 1596; 2nd ed., 1599) are both reprinted in A Catalogue of Plants Cultivated in the Garden of John Gerard, in the Years 1596-1599; Edited With Notes, References to Gerard’s Herball, the Addition of Modern Names, and a Life of the Author, B. D. Jackson, ed. (London, 1876). Gerard’s major work is The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes Gathered by John Gerard Master in Chirurgie (London, 1597; repro 1598); extracts from the ’’very much enlarged and amended” ed, by Thomas Johnson (London, 1633) are in Marcus Woodward, Gerard’s Herball, the Essence Thereof Distilled (London, 1927; repr., 1964).

II.Secondary Literature. The best source of biographical information is in Jackson (see above), supplemented by R H. Jeffers, The Friends of John Gerard(1545-1612), Surgeon and Botanist (Falls Villages, Conn., 1967). There is an excellent chapter on Gerard, particularly in relation to the British flora, in C.E. Raven, English Naturalists From Neckam to Ray (Cambridge, 1947), pp. 204-217.

William T. Stearn

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Gerard, John

Gerard, John (1564–1637). Jesuit. Gerard was from a Lancashire catholic gentry family and was sent to Douai. He was ordained priest at Rome in 1586 and joined the Jesuits in 1588. Captured on a mission to England, he made a daring escape from the Tower in 1597. He was on the fringes of the Gunpowder plot, aware that something was afoot, but ignorant of the details. He managed to make his escape in 1606 and spent the rest of his life in catholic teaching institutions on the continent. His autobiography throws much light on English catholicism under James I.

J. A. Cannon

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John Gerard

John Gerard (1545–1612), English herbalist. Gerard was qualified as a barber-surgeon in London and soon developed an interest in plants, particularly those with medicinal properties. He was curator of the physic garden of the College of Surgeons and published his Herball, containing over 1,800 woodcuts, in 1597. It became the best-known English herbal.

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Gerard, John

John Gerard (jĕr´ärd, jərärd´), 1545–1612, English botanist and barber-surgeon. He compiled a catalog (1596) of the plants in his garden, the first of its kind to be published in England. He is best known for his Herball (1597), largely an adaptation of other works to which he added bits of folklore and some original observations.

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