1568 The Secretes of the Reverende Maister Alexis of Piemount (likely Ruscelli). Alchemy, distilling, medicine, chemistry, etc.


An early English edition of the "Secretes" book that "unleashed a torrent (wikipedia)" of editions and copycat works. The "Secretes" book, supposedly authored by an Alexis of Piemount, met with great success after the first edition of 1555 (Ai Lettori Preposta ai Secreti, Venice), being translated and reprinted hundreds of times. The book divulges "excellent remedies", for wounds, diseases, perfumes, inks, etc. and is considered an "alchemical and technological recipe book".

The work wasn't meant only for the erudite; the title page expressly states, "A work wel approved, very profitable and necessary for every man".

The work is an excellent snapshot of mid-16th century medicine and chemistry. Turning the pages we find recipes for "prolongeth the life", "blow with a sworde", "heale the pestilence", "water to make the face appear of the age of five and twentie", "die bones in a greene colour", "make a kind of vernish", "practise to cast mettalles", etc..

The infamous "aqua vitae" (water of life) makes an appearance on the second page of the second part; a distilling of wine making something like brandy.

Supposedly, Ruscelli later wrote that the "Secreti" (this book) contained the experimental results of an 'Academy of Secrets" that he and a group of humanists and nobleman founded in Naples in the 1540s (Secreti Nuovi di Maravilgliosa Virtu..., published posthumously by Frencsco Sansovino).

About this Edition -

Printed in London in 1568 by Henry Bynneman, for John Wight. It was translated out of the Italian by a William Warde. Bynneman also printed the first Welsh New Testament and works by Edmund Spenser, Holinshed's Chronicles, George Tuberville, among others.

This binding has both parts one and two, printed by Bynneman. In looking at the copies in the world's libraries, these were often paired with a parts 3 and 4 printed by Henry Denham (pt. 3 dated 1566,but likely 1569, and pt.4 1569)

About Ruscelli -

Italian writer and cartographer. His best know written works include translations of the classics including the Decameron and Orlando Furioso. His maps are well-regarded and collected.

Provenance -

Interesting note, on the last preliminary leaf, in a fancy cursive 16th century hand, "This is george (?) booke...".

Bibliographic Details -

Universal Short Title Catalogue number 506810 - 19 copies found in many of the world's best libraries including The Folger, Bodleian, Houghton (Harvard), among others.

English Short Title Catalogue number - 006172163

Worldcat catalogue OCLC number 14213387

Physical Attributes -

Measures approx. 19 x 14 x 4 cm. Calf binding. Boards with the faint remains of a central medallion and outer frame in blind. Spine with four raised bands, the date of publication and author in gilt in two compartments.

Two printer's marks at the title pages, and one mermaid printer's mark at the colophon of part 1. Some decorated initials and tailpieces.

Pages part one - (6 preliminary leaves), 117, [23] - index

Collation part one - *6, A-Q8

Part 2 missing the eighth leaf.

Pages part two - 1-8, 9-75, [11] - index

Collation part two - A7, B-K8

Condition -

See pictures. Binding heavily worn and respined. Edge wear, rubbing, scrapes, etc. Front joint cracked at top half. Ties between the boards expired (leaving open spots). Several small cracks at rear joint. Edges darkened. Fresher endpapers. Front pastedown with some notes. Toned throughout. Title page with some manuscript notes, heavy thumbing, some creases and a chip along the fore-edge. Some thumbing throughout. Occasional dog-eared page, fox spot, ink spot, etc. throughout. Last preliminary leaf with ownership annotations. Ink smudge on page 1. 3" tear from top-edge at page 12, no loss. Last three leaves of part one table chipped at bottom corner. Several marks on 58 verso 59 recto of second part. Missing leaf 8 of second part. A few worm tracks at rear endpaper and gutter.

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