Two copies of a popular medieval text on alchemy feature in this batch.
The Summa perfectionis magisterii (The Height of the Perfection of Mastery) is by the 13th century author known as Pseudo-Geber, although now tentatively assigned to Paul of Taranto. Described as being one of the clearest accounts of the rather obscure science of alchemy, the work circulated widely in manuscript before being printed in this edition of 1486-90. Not suprisingly, both our copies of this book are to be found in the collection of Professor John Ferguson.
One of the copies (Ferguson An-y.10), in particular, is fascinating for its extensive annotations. These include marginal diagrams of alchemical equipment and apparatus. Perhaps the book’s early owner sought to understand (and possibly dreamt even to recreate) the alchemical process of the transmutation of base metals into gold – certainly, there are copious marginal annotations, nota marks and underlinings throughout the text in more than one 16th century hand, indicating close study of the volume. Furthermore, for ease of rerference, an early reader has also foliated the book and then created an index referring to that foliation. This strongly suggests a practical use of the text.
Unusually (for our books anyway), this copy survives in a contemporary blind tooled binding. And although we do not know who originally owned it, we can trace one provenance prior to Ferguson: a book label on the front pastedown shows that it belonged to Jean Antoine Colladon-Martin (1755-1830), who was a Swiss pharmacist and chemist. Perhaps he had a semi-professional interest in the volume – just like Ferguson, our 19th century Chemistry Professor (who incidentally acquired it via the Munich bookseller Jacques Rosenthal in 1893).
Meanwhile, a clue to an earlier owner perhaps lies in a motto found on the front free endpaper. This is “In vitiu[m] ducit culpae fuga”, a quote from the ‘De arte poetica’ by Horace: avoidance of error leads to fault – or as Hugh Moore perhaps more helpfully translates in ‘A dictionary of quotations from various authors in ancient and modern languages …’ (1831) “In avoiding one fault, we sometimes run into another”. Is this a remark on the text (perhaps a frustrated reflection on the difficulty of forming the elixir of the philosopher’s stone??) or the motto adopted by a particular person? If anyone can enlighten us, please get in touch!
Of course, it was fairly common for early (and even later) readers to add their mottos to books as a sign of ownership. For more examples, see our annotations index.
The latest ten books to be added to the project website are:
- Vergilius Maro, Publius: Opera Venice: Andreas de Paltasichis, 1 Sept. 1488
- Columella, Lucius Junius Moderatus: De re rustica lib. X [Venice: Printer of Cicero, ‘De officiis’ (H 5268*), ca. 1481-82]
- Statius, Publius Papinius: Achilleis Brescia: Jacobus Britannicus, 21 May 1485
- Sancto Georgio, Johannes Antonius de: Super quarto libro Decretalium Pavia: Antonius de Carcano, 24 May 1476
- Anonymous: Margarita Davitica, seu Expositio psalmorum [Augsburg: Günther Zainer, ca. 1475-76]
- Seneca, Lucius Annaeus: Opera philosophica. Epistolae Venice: Bernardinus de Choris, de Cremona and Simon de Luere, 5 Oct. 1490
- Macrobius, Aurelius Theodosius: In Somnium Scipionis expositio. Saturnalia Venice: [Johannes Rubeus Vercellensis], 29 June 1492
- Bartholomaeus Anglicus: De proprietatibus rerum [Dutch] Haarlem: Jacob Bellaert, 24 Dec. 1485
- Geber [pseudo-]: Summa perfectionis magisterii etc [Rome: Eucharius Silber, 1486-90]
Categories: Special Collections