It’s St. Patrick’s Day, a day when pictures of shamrocks are omnipresent, and in LMH spring is very definitely in the air: the first fritillaries have emerged in the woods behind the Fellows’ Garden to join the daffodils (although the main fritillary season will be in a month or so). As such it seemed a good time to turn to our botanical collections for this week’s LMH Object. We are lucky to have copies of both of the masterpieces by John Parkinson (1567–1650), one of the great English writers who straddled the divide between the last herbalists and the first botanists: apothecary to James I and Royal Botanist to Charles I. Both of our copies of his books were given to us by Katharine Mary Briggs (1898–1980), an LMH Alumni who studied folklore and 17th-century English history, and very generously gave us the core of our rare books collection.
Parkinson’s first great work was Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629), a guide to the laying out and cultivation of flower gardens, kitchen gardens, and orchard gardens. It is famous for its large and beautiful full-page plates, showing the plants he discusses—as well as for the terrible pun in its name (Parkinson’s Park-in-Sun Terrestrial Paradise). Our copy is not the original edition, but the beautiful 1904 reproduction made by Methuen, which wonderfully captures the feel of the original. Here you can see pages 41 and 71, the fritillaries and daffodils.
Parkinson knew that he wanted to write about herb gardens and medicinal plants after his Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, but it took another 11 years before his Theatrum Botanicum was finally published, in 1640 (it was apparently delayed partly because Thomas Johnson’s editions of Gerard’s Herball in 1633 and 1636 cornered the market). When it finally arrived the wait was worth it, however, as Parkinson covered many more plant species than Gerard, including being the first author to describe a number of native British plants that had never received formal academic attention before. Our copy is the first edition, and is particularly interesting because it includes a large number of corrections done by an early owner, when the Latin classification of plants was in a state of flux. For example, in this image of clovers from page 1110, the early owner has noted that the white clover or shamrock, Trifolium pratense album, was now known as Trifolium repens (the name it has retained to this day). We know the name of our careful annotator, Geo: Heyward, but sadly nothing else.