Lot 1647
  • 1647

Plinius Secundus, Gaius (23/24-79 AD).

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  • Plinius Secundus, Gaius (23/24-79 AD).
[Historiae naturalis libri xxxvii, edited by Giovanni Andrea Bussi, Bishop of Aleria]. Rome: C. Sweynheym & A. Pannartz, [not after 30 August] 1470


A. This book was clearly presented to a layman of importance, and very probably French, whose quartered arms (alas, scratched out and now illegible) were to be found in the roundel at the foot of the decorated leaf which begins book II. The decoration etc. of the main body of the text is clearly Roman, but the much smaller initials (2-line and 3-line, gold on a blue and white ground) in part of Book I look French, as does the initial N in book XVII, and these may have been added later.

B. Although the earlier provenance is unclear, the later French provenance of this copy is described in the following inscription written on the front vellum fly-leaf: "Ex bibliotheca & beneficio francisci a cruce cenomana [la croix de maine written over] Pliniana haec historia pervenit ad Nicolaum Michaelem Pratensem, amicum suum integerrimum. Anno do. 1587. et dominus Prateus medicinae doctor Cadomensis dedit dno de Sauignj. Tande, dnus de Sauignj hanc ipsam aeternum possidendam reliquit PP. Collegij Cadomensis Societatis Jesu. An. Dnj 1616. [in another larger hand] Patres Collegij Regij Cadomensis Societatis JESV hanc eandem Plinianam Historiam Illustrissimo Viro Domino Foucault Comitij Consistoriano, in Inferiori Normannia rej cum aerariae tum Judiciariae praefecto aeternum gratj animi monumentum dedere. Anno Dnj 1704" ("From the library and munificence of Francois de la Croix du Maine of Le Mans this Natural History of Pliny came to Nicolas Michel Després, his most sincere friend in 1587. Després, doctor of medicine of Caen gave it to the Sieur de Savigny and he finally gave it in 1616 to the fathers of the Jesuit College at Caen as an object to be kept for ever. In 1704 the fathers of the Jesuit College at Caen gave this same Natural History of Pliny to the most illustrious Sieur Foucault as an eternal monument of their gratitude").

The named persons:

1. Francois Grudé Sieur de la Croix du Maine (1552-1592) was born at Le Mans and died at Tours. A historian of great learning - he is said to have arrived at Paris with three cartloads of books and papers - he is chiefly famous for his Bibliothèque françoise published first in 1584. This work includes a section addressed to Henri III on how "dresser une bibliothèque parfaite et accomplie de tous points". He gave it to:

2. 1587 Nicolas Michel, sieur Després (d. 1597) was a native of Caen, and was not only a distinguished physician (created M.D. 17 February 1591) but also a scholar, "professeur de lettres humaines", who published in 1582 at Caen Epitome Topicorum of Cicero, a tract of four leaves of which only one copy is known at Caen (Aquilon p. 162 no. 26), and in 1588 his own Strenae or New Year's Gifts (one is reminded of Kepler; this was reprinted Paris, 1598; Arbour 831 & 19421). His funeral oration was given by Cahaignes, De morte Nicolai Micaelis oratio funebris habita Cadomi 7 Oct. 1597 (Caen: widow of J. Lebas, 1597 who also published an 'éloge' in his Elogiorum civium Cadomensium centuria prima, Caen, 1609 pp. 109-112; French translation with notes 'd'un curieux', Caen, 1880 pp. 289-293). He left it to:

3. c. 1597 The Sieur de Savigny another Caen luminary, who gave it to:

4. 1616 The Jesuit College of Caen. 

The University of Caen had been founded by King Henry VI of England in 1432 (indeed Caen stone was used at first to build Eton College chapel), and given a new charter by Charles VII of France in 1452. A printing press was established there in 1480, the first book being an edition of Horace’s Epistolae (copy at BNF), and flourished thereafter. In the seventeenth century almost 1000 items were printed at Caen, many of them schoolbooks, and many of them by the local Jesuits. The Jesuits presented it to:

5. 1704 Nicolas Joseph Foucault, marquis de Magny (1643-1721) with his large armorial bookplate. He was the son of Charles Foucault (c. 1620-1691) a protegé of Colbert, who, it is said, worked only in his dressing gown and night cap, which Molière is said to have borrowed to play Le malade imaginaire. In 1641 he had married Marie Métezeau, daughter of the intendant des bâtiments du roi, and had eight children. She died and he remarried Bossuet’s sister, but the match was unhappy and ended in financial wrangling.

Nicolas-Joseph Foucault was the first son of the first marriage. His elder sister was born in November 1641 and he was born 8 January 1643 in Paris (Mémoires p. 3; the DBF is in error). He studied first at Paris (theology), then (1665) law at Orleans, and was called to the Paris Bar in 1665. Colbert’s interest led to his preferment. Early in 1674 he was made intendant at Montauban, where he had a difficult time with both the local gentry and gypsies, and showed himself zealously anti-protestant. In fact his zeal in suppressing heresy was unpleasantly developed. Exiled at Colbert’s death in September 1683 to Béarn, he found himself at Pau and there engaged in a prolonged struggle against the local Calvinists and made many forced conversions. On moving to Poitiers he carried on in much the same vein, but fell foul of a number of influential figures. In January 1689 he was appointed intendant of Caen in Normandy. Caen is not too far from Versailles and moderating his anti-protestant zeal, Foucault was much at court, where he became a friend of the duc d’Orléans, the future regent (remembered by book collectors for his Longus). In 1701 he was elected to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. In 1706 he resigned his intendance in favour of his son, a spendthrift and a ‘bad lot’ who caused his father many problems. Foucault himself went to live in Paris in 1704, the year in which he was made conseiller d'état, and died there in February 1721/2.

His prodigious library was rich in great manuscripts and printed books, and he obviously had a penchant for books on vellum. He was at one time owner of the celebrated Sherbourne Missal, later the property of the Dukes of Northumberland and since 1998 in the British Library. His collection of antiquities was praised by Montfaucon: "toujours attentif à faire plaisir aux gens de lettres, il a prévenu ceux qui travaillaient sur l'antiquité, et, comme un autre Peiresc, il leur a offert avec plaisir ce qu'il n' avoit ramassé que pour l'utilité publique...". Not only did he collect for himself, but he had also been very active in amassing manuscripts and books for Colbert earlier in his career, and these eventually made their way into the French public collections.

In Caen his librarian and antiquarian was none other than Antoine Galland (1646-1711), the orientalist and the first translator into French of The Arabian Nights, and it was Galland who catalogued and arranged the collections and published materials from it. Whilst in Caen Foucault did much for the community, founding in 1704 a chair of hydrography and organising a fête in the same year to mark the birth of the duc de Bretagne, of which he gives us a detailed account in his Mémoires. Galland's catalogue of Foucault's library is in the bibliothèque municipale at Caen (MS. 518).

The dispersal of Foucault's books seems to have taken place over a number of years and not just after his death; indeed as Delisle says "la bibliothèque de F. fut dispersée, et ce malheur s'accomplit... du vivant même de celui qui l'avait formée". Baluze already had a Foucault manuscript before 1719, and le Long writing in the same year says that many manuscripts had passed into the library of M. l'abbé de Rothelin. We know from the Paris journal of Antoine Galland (edited by Henri Omont for the Société de l' histoire de Paris et de l'isle de France vol. 46 (1920) p. 82 no. 174) that Galland saw on the quais in Paris on Monday 21 July 1710 one of his manuscripts, and was extremely surprised: "Je fus fort surpris, en passant par le quai des Augustins, d'y trouver, sur l'estalage d'un libraire, la Bible de Saint-Lô, imprimée sous Charles IX, en françois qui venait de la bibliothèque de M. Foucault, et où l'estampe de ses armes estoit appliquée au commencement. Ma surprise fut d'autant plus grande que M. Foucault avoit tesmoigné de mons tems [as librarian] un grand empressement d'acquérir indifférement toutes sortes de bonnes éditions de la Bible...". This Bible de Saint-Lô is a French protestant (Geneva) Bible printed at Saint-Lô in 1562, of which only three copies are recorded. 

The Recueil de cinq romans tres anciens about which Galland wrote in the Mémoires of the Académie in 1717, was already in 1725 in the sale of Du Fay's library (no. 1889=BMF Ms. Fr. 1450). Châtre de Cangé acquired a number of books, e.g. the Palmerin d'Angleterre, Lyons: Payen, 1553 (now BNF Res Y2 142) in 1719, and the Horae of King René (BNF Ms lat. 17332) which had been offered to Foucault by the duc de la Tremouille, went in his sale to the duc de la Vallière. Many of Foucault's manuscripts had passed into the enormous collection of Charles d'Orléans, abbé de Rothelin (1691-1744), which was sold in Paris in 1747 (catalogue dated 1746). It was at this sale that the Sherbourne Missal was sold (no. 248), and it was from this date that others passed into Scottish, German, Danish and other collections (L. Delisle, Le Cabinet des manuscrits, Paris 1868, iii, 379).

The dispersal is also well illustrated by other volumes in English collections, all acquired before the middle of the eighteenth century, many at a sale held in London by Thomas Ballard on 20 February 1720/1 (BL S.C. 258 (6), A catalogue of choice and valuable books in most faculties and languages, etc.).

This sale saw wholesale purchases of manuscripts by Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford, and these are now in the British Library (see Wright, Fontes Harleiani (London: British Museum, 1972, pp. 155-156), but the Pliny is not among the books offered.

The Bodleian Library has from the Rawlinson bequest of 1755 twenty-one French manuscript Books of Hours, three of them in bindings with Foucault's arms, and all having his bookplate, and several incunabula: an imperfect copy of the Mainz 1462 Bible (B239) acquired in 1750 (bookplate); Franc’s Le Champion des dames (F-092), given in 1834 by Francis Douce (arms on covers); a Horae use of Bayeux printed on vellum at Paris for Regnault at Caen in 1487 (H-151), bequeathed in 1755; another Paris Horae use of Rome, printed in Paris in 1488, previously belonging to Brouyneau, provost of Thouars (H175); Horae use of Toul, 1499 (H-193) and a Tours Horae of 1491 (H-194). There is one manuscript at Ushaw College (Ker, Medieval manuscripts iv, 436) and another at the Fitzwilliam (MS 92), both of them French Horae. "Je ramasse toujours de vieilles heures et j'en reçois de touttes les provinces du royaume; j'en ay desjà cent vingt-trois, entres lesquelles il y [en] a de très-riches et de très-curieuses", wrote Foucault on 20 March 1703 (Delisle i, 373).

It would seem likely that this Pliny was on the market in the 1720s, when we know the first Earl of Macclesfield, recently ennobled and about to acquire a great house, was busy collecting, and that this volume and others from the collection, like the Gaguin, were in England probably before the death of Foucault, but it is possible that they did not reach England until later.


HC *13088; BMC iv 9; Goff P458; IGI 7879; BSB-Ink P600; Rhodes 1437; Bodleian XVc. P-359. The collations given in BMC & Bodleian for the paper copies yield 378 leaves, of which ff. 1, 377-378 blank. This copy clearly has 6 leaves in quire [2nd]o and no blanks, except the first. There are therefore 376 leaves.

For Pliny and his editors and commentators see Martin Davies, "Making sense of Pliny in the Quattrocento", Renaissance Studies 9 (1995), 240-257.

For the scientific importance of Pliny's book see: R. French & F. Greenaway, editors, Science in the early Roman empire: Pliny the elder, his sources and influence (London & Sidney: Croom Helm, 1986); Mary Beagon, Roman Nature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992); John F. Healy, Pliny the elder on science and technology (Oxford: OUP, 1999).

For the text of Pliny see the Teubner text of Mayhoff (Leipzig, 1906); the Loeb edition by Rackham and others (London & Cambridge Mass., 1942-62) and the Budé edition, edited by various hands vols. 1-3, 5i, 6ii, 7-37 (Paris, 1947-98); book VII has just been published with a detailed commentary and translation by Mary Beagon, The elder Pliny of the human animal etc. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), with extensive bibliography.

Catalogue Note

a magnificent copy of the greatest natural history and scientific encyclopaedia of the ancient world, printed on vellum and decorated in a roman workshop.  A work uniting the "learning of classical and hellenistic Greece with the old traditions of Rome... [and with] new knowledge brought back from the ends of the world by Roman traders and armies" (T. Murphy, Pliny the Elder’s Natural History: The empire in the Encyclopaedia, Oxford: OUP, 2004, p. 13).

This splendid volume is the grandest printed book in the Macclesfield Library, and one of three books in that collection printed on vellum. In common with the coloured and illuminated copy of Gaguin’s Chroniques de France (Paris, 1514) it comes from the library of Nicolas-Joseph Foucault.

It is not only a very fine objet de luxe, and made as such, but it shows us in a quite remarkable manner how a specific copy of a book was made in the atelier of Sweynheym and Pannartz in Rome. It is a printed book, but it has 25 leaves (quires T-V1-10 and X1-5) in contemporary manuscript, written with the same lineation and text area (255 x 170mm.), in a hand very close to the type used by the printers, with the same rubrication and decoration, and with the marginal headings supplied as in the printed text. It is clearly meant to be like this, and is a splendid example of the close interaction between print and manuscript. That the manuscript part was carefully written to fill the gap is abundantly clear, and it must, one assumes, have been done from a copy of the printed text, or the manuscript exemplar (see below), as there is no suspicion of cramming words in or having to make something fit.

pliny the elder

The single fact that most people know about Pliny the elder, or Gaius Plinius Secundus to give him his full name, is that he died in trying to get near Vesuvius during its eruption in 79 AD. His nephew Pliny the younger tells us this in his letters, as he does much more about his uncle and his activities (Epistolae iii.5, vi.16, and vi.20).

Born near Como into the wealthy equestrian class in 23 or 24 AD, he held various public posts and his service to the Roman Empire and his experience at various levels and in different parts of the empire, including Spain, served him well in his writing. He was enormously industrious, read constantly and made notes. When travelling in a litter he had a slave read to him, and grasping at interesting ‘gobbets’ dictated these to another to note. He had teams of people doing this, and it was these notes, for which a rich man was at one time to offer an enormous sum, which form the material of his greatest work. The public and administrative aspects of his life would have enabled him to "have seen how knowledge of the periphery was gathered, how it was used locally, in what shape it was sent to the centre of power, and the uses to which it was put when it arrived there. His encyclopaedia reflects this experience: for the Natural History, Roman power is what has united the world and opened it up to be looked at... This triumphalism is fundamental to the Natural History. Everything that was to be known about the world was only available in the first place to be collated, and transmitted in an encyclopaedia because of Roman power..." (Murphy, op. cit. p. 5).

the natural history

The work is in thirty-seven books, which, as L.D. Reynolds remarks, "do not sit comfortably under one cover", and the size of the present volume, particularly as it is printed on vellum, is a clear indication of this. The work is concerned with Nature in all its aspects. The whole of book I is essentially a detailed table of contents; book II is concerned with cosmology and begins with the word ‘Mundus’ which gives our decorator ample scope for a magnificent capital. Books III-VI are about the geography of the world, book VII deals with humans, book VIII land animals, book IX water animals, book X the birds of the air. Insects and anatomy are in book XI and plants in books XII-XIX. Books XX to XXXII cover medicines and pharmacology, and the last three books deal with minerals. Pliny never edited the work - he died too soon - and this allied to the difficulty of the matter and a highly specialised vocabulary, makes for a work which is difficult of access, and liable to misunderstanding and corruption.

It is a vast work covering every aspect of life, science and technology, including a huge amount of information on ancient art. Its importance as a work of scientific importance, with many different aspects, has been much investigated since about 1979 and a number of books published. Pliny, for example, inveighs against an elaborate life-style (luxuria) and the damage this does to the world. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill writes: "in the Natural History the function of science is to reveal the proper use of nature and so save mankind" ("Pliny the Elder and Man's unnatural history", Greece & Rome NS 37 (1990),  80-96). Whilst this hardly suffices to turn Pliny into an eco-warrior, nevertheless it is a particularly contemporary awareness. "Nature is life", writes Pliny.

From antiquity Pliny was read, copied and excerpted. St. Augustine knew book VII, and Ausonius draws on the work. Solinus made excerpts in the third century and these were very popular in the Middle Ages. Not only was the book read, but in some cases Pliny's very words were adopted. Benjamin Todd Lee in his commentary on the fragmentary Florida of Apuleius (Berlin & New York, 2005) has shown how in his description of the parrot, Apuleius has carefully adapted Pliny’s description (NH 10. 58-59). The text was widely read: by the early eighth century a manuscript copy had been made in Northumberland, and indeed some parts of Pliny were known to the Venerable Bede. Alcuin listed a manuscript in York. The Anglo-Saxon poet Aldhelm certainly knew book XXXVII. At the court of Charlemagne, letters from Alcuin and the Irish scholar Dungal show that the work was used for astronomical purposes and for computation. The so-called Excerpta Eboracensia are essentially concerned with such topics, as are the manuscripts at St Gall and Paris. However for the bulk of the work we are dependent on other codices, again mostly dating from the eighth, ninth or tenth centuries, but even these do not provide a full text. For that we are dependent on a flawed tradition of later manuscripts, the ordo recentiorum which from the ninth to the twelfth century "provided the main stream of the text", although elements from the older tradition still made themselves felt.

However in Italy in the fifteenth century Pliny could not be found; or so at one point wrote Vespasiano da Bisticci, although he later changed that to "could not be found in Florence". This situation was rectified by Cosimo de' Medici who had his agents in the German mercantile city of Lübeck lean on the members of the Dominican convent there to lend him a manuscript to be copied against a surety of one hundred Rhenish florins. In the event Cosimo decided to forfeit the money and keep the manuscript.

fifteenth-century printed editions

The first printed edition (of which no more than 100 copies were printed) came from the press of Johannes de Spira in Venice in 1469, and is riddled with errors probably due to the printer. But it seems to have had no influence (generally speaking at this period, a text once printed, whatever its faults, tends to become the textus receptus and be reprinted).

However with this present Rome edition of 1470, of which 300 copies were printed, we are on different ground. It was edited by Giovanni de Bussi, Bishop of Aleria, and had already been planned before the Venice edition appeared. Bussi mentions it in his edition of Aulus Gellius, dated 11 April 1469 (Goff G118), and indeed he possessed a manuscript of the text copied in Italy in 1460. Bussi had completed his extensive editorial work (his recognitio) on this manuscript (now MS 1097 in the Biblioteca Angelica in Rome) by 15 December 1469. But it was another manuscript, copied from that in the Angelica, and now in the Vatican (Vat. Lat. 5991) which actually was given to the printers, and this is marked up with leaf numbers which correspond to the printed edition. Only the second volume of this much edited copy text survives and shows us Bussi again at work editing the text, which he completed on 8 April 1470. The printed book appeared in the sixth year of Paul II, i.e. before 30 August 1470, which is really a short time after. It looks as if the manuscript was handed in parts to the printers, and that both the editorial work and the printing must have been to some extent synchronous. Bussi, who was immensely active as editor for the printers, himself has been much criticised for his own lack of editorial exactness, but he was under pressure from the two German printer/publishers to produce texts for them to print, and clearly operated at speed. Sometime about the end of 1471, Bussi was appointed to a much less arduous position, that of librarian to Sixtus IV.

sweynheym and pannartz

It would not appear surprising that the two German clerics, one from the diocese of Mainz and the other from Cologne, who brought the art of printing to Italy should on their establishment at Rome have encountered princes of the church and others to whom de luxe vellum copies of books would have appealed, but their production of such books is in fact very limited. Two copies of this Pliny were previously known on vellum. This hitherto unknown copy makes a third.

Sweynheym and Pannartz printed very few copies of their books on vellum, and clearly only for the grandest patrons. Van Praet lists the following: 1) three copies of the 1468 St Jerome Tractatus et epistolae (i, 168 no. 482), one of which belonged to Cardinal Bessarion; 2) a single copy of the Rodericus Zamorensis, Speculum of 1468, which has two leaves only printed on vellum, being otherwise printed on paper (i, 257 no. 28); 3) a copy of the 1469 Apuleius (i, 253 no. 14); 4) three copies of the 1469 Aulus Gellius (ii, 228 no. 507); 5) one of the [1469] Livy (iii, 30 no. 45) with the arms of  the future Pope Alexander VI "enrichi d’une riche bordure"; 6) one of the 1469 Caesar (iii, 34 no. 54); 7) two copies of this 1470 Pliny, one among the vélins of the Bibliothèque du Roi (iii, 49 no. 65) having a border on f. 22 with the arms of Paul II still in part visible, initials for each book, acquired in 1820 and the copy then belonging to Lord Spencer, now in Manchester. This makes a total of twelve copies of six editions plus the one book with just two leaves printed on vellum, in other words a tiny percentage.

Now Sweynheym and Pannartz have given us details of how many copies they printed of their books, and most were printed in editions of 275 copies. Of the Pliny 300 copies were printed (as of the Subiaco Donatus, 1465, the Rodericus Zamorensis, 1468, the Bessarion, 1469), and 3 vellum copies is one per cent of the total.

copies of pliny on vellum, 1469-1500

Between 1469 and 1500 there were some fifteen editions in Latin, all printed in Italy (Goff P786-P800). Of these Latin editions, copies on vellum of four editions (including this) are known of: that printed by Johannes of Speier in 1469 (Goff P786), 2 copies, BNF and ONB (Van Praet iii, 48 no. 64); the present edition, 3 copies; that printed by Jenson in 1472 (Goff P788), by far the commonest (11 copies listed by Van Praet (iii, 50, no. 66, and  Supplément vi, 69-70, no. 66, one of which may now be the Huntington Library copy; this is the only vellum Pliny in the BL = C.2.d.7-8); that printed in Venice by Bernardinus Benalius '1497' [1498], (Goff P799) at BNF (Van Praet i, 262 no. 40). From this it would seem that only one vellum Pliny is to be found in the USA, namely the copy of Goff P788 at the Huntington Library in California.

The Italian translation by Cristoforo Landino (Goff P801), who was paid 50 gold florins by the Strozzi brothers for making it, was first printed in Venice by Jenson in 1476, and of this a number of copies on vellum were produced and beautifully decorated. Van Praet (iii, 53 no. 68) lists seven copies. Examples of these are to be found in England (Bodleian, Cambridge (Oates 1640), Manchester, Holkham) and in the United States (three copies), and particularly beautiful are the Bodleian copy, which belonged to Francis Douce (Douce 310 = Arch. G b.6) and is actually the copy made for Filippo Strozzi (see Bodleian XVc. P-372), and that at Holkham Hall, in Norfolk, the property of the Earl of Leicester.

pliny and the scholars

By the end of the year Bussi’s edition had been attacked by the humanist Giorgio Merula, who had bought a copy in Venice, and later on Niccolo Perotti, Archbishop of Siponto (famous for his Rudimenta grammatices and his Cornucopiae) and secretary to Cardinal Bessarion joined the fray. As Martin Davies puts it: "it was becoming plain to the humanists that Pliny’s Natural History was a marvellous canvas for the display of their talents, in emendation as well as in invective". In fact Perotti seems to have edited the second edition of Pliny which Sweynheym and Pannartz printed and published with the date 7 May 1473 (the last book published by the partnership). This edition is larger (402 leaves) because the chapter headings are printed (the 1470 Pliny was "the latest [S. & P.] book in which the headings are left to the rubricator instead of being printed", BMC iv 9). Perotti’s work also came under fire from Domizio Calderini as being itself corrupt, so bad indeed that Calderini said that either all copies (and 400 were printed) should be corrected or should be burned - "vel comburantur vel (si quis tantum laborem ferre possit) emendentur".  

Nor was this the end of the matter, for by 1500 many other scholars and commentators had had their say, ranging from the great Poliziano, who brought his wonderfully vast philological learning and aptitude to bear on various problems to many others unknown to most people today, to Leoniceno, Collenuccio, Ermolao Barbaro (Castigationes Plinianae), Filippo Beroaldo, and others, who were far from mealy-mouthed in their abuse of each other.