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Fuchs, L. De historia stirpium commentarii insignes

BOOK REVIEWS the Kunstkamera. Foreign visitors to German museums may have noted that the word Kunst nowadays denotes “art”, but an older, now obsolete, meaning was “science”. The five-storey palace still housing the Kunstkamera was purpose-built between 1718 and 1734, but Peter began purchasing natural history objects for it in Amsterdam in 1698. As noted in a recent review (Archives of natural history 29: 406–407), Peter acquired the German pharmacist Albertus Seba’s cabinet of curiosities in 1712, and items from a new collection that Seba had built up were purchased, after Peter’s death, for the museum at an auction in Amsterdam in 1752. Perhaps the most famous of Peter’s acquisitions was the anatomical and natural history collection of the Dutch physician Frederik Ruysch. In 1836 the Kunstkamera was broken up and the zoological, botanical and mineralogical collections removed to new sites around St Petersburg. In 2003, for the first time in almost 170 years, hundreds of historical specimens of the original Kunstkamera were brought together again under one roof, in Dortmund and afterwards in Gotha. Although this exhibition “Palast des Wissens” (“palace of knowledge”) has finished, the splendidly illustrated, two-volume catalogue and book of essays remain in print. Peter would have been impressed. HERMAN REICHENBACH FUCHS, L. De historia stirpium commentarii insignes. Octavo Editions, Oakland, California: 2003. CD-ROM. Price US$ 30. ISBN 1-59110-051-8. I confess to being a bibliophile, enamoured of leather, vellum, parchment and paper; the smell and the feel are thrilling. I have disclosed this weakness before, and also admitted that I like books which have clear signs of having been loved, read and re-read, even books that were once annotated by owners, dropped in puddles, scribbled on by children, or which are scuffed and foxed and maybe even augmented by inserts. Books that have a history “writ large” are enthralling. Therefore it was a challenge to assess this CD-ROM of Fuchs’ De historia stirpium comentarii insignes. The senses of smell and touch play almost no part in a book encoded on a CD-ROM. The Warnock Library’s copy, which is the one reproduced in PDF format, seems almost impossibly clean, untouched by human hands, but I was intrigued to see that someone had scribbled in it, scoring out both Fuchs’ and Brunfels’ names. The editors suggest that these and other “half-hearted” obliterations indicate that the copy belonged originally to a devout Italian or Spanish member of the Roman Catholic Church who sought to censor the herbal’s heretical, Protestant indications. What is the purpose of such a CD-ROM? To make Fuchs’ wonderful book available to the general public? Perhaps, but I do not think that libraries, other than those with a botanical leaning, will purchase this one. To allow librarians ever more cautious and, it sometimes seems, unwilling to allow readers to read, to lock away for ever the real book and insist on readers viewing the CD-ROM? I hope not, most sincerely. In any case, who needs a CD-ROM version of Fuchs’ splendid herbal? A few scholars, maybe, in pursuit of fragments of Renaissance botany, or art historians or historians of print who want to study the illustrations or the type-faces? Surely they should see the real book, not an electronic facsimile. Yet CD-ROMs must have a purpose, a value, even a market. They do provide the means for libraries which have not the financial resources to afford the real thing to provide access to rare works. They do allow students to print, for their personal use and at little cost, copies of the text and illustrations. A CDROM can be a substitute, albeit inadequate, when the real book is not accessible. This CD-ROM is augmented by an index of plant names and a short essay on Fuchs’ life, career and publications by Dr Karen Reeds, who discusses the identity of the plant which Fuchs was portrayed holding in his hand. It was Veronica chamaedrys, germander speedwell. E. CHARLES NELSON http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Archives of Natural History Edinburgh University Press

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