30 May 2008

Wild goose chase

There are lots of cool books in this world. The limited edition of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 that's bound in asbestos, for example. The edition of Snowblind bound in mirrors. Or, less sensationally, anything printed by the Golden Cockerel Press.

However my favourite book ever in the world ever is, for utterly trivial reasons, Gerard's Herbal. First published 1597 and then reprinted in the 1630s, it's one of the most astonishingly illustrated books ever - more woodcuts than you can shake a 2B pencil at (and I should know, I've counted them). I know it's all important for its impact on contemporary botany and medicine blah blah blah, but I just like the bit where he very seriously imparts how barnacle geese hatch from barnacles...

"When it is perfectly formed, the shell gapeth open, and the first thing that appeareth is the foresaid lace or string; next come the legs of the bird hanging out and as it groweth greater, it openeth the shell by degrees, till at length it is all come forth, and hangeth only by the bill. In short space after it cometh to full maturity, and falleth into the sea, where it gathereth feathers, and groweth to a fowl, bigger than a mallard, and lesser than a goose; having black legs, and a bill or beak, and feathers black and white... For the truth hereof, if any doubt, may it please them to repair unto me, and I shall satisfy them by the testimony of credible witnesses"

Or the testimony of pissed-up sailors, maybe. It's also illustrated by this rather wonderful and entirely unconvincing woodcut...

Facts? Who needs them.

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