Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gerard, John (1545-1612)

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GERARD, JOHN (1545–1612), herbalist, was born in 1545 at Nantwich, Cheshire, and was connected with the Gerards of Ince, as evidenced by his coat of arms on the title of his ‘Herball.’ He went to school at Willaston, two miles from his native place, and having studied medicine, he travelled in Scandinavia and Russia, possibly also in the Mediterranean.

In 1562 Gerard was apprenticed to Alexander Mason, a surgeon in large practice, who was twice warden of the Barber-Surgeons' Company. Gerard was admitted to the freedom of the same company 9 Dec. 1569, but there is no record of his admission to the livery. On 21 Feb. 1577–8 he was summoned by the master to answer a charge of defaming the wife of a brother freeman. He was elected a member of the court of assistants of the body, 19 June 1595. Gerard was then well known as a skilled herbalist. He was superintendent of the gardens of Lord Burghley in the Strand, and at Theobalds in Hertfordshire. He was living in Holborn, where he had a garden, to which he devoted great attention, and published a list of the plants therein in 1596. The only copy of that edition (in duodecimo) known to exist is in the Sloane collection in the British Museum. It is of peculiar interest as being the first catalogue of any one garden, public or private. A second edition, this time in folio, with English names as well as Latin in opposite columns, was brought out in 1599. Between these dates Gerard had suffered from ague. In August 1597 he was appointed junior warden of his company. In the previous year he had suggested that the company should keep a garden for the cultivation and study of medicinal plants. A piece of land at East Smithfield was selected, but was found unsuitable. Money was subscribed for the purchase of a garden elsewhere; but although the scheme was under discussion on 2 Nov. 1602, when ‘the committee for Mr. Gerrard's garden’ held a meeting, no active steps were taken.

In December 1597 appeared the folio volume which has made Gerard's name a household word, his ‘Herball’ (London, by J. Norton), dedicated to Lord Burghley. This is in the main a translation begun by Dr. Priest of Dodoens's ‘Pemptades,’ arranged in the order of Lobel's ‘Adversaria;’ it contained more than eighteen hundred woodcuts, only sixteen of which were original, the majority being the identical cuts used by Bergzabern (better known as Tabernæ-montanus) in his ‘Eicones,’ 1590, which were procured from Frankfort by the king's printer, John Norton. The volume has many of Gerard's own remarks inserted, such as localities in various parts of England for scarce plants, and many allusions to persons and places now of high antiquarian interest. He lays claim to a purely scientific object, but accepts much contemporary folk-lore, which does not detract from the interest of his volume. In the opening pages figure some quaint verses by ‘Thomas Thorney, master in chirurgerie,’ and an epistle by George Baker (1540–1600) [q. v.] On 15 Jan. 1598, and again 20 July 1607, he was appointed an examiner of candidates for admission to the freedom of the Barber-Surgeons' Company, then exercising as complete control of the surgeons practising in London as the various medical boards do at the present time. In 1604 he was granted a lease of a garden adjoining Somerset House by the queen-consort of James I, but in 1605 he parted with his interest in it to Robert, earl of Salisbury, second son of Lord-treasurer Burghley. In the legal documents connected with this lease Gerard is described as ‘herbarist’ to James I. Upon payment of a fine of 10l. Gerard was released from the office of ‘second warden and upper governor’ of his company 26 Sept. 1605. He was chosen master of the Barber-Surgeons' Company 17 Aug. 1607. He died in February 1611–12, and was buried in St. Andrew's Church, Holborn (18 Feb.), but there is no monument to mark the spot.

In 1633 Thomas Johnson edited a new edition of the ‘Herball,’ which was so well received that a reprint of it, word for word, was brought out in 1636. The genus Gerardia was founded by Linnæus in commemoration of John Gerard, and it now includes about thirty species, chiefly North American. In 1639 the Barber-Surgeons' Company paid 25s. 6d. for a copy of Gerard's ‘Herball’ for their library. Gerard's works were: 1. ‘Catalogus arborum, fruticum, ac plantarum tam indigenarum quam exoticarum in horto Ioannis Gerardi civis et chirurgi Londinensis nascentium,’ London, 1596, 12mo, pp. iv, 18, 2nd edit., 1599, fol.; the same, reprinted by B. D. Jackson, 1876, 4to, with modern names and memoir of the author. 2. ‘Herball,’ London, 1597, fol.; the same edited by T. Johnson, London, 1633, and again in 1636.

A fine portrait of Gerard is prefixed to the ‘Herball.’

[Life of Gerard in reprint of Catalogus, 1876; Arber's Reprint of Stationers' Registers, iii. 21; information from the Archives of the Barber-Surgeons' Company, kindly supplied by Mr. Sidney Young.]

B. D. J.