Friday, April 15, 2011

Thoroughbred Collection of Rare Books On Show At Texas A & M

By Nancy Mattoon

Wood Cut of the Unicorn From:
The Historie of Foure-footed Beastes (1607),
by Edward Topsell.

(All Images Courtesy of Texas A&M University.)

If the Cheshire Cat seems to have an extraordinarily wide grin on his puss this year, or if you notice that Doctor Doolittle has a bit more spring in his step than usual, it might be because they know 2011 has been named World Veterinary Year. The dedicated professionals who keep the wag in Fido's tail are commemorating the 250th anniversary of the founding of the world's first school of veterinary medicine. Back in 1761 French veterinarian Claude Bourgelat opened the doors of the first college dedicated to animal health in Lyon, and four years later unveiled a second veterinary school in Paris. And at least one library has found the perfect way to celebrate: The Medical Sciences Library at Texas A&M University is displaying for the first time a newly acquired collection of rare books about animal care valued at just under $650,000.

The Equine Nervous System From:
The Anatomy of An Horse
By Andrew Snape.

The rare book library now at home in the Lone Star State was a lifelong labor of love created by English veterinarian John G.P. Wood of Reepham (near Norwich). Dr. Wood, a rural practitioner specializing in large animals, built a collection of over 900 volumes dating as far back as 1528, with a special emphasis on equine medicine and farriery. According to Esther Carrigan, associate dean and director of the Medical Sciences Library, "It’s a collection that every veterinary school in the world would envy... and several of these books are not owned by any other library." The volumes form a veritable history of veterinary medicine from the 16th to the early 20th century, with a special emphasis on diseases of the horse, an animal of critical importance for farming, transportation, and the military.

Title Page of:
Vegetii Renati Artis Veterinariae
Publius Vegetius Renatus.

Several of the volumes in the Texas A&M collection are particularly noteworthy. One of the oldest books in the collection was printed in 1528, but it was translated from Greek into Latin, and greatly expanded, way back in 480 AD by the Roman writer Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus. Vegetii Renati Artis Veterinariae contains some of the best information available on ancient horse breeds. Vegetius created a list of sixteen highly valued types of horses, which he compiled from his travels throughout the ancient world. The list was created to help buyers avoid being defrauded by unscrupulous horse traders misrepresenting the origin of their livestock. The large amount of equine health information in the volume has led some scholars to label it "the first published book on veterinary medicine."

Topsell's 1607 Title Page,
Graced By A Rather Unusual Creature.

Another of the rare volumes in the collection is The Historie of Foure-footed Beastes by Edward Topsell. Published in 1607, it features superb woodcut illustrations accompanied by vivid descriptions of creatures both real and imagined. The wolf and dog are featured alongside the unicorn and manticore. Topsell's text gives insight into the Elizabethan world's view of both domesticated and wild animals. Much of his "scientific information" is questionable, for example that lemmings graze in the clouds, but the volume stands on its beauty alone. It was magnificently printed in London by William Jaggard, the same man who would go on to publish Shakespeare’s first folio.

Robert Almond's Exceedingly Rare,
The English Horsman and Complete Farrier.

Another notable work is The English Horsman and Complete Farrier: directing all gentlemen and others how to breed, feed, ride, and diet all kind of horses whether for war, race, or other service: with a discovery of the causes, signs, and cures of all diseases, both internal and external, incident to horses: alphabetically digested: with The humours of a Smithfield jockey, (Whew!) by Robert Almond. The title page states the author "Is a well known and skillful farrier of the city of London, practicing therein above 45 years." This book was first published in 1673. "It is considered extremely rare and some British book dealers we have consulted say they have never seen a copy of it in over 50 years," says Carrigan.

Andrew Snape's 1687 Volume,
The Anatomy of An Horse

Two later works are also considered especially important. The Anatomy of an Horse (1687), by Andrew Snape, is one of the earliest written in English on equine anatomy, and is often called the first modern veterinary textbook. And A Domestic Treatise on the Diseases of Horses and Dogs, was written by Delabere Blaine in 1803. Blaine was trained as a surgeon for humans, but became known as the "Father of Canine Medicine," after spending twenty years as a veterinarian in London, seeing between two and three thousand hounds, terriers, and lap dogs annually.

Woodcut Of The Horse From:
The Historie of Foure-footed Beastes
by Edward Topsell.

The entire collection is currently being processed at the Medical Sciences Library. Rare materials will be housed in the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, home of Texas A&M’s rare books, manuscripts and archives. The volumes will no doubt be invaluable to the students of Texas A&M's School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, which was established in 1916, and is the state’s only veterinary medicine school, as well as one of the largest in North America.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this; really cool stuff. Historie of Foure-footed Beastes is fantastic, both in its text (the accurate and the not) and its woodcuts. I love it! Missouri State University has a copy also and created a Facebook page for it here:


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