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CLEYER, Andreas, ed. Specimen medicinae sinicae... . Frankfurt, Johann Zubrodt, 1682.

4to [21.9 x 16.4 cm], 4to [21.9 x 16.4 cm], (2) ff., 30 ff. engraved plates, 48 pp., 99 pp, (9) pp. tables, 54 pp, (1) f. blank, 16 pp, with engraved device on title page and numerous woodcuts in the text. [With:] MERBITZ, Johannes Valentin. De varietate faciei humanae, Discursus Physicus. Appendices loco accedunt carmina figurata Rabani Mauri. Dresden, Martin Gabriel Hubner, 1676. (1) f. title, (2) ff. engraved plates, (15) pp., 69 pp., VIII pp., (2) ff., with title printed in red and black and VII ciphers printed in red and black. Bound in contemporary calf, raised bands, spine gold tooled, title labels laid to spine, gold-tooled board edges, red mottled edges. Minor wear to joint of upper cover, minor rubbing to boards. Browning and occasional spotting in some quires as is usual for German books of this period, but a fresh copy.


Unusual sammelband of two rare first edition 17th-century medical works: Andreas de Cleyer’s Specimen medicinae sinicae, the first and only edition of the first illustrated book on Chinese medicine published in the West, and Johannes Valentin Merbitz’s De varietate faciei humanae, the first edition of a curious work relating to physiognomy and the ars combinatoria.

Cleyer’s work – illustrated with 30 full-page engravings – was the first European book on Chinese medicine to attract significant attention, and the first book to acquaint Europeans with Chinese medical charts. Cleyer’s text included a thorough discussion of Chinese theories of acupuncture. The book also contains the first acupuncture charts published in the West. It is the second European book on Chinese medicine, preceded only by a brief, un-illustrated anonymous tract (1671) containing a short summary of Chinese medical principles.

According to Cordier, the Jesuit Michel Boym was the author of this work and that his name was removed from the original manuscript by the Dutch who conveyed it to Europe because of a long-standing antipathy for the Jesuits. Cleyer, physician for the Dutch West India Company, apparently added material translated from the Chinese to Boym’s original text and edited the entire volume. A year after the publication of this work, Cleyer was in Tokyo (Edo) in the capacity of Dutch ambassador and worked in Nagasaki for several years as chief of the Dutch trade mission.

The second work in the volume is the scarce first edition of a curious work by Johannes Valentin Merbitz relating to the human face and to combinatorics and containing numerous references to Kircher, Leibniz, Scaliger and other early writers on this branch of mathematics (see p. 33). “Merbitz’ book takes features of the human face and describes them by mathematical and alphabetical schemes, constructs cipher systems, and reproduces figured poems by the medieval encyclopedist Hrabanus Maurus (780-856). Charles Babbage, ‘the outstanding cryptologist of his age’ (Hyman 1982, 227), owned a copy of Merbitz’ book, which would have been of interest to him for its ciphers” (Hook/Norman, Origins of Cyberspace, no. 8).

The work includes 8 examples of carmina figurata, printed in red and black, from the medieval encyclopedist Hrabanus Maurus (c.780-856), namely calligrams of the cross (Merbitz writes that they are taken from an “autograph” manuscript in the library of the Electors of Saxony). Although the similarity of techniques between cryptographic systems and a physiognomic ‘language’ has been noted before – there is at least one physiognomy title in Schuman’s cryptography bibliography, Bulwer’s Chirologia of 1644 –, it is interesting that Merbitz makes this unexpected analogy explicit.

Born is Dresden, Merbitz (1650-1704) was educated in Leipiz, was assistant headmaster of the Creutz-Schule in Dresden, and was also tutor to the elector prince. He is said to have constructed an automaton of a talking head, which, being questioned in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French and an assortment of other languages, was able to answer correctly in the same language. At the time of his death he was working on a pair of heads that were supposed to be able to communicate with another.

* Garrison & Morton 6492; Cordier, Bibl. Sinica II: 1470-1; [Merbitz:] Krivatsy 7758; Wellcome IV.115; Norman, Origins of Cyberspace 8

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