Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants (John Parkinson)


John Parkinson was a naturalist, and his Theatrum Botanicum (1640) was the largest English herbal then produced, describing 3800 plants. Goates notes that it was a more accurate collection than the one produced by Gerard, but less popular. Interestingly, Parkinson differentiated his book from others of the period by dividing plants into classes based on overarching characteristics rather than any scientifically-supported classification types. A few examples include: Sweet-Smelling Plants, Venemous, Sleepy and Hurtful Plants, and Purging Plants.[1]

Theatrum diagrams.jpg

A fully-illustrated spread from Theatrum Botanicum. The book's physical construction, with its red edges and bright green boards, calls attention to the artistry inside. 

A Look Inside

Considering his penchant for single-trait characterization of species, it is perhaps unsurprising that humoural discourse enters Parkinson’s vernacular. 

Bibliographical Information


THEATRUM BOTANIVCM: THE THEATER OF PLANTS. OR, AN HERBALL OF LARGE EXTENT: Containing therein a more ample and exct History and declaration of the Physicall Herbs and Plants that are in other Authours, encreased by the accesse of many hundreds of new, rare, and strange Plants from all the parts of the world, with sundry Gummes, and other Physicall materials, than hat beene hitherto published by any before; And a most large demonstration of their Natures and Vertues. Shewing vvithall the many errors, differences, and oversights of sundry Authors that have formerly written of them; and a certaine confidence, or most probable conjecture of the true and genuine Herbes and Plants. Distributed into sundry Classes or Tribes, for the more easie knowledge of the many Herbes of one nature and property, with the chiefe notes of Dr. Lobel, Dr. Bonham, and others inferred therein. 

DATE: 1640

PLACE: London

PUBLISHER: Collected by the many years travaile, industry, and experience in this subject, by John Parkinson Apothecary of London, and the Kings' Herbarist. And Published by the Kings Majestyes especiall privilege. 



NOTE: ESTC records 116 physical copies and 7 digital copies. Additional two copies at Fisher. 

TYPE: Roman; Italic

LANGUAGES: English; Latin; Greek

DEDICATIONS1. George Berkeley, Knight of the Bath. 2. Democritus Junior to the Reader.

TABLES AND INDEXES: Index (at back); "synopses" throughout.

ILLUSTRATIONS: Ornamented and historiated initials; head and tail pieces. Printer's device, McKerrow #336 (unlisted).


WATERMARK: Shield(?) Centre.


Late 17th c. speckled dark brown calf over pasteboards has triple fillets in blind (Pearson, EBS, p. 180 #6). Rebacked spine in darker calf has six compartments, five raised bands. Title in compartment 2, author in compartment 4, and date of publication in compartment 6 all tooled in gilt. Speckled edges in red; later pastedowns and flys. Thong supports present on backboard.

[1]           Michael C. Goates, "Influential herbal and botanical texts from the 16th through 18th centuries," Presentation at the A. Dean Larsen Book Collecting Conference, Provo, UT (March 2016). 

[2]           Francis Buchanan White, The Scottish Naturalist (London: Cowan & Company, 1882): 356. 

The humours and natural science
Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants (John Parkinson)