"The autographs of the writings of Paracelsus were completely lost. Fortunately, Johannes Huser (ca. 1545–1600/1601) had early collected a large number of autographs and copies of these works, so that he was able to publish a monumental complete edition of Paracelsus.”
– Urs Leo Gantenbein, Zurich Paracelsus Project
“Vnnd wie das Korn dz faull wirdt in der Erden vor dem vnd es wachst vnnd darnach in seine frücht gehet: Also hie auch im Fewr die zerbrechung geschihet” [And just as grain must decay in the earth in order to grow and bear its fruit, in the same manner shall a transformation occur here in fire]
– Paracelsus, vol. 2, ch. 68
FIRST EDITION OF PARACELSUS’ COLLECTED WORKS, ALL TEN VOLUMES WITH RARE APPENDIXES (HUSER EDITION). DUKE OF BRANDENBURG’S COPY, IN MAGNIFICENT EARLY BINDINGS.
The “most enigmatic physician of the sixteenth century”, Phillip Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493/4–1541) came to be known as Paracelsus after his period of work in Basel, c. 1527 (de Vries, p. 102). As a Swiss-German physician, Paracelsus “contributed substantially to the rise of modern medicine by pioneering treatments using new chemical remedies, including those containing mercury, sulfur, iron, and copper sulfate, thus uniting medicine with chemistry” and anticipated many medical treatments by centuries, including those for silicosis, syphillis and goitre, as well as offering early insights into the field of chemotherapy (Hargrave). Popularised posthumously by the present first edition of his collected works edited by Johannes Huser in the late sixteenth century, Paracelsus’ work records a profound nexus of medicine, chemistry, magic and acumen that helps us today to interpret Early Modern understandings of science, the natural world and human ambition.
While teaching at Basel (in German rather than the prescribed Latin), Paracelsus earned a reputation for outlandish non-conformism—rejecting the university’s traditional medical authorities and living by the motto: Alterius not sit, qui suus esse potest [Who can be oneself, shall not belong to another]. Paracelsus-scholar Lyke de Vries indentifies the culmination of Paracelsus’ opposition to the traditional scions of the field as an incident on St John’s Even, 23 June 1527, when Paracelsus “threw a copy of the standard medical textbook of the time, most likely Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, into a bonfire” (de Vries, p. 102). Paracelsus records the incident, writing “ich hab die summa der bücher in sanct Johannes feuer geworfen, auf das alles unglück mit dem rauch in luft gang” [I have thrown the summa of books in the fire of Saint John, so that all misery would rise up in the air together with the smoke] (Paracelsus, Paragranum, I, p. 58). “It comes as no surprise,” de Vries concludes, “that his antagonistic attitude and this event in particular met with much hostility in Basel.”
It was Paracelsus’ banishment from Basel by city decree that prompted him to adopt his famed soubriquet. A poem was written to ridicule Paracelsus and his views and it was titled Manes Galeni adversus Theophrastum sed potius Cacophrastum [The Spirit of Galen against Theophrastus, or rather Cacaphrastus], taking our protagonists given-name Theophrastus (“god-speaker”) and contorting it to Cacaphrastus (“faeces-speaker”). From this impetus to forge a new identity, Theophrastus formulated the new name Paracelsus—either as a self-superimposition over the Roman medical writer Aulus Cornelius Celsus (para-Celsus, indicating his intention to go “above” or “beyond” the work of Celsus) or as a Latin literalisation of his toponymic surname von Hohenheim (“one living on high”). Travelling around Europe thereafter, Paracelsus never succeeded in establishing himself elsewhere nor finding a publisher for his immense corpus of works.
It was years after his death in 1541 that, with waxing recognition of Paracelsus’ achievements, Johannes Huser collected ad fontes the mass of Paracelsus’ autograph tracts and compiled them into the monumental first collected work of Paracelsus, publishing them in 10 volumes between 1589 and 1591 in Basel—the very city where Paracelsus manifested as the maverick he was. The Huser Edition remained the standard for subsequent editions to this day, including the twentieth-century fourteen-volume Sudhoff edition.
The present copy includes the richly-illustrated appendix to the tenth volume. This appendix constitutes the editio princeps of the Archidoxis magica [Archidoxes of Magic], a non-authorial grimoire largely responsible for Paracelsus’ popular reception as magician as much as physician. The Archidoxis along with the mythic Liber Azoth, also in the appendix, detail how to create the universal solvent Azoth, the alchemical Magnum Opus akin to the Philosopher’s Stone in its promise of eternal life.
In his search for Paracelsus’ manuscripts, Huser came across the text of the Archidoxis and elected to include it, acknowledging this in the volume itself:
“Es soll aber auch nit ungemelt bleiben, das etliche an diesen Büchern Archidoxis Magicae dubitieren, ob sie Theophrasti seyen [...] Jedoch weil sie Theophrasti Sachen nicht ungemesz, und von vielen für seine Bücher angenommen und erkennt werden, mögen sie auff disz mal neben den andern unterlauffen, bis man desz Auctori gewisser werde”
(Huser, ‘Ad lectorem, de septem libris Archidoxis Magicae’, Paracelsus, vol. 10, p. 66)
[It shall not go unnoticed that some have doubted whether these books, the Archidoxis Magica, are Theophrastus’ [...] however, as they are not uncharacteristic of the material treated by Theophrastus and because they are accepted and recognised by many as his books, may they be admitted among the other books for the time being, until greater certainty emerges concerning their author.]
The appendix to the tenth volume of the Huser Edition is largely responsibly for crystallising the legend that Paracelsus managed to create the Azoth in his lifetime. His life and works, as interpreted through Huser, have inspired later instances of spellbook culture such R. Turner translation Of the Supreme Mysteries of Nature (1656) and the anonymous The Lesser Key of Solomon (c. 1650)—furthering the incidence of sigils, amulets and talisman in European visual culture at the rise of Rosicrucianism as well as spurring on the folly of humankind’s ambition to cheat death and achieve the unachievable.
Bound uniformly soon after their publication in the 1590s, the present ten volumes bound in five feature intricately-detailed leather bindings stamped in-blind and furnished with fore-edge clasps. This copy belonged to George Frederick of Brandenburg-Ansbach (5 April 1539–25 April 1603) of the House of Hohenzollern, Duke of Brandenberg, Margrave of Ansbach and Bayreuth, and Regent of Prussia. It bears his 1598 signature “M[archionis] Georgii Friderici, Brandenburgensis” as well as a posthumous 1608 inscription of ownership accompanied by an initial-cipher on the inner lower boards. George Frederick’s interest in alchemy has deep roots running through his family, with his predecessor John I, Margrave of Brandenburg-Kulmbach (1406–1464) having garnered the epithet Johann der Alchimist [John the Alchemist]. With George Frederick issuing no male heirs, the provenance of the book following his death is uncertain though the first flyleaf in each volume bears the later ownership mark “Ludwig Elässer | Münster” which has since been deleted and replaced with “Robert Rottenmeyer”.
Additionally, the present volumes are annotated in a variety of hands and reveal many layers of reader use from across the centuries. The substantive marginalia, from nota-bene marks to manicules to thumbprints, may indicate how the work was used as a teaching tool, coming full-circle with Paracelsus’ infamous disregard for the textbooks he was expected to lecture from, or perhaps the markings are the only remaining witnesses to individuals’ quests for the promised fruits of alchemy: chrysopoetic gold, elixirs of eternal life and a panacea against all disease.
It is possible to see how Paracelsus’ devotion to sourcing treatments for bodily health by experimentation with chemicals and the elements lent itself to such interpretation from the realms of magic and sorcery, though recent scholarship has returned integrity to Paracelsus’ reputation as a leading figure in our understandings of ourselves and the natural world.
I. In diesem Theil werden begriffen die Bücher, welche von Ursprung und herkommen, aller Kranckheiten handeln in Genere
II. Dieser Theil begreifft fürnemlich die Schrifften, inn denen die Fundamenta angezeigt werde[n], auff welchen die Kunst der rechten Artzney stehe, und auß was Büchern dieselbe gelehrnet werde
III. Inn diesem Theil werden begriffen deren Bücher ettliche, welche von Ursprung, Ursach und Heylung der Kranckheiten handeln in Specie
IV. In diesem Theil werden gleichfals, wie im Dritten, solche Bücher begriffen, welche von Ursprung, Ursach unnd Heilung der Kranckheiten in Specie handlen
V. Bücher de Medicina Physica
VI. In diesem Tomo seind begriffen solche Bücher, in welchen deß mehrer theils von Spagyrischer Bereitung Natürlicher dingen, die Artzney betreffend, gehandelt wirt. Item, ettliche Alchimistische Büchlin, so allein von der Transmutation der Metallen tractiren
VII. In diesem Theil sind verfasset die Bücher, in welchen fürnemlich die Kräfft, Tugenden und Eigenschafften Natürlicher dingen, auch derselben Bereitdungen, betreffent die Artzney, beschriben, werden
VIII. In diesem Tomo (welcher der Erste unter den Philosophischen) werden solche Bücher begriffen, darinnen fürnemlich die Philosophia de Generationibus & Fructibus quatuor Elementorum beschrieben wirdt
IX. Diser Tomus (welcher der Ander unter den Philosophischen) begreifft solcher Bücher, darinnen allerley Natürlicher und Ubernatürlicher Heymligkeiten Ursprung, Ursach, Wesen und Eigenschafft, gründtlich und warhafftig beschriben werden
X. Dieser Theil (welcher der Dritte unter den Philosophischen Schrifften) begreifft fürnemlich das treffliche Werck Theophrasti, Philosophia Sagax, oder Astronomia Magna genannt: Sampt ettlichen andern Opusculis, und einem Appendice
PARACELSUS [Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim]. Erster [–Zehender] Thiel Der Bücher vnd Schrifften deß Edlen Hochgelehrten vnd Beivehrten Philosophi vnd Medici, Philippi Theophrasti Bombast von Hohhenheim / Paracelsi genannt: Jetzt auffs neiv auß den Originalien / vnd Theophrasti eigner Handschrifft / souiel der selben zubekommen gewesen / auffs trewlichst vnd fleissigst an tag geben: Surch Iohannem Hvservm Brisgoivm Churfürstlichen Cölnischen Rhat vnnd Medicvm. Basel: Conrad Waldkirch, 1589–91. First edition, Huser edition. Quarto, 10 vols. in 5 (9 x 6.5 in); each volume contains a woodcut portrait of Paracelsus following the title page (except where wanting in the second volume, though the fourth volume features an additional portrait at its end); includes the highly-valued appendixes to vols V and X, the latter being richly illustrated and comprised of the Liber Azoth and Archidoxis magica. Vol. I: , 426,  pp; vol. II: 342, ,  pp. (wanting Aa21 (ie, the second volume’s portrait of Paracelsus), Bb4 complete but loose from upper stitching); vol. III: , 420, ; vol. IV: 417,  pp.; vol. V: , 332, , 228 (Appendix deß Fünfften Theils), ,  pp.; vol VI: , 440, ,  (additional woodcut portrait of Paracelsus) pp.; vol. VII: , 439,  pp.; vol. VIII: , 428,  pp.; vol. IX: , 459,  (opening flyleaf loose, laid in); vol. X: , 491, 275 (Appendix deß Zehenden Theils,), 106, ,  pp. Bound in contemporary pigskin, with ornate pictorial tooling in blind on upper and lower boards; two fore-edge clasps per volume, the first and final volumes are missing their respective lower hook and clasp; binding is loose at places but remarkably reliant. Opening flyleaves inscribed “Ludwig Elässer | Münster” and “Robert Rottenmeyer”; final endpapers inscribed with posthumous ownership cypher for Margate George Frederick, Duke of Brandenburg; title pages of most volumes inscribed in upper margin with name of George Frederick.
EXTREMELY RARE SET CONTAINING ALL VOLUMES AND APPENDIXES IN OUTSTANDING EARLY BINDINGS.
de Vries, Lyke, “The Paracelsian Impetus”, Reformation, Revolution, Renovation: The Roots and Reception of the Rosicrucian Call for General Reform (Leiden: Brill, 2021), pp. 102–165
Gantenbein, Urs Leo, “The Huser Edition of Paracelsus”, Zurich Paracelsus Project (Online: University of Zurich, 2022)
Hargrave, John G., “Paracelsus”, Encyclopedia Britannica (Online: 2021)
Morgan, Bruce, Paracelsus: An Alchemical Life (London: Reaktion, 2019)
Paracelsus, Essential Theoretic Writings, ed. by Andrew Weeks (Leiden: Brill, 2008).
Price: $48,000 .