The Black Death: The Plague, 1331-1770

Bibliography: Works displayed at the John Martin Rare Book Room Open House, March 28, 2013

1. HEINRICH STEINHÖWEL (1412-1482?). Büchlein der Ordnung (Pest Regiment). Ulm: 1482. One of the two earliest printed books on public health and the plague. It remains the model for all early accounts of plagues and the recommended cures.

2. JOANNES JACOBI (d. 1384). A litil boke the whiche traytied and reherced many gode thinges necessaries for the...pestilence. 1485? Manchester, 1910. The first medical book printed in England. This tract on the plague was written about 1357. It became the most popular plague tract of the 15th century.

3. ALESSANDRO BENEDETTI (ca. 1450-1512). De observatione in pestilentia. [Venice], 1493. Benedetti discusses all aspects of the plague and includes official measures for its prevention that were instituted in Venice. It was the 2nd tract on the plague ever published. The tract is modern in outlook in that it is based on personal empirical observations.

4. HARTMANN SCHEDEL (1440-1514). Liber cronicarum. Nuremberg, 1493. Includes reports on epidemics and plagues.

  • Page CCXXX - burning of Jews in the 14th century during the plague. Jews were seen as less susceptible to the plague than their neighbors (likely due to Jewish ritual regarding personal hygiene); they were accused of poisoning Christian wells, thought to be the source of the plague.
  • Page CCLXIIII. The dancing skeletons illustrate thoughts of death.

5. MARSILIO FICINO (1433-1499). Tractatus singularis... [Augsburg, 1518]. Treatise on the plague discusses causes, diagnosis, and concentrates on therapies employed for its cure. In 1518 the plague was endemic through Europe, and Ficino recommends casting off magic and witchcraft but to cling to some concepts of astrology. An important work making the transition of medicine from the fixed concepts of the medieval ages to the more analytical, open mind of the Renaissance.

6. GUILIELMUS VARIGNANA (ca. 1270-1339). Secreta sublimia ad varios curandos morbos verissimis autoritatibus... [Lyons, 1522]. This book is divided into five sections: the first contains 19 tracts on pathology, the second deals with fevers, the third with abscesses and wounds, the fourth with toxicology, and the fifth discusses leprosy, plague...

7. PETRUS MAYNARDUS (fl. 1518-1526). De preservatione hominu a pestiphero morbo... [Venice?, ca. 1523]. Recommends a cure for the disease, basing his methodology on his experience and practice. This work is remarkable for its cognizance of prophylactic and hygienic measures. While some preventative measures involve techniques like burning incense, he also recommends washing and cleanliness. The book covers causes, symptomatology and treatment of pestulence.

8. HANS HOLBEIN (1497-1543) and DAVID DEUCHAR (1742-1808). The dances of death, through the various stages of human life: wherein the capriciousness of that tyrant is exhibited. [1538] London, 1803. This treatise is not about the plague per se, but Holbein's woodcuts show the figure of "Death" in many disguises, confronting individuals from all walks of life.

9. MARSILIO FICINO (1433-1499). De vita libri tres, recens iam a mendis situque vindicate... Venice, 1548. Edition of De triplici vita contains, in addition to the main work, Girolamo Ricci's Latin translation of Ficino's treatise on combating the plague.

10. PIETRO BAIRO (1468-1558). De medendis humani corporis malis enchiridion... Basel, 1578. Included with this work is his De peste, a detailed discussion of the plague including suggestions for curing those afflicted with the disease.

11. GIROLAMO MERCURIALE (1530-1606). Epidemicas Hippocratis historias. Venice, 1597. A collection of lectures by Mercuriale on a history of epidemics based on Hippocrates. Includes Mercuriale's remarks on the plague.

12. GEORGE WITHER (1588-1667). Britain's remembrancer; containing, a narrative of the plague lately past... [London], 1628. Wither was in London during the 1625 plague, and published Britain's Remembrancer, a voluminous poem on the subject interspersed with denunciations of the wickedness of the times, and prophecies of disasters about to fall on England.

13. WILLIAM GOUGE (1578-1653). Gods three arrovves: plagve, famine, svvord, in three treatises... London , 1631. Gouge mentions the idea that plague finds victims in poorer people, because they are more easily spared. They should not be allowed to flee affected areas, and nor should magistrates and the aged; but others may properly do so.

14. JOHN GERARD (1545-1612) and THOMAS JOHNSON (d. 1644). The herball or Generall historie of plantes. Gathered by John Gerarde of London, master in chirvrgerie. London, 1633. Gerard’s herbal contains the names and descriptions of herbs, or of plants in general, with their properties and virtues. For plague information see pp. 814, 958, 963, 969, 1001, 1158.

15. JOHN WOODALL (1556?-1643). The surgeons mate, or, Military & domestique surgery: Discouering faithfully & plainly ye method and order of ye surgeons chest…/ with A treatise of ye cure of ye plague. London, 1639. At unspecified times in his life Woodall contracted bubonic plague and survived, writing of this, "...for I had it twice, namely at two severall Plague times in my Groyne." Edition contains "of that most fearefull and contagious Disease called the Plague", pp. 319-376.

16. THOMAS BARTHOLIN (1616-1680). Historiarum anatomicarum rariorum centuria I. [Copenhagen], 1654-1661. Illustration of a plague doctor on p. 143. Chapter 71 discusses various aspects of the plague, pp. 142-145.

17. ATHANASIUS KIRCHER (1602-1680). Scrutinium physico-medicum contagiosae luis, quae pestis dicitur. Rome, 1658. He describes his finding that the blood of plague patients is filled with countless "worms" that are invisible to the naked eye but visible through the microscope. He was one of the earliest to suggest the germ theory of disease.

18. DANIEL DEFOE (1661?-1731). A journal of the plague year… which happened in London during the last great visitation in 1665. London, 1722. [New York], 1968. This fictionalized account goes to great pains to achieve an effect of verisimilitude, identifying specific neighborhoods, streets, and even houses in which events took place. Additionally, it provides tables of casualty figures and discusses the credibility of various accounts and anecdotes received by the narrator.

19. NATHANIEL HODGES (1629-1688). Loimologia; or, An historical account of the plague in London in 1665. London, 1720. During the 1665 plague, Hodges stayed to tend the victims while other physicians and laymen fled the city. He describes clinical symptoms, means of prevention, and methods of treatment. It includes an essay on the causes of contagious diseases and how they are best cured.

20. RICHARD MEAD (1673-1754). A short discourse concerning pestilential contagion, and the methods to be used to prevent it. London, 1720. Important work in history of public health because of its impact on the theory of contagion. Mead states disease is contagious--"Contagion is propagated by three Causes, Air, Diseased Persons; and Goods transported from infected Places. Mead discusses the origin, nature, and spread of the plague and places emphasis on preventive measures.

21. ANONYMOUS. An Historical account of the plague at Marseilles: giving a particular relation of all the different occurrences that happen'd during the visitation of that city. London, 1722.

22. JOHN HUXHAM (1692-1768). An essay on fevers, and their various kinds, as depending on different constitutions of the blood. 2nd ed. London, 1750. Contains the first use of the word "influenza" by an English physician. See p. 144.

23. JOHN CARTER. Rush’s practice. 1812. An Iowa doctor’s commentary on causes and treatment of the plague. pp. 247-249.

©2017 John Martin Rare Book Room, Hardin Library for the Health Sciences, 600 Newton Road, Iowa City, IA 52242-1098
Image: Pieter Bruegel, The Triumph of Death (detail), c. 1562, oil on panel, 117 x 162 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid


Acknowledgements to Alice M. Phillips for her work editing the original exhibit material and subsequent web design.