Rosarium sermonum. Bernardino de' Busti.
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Cito, Longe, Tarde. A Late 15th-Century Plague Sermon.

Rosarium sermonum.

First edition. Jussi Hanska, professor of history and philosophy at Tampere University, Finland, calls Sermon XL in Bernadino de' Busti's collection of Easter sermons a "how to survive a plague" manual, which imparts a great deal of practical information and pragmatic advice to his Pavia congregation at a time when Italy was under virtually constant and unending threat of plague and other epidemic scourges. Most plague sermons written from 1348 to the end of the 15th century tended to follow the dictates of church dogma: that plagues (and other catastrophes) are the result of an excess of sin. These sermons usually conclude with advice on how to elevate one's lifestyle now so that future plagues can be avoided. Very few such sermons bore actual information about the nature and causes of plague. Bernardino de' Busti's sermon, which though bookended with stern admonitions to the sinful, is essentially a vade mecum on understanding and surviving a plague. Written sometime between 1475 (when Bernardino entered the order of the Observant Friars Minor of the Lombard vicariate in Pavia), and 1498, (when this collection was published), Sermon XL, the Sabbato post quartam dominicam in quadragesima de pestilentie signis causis et remediis, was probably delivered when a plague was imminent, or at least raging nearby. The tone of the sermon suggests that plague was on everyone's mind, and so could have been delivered in 1479, when the plague was rampant in England, or possibly in 1481 or 1483, when serious outbreaks occurred in Northern Italy and Germany. (It is worth nothing that in 1486 sudor anglicus, or the English sweating sickness, had arrived in Germany, and in 1494, syphilis was in harsh evidence, and even though Bernardino is specifically sermonizing here about what we now call bubonic plague, the threat of new and emerging lethal epidemics was ever-present.) Bernardino's sermon, delivered on the Saturday after the fourth Sunday in the Lenten period, was divided into four parts: an introduction, followed by a section on the signs that an epidemic is on the way (in qua ponunt signa ex quibus possumus cognoscere pestilentiam debere venire in brevi), which is astrological in nature, and suggests how to read other catastrophes, such as earthquakes and plagues of insects (notably, a plague of locusts tormented the Italian peninsula in 1478, following a heat wave). The third part (huius sermonis de causis quare Deus mittit pestilentiam) treats the reasons God sends plagues, with discusses "putrid air" and pestilential places. The fourth part (huius sermonis de remedis co[n]tra pestilentiam), is a summary of the remedies against plague, which opens with the practical concept of cito, longe, tarde, or "leave quickly, fly far, and return slowly," a precept in place since the original medieval European plague outbreak of 1348. Bernardino was a well-loved preacher, with a large following and much support from his order, and likely had permission to deliver a sermon with the practical realities of the ubiquitous threat of death from plague. His sermons were reprinted in 1500, and several times in the 16th century. In spite of its importance in the history of medicine, it was overlooked by Klebs, and only first noticed in the modern era by Henry Viets and James Ballard in their 1940 essay on plague tracts held at the Boston Public Library. The sermon has since been examined by medical historians in detail.  


Full title: Roſarium ſermonum predicabilium ad fa | ciliorem predicantium co[m]moditatem | nouiſſime co[m]pilatum. In quo quic- | quid preclarum & utile in cu[n]ctis  | ſermonariis uſq[ue] in hodiernu[m] | editis continetur: hic inge- | nioſe enucleatum atq[ue] ſo | lerti cura collectum | inuenies. | ✠ [Venice: Georgius Arrivabenus, 31 May 1498 (Vol. I), 16 August 1498 (Vol. II)].

Venice: Georgius Arrivabenis, 1498.

Quarto, 191 x 161 x 61 mm (binding), 185 x 157 x 54 mm (text block); Vol. I: π8 3-48 56 a-z8 8 ƺ8 8 Ɂ8 ƾ8 aa-ff6, gg4 =290 ff. Vol. II: 8 ✠✠10; A-3E8 [-3E8, a blank] =425 of 426 ff. Nineteenth-century quarter diced sheep over thick marrbled boards, titled in gilt to second compartment. Extremities worn, spine faded, boards abraded. Interior: Title soiled with damage and discoloration to head margin, with loss to one word verso (mended, three letters renewed in manuscript); contemporary marginal manuscript annotations trimmed in places, minor foxing passim, otherwise a well-preserved copy with a crisp rattle to the leaves.

Provenance:

Custodial signature partially erased from head of title at an early date, now illegible. Unidentified 19th-century shelf label to tail of spine, numbered 26011. This copy offered for sale by Vienna bookseller Wolfgang Friebes in his catalogue 123, without noting plague content.

GW 5807; ISTC ib01336000; Goff B1336; Hain 4163*; Pellechet 3114; Polain(B) 944; Sack (Freiburg) 880; Ohly-Sack 757; Walsh 2141; Proctor 4935; BMC V 387; BSB-Ink B-1018. Hanska, Jussi, Strategies of Sanity and Survival: Religious Responses to Natural Disasters in the Middle Ages (Vol. II of Studia Fennica Historica), Helsinki, Finnish Literature Society, 2019, pp 111-113; Viets, Henry, and Ballard, James, "Notes on the Plague Tracts in the Boston Medical Library," Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. VIII, No. 3, Baltimore: JHUP, 1940, pp. 370-80; Bowers, Barbara S., and Keyser, Linda Migl, Medica: The Society for the Study of Healing in the Middle Ages Ch. 4, Gecser, Otto, "Doctors and Preachers against the Plague: Attitudes toward Disease in Late Medieval Plague Tracts and Plague Sermons," New York: Routledge, 2016, pp. 94-5; Conti, Fabrizio, Preachers and Confessors against "Superstitions," The Rosarium Sermonum by Bernardino Busti and its Milanese Context (dissertation submitted to the Central European University Department of Medieval Studies), Budapest: 2011, pp. 45-6; Webster, Noah, A Brief History of Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases, Hartford: Hudson & Goodwin, 1799, pp. 147-49.

Item #166

Price: $8,500.00

Status: On Hold