A Friend to the Sick: or, the Honest English Mans Preservation.

SERMON William (1673.)

£2600.00  [First Edition]

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Shewing the Causes, Symptoms, and Cures of most Occult and Dangerous Diseases which afflict the Body of Man. With a Particular Discourse of the Dropsie, Scurvy, and Yellow Jaundice. And the most Absolute Way of Cure. Whereunto is added, a True relation of some of the most Remarkable Cures effected by the Author's most Famous Cathartique and Diuretique Pills, wherewith was cured his late Grace George Duke of Albermarle, &c. Set forth for the Publick Benefit, by William Sermon Doctor in Physick, One of His Maiesties Physicians in Ordinary.


First Edition. 8vo (170 x 105mm). [22], 80, 77-275, [1] pp., title-page printed in red and black, engraved frontispiece portrait of the author by William Sherwin "ad vivum". A little light staining and browning in places. Contemporary sheep, covers ruled in blind, smooth spine ruled in blind, marbled edges ((joints worn and cracking at the head and tail, headcaps broken and headbands missing and patched with glue).


London: by W. Downing for Edward Thomas, 1673 

Wing S2627 (8 copies in the UK; Uppsala University; W. A. Clark Library, Countway Library of Medicine, Folger, Huntington, University of Minnesota, New York Academy of Medicine, Northwestern University, US National Library of Medicine.   


ABPC records two copies at auction other than the present: the first at Christie’s, 22/3/1996 (£950) and another at Swann, 19/2/2004 (lacking the portrait, institutional stamps, dampstained, $175). Before these Rare Book Hub records no copy sold since the George Thorn-Drury sale at Sotheby’s in 1931. 


With liminary verses by Payne Fisher (in Latin), Thomas Philipott, W. Faldo of Gray’s Inn, Edward Cocker, the writing-master and mathematician, Henry Care, Philiatrospresumably the writer and polemicist, “M. S.”, William Winstanley, biographer and poet, Richard Bull, and Jo. Welbank.


William Sermon (1629-80) served under General George Monck (later Duke of Albemarle) in the Parliamentary forces and later practiced medicine in London and Bristol. He became famous for his pills which were purported to cure dropsy, scurvy, and “all other sharp, salt, and watry humors. Sermon used these pills in 1669 to cure Monck of dropsy (oedema, fluid retention) and, with his gift for self-promotion published several editions of a 30-page advertising pamphlet for his pills, An advertisement concerning those most famous cathartique and diuretique pills. … wherewith was cured the late Lord General Monck of the dropsie: some hundreds before, and many since, having received absolute cure thereby (London, 1671-72). ESTC lists so-called fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, eleventh editions. The volume is dedicated to Monck’s son, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle.


The text is divided into 36 chapters, each dealing with a particular part of the body or illness with a selection of cures, from "Of the Pain in the Head through Heat" (Chapter 1) to "Of the Sciatica, or Hip-Gout" (Chapter 35). Other chapters deal with the Falling-Sickness, King's Evil, Asthma, Scurvy, Jaundice, French Pox, Plague, and Gout.


The final chapter (from p. 234) of A Friend to the Sick contains numerous accounts of cures of patients (including himself) and a few testimonial letters - or, according to the ODNB “a variety of rambling reminiscences” - by Sermon’s satisfied patients in London and in and around Bristol and Bath where he had been called by an outbreak of plague in 1666. Some of these patients are anonymous but many are named with their occupation and location and symptoms. The apparently successful treatment of Monck who, “by taking nineteen or twenty Doses of my Pills, in twenty eight days evacuated by Stool twelve gallons of water; upon which his Swellings all abated” (p. 245) - he hastens to add that his Grace died not of the Dropsie, as some of the most rude still maliciously report” on 3 Jan. 1670 - secured Sermon’s reputation and he was later favoured by Charles II who instructed Cambridge University to award Sermon a doctorate of medicine. 


On the last page is an advertisement for Sermon’s other full-length book, The Ladies Companion, or the English Midwife (1671), and for his pills. The pills, which were gilded, were sold in wooden boxes of 20 (4 shillings), 40 (8 shillings) or 60 (12 shillings) sealed with Sermon’s seal - “And with each Box is delivered a Printed Book of Directions with the Authors Name at length in the Title-page.” This was presumably the advertising pamphlet mentioned above.


On the endleaves and the verso of the title are written several contemporary medical recipes in ink. At the front are cure the “biting of a mad dogg,” “A good salve for any sore, “A Drink for a sore breast”, “A receyt for ye Syatica” and “for a festred wound” Others are on the hidden side of the front pastedown (once a flyleaf but now stuck-down)On the recto of the rear flyleaf is a manuscript recipe to “stay purging” which calls for “Half a pound of the purest resin, of virgin wax” mixed with camphor, white wine and turpentine and then “spread it upon a piece of new linen cloth shaped like a heart and apply it to the region of the stomach with the broad end downwards resting almost but not the navill [navel]”.


The copy at the Folger also has manuscript recipes on the endleaves and a presentation inscription: “The Guift [sic] of Doctor William Sermon To his Very Good Friend Mr Isaac Purse of Tewxsbury September the 11th 1673”. 

Later Provenance: Martin Woolf Orskey
 (1952-2018), bookseller, Orskey’s initials in blue biro on the rear pastedown. Orskey’s library was sold by Dominic Winter Auctioneers in June 2019. 


Stock Code: 233071

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