University of Glasgow


Part of the Library and University Services

Please note that these pages are from our old (pre-2010) website; the presentation of these pages may now appear outdated and may not always comply with current accessibility guidelines.


A Catalogue of works published 1529-1793 preserved in Glasgow University Library, with an appendix listing manuscripts containing items by or about Paracelsus

Catalogue originally published on the occasion of the symposium The transformation of Paracelsianism 1500-1800: Alchemy, Chemistry and Medicine Glasgow, 15-19 September, 1993, organised jointly by the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine and the University Library Special Collections Department to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Paracelsus.

Introduction and catalogue by David Weston. Revised for the web by Julie Gardham in March 2000.


In 1921 the University Court of Glasgow accepted the recommendation of its Library Committee that it should acquire the chemical library of the late Professor of Chemistry, John Ferguson (1837-1916). In so doing the Library received not only a fitting memorial to one who had taught within its walls for over forty years, but also one of the finest libraries ever assembled in the fields of alchemy, early chemistry and hermetic philosophy. Comprising around 7,500 volumes it is several times greater than the Young collection (now in the care of the University of Strathclyde) which formed the basis of Ferguson's most famous work of bio-bibliography, the Bibliotheca chemica: a catalogue of the alchemical, chemical and pharmaceutical books in the collection of the late James Young. Glasgow, 1906.

frontispiece of MS Ferguson 219

title-page from Ferguson Ap-y.151: catalogue 154

Amongst its many treasures are over 200 volumes of the writings of Paracelsus, some 180 of which are separately published editions before 1800. This remarkable collection appears to have been amassed carefully over a period of twenty or so years, commencing with Ferguson's first essay in Paracelsian research; a paper to the University Dialectic Society in 1873, entitled simply, Paracelsus, and culminating in the purchase of the extensive Paralcelsia belonging to Dr. Eduard Schubert sometime in 1894. Schubert, with his friend Karl Sudhoff, had been interested in Paracelsus since his student days, and together they published Paracelsus-Forschungen between 1887 and 1889. They had also collaborated on a comprehensive bibliography of Paracelsus editions. This was subsequently completed by Sudhoff, and finally published in 1894, two years after Schubert's death at the age of seventy. In the introduction to his Bibliographia Paracelsia Sudhoff lists the numerous libraries that he has used in the compilation of this monumental work. Glasgow University Library, however, receives no mention, a fact which, at first surprising, becomes quite understandable when one considers the chronology of events. While Sudhoff was writing his introduction Schubert's library was on the point of being offered for sale by the London firm of William Wesley & Son, scientific booksellers and publishers (December, 1893). Although no documentary evidence of the transaction has so far emerged, the many books which bear Schubert's ownership marks in Ferguson's library testify to his having purchased all of the Paracelsian texts and many of the more general alchemical works from the Wesley catalogue. For almost the next thirty years then until it passed into the hands of the University this rich collection of Paracelsia remained comparatively unknown in Ferguson's own library.

title-page from Ap-e.59: cat. 125

Owing to the terms of the sale, that 'no part of it [ie. the library] will be sold separately, with the exception of the portion on Alchemy' several of the volumes Ferguson acquired by this purchase duplicated his already not inconsiderable holdings of Paracelsus. If we examine closely what he tells us in the series of six Bibliographia Paracelsia issued privately in Glasgow between 1877 and 1896, we discover that his collection is steadily growing from apparently zero in 1877 to 71 in 1885, 96 in 1890, 119 in 1892, and 120 in 1893, about a year prior to his acquisition of Schubert's collection.

Sudhoff, however, was not unaware of Ferguson's interst in the bibliography of Paracelsus. Several entries in the Bibliographia Paracelsia owe their existence solely to information supplied by Ferguson in his publications. This is especially true of a number of the English editions, which Sudhoff was unable to inspect personally (cf. Sudhoff, 168: The key of Phylosophy London, 1575). As a token of his indebtedness Sudhoff presented Ferguson with a copy of his magnum opus which the latter received on the 18th of October 1894.

Outside the Ferguson collection there are only five works by Paracelsus in the Library, none of which was acquired before the nineteenth century. In 1807 the arrival of William Hunter's library brought three 16th century editions, the Chirurgia magna and Chirurgia minor (Strassburg, 1573) and the Fasciculus Paracelsicae medicinae (Frankfurt am Main, 1581). A copy of the Opera omnia (Geneva, 1658) was acquired for the Medical Library in 1812 and the English Paracelsus his Archidoxes (London, 1661) came with the John Veitch collection in 1895.

This catalogue describes all the pre-1800 separately published editions of works by or ascribed to Paracelsus preserved in the Library. It therefore excludes items included in anthologies along with other authors. It is divided into three sections dealing with 1. Collected works, 2. Smaller collections of two or more works, and 3. Single works. Within these sections entries are arranged alphabetically by the title proper (omitting prefixed author statements) of the earliest edition, followed, chronologically by subsequent editions of that text in whatever language. To facilitate the location of items, a complementary chronological index ia also provided.

woodcut on p.25 of Ap-e.59: cat 125

In order to alert scholars to the full extent of Paracelsus material available at Galsgow, a detailed catalogue of the eighteen manuscripts containing items ascribed to, or about him has been appended. For permission to incorporate the latter, and for much helpful advice I am indebted to Adam Maclean of the Bibiliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam.

David Weston, Keeper of Special Collections

Go to: Catalogue - Chronological Index