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Henry Lyte

James Walter White:

About this time, in 1578, there appeared an English translation of Dodoens' Dutch Herbal-the book which is thought to have inspired Gerard. This handsome black-letter folio, printed at Antwerp for the sake of the Flemish wood-cuts, was the useful work of the head of an ancient Somerset family-"Henry Lyte Esquyre, Armiger Somersetensis," of Lytes Cary, whose venerable manor house still stands. He flourished as courtier, student and writer through the last years of Queen Elizabeth, and dedicated the translation to his "most dread redoughted Soveraigne." It contains a good number of plants not mentioned in Turner's Herbal, and the translator added 30 new wood-cuts to the original foreign ones. Although we can gather from him only a few local references of interest-to Hypericum androsaemum, Saxifraga granulata and Salsola Kali-it is evident that Lyte had a sound knowledge of plants. He cultivated them in his own garden (p. 398), and knew what other herbalists were growing. It might have been expected, therefore, that he would have inserted in his work a larger number of references to the flora of his own estate and Somerset at large. But doughtless there were reasons for sticking closely to the text of his author. In fact, Lyte wards off criticism in a quaint address to the reader:- "If perchaunce any list to picke a quarrell to my translation, as not being either proper or not ful, if I may obteine of him to beare with me til he himselfe shall have set foorthe a better.... and in the meane while (considering that it is easier to reprehend a mans doing than to amend it) use me as a whetstone to further himselfe withal, I will not much strive: for I seek not after vayne glorie, but rather how to benefite and profite my countrie."

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