Phisicke Against Fortune, by Francesco Petrarca, Foolscap Press

De Remediis Utriusque Fortunae (“Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul“), by Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), is one of the great books of the middle ages, with its messages and philosophy remaining relevant today.  Translated and published in English in 1579 by Thomas Twyn as Phisicke Against Fortune, the collection of 253 Latin dialogues are basically tidbits of wisdom, self-help and humor focused on fine tuning one’s intellect to understand that thought and deed is the engine for attaining happiness and moral living, as well as that which results in sadness, pain and immoral behavior.

The book and it’s philosophy remain extremely relevant today though, like much of the Western Canon, it is slipping into a realm where only a small number of scholars remain familiar with its contents.  Thus, huge plaudits are due to Foolscap Press, for publishing a fantastic, beautiful and important edition of Phisicke Against Fortune, reminding us all of Petrarch’s genius.

Francesco Petrarca, called by English speakers Petrarch, is one of the great poets of the Western Canon.  The modern Italian language is based on Petrarch’s works.  His sonnets became a model for lyrical poetry during the Renaissance and remain influential today.

Petrarch is often considered the”father of humanism”, a belief that a knowledge of history, grammar, rhetoric, philosophy and poetry would lead people to a more virtuous life.  This humanist philosophy, which helped bring about the Renaissance, essentially emphasized the importance of free-thinking.  This was a major break from the medieval practice of pre-professional ‘trade’-like  training focused on producing clergy, lawyers and doctors (one could argue modern education has unfortunately gone back to reflect medieval times).

Petrarch collected old Latin manuscripts in his many travels, and we can thank him for being one of the first to begin recovering knowledge from ancient Greece and Rome. He is often considered the ‘first tourist’ since he traveled so much for pleasure.  It is Petrarch that deemed the previous centuries to his own as the “Dark Ages”, due to what he saw as ignorance holding sway.

Petrarch died in his house, nearly seventy years of age, of the plague. In today’s world, we should all keep in mind one of Petrach’s main messages that one should show humility in prosperity and fortitude in adversity. I am humbled by the quality of this work by Foolscap.  It is truly a remarkable production that should be admired by many.

About the Edition

Foolscap’s edition brings us 46 of the most important dialogues, together with the woodcut illustrations by Hans Weiditz, originally made for the 1532 German edition.  Weiditz (1495-1537) was a German artist who is known as the “Petrarch Master”, due to his work for Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul.  From Foolscap Press:  “Weiditz is best known for his illustrations for “Brunfels’ Herbal,” which is recognized as the most important herbal of the period and the first botanical book to contain realistic and accurate illustrations…  As an appendix to the text we have included notes on the Weiditz illustrations based on information from Walther Scheidig and translated especially for this edition from the German by Beate Reid…”

The edition includes an essay by William M. Ivins, Jr. (1881-1961), former Curator of Prints at the Museum of Modern Art, who “shares his infectious enthusiasm for the artist whose life had remained largely unappreciated until modern scholarship brought to light his great contribution to German Renaissance art.”

The introduction to this edition is by Lewis W. Spitz, Professor of history at Stanford University.  As stated by Foolscap, Spitz discusses the question of Petrarch’s influence on the northern Renaissance, as well as providing an overview of Petrarch’s written works. Through background and example he shows why Phisicke Against Fortune is, as he says, “a mirror for mankind.”

The 1579 translation by Thomas Twyn is used, “newly transcribed from the Elizabethan blackletter, with the spelling and punctuation standardized.”

Edition Specifics:

  • Limited to 175 copies, 135 copies of which are hand-sewn and the rounded spine is covered in red Japanese cloth and is stamped in gold; 40 copies are specially bound in quarter goatskin and red Japanese cloth and come in a slipcase covered in cloth and printed paper sides. Mine is the specially bound edition and is number 36.
  • Printed letterpress on Lana Royal, a mould-made paper from France
  • The text is set in Monotype as well as handset type using Poliphilus, Bembo Italic and Forum, with Calligraph Initials printed in red
  • Designed, printed and bound at Foolscap Press by Peggy Gotthold & Lawrence G. Van Velzer
  • 12 x 9 inches, 160 pages

Foolscap Press was started in 1990 by Lawrence G. Van Velzer & Peggy Gotthold.  From their website:  Peggy Gotthold worked as a bookbinder at Schuberth Bookbindery in San Francisco and Arion Press. She trained in letterpress printing and typesetting at Cowell Press (UCSC), Yolla Bolly Press and Artichoke Press. Lawrence G. Van Velzer operated his own press and worked as a printer and typesetter at Arion Press. His father taught printing in technical high schools and was a letterpress printer who learned printing from his father, who published a newspaper printed on a handpress in the 1870’s.

This book really is stunning, as you can see in the pictures below.  No short cuts were taken anywhere.  The paper has a great texture and feel.  The type literally jumps from the page. I am not sure I have seen many examples of illustrations showing in such a sharp and clear manner.  The binding is quite handsome, and the slipcase is probably the best single slipcase  I own, as I love the design on it.  This is the type of edition that makes one glad to collect books.

I have had a handful of interactions with Mr. Van Velzer, who is extremely pleasant to communicate with.  I am more than impressed with this edition, gladly subscribe to their press and am looking forward to what comes next.


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Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Slipcase Cover
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Slipcase Spine and Cover
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Book Cover and Spine
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Title Page
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Sample Page with Text, Introduction
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Sample Page with Illustration
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Sample Page with Text with Illustration
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Second Sample Page with Text with Illustration
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Third Sample Page with Text with Illustrations
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Fourth Sample Page with Text with Illustrations
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Second Sample Page with Illustration
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Fifth Sample Page with Text with Illustration

Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Sixth Sample Page with Text and Illustrations

Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Seventh Sample Page with Text and Illustration
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Eighth Sample Page with Text with Illustration
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Sample Page with Text
Phisicke Against Fortune, Foolscap Press, Colophon

14 thoughts on “Phisicke Against Fortune, by Francesco Petrarca, Foolscap Press

  1. Over the years, my intent in building a fine press and private press book collection has been to obtain beautiful editions of significant works, classics in fiction, poetry, history, etc. Unfortunately, the Achilles Heel of many famous private presses is that they published books that were either obscure titles or books that reflected the narrow interests or peculiarities of the main proprietor of the press. The most famous examples of this are the Kelmscottt Press and the Golden Cockerel Press.

    On rare occasion, I have reviewed the publications of a private press and have discovered a book previously unknown to me that immediately attracted my interest, a book I intuitively know I will greatly enjoy reading. Francesco Petrarca’s ‘Phisicke Against Fortune’ is just such a book. Prior to your blog post and photographs I had never heard of either the book or of the Foolscap Press. However, immediately after reading your post I called to reserve my own deluxe copy. This one is a no-brainer, similar to your earlier post describing the Chester River Press edition of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. After reading about both editions, my reaction was identical: “Gotta have it!!”

    Along these lines, a marvelous and very underappreciated American private press called the (Lewis and Dorothy) Allen Press would occasionally publish an obscure book that proved to be a marvelous read. Specifically, their editions of ‘The Poeticon Astronomicon’ and ‘Dialogues of Creatures Moralized’ were editions of ancient works, long forgotten, that I enjoyed reading. I strongly suspect that ‘Phisicke Against Fortune’ will follow in the same vein.

    1. Wow, just looked up the list on Allen Press books from the late 30’s to early 90’s. I was completely unaware of those! From what I can see, they seem pretty amazing. I will need to track some down. I look forward to your thoughts on ‘Phisicke Against Fortune’. Thanks as always for your educational comments!

      1. The L&D Allen Press was one of the finest private presses in the world throughout the 20th Century. This was a remarkable enterprise and was quite literally a “mom and pop” affair with Lewis and Dorothy Allen making each book entirely on their own using either an 1830 Acorn-Smith handpress or an 1835 Columbian handpress in their home. The paper for each book was handmade or mouldmade, each page was printed damp to give it a distinct tactile as well as visualy impression, with Dorothy Allen doing the handsown bindings.

        The first book they published in 1940 called ‘The Trail of Beauty’ was an homage to Lewis Allen’s father and was a collection of his maxims and philosophical thoughts gathered throughout a lifetime of experience and travel. He had worked for the Grabhorn Press in the early part of the 20th Century. For two decades thereafter they published modest volumes, many as commissions from the Book Club of California. They continued in this manner until 1957 when they decided to make this their full time vocation and pursue making handmade books of the highest quality. At this point they sold everything in California, took a sabbatical and moved to France to learn as much as possible about handmade papers and the art of printing books by hand using the letterpress. When they returned two years later they begin making books of extraordinary quality, beginning with their folio-sized edition of Joseph Conrad’s short story “Youth” in 1959. This marked the beginning of what I refer to as their “Great Folio Series”. From 1959 through 1980 they produced handmade, folio-sized books of the highest quality imaginable, all using handmade papers and materials, printed using a 19th century handpress on dampened paper.

        In all, they continued their work until they were well into their 70’s. After over a half century of working by themselves and printing 58 books entirely by hand they finally retired in 1992. This was truly a remarkable enterprise and they have left behind a body of work that is of unquestioned and uncompromising quality. Because they did not have a staff to assist them several characteristics are common to each book:

        1. Most of the volumes were less than 150 pages and they were unable to produce large-scale works such as ‘Ulysses’ or ‘Don Quixote’.

        2. They only published one book each year in most years. Because of this, they could not publish obscure books or books of narrow interest. Fortunately,they didn’t.
        More than any other private press they consistently published books of classic works or overlooked and forgotten works that were well worth rediscovering.

        3. All of their books were published in small runs of 100 to 150 books per title.

        If you are not familiar with the Allen Press you are about to embark upon a won-derful journey and will discover some extraordinary handmade private press books.

        Bon appetit.

      2. Sounds outstanding. I cannot wait to see some of these. Another favor — besides the music article, perhaps I can take the above and post it as an article (giving you credit of course). Do you have a few pictures of any that I could attach to such as article?

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