1545 · Nuremberg
The sole known copy of a prediction pamphlet (mein Almanac, Gasser calls it, f12 recto) for the year 1546 with the first extended reference to Copernicus printed in a vernacular language (German) -- an "enthusiastic hymn of praise" for the great astronomer (Burmeister) addressed not specifically to an international community of scholars but to lay readers of a humble German language almanac whose daily activities "revolve" around the sun. Gasser further acknowledges here heliocentrism as a "hypothesis… demonstratively proven among mathematicians", i.e. a physical fact – a stance virtually unique among astronomers who were generally cautious with their approbations of Copernicus' calculations and methodology in the early years on the road towards its gradual positive reception.
Achilles Gasser was intimately connected with the dissemination of heliocentrism through his patronage of Georg Rheticus, Copernicus' student, who initiated and oversaw the 1543 publication of De Revolutionibus. Gasser was one of very few recipients of the Narratio Prima, intended to drum up support for Copernicus' work and wrote the preface to the 1541 edition of it. Gasser also owned a copy of De Revolutionibus(Gingerich I.99), printed by Johann Petreius(who, not coincidentally, also published the present pamphlet). Alongside Rheticus' Narratio Prima of 1540 and Gasser's preface to the second edition of that work in 1541, the Practica offered here represents one of the very earliest published expressions of support for Copernican heliocentrism in any language.
The extended reference to Copernicus appears in Gasser's dedicatory letter to Caspar Joachim Täntzl, a Tyrolean nobleman and mine owner. Gasser takes pains to heap praise upon the most learned and wonderful man Dr. Nicolaus Copernicus, who away off in Prussia, has taken up the task with such seriousness, diligence, and steadfastness, that for the establishment and restoration of astronomy he has had to lay an utterly and completely new foundation, unheard of before, or rather has been compelled to posit hypotheses not employed by other scholars…namely, that the Sun is a light for all creation and stands unmoved in the midst of the whole universe; that this earthly realm… variously courses round between the planets Venus and Mars... and thus has not only demonstratively proven his theory among the mathematicians, and with great pains restored the portrait of Astronomy, but has also immediately been regarded as having perpetrated a heresy, and indeed—by many others incapable of understanding this matter—is already being condemned (see the complete Danielson translation of the epistle below.).
Numerous scholars penned prediction tracts or almanacs in this era (including another Petreius author, Johannes Schöner); Gasser wrote one for each year from 1544 and 1547. He makes general predictions for the luckiest days of 1546 (B4v)—as well as specifics relevant for mine owners like Täntzl— for example, the relative value of precious metals (B3). Part farmer's almanac and part horoscope, Gasser's predictions depend on the movement of celestial bodies. His investment in propagating the importance of heliocentrism in this seemingly modest tract should therefore come as no surprise.
According to Dennis Danielson in the article cited below, Gasser also penned on the same day and year, a Latin version of the present almanac with a different dedicatory epistle addressed, in this case, to Rheticus in which he urges the acolyte of the great astronomer to continue his efforts to prove the truth of the Copernican hypothesis. He tells the younger scholar, in a manner of speaking, that his job isn't finished yet and to get on with it. Several printed copies of this Latin version exist in German institutions, but none in America.
Offered here a well-preserved, unique copy of the earliest example of vernacular Copernican ephemera. This present, sole known copy (now recorded in VD16 as ZV 28055, with 'Martayan Lan New York' as the source) was only 'discovered' in the late 1990s by the respected historian of science Karl Heinrich Burmeister, through the late Zurich bookdealer Jörg Schäfer.
TEXT OF EPISTLE (folios 1v-2r)
To the noble and worthy Caspar Joachim Tantzl of Tratzberg, etc., his most gracious and beloved master, Achilles Pirmin Gasser of Lindau, doctor of natural and medicinal arts, extends his willing service and best regards.
Noble, worthy, and gracious master, Your Worthiness doubtless still remembers the disputation that you often engaged in with me, not without exceeding amazement, concerning astronomy, while I was in your service in Schwatz last year, and above all the conversation in which – with the help of a small book I had with me, eventually to be printed – I expressed my desire for a large lodestone, whereby the course of the Sun and also the disposition of the firmament (which in the schools we call the Primum Mobile, though we know not where of what it is) would here on Earth be rendered calculable and thoroughly perceptible in such a way that no more defects, so frequent until now, should appear.
Moreover, as I then indicated to Your Worthiness, the greatest masters of this art have continuously, for seventeen hundred years, found the movement of the stars and planets rather incongruous and imperfect according to their instruments and calculations, indeed even according to their daily experience. For this reason, one after the other they always kept on hoping to adjust, improve, and remedy this situation by means of clever contrivances and ingenious speculations, as is evident in Hipparchus, Ptolemy, Al-Zarqali, Al-Bitrui, Cusanus, Regiomantanus, and finally Werner, with each on correcting the other, now inventing new spheres, then discarding the old ones and thinking up something else, and on and on, with no end of cycles, epicycles, and theoricae – until now so recently, in our own day, also the most learned and wonderful man Dr. Nicolaus Copernicus, away off in Prussia, has taken up the task with such seriousness, diligence, and steadfastness, that for the establishment and restoration of astronomy he has had to lay an utter and completely new foundation, unheard of before, or rather has been compelled to posit hypotheses not employed by other scholars (namely, that the Sun is a light for all creation and stands unmoved in the midst of the whole universe; that his earthly realm together with the other three elements and the circuit of the Moon variously courses round between the planets Venus and Mars; and also that the heavens beyond Saturn, in which are seen the fixed stars, all together stand fast and unmoved, with no other spheres encompassing them, etc.) and thus has not only demonstratively proven his theory among the mathematicians, and with great pains, restored the portrait of Astronomy, but has also immediately been regarded as having perpetrated a heresy, and indeed – by many others incapable of understanding his matter – is already being condemned.
Since now Your Worthiness has for the benefit of this art and sundry other things promised to extract and provide me with a large lodestone from your mine, I have a good will to see progress in this matter and am moved to put these my Practica for the coming year 1546 into writing, for as Your Worthiness has no meagre capacity in astrological predictions to make discriminations and record nature's signs – which, however, must be derived solely from the courses of the planets and their position or placement relative to the other stars – You may easily weigh how very necessary it is that he who can help, advise, and give impetus to such an undertaking should do so, in order that it can actually be brought to fruition.
So I hoped to in particular that I might in part accomplish this by means of a large lodestone. I would like therefore to ask Your Worthiness to execute the specificied transaction, and to be gracious to accept this my published dedication in your honour, for I remain ever willing, whenever I may, to demonstrate to Your Worthiness my love and service.
May God in heaven be with us, and likewise ever protect your noble and virtuous wife and dear children.
Feldkirch, Monday, 27 July 1545.
*Burmeister, "'Mit subtilen fündlein und sinnreichen speculierungen...'". Die 'Practica auff das M.D.XLvj. jar' des Achilles Pirmin Gasser im Umfeld zeitgenössischer Astrolgen" Montfort 55 (2003); Danielson, "Achilles Gasser and the Birth of Copernicanism," Journal for the History of Astronomy, 35/2004, 457-74. (Inventory #: 4084)