ALKEN, Henry Thomas (1785-1851)
The National Sports of Great Britain ... With descriptions in English and French ... Chasse et Amusemens Nationaux de la Grande Bretagne
London: printed for Thomas M'lean by Howlett & Brimmer, 1823 [plates watermarked 1822-1824]. Folio. (18 3/4 x 12 1/4 inches). Parallel titles and text in English and French, text leaves with numerical signatures from 1-50. Hand-coloured engraved additional title, 50 hand-coloured aquatint plates by I. Clark after Henry Alken. (Final two plates and text leaves with minor paper loss to blank margins).
Contemporary black straight-grained morocco, the covers elaborately panelled in gilt, the spine in six compartments with raised bands, lettered in the second compartment, the others with elaborate repeat pattern built up from small tools, gilt turn ins, cream-glazed endpapers, red morocco inner hinges, gilt edges
A fine copy of "Alken's most important work ... It must always form the cornerstone of any Alken collection" (Tooley).
The plates and text between them offer a thorough survey of the sports practised in Great Britain in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The subjects covered including riding, fox, stag and otter hunting, beagling, racing, falconry, various types of dogs and horses, shooting grouse, partridge, pheasant, snipe, wild-fowl, bittern, pigeon, fishing for pike, and salmon, fishing from a punt, prize-fighting, cock-fighting, badger, bear, and bull-baiting and perhaps most extraordinary of all: "owling." It is interesting to note that although both the artist and the author felt that it was necessary to record badger, bear and bull baiting they did not hold back from condemning all three sports as barbaric.
This copy is a later issue. The additional title is dated 1821 (rather than 1820, as in the first issue), a letterpress title in French has been added (only the English title is present in the first and second issues) and the explanatory text leaves are signed consecutively from 1 to 50 (Podeschi records an intermediate state/issue where only some of the text leaves are numbered). The watermarks suggest a date of circa 1824. The plates, very carefully hand-coloured, are all aquatints by I. Clark, and retain all of the liveliness that is such a feature of this work.
The artist Henry Thomas Alken was born into what became a sporting artistic dynasty. He studied under the miniature painter J.T. Barber and exhibited his first picture (a miniature portrait) at the Royal Academy when he was sixteen. From about 1816 onwards he "produced paintings, drawings and engravings of every type of field and other sporting activity. He is best remembered for his hunting prints, many of which he engraved himself until the late 1830s ... To many, sporting art is 'Alken', and to describe his work or ability is quite unnecessary" (Charles Lane British Racing Prints pp.75-76).
Litchfield 14; cf. Mellon/Podeschi 111; cf. Schwerdt I, p.19 & IV, p.4; Tooley 42.