ABBOT, John (1751-1840); and Sir James Edward SMITH (1759-1828)
The Natural History of the rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia. Including their systematic characters, the particulars of their several metamorphoses, and the plants on which they feed. Collected from the observations of Mr John Abbot, many years resident in that country, by James Edward Smith.
London: printed by T. Bensley for J. Edwards, Cadell and Davies and J. White, 1797 [text watermarked 1794; plates watermarked 1817-1821]. 2 volumes, folio. (15 7/8 x 12 1/4 inches). Parallel titles and text in French and English. 104 hand-coloured engraved plates by John Harris after Abbot, some heightened with gum-arabic.
Expertly bound to style in half calf over contemporary marbled paper covered boards, flat spines in six compartments divided by gilt triple fillets and roll tools, red-brown morocco labels in the second compartments, the others with a repeat decoration in gilt
A fine copy of John Abbot's masterpiece: the earliest illustrated monograph devoted to the butterflies and moths of North America.
John Abbot was one of the most important and prolific of the early American natural history artists. Born in London in 1751, Abbot developed his interest in natural history and drawing as a child. His curiosity about the natural world was encouraged by his parents who were relatively wealthy (at one time the family library included copies of Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands as well as George Edwards' Natural History of Uncommon Birds and Gleanings of Natural History ).
Having received sponsorship from the Royal Society of London and the collectors Thomas Martyn and Dru Drury, Abbot sailed for Virginia in July 1773, with orders for both actual specimens and drawings of the local insects. For the next two years he continued to collect and paint, sending home three insect collections, although only one arrived safely. The loss of these two valuable collections at sea together with the worry over political unrest in Virginia led Abbot to move to Georgia: he settled in St. George Parish (later Burke County), Georgia in December 1775.
Abbot traveled widely throughout Georgia devoting his time to the study of the natural flora and fauna. The constant flow of specimen collections and watercolours of insects, and later of birds, ensured that his name became known to many of the foremost natural scientists and collectors of the day, both in America and Europe. Sir James Edward Smith, co-founder and first president of the Linnaean Society of London, recognised Abbot's talents, and responded enthusiastically to Abbot's desire to publish an illustrated work on the butterflies and moths of Georgia, agreeing to edit the work for Abbot. Smith, in the preface to the present work, praised Abbot highly as the first author "since the celebrated Merian", to illustrate and describe the lepidoptera of the American continent scientifically, including both representations of the caterpillars and "the plants on which each insect chiefly feeds." The work is also valuable for the numerous first hand comments and observations that Abbot has added. Like the Botfield copy, this copy was issued circa 1822, with the plates on J. Whatman Turkey Mills wove paper.
Abbot's water-colours are amongst the finest natural history illustrations ever made: elegant and scientifically accurate, they rank with those of his famous contemporaries, William Bartram and Alexander Wilson. William Swainson described Abbot as one of the United States' most important natural history artists, as "a most assiduous collector, and an admirable draftsman of insects. [This] work is one of the most beautiful that this or any other country can boast of" (quoted by Sabin).
Arnold Arboretum, p. 27; BM(NH) I, p. 2l; Dunthorne 287; cf. Pamela Gilbert John Abbot Birds, Butterflies and Other Wonders London: Natural History Museum, 1998; Nissen ZBI 2; Vivian Rogers-Price John Abbot in Georgia: The Vision of a Naturalist Artist Madison, Georgia: Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, 1983; Sabin 25.