CATESBY, Mark (1683-1749)
The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects and plants; particularly those not hitherto described, or incorrectly figured by former authors, with their descriptions in English and French ... By the late Mark Catesby ... Revised by Mr. Edwards ... Histoire Naturelle de la Caroline, de la Floride, et des Isles de Bahama ...
London: printed for Benjamin White, 1771. 2 volumes, folio. Titles and text in English and French. 220 hand-coloured engraved plates by or after Catesby (3 plates [61, 80 and 96 in volume 2] after Georg Dionysius Ehret), 1 double-page hand-coloured engraved map of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands.
Expertly bound to style in half diced russia over period marbled paper covered boards, spines in seven compartments with raised bands, tooled in gilt on either side of each band, lettered in gilt in the second and fourth compartments, the others with a repeat decoration in gilt, yellow edges
"Catesby's Natural History is the most famous colour-plate book of American plant and animal life ... a fundamental and original work for the study of American species" (Hunt). A lovely and vastly important work by the founder of American ornithology, this book embodies the most impressive record made during the colonial period of the natural history of an American colony. This is undoubtedly the most significant work of American natural history before Audubon. This copy a fine example of a later issue of the third edition.
Trained as a botanist, Catesby travelled to Virginia in 1712 and remained there for seven years, sending back to England collections of plants and seeds. With the encouragement of Sir Hans Sloane and others, Catesby returned to America in 1722 to seek materials for his Natural History; he travelled extensively in Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and the Bahamas, sending back further specimens. His preface provides a lengthy account of the development of this work, including his decision to study with Joseph Goupy in order to learn to etch his plates himself to ensure accuracy and economy. The end result is encyclopaedic: Catesby provides information not only on the botany and ornithology of the area, but also on its history, climate, geology and anthropology.
Catesby writes in the preface of his method of working: "As I was not bred a Painter, I hope some faults in Perspective, and other niceties, may be more readily excused: for I humbly conceive that Plants, and other Things done in a Flat, if an exact manner, may serve the Purpose of Natural History, better in some Measure, than in a mere bold and Painter-like Way. In designing the Plants, I always did them while fresh and just gathered: and the Animals, particularly the Birds, I painted while alive (except a very few) and gave them their Gestures peculiar to every kind of Birds, and where it could be admitted, I have adapted the Birds to those Plants on which they fed, or have any relation to. Fish, which do not retain their colours when out of their Element, I painted at different times, having a succession of them procured while the former lost their colours ... Reptiles will live for many months ... so that I had no difficulty in painting them while living" (Vol.I, p.vi).
First issued in parts between 1730 and 1747, this 1771 third edition appeared in at least two issues. The first was produced in 1771, and was printed throughout on laid paper. The present copy is a later issue, with plates on Whatman wove paper watermarked 1815-1816, and the text still on laid paper. This wove paper was ideal for the printing of engraved plates as the smooth surface takes an impression much more correctly than the earlier laid paper, where the chain lines produce slight corrugations in the paper surface. Copies vary in the quality of colouring; in the present copy the colouring is superb.
Anker 95; Clark I:55; Dunthorne 72; Fine Bird Books (1990), p. 86; Great Flower Books (1990), p.85; Meisel III:340; Nissen BBI 336, IVB 177; Sabin 11509; Stafleu & Cowan TL2 1057; Wood p. 282; Amy Meyers and Margaret Pritchard, Empire's Nature, Mark Catesby's New World Vision, Williamsburg, 1998.