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
London: Printed for Charles Marsh, Thomas Wilcox and Benjamin Stichall, 1754. 2 volumes, folio. (20 3/4 x 14 3/8 inches). Titles in French and English and printed in red and black, parallel text printed in double columns in French and English. 1 double-page hand-coloured engraved map, 220 hand-coloured etched plates (218 by and after Catesby, most signed with his monogram, plates 61 and 96 in volume II by Georg Dionysius Ehret, one double-page).
Contemporary mottled calf, expertly rebacked to style, spine with raised bands in eight compartments, red and black morocco lettering pieces in the second and third compartments, the others with a repeat decoration in gilt, period marbled endpapers, gilt edges
Provenance: Duke Georg Alexander of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1859-1909, booklabel)
The second edition of the "most famous colorplate book of American plant and animal life ... a fundamental and original work for the study of American species" (Hunt). A beautiful 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 and is the most significant work of American natural history before Audubon.
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 copper 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). The first edition was published in ten parts, with the final part appearing in 1743, plus the twenty plate appendix, which was issued four years later. Work appears to have begun on the present second edition almost immediately, if not simultaneously with the publication of the Appendix in 1747. According to Stafleu & Cowan, the second edition was published between 1748 and 1756. Recent discoveries have suggested that there are multiple issues of the second edition, including early issues that may partly be comprised by sheets from the first edition. The present set includes the first twenty text leaves in their corrected state. Unusually, the present set includes the Catesby's famous image of the magnolia against a black background on a full untrimmed sheet, folded and inserted as a double-page plate; this plate is nearly always trimmed close or into the image and inserted as per the other plates, making the present set especially desirable. This set with esteemed provenance to Duke Georg Alexander of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the eldest son of Duke Georg August of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and of Grand Duchess Catherine Mikhailovna of Russia, from the library at Mikhailovsky Palace in St. Petersburg.
References: Cf. Anker 94; cf. Dunthorne 72; cf. Fine Bird Books (1990) p.86; cf. Great Flower Books (1990) p.87; cf Hunt 486 (1st edition); cf. Jackson Bird Etchings p.76; cf. Meisel III, p.341; cf. Nissen BBI 336; cf. Nissen IVB 177; cf. Ripley Yale p.55; Sabin 11508; cf. Stafleu & Cowan TL2 1057; Wood p.281 ('A rare printing') Literature: E.G. Allen 'The History of American Ornithology before Audubon' in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, new series, vol.41, part 3 (Philadelphia: October 1951) Amy Meyers & Margaret Pritchard Empire's Nature, Mark Catesby's New World Vision (Williamsburg, 1998) Edwin Wolf 2nd, A Flock of Beautiful Birds (Philadelphia, 1977), pp.5-7 (Catesby "was the first to observe and depict North American birds in their natural settings, combining ornithological details with botanic ones").