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: Thomas McLean ... Printed by W. Lewis, 1821 [plates watermarked 1818]. Folio. (18 3/4 x 12 1/2 inches). English and French titles (recto and verso of the same leaf), English and French text throughout. Hand-coloured engraved additional title, 50 hand-coloured aquatint plates by I. Clark after Henry Alken. Minor offsetting.
Contemporary red straight-grained morocco, the covers elaborately panelled in gilt, expertly rebacked with the original spine, spine in six compartments with raised bands, lettered in the second compartment, the others with an elaborate repeat decoration in gilt, brown endpapers, gilt edges
A fine wide-margined copy of the first issue 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.
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" (Lane).
This copy is the first issue, with the additional titled dated 1820, and as such is described by Tooley as "extremely rare." 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.
Litchfield 14; cf. Mellon/Podeschi 111; cf. Schwerdt I, p.19 & IV, p.4; Tooley 41; Lane British Racing Prints 75--6.