PURSH, Frederick (1774-1820)
Flora Americae Septentrionalis; or, A Systematic Arrangement and Description of the Plants of North America. Containing, besides what may have been described by preceding authors, many new and rare species, collected during twelve years travels and residence in that country
London: Richard & Arthur Taylor for White, Cochrane, & Co., 1814. 2 volumes, octavo. (8 1/4 x 5 1/4 inches). 24 hand-coloured stipple-engraved plates (1 plate signed as being by W.Hooker after Pursh, a second signed as by and after Hooker, the others unsigned). Scattered foxing to the text.
Contemporary half dark green straight grain morocco and marbled paper covered boards, expert repairs at joints
Provenance: Charles H. Olmsted (bookplate)
First edition of the rare coloured issue of the first botanical record of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
A landmark work in early American botany, the first to publish the findings of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and a book which has been styled by one botanical historian as "amazingly brilliant." Born in Grossenhain in Saxony, Pursh came to America in 1799. Aided by Benjamin Smith Barton he made two memorable journeys of botanical exploration in 1806 and 1807. On his return from the second journey in 1807, he took over the running of David Hosack's Elgin Botanic Garden in New York. He remained in the United States until 1811, when he sailed for England in an attempt to arrange for the publication of the present work. In 1806 Pursh had met Meriwether Lewis, who gave him a collection of dried plants gathered on the expedition, "in order to describe and figure those I thought new, for the purpose of inserting them in his travels, which he was then engaging for the press." It is unclear why Lewis chose to turn the specimens over to Pursh. He may have intended that they go to Barton, for whom Pursh then worked. In any case, the death of Lewis and the delay in publication of the account of the expedition led Pursh to incorporate the Lewis and Clark material into his own work, where the material from the expedition and the locations where Lewis gathered it are carefully noted, with specimens identified as "in Herb. Lewis." Pursh's work is important for eastern botany as well, but its greatest contribution is the material relating to Lewis and Clark, and the publication of the first extensive observations on the botany along the route of their expedition. A fascinating feature of the work is the narrative preface in which Pursh gives some detail of his life and travels in the Americas, as well as mentioning the botanists he encountered and giving a description of the sources he consulted in England after his arrival in 1811. Pursh returned to North America and died in Montreal in 1820. For each plant Pursh gives a brief description, followed by a note as to who first described the plant, followed by notes gathered from other works. Many of the entries then conclude with Pursh's own interesting comments: "The Red Cedar, so useful and durable a wood, for whose history refer to Michaux's work so often quoted, is as yet in great abundance in most parts of the country; but its extermination is going on so rapidly, that future inhabitants will be very much at a loss, and will feel the want of it when it is too late" (vol.II, p.647 Juniperus Virginiana entry).
Bradley Bibliography I, 306; McKelvey Botanical Exploration, pp.73-83; Meisel III, 374; Nissen BBI 1570; Pritzel 7370; Sabin 66728; Stafleu & Cowan 8404.