ALKEN, Henry Thomas (1785-1851)
The National Sports of Great Britain
London: Thomas McLean, 1821. Folio. (18 3/4 x 12 1/4 inches). English and French titles (recto and verso of the same leaf), English and French text throughout. Additional hand-coloured engraved title, 50 hand-coloured aquatint plates by J. Clark after Henry Alken.
Contemporary straight-grained red morocco, covers with wide roll-tool border in gilt and blind and central emblem of a stag within a cartouche of foliage and flowers, spine in eight compartments with raised bands, lettered in the second compartment, the others with an elaborate repeating stag decoration in gilt, gilt edges.
Considered Alken's most important work, this first edition of The National Sports of Great Britain offered a spirited defense of genteel outdoor amusements. 'It must always form the cornerstone of any Alken collection' (Tooley). Contains illustrations and descriptions of horse racing, angling, shooting, fox hunting, and 'owling', as well as bare-knuckled prize fighting and cock fighting.
Plates and text offer a thorough survey of the sports practised in Great Britain in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. 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, prize-fighting, cock-fighting, badger hunting, and perhaps most extraordinary of all: 'owling.' Also included are bear and bull baiting, sports that Alken condemned as barbaric. Defending the practice of cock fighting against its critics, Alken ingeniously argued that the animals 'die of that which they love, for it is impossible to make a Cock fight against his will' (Malcomson). 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, 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; Robert W. Malcomson, Popular Recreations in English Society, 1700-1850.