Allen 2010

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Allen, David Elliston. Books and Naturalists. London: HarperCollins, 2010.

Overall: like Pavord 2005, this book examines its historical content through the framework of the present -- thus e.g. proto-botanists are judged against the standards of modern-day botany and, not surprisingly found to fall short. Interesting tidbits for follow-up are recorded here.

A List of the Birds that have been Observed to Breed in the Island of Arran, Scotland, since the year 1835 -- "bore the appearance of a privately printed catalogue of a kind that 19c collectors sometimes drew up"; author named "Dr Martin Barry, MD, FRS", but no other details -- no printer; turns out a bookdealer by the name of Calvert had falsely created the list to "provide a false provenance for bogus specimens of negligible value that he had substituted for genuine ones in [the real] Barry collection. Unwisely, though, to allay suspicion, he mixed the fraudulent ones with choice eggs lifted from another well-known collection that had come into his possession -- but, alas for him, so choice and so well-known that their true identity was spotted by people familiar with them." (19)

Gerard's herbal; copy owned by Sir John Salusbury has marginal notes adding Welsh local plants which Salusbury's son Sir Henry added to (41)

Martin Lister -- enlisted women in his familiy to create engravings for his self-published work;

"Quite possibly this solution was at the prompting of Lister's wife, appalled at the prospect of so many years of devoted labour by her husband coming to nought in the end through the prohibitive cost of setting so huge a work in type. Certainly it was she, together with at least one of their daughters (researchers interpret the evidence differently as to how many of those were involved), who took upon themselves the immense task of producing the nearly 1,000 engravings, from their own preliminary sketches, a task to which they must have sacrificed considerably more than their leisure hours during the seven years that the first and main instalment was in production. 'I doe not wonder your workw[omen] begin to be tired,' a concerned Edward Llwyd wrote to Lister from Oxford as the work was nearing completion in 1692, 'you have held them so long to it' -- though the image of Lister as an ever-hovering taskmaster that those words conjure up is probably misleading: the others more probably took part contentedly, of their own volition. though it has been far from unusual over the years for naturalists to enlist the services of their wives and children for searching and collecting (as Ray was doing in that very same period in connection with the Historia insectorum), instances of a family conveyor belt for producing illustrations must be very rare by comparison. In one respect, however, the Listers were to be outdone by the early 19c Baxters: many of the plates for British Phaenogamous Botany, a long-running part-work by their father, the curator of the University Botanic Garden at Oxford, were produced not only by his daughters but by a daughter-in-law as well." (56-7)

mystery of Albin's a Natural History of Spiders and Other Curious Insects (1736)

"Withering's Flora was the first of national scope to appear in Britain that was explicitly intended for the non-scholarly, for which reason it was written in English. This last feature was all the more necessary, as many of its purchasers and users were expected to be women, whose general lack of Latin had up to then excluded them from scientific botany. Mindful of this feminine readership, Withering went to the special length of replacing certain of the terms for parts of the flower that he thought to be too blatantly sexual with alternatives of his own devising that were safely unsuggestive. (Outraged at such prissiness, Erasmus Darwin was driven to produce his brilliant poem, The Loves of the Plants, as a contemptuous riposte.)" (98)

MacGillivray's pocket version of Withering's became one of the best-selling natural history books in Britain; provided instructions for forming a herbarium; descriptions of the vasculum and the plant-press

Dillenius, Historia muscorum -- mosses and lichens

James Petiver; trained early as an apothecary; had poor latin but promise as a field botanist; offered membership in Royal Society by Sloane; began "amassing as great a range as possible of the globe's animal and plant diversity" and "figuring and describing the many novelties that were sure to emerge as a result"; produceds "a stream of printed leaflets, in no particular sequence, with brief details and plates of whatever he supposed to be new. The main purpose of these inevitably ephemeral documents was to stimulate their recipients into further feeding his ravenous appetite for more and more of the same, but their main result has been a multitude of conundrums for later generations of taxonomists." (65-6)

1760s, seaweeds and corals used to create miniature seascapes, "a form of handicraft that went by the name of 'grotto-work'" -- a "passing vogue" (122)


  • Turner, Muscologiae Hibernicae spicilegium (1804)
  • Hooker, British Jungermanniae (1812-16); 88 plates illustrating 197 species
  • Hooker and Taylor, Muscologia Britannica (1818)

"This was W. h. Harvey's magnificent crowning work on the seaweeds, Phycologia Britannica, with its 360 colour plates designed to make up for the near-lack of those in his Manual of the British Algae of 1841. A pioneering example of collaborative investigation by a network of collectors, many of them women, scattered around the coasts of Britain and Ireland and regularly patrolling those after storms for specimens from deeper waters, this could safely be predicted to become the standard work of reference on the subject for at least a generation." (211-2)

W. H. Fitch -- was "drawing patterns for calico printing in a factory in Glasgow" when William Hooker trained him in plant portraiture to meet science's needs (214)

line drawings -- "For it so happened that volumes with naturalistic black-and-white drawings, such as the finest of the illustrated herbals, tempted many of their owners to colour those in, as and when they camea cross living examples of each of the plants depicted. If deprived of illustrations, a few with the necessary talent went so far as to paint in miniature versions of their own in a book's margins alongside the entry in the text on the species concerned." (234) -- copy of Bentham's Handbook substituted for herbarium, life list and place for illustration

  • "By 1878 Fitch's drawings ranked so highly by comparison with the book's text that they were promoted to a separate, companion volume of their own, purchasable separately, and in 1916 'a paper suitable for colouring' was advertised as specially in use." (236)

ferns -- became fashion craze in 19c (1850s); considered ideal choices for growing in the new Wardian cases indoors

  • by-product: development of "nature-printing" "to capture the intricate details of fern fronds on paper and use the results as a strikingly beautiful form of illustration for volumes on the subject. Very much a German speciality through the centuries, a special form of the technique had been perfected by a firm in Vienna and patented in 1852. This involved pressing part of a plant between two metal plates, one of them of lead, on which a remarkable precise impression was reproduced; that was then transferred to a coper electrotype, itself a newish method, and multiple copies run off." (245)
  • Thomas Moore, The Ferns of Great Britain (1855-6)

"Fawcett had invented and perfected a novel process for fine printing in colours, which consisted of first producing wood engravings from drawings (both done by himself), hand-colouring those and then colour-printing them from multiple wood-blocks. a perfectionist who has justifiably been compared with Bewick, he recruited local girls on leaving school and gave them a much more rigorous training than was then usual. His firm would go on to win world wide acclaim for the quality of what it produced." (257)

"Thanks to his key position in that small Cornish fishing community in which he spent most of his life, Couch encountered none of the difficulties in obtaining fresh specimens of unusual species to study that Montagu had complained of (in a letter to James Sowerby in 1801). Montagu's Devon fishermen had proved unwilling to take the trouble to supply those 'even for money', forcing him to employ someone to collect them from the short by moonlight. Despite inventing an apparatus that sprayed salt water on specimens while he rapidly captured their colors before dissecting them, even Couch, however, often had no choicce but to paint dying or dead examples, and the colouring of his illustrations is sometimes as a result unnaturally bright." (259)

A Naturalist's Rambles on the Devonshire Coast, by Philip Henry Gosse (1853); has "appendices of instructions on how to form marine aquaria and the destructive craze for those that it was pre-eminently responsible for" (261-2)

beautiful, bizarre illustrations -- The British Desmidieae (1848), Ralfs; Monograph of the British Nudibranchiate Mollusca, by Joshua Alder and Albany Hancock (1845-55)

"In a paper read to the Botanical Society of London in 1836 a prickly schoolmaster by the name of Alexander Irvine (subsequently to find additional mouthpieces as editor of a popular botanical journal and as a minister in an obscure little religious sect) had a try at raising recruits for a collaborative Flora of the London area. That that met with no success may at least partly have been because the recording system he proposed was a full century ahead of its time. Among the innovations envisaged was the use of a standard form, the noting of comprehensive habitat details wherever a species list was drawn up and the adding of compass references." (295-6)

E. A. Woodruffe-Peacock, around 1890 became a rock-soil Flora of Lincolnshire; kept putting off writing up the notes until post-1918 inflation made publication unfeasible; "in the end the incomplete set of manuscript notes was donated to Cambridge University Botany School, where for many years it lay like a stranded whale on the library's open shelves, inspected mainly by the curious." (300)

Cyclostyle, duplicating machine capable of multiple runs; 1892, 16-y-o Frederick Sladen distribued The Humble-bee, its Life-history and how to Domesticate it, "composed, stylographed in imitation of printing, illustrated, and even bound, entirely by himself." (323)

'Studies in Bird Migration, Eagle Clarke, 1912 -- see mass attraction to a lighthouse beam [1]