Biology & Natural History

Bewick, Thomas | A History of British Birds

  • The seventh edition of one of the finest illustrated ornithology books ever published, the first field guide affordable to the middle class. This being the final edition to include new wood engravings, including Bewick’s last bird engraving, the Cream Coloured Plover. An attractive set, the contents fresh.

    “In early May 1825, near Helpston in Northampstonshire, the poet John Clare saw a small brown bird that he could not identify. Did anyone, he asked his friend Joseph Henderson, have a copy of Bewick’s Birds? All lovers of birds in these years looked to Bewick. He spoke directly to a man like Clare, a former farm worker and lime burner who knew every inch of the fields around his home, and to Henderson, head gardener at the nearby hall. Bewick was in his seventies by then, but he came from the same world as them, growing up on a small-holding in the Tyne Valley... He was a fine naturalist himself, and his work combined keen, detailed observation with a new approach showing animals and birds in their natural settings, as part of the whole great interrelated web of nature. ‘Nature’ and God fused together in Bewick’s vision, as a rolling force that infused every aspect of life, from the habits of an ant to the vastness of the universe, ‘this sublime, this amazing, this mighty work of Suns and Worlds innumerable’. He felt its darkness as well as its beauty and his work touched the dawning Romantic age: Wordsworth was among the first to sing his praises and Charlotte Brontë placed his prints of icy seas in the hands of her young heroine, Jane Eyre” (Uglow, Nature’s Engraver, pp. xvii-xviii).

  • Newcastle: for R. E. Bewick, sold by him, Longman and Co., 1832.

    2 volumes, octavo (211 x 129 mm). Mid-19th century calf, spines elaborately gilt in compartments with floral tools, brown morocco labels, double gilt fillets, gilt turn-ins, marbled endpapers and edges. Wood engravings throughout. Bindings a little rubbed with a few small scuffs and abrasions, including a one and a half cm abrasion affecting a title label on volume I, light spotting to the title of volume II but otherwise the contents are clean and fresh. Very good condition.