Popular Science

Mantell, Gideon | The Wonders of Geology

  • Fourth edition, published in the year after the first. A rare early edition of this popular work on the Earth’s history by the founder of dinosaur palaeontology Gideon Mantell, with the remarkable mezzotint frontispiece “The Country of the Iguanodon” by Romantic painter John Martin, as well as illustrations by Mary Ann Mantell, who has been credited with discovering the first Iguanodon tooth.

    Though educated as a physician, Gideon Mantell (1790-1852) made enormously important contributions to geology and palaeontology. “His assiduous investigations of the strata and invertebrate fossils of eastern Sussex culminated in The Fossils of the South Downs (1822), his first book (of twelve), with lithography by his wife. Having by then explored the rich vertebrate deposits of Tilgate Forest (near Cuckfield), he announced in February 1825 the discovery of Iguanodon, one of the various kinds of dinosaurs (not yet so called) with which he was subsequently associated. Although his earliest evidence consisted of teeth only, these were sufficient to establish the, at the time unique, identity of Iguanodon as an extinct gigantic herbivorous reptile and to secure for Mantell entry into the Royal Society” (ODNB). In 1832 he announced the discovery of the second dinosaur to be identified, Hylaeosaurus. “Heavily armoured, Hylaeosaurus confirmed that dinosaurs walked on solid ground and were not amphibian, as had earlier been thought” (ODNB).

    For a time Mantell displayed his fossils in his private museum in Brighton, where the painter John Martin, already known for his fantastical compositions, “was among the stream of famous and fashionable visitors” (Rudwick, Scenes from Deep Time, p. 78). Mantell recorded in his journal that Martin “was deeply interested in the remains of the Iguanodon etc. I wish I could induce him to portray the country of the Iguanodon: no other pencil but his should attempt such a subject” (Rudwick, p. 79). The resulting painting hung in Mantell’s museum and was reproduced in mezzotint to serve as the frontispiece for the present book, a successful popular account that went through eight editions by the early 1860s.

    As science historian Martin Rudwick explains in Scenes from Deep Time (1992), in Martin’s painting “The peaceful, pastoral tone of so many earlier scenes [of the prehistoric world] has been abruptly replaced by the nightmarish ‘Gothick’ melodrama of the Martinesque style. Three huge reptilian monsters are preying ferociously on each other, watched by a smaller winged one. Although evidently inspired by the iguanodon and pterodactyl, the animals are portrayed with scant regard for anatomical accuracy and are derived more from the long artistic tradition represented by innumerable paintings of ‘Saint George and the Dragon’... the application of Martin’s style to the nascent genre of prehistoric scenes vastly enlarged the imaginative repertoire available to those who designed such scenes. The deep past could now be depicted as idyllic, or nightmarish, or something in between, with little if any constraint from the prosaic evidence of geology itself” (Rudwick, p. 81).

  • ...or, A Familiar Exposition of Geological Phenomena; Being the Substance of a Course of Lectures Delivered at Brighton. In Two Volumes. Fourth Edition. London: Relfe and Fletcher, 1839.

    2 volumes, octavo. Original purple pebble-grain cloth elaborately blocked in blind with arabesque designs to the boards and spines, titles to spines gilt, yellow coated endpapers. Mezzotint frontispoiece to volume I, hand-coloured lithographic frontispiece to volume II. 10 hand-coloured lithographic plates at the end of volume II, illustrations throughout the text. 2 integral leaves of ads for Mantell’s work at the end of volume II. Ownership signature dated 1879 to each front free endpaper. Cloth browned and mottled, wear at the ends of the spines, particularly to volume I, bumps to the corners of both volumes and the head of the spine of volume I, occasional light spots to contents. A very good set.