Bewick, Thomas [and Ralph Beilby]
A History of British Birds
Seller ID: 1012
Newcastle: for the author, 1805. Second edition, in two volumes, Land Birds and Water Birds (xxxviii, 346; xxii, 400). Nearly three hundred wood engravings of birds plus many head and tail pieces, etc., in the inimitable Bewick style. Tall octavo in three-quarter leather over marbled paper, plain gilt titles and decoration to spines; hinges cracked but holding firm, wear to the extremities, a single mended tear (3 cm) at p. 353; large paper with generous margins framing the text and illustrations (lightly foxed first few prelims). Land Birds, first published in 1797, was seven years in the making and Water Birds, published in 1804, five (All the while, of course, Bewick carried on the work of his busy design and engraving business). The result, taken together with his Quadrupeds, as Jenny Uglow says in her admirable biography Nature's Engraver (Faber 2006), 'brought nature to life, and revived the nearly forgotten art of wood engraving' (306). Thomas Bewick (1753- 1828), a contemporary of William Blake, confined his work to more ordinary subjects than those addressed by that mystic poet- engraver. The General History of Quadrupeds (1790) and the History of British Birds (1797) are Bewick's most important works, each of which was issued in a number of editions in his lifetime. A complete description of his work as an engraver, however, comprises two entire volumes (1867- 68). Bewick's Memoir, published by a daughter in 1862, describes 'an early impulse to draw [which] constantly filled the margins of his schoolbooks'. To his 'rustic neighbours [he] became an eminent painter, and the walls of their houses were ornamented with an abundance [of] rude productions.' See also our Thomas Bewick Marginal Drawings & Notes. Bewick's third great work, completed late in life, was an edition of the Fables of Aesop. Bewick (and those who worked for him) produced wood engravings to decorate, illustrate, and enhance all manner of publications-- 'more than eighty small books for children..commissioned by some eighteen printers and booksellers..such titles as The Tale of Tommy Trip, Cinderella, Goody Goosecap, and Jack Dandy, as well as many books of fables and riddles and manuals for spelling and reading' (ODNB). If you look closely at the vignettes here and in Quadrupeds (A magnifying glass helps), you will discovery ironic little slices of ordinary life: a mischievous little girl is about to give a horse's tail a sharp yank, while her mother flies down an orchard ladder to intervene; a traveling exotic animal show traipses dispiritedly down the road to the next country town; a monkey wielding a straight razor contemplates a hirsute image in a shaving mirror.This is the last edition of Birds to be published in Bewick's lifetime and incorporates all of his changes and additions. Bewick's engravings here, even more than those of the Quadrupeds, reflect in their lively nature Bewick's own experience from early childhood. The many vignettes, which serve variously as head or tail pieces, express a rootedness and a sympathy for the ordinary rural life of his time. Engravings accompanying clean text are sharp and clear. A handsome copy of an enduring ornithological classic.
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