BEWICK, Thomas.

A History of British Birds...

Part I containing the History and Description of Land Birds [Part II containing the History and Description of Water Birds.]

Newcastle: Printed by Edward Walker for T. Bewick: Sold by him, and Longman and Co. London, 1809 Stock Code: 132533

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Third edition; originally published as two separate works in 1797 and 1804. Roscoe notes that the paper used for this edition, although "very thin and rather poor", was "from the point of view of an artist anxious to show his work to the best advantage, more satisfactory than most of the papers previously used - it took an excellent impression from the block". Textually, the only significant addition was the note on "the manner of taking Wild-fowl", from information supplied to Bewick by a Mr Bonfellow of Stockton in Norfolk (Water Birds, pp. 294-6). Provenance: contemporary ownership inscription at head of both titles, "Jno. Puckridge, 25th September 1815". It is diverting to speculate that this may be a member of the Puckridge family, noted wood-carvers in the City of London, mentioned by the printmaker John Thomas Smith in his Ancient Topography of London (1815): "Mr William Puckridge, of Hosier Lane, West Smithfield... informed me, that he, his father, and his grandfather... who were all wood-carvers, and had lived on the same spot, have carved most of the Grapes, Tuns, Swans, Nags-heads, Bears, Bibles, Black Boys, Galens, &c. both for town and country pubs, for these hundred years".

One of the most celebrated of British bird books, Bewick's much-loved work was six years in the making and published "to even greater acclaim than the Quadrupeds of 1790. Apart from the excellence of the principal figures, the numerous tailpiece vignettes that enlivened every spare space in the book came in for special notice... Apart from lovingly observed landscape settings, the narrative content of many of Bewick's tailpieces is often ironic and displays a mordant view of the world and human folly: in a decaying churchyard a crumbling inscription, 'to the perpetual memory', is washed by the eroding sea; boys who cannot read lead a blind fiddler past a sign warning of man-traps; and a man evading a toll bridge drives his cow through deep water in the river belowlosing his hat at a cost far greater than the toll. The gritty reality of the lives of the crippled old soldiers, road menders, blind beggars, and rain-soaked packmen who inhabit Bewick's landscapes is at odds with the sentimental view of those who now reproduce his work on pots and tea towels... Any comparison of Bewick's work with that of his predecessors makes clear how original it appeared at the time. Not only was there truth in outline and animated posture, but the habitat was beautifully realized" (ODNB).

Roscoe remarks that "copies of this edition are rather scarce and usually in the poorest condition; their (comparatively) low price and their 'popular' form would have no appeal for the 'book-mad gentry' and the collector of stately volumes, and their fate was that of all small and much used books". This copy bucks that trend and is presented here in a most appealing contemporary binding.

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2 volumes bound in one, octavo (213 x 126 mm). Contemporary diced calf, smooth spine divided by Greek key, rope-twist and foliate rolls, gilt centre decoration made up of smaller tools, black label, sides with single-line fillets enclosing a lozenge-and-dot roll, "French shell" pattern marbled endpapers.


Wood-engraved title vignettes, illustrations and tailpieces by Bewick.


Binding professionally refurbished, judicious repairs to head and tail of spine and joints. Some old staining to binding, scattered foxing and minor staining internally otherwise a good copy, attractively bound.


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