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BIRD, James.

Historical Researches on the Origin and Principles of the Bauddha [sic] and Jaina Religions:

embracing the leading tenets of their system, as found, prevailing in various countries; illustrated by descriptive accounts of the sculptures in the Caves of Western India, with translations of the inscriptions from those of Kanari, Karli, Ajanta, Ellora, Nasik, &c. which indicate their connexion with the Coins and Topes of the Panjab and Afghanistan.

Bombay: Printed at the American Mission Press. T. Graham, Printer, 1847 Stock Code: 129805
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Important early account of the rock-cut temples of India

First and sole edition. An important early work in the transmission of information about the celebrated Buddhist caves of western India, which Bird saw as repositories of universal value, mindful of "the duty imposed on us, as a nation, to preserve these relics of ancient art". Inevitably scarce, as just 59 subscribers contributed towards the expense of the lithograph plates.

The caves at Ajanta were re-discovered when a British officer, John Smith, stumbled across them during a tiger hunt. In 1844 Major Robert Gill was commissioned by the Royal Asiatic Society to create reproductions on canvas of the wall paintings and Robert Fergusson's Illustrations of the Rock-Cut Temples of India was published at London in 1845, with tinted lithographs by T. C. Dibdin after sketches by Fergusson, predating the present work by just two years - although Bird's study incorporates researches he "had made as early as 1828, which firmly proved the Buddhist origin of the cave temples of Salsette, Karli, Ajanta, Ellora and others" (Archer & Lightbown, p. 126). However, Bird had originally caused outrage when he took a crowbar to some paintings at Ajanta, in an attempt to remove examples for study. This brought a public condemnation from Fergusson. However, "twenty years had brought a notable change of heart in Bird. For whereas the James Bird of 1828 defaced Ajanta notwithstanding protest, his own book spoke of 'the duty imposed on us, as a nation, to preserve these relics of ancient art'. Bird was not concerned solely with the caves as memorials to India's past. Rather, presaging the World Heritage Convention's criterion that its monuments must possess exceptional universal value, Bird imagined India's cave temples to be synedoches for its populace's state of grace" (Cohen).

James Bird (1797-1864) entered King's College, Aberdeen, in 1810, taking his MA in 1814, and in 1815 continued his studies at Guy's and St. Thomas's Hospitals in London. "He qualified in 1816 and, after another two years, enlisted in the East India Company's service as an assistant surgeon. He rose to be physician-general to the Bombay Army in 1847, having seen active service in Bengal in 1819, in the Kaira campaign, and at the capture of Kittur in 1827, and having held, amongst others, the posts of residency surgeon at Saltara, surgeon to the European and Native Hospitals at Bombay, and surgeon of an army division. A man of wide interests and great energy, he published a translation of a Persian history of Gujerat and researches into the Buddhist and Jain religions. He interrupted a voyage home in 1832 to tour Middle Eastern countries, and, in England in 1834, gave evidence before a Parliamentary Committee on communications with India. His retirement from India in 1847 signified the opening of a new phase of activity for Bird. He became lecturer on military surgery and tropical medicine at St. Mary's Hospital and an office-holder of various societies, being Lettsomian Lecturer in 1862, and was generally regarded as an authority on military medicine and public hygiene, on which he wrote extensively" (Royal College of Physicians, Lives of the Fellows online).

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Small folio (370 x 255 mm). Contemporary grey-green bead-grain half cloth, marbled sides.


53 lithograph plates (complete, numbered I-LIII plus unnumbered folding supplementary plate, plate XLIII not issued, complying with copies at Princeton and Harvard), lithographed by F. de Jesus after Lieut. Bird (78th Highlanders) and A. B. Orlebar.


Ownership inscriptions of "W. H. Clarke, Rainhill, 1876" to front pastedown, head of title, list of plates and Chapter 1. Spine rumpled, binding a little rubbed, lower fore-corner of plates damp-stained, scattered foxing, a few plates toned, folding plate a little soiled and ragged at fore-edge, closed tears into plates XXV and XXXII, overall a good sound copy.


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