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ILDREWE, Miss (ed.)

The Language of Flowers.

With an introduction from Thomas Miller. Illustrated by colored plates, and numerous woodcuts, after Gustave Doré, Daubigny, Timms, and others.

Boston: De Vries, Ibarra & Company, 1865 Stock Code: 143182
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"The first really American contribution to the language of flowers"

First edition of this significant American botanical compendium, complete with the 12 colour plates and in the bright, decorative original cloth. Miss Ildrewe champions the significance of her native flora, an effort which was applauded by contemporary reviewers: "this pretty gift-book is the first really American contribution to the language of flowers" (The Atlantic Monthly).

Aimed at a broad audience - from botanical experts to novices wishing to put together or accurately read a bouquet - the contents open with a Preface to the Reader, dated December 1865, in which Miss Ildrewe laments that "there is no English work on the Language of Flowers which is at all satisfactory or exactly adapted to American wants" (p. 5). "Designed for all parts of the United States", Ildrewe's text draws on her knowledge of "all the flower books known to her in English, French, and German" but strives to convince readers that American flora "convey a sentiment as well as their older foreign sisters" (p. 6). The first third of the main text offers a comprehensive guide demarcated by season (providing the Latin names, descriptions, details of cultural associations, and medical uses) and is followed by a Dictionary of the Language of Flowers ("Anger: Gorse, or Furze", "Inspiration - Angelica", "I shall not survive you - Black Mulberry", "Your looks freeze me - Ice Plant"). The last third of the text comprises a Dictionary for Translating a Bouquet; an Appendix; and an Index. Illustrative literary quotations - from Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Felicia Hemans, Shakespeare, Keats, Bryan Proctor - feature prominently throughout.

Though we cannot completely clarify the identity of Miss Ildrewe, the aforementioned review in The Atlantic Monthly intriguingly mentions that "though the editor's appellation may at first seem so, a simple application of the laws of anagram will reveal a name quite familiar, in America, to all lovers of things horticultural". The British poet, writer, and publisher Thomas Miller (1807-1874), who wrote the introduction, is far easier to trace. He is known for having "produced more than any other Victorian working-class author" (ODNB): in particular, "Miller's best writing of the countryside has genuine charm" (ibid.).

We can trace just two copies in institutions outside the US, at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Universiteit Utrecht; 19 traced in the US. The copy at Cornell shows a variant set of plates, theirs with the De Vries, Ibarra & Company imprint along the lower edge and a caption noting that the lithographs were produced by La Vapeur de Dupuy in Paris (a firm known during the 1860s for their colour lithographs of embroidery patterns for the Journal des desmoiselles). The plates in the present copy are unlettered, and match those in the Cincinnati Public Library copy, for example; no priority has been assigned.

An advertisement for the second edition in an 1867 work published by De Vries, Ibarra & Co. notes that "the first edition sold in three days to Boston and New York houses It is poetical, and at the same time amusing. Here the mysterious language of the Flowers is explained, and put, so to say, into action by means of woodcuts and colored plates, which animate a text full of elegance and delicacy".

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Octavo. Original green pictorial cloth, spine and front board decoratively blocked in gilt, boards bevelled with double fillet border in blind, brown coated endpapers, top edge gilt.


12 chromolithographic plates with tissue guards, including frontispiece; 2 black and white engraved plates by Kilburn after G. Doré; engraved title page vignette, head- and tailpieces, initials.


Engraved armorial bookplate of British oil and colour merchant and antiquary Francis Frederick Fox (1833-1915) to front pastedown, later ownership note in ink to front free endpaper verso (recording the purchase of this copy at the Coburn sale of 20 April 20 1961), small pencilled note within last engraved tailpiece. A little shelfwear and a couple of shallow knocks to board edges, the gilt and cloth especially bright and clean, plate between pp. 44-5 partly loose, scattered foxing to contents and some occasional faint offset, the colours of the plates remaining vivid, chip to fore edge of p. 105 (not affecting text). Overall a very good copy.


The Atlantic Monthly, volume XVIII, November 1866 issue, "Reviews and Literary Notices", p. 646.


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