Hill Collection 18th c.
British authors & artists
Early in the century the work of the British naturalist George Edwards
[1694-1773] earned him the title "father of British ornithology."
Interestingly, Edwards included a large number of careful descriptions and illustrations
of American birds in his publications. The Hill Collection includes Edwards's four-volume A
natural history of uncommon birds (1743-1751), and his Gleanings of natural
history (1758-1764) is part of the History of Science Collection. Edwards engraved all
the plates and hand colored most of the prints himself, showing considerable skill in his
portrayals though little sense of life or personality in the birds.
Also included in the Hill Collection is a copy of Peter Brown's New
illustrations of zoology, containing fifty coloured plates of new, curious and
non-descript birds (1776), intended as a supplement to Edwards's works.
Two other leading figures in British ornithology of the 18th century were Thomas
Pennant [1726-1798] and John Latham [1740-1837]. Pennant's first
publication, a handsomely illustrated folio with colored plates, was British zoology
(1761-1766), part two of which was devoted to birds. The History of Science Collections
contains a copy of the fourth edition, in four volumes, published in 1776-1777.
In 1773 the first edition of Pennant's Genera
of birds appeared, intended as an elementary text for the layman. This was a small
book, first printed without illustrations but reissued in 1781 with fifteen plates. The
1781 edition is included in Cornell's History of Science Collections.
Pennant's most important work was probably his two-volume Arctic zoology (1784-1785),
with part of the first volume and all of the second devoted to birds. In it Pennant
covered the fauna of all British-held areas in North America, not just the Arctic regions.
The somewhat misleading title was adopted as a political move because of the separation of
the American colonies from England at about that time. Both the first (1784-1785) and
second (1792) editions of Arctic zoology appear in the History of Science
A general synopsis of birds (1781-1785), in three volumes plus one of plates,
contained extensive new data from expedition reports, especially from Captain Cook's
second and third voyages. Using Linnaeus's arrangement as a base, Latham devised a
much-expanded classification system but resisted adopting the binomial nomenclature and
clung to vernacular names in this work.
In 1790 Latham issued a two-volume summary of the General synopsis, entitled Index
ornithologicus, in which he Latinized all his earlier names, probably in deference
to the appearance in 1788 of the thirteenth edition of Linnaeus''s Systema naturae.
Latham's best-known work, A
general history of birds, was published from 1821 to 1828. A comprehensive work,
illustrated with 193 colored plates of his own execution, this ten-volume set contained
illustrations of a large number of American birds. The Hill Ornithology Collection
includes copies of all three of Latham's works.
While John Latham was preparing General history of birds, William Lewin [d.
1795] was publishing his impressive eight-volume Birds
of Great Britain. Issued from 1797-1801, this work contains 335 beautifully
hand-colored engraved plates, 55 of which include eggs. A description of the natural
history of each bird, in English and French, accompanies the illustrations.
Although he was born and trained in England, Mark Catesby [1683-1749]
was undoubtedly the major figure in American ornithology in the 18th century. Catesby's
two-volume The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands is
credited with being the only attempt of the period to cover the entire natural history of
a North American colony.
Rather than working from reports and specimens sent overseas to Europe, as most authors
of the period did, Catesby spent many years in America collecting and recording data for
his publications. His pioneering attempts to describe and portray birds accurately,
life-sized, and in botanical settings set him apart from his contemporaries and
foreshadowed the work of John James Audubon.
The Hill Ornithology Collection contains a nearly complete copy of the first edition of
Catesby's volume The
natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (1731-1743) and a
magnificent copy of the third
edition (1771) , given to Cornell by Kenneth and Dorothy Hill. The third edition
included the textual revisions originally prepared for the second edition (1754) by George
Edwards, and added a catalog of flora and fauna with Linnaean names assigned to Catesby's
The Hill Collection also is very fortunate in having a copy of the facsimile
edition of Catesby's original unpublished watercolor drawings from which the images in
his Natural history were etched. Published over a three-year period and completed
in 1999, the facsimile edition reproduces splendidly all 263 drawings, which had remained
unpublished in the Royal Library since King George III purchased them in 1768.
Another famous name in ornithology in the late 18th-early 19th century was Thomas
Bewick [1753-1828]. Bewick was not an ornithologist but an artist and craftsman
who developed the art of wood engraving to a high
point. Prints prepared from his woodcuts, although usually very small, were scientifically
accurate and finely detailed. Bewick's A
history of British birds (1797-1804) reflects his artistic skill, though the
textual matter is neither original nor important. The Hill Collection includes a copy of
this attractive little work, plus an 1821
Online guide developed from:
Ornithology Collections in the Libraries at Cornell University: A Descriptive Guide
Revised Edition, 1999
Ithaca, New York
© 1999 Cornell University Library
Webpage last revised: 6/10/99 by jfc & clsb.