GOULD, John (1804-1881). The Birds of Great Britain. London: Taylor and Francis for the author, [1862]-1873.

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5 volumes. Folio (21 4/8 x 14 4/8 inches). 5-page list of Subscribers. 367 EXCEPTIONALLY FINE hand-colored lithographs after John Gould, Josef Wolf, and H.C. Richter. FINE AND ATTRACTIVE contemporary full maroon morocco, by Riviere for Henry Sotheran, each cover with wide decorative gilt border of floral roll-tools, the Devonshire family cipher and coronet stamped in gilt at each corner, the spines in seven compartments with six raised bands, gilt-lettered in two, the others decorated with a profusion of small gilt tools, inner gilt dentelles, all edges gilt (spines very slightly faded, with discreet repairs at foot of joints, versos of endleaves a little spotted).

Provenance: from the library of William Cavendish, seventh duke of Devonshire (1808–1891, Duke from 1858).

"The most popular of all his works is always likely to be Birds of Great Britain" ("Fine Bird Books")

First edition. The Duke of Devonshire was a keen supporter and patron of Gould, subscribing to all of the artist's works in turn and taking two sets of The Birds of Great Britain, the other of which remains at Chatsworth. The duke "never appeared in society in London, reserving his public life for more serious and uplifting pursuits, notably the support of higher education. He was the first chancellor of the University of London, from 1836 to 1856, and an important influence on its early development. He was chancellor of Cambridge University from 1862 until his death; he was chairman of the royal commission on scientific instruction and the advancement of science, which sat from 1871 to 1874; and as an earnest of his commitment to the cause, he provided for the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge in 1874. He was a considerable benefactor of Owens College, Manchester, and of the Yorkshire College of Science, Leeds; when these colleges became part of the new federal Victoria University in 1880 he was its first chancellor" (F. M. L. Thompson for DNB).

Gould found more subscribers for this than any other of his other monographs, and boasted that he employed the services of "almost all the colourers in London". "Many of the public are quite unaware how the colouring of these large plates is accomplished; and not a few believe that they are produced by some mechanical process or by chromo-lithography. This, however, is not the case; every sky with its varied tints and every feather of each bird were coloured by hand; and when it is considered that nearly two hundred and eighty thousand illustrations in the present work have been so treated, it will most likely cause some astonishment to those who give the subject a thought" (Preface).

Often referred to as the most sumptuous and costly of all British bird books, the plates depict scenes with more sophisticated subjects than Gould's previous works, including nests, chicks and eggs: "I also felt that there was an opportunity of greatly enriching the work by giving figures of the young of many of the species of various genera - a thing hitherto almost entirely neglected by author's, and I feel assured that this infantile age of birdlife will be of much interest for science." (Gould "Preface" to "Introduction", 1873).

Initially employed as a taxidermist [he was known as the 'bird-stuffer'] by the Zoological Society, Gould's fascination with birds began in the "late 1820s [when] a collection of birds from the Himalayan mountains arrived at the Society's museum and Gould conceived the idea of publishing a volume of imperial folio sized hand-coloured lithographs of the eighty species, with figures of a hundred birds (A Century of Birds Hitherto Unfigured from the Himalaya Mountains, 1830-32).

Gould's friend and mentor N. A. Vigors supplied the text. Elizabeth Gould made the drawings and transferred them to the large lithographic stones. Having failed to find a publisher, Gould undertook to publish the work himself; it appeared in twenty monthly parts, four plates to a part, and was completed ahead of schedule. "With this volume Gould initiated a format of publishing that he was to continue for the next fifty years, although for future works he was to write his own text. Eventually fifty imperial folio volumes were published on the birds of the world, except Africa, and on the mammals of Australia-he always had a number of works in progress at the same time. Several smaller volumes, the majority not illustrated, were published, and he also presented more than 300 scientific papers. "His hand-coloured lithographic plates, more than 3300 in total, are called 'Gould plates'. Although he did not paint the final illustrations, this description is largely correct: he was the collector (especially in Australia) or purchaser of the specimens, the taxonomist, the publisher, the agent, and the distributor of the parts or volumes. He never claimed he was the artist for these plates, but repeatedly wrote of the 'rough sketches' he made from which, with reference to the specimens, his artists painted the finished drawings. The design and natural arrangement of the birds on the plates was due to the genius of John Gould, and a Gould plate has a distinctive beauty and quality. His wife was his first artist. She was followed by Edward Lear, Henry Constantine Richter, William Matthew Hart, and Joseph Wolf" (Gordon C. Sauer for DNB). Anker p. 60; "Fine Bird Books"; Nissen 372; Sauer 23; Tree "The Ruling Passion of John Gould", p. 207; Wood p. 365; Zimmer p. 261. Catalogued by Kate Hunter