2 volumes. Folio (21 x 14 inches). Title-pages and text in English and French, text double-column. 220 hand-colored etched plates by and after Catesby, most signed with his monogram, 80 and 96 in volume II by Georg Dionysius Ehret; plate 80 double-page, hand-colored engraved folding map in vol. 2, watermarked Crown Shield G R or J. Whatman paper, all undated; this copy with two single dedication leaves in English: "To the Queen" in vol. 1 and "To...the Princess of Wales" in vol. 2, the 20-pp. Appendix (pp. 101-120) and its single Index leaf (in English and Latin, with a list of the plates in French) at end of vol. 1, the 3-leaf Index to both volumes, in English, French and Latin, at end of vol. 2 and preceded by "An Account of Carolina" (numbered [i]-xliv, with "vol. II" printed on the first page of each gathering (light offsetting of plates onto text, vol. 1 folding plate with several clean tears within image neatly mended on verso, tiny wormhole to inner margin from pp. 104 to end, and plate 55 with light creasing, vol. 2 with plate 5 lightly spotted and plate 71 with minor marginal staining). Contemporary calf gilt, spines (expertly rebacked in calf antique gilt to style, with fine gilt tools and preserving contemporary green and red morocco spine labels).
Provenance: John Rolle, Baron Rolle of Stevenstone (1750-1842, armorial bookplate); Lister and Leila Carlisle (bookplate); National Audubon Society (sold Christie's New York, 5 December 1991, lot 289).
"The most famous color-plate book of American plant and animal life & [and] a fundamental and original work for the study of American species" (Hunt).
Second edition, revised by George Edwards, text and plates on paper with various watermarks, first 20 text leaves of volume 2 with page numerals corrected by hand, as often; "DU" on title-page corrected by hand. Catesby's preface details his two journeys to the New World and the development of his Natural History, including his decision to etch his plates himself in order to ensure both accuracy and economy. "Instead of perpetuating the previous stiff, profile manner of presentation, Catesby devised the method of mingling plants and animals in logical groupings, most often with accuracy and with proportional scale between figure and plant. He did his utmost to convey something of the particular habits or movements of each species. Simple though they are, he infused his compositions with a sense of movement and vitality not usual prior to his work" (Norelli).
Catesby became a renowned naturalist, botanist, and ornithologist, partly as a result of the mentorship of the celebrated English naturalist John Ray. In 1712 "he went to Virginia to learn something of its natural history. He lived for a time with his older sister Elizabeth and her husband William Cocke, a physician who was secretary to the colony and later a member of the governor's council. Here he met a number of prominent Virginians, including William Byrd II, who shared with Catesby his knowledge of the colony's fauna and flora. Catesby spent much time collecting plant specimens and seeds, most of which were sent to collectors in England, principally Sir Hans Sloane, then head of the Royal Society.
"In 1714 Catesby made his first trip to the Appalachians, the Bahamas, and Jamaica, where he continued to study native plants and animals. From 1716 to 1718 he appears to have been heavily involved in the management of his brother-in-law's personal affairs while the latter was in London on business for the colony. Catesby himself returned to England in 1719.
"In 1720 a group of prominent plant collectors in England, notably Sloane, William Sherard, Samuel Dale, Charles Dubois, and several others, decided to underwrite a second trip by Catesby to the Carolinas and the West Indies. His objective was to collect specimens and information about the natural history of the southeastern American colonies and the Bahamas. Discussions about this project had been ongoing for at least ten years, and Catesby was not the group's first choice for this assignment, but he accepted and departed for the colonies in January 1722. Much of his time was spent as a middleman between plant and seed collectors in England and America, packing specimens for shipment to his patrons in England. He also began drawing and painting watercolors of many birds, insects, animals, and plants. In addition, Catesby was interested in domesticating certain American plants, trees, and shrubs in England, and he also selected some plants for shipment to England that had commercial or medicinal value. By 1724 Catesby was extending his collecting and research into the neighboring Spanish colonies. During parts of 1725 and 1726 he was in the Bahamas, making additional collections and illustrations.
"Catesby returned to England from his second stay in the colonies in 1726, and he remained there for the remainder of his life. He had hoped that his backers would underwrite an illustrated account of his findings, but having supported his travels for more than four years, they concluded that this was as much as they were prepared to do. Catesby therefore undertook to do the job himself, and this was exacting and time-consuming work for one who had no experience in engraving and publishing. He received excellent guidance in etching and engraving from the French-born Joseph Goupy, and the Quaker merchant Peter Collinson loaned the impecunious artist funds that enabled him to continue with his project. William Sherard briefly aided Catesby with questions of Latin nomenclature prior to Sherard's death in 1728. Catesby did much of his own coloring to save scarce funds.
"Catesby was invited to exhibit the initial twenty plates of his projected book before the Royal Society in 1729. The book was published in parts and sold by subscription at a price of two guineas per part. During much of this period, Catesby supported himself by working in a nursery owned by Thomas Fairchild near London. He also grew many plants on his own, the proceeds from the sale of which also helped him eke out a living.
"The first volume of The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands was finally published at the end of 1732. This led to his election as a fellow of the Royal Society in April 1733. Catesby defrayed some of the expenses of membership by providing illustrations for the society's Register Book and by reviewing foreign publications to be distributed to the membership. In 1735 he was asked to assess the first edition of Linnaeus's Systema Naturae, a task he declined, in part because he felt his lack of a scientific background. It is possible, however, that the two men met when Linnaeus visited England in the summer of 1736.
"Catesby continued work on the second volume of his Natural History for eleven years, completing it in December 1743. Three years later an illustrated Appendix, essentially a compilation of work done by John Bartram and other botanists, was published... Catesby was not a well-trained naturalist, and his artistry was not distinguished. Nevertheless, his Natural History, containing as it did illustrations of plants and animals in their natural settings, was a major achievement, adumbrating John James Audubon's great work a century later. Catesby's reputation rests primarily on this book... Catesby's Natural History was for many years a major source of information for those interested in American plants and animals. Other late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century naturalists, including Linnaeus, Brisson, Buffon, and Kalm, cited and depended upon his work. Long considered the father of American ornithology, he is also regarded as a pioneering American ecologist" (Keir B. Sterling for ANB). Anker 94; Dunthorne 72; Ellis Mengel 477; Fine Bird Books 65; Great Flower Books 53; Hunt 486 (first edition); McGill/Wood 281; Norelli, American Wildlife Painting 73; Sabin 11059.