Rapacious Birds and Crustaceous Fishes

“We now come to a beautiful and loquacious race of animals, that embellish our forests, amuse our walks, and exclude solitude from our most shady retirements. From there man has nothing to fear, their pleasures, their desires, and even their animosities, only serve to enliven the general picture of Nature, and give harmony to meditation.”

Plate XL

Yet another lovely and very old book I recently added to my collection is the third volume of Oliver Goldsmith’s An History of the Earth and Animated Nature which although available online through the much appreciated resources of the Internet Archive has unique and unmatched appeal as an actual object aside from reading, at least in my opinion, always being much more enjoyable from the page than it is from the screen.

The copy in my hands was published and bound in 1795. It has a badly deteriorated binding and cracked spine with it’s pages intact although a few are loose. On the opposite page of all illustration plates, there is an intriguing left impression of ghost images which have faded to a pleasing sepia tone and are really quite beautiful in their own right. I’ve always loved the language in which natural history book of this period are written and that this author refers to various species of animal as “their kind.” Various kinds of bird and amphibious creature are covered in the present volume.

Plate XLI with left impression

Plate XLI

Here is a passage on the Dodo. The author writes as though this species is still around at the time of publication. Whether that is true or not, his description gives some indication as to the reason for the poor bird’s past or future extinction. I’ve included photographs of the text. Larger more readable versions of all pictures are viewed by clicking through to my flickr account.


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Undine (frontispiece) 1897
Undine (frontispiece detail) 1897
Undine (cover and spine) 1897

I found this Victorian Era copy of Undine by Friedrich de La Motte Fouque in the toss away bin on one of my recent book hunts. This copy, published in 1897, is illustrated by Rosie M. M. Pitman. The cover and binding are water damaged but the pages and pictures are in pretty good shape. It appears to be unread since it still has uncut pages. One of my favorite stories about a water nymph who falls in love with a mortal and is gifted with a soul. It’s rather an epic fairy tale which someone aptly described as fairy tale noir. A lovely book with a well rounded and sympathetic heroine. Mischievous and somewhat unseelie water sprite steal a few scenes. There is a later version with Arthur Rackham illustrations. I’ve scanned a few of these less well known interpretations. The detail on the Frontispiece (pictured above) depicts the water sprites who mock Undine for falling in love with a human.

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For Meate or Medicine

The Fourth Book of Distillations containing many singular and secret recipes.

While sorting through the old books at the Horticultural Center, I picked up a musty old tome which I thought was a history of gardening. It turned out to be a book about alchemy and the construction of various types of stills. Most chapters focus on use of plants by the Puritans of New England for herbal medicines and tonics. However, it does occasionally veer off into herbal lore and “the chemical art” of the early alchemists. The book was in rough shape, water damaged and falling apart so the scans are not so nice. Of course, I had to offer up a few bits of it, since this blog threads together the subjects of my fascination – art, old books, gardening, and alchemy. Included among these tattered pages, is a hand drawn map from the 1600s of the area where I now live and work. Sadly, it was too faded and ink smeared to scan well.

Three Bees

“The fifth chapter deals with the sum total of background knowledge applied by the settlers to their task of growing, distilling, and preserving all they would need for both meate and medicine. The sixth deals with ‘the meate’ and the seventh with ‘the medicine’ for which they felt sure so many plants were intended”. – Anne Leighton

The embattled Alchymia among her limbecks and furnaces.
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