“SOME PREPARATION FOR THE THOUGHT OF DARWIN”: 1817 TWO-VOLUME QUARTO EDITION OF BUFFON’S NATURAL HISTORY, FEATURING 52 SPLENDID HAND-COLORED COPPERPLATE ENGRAVINGS
BUFFON, Count de. A Natural History, General and Particular… Translated from the French by William Smellie. A New Edition Corrected and Enlarged. to Which is Added A History of Birds, Fishes, Reptiles and Insects… By Henry Augustus Chambers. London: Richard Evans, 1817. Two volumes. Tall quarto (9 by 11 inches), contemporary full tree calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, raised bands, black morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers. $3800.
1817 two-volume edition, of the first English translation of Buffon’s magnum opus, with the important translation of Scottish naturalist William Smellie, this corrected and enlarged edition also featuring Chambers’ History of Birds, Fishes, Reptiles and Insects, with frontispiece of Buffon in each volume, containing 52 beautiful hand-colored engravings, scarce in contemporary tree calf.
“Natural history, prior to Buffon, had all the earmarks of an avocation, a hobby. Buffon is the one who raised it to the status of a science” (Mayr, 336). First translated into English in 1781 this work of Buffon provides, for the first time, “a complete survey of natural history in a popular form… in which he outlines a satisfactory account of the history of our globe… His belief in the mutability of species implied clearly some preparation for the thought of Darwin… Buffon was the first to present the universe as one complete whole and to find no phenomenon calling for any but a purely scientific explanation” (PMM 198). For the naturalist, Buffon’s History was “a splendid and well-illustrated account, and was widely used and copied from, [since it] illustrated animals from remote parts of the world” (Knight, 92). See Genet-Varcin & Roger 207; Nissen 160; Norman 369. Volume I with contemporary owner signature of Edward L’Estrange to verso of title page. Occasional faint marginalia.
Text and plates generally fresh with light scattered foxing and a few minor expert paper repairs, mostly marginal; expert restoration to attractive contemporary full calf-gilt bindings. Scarce.