"ONE OF THE MOST ELEGANT WORKS OF THE 19TH CENTURY": RARE FIRST EDITION OF THE ATLAS VOLUME FOR JOHN LIZARS’ FAMOUS DISCOURSE ON HUMAN ANATOMY, WITH 101 FOLIO PLATES, 15 VIVIDLY HAND-COLORED
LIZARS, John. A System of Anatomical Plates of the Human Body. Accompanied with Descriptions, and Physiological, Pathological, and Surgical Observations. Edinburgh: W.H. Lizars, Daniel Lizars, S. Highley and W. Curry, Junr., [1822-27]. Atlas volume only. Folio (11 by 17 inches), contemporary three-quarter calf sympathetically rebacked, red morocco spine label, marbled boards. $6000.
First edition of this highly successful medical sourcebook, a collaboration between innovative 19th-century surgeon John Lizars and his artistic brother William Home Lizars, with 101 folio plates of the human body, 15 vividly hand-colored.
"Although it contains no new discoveries, this superb atlas is certainly one of the most elegant works of the 19th century" (Richard Eimas). "John Lizars served as an assistant surgeon in the Royal Navy, 'where he saw extensive practice, especially in the treatment of gun-shot wounds… As to Lizars' skill and the masterly audacity with which he wielded the knife, there cannot be any doubt… In the days before antiseptics and anaesthetics he was the first in Britain to perform ovariotomy, to ligate the innominate artery for aneurysm, and to remove the lower jaw. His boldness as a surgeon is revealed by such prophetic proposals as 'to puncture the brain in acute hydrocephalus, and to treat prostate by cutting out the entire gland" (Simon Behrman). Lizars is also remembered for his article "The Use and Abuse of Tobacco" in the Medical Times and Gazette for 1854, an early work identifying the dangers of tobacco, including its carcinogenic nature. "In 1831 Lizar was appointed to succeed John Turner as professor of surgery in the Royal College of Surgeons at Edinburgh. With this appointment he combined that of senior operating surgeon of the Royal Infirmary, in which post Robert Liston was his colleague. He had in 1822 issued the work by which he is chiefly known, A System of Anatomical Plates of the Human Body. Although the letterpress is necessarily out of date, the numerous and beautifully executed plates (done by his brother William under Lizars' close supervision) are still valuable to the anatomical student. They were extensively used by medical students of the last generation" (DNB) and represent the highest quality of artistic work produced in Scotland at the time. Attracted by William Lizars' ability as an artist, John James Audubon engaged him to engrave the plates for his famous folio edition of The Birds of America. Upon finishing the first 10 plates, however, Lizars confessed to Audubon that the project was too big for him and suggested that it be given over to Robert Havell. First published in 12 parts between 1822-27, "the sale of [Lizars' System] in its various forms was reported to be immense" (Roberts & Tomlinson, 505). This first edition of the atlas is an early issue, with all plate numbers printed (some earlier copies are found with first several plate numbers pasted on; this copy has the sequential numbers 1-101 pasted on at an early date). The atlas was issued in both colored and uncolored versions—the plates of the brain and nervous system were colored for both issues. Due to the high cost of hand-coloring, it is likely that only a small number of copies of this edition were colored. Without the three octavo volumes of text, as often. In later editions the text was reset in folio and the plates were incorporated into the text.
Plates generally clean, occasional light foxing, faint marginal dampstain toward rear not affecting images, some scuffing to contemporary boards. An extremely good copy of this impressive folio volume.