(Paris: chez Lamy, l'an septième [1799-1802]). 528 x 344 mm. (20 3/4 x 13 1/2"). 4 p.l. (half title, two engraved titles, and "Discours preliminaire"), 120 pp. (a few pages misbound or misnumbered). Second Edition: "Édition deluxe."
Near-contemporary purple half morocco by P. F. Heyne of Antwerp (with binder's ticket on front pastedown), marbled paper boards, smooth spine with gilt scrolling foliage surrounded by pointillé and gilt fillet borders, titled in gilt. Two title pages each with large vignette (one uncolored, one colored by hand) and 60 PLATES IN TWO STATES (uncolored on wove paper, and colored by hand on laid paper, the colored plates within a washed double frame of green and yellow), including one double-page plate; one of the colored plates without a colored frame and on a smaller sheet of paper. Original tissue guards. Text in English and French. Brunet III, p. 31; Lowndes II, p. 989; Graesse II, p. 205 (all for first edition, but mentioning the three states of second edition). Top of front joint and spine a bit worn, some general light external wear and chafing, but an attractive and sound binding with no major issues. Hinge open after front free endpaper, a trivial repair to verso of one plate, some plates with a light dusting of foxing along edges or very light toning or staining in margins, occasional mild offsetting and other negligible imperfections here and there, but none of these flaws affecting the images, and the overall contents IN FINE CONDITION--clean, fresh, and with beautiful hand coloring.
This is the rare second edition of the author's best-known work, a "deluxe" copy with spectacular plates in two states, showing a range of scenic views and awe-inspiring volcanic activity observed first-hand in the "fields of fire" around Naples. Originally published in three parts between 1776-79, the first edition of this work contains the same plates as our second edition, with the exception of a double-page map (which only appears in the first), and a double-page plate showing the eruption of Vesuvius in 1794 (which only appears in the second). The bibliographies all note three issues of the second edition, the present copy being one of the issues with plates in two states (the other two issues have the plates in one state only, either colored or uncolored). Though the black & white plates are quite beautiful on their own, it is a distinct pleasure to see the volcanic eruptions, lava flows, fires, and lightning strikes burst forth with memorable coloration at the turn of a page, allowing us to appreciate their full power and energy in the vibrantly hand-colored plates. Natural features and scenery such as crater lakes, hulking rock formations, hot springs, dramatic mountains, and even the ruins of Pompeii are also pictured here, reminding the viewer of the beauty that is often born out of violent phenomena. In fact, according to DNB, "This publication did a great deal to make volcanoes . . . a popular subject in art and poetry and to cause a visit to Vesuvius to be a necessary stage on the grand tour." Though a diplomat by vocation, William Hamilton (1731-1803) had two overriding passions: collecting art and antiquities, and studying volcanoes. DNB tells us that he gained "a contemporary European reputation as 'the modern Pliny' and the 'professor of earthquakes'. . . . He was also interested in chemistry and owned and operated electrical equipment, incorporating some of the latest innovations suggested by Benjamin Franklin." As the British envoy to Naples (and, as it were, not terribly interested in his job), he had ample opportunity to study volcanic activity in person; he is known to have made at least 22 ascents up Vesuvius and to have witnessed several of its eruptions. His careful observations of the volcano's appearance in 1767 "are among the earliest attempts to record systematically the changing shape of the summit of a volcano about to erupt." (DNB) Hamilton enlisted the help of Pietro Fabris (active 1740-92), a British-born artist of Italian descent, to accompany him on his excursions and draw from life the volcanic activity they witnessed--at no small personal risk. Hamilton seems to have had a rather cavalier attitude about the dangers posed by the natural phenomena he was chasing; in fact, plate XXXVIII depicts Hamilton's leisurely guiding of the Sicilian court--including the king and queen of Naples--around a raging lava flow that was expelled from Vesuvius in 1771. The juxtaposition of delicate ladies and gentlemen in their finery (complete with a sedan chair and attendants) against a fire-and-brimstone backdrop is one of the most memorable images in the entire work. This second edition is more rare than the first: RBH and ABPC list only four other copies in the last hundred years, all of which had either condition issues or were not complete, and only one of which had the plates in two states. (Lhi21013)
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PJP Catalog: Natural History.017