(London: printed for T. Osborne; T. Trye; S. Crowder and Co.; and H. Woodgate, 1757). 410 x 260 mm. (16 1/8 x 10 1/4"). iv, ii, 714 pp. FIRST EDITION.
Once very handsome and still quite appealing contemporary red morocco, covers with wide gilt frame of botanical tools in a repeating pattern, very expertly rebacked using the original spine compartments, raised bands, spine richly gilt with many charming floral and ornithological tools, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt (small repair to lower cover at the time of binding). WITH allegorical frontispiece and 60 ENGRAVED PLATES OF FLOWERS, ALL BEAUTIFULLY COLORED BY A CONTEMPORARY HAND. Henrey III, 776; Nissen BBI 880; Dunthorne 129; "Great Flower Books," p. 100; Hunt II, 559; Johnston "Cleveland Collections" 442; "Oak Spring Flora" 53; Plesch 312. Spine a bit darkened, joints slightly rubbed and flaked, small scratches and abrasions to covers, but the expertly restored binding solid and generally pleasing. Isolated faint offsetting from plates, other trivial imperfections, but A FINE COPY INTERNALLY, the leaves clean and fresh, and the plates both richly and expertly colored.
This oversized, profusely illustrated botanical work is a volume of considerable beauty and is of interest to us today for its impressive plates, but it was published originally as a weekly guide (and issued in weekly parts) offering information on plants that would be blooming, fruiting, or needing the gardener's attention in the following seven days. The needs of the flower garden, greenhouse and nursery, fruit garden, and kitchen garden are individually addressed. Each part is accompanied by an engraved plate depicting six or more plant specimens, the vast majority of them beautiful blossoms. As it was intended as a companion to "The Compleat Body of Husbandry" (London, 1756) by Thomas Hale, it lists that obscure gentleman's papers as the source for the contents here. But the true author was apparently the apothecary, botanist, and sometime actor John Hill (1716?-75). Although an autodidact in the field of natural science, he became acquainted with noted members of the Royal Society, including Martin Folkes, Sir Hans Sloane, Henry Baker, William Watson, and James Parsons, and acquired Lord Bute as a patron. With Bute's assistance, he published a number of significant works on plants and their uses, among them "The British Herbal" (1755), "Flora Britanica" (1759), and his magnum opus, the 26-volume "The Vegetable System." Hill was a man of great energy and intelligence, but he was also a flamboyant character who did not hesitate to air his sometimes outrageous opinions. In addition to his scholarly writings, he published a steady series of usually abusive periodicals; he was also constantly scheming to make money and to raise his reputation above its rightful altitude; and he was always embroiled in controversies because of his ungovernable proclivity toward impertinence and derision as well as his overweening vanity. He made many confirmed enemies in important circles, a fact that thwarted his advancement. But DNB says that "his reputation has been somewhat reclaimed since. At the end of the millennium, Hill was recognized as less of a quack and dilettante, and, to use George Rousseau's phrase, more 'a type of Renaissance man in the eighteenth century.'" This is an attractive book in its uncolored state and much more so when found--as here--with engravings that have been carefully painted by an expert hand using rich and convincing colors. Such copies, especially in well-preserved condition, are seldom seen for sale. (ST12422)
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PJP Catalog: SE16BF.045