Journeys of the Mind: Classifiers and Describers
The great classifiers and describers proclaimed the variety and richness of the world's species, establishing a sound foundation for the taxonomic description of flora and fauna.
|Pierre Belon (1517-1564) |
Les observations de plusieurs singularitez et choses memorables: Trouvées en Grece, Asie, Judée, Egypte, Arabie, et autres pays estrange [sic] (Observations of many singular and memorable things found in Greece, Asia, Judea, Egypt, Arabia, and other foreign countries)
Paris: Guillaume Cavellat, 1554.
Bequest of Alexander Wetmore
By training an apothecary and botanist, Belon is also recognized
by modern science as the founder of comparative anatomy and embryology in
animals. He was one of the first naturalist-explorers, and his
observations made this book the most thoroughly documented account of the
eastern Mediterranean at the time. First published in 1553,
Observations was re-printed the following year with
illustrations. This woodcut accompanies the first scientific description
of the giraffe, known in medieval bestiaries as the "cameleopard."
|Marcus Elieser Bloch (1723-1799) |
[Algemine Naturgeschicte der Fisch] (General natural history of fishes)
Berlin: Hr. Hesse, 1782-95. 4 vols. and atlases.
Bloch’s work is one of the high points in the history of
ichthyology, both graphically and taxonomically. It is still in use as a
standard reference for identification. Bloch described fishes from all
over the world, relying on numerous contacts around the globe. In all, he
listed more than 169 new species. A French edition, published in Berlin in
1785–97, allowed the work to reach a wider audience. Various engravers
produced the plates in a remarkably consistent style over a 12-year
period. The Smithsonian is one of only nine institutions in the world to
hold a complete set of the original German editions and one of only two
libraries to hold both the German and the French.
|Charles Darwin (1809-1882) |
Autograph letter, signed, [to W. Whitaker], dated March 16, 1880
Gift of the Burndy Library
As an old man, only two years before his death,
Darwin wrote: "March 16 1880 / Down House . . . / Dear Sir / I must send
one line to thank you for thinking to send me the article on inheritance,
which is a subject which always interests me. Dear Sir / Yours faithfully
& [ ? ] / Ch. Darwin"
|Charles Darwin (1809-1882) |
On the Origin of Species
London: John Murray, 1859.
Gift of the Burndy Library
Destined by his family for the clergy, Charles Darwin served,
unpaid, as the official naturalist on the H.M.S. Beagle's
surveying voyage to South America (1831-36). Only later, after his return,
did the significance of his observations lead Darwin to his revolutionary
conclusions. He was not the only scientist to advance the theory of
evolution, but he spent 20 years working out its operation through the
processes of natural selection before publishing Origin in 1859.
The book caused a sensation, and although the fact of evolution is
irrefutable, the controversy over the mechanism continues unabated.
|Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566) |
De historia stirpium (On the history of plants)
Basel: Isingrin, 1542.
Gift of the Burndy Library
In Renaissance times, medical treatments were based on botany,
but the herbals and other books available to practitioners often
inaccurately identified plants. German physician Leonhart Fuchs deplored
this lack of knowledge and produced his book to rectify it. Fuchs compiled
the text from various classical sources but added his own field
observations. The work is famous for its more than 500 woodcut
illustrations, drawn by Heinrich Füllmaurer and Albrecht Meyer and cut by
Veit Rudolf Speckle. The Smithsonian Libraries copy is uncolored, which
accentuates the extraordinary beauty of line achieved by the artists and
demonstrates the Renaissance shift to the accurate observation and drawing
of plants from life. English artist and designer William Morris owned a
copy of Fuchs’s book and clearly took inspiration from it for some of his
|Konrad Gesner (1516-1565) |
Historia animalium (History of animals)
Zurich: C. Froschouser, 1551-87. 5 vols in 3: vols 1,4,5 (Frankfurt: Ioannus Wechel, 1585-86, vols. 2,3.
Gift of the Burndy Library
In contrast to the bestiary tradition, the physician and scholar
Konrad Gesner managed to re-establish the natural sciences on a
recognizably scientific footing of observation, experimentation, and
deduction. His encyclopedic work, compiled from folklore, ancient and
medieval texts, and correspondence with a wide network of scholars,
travelers, and natural philosophers, was tempered by his skepticism and an
emphasis on direct observations. This copy, a mix of Zurich and Frankfurt
imprints, is in a uniform blind-stamped pigskin binding dated 1599.
|Seibutsugaku Gokenkyujo |
Crabs of Sagami Bay, collected by His Majesty the Emperor of Japan
Honolulu: East West Center Press, 1965.
This volume is one of several published by Emperor
Hirohito (1901-1989), a skilled collector and an avid and lifelong marine
biologist. With its complex seabed and warm and cold currents, Sagami Bay
is a site well known for its diverse marine life. Hirohito himself
collected the crabs illustrated in this volume and identified them in his
palace laboratory using the work of Mary Jane Rathbun, a 19th-century
Smithsonian scientist. Today, scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental
Research Center on the Chesapeake Bay refer to this catalog of the
emperor’s research collection in their work.
|John Gould (1804-188) |
The Birds of New Guinea and the Adjacent Papua Islands
London: H. Sotheran, 1875-88. 5 vols..
Gift of John H. Phipps
Like all of Gould's works, The Birds of New
Guinea, completed by Richard Bowdler Sharpe after Gould's death in
1881, is both beautiful and scientifically important. In it are described
and illustrated many exotic species of birds, including the birds of
paradise unique to New Guinea -- bowerbirds, parrots, and others
previously unknown to Western science. Its 310 hand-colored lithographs
were largely the work of William Hart, who produced the final watercolors
based on Gould's sketches and transferred them to the printing stone. This
and other volumes donated in 1980 by conservationist and broadcast magnate
John H. Phipps enriched and complemented the already fine collections that
support ornithological research within the Institution.
|George Robert Gray (1808-1872) |
Hand-list of Genera and Species of Birds... in the British Museum (Natural History)
London: by order of the Trustees, 1869-71. 3 vols..
Although an important reference work in ornithological taxonomy,
Gray’s Hand-list is not in itself rare. This copy, however, was
owned and annotated by Elliott Coues (1842-1899), the premier American
ornithologist of the period, after the Smithsonian’s Spencer F. Baird
(1833-1889). Coues, as a boy, had studied informally under Baird and
worked with the expedition collections at the Smithsonian throughout his
life. Books interleaved to provide space for annotations, linking the text
to specimens in museum collections and to related taxonomic works, are not
uncommon in the Smithsonian Libraries holdings. In an inscription, Coues
exhorted later owners of this copy (who included book collector Evan
Morton Evans and ornithologists John Eliot Thayer and Robert Cushman) to
continue the annotations.
|Robert Hooke (1635-1703) |
Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses.
London: Printed by J. Martyn and J. Allestry, 1665.
Gift of the Burndy Library
Curator of experiments at the Royal Society of London, Hooke
published his Micrographia (literally, "Little Drawings") to
record a series of observations he had made with a microscope. Like
Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius, the Micrographia presented a
wealth of new observations with dramatic visual effect, exerting an
enormous influence on the development of science. Hooke was the first
scientist to use the word "cell" and to speculate on its function. The
detailed plates in Micrographia were so popular that they were
reprinted continually in other books up to the 1800s.
|Nicklaus Joseph Jacqin (1727-1817) |
Plantarum rariorum horti caesarei Schoenbrunnenesis descriptions et icones (Descriptions and pictures of rare plants in the gardens of Schönbrunn castle)
Vienna, London, Leiden: C.F. Wappler, B.&J. White, S.&J. Luchtmans, 1797-1804. 4 vols..
Importing and cultivating rare and exotic plants from
newly explored regions of the world was popular throughout late
18th-century Europe. Jacquin, a Dutchman of French extraction, produced
many of the great florilegia, or flower books, of the period during his
career with the Austrian imperial gardens and natural history collections.
Collectively his works described a multitude of new species and some 2,700
plates of plants, many of them never before depicted. This four-volume
folio, published in fewer than 200 copies, contains 500 detailed
engravings of plants from South Africa, the Americas, and other distant
regions, all of which were grown in the royal gardens of Schönbrunn in
|Carl Von Linnaeus (Carl von Linné, 1707-1778)
Systema naturae (System of nature. 2nd ed.)
Stockholm: Kiesewetter, 1740.
World explorers brought back to Europe so many exotic plant and
animal specimens that chaos loomed for the 18th-century naturalists
attempting to identify, classify, and communicate what they had gathered.
Linnaeus made a great contribution to science by developing systems of
classification and nomenclature to organize these processes. His
principles of organization, especially his system of binomial
nomenclature, provided essential tools for making sense of the natural
world. The practice of taxonomy (naming and classifying species) and
systematics (the classification of species into higher groups) continues
at the National Museum of Natural History today and still relies on
Linnaeus’s classic work. The tenth edition (1758-59), which the Libraries
holds in multiple copies, was chosen as the starting point for zoological
nomenclature. This much rarer copy of the second edition is from the
library of Lorenz Oken (1799-1851), a renowned German natural scientist.
|François Nicolas Martinet (1731-1790?)
[Paris: the artist?, 1773-92].
Gift of Marcia Brady Tucker
Though trained as an engineer, Martinet was another of the great
18th-century engravers, producing hundreds of plates for Brisson’s
Ornithologie and Buffon’s Histoire naturelle, among
other works. Carrying on the success of his ornithological illustrations,
he and his son engraved and issued independently at least two series of
bird plates from the 1770s into the 1790s. The 174 numbered plates in this
volume are especially charming for their delicate coloring and occasional
|Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) |
Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium (Transformations of the insects of Surinam)
Amsterdam: For the author by G. Valck, .
Maria Sibylla Merian, the daughter, sister, and wife of artists
and engravers, lived a most unconventional life: she became an artist
herself, left her husband to join a Protestant sect, and voyaged at the
age of 50 to the Dutch colony of Surinam in South America. Merian, who
worked professionally under her own name, spent two years in the rain
forest observing, collecting, and drawing insects and plants. Despite a
few errors, her Metamorphosis, published after her return, is a
masterpiece of both art and science. In a vivid, pleasingly ornate
artistic style, she was the first to record the full life cycle of many
species of butterflies and moths.
|Georg Wolfgang Franz Panzer (1755-1829) |
Faunae insectorum germanicae initia (Elements of the insect fauna of Germany)
Nuremberg: Felseckerschen buchhandlung, 1796-1813. 18 vols..
In the 18th century, entomology became a fertile field for
artists as well as scientists. Illustrated by Jacob Sturm (1771–1848), one
of the period’s best entomological artist/engravers, with more than 2,600
hand-colored plates of individual, lifesize insects, Panzer’s work was
issued in 109 parts over a 17-year period. Issued as a serial publication,
a common pattern for illustrated natural history works in the 18th and
19th centuries, complete sets are scarce. The Smithsonian Libraries has
one of them, in contemporary bindings.
|Thomas Gilbert Pearson (1873-1943) |
The Bird Study Book
Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, 1917.
Pearson, a famous southern naturalist, was one of the founders
and later president of the National Association of Audubon Societies (now
the National Audubon Society). Pearson, who also founded the International
Council for Bird Preservation, established many school libraries
throughout his native North Carolina by donating natural history books to
school superintendents. His early work on bird conservation is important
to the mission of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National
Zoological Park as well as to the history of the conservation movement in
the United States. The Smithsonian Libraries copy is signed by author.
|Willem Piso (1611-1678); Georg Marggraf (1610-1644)
Historia naturalis Brasiliae (Natural history of Brasil)
Leiden, Amsterdam: F. Hackius, L. Elzevir, 1648.
Gift of Marcia Brady Tucker
Willem Piso served as the physician of the Dutch settlement in Brazil from
1636 to 1644 and was a pioneer in tropical medicine and pharmacology. He
studied the herbal medicines of the indigenous people and advocated many
of their health practices. Searching the jungle for medicinal plants, he
was the first European to grasp the usefulness of native treatments using
ipecacuanha, sassafras, sarsaparilla, guaiacum, and other plants. His
findings constitute the first part of the Historia naturalis
Brasiliae; the second and larger part is a broader natural history of
the region by Georg Marggraf, Piso’s assistant, and includes the first
illustrations and descriptions of a variety of New World animals.
|James Smithson (1765-1829) |
"A chemical analysis of some calamines." From the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, [vol. 93]
London: Printed by W. Bulmer, 1803.
From the Smithson Library Collection
James Louis Macie
Smithson was a gentleman scientist, educated at Oxford and interested in
chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. His 27 scientific papers, published in
the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions and Thomson’s
Annals of Philosophy, include this one on the mineral (a form of
zinc carbonate) that was later named "smithsonite" in his honor. Smithson
bequeathed $550,000 in gold as well as his library and personal effects to
the United States, but many items were lost in a devastating fire in 1865.
Approximately 115 titles survived, including several copies of this
corrected offprint, and they are now in the Smithsonian Libraries Special
|Joachim Johann Nepomuk Spalowsky (1752-1797)
Prodromus in systema historiam testaceorum (Introduction to a systematic classification of shelled animals)
Vienna: Ignaz Alberti's Wittwe, 1795 [1801 issue].
Elegantly combining art and science, Spalowsky’s
Prodromus presents descriptions of new mollusk species
accompanied by strikingly beautiful illustrations, some of them
painstakingly layered with gold and silver leaf under watercolor to
reproduce the effect of iridescence. This book, in the 1801 issue with a
contemporary binding, is one of the rarest published works on mollusks.
|John W. Taylor (born 1931) |
Birds of the Chesapeake Bay: Paintings by John W. Taylor with Natural Histories and Journal Notes by the Artist
Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992.
This book is unique in the Smithsonian Libraries
collections in its artistic portrayals of many birds of the Chesapeake
Bay. The author, a naturalist who lives along the shores of the bay,
recorded much about the habits of these and other birds for more than 30
years. Taylor’s ornithologically accurate, full-color drawings depict
rarely seen birds that inhabit the area. With each drawing, Taylor gives a
natural history of the bird, the effects of encroaching development, and
efforts to maintain the bird’s habitat.
|Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) |
Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854.
Embraced as a precursor to the modern environmentalist movement,
Thoreau’s work emphasizes an appreciation of nature for itself rather than
as a resource to be exploited -- a sharp departure from the prevailing
economic and religious views of the period. Thoreau inscribed and gave
this copy to Spencer F. Baird, a young natural scientist who had been
selected just a few years earlier as an assistant secretary for the museum
of the newly founded Smithsonian Institution. Baird had been introduced to
Thoreau by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1847.