Mark Catesby. The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands: Containing the Figures of Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, Insects, and Plants: Particularly the Forest-trees, Shrubs, and Other Plants, Not Hitherto Described, or Very Incorrectly Figured by Authors: Together with their Description in English and French, to which, are Added Observations on the Air, Soil, and Waters, with Remarks upon Agriculture, Grain, Pulse, Roots etc: to the Whole, is Prefixed a New and Correct Map of the Countries Treated of. London: printed by Mr. Hauksbee, 1731. Gift of Emily Fox Cheston ’08.

     
 

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The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands was written and illustrated by the English naturalist Mark Catesby (1682-1749). Catesby traveled to North America and the West Indies in 1722 in order to collect plant specimens for the Royal Society. Part of his responsibility was to send seeds and plants to his patrons back in Europe for use in their personal gardens. In this way, his journey played an important role in increasing knowledge of the plant species of the New World. Upon his return to England in 1726 he began working on a book based on the drawings and observations he had made on his journey. This book, The Natural History, took nearly seventeen years to complete, and was the first systematic work on the flora and fauna of North America. It was envisioned as a practical, scientific guide to the New World’s flora and fauna, in contrast to the fantastical and speculative accounts that came before.While his time abroad had been spent as a field naturalist, upon his return to England Catesby’s role changed to author and artist. He learnt the process of etching so that he could publish the drawings he had made in the field. The Natural History was Catesby’s life work, and he oversaw every stage of its production. To finance it, he offered subscriptions to sections of twenty plates published every four months. Each copy was hand-colored, sometimes by Catesby himself. His work was much admired by other natural historians, and was later imitated by John James Audubon. Even Linnaeus relied on Catesby’s book for the entries on North American birds in his 1758 edition of the Systema Naturae. The Natural History of Carolina exemplifies both the drive to collect species, which was prevalent at the time, as well as the need to explore new lands in order to acquire a world-view of natural history.

 

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