Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Birds of Asia

John Gould - The Birds of Asia (1850-83)

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Gould was one of the 19th century's premiere ornithologists and illustrators - the bird specimens from Darwin's Galapagos journey (including the famous finches) were given to him for identification and there are several birds and two reptiles named for him.  He created Birds of Europe (1832-37), Birds of Australia (1840-48) and Birds of Great Britain (1862-73) before getting to Asia.  (He also did Mammals of Australia (1849-61) despite the topic being outside his focus - I was looking for that because of its entry on thylacines when finding Birds of Asia instead).

The text is a bit hard to read due to its size but that's why we have magnification tools.  The descriptions combine field reports, museum inspections and naturalist publications, displaying more personality than reference works generally do today.  Gould almost exclusively worked from preserved specimens.  There have been reprint editions of some illustrations but I can't find a listing that the entire thing was.  Alas, he dedicated the work to the "honourable East India Company", not how most of us would view that today.

There's a section on Gould, Darwin and birds in Jonathan Smith's Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture (2006).  There's a shorter discussion by Christine Cheater in Frankenstein's Science: Experimentation and Discovery in Romantic Culture (2008), edited by  Christa Knellwolf King, Jane R. Goodall.