It’s official: Sea-Weed is Not Dull. Impediment to swimming I know thee well, but how little I knew thee till I saw thee nature-printed.

Johnstone, William Grosart & Alexander Croall. The Nature-Printed British Sea-Weeds: A History, accompanied by figures and dissections, of the algæ of the British Isles. Four volumes. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1859-1860.

Nature-printing is transacted by placing a flattish specimen (sea-weed, fern, lace) between a steel plate and a lead plate, rolling the two together and stereotyping the lead plate. The result: detail and fidelity, especially to the size of the original specimen (which can hardly be helped). As a result, the plates are raised in the exact proportion of the specimen itself.

Henry Bradbury at the age of twenty-four adapted (adopted?) the process from Alois Auer, who was forever bitter that he was plagiarized (though there are XIIIc examples of nature-printing…). At twenty-nine, in the year the final volumes of The Nature-Printed British Sea-Weeds appeared, Bradbury committed suicide, despairing of the stain to his name. The death of its prime mover and the huge cost of the process limited the number of books printed with the technique to perhaps half a dozen within England. The polychromy and the range of textures in the prints is staggering. Sit Bradbury terra levis.

Quarto (9 7/16” x 6 3/16”, 240mm x 156mm).
Vol. I: a4 b4 B-AA4 BB2 [$1]. 102 leaves, pp. i-ix x-xii xiii xiv-xv, blank, 1 2-188 [= xvi, 188]. 71 plates.
Vol. II: a4 b2 B-CC4 DD2 [$1]. 108 leaves, pp. [1], blank i-vii viii-ix, blank, 1 2-203, blank [= ii, x, 204]. 69 plates.
Vol. III: a4 b2 B-CC4 [$1].106 leaves, pp. i-vii viii ix x-xi, blank, 1 2-200 [= xii, 200]. 54 plates.
Vol. IV: a4 b4 B-SS4 TT2 [$1]. 170 leaves, pp. i-vii viii ix x-xiv xv, blank, 1 2-324 [= xvi, 324]. 26 plates.

A Ducal Voyage

Booksellers cherish provenance, and yet they are so often the engines of its destruction. I’m not sure that I’ve anything more profound than that to say on the matter, but if one’s going to rejoice in something, one must acknowledge one’s hypocrisy in the rejoicing, lest one be a hypocrite.

First, let’s sing the praises of the book itself.

Dampier, William. A New Voyage Round the World. Describing particularly, The Isthmus of America, several Coasts and Islands in the West Indies, the Isles of Cape Verd, the Passage by Terra del Fuego, the South Sea Coasts of Chili, Peru, and Mexico; the Isle of Guam one of the Ladrones, Mindanao, and other Philippine and East India Islands near Cambodia, China, Formosa, Luconia, Celebes, &c. New Holland, Sumatra, Nicobar Isles; the Cape of Good Hope, and Santa Hellena. Their Soil, Rivers, Harbours, Plants, Fruits, Animals and Inhabitants. Their Customes, Religion, Government, Trade, &c. Three volumes. London: Printed for James Knapton. Vol. I: fifth edition corrected, 1703; vol. II: third edition, 1705; vol. III: second edition, 1709.

First man to circumnavigate the globe thrice (a stretch, but a long stretch) and first Englishman to land deliberately on New Holland (present day Australia – oi, oi, oi!), William Dampier was a buccaneer promoted to the captaincy of a Royal Navy ship largely on the strength of the first volume of this book (which was originally published in 1697 as a stand-alone account). His accounts of the Southern Hemisphere – Brazil, Chile, China, Vietnam, Australia – gripped the nation so much so that he went on two further circumnavigations to satisfy their curiosity.

The influence of the work cannot be overstated. It contains the first natural historical observations on (and illustrations of) the species of Australia, and these helped to shape Darwin’s theories of evolution by natural selection. Its analysis of global currents and winds informed the explorers that succeeded him. Its Nachleben is equally literary: Dampier is mentioned by name in Gulliver’s Travels (and it seems quite clear that the Yahoos are taken from his description of the Hottentots); Alexander Selkirk, who was a likely model for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, was a crew-member on Dampier’s 1703 voyage; and Simon Hatley, who shot an albatross as a sailor aboard another of Dampier’s voyages, is immortalized in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Shouldn’t that be enough? Now to the provenance of the volumes. Behold: the full and florid signature of George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739-1817) along with the date.

The stature of Marlborough need hardly be rehearsed. Blenheim Palace is the only non-royal non-episcopal palace in England; just outside of Oxford, it is magnificent, and its library, called Sunderland after one of the secondary titles of the Duke (usually used as a courtesy title by the heir apparent: the Earl of Sunderland), was once one of the greatest in England. The fifth Duke, George Spencer-Churchill, was a noted bibliophile. Yet by the time of the seventh Duke (grandfather of Sir Winston Churchill), the finances of the estate were precarious, and he sold off pictures, furniture and books –  including the present volumes – 

to reverse his fortunes, which was not achieved until the marriage of his grandson, the ninth Duke, to Consuelo Vanderbilt, heiress of the Vanderbilt railroad fortune.

Second, a bookplate with the arms of the Wharton family (that’s a maunch, a stylized sleeve):

It is difficult to ascertain which Wharton’s bookplate is found in the volumes, and whether he was the owner before or after the Duke of Marlborough, in whose library it remained from 1779-1882. If before, it belongs to Thomas Wharton, M.D. of Old Park Hall, County Durham (†1714, son of Thomas Wharton, M.D., who was instrumental in ending the 1666 plague of London). The shape of the shield with its characteristic “ears” as well as the style of the engraving does point to an eighteenth-century date. If after, it belongs to a descendant of Thomas Wharton, Henry Wharton of Highfield, Canterbury, New Zealand (b. 1844), who will perhaps have bought it at the Quaritch sale of 1885-6. It would seem that the placement of the bookplate in vol. I respects the placement of the Duke’s signature, whereas the other two bookplates are centered on the page. The strong association of the work with the Antipodes would have made it attractive to the New Zealander.

We purchased it (in the interest of full disclosure) on the East End of Long Island, whither it came from some Gold Coast Mansion, no doubt.


Vol. I: A-Mm8 Nn4 [$4; –A1]. 284 leaves, pp. [10], I II-VI, 1-384 387-550, [4] [=xvi, 548, 4]. Three engraved folding maps, one engraved map. Collated perfect with British Library copy (303.h.22).

Vol. II: A4 B-M8 N4 Aa-Hh8 Ii4 Aaa-Ggg8 [A]4 [a]4 [B]4 [b]4 [C]4 [c]4 [D]4 [d]4 [E]4 [e]2 [$4; –Ii3; Ddd3 mis-signed as “Dd3”]. 258 leaves, pp. [8], 1-184, 21-132, [4], 31-112, [76]. Four engraved folding maps. The third and fourth maps (before 31 [Aaa1]) are reversed; otherwise collated perfect with British Library copy (303.h.23). 

Vol. III: A8 a4 B-M8 2A-O8 [$4; –A1, 2A1; H4 mis-signed as “G4”]. 212 leaves, pp. [24], 1-162, [14], [16], 21-198, [10]. Two engraved folding maps, thirty-one engraved plates (14 in part I, 17 in part II). British Library copy (303.h.24(1) and (2)) has plates of part I out of order; the present item is correct; else collated perfect.

Descent and Dissent

We have quite a healthy selection of natural history items on the shelf, but without doubt the king of them all is Darwin. An 1805 treatise on the genus Fucus has beautiful engravings, and the 1828 Entretenimientos de un Prisionero en las provincias del Rio de la Plata by the Baron de Juras Reales is more gripping, but Darwin stands alone. We have a couple of editions of the Origin of Species, but today I have my eye on

The Descent of Man, and selection in relation to sex. Two volumes. London: John Murray, 1871. First edition, first issue.

The Descent is not nearly Darwin’s most important book. Most of what he writes in it had already been published in the Origin and elsewhere, but it inserted itself rather more into the social implications of his observations on sex, race and psychology. Why, then, do I write about this book?

Our copy was owned by the Reverend Henry Parry Liddon (his ownership stamp appears on the front blank of each volume) –

Tractarian apologist, Ireland Professor of biblical exegesis at Oxford and canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Although Darwin was surprised at the lack of public censoriousness in the reception of the Descent, the religious grappled with the implications and ramifications of his theories. Reverend Liddon represents the very earliest wave of apologists: those who seek to characterize the theory of evolution – a word that appears for the first time in Darwin’s writing on the second page of the first volume – as compatible with theories of the origins of man derived from scripture.

Liddon marked — we can be all but sure — some passages:

No one supposes that one of the lower animals reflects whence he comes or whither he goes,– what is death or what is life, and so forth.    (vol. I, p. 62)

There is no evidence that man was aboriginally endowed with the ennobling belief in the existence of an Omnipotent God. On the contrary there is ample evidence, derived not from hasty travellers, but from men who have long resided with savages, that numerous races have existed and still exist, who have no idea of one or more gods, and who have no words in their languages to express such an idea. The question is of course wholly distinct from that higher one, whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the universe; and this has been answered in the affirmative by the highest intellects that have ever lived.    (vol. I, p. 65)


Liddon has underlined “ennobling” in the second quoted passage, and written a reference to p. 106: “The ennobling belief in God is not universal with man.” Passages such as these are the footholds of claiming a place for divinity in Darwin’s thought.

Darwin died on 19 April 1882, and three days later Liddon delivered a sermon at St. Paul’s, which his friends called “the famous sermon:”

It may be admitted that when the well-known books on the Origin of Species and on the Descent of Man first appeared, they were largely regarded by religious men as containing a theory necessarily hostile to the fundamental truths of religion. A closer study has generally modified any such impression.
(The Recovery of St. Thomas… with a Prefatory Note on the Late Mr. Darwin, London: Rivintgons, 1882. Second edn., p. 29.)


The present item may therefore be regarded as a significant document in one of the most consequential debates of the modern era: that of the relationship of science and religion. Liddon’s reclamation of Darwin in his Famous Sermon was a project that had perhaps begun a decade prior while reading this very copy of the Descent.



Vol. I: Blank, A4 B-2D8 2E4 2B8 [$2]. 224 leaves; pp.  i-v vi-viii, 1 2-250 251-253 254-423, blank, 21 22-16 (advertisements).
Vol. II: A4 (+A5) B-2G8 2H4 2I2 2B8 [$2]. 251 leaves; pp. i-v vi-viii, [1], blank, 1 2-475, blank, 21 22-16 (advertisements).