English Botany; or, Coloured Figures of British Plants, with their essential characters, synonyms, and places of growth. To which will be added, occasional remarks. [With:] General Indexes to the Thirty-Six Volumes of English Botany; to which is added, an alphabetical index to English Fungi; making together, a catalogue of indigenous British plants.

  • Sowerby, James; Smith, James Edward
  • London: Printed for the Author, by J. Davis 1790
  • ESTC T147671.


SKU: 4924 Category: Tags: , ,


FIRST EDITION, 37 vols., 8vo, each vol. except index ff. [i, title-page], 72, [3, indices] + a total of 2,592 hand-coloured plates, of which 3 folding, plus a further pp. iv and pp. vi, [ii] in vols. 1 and 7 respectively,index vol. pp. viii, [76]. Vol. 4 bound without Smith’s preface. Contemporary half dark green straight-grained morocco, marbled boards, spines divided by raised bands and double gilt rules, marbled edges and endpapers. A little spotting and offsetting, title-page of index vol. damaged. Bindings variably rubbed and a little worn, front board of vol. 6 detached, front hinge of vol. 24 broken. Some pencil notes, a few dried flowers inserted, often to correspond with entries for the same specimens.


A lovely example of James Sowerby's (1757-1822) English Botany, which he claimed to be 'a perfect National Flora, a work that has been attempted in several countries, but, which is very remarkable, has not proceeded nearly to completion in any other'. When first embarking upon the project, Sowerby's collaborator James Edward Smith (1759-1828) refused to have his name attached, fearing the work would not befit his status as founder and president of the Linnean Society. After the popularity of the first volumes, however, he changed his mind, partly out of frustration that people would quote Sowerby when referring to his botanical descriptions. Compiled and issued as a periodical over nearly 25 years, this was a mammoth undertaking, with both Sowerby and Smith constantly in correspondence with fellow botanists and avid plant collectors to discuss variations or new locations of specimens. Sowerby did both the initial drawings and the engravings for each of the 2,592 plates. The attention to detail is astounding, particularly in the vast variety of mosses and lichens recorded, which are often overlooked by modern gardeners, as well as the striking and colourful species of seaweed.
While toiling on these volumes, Sowerby conceived a separate work solely focused on English Fungi, published in 3 volumes from 1797 to 1803 - covered by the same general index but rarely found together with the Botany.

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