[PRE-LINNAEAN HERBAL, BEAUTIFULLY HAND-COLORED]. The British Herbal: An History of Plants and Trees, Natives of Britain, Cultivated for Use, or Raised for Beauty
London: T. Osborne and J. Shipton, 1756. First Edition. Folio (460 x 280 mm). With an engraved allegorical frontispiece, title vignette, title printed in red and black, dedication with engraved arms, 75 engraved plates (plate 2 torn at the foot, plate 63 mounted), ALL COLORED by a contemporary hand. Contemporary straight-grained red morocco lavishly gilt, both covers with delicate lozange shaped central motif composed of birds, flowers, and ornaments; six raised bands on spine, green morocco lettering piece in the second, other compartments gilt (some minor repairs), marbled endpapers. Very good. Item #3745
SPLENDID hand-colored copy on Royal Paper of Hill's Important Pre-Linnaean Herbal, with all the plants identified in ENGLISH along with Hill's own Latin nomenclature, in a contemporary red morocco binding, rare thus. More than 1500 plants of medical, veterinary, and ornamental interest are depicted herein, all hand-colored. Surely this must be one of the finest copies of this important herbal, which documents plants from Britain and beyond.
"The genera and species are clearly described in 'The British Herbal,' and the work is of importance as being one of the first publications to appear after the Species plantarum of 1753, the year internationally accepted as the starting-point for modern botanical nomenclature [...] 'The British Herbal' is also of interest for Hill's criticism of Linnaeus" (Henrey 799). Each of the 75 plates illustrates approximately 20 plants, all with English names as well as Hill's unique nomenclature. The title, "The British Herbal: an History of Plants and Trees, Natives of Britain, cultivated for Use or raised for Beauty," does not fully indicate the scope of the work, as it deals with many exotic species grown in Britain as well as with indigenous ones.
In addition to its criticisms of Linnaeus, "The British Herbal" remains interesting for its classification on plants based on the forms of the corolla and the gynoecium.
Hill's personal and scurrilous writings involved him in many quarrels and in some instances heartily detested. Nonetheless, he was a man of great scientific ability and versatility, as is attested by the long essay on him in "Makers of British Botany" (1913, pp. 84-107). William Stearn explains:
"Hill had, however, enlivened British botany during a rather dull period and, as Pulteney admitted in 1790, 'had favourable influence in promoting the science in general though not the Linnaean modification of it in particular.' The nomenclatural importance of his 'British Herbal' did not become apparent until 1905 when G.C. Druce called attention to it as a work in which many generic names of Tournefort suppressed by Linnaeus in 1753 or earlier were re-established. In 1914 Druce listed the generic names whose post-1753 publication is to be attributed to Hill rather than to Moench, Gilibert and others. Himself a pharmacist and botanical author often in disagreement with his contemporaries, Druce had much fellow-feeling for Hill and in 1926 and 1930 he went yet further in his rehabilitation of Hill's botanical repute. He added to his Flora of Buckinghamshire and his Flora of Northamptonshire detailed appreciations of the 'British Herbal' with many examples of Hill's perspicacity in restoring 'genera which Linnaeus had wantonly and incorrectly merged with others'. This work is now accepted as the place of first valid publication of Centaurium, Chamaepericlymenum, Cymbalaria, Levisticum, Libanotis, Petroselinum, Phyllitis, Radiola, etc."
"Hill evidently studied Linnaeus's 'Genera Plantarum' with care but nontheless accepted neither his nomenclature nor his taxonomy. He objected to Linnaeus's all too frequent rejection of 'the received and antient name' of a genus and to his fusion of genera distinguished by Tournefort. Hence he continually criticized Linnaean procedure as he justified his own. [...] Most of Linnaeus's contemporaries viewed his innovations in the same critical and independent spirit. Hill intended the 'British Herbal' for the growing British book-buying public with an interest in plants for ornament as well as for medicine but with little technical botanical knowledge. Consequently he wrote it in English, not Latin. It was Hill's use of English in his botanical publications that later (30 Dec. 1771) caused the Dutch professor J. Burman to remark regretfully to Linnaeus that 'a learned man ought to write for the learned in the universal language formerly always used by the old authors, i.e. Latin.' This popular character of Hill's 'British Herbal' made it a financial success but subsequently caused its scientific merit to be overlooked. Comparison with Linnaeus's extremely methodical works is invidious even though necessary for nomenclatural purposes." (SOURCE: William T. Stern, "Hill's The British Herbal (1756-1757)" in: Taxon , Dec., 1967, Vol. 16, No. 6 (Dec., 1967), 494-498.
REFERENCES: Hunt 557. Nissen BBI 881. Pritzel 4063. Blunt and Stearn, The Art of Botanical Illustration, pp 170-171. Bradley III, 81. Dunthorne 128. Great Flower Books (1990) p 100.