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Prideaux John Selby (1788-1867)

Selby's Illustrations of British Ornithology.

Edinburgh: Daniel Lizars and London: Longman, Rees, Orme [ca 1818-1823].

Engravings with original hand-coloring.

Prideaux John Selby "was very gifted as an artist, and the two volumes of "Illustrations of British Ornithology" are outstandingly beautiful. In many people's estimation, the clarity and crispness of his figures give them an austere beauty that is lacking in the pretty lithographs in H.L. Meyer's and John Gould's books about British birds ... The cool, classical quality of Selby's plates belongs to the age of elegance and could never have been achieved by the Victorian John Gould. Selby's bird figures were the most accurate delineations of British birds to that date, and the liveliest. After so many books with small, stiff bird portraits, this new atlas with its life-size figures and more relaxed drawing was a great achievement in the long history of bird illustration" (Jackson). 

Selby showed a "great interest in ornithology from an early age and made his own notes and careful, coloured drawings of the birds in his district... his main interests were ornithology, forestry, and entomology. He was a skilful fisherman and an excellent shot. Selby's major work, "Illustrations of British Ornithology", was published in nineteen parts between 1821 and 1833. It contained some 222 plates etched by Selby (mostly after his own drawings) with the assistance of his brother-in-law Admiral Robert Mitford. In 1819 Mitford was taught to etch by Thomas Bewick in Newcastle; he then taught Selby at Twizell House. Two volumes of text appeared, "Land Birds" in 1825 (revised in 1833) and "Water Birds" in 1833. The specimens on which the figures were based were nearly all collected and set up by Selby, aided by his butler, Richard Moffitt.

"From 1825 until 1841 Selby assisted his friend Sir William Jardine (1800–1874) with the descriptions, drawings, and etchings for their joint publication,'Illustrations of Ornithology' (1836–43). During this period, in 1835 and 1836 respectively, he also wrote the volumes 'Pigeons and Parrots' for Jardine's 'Naturalist's Library'. Together, in conjunction with George Johnston, Selby and Jardine founded the 'Magazine of Zoology and Botany' in 1836, which was widened in scope in 1838 when the name was changed to 'Annals of Natural History'. Selby remained an editor until his death, contributing notes and articles up to 1841. He joined the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club soon after it was founded in 1831 and served as its president in 1834 and again in 1844. Between 1832 and 1859 he contributed many papers to the 'History of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club'. Further papers were published in other journals between 1823 and 1838" (Christine E. Jackson for DNB). 

BM(NH) IV, p. 1896; cf. Fine Bird Books (1990) p.141; Mullens & Swann p. 519; Nissen IVB 853; cf. Wood pp. 561-562; cf. Zimmer pp. 571-572, cf. C. Jackson, Bird Etchings, 1985.