Ornithological Dictionary of British Birds

MONTAGU, George. Ornithological Dictionary of British Birds.

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MONTAGU, George Ornithological Dictionary of British Birds. Hurst, Chance & Co. 1831.

8vo. Contemporary full brown calf, gilt borders to sides, spine with gilt raised bands and centre tools, gilt turn-ins, marbled endpapers, all edges marbled; pp. lx + 592, wood engravings throughout; previous owner's bookplate to front pastedown, front hinge tender, lettering piece missing from spine, very good.
Second edition, revised by James Rennie. First published in 1802, Montagu's work won high praise. W.H. Mullens, the great ornithological bibliographer, credited the work with moving the science on from the seventeenth century: "it was not until the genius of George Montagu produced in 1802 the 'Ornithological Dictionary' that the work which had been begun by Willughby and Ray [with their Ornithologia libri tres], was properly continued" ("Some Early British Ornithologists and Their Works" British Birds. 2 (8): 259–266). Darwin quoted Montagu's interpretation of birdsong as an important element of sexual selection in The Descent of Man (1871), praising him as a 'careful observer'. Montagu died in 1815, his work having become an instant classic. Rennie's revision, intended to update the work for a more scientifically enlightened audience, was controversial. W.H. Swainson's review for the Philosophical magazine comments that "we were struck with the extreme assumption and arrogance of the whole style of treating his subject, which is here displayed by the author [Rennie]; with the bitterness and contempt of his vituperation of the naturalists whose views he condemns, disingenuously mingled with praise, which on his own showing must be undeserved; and with the perverse ignorance from which alone such misrepresentations as he makes on all the subjects which he touches, could have arisen." Nevertheless, Montagu's original observations and remarks remain and are as pertinent and detailed as ever.

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