'the most beautiful book on indian sport in existence'
WILLIAMSON, Captain Thomas and Samuel HOWITT (artist). Oriental Field Sports; being a Complete, Detailed, and Accurate Description of the Wild Sports of the East; and Exhibiting, in a Novel and Interesting Manner, the Natural History of the Elephant, the Rhinoceros, the Tiger, the Leopard, the Bear, the Deer, the Buffalo, the Wolf, the Wild Hog, the Jackall, the Wild Dog, the Civet, and other Undomesticated Animals: as Likewise the Different Species of Feathered Game, Fishes, and Serpents. The Whole Interspersed with a Variety of Original, Authentic, and Curious Anecdotes, which Render the Work Replete with Infromation and Amusement. The Scenerey Gives a Faithful Representation of that Picturesque Country, together with the Manners and Customs of both the Native and the European Inhabitants. The Narrative is Divided into Forty Heads, Forming Collectively a Complete Work. London, printed for Edward Orme, 1807.
Two volumes, folio. Modern half calf gilt over cloth-covered boards, spine with raised bands and red-morocco letterig-pieces, gilt in compartments; pp. xiv, 306; [iv], 329, , two additional etched pictorial titles, printed in sepia, 20 handcoloured etched and aquatinted plates; title page with old tear with old repair by doubling with paper on verso, pages 1 to 4 in this volume with repair to upper margins, occasional spotting or browning mainly to text; a good copy.
First 4to and second, so-called 'cheaper' edition, after the first in larger oblong format which had come out earlier that year in 20 parts. 'The most beautiful book on Indian sport in existence' (Schwerdt). Oriental Field Sports is composed of a frontispiece and forty fine hand-coloured aquatint plates, which were drawn by the keen sportsman and accomplished artist and etcher Samuel Howitt (1756/7-1823) from the original designs by the Bengal Army officer Captain Thomas George Williamson (circa 1760-1817), who also wrote the accompanying explanatory text. Williamson had travelled to India in 1778 aged about 19, and was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd European Regiment in 1779. For the following twenty years, Williamson served in the East India Company's Bengal Army in India and Malaysia, before an ill-judged letter, which criticised Lord Cornwallis' plans for the army in India, was published in the Calcutta Telegraph on 17 March 1798, under the pseudonym 'Mentor'. A modern historian characterises the letter thus: 'Seething with at first barely concealed anger [Williamson] throws common sense to the winds as he covers page after page, and his manner of address develops from restrained hectoring to outright insult' (O. Edwards 'Captain Thomas Williamson of India' in Modern Asian Studies 14, 4 (1980), pp. 673-682 at p. 678), and an official investigation of the letter and (apparently) suppression of the ensuing issue of the journal followed swiftly. Once Williamson was identified as the author, he was suspended by the army and sent home to England, not to be reinstated, although he was allowed, three years later, to retire on half-pay. (In India Observed (London: 1982), M. Archer and R. Lightbown also suggest that 'There may, however, have been deeper reasons. Williamson had liberal opinions and took a humane attitude to the controversial issue of providing free passages to England for children born to the British by Indian "wives". It may have been his views on such subjects which led to his banishment from India', p. 67.)
Newly impoverished and thrown back on his own resources, Williamson set up a musical shop on The Strand, selling music, instruments, etc. and also published a number of his own compositions: 'Some of his songs, "The Daffodil", "Since in the Mirror of my Eyes", and '"Ra'ma'nee", are to his own translation of poems by Yuqueen and Sonda, and he has the distinction of being amongst the earliest to publish transcriptions of Indian music, in his 1st and 2nd Collections of Original Hindostanee Airs, opp. 4 and 9 (c. 1800)' (op. cit, p. 680). However, Williamson's great interest appears to have been writing, and he is believed to have closed the shop in circa 1802, to concentrate on his books. Wide-ranging -- they included a triple-decker novel, an angler's guide, and a mathematical text-book -- his writings naturally capitalised on his experience of India, and apart from the songs and Oriental Field Sports (1807), his other Asian books are The East India Vade-Mecum: or, Complete Guide to Gentlemen Intended for the Civil, Military, or Naval Service of the Hon. East India Company (London: 1808) and The European in India: from a Collection of Drawings by Charles Doyley ... with a Preface and Copious Descriptions by Captain Thomas Williamson (London: 1813). However, none of these enterprises brought him the fortune he had hoped for, and he died in poverty in 1817, as the Gentleman's Magazine reported in its obituary pages: 'At Paris, Capt Williamson, author of "Indian Field Sports". In a private letter received from Paris the account is given in the following terms: "Against the English church here is stuck up a notice of the death of Capt. Williamson leaving a wife and 7 children destitute"' (vol. LXXXVII, 1817, p. 637).
Of these works, the best-known and most celebrated was Oriental Field Sports, of which Martin Hardie states, 'The book is not only a mine of information as to the manners, customs, scenery, and costume of India, but contains one of the finest series of sporting plates ever published' (English Coloured Books (London: 1906), p. 136). Widely admired for its dramatic images depicting the pursuit of tigers, elephants and all manner of prey by English and Indian hunters on foot or on elephants, Oriental Field Sports was issued in parts between 1805 and 1807.
See Abbey, Travel, 427; Lowndes 2936; Mellon, Books on the Horse and Horsemanship, 88; Nissen, ZBI, 4416; Schwerdt II, pp. 297-298; Tooley 508.