YARRELL, William A History of British Fishes. John Van Voorst. 1836.
8vo. 2 vols. Contemporary green half morocco, marbled boards, spines with raised bands, gilt lettering, marbled endpapers, top edges gilt, in custom made green Solander box; pp. [iii]-xxxviii + 408, [iii-iv] + 472, bound without half titles, engraved illustrations throughout; very good. Provenance: the set of naturalist Edward Jesse (1780-1868). The first volume bears the bookplate of George Dawson Rowley (1822-1878), naturalist and author, and an inscription by Rowley to the title page explaining how he bought the set from the sale of Jesse's library. Ink marginal notes by Jesse to vol 1, pp. 29 & 309. The second volume includes an ALS from William Yarrell to Edward Jesse loosely sewn in, along with two ALS to Edward Jesse from Richard Owen (1804-1892), palaeontologist and anatomist, tipped in at pages 140 and 304.
First edition. William Yarrell was a noted naturalist and a regular correspondent of Darwin as well as a publisher with excellent access to written sources as well as his own observations as a fisherman. This is a classic survey of British fish, inspired by and improving upon Bewick, detailed in its scientific description and well illustrated. It received instant acclaim: "... the task could not have been undertaken by one more competent for it. History and patient observations are enriched by a science of no ordinary kind ... We have little hesitation, therefore, in saying that the work before us is, perhaps, the most perfect of its kind which has been yet published. It is written in a style at once clear and satisfactory, and the illustrations are quite equal, if not superior, to those of Bewick's birds and quadrupeds. Indeed, we hardly thought it possible that fish could be so perfectly represented by engravings on wood …" (The Gentleman's Magazine).
Edward Jesse was a well-known naturalist who wrote books on many subjects but who, as an editor of Izaak Walton and writer of An Angler's Rambles, was a specialist on fish. The ALS to him from Yarrell, dated March 1855, is rather technical, concerning the effects of cold water on the eyesight of eels and the incorrect identification of a grey mullet. The first letter, dated June 1854, from Owen, the famous anatomist, is similarly technical, discussing the Latin naming of particular anchovies and sardines. The second, dated March 1855, is far more personal. After discussing the effect of cold weather on eels - a subject clearly close to Jesse's heart - he goes on to address the winter weather and the recent death of Tsar Nicholas I, and ends rather affectionately, contrary to the image of Owen that has passed into legend: "Mrs Owen is blooming: so I hope is Mrs. Jesse: our united kind regards to you both..."