Other People’s Bird Books, Again

Mark Catesby’s Natural History enjoyed a surprisingly vigorous Nachleben in the eighteenth century. Among its many continental reflexes was this Dutch work, published in the 1770s and incorporating Catesby’s work into a whole vast kaleidoscope of “foreign and curious” birds.

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This copy, available on line at the wonderful Biodiversity Heritage Library, now lives in the Smithsonian Library. I know nothing about its provenance, but I do know that one user treated the book with rather less respect than it deserves.

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Plate 35 is, well, exactly what the captions, German, Latin, and French, say it is: “the blue thrush called the solitary sparrow.” (The top caption is in German because Houttuyn was working from Seligmann’s translation.) The “solitary sparrow” is an old name for the blue rock thrush, as all Italian schoolchildren know. But our not so pius commentator didn’t get it.

After helpfully translating the French “moineau” at the bottom of the leaf, he then drew a speech bubble coming out of the bird’s open bill.

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The bird itself speaks its identity, “probably olive-backed thrush, Turdus swainsoni” — our Swainson’s thrush.

If you’re going to deface a book, at least get it right.