<< YCBA Home Yale Center for British Art Yale Center for British Art << YCBA Home

YCBA Collections Search

IIIF Actions
Natural history and gardening commonplace book.
Cornwall, England, between 1830 and 1840.
Physical Description:
1 volume (131 pages) : illustrations ; 20 cm
Rare Books and Manuscripts
PN6245 .N38 1830
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
Copyright Status:
Copyright Not Evaluated
Archives & Manuscripts
Bound in 20th-century red half morocco and marbled boards.
Commonplace book with manuscript text, clippings, and drawings about natural history, gardening, insects, and plants, compiled between 1830 and 1840 in Cornwall, England. The compiler is likely to have been an individual associated with the Royal Institution of Cornwall, one of the earliest learned societies in Great Britain, established in Truro in 1818. The volume includes 27 drawings in graphite and 90 watercolors (each cut out and pasted to pages of the volume).
Throughout the volume, the essays reflect the author's attempts to describe nature's divine power to generate ideas and beliefs in humans and to outline a strong relationship between the study of natural history and religious philosophy. The manuscript opens with a watercolor of a passion flower and eight lines from the first part of Thomas Ragg's 1834 poem "The Deity," which illustrate the general tone of the whole volume: "Oh nature! With delight I gaze on thee! / For to my soul thou'rt like the ladder seen / by Isaac's dreaming son, a path direct / By which the ruptur'd vision can ascend / From earth to heaven, from finite things to him, / The Infinite, who, from the boundless waste / Of nothingness, or from the dark abyss / Of Chaos, call'd them forth."
The next few pages offer short entries or essays titled Gardening (an amusement that the author defines as "the most innocent and devoid of injury and annoyance to others"), Natural History and On the Study of Natural History. After a two-page break, the manuscript delves into more detailed descriptions of plant and animal species under titles such as Butterflies, Spiders, The Frog, The Toad, Corals and Sponges, The Food of Birds, The Hedge Sparrow, Birds and Harvest Mice. While the first few essays are presented without illustrations, the text gradually introduces drawings in graphite and ink of plants, animals, garden pets and spider nets to accompany passages on the appearance, behavior, and habitats of animals. There is a four-page passage on spiders with seven graphite and ink illustrations, including a depiction of two garden spiders in their web, a spider's foot, silk up-close, and the unique use of silk to float by the gossamer spider. A paragraph on the harvest mouse is accompanied by a sketch of a mouse next to its nest built in tall grass. A six-page chapter on oak gall wasps features eleven drawings of gallflies. The most notable watercolors appear in the Lepidoptera section (on butterflies and moths).
The commonplace book also includes 12 pages of clippings from various publications, some of them covering the proceedings of the Royal Institution of Cornwall. Among the subjects discussed in these clippings are seabirds and their wanton destruction by hunters and egg gatherers; descriptions of marine algae, seashells and other marine creatures; tips about growing fuchsias; and a story about a visit to Newquay on the north coast of Cornwall, with descriptions of the natural environment, geology, plants, and fossils, local industries and the region's history. The titles of these passages are Sketches of the Sea Birds Off Flamborough Head, Culture of the Fuchsia, Effects of the Study of Natural History on the Mental Faculties and Feelings, For Sowing and Raising Flower Seeds, Friday November 11 report of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, and A Few Hours at Newquay.
Although the content mainly records the author's philosophical musings on nature, it also contains information on practical matters. It gives advice to gardeners, discloses information about the identification of animals and plants, and includes a few recipes for food and household products. Among the sections of practical home and garden advice are: specifications for bird cages, information about repotting plants and a table of pot sizes, instructions "to hasten the blooming of flowers," long passages on cultivating fuchsias, cyclamen, roses, gladiolas, lobelias, pansies and a few other plants, instructions for managing greenhouses and making potato and lime water for fertilizing gardens, and a month-by-month guide to activities to complete in the garden.
Subject Terms:
Birds -- Great Britain.
Butterflies -- Great Britain.
Cornwall (England : County) -- Description and travel.
English poetry -- 18th century.
English poetry -- 19th century.
Flowers -- Great Britain.
Gardening -- Great Britain.
Insects -- Great Britain.
Moths -- Great Britain.
Natural history -- England -- Cornwall (County)
Nature -- Religious aspects.
Royal Institution of Cornwall.
Spiders -- Great Britain.
Women in natural history.
Commonplace books.
Graphite drawings.
Ink drawings.
Clippings (information artifacts)
Botanical illustrations.

If you have information about this object that may be of assistance please contact us.