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Title Lepidoptera of the British Isles, circa 1810.
Creator Burges, Mary Anne, 1763-1813.
Contributors Head, Francis Somerville, 1846-1941.
Classification Archives & manuscripts
Physical Description 2 v. : ill. ; 38 cm.
Full Orbis Record
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Mary Anne Burges (of Devon, England) is perhaps best known as the author of The progress of the Pilgrim Good-Intent, a sequel of sorts to The Pilgrim's progress, published anonymously in 1800. She was a multi-talented, well-educated woman, accomplished in foreign languages, music, art, geology, botany, and entomology. With uncommon scientific rigor--especially for a woman of her time--she studied, documented, and illustrated the lepidoptera of the British Isles.

Watercolors of the lepidoptera of the British Isles, in two volumes, by Mary Anne Burges, compiled circa 1810. All illustrations and text are in Burges's hand throughout. Aside from literary quotations and excerpts from Linaeus, the work is entirely original, and unpublished; the completeness of the work suggests that Burges may have intended it for publication.

The two volumes of lepidoptera accompany three additional volumes, similarly bound, on the flora of the British Isles, also compiled by Burges (although perhaps of shared authorship). Volume 1 of the flora includes an introductory note beginning "This hand painted collection of British flora and lepidoptera on a number of loose sheets by Maria Burges, and contained in an old box, was classified and bound in these five volumes by her great great nephew Francis Somerville Head in 1890 ..." The three volumes of flora have been cataloged separately; a link to the record is provided herewith.

Volume 1 of the lepidoptera includes a letter, dated 1865, from Julia Head to her grandson Frederick William Head, which reads: "I commit to your care and keeping this collection of butterflies, moths, &c. drawn by your great great aunt Maria Burges, and contained in a box given to her by your great great grandmother, Frances Anne Head. I request you not to take them to school with you, or, on no account, to give any one of them away ..."

The two volumes of lepidoptera include 133 leaves of illustrations of moths and butterflies. The recto of each leaf of colored glazed paper (of varied tints), measuring about 23 x16 cm, bears from one to five illustrations of a single species of lepidoptera. The illustrations are finely detailed, with precise depictions of anatomy, pattern, and color. It appears that each subject is depicted at a life-size scale. They are drawn on thick white paper; each illustration is then closely trimmed and affixed to the glazed paper. Where multiple illustrations of a species are given, they are arranged, from top to bottom, along the life-cycle of the species, from egg, to larva, chrysalis, and adult butterfly or moth. Within the bound volumes, each sheet is placed within a larger window mount.

At the top of each leaf, Burges notes, in pen and black ink, the Latin and English names of the moth or butterfly. On each verso, Burges records the Linnaean description of the species (in Latin), its eating habits, the place and moment a species was found, and the calendar of its life cycle. She concludes her notes with a literary quotation, from notable authors in many languages. The notes recorded on the verso of the moth Burges names as "S. Atropos" provides a representative example: "S. Atropos: Alis integris, posticis luteis fasciis, abdomine luteo, cingulis nigris. Food: elder, jasmine, potatoe. The caterpillar entered the earth in September, & continued in the state of pupa above a year. The hawk-moth came out in October; & when set at liberty, it skimmed along upon the ground, rapidly vibrating its wings, & squeaking very much like a mouse. This insect is generally considered as ominous of evil. In France it is said by Réaumur to be taken for a presage of pestilence, from the death's head on its back. In England I have heard it said to be a sign of death. 'By the visage fierce and black! By the death's head on thy back!'--Dryden."

Within the two volumes of lepidoptera, Burges groups and orders species according to the classification employed by Linneaus in his 10th edition of Systema Naturae, which names three genera--Papilio (butterflies), Sphinx (hawk-moths), and Phalaena (moths). Each of the three sections is preceded by a list of the species within the genera illustrated in the present volumes. In volume 1, Burges illustrates and describes 21 species of Papilio, 9 species of Sphinx, and 23 species of Phalaena; volume 2 includes an additional 69 speices of Phalaena.

Burges does not record dates in the volumes of lepidoptera. The colored sheets of paper are of many different makes, with variant thicknesses and watermarks; it is possible that Burges colored the papers herself. Visible watermark dates range from 1803 to 1810.

Of green leaf, bird, and flower: artists' books and the natural world, p. 25.

Selected exhibitions: “'Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower': Artists' Books and the Natural World" (Yale Center for British Art, May 15 - August 10, 2014).

Both volumes with the armorial bookplate of Francis Somerville Head.

Bound in gilt-tooled brown morocco, by Zaehnsdorf, 1890, with spine title: Lepidoptera of the British Isles.

Upon the death of the Burges, the volumes were given to her brother James Blanc Burges. Later, they were assimilated into the library of Burges' lifelong friend (and relation) Elizabeth Simcoe. See: Longchamps.

Longchamps, D. Elizabeth Simcoe (1762-1850) p. 83-84

Call Number QL555.G7 B87 1810+ Oversize
Collection Rare Books and Manuscripts
Subject Terms Burges, Mary Anne, -- 1763-1813.
Linné, Carl von, -- 1707-1778. -- Systema naturae.
Head, Francis Somerville, -- 1846-1941.
Head, Frederick William, -- 1854-1886.
Simcoe, Elizabeth, -- 1762-1850.
Butterflies -- Great Britain -- Pictorial works.
Caterpillars -- Great Britain -- Pictorial works.
Moths -- Great Britain -- Pictorial works.
Lepidoptera -- Great Britain -- Pictorial works.
Entomology -- Great Britain -- Pictorial works.
Lepidoptera in literature.
Form Genre Terms Scientific illustrations.
Ink drawings.
Decorated papers.
Armorial Bookplates (Provenance)
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