Burchell's Landmark Work on Southern Africa, Complete in Two VolumesWilliam J. Burchell. Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa. Two Volumes. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1822, 1824.
First edition. Two quarto volumes. [xii], 582, 4; 648 pages. Twenty tissue-guarded hand-colored aquatint plates, some folding, and numerous wood engravings, by the author. Folding map. Index. Frontispieces. Half-titles present in both volumes. Half-page errata slip bound into Volume I immediately preceding Chapter I. "Hints on Emigration to the Cape of Good Hope" bound in at the rear of Volume I, following the map.
Bound by Zaehnsdorf in full crushed red levant morocco, with gilt rules, dentelles, and extra-gilt spines. Top edges gilt, all other edges untrimmed. Marbled endpapers. Frontispiece of Volume II on watermarked Whatman paper with 1822 date visible. Minor scarring to boards; some light scuffing to edges, and wear to boards, especially along joints. Volume I has both joints splitting about two inches down from head of spine. Front free endpaper of Volume I is all but detached. Front hinge of Volume II is cracked. Both volumes still sturdy and tight. Mild foxing to some plates; occasional foxing throughout text. Occasional offsetting. Slight browning to page edges. Text block is generally bright, and the hand-colored plates are still vivid. Three bookplates in each volume, including those of J. A. Hawkshaw and Boies Penrose II. A lovely set in very good condition.
William J. Burchell (1781-1863), an English naturalist who had served a botanical apprenticeship at Kew, eventually ended up an artist and author who used his talents to chronicle his travels. His journey through Africa began at Cape Town in 1811, and before he returned to the Cape in 1815, he had traveled 4,500 miles. Along his way he amassed a huge, extensive collection of specimens such as plants, insects, and seeds. After his return home from Africa, he was asked to present testimony on his travels before the British House of Commons, testimony that ultimately help spur emigration to South Africa.
The result of Burchell's South Africa journey is this acclaimed work, "[t]he most valuable and accurate work on South Africa published up to the first quarter of the nineteenth century" (Mendelssohn). The account is "remarkable for the excellence of its literary style and the fidelity of the numerous illustrations. Some of the panoramic views were executed on the then practically unknown principle of scenographic projection on the surface of a revolving cylinder. [...] A third volume was projected but never published" (DNB). Not only were few copies printed (Abbey cites 750 copies of Volume I and only 500 copies of Volume II), many copies have been broken over the years in order to sell the stunning plates individually; as such, a complete and intact set of this beautiful book is now quite scarce. From the Professor John Ralph Willis Collection of Rare Africana.
Abbey Travel 327. DNB. Mendelssohn 1.224.
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