Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Turtle Diary

Thomas Bell (1792-1880) was a dentist by trade but his interests were occupied by zoology. He was a founding member of the London Zoological Society, President of the Linnean Society, member of the Royal Society and Professor of Zoology at King's College London.

He released a number of zoological publications but his great passion was for crustaceans. Darwin consigned to his care and study all crustacean specimens collected during the voyage of the Beagle.

So his intention of publishing a book outlining the sum of world knowledge about all the known species of turtle was somewhat outside his experience. The work was issued in 8 parts between 1832 and 1838 but a problem with the publisher left a quarter of it unreleased. (further text by John Gray would accompany the leftover original illustrations and the complete volume was issued 40 years later)

The importance of this book lays of course with the illustrations. James de Carle Sowerby had access to living specimens and painted 66 pictures which were made into lithographs by the great Edward Lear - the original publication contained 40 hand coloured plates and is considered to be the foremost collection of turtle illustrations ever released. The edition from which the above images derive includes 61 lithographic plates.

A Monograph of the Testudinata is online at the Octavo website - click on any of the images to launch the viewing browser and note the 'thumbnail' link at the top. (I thought the site wasn't working a while back when I neglected to allow pop-ups. Thanks for the tip misteraitch!)


Anonymous said...

ok peacay, you may opt to send this comment into the inky digital void with your admin powers because it is so VERY silly, but...

when i saw these turtles the first thing that popped into my head was that they were members of a turtle breakdance crew; the leader of which would of course be "crazy neck." i see backspins, i see freezes, i see footwork, i see windmills about to be done. if they just had some headbands and sneakers...

then i thought about how very slow turtles are and figured they'd probably lose a lot of battles. just as i was about to discard the idea i thought... "unless there also happened to be an all sloth crew in the neighborhood..." oh snap!

o.k. delete away.

peacay said...

As a matter of fact..

while I didn't quite have my imagination raised to your level, I was quietly chuckling to myself when I was reading around about this book.

There was a lot of emphasis on how the artist/lithographer had managed to capture the lifelike essences of the beasties - individuality and free form movement or the somesuch. Although obvously these are great illustrations, I kept wondering whether the animals had struck a pose, tried to be nonchalant or adopted some other 'attitude' while they were sitting for the portraits.

Silly indeed!

peacay said...

See Glasgow University Library - 'Tortoises, Terrapins and Turtles' is Book of the Month for Sept. '07.

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