The history of foure-footed beastes (1607) | The historie of serpents (1608)

Chrzanowski 1607tBestiaries were very popular in the Middle Ages, particularly in England and France in the 12th century. They provided illustrations of both real and imaginary animals together with useful information about each. The level of zoological scholarship was not high: each animal was created by God for a special purpose, which was used to teach the reader a moral lesson. Bestiaries still retain popularity because, as Jorge Luis Borges wrote in the forward to his The Book of Imaginary Beings, a child at a zoo “sees for the first time the confused variety of the animal kingdom, and the spectacle, far from alarming or frightening him, delights him.”

Tudor Englishmen relied on their horses for transportation, loved their dogs, enjoyed the countryside and hunted game, and wondered about discoveries in faraway lands. Topsell’s The History of Foure-Footed Beastes (1607) and its sequel, The History of Serpents (1608), met the readers’ needs for information—ranging from imaginative to practical. They learned that weasels give birth through their mouths, mice are hateful to oysters, and apes are terrified of snails and shellfish. On the other hand, the two longest sections are about dogs and horses, providing useful veterinary information to care for animals. Practical medicines (some fanciful) from animal products are also described.

Topsell was not a zoologist but a clergyman that drew on a wide range of sources, most importantly the encyclopedic Historia Animalium by Konrad Gesner (1516–1565), for information and illustrations. The volume has been described as being “the great picture book of the seventeenth century.” It includes many illustrations of mammals, other four-footed beasts (real and imaginary), snakes, dragons, and reptiles. Some twenty illustrations are full-page, including a rendering of the famous Albrecht Dürer drawing of a rhinosaurus.

The present copy includes first editions of both histories. It bears the bookplate of John Lockwood Kipling, who was appointed the Principal of Mayo School of Arts in Lahore, British India, in 1875 and was curator of the Lahore Museum. He illustrated many of his son’s books, including Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. The younger Kipling’s autograph initials are on the bookplate documenting his donation of the volume to Colonel Henry Wemyss Feilden, a British Army Officer, Arctic explorer, and famous naturalist.

Chrzanowski 1607t *

STC 24123 and 24124

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675