History of British Birds, Volume I
, British, 1753 - 1828
User: (annotated by)
, British, 1819 - 1900
Material and Medium: book, leather bound
Dimensions: Overall (book closed): 225 x 144 x 28mm
Overall (book open): 225 x 295mm
Accession Number: CGSG03481
This is Ruskin’s own copy of Bewick’s book 'Birds of Britain', and has the subtitle ‘The History and Description of Land Birds'. Volume II, called ‘A History and Description of Water Birds’, was published in 1804. Each bird in it has a small vignette illustration in woodcut, but the book is famous also for its small illustrations of everyday life, known as the ‘tailpieces’.
Ruskin admired Bewick’s woodcut illustrations saying 'The execution of the plumage in Bewick's birds is the most masterly thing ever yet done in woodcutting’. Ruskin also respected Bewick for showing scenes of rural life and ignoring the nobility (unlike most bird books of the time), because as farmer's son, Bewick represented the life he knew, rather than what he imagined.
Yet Ruskin didn’t always praise Bewick's work, as annotations in his copy of ‘British Birds’ show. Most give praise, but under one vignette, for example, is written 'frightful waste of time' and another 'miserably bad.'