HILL, Sir John (c. 1714-1775). The Vegetable System. Or, The Internal Structure, and the Life of Plants. London: the author, 1770-1775.
26 volumes in 13, 2° (448 x 284mm). 1,544 (of 1,545 or 1,546) engraved plates. Appendices in vols XII, XIII, and XVI. Indices bound in at the end of each volume and general index bound in at the end of vol. XXVI. (Variable spotting, browning, and offsetting, occasional light marking, lacking pl. I, 13, pl. XVI, 23 misbound, without pl. XVI, 60, which is not called for in text, lacking pl. XXI, 50 and with pl. XXI, 36 bound in its place, pls XXIV, 54 and 55 transposed.) Contemporary mottled calf, gilt crests on upper boards, spines gilt in compartments, gilt morocco lettering-pieces in 2 (worn, chipped and wormed with losses, most boards detached, some lettering-pieces lacking.) Provenance: some plate numbers corrected in manuscript by an early hand -- Sir Edward William Watkin, first Baronet (1819-1901, bookplates and gilt crests) -- Baron Dickinson Webster (1818-1860, bookplates).
A VERY RARE SET OF ONE OF THE LARGEST BOTANICAL PUBLICATIONS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. 'The Vegetable System is of great importance because it gave for the first time in the vernacular a comprehensive treatment of the plant kingdom, on a lavish scale ... adopting the Linnaean generic names and introducing binary nomenclature. The first volume (1759) is still in the old [i.e. pre-Linnaean] style, but from the second volume onward ... Linnaean binomials are used, although the sexual system is not followed ... Volume 5 contains "observations on a natural method, so far as it regards the connection of the classes." Hill's natural system was well worth studying but his voice remained unheard ... Hill was perhaps erratic and unconvincing ... but he was one of the first to rebel against Linnaeus's artificial system and essentialist classification' (F.A. Stafleu Linnaeus and the Linnaeans, Utrecht: 1971, p. 210). The Vegetable System was begun at the instigation of Hill's patron John Stuart, third Earl of Bute, whose financial support enabled this ambitious publication to continue for over fifteen years. Lord Bute began the laying out of Kew Gardens in 1760, with Hill as his adviser and he probably contributed extensively to the text of The Vegetable System. Financial disputes between the two men arose, resulting eventually in Hill's bankruptcy and death in 1775; his widow's Address to the Public (1788) bitterly attacks Lord Bute and a thorough account is given in Henrey II, pp. 103-108. The work appears to have been issued and re-issued in response to demand, and sets vary considerably; although many of the volumes in this set bear title-page dates from the 1760s, the collation of the text in these volumes matches that of the re-issues of the 1770s, indicating that this set was issued in the early 1770s. The full set of 26 volumes is rare at auction, and only four other sets are recorded by ABPC since 1975. Cf. Great Flower Books p. 100; Henrey 832; Nissen BBI 886; Pritzel 4070; Stafleu and Cowan 2772. (13)