HILL, John (ca 1714-1775). The Vegetable System. Or, a series of experiments, and observations tending to explain the internal structure, and the life of plants; their growth, and propagation; the number, proportion, and disposition of their constituent parts; with the true course of their juices; the formation of the embryo, the construction of the seed, and the encrease from that state to perfection. Including a new Anatomy of Plants. The Whole from Nature only. London: the author, 1759-1773, 1786, 1774-1775.
The largest botanical publication of the eighteenth century and very rare complete. The Lowther-Plesch-de Belder copy. In first edition except for volume 23 (this a later issue by the author's widow). "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 and with colored illustrations, 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 artifical system and essentialist classification" (Stafleu, Linnaeus). It is clear from the first title that Hill had no intention of continuing the work and it was the patronage of John Stuart, third Earl of Bute which enabled such an 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, Lady Hill's Address to the Public (1788) bitterly attacks Lord Bute and a thorough account is given in Henrey II, pp. 103-108. Great Flower Books, p. 59; Henrey II, pp. 103-108 and III, no. 832; Nissen BBI 886; Plesch sale, Part 2 348; Pritzel 4070; Stafleu, Linnaeus, p. 210; Stafleu & Cowan TL2 2772.
26 volumes, folio (458 x 281 mm). Collation: Vols. 1-21 containing 1,246 engraved plates (vol. 14, plate 10 supplied from another copy since 1997) all but two (vol. 1, plate 8, vol. 16, plate 39) hand-colored. Vols. 22-26 containing 300 uncolored engraved plates, in all 1,546 plates. According to the title of vol. 2, part 1: "With figures of all the plants; designed and engraved by the author". (Vol. 6: L2 torn and a numeral lost at top, vol. 10: 2 small tears in plate 53, vol. 13: tiny hole in plate 27, vol. 14: plate 53 stained, plate 60 torn, vol. 17: plate 16 stained. Some show-through, occasional foxing and offsetting.) Binding: Volumes 1-21 bound in contemporary calf, gilt, sides with gilt stamp "Lowther" within a wreath of oak leaves beneath a coronet, spines in eight compartments, red and black morocco gilt-lettered labels (some joints cracked despite hinge repairs); volumes 21-26 bound to match in calf, spines gilt (without the "Lowther" stamp). Provenance: Henry Lowther, Earl of Lonsdale (1818-1876, subsequently Hugh Cecil Lowther, Earl of Lonsdale; bookplate); Mrs. Leyel, sold by the Society of Herbalists (sold Sotheby's, 7 July 1958); Arpad Plesch (bookplate; sold, Sotheby's London, 17 November 1975, lot 348); Robert de Belder (sold Sotheby's London, 27 April 1987, lot 150); “An Important Botanical Library” Part I (sold Christie's New York, 4 June 1997, lot 64).