Michel Étienne Descourtilz (1775-1836)
Flore [Pittoresque et] Médicale des Antilles ou traité des plantes usuelles des colonies Franaises, Anglaises, Espagnoles et Portugaises. Paris: published by the author and others, 1821-1829. 8 volumes, 8° (214 x 134mm). 7 half-titles, 7 titles, verso of vol.I with printed authentification with manuscript signature of the author. 600 FINE ENGRAVED PLATES, PRINTED IN COLOURS AND FINISHED BY HAND, AFTER THéODORE DESCOURTILZ, by Louis or George Gabriel, Jacques Pérée, R. Bessin and Prieur. (Bound without title and half-title to vol.III.) Contemporary French calf-backed marbled boards, spines in five compartments with raised bands, lettered in the second, numbered in the fourth, otherwise decorated in gilt and blind (spines faded).
FIRST EDITION THROUGHOUT, INCLUDING THE RARE FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST VOLUME. Other than the missing preliminaries to vol.III the present set is in very fine condition. The preliminaries were clearly not present when the parts were sent to the binder as has been noted in pencil at the foot of the first page of text ("pas de titre"). The first volume appears to be particularly rare: the Plesch, de Belder and British Library copies are all mixed first and second editions. The plates are after Jean Théodore Descourtilz (c.1796-1855), one of Michel Étienne Descourtilz's eight sons, now best known for his two extremely rare published works on the birds of Brazil: Oiseaux Brillants du Brésil (Paris: 1834) and Ornithologie brésilienne... (Rio de Janeiro: 1852-1856, see lot 109, and footnote for further biographical details).
Michel Étienne Descourtilz trained as a surgeon, after which, following 'his marriage to the daughter of Rossignol-Desdunes, who had plantations in Artibonite, he went to Saint-Dominque (Haiti) in 1798... Descourtilz became involved in the Negro revolution and, in spite of the protection of Toussaint L'Ouverture, was nearly executed by Dessalines. He was forced to join the medical service of the Negro army, but in 1803 he escaped and sailed to Cádiz' (DSB IV, p.67.) His publications demonstrate the range of subjects to which he applied his botanical, zoological and medical knowledge, often in the light of his experiences as a traveller: besides the present work, they include Voyages d'un Naturalist ... (Paris: 1809), Guide sanitaire des voyageurs aux colonies (Paris: 1816), Anatomia comparée du grand crocodille des Antilles (Paris: 1825), Des Champignons comestibles suspects et vénéreux ... (Paris: 1827), and De l'Impuissance et de la stérilité ... (Paris: 1831).
For the present work, Michel Descourtilz initially concentrated on the medicinal properties of the plants (the various plants are apparently arranged according to these properties), and then also included plants with commercial possibilities; but finally the variety of the tropical flora is such that the work, with the 600 plates after his son, has become, overwhelmingly, a celebration of the beauty of the flora of the area. BM(NH) I, p.444; Brunet II, col. 614; Dunthorne 90; Graesse II, p.365; Great Flower Books (1990) p.89; Johnston 926 (volume I a second edition); Nissen BBI 2171; Palau 70725; Sabin 19693; Stafleu and Cowan 1391. (8)