Sir John Hill (1716-1775)
Exotic Botany illustrated, in thirty-five figures of curious and elegant plants: explaining the Sexual System; and tending to give some new lights into the vegetable pholosophy. London: printed at the expense of the author, 1759. 2° (476 x 290mm). Title, 4pp. dedication to Hugh Smithson Percy, Earl of Northumberland, 1p. introduction, 35pp. text, 2pp. index. 35 hand-coloured engraved plates. (Light surface damage to pigment of plate 35.) Early-19th century speckled calf (front endpaper watermarked 1806), spine in seven compartments with raised bands, red morocco lettering-piece in the second, the others with repeat decoration in gilt, cover with border of two gilt fillets enclosing a decorative roll tooled in blind (neatly rebacked and cornered, old spine laid down).
AN EXCELLENT COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION OF THIS "BEAUTIFUL WORK" (Dunthorne). Henrey notes that many of the plates are "unusually decorative, both as regards design and colouring". The subjects of the plates, a number of which were raised in the gardens of the Earl of Northumberland (probably at Syon House), include twenty species from China, three from the Americas, three from Africa and one each from Madagascar and Norway.
An interesting insight into the methods employed by botanical artists of the period is given by Hill in his introduction, where he gives details of the method used to reconstitute dried specimens by a process of "maceration in warm water": "The plant is laid in a china dish, and water was poured upon it, nearly as much as the cavity would hold; another dish, somewhat smaller, was turn'd down upon this, and the edges were cemented with common paste spread upon brown paper. This was set upon a pot half full of cold water, and placed over a gentle fire. The plant, however, rumpled up in drying, expands and takes the natural form it had when fresh. Even the minutest parts appear distinctly. The specimen is destroyed by this operation, but it shews itself, for the time, in full perfection". BM(NH) II,p.844; Dunthorne 131; Great Flower Books (1990) p.100; Nissen BBI 879.