JOHN GOULD (1804-1881)
Gould's life is one of the great Victorian success stories: 'art and industry' enabled him to overcome the then usually insurmountable handicap of lack of education, money and position: "Gould achieved a great success by perseverence and love of his subject. He united in himself the qualities of a good naturalist, artist, and man of business" (DNB). He also had the good fortune to live during an age when there was an enourmous desire for knowledge about the natural world, a desire which his works went a long way towards satisfying.
He was born at Lyme Regis, Dorset, the eldest child and only son of Elizabeth (née Clatworthy) and John Gould, a gardener. When he was an infant the family moved to Stoke Hill, near Guildford, Surrey, an area of wild heathland and commons. In The Birds of Great Britain, Gould described his childhood delight at being lifted by his father to peer at the bright blue eggs in a Hedgesparrow's nest, and recalled the country children's game of collecting strings of coloured eggs to decorate cottage walls.
When Gould was nearly thirteen his father became a foreman gardener at the Royal Gardens, Windsor Castle. Gould senior was a skilful horticulturalist and prize-winning florist, and active in the formation of the Windsor Horticultural Society. He clearly intended his son to follow the same career and young Gould also joined the royal garden staff. This was followed by a short period working for Sir William Ingleby in the gardens at Ripley Castle in Yorkshire. But his predominant interest was in birds and mammals, and he developed a remarkable expertise in taxidermy (while at Windsor, Gould supplied blown eggs and mounted birds for Eton college scholars) and in 1825, aged 21, he moved to London to work as a taxidermist.
In 1827, shortly after the foundation of the Zoological Society of London, Gould was appointed 'Curator [of Birds] and Preserver' at the Society's museum in Bruton Street. Ironically, his most notable work during this period was not on birds, but a royal commission to assist in the preservation and mounting of George IV's giraffe (the first live specimen seen in England) which died in 1829 in Windsor Great Park.
After he had mounted a collection of bird specimens from the Himalayas, Gould conjectured that as this was the first collection of any size from this area to reach Europe, there would be a market for a book of hand-coloured plates with text. He persuaded his friend and mentor, N.A. Vigors, Secretary of the Zoological Society, to provide the text, and he employed the talents of his wife Elizabeth to produce the plates, using the relatively new technique of lithography. Her introduction to the process was related by Gould to his biographer Dr. Richard Bowdler Sharpe. "But who will draw the birds on stone?" she asked, and in reply her husband answered. "Who? Why you of course!" The Goulds formed a partnership in which John provided the inspiration and scientific knowledge, and Elizabeth the fine artistic work. Gould drew rough preliminary sketches showing the birds' characteristics and their layout on the page, and under his direction Elizabeth made careful watercolours and also drew the outlines of the birds on the lithographic stones.
Encouraged by the success of his first project, A Century of Birds from the Himalayas (1830-1833), a single volume with 80 plates, Gould embarked on a grander venture, The Birds of Europe (1832-1835), five volumes, 448 plates. The artistic quality of the images in this second work were much improved by the contributions of Edward Lear, who both provided drawings of his own and oversaw the output of Elizabeth Gould. Lear's lithographs were the first where the subjects depicted gave a convincing impression of life. This life-like quality, together with the pattern of publication (in parts at about three-monthly intervals) were to become a hallmark of all Gould's subsequent works.
Gould was intrigued by specimens of unusual birds or 'novelties' which reached England from abroad, and especially by skins from Australia sent by Elizabeth's two emigrant brothers. It soon became evident that to write a comprehensive account it was essential to visit Australia himself. Accordingly, the Goulds, sailed from London on the 16th May 1838, for a two-year expedition to Australia. The abundance and variety of birds and mammals exceeded their highest expectations and of the 600 or so species illustrated in the first seven volumes of The Birds of Australia (1840-1848), about half had not been described before. An eighth supplemental volume with 81 plates was published between 1851 and 1869.
Within a year of their return from Australia, Elizabeth Gould, aged 37, tragically died of puerperal fever, after the birth of her sixth surviving child. Her death, and Edward Lear's decision to abandon birds for landscape painting and his subsequent departure abroad, forced Gould to search for another illustrator. He was fortunate to find in Henry Constantine Richter, the perfect artist to meet his requirements. Richter was able to work from Gould's sketches and Elizabeth's watercolours and ensure that the parts to both The Birds of Australia and A Monograph of the Macropodidae, or family of Kangaroos (1841-1842), with 30 plates, reached subscribers on schedule. At least three parts of the monograph on Kangaroos were planned by Gould, but the project was abandoned after only two parts in favour of a more ambitious work, The Mammals of Australia (1845-1863), in 3 volumes, with 182 plates. At this time Richter also worked on Gould's A Monograph of the Odontophorinae, or Partridges of America (1844-50), one volume with 32 plates.
In 1849 Gould began publication of arguably his most successful work A Monograph of the Trochilidiae, or family of Humming-birds. The work was initially designed to be bound in five volumes, with 360 plates by Gould and Richter, many with their irridescent plumage depicted using gold leaf and coloured transparent washes. Publication of the first five volumes was completed in 1861, with a supplement, with 58 plates by Gould and Hart, appearing in 1880-1887 (the work was continued after Gould's death by Richard Bowdler Sharpe). Sharpe also completed the three final parts of the almost equally spectacular The Birds of Asia, 7 volumes, published between 1849-1883, with 530 plates.
Gould's first two monographs, on Toucans and Trogons, were originally published in the 1830's. Between 1852-1854 he issued a second edition of A Monograph of the Ramphastidae, or family of Toucans, one volume, 51 coloured plates, one uncoloured plate, with '...new drawings of the old species, and figures and descriptions of no less than eighteen others'. A Monograph of the Trogonidae, or family of Trogons, one volume, 47 plates, was similarly updated between 1858-1875.
By 1862 thirty years had passed since the publication of Selby's monumental Illustrations of British Ornithology and Gould, declaring that no good book on the subject had yet appeared, began the publication of The Birds of Great Britain. The work was completed in 1873 in 5 volumes, with 367 plates by Gould, Richter, Joseph Wolf and William Hart. 1873 marks the end Richter's contribution to the Gould canon.
William Hart's propensity for bright colours was ideally suited to the demands of Gould's last major publication, The Birds of New Guinea and the adjacent Papuan Islands, 5 volumes, 320 plates. It was begun in 1875 and completed in 1888, again by Sharpe, following Gould's death in 1881 after a lengthy period of ill-health.
In his contribution to the nineteenth century iconography of birds, Gould has been considered next to Audubon in importance. During his lifetime he was sometimes criticised for his abrasive personality and agressive business methods, but was also highly respected by fellow naturalists and colleagues. He was a Fellow of the Linnean Society and Vice President of the Zoological Society, serving for many years on the Council. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1843 for his contribution to Australian zoology, and received many honours from scientific institutions abroad. The influence of his naturalistic style of depiction of birds was domininant for a generation following his death, and is still evident today.