VICTORIA REGIA - Sir William Jackson HOOKER (1785-1865). Description of the Victoria Regia, or Great Water-Lily of South America, London: Reeve Brothers, 1847. 2° (446 x 297mm). Half-title, 4 hand-coloured lithographed plates by Walter Fitch, printed by Reeve Brothers. Original maroon half calf, titled in gilt on upper cover (extremities scuffed, small split to head of spine). Provenance: Sir James Andrew Broun Ramsay, first Marquis Dalhousie (1812-1860, author's presentation inscription on half-title 'The Right Honorable The Earl of Dalhousie, with the Author's respectful Compliments. Royal Gardens, Kew. Aug. 26. 1847.').
FIRST EDITION OF THIS RARE WORK, AN AUTHOR'S PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED TO THE GOVERNOR GENERAL OF INDIA. Hooker's text includes lengthy extracts from the narratives describing the plant's discovery and a detailed physical description. The plates are by Walter Hood Fitch (1817-1892), one of the greatest and certainly the most prolific of all British 19th-century botanical artists. The dedication to the Earl of Dalhousie recalls the help given by Dalhousie to Sir William Hooker's son Joseph during his botanising trip to India and the Himalayas. Joseph Hooker acknowledged this help himself, by naming a species that he discovered (Rhododendron dalhousiae) after Lady Dalhousie. BM(NH) II,p.872; Great Flower Books (1990) p.103; Nissen BBI 919; Stafleu & Cowan II,3011.
The Victoria Regia, or Amazonian Water Lily, had captured the imagination of the Victorians as early as 1837, when the first description and drawings of the plant were sent back to the Royal Geographical Society in London from British Guiana by Sir R. H. Schomburgk. From an examination of these details, John Lindley detected "characters of sufficient importance to give the plant independent generic rank" and therefore suggested the name "Victoria Regia" in honour of Queen Victoria, in the first year of her reign. There are at least five early monographs on this rare plant, the first being John Lindley's Victoria Regia (folio, London, 1837), containing one plate and limited to 25 copies. In 1847 Sir William Jackson Hooker collaborated with Walter Hood Fitch to produce the Description of Victoria Regia, or Great Water-lily (folio, London 1847). The same author and illustrator produced Victoria Regia; or, illustrations of the Royal water-lily (broadsheet, London, 1851), including four plates, as a record of the first flowering of the plant in 1849 at Chatsworth, under the careful supervision of Joseph Paxton. Sandwiched between Hooker's two works is a large quarto offprint from La Flore des Serres by J. E. Planchon and L. van Houtte: La Victoria Regia, au point de vue horticole et botanique (Ghent, 1850-1), with plates by Stroobant after Planchon. The final work is by John Fisk Allen, Victoria Regia; or the Great Water Lily ... from specimens grown in Salem (Boston, 1854), a broadsheet format work which celebrates the flowering of the plant in America. See also lot 264.