Natural history of animals (1688)

‘To a great number of particular Observations which we have made, we added all the other Remarks which are common to us with other Authors, and which we do not give for new; but only as being in some sort considerable, by reason of the certainty and credit, which the Testimonies of so many persons who have contributed to these Descriptions, may add to the Facts which we do declare.

This so precise exactness in relating all the particulars which we observe, is qualified with a like care to draw well the Figures, as well of the intire Animals, as of their external Parts, and of all those which are inwardly concealed. These parts having been concerned, and examined with Eyes assisted with Microscopes, when need required, were instantly designed by one of those upon whom the Company had imposed the charge of making the Descriptions; and they were not graved, till all those which were present at the Dissections found that they were wholly conformable to what they had seen. It was thought that it was a thing very advantagious for the perfection of these Figures to be done by a Hand which was guided by other sciences than those of Painting, which are not alone sufficient, because that in this the Importance is not so much to represent well what is seen, as to see well what should be represented.’

Claude Perrault, Memoir’s for a natural history of animals, translated by Alexander Pitfield, London: J. Streater, 1688, b2v-b3r.  Pitfield’s (FRS) brother-in-law, Richard Waller, made the drawings for the engravings for the English edition.

Alexander Pitfield’s translation of Perrault’s introduction to Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire naturelle des animaux (for which, see Guerrini, A. (2010). “The king’s animals and the king’s books: the illustrations of the Paris Academy’s Histoire des animaux.” Annals of Science 67(3): 383-404) introduces to an English audience the idea of collective approval of images. One could say that this is consonant with the Royal Society’s own ideal (as expressed in Sprat’s History of the Royal Society, 1667, 98) that ‘in Assemblies, the Wits of most men are sharper, their Apprehensions readier, their Thoughts fuller than in their closets’, but what sorts of procedures, if any, did the Royal Society have, in collectively guaranteeing the validity of images? This question, presumably, needs to be set in a wider context of what it meant to investigate nature together, ‘in Assemblies’.

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