London: B. White, T. Cadell, & P. Elmsly, 1776. x,,viii,150,pp. plus seventy-eight engraved plates. Quarto. Antique-style three-quarter calf and contemporary marbled boards, spine gilt, leather label. Titlepage slightly soiled and cleaned, some scattered stains, else a nice copy. Item #WRCAM30043
First edition, first issue of this important botanical work on Australia and New Zealand, also published in a folio edition of eight copies the same year. This was the first scientific work, in fact one of the earliest publications of any kind, published as a result of Cook's second voyage. It lists the botanical discoveries made during the voyage, following a Linnaean classification system. The descriptions are by Anders Sparrman, and the engravings are after drawings by the younger Forster.
The Forsters, father and son, travelled as scientists on the second voyage. CHARACTERES... was one of the earliest publications resulting from that journey. Marra's surreptitious narrative had been published the previous year, and in 1776 only this and the anonymously written SECOND VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD appeared. In 1777 both the Forsters' narrative and the official account by Cook were published, along with Wales and Bayly's ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATIONS, followed a year later by the Forsters' OBSERVATIONS.... The rush to get CHARACTERES in print should probably be seen in the light of the quarrel with the Admiralty over the Forsters' claims to publishing rights for their official account of the voyage. This preemptive scientific publication may well have been intended to show the strength of the Forster claim.
The Forsters' intellectual arrogance has earned them considerable ridicule, including some criticism of the present work "owing to the minute scale on which the plants were drawn as compared with the size of the paper" (Holmes). The Hill catalogue notes, "it has been said to be the foundation of our knowledge of New Zealand, Antarctic and Polynesian vegetation...," but scientifically it is now seen as rather slight. Nevertheless, the book is one of the earliest sources of our knowledge of the plants of Australia and Polynesia, it has considerable significance for the history of Cook's second voyage, and it is one of a perhaps surprisingly small number of monuments to the major scientific achievements of the three voyages. BEDDIE 1385. HILL 627. HOLMES 17. NISSEN BBI 644. PRITZEL 2981. SABIN 25134. ROSOVE ANTARCTIC 139.