Group of prints after drawings by James Forbes, from Oriental Memoirs, an important early British account of the peoples and natural history of India that also included observations on parts of Africa and South America. Forbes’ drawings were translated into engravings to illustrate his vivid descriptions of his travels, first published in four volumes beginning in 1813, almost 30 years after his return from India. A second edition was published by Richard Bentley in 1834 (and again in 1835), with a separate quarto atlas containing 24 colored prints. The engravings, in the Anglo-Indian taste, present a series of inventive compositions incorporating plants, birds, insects, and exotic animals such as brightly-hued lizards and frogs. Travel works such as this one were highly popular in Britain as the expansion of the British Empire fueled a curiosity about these faraway and exotic cultures and landscapes.
James Forbes was born in London to a Scotch Protestant family. In 1765, he first traveled to Bombay as a writer for the East India Company, and spent most of the years until 1784 in residence there. He filled 52,000 manuscript pages with notes on all aspects of Indian life and culture, including descriptions of wildlife and personal encounters with the people. After returning to England, he married and thereafter traveled extensively on the European continent. His life in India later formed the basis of the four-volume Oriental Memoirs, described in its subtitle as “selected and abridged from a series of familiar letters written during seventeen years residence in India: including observations on parts of Africa and South America, and a narrative of occurrences in four India voyages.” This work remains a valued document of the natural history and culture of late 18th century India, by both Western and Indian scholars. Forbes also published a work in 1810 advocating the conversion of the Hindus to Christianity.
William Hooker was a British botanical artist, particularly esteemed for his depictions of fruit, who gave his name to the paint color Hooker’s Green. He served as the official artist to the Horticultural Society of London from 1812 to 1820 and regularly illustrated their Transactions. After studying botanical illustration with Francis Bauer, he co-published the botanical periodical Paradisus Londinensis with R.A. Salisbury from 1805 to 1808. Hooker engraved the drawings of James Forbes for Oriental Memoirs (1813-15). He was no relation to his contemporary Sir William Jackson Hooker, a famous botanist who was director of Kew Gardens.
Full publication information: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, London.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, scattered soft creases and faint soiling. Many of the prints from this offered set bear the watermark “J. WHATMAN TURKEY MILL 1832.”
Blunt, Wilfred, rev. by Stearn, William T. The Art of Botanical Illustration. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors Club, 1994. p. 233.
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Maxted, Ian. Maxted, Ian. "The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members." Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. U.K.: Devon Library and Information Services. 20 June 2001. http://www.devon.gov.uk/library/locstudy/bookhist/lonw.html (4 April 2005).
“Travel and Exploration.” McGillUniversity Archives. http://www.archives.mcgill.ca/resources/guide/vol2_3/gen13.htm#FORBES,%20JAMES (4 April 2005).