WOLLASTON, Thomas Vernon. Insecta Maderensia; Being an Account of the Insects of the Islands of the Madeiran Group.
London: Taylor and Francis for John van Voorst, 1854.
4to. Contemporary half morocco gilt, spine in compartments and titled in one, top edge gilt; pp. xliii, 634, 13 engraved plates of specimens by Frederick Smith after J.O. Westwood, suite of 8 hand-coloured plates (nos II, IV, V, VI, IX, XI, XII, XIII) inserted in sequence; rubbed, slight spotting to plates, else very good; a one-page letterpress prospectus for the book, a manuscript leaf listing 22 subscribers titled "Names already received", and a one-page letterpress list of "Subscribers' Names" bound in before the title; provenance: Thomas Vernon Wollaston (bookplate on upper pastedown); occasional, later marginalia.
First edition. Wollaston (1822-1878) was a prominent entomologist and malacologist, who became best known for his studies on variation in species (especially Coleoptera) inhabiting several North Atlantic archipelagoes. Wollaston spent the winter of 1847-1848 on Madeira, and returned twice before publishing his Insecta Maderensia; in 1855 he visited the Madeiran archipelago again and on his return sold his collection of Madeiran Coleoptera to the British Museum. Insecta Maderensia was published in a very small print run -- as Wollaston's prospectus states, the "great expense attendant on the publications of a work like the present, renders it desirable that names should be obtained beforehand, in order to ascertain the number of copies which it will be necessary to print". The printed subscribers' list in this copy lists only 50 names (one subscribing to two copies), suggesting that circa 51 copies were printed; certainly the work is rare on the market. Although Nissen and BM(NH) call for 13 coloured plates, it is probable that this copy was bound up using a full set of 13 uncoloured plates and 8 coloured "overs", to avoid the expense of having another set of the plates coloured.
Darwin read Insecta Maderensia in early 1855 and was given a copy of it by the author on 10 March 1855, and wrote to J.D. Hooker on 7 March 1855: "I have just finished working well at Wollaston's Insecta Mad[erensia]: it is an admirable work. There is a very curious point in the astounding proportion of Coleoptera that are apterous; & I think I have grasped the reason, viz that powers of flight w[oul]d be injurious to insects inhabiting a confined locality & expose them to be blown to the sea; to test this, I find that the insects inhabiting the Dezerta Grande, a quite small islet, would be still more exposed to this danger, & here the proportion of apterous insects is even considerably greater than on Madeira proper"; however, whilst "Wollaston speaks of Madeira & the other archipelagoes as being `sure & certain witnesses of Forbes old continent,'", Darwin dismisses Wollaston's conclusion as erroneous, ending "I hope I have not wearied you, but I thought you w[oul]d. like to hear about this Book, which strikes me as excellent in its facts; & the Author a most nice & modest man" (Correspondence V, pp. 279-280). Wollaston's next publication, On the Variation of Species, with Especial Reference to the Insecta (1856) was dedicated to Darwin, and on 22 April 1856 Wollaston joined Huxley and Hooker at Down House, where Darwin's nascent theory was discussed, as Lyell reported: "they (all four of them) ran a tilt against [immutable] species farther I believe than they are deliberately prepared to go. Wollaston least unorthodox" (quoted by Desmond and Moore, p. 435). Darwin believed that Wollaston was sympathetic to his views, and Wollaston was sent a copy of On the Origin of Species in 1859, inscribed on Darwin's behalf "From the author"; however, in his review of it for the Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Wollaston stated "that Darwin did not understand the definition of species, complained about the personification of selection, and dwelled, like Huxley, on the difficulties: `Would not one step more plunge us headlong into the Nebular Hypothesis and the whole theory of spontaneous Generation?' Wollaston could see no reason to abandon the idea of divine creation and plenty of dangers in any alternative" (J. Browne Darwin II, p. 107). BM(NH) V, p. 2350; Nissen, ZBI 4440.
Nota do Blogue: Um dos mais raros livros sobre a Madeira, o único senão é o preço. Trata-se do exemplar que pertenceu ao próprio autor, com a lista dos subscritores da mesma. Uma obra da qual só devem ter sido impressos 50 ou 51 exemplares. De bom grado gostaria de a ter na minha colecção!