Newcastle: Solomon Hodgson for R. Beilby & T. Bewick [etc.], 1797-1804. 1st Edition. 2 vols., octavo, modern polished calf, raised bands, morocco spine labels, spine elaborately gilt in panels, boards ruled in gilt, top edges gilt, others untrimmed, gilt dentelles, marbled endpapers, ink stamp of binder R. Wallis.
The best-known work of famed wood-engraver Thomas Bewick, whose imaginative designs and technique are said to have revived the medium of wood-engraving at opening of the 19th century. "The Birds are Bewick’s high-water mark… He was his own artist, and he was his own engraver;... he loved his subject with that absorbing passion which makes even the dullest sense intelligent. Hence, his birds, and especially those which he had seen and studied in their sylvan homes, are alive. 'They swing on boughs, they light on wayside stones; they flit rapidly through the air; they seem almost to utter their continuous or intermittent cries; they are glossy with health and freedom; they are alert, bright-eyed, watchful of the unfamiliar spectator, and ready to dart off if he so much as stir a finger. And as Bewick saw them, so we see them'" (DNB). With its 233 wood-engraved figures of land and water birds, Bewick's Birds was beloved by many, including Charlotte Brönte, who used it to provide escape for Jane Eyre when she was being bullied by her cousins and aunt at Gateshead. "Although the text and images transport Jane to 'strangely impressive' worlds, their uncanny paranormal elements frighten her and foreshadow future encounters with the supernatural. Jane is particularly drawn to the allegorical vignettes depicted in Bewick's tail-pieces" (British Library). First edition, vol. I with plate at p.75 in first state, vignette at p.285 in "uninked" state, vignette on p.22 Roscoe's Variant A; vol. II conforms to Roscoe's Variant F. Ayer/Zimmer I, 57. Nissen IVB 95. Roscoe 14, 17. Lacking half-title in vol. I. Very light occasional foxing. Bookplates of Arthur & Charlotte Vershbow, accomplished collectors of fine illustrated books. A fine, fresh copy of an English classic. Item #908