Gems of Nature and Art. Published by Groombridge and Sons.
All that talk of losing Paradise in last week's Darwin featured post on Milton's Paradise Lost leads me into the very real and looming possibility of losing our own paradise here on earth, with the now recognised UK climate emergency and with many creatures under threat too. So Gems of Nature and Art, published as a holiday book by Groombridge and Sons, is the ideal book to reawaken our appreciation of nature's beauty, as well as to remind us of man's capacity to create, rather than destroy.
Nature has offered so much to us yet it has taken us a long time to learn to be reciprocal. Nature is, amongst many things, one of the biggest inspirations for art, and for providing all the ingredients necessary for the experience of a deeply pleasurable life. And we don't need to rob nature for any of these things. Much of what we think we need, we don't. Nature offers so much without us needing to harm her in any way.
Every morning I drive the long way to work, to avoid the town centre traffic certainly, but more for the experience of driving along Green Lane. The name is accurate but gives no clue of the degree of beauty it holds, particularly in early Summer. I drive slowly under a long green avenue of beech trees. Morning sunlight streams through the myriad of newly greened branches and illuminates the fresh young leaves into a shimmering tunnel of luminous emerald green light. Every time, it fills me with awe and inspiration for my day. It gives me a heavenly morning high, a daily experience beyond the mundane world, a reminder of the magic of being here on this earth; a glimpse of Eden even!
If the world we've created as humans is falling short, as it inevitably does, and so obviously is, in so many ways, then we can always look to nature and art to take us beyond the basic material world, to lift us off our weary, earthbound feet, and to travel beyond the surface appearance of everyday reality and regain a little bit of paradise within our hearts and minds. We don't have to be at all religious to do this, just willing to still our busy minds, open wide our jaded eyes, and pause long enough to allow beauty and wonder into our lives.
As quoted in Gems of Nature and Art, this poem by Rogers on the Humming-bird hawk-moth encapsulates the essence of this;
“ Child of the sun! Pursue thy rapturous flight,
Mingling with her thou lov’st in fields of light:
And, where the flowers of Paradise unfold,
Quaff fragrant nectar from their cups of gold.
There shall thy wings, rich as an evening sky,
Expand and shut in silent ecstasy!
Yet wert thou once a worm, a thing that crept
On the base earth, then wrought a tomb and slept.
And such is man; soon from his cell of clay
To burst a seraph in the blaze of day.”
The godfather of modern nature writing Roger Deakin says “Looking, just looking, is all we have to do, to see the essential truth…. As a naturalist you hope never to lose your virginity, always to be looking with wonder, to remain innocent, wide-eyed.”
This rare book, Gems of Nature and Art, with it's highly decorative green and gold cover, is full of the most glorious painted pictures ranging from bees, birds and butterflies, to painted houses, penguins, ancient jewellery and medieval vessels. In Victorian times, with no television or easy internet reference, this would have been the first opportunity many would have had to encounter such exotic examples of nature, and of art, and it would have undoubtedly generated such wonder as Deakin described.
It was compiled as a holiday book, to entertain as well as inform. It is undated but is likely to be a first edition, possibly published around 1860. The colours of all the creatures are bright and exotic, with wonderful graduated pastel background landscapes. Each has a poetic excerpt to introduce it, and an accompanying text that is full of interesting references, lesser known facts from the Victorian era, and wonderfully detailed, beautifully written descriptions.
Featured in this book are the well-known like the rose, beautiful butterflies, and hummingbirds, and the less familiar like the Brazillian bell-bird, the Blue Cyanaea, the Golden-veined anoectochilus, and Veitch’s Lady’s Slipper.
This book was written in the times of nature collectors, when ecology and our respectful place alongside nature rather than ruling over it, had yet to come to full consciousness, as it has at last I hope, with the long overdue UK climate emergency recently announced. Nevertheless, as a book celebrating the beauty of nature (as well as art) it fully succeeds, while at the same time offering a real glimpse into the enthusiasm, excitement and growing scientific knowledge of the naturalists of the Victorian era.
This lovely book is now available from the Darwin Rare Books Room. At an estimated price of around £120, you can enjoy the saturated Eden-esque colours and the range of lively Victorian natural history writing, and become the owner of an unusual, and very pretty rare gem of a book.
May it’s beauty also nudge us into nature, make us pause with awe and wonder, and inspire us into personal, practical action towards preserving our precious planet.
-Written by Diane Newland. Darwin Bookseller.
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