London: T. Nelson & Sons, 1871. First edition. Original publisher's cloth binding embossed in gilt, black, and blind. All edges brightly gilt. Gentle bumps to corners and faint spotting to rear board, else a pleasing, square copy that presents well. Internally Near Fine, with scattered foxing to preliminaries. Collates xii, 304: complete, including frontis and illustrated half title. Maps and illustrations throughout. With fewer than 20 copies on OCLC and no other first editions on the market, this work introducing children to marine biology has become quite scarce.
"Mary and Elizabeth Kirby worked as a sisterly writing team for twenty-five years and produced a steady stream of more than twenty-five publications" that were particularly focused on juvenile natural history books (ODNB). Works like The Sea and its Wonders "aimed to allure the young reader to study 'the great book of Nature" by using "short, informational chapters on topics such as the Gulf Stream and the turtle" (ODNB). Splitting the workload to showcase their strengths, Elizabeth often wrote and illustrated works that drew on Mary's knowledge of natural history, science, and modern languages. Together, the sisters created economic stability for themselves while popularizing fields of science that otherwise might not be available to children. "Earned money always seems the sweetest and best of any," Mary Kirby wrote in her autobiography. And she imagined that she and her sister's work in the field as well as their role as paid authors might someday help shift the tides for women more generally. "What would happen a hundred years hence; how the men would be thrust out from all the professions by women, and even the government would be carried on by women" (Kirby). The Sea and its Wonders provides readers with an accessible and broad introduction to marine biology, with chapters on sea currents, gulf streams and waterspouts, on atoms, and on sponges and polyps. It also tackles larger creatures such as sea turtles, seals, walruses and whales as well as introducing readers to the role humans play in predatory relationships at sea. "Animals, plants, and insects have a home within its waters, far beyond the reach of Man...The Wonders of the Sea are here brought to the reader's notice." Deceptively complex but accessible in its delivery, opening a world of exploration. Near Fine (Item #2776)