London: Geo. B. Whittaker, 1825. First edition. Contemporary half calf over marbled boards with gilt and morocco to spine. A charming copy with a bit of shelfwear to extremities and some rubbing along front joint. Early gift inscription to front endpaper: "Samuel Walker presented by his affectionate Mother." Light scattered foxing throughout, more concentrated in the first half. Measures 108 x 178mm and collates [iv], 160: complete, including 3 handcolored plates. Misattributed to her male sources by OCLC records, this scarce book is an important example of women's significant contributions to the development of entomology.
Educated rigorously at home in Latin, Greek, and the classics, Priscilla Wakefield early on was committed to work that expanded girls' access to the humanities and sciences. "Wakefield wrote seventeen books, principally moral tales, natural history, and travelogues...Wakefield succeeded because she produced improving and didactic works of non-fiction that middle-class parents were choosing to buy. Unlike Romantic writings that celebrated imagination and fantasy, Wakefield's books have a deliberate tone, are filled with information, and focus on real-life experiences in the present day. Characteristically they have a family setting and promote new-style progressive pedagogy based in domestic conversations; mothers often teach their own children, and girls receive as much attention as boys" (ODNB). In this sense, Wakefield's scientific work drew on the "epistolary and dialogic form that was so crucial to young women's engagement with natural science in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries" and it was a method which made it possible for women "to participate in a significant way in the classifying, drawing, breeding, and collecting of insects" (George). Composed as a series of letters between two scientifically-curious women, Wakefield's book teaches readers general scientific methods and applies them to insect study; but perhaps even more importantly, it presents girl readers with examples of intelligent women engaged in serious scientific study, encouraging them to see themselves as possible contributors to the field. (Item #3131)