London: Printed for E. Newberry, 1796. First edition. Contemporary calf rebacked to style with gilt and morocco label to spine. Measures 165 x 101mm. Original endpapers preserved. Contemporary gift inscription to front pastedown: "To Mrs. Feilden from the Rev. G. Vanbough." Faint offsetting to versos of some plates, not affecting images or text, else internally unmarked and clean. Collates , xiii, , 184: complete, including half and full titles, 12 plates and folding table (plates bound out of order). ESTC lists only 10 copies at U.S. institutions; and with only four appearances at auction in the past 30 years, this important science text has become quite scarce.
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). The present work is one of the earliest examples of her work in natural history -- and her creation of books that contribute to Enlightenment goals of spreading science and philosophy to new audiences. In her introduction, Wakefield is straightforward about this. "The design of the following Introduction to Botany is to cultivate a taste in young persons for the study of nature...Children are endowed with curiosity and activity for the purpose of acquiring knowledge. Let us avail ourselves of these natural propensities and direct them to the pursuit of the most judicious objects: none can be better adapted to instruct, and at the same time amuse, than the beauties of nature by which they are continually surrounded." Wakefield's introduction urges parents and youths alike to recognize that education can and should happen anywhere, and that the world at large poses opportunities for scientific exploration. An important work in the history of science education, and a rare one at that.
ESTC T97962 Near Fine (Item #3181)