George Shaw (1751–1813) went through a series of jobs—church deacon, physician, lecturer in botany—before winding up as Keeper of Natural History in the British Museum. Along the way, he was a founding member of the Linnean Society, and produced a number of massive works on natural history and related subjects. In the Sources section (below) you’ll find General Zoology in 14 volumes (six of them finished after Shaw’s death), the lavishly illustrated Cimelia Physica, and Museum Leverianum in two illustrated volumes.
When George Shaw was good, he was very, very good. Several dozen animals—up to and including the platypus—had their first description in the Naturalist’s Miscellany, meaning that Shaw’s name is the one in use today. Shaw’s scientific binomial, that is, give or take a genus. When it came to English names he seems to have belonged to the Leonard of Quirm school of nomenclature. One representative volume offers in rapid succession “Nepa Linearis, the Linear Nepa”; “Buccinum Harpa, the Harp Buccinum”; “Bodianus Pentacanthus, the Five-Spined Bodian”.
When Shaw was not so good, on the other hand, he was . . . not so good. Several birds have detailed descriptions quoted at second hand, based solely on a single drawing. A few seem never to have existed at all. He is also not very good at identifying an animal’s habitat—even to the nearest continent—and rarely has anything to say about its behavior. For this we should probably blame his time and place rather than Shaw himself; ecology and animal behavior simply weren’t subjects of interest yet. For an early exception, see—brazen plug!—William Bingley’s 1802–03 Animal Biography.
Dedication and Title Page (below)
Volume 1 (1789–90), Plates 1–37
Volume 2 (1790–91), Plates 38–74
Volume 3 (1791–92), Plates 75–110
Volume 4 (1792–93), Plates 111–146
Volume 5 (1793–94), Plates 147–182
Volume 6 (1794–95), Plates 183–218
Volume 7 (1795–96), Plates 219–254
Volume 8 (1796–97), Plates 255–300
Volume 9 (1797–98), Plates 301–348
Volume 10 (1798–99), Plates 349–396
Volume 11 (1799–1800), Plates 397–444
Volume 12 (1800–01), Plates 445–492
Volume 13 (1801–02), Plates 493–540
Volume 14 (1802–03), Plates 541–588
Volume 15 (1803–04), Plates 589–636
Volume 16 (1804–05), Plates 637–684
Volume 17 (1805–06), Plates 685–732
Volume 18 (1806–07), Plates 733–780
Volume 19 (1807–08), Plates 781–828
Volume 20 (1808–09), Plates 829–876
Volume 21 (1809–10), Plates 877–924
Volume 22 (1810–11), Plates 925–972
Volume 23 (1811–12), Plates 973–1020
Volume 24 (1812–13), Plates 1021–1064
General Index (1813)
George Shaw’s longest-running production was the Naturalist’s Miscellany, published in monthly installments from August 1789 through July 1813. Each installment featured three—later four—engraved and beautifully hand-tinted plates, along with descriptions in Latin and English.
Although it is called the Naturalist’s Miscellany, “Zoologist’s Miscellany” might be more accurate. Along with the vertebrates and arthropods, there is an array of mollusks, cnidarians, echinoderms, bryozoans and the assorted other animals subsumed under Linnaeus’s class Vermes. Meanwhile, on the other side of the great Linnaean divide, we find a total of four land plants, all in the first two volumes. Five, if you count the fossil fern in Volume 15. After that, there are no more plants—at least if you interpret “plant” in the narrower sense of Tracheophyta or vascular plants. Scattered through the rest of the work are one or two mushrooms (then classified as plants, now a kingdom of their own); some algae; and several corallines (then considered animals, now plants in the same phylum as red algae). When we get to “Animalcules” there will be a protozoan or two, and a handful of chromists (both now kingdoms of their own).
In fact, “Ornithologist’s Miscellany” would not have been too far off the mark, since almost every installment starts with a bird. Shaw and his publishers clearly saw birds as loss leaders: come for the colorful birds, stay for the fish—or, more likely, for the insects and marine invertebrates. Installments that didn’t start with a bird generally featured some interesting mammal instead.
We don’t know nearly as much about the Nodders—Frederick Polydore Nodder, his wife Elizabeth and son Richard—as we would like.
Frederick, the father, specialized in plants; the engraved dedication to Volume 1 identifies him as “Botanic Painter to Her Majesty”. (Botanical illustration was a big deal. One of the two female founding members of the Royal Academy, Mary Moser, was best known as a flower painter.)
For about the first half of the Miscellany’s long run, plates were signed by Frederick Nodder, giving the firm’s full address and the month and year of publication in beautiful copperplate script:
Going by the changing signatures and dedications in the Miscellany, Frederick Nodder must have died in 1801. For a short while after his death, the engraved signature showed Elizabeth’s name instead:
We don’t know whether she did any of the engraving herself; more likely she just signed the checks.
Richard, the son, specialized in animals. Or at least that is the conclusion to draw from his list of Royal Academy exhibits, spanning the years 1793–1820; every last one is a picture of some type of animal. His handwriting was not nearly as nice as his father’s:
Richard Nodder, unlike Frederick, was often credited as both artist (“Drawn by” or “Del.”, depending on language) and engraver (“Engraved by” or “Sculp.”).
In various permutations, the Nodders—father, son and widow—are listed as publishers of every volume of the Miscellany. Thanks to the Plates’ signature lines, we can trace their place of business over the years:
Beginning in Volume 16, we are also told the printer’s name. I don’t know whether this represents a new printer, or only a change in typographic style. But I’m inclined to think they brought a new printer on board; there are more changes than would be accounted for strictly by evolving fashion.
They selected a good one: B. M’Millan of Bow Street, Covent Garden. His surname is sometimes written McMillan, or even “Millan” alone; the “B” is for Buchanan, suggesting that he was Scottish on all sides. (Unfortunately, by the time I found this out I’d got in the habit of thinking of him as Brian.)
B. M’Millan’s professional distinctions included “Printer to the Royal Academy”—beginning no later than 1800—and “Printer to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales” from no later than 1805. The latter was eventually upgraded to “Printer in Ordinary to His Majesty”—no later than 1830, but probably in 1820, unless there was a gap.
For details about the publication history of the Naturalist’s Miscellany, see the 2006 article by Dickinson, Bruce and Dowsett in Archives of Natural History, and references therein. The close analysis of the volumes becomes more impressive when you realize that the authors don’t actually seem to have read the text; consider in particular the long discussion about Plates 26–27 in the Actinia anemone article. They also don’t seem to have known the abbreviations S. (sculpsit, the engraver) and D. (delineavit, the artist). In fairness, the authors were ornithologists; maybe they only read the bird parts. Be that as it may, I ended up ignoring their conclusions and sticking with my own interpretations, based purely on the visible text.
The Naturalist’s Miscellany was unpaginated except for the General Index, bound with Volume 24. Index entries refer to Plate numbers, which are continuous from beginning to end (1 through 1064). As usual in books of this vintage, signature marks—marking quires of 4, 8, 12 or 16 pages—are prominent. I’ve shown these in the margin, along with lower-case “r” and “v” for the recto and verso sides of an otherwise unlabeled leaf.
Some plates, with their accompanying descriptions, were slightly out of sequence, so an installment might run 101, 103, 102 or 101, 103, 104, 102. I’ve only marked unexpected numberings where there is a genuine error or duplication.
Each description has one or more pages of Latin text, followed by English text beginning on a separate page—often on a separate leaf, because saving paper doesn’t seem to have been a concern. Often, though not always, the illustration came between the Latin and English sections. I have moved it to the beginning of each description. Where an article has two pictures—such as a moth and its caterpillar, both shown life-size—I have put the second picture between the Latin and English text.
Multi-page descriptions become rarer in later volumes, so even though there are more animals (four per installment instead of three) the overall text is shorter. You can decide for yourself whether this is because Shaw was getting tired—he died before completing Volume 24—or because he realized that readers didn’t especially care about the descriptions, they just wanted to look at the pretty pictures.
Some descriptions mention that the animal is pictured life-size, or a similar value such as “half the natural size” or “reduced by one-third”. (Warning for the faint of heart: This detail applies especially to assorted arthropods, such as spiders and beetles.) This information will obviously be less accurate or more accurate depending on what device you’re using to read the book. I’ve tried to keep close to this scale:
A few plates contain more than one picture, generally an inset detail; the description will refer to “fig. 1”, “fig. 2” and so on. As often as not, the referenced numbers aren’t visible in the plate itself. I didn’t delete them, they simply weren’t there in the first place. But there should be no trouble figuring out what he means.
I have generally trimmed away the engraved plate number as well as the date-and-signature line, if any, unless it fits within the rectangular picture area. When a plate in this ebook has no caption, it means that either it was engraved with only the bare initials, typically “RN” or “RPN”, or that I couldn’t find a signature line at all. It might have been too faint to scan, or lost in the gutter of the bound volume, or it may never have been there at all.
In spite of the pictures and descriptions, a depressing number of Shaw’s animals are now listed as “doubtful”, nomen dubium or taxon inquirendum. But the pictures and descriptions do save them from the worse fate of nomen nudum, “we have no idea what, if anything, this name belongs to”.
Two genera, Spongia and Corallina, are consistently referenced as “Animal?” with a question mark. Sponges are still classified as animals, phylum Porifera; corallines are now considered plants. And then there’s genus Madrepora (corals), for which the Latin consistently asserts “Animal Medusa” while the English just as consistently hedges its bets with “Animal resembling a Medusa”, changing in later volumes to “Animal allied to a Medusa”. (Is it a Medusa or isn’t it? Corals and jellyfish—Linnaeus’s Medusa—are both cnidarians, but there the similarity ends.)
In the separate volumes’ Notes and Corrections sections I’ve tried to give each organism’s current name. Typically it will be in one of these forms:
In the case of birds, a final reference was Julian Hume’s Extinct Birds, especially the “doubtful or invalid taxa” section. If he says that a given bird never existed, I will take his word for it.
Along with the current binomial, I have also given the geographic range as shown on GBIF maps. This should give some idea about how much Shaw’s account of any given organism can be relied upon.
Each Miscellany article begins with a “Generic Character” that applies to the whole genus, before going on to a “Specific Character” that narrows it down to species. In some cases—most often fish, rarely birds—the text will also name an animal’s Linnaean order, without explaining what defines that order.
Butterflies are often given a supplementary classification such as “Eq. Ach.” or “Dan. Fest.” In the Linnaean system, lepidopterans were divided into just three genera: Papilio (butterflies), Phalaena (moths) and Sphinx (hawkmoths). Linnaeus himself realized the grouping was unwieldy; since taxonomic families hadn’t been invented yet, he instead subdivided his genus.
The Entomology article in the Encyclopædia Britannica 7th edition (1842) helpfully explains that “Butterflies, or diurnal Lepidoptera, were divided into six phalanges”, and goes on to list them: Equites (further divided into Troes and Achivi); Heliconii; Parnassii; Danai (divided into Candidi and Festivi); Nymphales (Gemmati and Phalerati); Plebeii (Rurales and Urbicolae). Of these, Shaw’s favorite by far was Equites, which the Britannica tells us “now correspond to the true genus Papilio, as restricted by Latreille”. Some “phalanges”, notably Heliconii and Plebeii, don’t seem to have caught his fancy at all.
Don’t look for a list of sources, or an explanation of abbreviated titles. You won’t find one. Every now and then Shaw takes pity on the reader and gives the full title of a referenced work—or at least enough of the title to look it up. Aside from the obvious, such as Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae and the Proceedings of various scientific societies, sources include:
It probably goes without saying that Shaw’s spelling of names is not always the same as today’s standardized orthography.
The word “a” was omitted just often enough in forms like “inch and quarter” or “foot and half” that I left each one as printed. The same applies to “changes into chrysalis” in later volumes.
The old-fashioned spelling “shew” is used consistently, from beginning to end. A quick detour to the ngram viewer tells me that in British English, “shew” and “show” met in pretty exactly 1820. (In American English it happened earlier.)
Pro tip for all Latin descriptions: skip to the end of the first sentence and work backward. Shaw likes to begin each essay with a grammatical flourish, after which he settles down. More quirks:
Our author doesn’t like spellings in exs-, preferring exculpi, exectus, exertus, extare, exugere, exurgere and so on. Another spelling anomaly is -opthalm-, used consistently in place of -ophthalm-, even when citing other people’s (correctly spelled) scientific names.
“Inches” are most often rendered as “uncias” (twelfths—of anything, hence the word “ounce”), but sometimes as “pollices” (thumbs) or “digitos” (fingers). Some of the fingers and thumbs may be carried over from his quoted sources.
Shaw is fond of the verb mutuari, as in iconem mutuati sumus ab . . . Dictionaries translate the word as “borrow”. But in those days of limited copyright protection it is more accurately rendered as “swipe”, as in “we told our illustrator to copy this previously published picture”.
He loves the non-classical phrase “vix ac ne vix” or “vix et ne vix” (only-just-ever-so-barely). I don’t know who used it first, but it seems to have been especially popular with 18th-century botanical writers. After Volume 11 or so, he tires of the phrase.
Another favorite idiom is “non ita pridem”. This one is attested in classical authors; it means “just recently” or—if you need to account for the non—“not long ago”.
In general, specific place names mean “We got our information from someone writing about this exact place”, and the name can be taken as a stand-in for a much wider region:
Finally, Shaw seems to think that north is up; “the lower parts of Africa” means southern Africa.
Its 24-year publication makes the Miscellany into a stop-motion view of typographic changes in the years around 1800. Most dramatic was the loss of long s (ſ) and the “ct” ligature. Compare installment 1 of Volume 12, September 1800:
with installment 3 of the same volume, November 1800:
After the first installment of Volume 12, you will never again see the long ſ used consistently. The “ct” ligature is more complicated; read on.
If you find yourself holding a random text page of the Miscellany, and have no idea what year it belongs to, here are some things to look for. (This list could have been three times as long.) Not all of these will be visible in the ebook.
More than any other book I’ve worked on, Shaw’s Miscellany must be considered a victim of its own beauty. When antiquarian booksellers get hold of a copy, the first thing they do is tear out all the colored plates and sell them for $25–$100 a pop. What they do with the text pages is anyone’s guess. Is paper still used for wrapping fish?
This etext is based primarily on scans at The Internet Archive, with originals generally at the National Museum of Victoria (Australia) but sometimes at the British Museum of Natural History. Missing pages were filled in from scans at Hathi Trust, with originals at the University of Michigan. Pages that were absent from both sites were photographed for me from copies at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Thanks, Neil!
Typographical errors are marked with and are listed again at the end of each volume. The word “invisible” means that the letter or punctuation mark is missing, but there is an appropriately sized blank space.
Missing or invisible punctuation in citations and all Indexes has been silently supplied.
VARIÆ ET VIVIDÆ ICONES,
DRAWN and DESCRIBED
In case you doubted your eyes, here’s a closeup of the cheesecake from the Dedication picture:
By my count, our happily topless lady has outdone Eccentrica Gallumbits by two—and is that a dead rat on the ground before her? The inscription reads Nodder invt et Sculpſit, with “inv[eni]t” in place of the customary “del[ineavi]t”, implying “This was all Fred Nodder’s idea”.
text has IPSAM NATURAM. with superfluous . (period, full stop)