“One of the most important treatises on ornithology of all time, being the first systematic classification of the birds of the world” -Wood

Willughby, Francis (1635-1672); Ray, John (1627-1705)

The ornithology of Francis Willughby of Middleton in the county of Warwick Esq; fellow of the Royal Society. In three books. Wherein all the birds hitherto known, being reduced into a method sutable to their natures, are accurately described. The descriptions illustrated by most elegant figures, nearly resembling the live birds, engraven in LXXVII copper plates. Translated into English, and enlarged with many additions throughout the whole work. To which are added, three considerable discourses, I. Of the art of fowling: with a description of several nets in two large copper plates. II. Of the ordering of singing birds. III. Of falconry. By John Ray, fellow of the Royal Society

London: printed by A[ndrew]. C[larke]. for John Martyn printer to the Royal Society, at the Bell in St. Pauls Church-Yard, 1678


Folio: 35.8 x 23 cm. [12], 441, [7] p., LXXVIII, [2] leaves of plate Collation: A4, a2, B-Z4, Aa-Zz4, Aaa-Lll4 Title printed in red & black. 80 engraved plates, 2 tables. 3 parts in one volume.

FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH of Willughby’s Ornithology.

A handsome copy in contemporary mottled calf, corners bumped, very nicely rebacked. A tall copy in excellent condition. Complete with all 80 engraved plates, 78 of birds, 2 of fowling methods and equipment.

The great English naturalists John Ray and his pupil and friend Francis Willughby, both members of the Royal Society, spent years traversing England and Europe gathering botanical and zoological specimens and information. Their ambitious aim was to develop a taxonomy of all living things, with Willughby focused on animals and Ray on plants. This project saw its first fruits in the taxonomic tables of plants and animals in John Wilkins’ “Essay toward a real character and a philosophical language.” Sadly, Willughby died young, in 1672 at age 37, and it was left to Ray to sort through the great wealth of data and specimens that Willughby had collected on his various excursions. As Ray wrote, 

Viewing his Manuscripts after his Death, I found the several Animals in every kind both Birds, Beasts, Fishes, and Insects digested into a Method of his own contriving, but few of their Descriptions and Histories so full and perfect as he intended them; which he was so sensible of that when I asked him upon his deathbed whether it was his pleasure they should be published, he answered that he did not desire it, nor thought them so considerable as to deserve it.

Ray edited Willughby’s ornithological material and augmented it with some of his own observations. While noting his own contributions, Ray published the resulting work under Willughby’s name, in 1676: “Francisci Willughbeii ornithologiae libri tres; totum opus recognovit, digressit, supplevit Joannes Raius.” The present work, an English translation by Ray, was published two years later and includes three more plates than the Latin edition, and an expanded text including three additional sections by Ray on fowling, falconry and song-birds.

Anker 532; BM (NH) V, p.2331; Keynes Ray 39; Nissen IVB 991; Wood p.629; Wing W-2880; Zimmer 677