On the all-too-rare occasions that my frankly gorgeous friend Stense and I meet in person, we like nothing better than to go looking round second-hand bookshops. Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet Stense this year, but she did phone me from a second-hand bookshop in Scotland a couple of weeks back:
"Have you got the book Goldsmith's Animated Nature, volume two?" she asked.
"No, what's it about?"
"It's an old book about animals and stuff. It's right up your street. Would you like it for a Christmas present?"
And here it is:
Good grief, I owe Stense big-style for this one. It's a wonderful book, packed with semi-archaic descriptions of animals, which will provide me with many hours of amusement. The book's full title is, rather magnificently:
A History of the Earth and Animated Nature
by Oliver Goldsmith
With an Introductory View of the Animal Kingdom by
Copious Notes of Discoveries in Natural History;
And a Life of the Author;
by Washington Irving
The author is the same Oliver Goldsmith who wrote The Vicar of Wakefield, She Stoops to Conquer and The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes. The book first appeared in eight volumes in 1774, and there were over 20 subsequent editions, some of which were magnificently illustrated (the illustrations appear to have been cut out of my copy by some print-selling vandal). The book became a popular source of information about the natural world.
Two items which immediately caught my eye: Goldsmith's section on The Whale, and its Varieties appears in Part Fourth of the book—being the part about Fishes! And the section on the Dodo talks about the creature in the present tense—although a post script notes that the truly grotesque bird has now become extinct, and its former existence has been called into question by some writers.
Expect some snippets/extracts from Goldsmith's Animated Nature in the next few months. In the meantime, thank you once again, Stense, for the wonderful present!