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James Edward Smith - Tour To Hafod

James Edward Smith - Tour To Hafod

Date posted: 18th April 2014

Surely the cornerstone or at least one of the biggest and most well known of the Welsh Plate Books. Smith's - Tour to Hafod in Cardiganshire, stands 60 high * 45 cm wide and is one of the most difficult plate books to obtain!

The 15 plates are all B&W, uncoloured, with wide margins and full of atmosphere! No matter how many times you look at them, you still find things you have not seen before! 

Do Not Delay!

Smith, Sir James Edward (1759–1828), botanist, was born on 2 December 1759 at 37 Gentleman's Way, Norwich, the eldest of the seven children of James Smith (1727–1795), a wealthy Unitarian wool merchant, and his wife, Frances (1731–1820), only daughter of the Revd John Kinderley.

Education and first botanical activities

Being delicate, Smith was at first educated at home. He inherited a love of flowers from his mother, but did not begin the study of botany as a science until he was eighteen, and then, curiously enough, on the very day of Linnaeus's death. He was guided in his early studies by his friends James Crowe of Lakenham, Hugh Rose, John Pitchford, and the Revd Henry Bryant, and, though originally destined for a business career, was sent in 1781 to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. There he studied botany under Dr John Hope, one of the earliest teachers of the Linnaean system, won a gold medal awarded by him, and established a natural history society. In September 1783 he went to London to study under Dr John Hunter and Dr William Pitcairn, with an introduction from Hope to Sir Joseph Banks, then president of the Royal Society.

On the death of the younger Linnaeus in that year the whole of the library, manuscripts, herbarium, and natural history collections made by him and his father were offered to Banks for 1000 guineas. Banks declined but on his recommendation Smith bought them, with a loan from his father. John Sibthorp, author of Flora Graeca, and the empress of Russia also attempted to purchase them, but with no success. In September 1784 Smith took apartments in Paradise Row, Chelsea, where the Linnaean collections arrived in the following month. The total cost, including freight, was £1088. It is stated (Memoir and Correspondence, 1.126) that Gustav III of Sweden, who had been absent in France, having heard of the dispatch of the collections, vainly sent a belated vessel to the Sound to intercept the ship which carried them. This apocryphal story is perpetuated on the portrait of Smith published in Thornton's Temple of Flora (1799).

‘With no premeditated design of relinquishing physic as a profession’ (Memoir and Correspondence, 1.128), Smith now became entirely devoted to natural history, and mainly to botany. During the following winter Banks and his librarian, Jonas Dryander, went through the collections with him at Chelsea, and Pitchford urged him to prepare ‘a flora Britannica, the most correct that can appear in the Linnaean dress’ (ibid., 130). Elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1785, he made his first appearance as an author by translating the preface to Linnaeus's Museum regis Adolphi Frederici, under the title Reflexions on the Study of Nature. In June 1786 he set out on a continental tour, and after obtaining a medical degree at Leiden (23 June), with a thesis ‘De generatione’, he travelled through Holland, France, Italy, and Switzerland. He visited Allamand and Van Royen at Leiden, the widow of Rousseau (for whom, as a botanist of the Linnaean school, he had a great admiration), Broussonet at Montpellier, Gerard at Cottignac, the Marchese Durazzo at Genoa, Mascagni the anatomist at Siena, Sir William Hamilton and the duke of Gloucester at Naples, Bonnet, de Saussure, and others at Geneva, La Chenal at Basel, and Herman at Strasbourg. He formed a close friendship with Davall, an English botanist living in Switzerland, and until the latter's death they carried on an affectionate correspondence. During the tour Smith carefully examined the picture galleries, herbaria, and botanical libraries en route. His tour is fully described in the three-volume Sketch which he first published in 1793.

Foundation of Linnean Society and main publications

Before his departure Smith appears to have broached to his friends Samuel Goodenough, afterwards bishop of Carlisle (and the only man to correct Smith's Latin), and Thomas Marsham the idea of superseding a somewhat somnolent natural history society, of which they were members, by one bearing the name of Linnaeus. On his return to England in the autumn of 1787 he left Chelsea with a view to practising as a physician in London, and in 1788 took a house in Great Marlborough Street. There the first meeting of the Linnean Society was held on 8 April 1788. Smith was elected president, and delivered an ‘Introductory discourse on the rise and progress of natural history’. Marsham became secretary, Goodenough treasurer, and Dryander librarian. The society started with thirty-six fellows, sixteen associates, and about fifty foreign members, mostly those naturalists whose acquaintance Smith had made during his tour. Banks joined the new society as an honorary member. From this period Smith gave lectures at his own house on botany and zoology, numbering among his pupils the duchess of Portland, Viscountess Cremorne, and Lady Amelia Hume, and about the same time he became lecturer on botany at Guy's Hospital. In 1789 he republished, under the title of Reliquiae Rudbeckianae, woodcuts of plants from those woodblocks, prepared by Olof Rudbeck for his Campi Elysii, which had escaped the great fire at Uppsala in 1702; during the four following years he issued parts of several illustrated botanical works, which, owing to the lack of patronage, he failed to complete. In 1790, however, he began the publication of what has proved his most enduring work, though as his name did not appear on the first three volumes, it is still often known as Sowerby's English Botany, from the name of its illustrator, James Sowerby. It formed thirty-six octavo volumes, with 2592 plates comprising all known British plants with the exception of the fungi; its publication was not completed until 1814.

In 1791 Smith was chosen, by the interest of Goodenough and Lady Cremorne, to arrange the queen's herbarium, and to teach her and her daughters botany and zoology at Frogmore, but some passages in his Tour, praising Rousseau and speaking of Marie Antoinette as Messalina, although they were removed from the second edition, gave offence at court. In 1796 Smith married Pleasance, only daughter of Robert Reeve, attorney of Lowestoft [see Smith, Pleasance (1773–1877)]. Lady Smith later edited her husband's correspondence. Soon after his marriage he retired to Norwich, only visiting London for two or three months in each year to deliver an annual course of lectures at the Royal Institution, which he continued until 1825. His days were spent in his elegantly arranged museum, containing the old-fashioned cabinets from Uppsala, looking very out of place; there he wrote his books from nine o'clock until three and again from seven to nine at night and replied to his numerous correspondents. He was a deacon at the Octagon Chapel, Norwich, for which he wrote many hymns. He was annually re-elected president of the Linnean Society until his death. After he had completed his important Flora Britannica, in three octavo volumes, 1800–04, Smith was chosen by the executors to edit the Flora Graeca of his friend, John Sibthorp. He published the Prodromus in two octavo volumes in 1806 and 1813, and completed six volumes of the Flora itself before his death. In 1807 appeared the first edition of his most successful work, The Introduction to Physiological and Systematic Botany, which passed through six editions during the author's lifetime; this work included a preface, expressing his own philosophy of life. In 1808, on the death of the Revd William Wood, who had contributed the botanical articles to Rees's Cyclopaedia down to ‘Cyperus’, the editor applied for assistance to Smith. He wrote 3348 botanical articles, among which were fifty-seven biographies of eminent botanists, including Adanson, Clusius, Peter Collinson, and William Curtis. All were signed ‘S.’ as he disliked anonymous writing. In 1814, when the prince regent accepted the position of patron of the Linnean Society, Smith was knighted. In 1813, Thomas Martyn was already suggesting that Smith should succeed him as Cambridge professor of botany; some heads of colleges and many influential members of the aristocracy supported him. In 1818 after a lengthy and vicious battle he was finally rejected, ostensibly on the grounds that he was a Unitarian. The incident led Smith to write two somewhat acrimonious pamphlets.

Last works and death

What has been described as his ‘last and best work’, The English Flora, occupied Smith during the last seven years of his life, the first two volumes appearing in 1824, the third in 1825, and the fourth in March 1828, a few days before his death. The Compendium, in one volume, appeared posthumously in 1829, and the fifth volume, containing the mosses by Sir W. J. Hooker, and the fungi by the Revd M. J. Berkeley, in 1833–6. Smith died in Surrey Street, Norwich, on 17 March 1828, and was buried at St Margaret's Church, Lowestoft, in the vault of the Reeve family, on 24 March.

Smith's easy, fluent style, happy illustration, extensive knowledge, and elegant scholarship, both in his lectures and in his writings, did much to popularize botany. His possession of the Linnaean collections invested him, in his own opinion, with the magician's wand, and he set a value on his judgment in all botanical questions which his own attainments did not wholly warrant. However, their ownership secured him a great influence abroad, and he was elected a member of the Académie des Sciences at Paris, the Imperial Academy ‘Naturae Curiosorum’, and the academies of Stockholm, Uppsala, Turin, Lisbon, Philadelphia, and New York. His name was commemorated by Dryander and R. A. Salisbury in Aiton's Hortus Kewensis by the genus Smithia, a small group of sensitive leguminous plants. His library and collections, including those of Linnaeus, were offered by his executors to the Linnean Society for £5000 later reduced to 3000 guineas. Fellows contributed £1500 and the society paid the remainder, thereby incurring a heavy debt not paid off until 1861. (per OxfordDNB)