William Yarrell

Last updated

William Yarrell
William Yarrell by Maull & Polyblank (albumen print, arched top, 1855).jpg
William Yarrell by Maull & Polyblank, (albumen print arched top, 1855)
Born(1784-06-03)3 June 1784
Westminster, London
Died1 September 1856(1856-09-01) (aged 72)
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
Known for A History of British Birds , 1843
Scientific career
Fields Zoology
Ornithology

William Yarrell (3 June 1784 – 1 September 1856) was an English zoologist, prolific writer, bookseller and naturalist admired by his contemporaries for his precise scientific work. [1]

Contents

Yarrell is best known as the author of The History of British Fishes (2 vols., 1836) and A History of British Birds featuring 564 original engravings (in 3 vols., first ed. 1843, second ed. 1845, third ed. 1856). [2] The latter went into several editions and was the standard reference work for a generation of British ornithologists. He described Bewick's swan in 1830, distinguishing it from the larger whooper swan.

Early life

Yarrell was born in Duke Street, St James's in London, to Francis Yarrell and his wife Sarah (née Blane). His father and uncle ran a newspaper agency and bookshop. [1] He studied at Dr Nicholson's school in Ealing. [1] His father died in 1794 and the Yarrells moved the short distance to Great Ryder Street, where William lived the rest of his life. [3] In 1802 he became a clerk with the Herries, Farquhar and Co. bank. In 1803 he and his cousin, Edward Jones, joined his father's business. [4] He sometimes left the business in Jones's care, going into the countryside to fish and shoot. [1] He acquired the reputation of being the best shot and the best angler in London, soon becoming an expert naturalist. He sent many bird specimens to Thomas Bewick, who engraved them as woodcuts. [1]

Career

Egyptian vulture in Yarrell's A History of British Birds (1843) Egyptian Vulture in Yarrell's British Birds 1843.jpg
Egyptian vulture in Yarrell's A History of British Birds (1843)

He joined the Royal Institution in 1817. [4] His first publication, at the age of 40, was "On the Occurrence of some Rare British Birds" (1825). [4] This was published in the 2nd volume of the 'Zoological Journal' and he later became one of that journal's editors. He was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1825. He wrote in 1827 on the structure of the tracheae of birds and on plumage changes in pheasants. He corresponded and shared specimens with other naturalists including Thomas Bewick (from 1825), [4] Sir William Jardine, Prideaux John Selby and Nicholas Aylward Vigors, [1] as well as with the Cornish naturalist Jonathan Couch, who provided him with many specimens, especially of fish. [5]

Yarrell was one of the original members of the Zoological Society of London. In 1833, he was a founder of what became the Royal Entomological Society of London. He was acknowledged by John James Audubon both as a "valued friend" and for the information and "precious specimens of birds and eggs, collected in the desolate regions of the extreme north." [6] He served for many years as treasurer both of the Entomological Society and of the Linnean Society. [4]

Works

Yarrell's major works were A History of British Fishes (1836) [7] and A History of British Birds (1843), the latter having the same title as the popular book by Thomas Bewick, published from 1797 to 1804, but with a different set of wood-engravings. [8]

British Birds was first published "in thirty-seven parts of three sheets each, at intervals of two months; the first Part was issued in July 1837 and the last in May 1843." [9] The sheets were then collected into two volumes, with the addition of "many occurrences of rare birds and of some that were even new to Britain". The additional birds were listed and briefly described in the Preface and "the new subjects have been engraved on single leaves, so paged, that the bookbinder may insert these separate leaves among the birds of the genus to which each respectively belongs." [9]

British Birds was illustrated with drawings by Alexander Fussell. Yarrell thanks him for "nearly five hundred of the drawings on wood here employed". The pen for the remaining drawings (the title-page asserts there are 520 in the book) is not stated. Yarrell also thanks John Thompson (1785–1866) and his sons for the "very long series of engravings" of the drawings, as well as his printers, Messrs. Bentley, Wilson and Fley. [9] [10] [11] [12]

At the time of its release, Yarrell's Birds was considered the best work on the subject both scientifically and artistically, as noted by Prof. Alfred Newton in his "Prospectus" to the 1871 edition, [2] from which Yarrell's introduction was removed along with the names of contributing artists under Thompson's direction. [10] Both Yarrell's books were so popular that their publisher John van Voorst stated that sales exceeded £4,000. [4] Thomas R Forbes, in his biographical paper on Yarrell, writes that "All [editions of Birds] are outstanding because of the author's clear, narrative style, accuracy, careful scholarship and unassuming charm." [3]

Yarrell's last paper, "On the Influence of the Sexual Organ in Modifying External Character" (1856), described an experiment that disproved the belief that when a stag lacks a healthy testicle, it will fail to grow an antler on that side of the body. [3]

Legacy

Yarrell died during a trip to Great Yarmouth and a memorial was erected in St James's Church, Piccadilly. He was buried in the churchyard of St Mary's in Bayford, Hertfordshire, with his chosen epitaph "He was the survivor of twelve brothers and sisters, who, with their father and mother, are all placed close to this spot" together with William Wordsworth's lines "first and last, The earliest summon'd and the longest spared — Are here deposited." [4]

Yarrell has a number of species named after him, including the birds yellow-faced siskin (Carduelis yarrellii) and Chilean woodstar (Eulidia yarrellii) and the fish Yarrell's blenny (Chirolophis ascanii). The British subspecies of the white wagtail, the pied wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii), was also named for him.

A memorial to William Yarrell in St James's Church, Piccadilly. A memorial to William Yarrell in St James's Church, Piccadilly.jpg
A memorial to William Yarrell in St James's Church, Piccadilly.

Publications

Related Research Articles

Thomas Bewick English engraver and natural history author (1753–1828)

Thomas Bewick was an English wood-engraver and natural history author. Early in his career he took on all kinds of work such as engraving cutlery, making the wood blocks for advertisements, and illustrating children's books. He gradually turned to illustrating, writing and publishing his own books, gaining an adult audience for the fine illustrations in A History of Quadrupeds.

William MacGillivray

William MacGillivray FRSE was a Scottish naturalist and ornithologist.

Thomas Pennant Welsh naturalist (1726–1798)

Thomas Pennant was a Welsh naturalist, traveller, writer and antiquarian. He was born and lived his whole life at his family estate, Downing Hall near Whitford, Flintshire, in Wales.

Sir William Jardine, 7th Baronet Scottish ornithologist and naturalist

Sir William Jardine, 7th Baronet of Applegarth FRS FRSE FLS FSA was a Scottish naturalist. He is known for his editing of a long series of natural history books, The Naturalist's Library.

Prideaux John Selby

Prideaux John Selby FRSE FLS was an English ornithologist, botanist and natural history artist.

William Kirby (entomologist) English entomologist (1759-1850)

William Kirby was an English entomologist, an original member of the Linnean Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society, as well as a country rector, so that he was an eminent example of the "parson-naturalist". He is considered the "founder of entomology".

Edward Donovan

Edward Donovan was an Anglo-Irish writer, natural history illustrator, and amateur zoologist. He did not travel, but collected, described and illustrated many species based on the collections of other naturalists. His many books were successful in his time. He died penniless in 1837 leaving a large family destitute.

Francis Walker (entomologist) English entomologist (1809-1874)

Francis Walker was an English entomologist. He was born in Southgate, London, on 31 July 1809 and died at Wanstead, England on 5 October 1874. He was one of the most prolific authors in entomology, and stirred controversy during his later life as his publications resulted in a huge number of junior synonyms.

Thomas Bell (zoologist) English zoologist, surgeon and writer

Thomas Bell FRS was an English zoologist, surgeon and writer, born in Poole, Dorset, England.

William Thompson (naturalist)

William Thompson was an Irish naturalist celebrated for his founding studies of the natural history of Ireland, especially in ornithology and marine biology. Thompson published numerous notes on the distribution, breeding, eggs, habitat, song, plumage, behaviour, nesting and food of birds. These formed the basis of his four-volume The Natural History of Ireland, and were much used by contemporary and later authors such as Francis Orpen Morris.

William Chapman Hewitson British naturalist (1806-1878)


William Chapman Hewitson was a British naturalist. A wealthy collector, Hewitson was particularly devoted to Coleoptera (beetles) and Lepidoptera and, also, to birds' nests and eggs. His collection of butterflies, collected by him as well as purchased from travellers throughout the world, was one of the largest and most important of his time. He contributed to and published many works on entomology and ornithology and was an accomplished scientific illustrator.

John Hancock (ornithologist)

John Hancock was a British naturalist, ornithologist, taxidermist and landscape architect. Working during the golden age of taxidermy when mounted animals became a popular part of Victorian era interior design, Hancock is considered the father of modern taxidermy

Sven Nilsson (zoologist)

Sven Nilsson was a Swedish zoologist and archaeologist.

Jonathan Couch

Jonathan Couch was a Cornish naturalist, the only child of Richard and Philippa Couch, of a family long resident at Polperro, a small fishing village between Looe and Fowey, on the south coast of Cornwall. A blue plaque on the wall of Warren cottage commemorates his birthplace.

<i>The Natural History of Ireland</i>

The Natural History of Ireland is a four volume work by William Thompson. The first three volumes were published by Reeve and Benham, London between 1849 and 1851. Volume 4 was published by Henry G. Bohn, London in 1856. The Natural History of Ireland is very influential of later developments.

John Van Voorst (1804–1898) was an English publisher, especially of natural history books.

<i>A History of British Birds</i>

A History of British Birds is a natural history book by Thomas Bewick, published in two volumes. Volume 1, Land Birds, appeared in 1797. Volume 2, Water Birds, appeared in 1804. A supplement was published in 1821. The text in Land Birds was written by Ralph Beilby, while Bewick took over the text for the second volume. The book is admired mainly for the beauty and clarity of Bewick's wood-engravings, which are widely considered his finest work, and among the finest in that medium.

<i>A History of British Birds</i> (Yarrell book)

William Yarrell's A History of British Birds was first published as a whole in three volumes in 1843, having been serialized, three sheets every two months, over the previous six years. It is not a history of ornithology but a natural history, a handbook or field guide systematically describing every species of bird known to occur in Britain. A separate article of about six pages, containing an image, a description, and an account of worldwide distribution, together with reports of behaviour, is provided for each species.

Alexander Fussell

Alexander Fussell or Fussel was an English artist and illustrator. He drew the bird illustrations for William Yarrell's 1843 History of British Birds.

John Thompson (engraver)

John Thompson was a British wood-engraver. He is best known for his contribution to William Yarrell's 1843 History of British Birds. He was described as the most distinguished wood-engraver of his time.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Yarrell, William"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  2. 1 2 William Yarrell. "History of British Birds" (PDF file, direct download, 28.3 MB, courtesy of Ebook and Texts Archive available in 6 different formats). First edition: 1843. Second edition: 1845. Third edition: 1856. Original publisher: John van Voorst (digitized by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2011). Retrieved 19 January 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 Forbes, Thomas R (December 1962). "William Yarrell, British Naturalist". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 106 (6): 505–515. JSTOR   985256.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Anon. (1858) [Obituary] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society 2:33–36 scanned
  5. Bettany, G. T. (1887). "Couch, Jonathan (1789–1870), naturalist, by G. T. Bettany". Dictionary of National Biography Vol. XXII. Smith, Elder & Co.
  6. Audubon, John James (1835). Ornithological Biography, Or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America, Volume 3. Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black. pp. vii.
  7. "Review of A History of British Fishes by William Yarrell". The Quarterly Review. 58: 334–370. April 1837.
  8. "A history of British birds (1885)". Attribution. Ebook and Texts Archive. Retrieved 19 January 2013.
  9. 1 2 3 Yarrell, William (1843). A History of British Birds: Preface. London: John Van Voorst. pp. v–xii.
  10. 1 2 "The Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c". Original from Princeton University. Digitized 2 February 2010. W.A. Scripps. 1837. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  11. "Colour Prejudice and William Yarrell". News from the Independent Booksellers' Network. Isabelline Books. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  12. Williams, RB (April 2011). "The artists and wood-engravers for Thomas Bell's History of British quadrupeds". Archives of Natural History. 38: 170–172. doi:10.3366/anh.2011.0015.

Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Yarrell, William"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
Edward Turner Bennett
Secretary of the Zoological Society of London
1836–1838
Succeeded by
William Ogilby