Prints from the first publication on birds in the English Language
Willughby's "Ornithology" was a joint effort between Francis Willughby (1635-1672) and John Ray (1627-1705). Willughby (of aristocratic background) was the author of much of the work, but it was Ray ( son of a blacksmith who went on to Cambridge, was ordained, and taught there) who completed and published it. Ray, several years Willughby's senior, met his friend and colleague at Cambridge. They shared an interest in natural history and when Ray was forced to relinquish his position on the restoration of the monarchy it was Willughby who enabled him to survive by becoming his patron. They travelled together doing research in Europe from 1663-1666. Unfortunately Willughby died at the age of 37 in 1672 leaving Ray a generous annuity. Ray returned the favor of his patronage by completing and publishing Willughby's work. Published in Latin in 1676 it was re-published in English in 1678. The publication in English was perhaps aided by the secularisation of learning evident in the founding of the Royal Society in 1660, coinciding with the Restoration. Both Ray and Willughby were early Fellows. The illustrations for the volume were commissioned by Emma Willughby (Francis' wife) and were made by foremost engravers of the period William Sherwin, William Faithorne and the Dutch immigrant Frederick van Hove. They employed the relatively new method of copper plate engraving, which would revolutionise book illustration for years to come. The illustrations were published on fine quality rag paper which, other than a little browning at the edges, is in as fine a condition as the day they were produced. They have been hand-colored with water colors in France ca 1980 by one of the last fine practitioners of this lost art.