Woodcut of a spoonbill by Alexander Francis Lydon. This print appeared in the book ‘A History of British Birds’ by Francis Orpen Morris and was printed by Benjamin Fawcett. A history of British Birds was published in monthly sections of 4 prints + text between 1850 and 1857. The sheet measures 25 x 15 cm and is in good condition.
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Alexander Francis Lydon, was born in Dublin in 1836. He was a watercolour artist, illustrator and engraver of natural history and landscapes. He worked for Benjamin Fawcett the printer, to whom he had been apprenticed from an early age. He collaborated on a large number of works with the Rev. Francis Orpen Morris who wrote the text. He died on the 20th of March 1917 in Brentford, UK.
Francis Orpen Morris (25 March 1810 – 10 February 1893) was an Irish clergyman, notable as “parson-naturalist” (ornithologist and entomologist) and as the author of many children’s books and books on natural history and heritage buildings. He was a pioneer of the movement to protect birds from the plume trade and was a co-founder of the Plumage League. He died on 10 February 1893 and was buried at Nunburnholme, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. His first book was an arrangement of British birds and was published in 1834. About this time he formed a close working association with Benjamin Fawcett (1808–1893), a local printer. This relationship would last nearly 50 years and have a profound effect on British ornithology. Benjamin Fawcett was arguably the most accomplished of nineteenth century woodblock colour printers. Morris wrote the text for books which were financed and printed by Fawcett, and were illustrated by Alexander Francis Lydon (1836–1917). Colour printing was a major change from the fine monochrome work of Thomas Bewick (1753–1828). At first wood-engraving illustrations were coloured by hand, but later a system of colouring from multiple wood blocks was used. Morris’ books were mostly published by Groombridge & Sons, of London. His first best-seller was A History of British Birds which was published from June 1850 in monthly parts over a period of some seven years. Each folio consisted of text and 4 hand-coloured plates. Initially only a thousand copies were printed, but surprising demand quickly forced Fawcett to move to larger premises at East Lodge in Driffield. A Natural History of the Nests and Eggs of British Birds, A History of British Butterflies and A History of British Moths followed in rapid succession. The final work which Fawcett, Morris and Lydon would do together was The County Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland. This appeared in six volumes, each with 40 coloured plates, and text as usual by Morris. Groombridge & Sons dissolved about 1880, with neither Fawcett nor Morris having profited much financially from their collaboration. In January 1835 Morris was irascible by nature, impatient with conservatism and imbued with the spirit of reform – this did not endear him to many people. He had deep-seated convictions on some matters: he was an anti-feminist, loathed fox hunting and any other destruction of wildlife, had an abiding abhorrence of evolution as expounded in Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and a fervent dislike of Thomas Huxley whom he saw as an enthusiastic vivisectionist. Morris was the author of anti-Darwinian pamphlets. He rejected common descent and natural selection, which he believed were absurd concepts unsupported by evidence. Morris questioned why proponents of Darwinism were unable to answer such questions as “by what act of natural selection was the pouch of the camel formed” and “how are the electric organs in fishes accounted for by natural selection.” In his book Records of Animal Sagacity and Character (1861) he provided “abducent evidence” for the “mental capacities of animals furnished by their actions”. He wrote that the Bible did not contradict the idea of animal immortality and argued for the possibility of a “future resurrection or restoration of the animal creation.” He was an early advocate for conservation, campaigning extensively and ultimately successfully for a nature conservation act. He founded the Plumage League along with Mrs. R Cavendish-Boyle and Lady Mount-Temple (Georgina Cowper-Temple née Tollemache) in December 1885 with its headquarters at Broadlands, Hampshire. It soon merged into the Selborne League in January 1886 to become the Selborne Society for the Preservation of Birds, Plants and Pleasant Places. His sister Cornelia Morris married Abraham Bower, making their son, Frederick Orpen Bower, Morris’s nephew, and probably leading Bower to become a botanist.