Behold an Interactive Online Edition of Elizabeth Twining’s Illustrations of the Natural Orders of Plants (1868)

Of all the var­ied objects of cre­ation there is, prob­a­bly, no por­tion that affords so much grat­i­fi­ca­tion and delight to mankind as plants. —Eliz­a­beth Twin­ing

“Who owned nature in the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry?” asks Lon­da Schiebinger in Plants and Empire, a study of what the Stan­ford his­to­ri­an of sci­ence calls “colo­nial bio­prospect­ing in the Atlantic World.” The ques­tion was large­ly decid­ed at the time by “hero­ic voy­ag­ing botanists” and “biopi­rates” who claimed the world’s nat­ur­al resources as their own. The mat­ter was set­tled in the next cou­ple cen­turies by mer­chants like Thomas Twin­ing and his descen­dants, pro­pri­etors of Twin­ings tea. Found­ed as Britain’s first known tea shop in 1706, the com­pa­ny went on to become one of the largest pur­vey­ors of teas grown in the British colonies.

One of Twining’s descen­dants, Eliz­a­beth Twin­ing, car­ried on the lega­cy as what Schiebinger calls one of many “arm­chair nat­u­ral­ists, who coor­di­nat­ed and syn­the­sized col­lect­ing from sinecures in Europe,” a role often tak­en on by women who could not trav­el the world. Twin­ing aimed, how­ev­er, not to cre­ate tax­onomies of the world’s plants but those of her own coun­try in a com­par­a­tive analy­sis.

Her 1868 Illus­tra­tions of the Nat­ur­al Orders of Plants, she wrote in her intro­duc­tion, was “the first work which has thus done due hon­our to our British plants by con­nect­ing with oth­ers, and plac­ing them when­ev­er pos­si­ble at the head of the Order to be illus­trat­ed.”

Twining’s reval­u­a­tion of local British plants was in keep­ing with the reformist spir­it of the age, and she her­self was such a reformer. “Apart from her artis­tic endeav­ors,” writes Nicholas Rougeaux, Twin­ing “was a notable phil­an­thropist,” estab­lish­ing almshous­es and tem­per­ance halls, found­ing “mother’s meet­ings” in Lon­don, and help­ing to found the Bed­ford Col­lege for Women. She was inspired by Curtis’s The Botan­i­cal Mag­a­zine and “she prac­ticed by mak­ing sketch­es from works in the Dul­wich Pic­ture Gallery, and toured famous muse­ums thanks to her father’s patron­age.”

Twin­ing authored and illus­trat­ed sev­er­al botan­i­cal books, “most notably,” Rougeux writes, “the two vol­ume Illus­tra­tions of the Nat­ur­al Orders of Plants, which includ­ed a total of 160 hand-col­ored lith­o­graphs, roy­al folio, report­ed­ly based on obser­va­tion at the Roy­al Botan­i­cal Gar­dens in Kew and at Lex­den Park in Colch­ester.” Rougeux has done for her work what the design­er pre­vi­ous­ly did for oth­er illus­trat­ed clas­sics of sci­ence and math (see the relat­ed links below): dig­i­tiz­ing the illus­tra­tions and translit­er­at­ing the text into a dig­i­tal for­mat, with hyper­links and shar­ing fea­tures.

Rougeux’s Illus­tra­tions of the Nat­ur­al Orders of Plants offers itself as “a com­plete repro­duc­tion and restora­tion… enhanced with inter­ac­tive illus­tra­tions, descrip­tions, and posters fea­tur­ing the illus­tra­tions.” The first two vol­umes of the orig­i­nal book were pub­lished in 1849 and 1855. Rougeux’s online ver­sion of the text is based on the 1868 sec­ond edi­tion “with re-drawn illus­tra­tions based on her orig­i­nals.” (See pages from the text above and below.) Rougeux’s dig­i­tized text is thus two steps removed from Twining’s orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions, but we can see the care and atten­tion she put into clas­si­fy­ing the flo­ra of her native coun­try.

“Twin­ing chose to illus­trate plants using the clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem cre­at­ed by Augustin-Pyra­me de Can­dolle based on mul­ti­ple char­ac­ter­is­tics of plants—rather than the more wide­ly used sys­tem by Carl Lin­naeus which was focused on plants’ repro­duc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics,” notes Rougeux, “because the De Can­dolle sys­tem was new­er and she want­ed her read­ers to be up to date as clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tems were evolv­ing.”

Although bio­log­i­cal tax­onomies have changed con­sid­er­ably since her time, Twining’s Illus­tra­tions of the Nat­ur­al Orders of Plants remains an intrigu­ing “snap­shot in time” that depicts not only the lat­est ideas about plant clas­si­fi­ca­tion in the mid-19th cen­tu­ry but also the atti­tudes a promi­nent mem­ber of the British rul­ing class adopt­ed toward nature as a whole. See Rougeux’s online edi­tion of Twin­ing’s text here.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Explore an Inter­ac­tive, Online Ver­sion of the Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed, 200-Year-Old British & Exot­ic Min­er­al­o­gy

A Beau­ti­ful­ly-Designed Edi­tion of Euclid’s Ele­ments from 1847 Gets Dig­i­tized: Explore the New Online, Inter­ac­tive Repro­duc­tion

Explore an Inter­ac­tive, Online Ver­sion of Werner’s Nomen­cla­ture of Colours, a 200-Year-Old Guide to the Col­ors of the Nat­ur­al World

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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