COUPES ET VUES by DE LA BECHE, Henry Thomas. < >
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By a pioneer in the visual dimensions of geology

COUPES ET VUES pour servir a l’explication des phénomènes géologiques. Avec un texte traduit de l’Anglais par H. De Collegno. Paris, Pitois-Levrautl et Cie, Libraires. Rue de la Harpe, no 81.

1839. 4to, pp. [iv], 77. [3] blank; with 40 plates (both engraved and lithograph and printed on differing stock) of which 27 are hand-coloured and seven are folding (including the large, striking plate of Mont Blanc); small nick to fore-edge of plate 11 but without significant loss, plates a little browned due to paper quality; some occasional light foxing and browning throughout, with some occasional minor edgewear, but otherwise good; with illegible signature on upper cover and blurred ownership stamp on title-page; in contemporary printed drab boards with blue paper reback, remains of paper label on spine lettered in ms, head and tail of spine worn with loss of blue paper exposing cloth below, lower spine dampstained, covers soiled, extremities and corners rubbed and lightly worn; a good copy. Uncommon first French edition of this detailed geological work, first published in 1830 as ‘Sections and Views, illustrative of geological phaenomena’ by one of first professional British geologists of the early 19th century, Henry Thomas De la Beche (1796-1855). A gifted draftsman, ‘De la Beche was noted for his role in pioneering the visual dimensions of geology’ (ODND), and this is never more evident than in the present work which is of particular note for the finely executed plates. Based upon his own simple pencil sketches, 27 are hand-coloured and depict a myriad of predominantly European geological features, several of which are found in Scotland. Particularly striking however, is the large folding hand-coloured depiction of Mont Blanc and surrounding peaks, as well as the line engraving of the crater of Vesuvius.
De la Beche was born in London, went to military school, though was sent down after four years for encouraging ‘a dangerous spirit of Jacobinism’ (ibid). He joined the Geological Society of London in 1817 and travelled extensively during the 1820s through Great Britain and Europe, and also spent time on the family sugar plantation in Jamaica, and on his return published the first description of the geology of Jamaica and its first geological map. The abolition of slavery and the collapse of the sugar market led to the collapse of his Jamaican income, leaving him in financial difficulties. Seeking employment he wrote to the Board of Ordnance offering to complete the geological mapping of Devon for the government. His application was successful and was appointed Geologist to the Ordnance Trigonometrical Survey. Having completed his work in Devon, De la Beche went on to work on the geological mapping of Cornwall. In 1835 the Ordnance Geological Survey was established, and out of this grew today’s British Geological Survey. In 1837 he moved to Swansea, where he became involved in the local scientific community, carrying out further pioneering fieldwork along the Pembrokeshire coast and of the Welsh coalfields. ‘While De La Beche, over a period of nearly forty years, contributed much to the general stock of geological knowledge through his publications, his whole-hearted and determined efforts to advance the then comparatively new science of geology by every means in his power were no less important’ (DSB). Perhaps best remembered for his principal work ‘The Geological Observer’ (1851), he was also a friend and supporter of the renown fossil collector Mary Anning (1799-1847), and worked on the first descriptions of the large fossil marine reptiles, the ichthyosaurs and the plesiosaurs. His Duria antiquior, an 1830 watercolor rendering of ancient Dorset and its inhabitants sold in aid of Anning, was widely circulated in lithograph form. His archive is held at the National Museum of Wales.

Bibliography: Ward & Carozzi, Geology Emerging, 618 (617 first English edition); cf Challinor, The History of British Geology, p. 186;; OCLC: 9773660.

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