William Swainson: Types, Circles, and Affinities

  • David Knight
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 110)


William Swainson was the pioneer in England of hand-coloured lithographed illustrations in natural history. He was also a “declinist” in the early 1830s, believing that science was far better done in France than at home; and he was the author of a series of zoological works in Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopedia in which he developed the Quinary System of taxonomy invented by William MacLeay. His correspondence is preserved at the Linnean Society, and shows him to have been a contentious person who fell out in the end with most of those to whom he wrote; and the annotated pattern-plates for his Zoological Illustrations done to assist the colourists, are also there.1 The correspondence illustrates various networks, and patronage; and shows how far natural history was a trade in the 1820s and 1830s. But we shall be concerned with Swainson’s intellectual history, and in particular with his taxonomic system: trying to see what it was that made what most have seen as an eccentric arrangement seem to him a satisfactory arrangement of the order and variety we see in the world.


Family Resemblance Preliminary Discourse Title Page Linnean Society Zoological Society 
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Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Knight

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