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Sharpe & Dresser's Birds of Europe (S215: 1872)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A review of Parts xi. and xii. of Sharpe and Dresser's series The Birds of Europe, printed in the Nature issue of 12 September 1872. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S215.htm

    [[p. 390]] The completion of the first volume of this important work by the issue of Parts xi. and xii., affords the authors an opportunity of expressing their determination to continue the monthly issue with as much punctuality as is compatible with the fulness and accuracy at which they aim. This volume has occupied eighteen months in its publication; but as it contains 101 coloured plates and about 800 or 900 pages of letterpress of large quarto size, the wonder is rather that so near an approach to regularity has been attained in a work which is taking so much larger dimensions than was at first anticipated.

    The present parts show no lack of the energy and care hitherto exhibited. In addition to the seventeen species figured and copiously described, we have three additional plates with eight figures of the Sparrow Hawk in various states of plumage, and two others with additional figures of the Ring Ouzel and the Rock Thrush. As an example of the great care bestowed by the authors in the accumulation and critical comparison of specimens from all parts of Europe, and from other quarters of the world where necessary, we may state that the present part discriminates between several birds that have hitherto been confounded, and thus adds two species to the list of European birds, and one to that of Britain. A fine Woodpecker (Picus lilfordi), found in Greece and Turkey, has been separated from Picus leuconotus which inhabits the more northern parts of Europe; while the British form of the Cole Tit (Pares ater) is found to be so constantly different from that which inhabits the Continent as to require a distinct specific name, and it has accordingly been called Parus brittanicus. To illustrate these minute specific differences the excellent plan is adopted of giving figures of the allied species on the same plate.

    [[p. 391]] We cannot, however, equally praise the system of including American and other stragglers as European birds. It needlessly encumbers an already very bulky work, and leads to misconception, and it will also have the effect of making the book apparently imperfect whenever fresh stragglers reach our shores. Is it not absurd in a book of European birds to have seven pages devoted to the American Stint, with full details of its distribution over North America, and the statement that it has occurred "twice in Britain" as the sole justification for including it? Another seven pages is devoted to the American Hawk Owl on the strength of its occurrence four times in Britain. Such birds should be rigidly excluded from the body of the work, and only described in notes or an appendix when it is necessary to do so in order to avoid confusion with the allied European species.

    It is a pity that the temporary paging of the letterpress to each species had not been altogether omitted, as it is of no use whatever, and occupies the prominent position which should have been left for the permanent paging. As the only means of remedying the evil, we would suggest that when the work is completed a series of numbers be printed in squares reaching to the highest number of pages in a volume, and be issued with the last part on gummed paper, so as to be cut out and fastened in the proper position over the temporary numbers.

    The figures by Mr. Keulemans continue to be as spirited and lifelike as ever, and the authors devote the same attention as heretofore to giving the fullest and most reliable information obtainable. The work will thus satisfy the requirements both of the scientific naturalist and of the general reader and amateur. The former requires accurate descriptions and figures, careful measurements, and precise indications of distribution and habits. The latter wants to determine readily any bird he may meet with at home or on the Continent, with an intelligible and interesting account of its habits and distribution, and other topics of general interest. To both these classes of readers we can cordially recommend this book, and we believe that it is calculated at once to take a high position as a scientific work, and at the same time to popularise the delightful branch of natural history of which it treats.

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