The Natural History of Animals (Paris, 1702)

This book is another production of the French Royal Academy of Science, subsequently translated into English by a fellow of the British Royal society in 1702. The original author and illustrator of the piece remain unlisted in the translation but due to the reputation of the academy it can be taken as work of the highest standard and thus reliable and accurate.

The translation is likely to be as equally reliable as the translator belonged to the Royal Society, a similar organization with impeccable credentials. The book in its original form was not intended for mass publication and was likely to have been used as a gift to prominent men in society or for use in academic circles. This information is contained in the books foreword written by the translator.

The natural history of animals (Paris, 1702)

This plate shows what is referred to as the sea fox, what we would now regard as a member of the shark family. It again shows the quest for knowledge and understanding of the natural world by the people of this time. The plate depicts the creature, how and where it was found (coastline) an in situ shot and subsequent diagrams of various anatomical parts as seen in dissection. It is scientifically orientated in its approach and layout showing the seriousness of the author in the presentation of this newly discovered knowledge.

While the discovery and subsequent analysis of this creature broadened the knowledge of the books’ author into the appearance and function of the creature, its interpretation it is limited to the underlying knowledge of the day and to the overall understanding of the world of the1700s.

The title Sea Fox is a little dubious and the translator of the text refers to it as a somewhat tenuous link based upon a similarity between the tails of the fox and this creature, though the translator himself was uncertain over the validity of this link. The naming of this creature represents an attempt by the people in the 1700s to understand the world around them through their existing level of knowledge. The move to document the creatures found in the world was a step away from the imagined horrors of the deep as contained in myth and folklore and a desire to discover what was truly there, producing reliable sourced knowledge with which to educate others on the world around them.

Chris Tovey

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