Octavo (155 x 100 mm.), twentieth century full calf, with blind ruled spine and red calf gilt title label, gilt date at the foot of the spine. (16), 714, (26) pp., with 45 (of 46) maps, original blank endpaper a little frayed at the front and two later endpapers, last leaf with some loss of margin, no text missing, Dorset with some of the lower part torn away, very light water stain to the bottom of some pages, lacking general map.
Erasmus Darwin’s copy of this is the first atlas of the entire British Isles which has mysterious origins. The year 1617 is the first true published issue of this series of maps in an edition of William Camden’s ‘Britannia’ at the hands of Willem Janszoon (Blaeu). Three of the plates are dated 1599 and the series are known popularly as the ‘miniature Speed’, a title acquired following its first published issue in England in 1627 by George Humble who similarly published the folio Speed atlas.
Collections of the original 44 plates are known lacking title page and text dated to c.1605; Skelton in 1970 recorded seven known examples, one of which was broken shortly after. Only four are complete. If it had been published around 1599 they would pre-date the ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’ by John Speed, 1612, as the first ‘atlas’ of the British Isles. Christopher Saxton’s published in 1579 contained only maps of England and Wales.
Pieter van den Keere (1571-c.1646) engraved 22 of the maps although some authorities quote 21. The remainder are all in a similar style and are deemed to have been his work. Van den Keere was a protestant émigré to London in 1584 travelling with his sister Colette. She married Jodocus Hondius in 1587, and quite probably they returned together to Amsterdam in 1593. Van den Keere married Anna Bertius, sister to Petrus Bertius. Of the maps 33 are derived from Saxton, some having more anglicised titles; that of Yorkshire only appears in one example and is not considered part of the original set. Indeed in the RGS example it is supplied in manuscript. The 6 maps of Scotland are derived from Abraham Ortelius’ map published in 1573. The 5 of Ireland are from van den Keere’s own engraving of Baptisto Boazio, published in 1591. Three of the maps are dated – Warwick & Leicester, Radnor etc., and northern Scotland.
In this first published edition of van den Keere’s copper plates two further maps are included. These are both folding; one of the British Isles (lacking) the other of Yorkshire. There is some debate as to whether the latter was engraved at the time of the original proofs. From about 1600-02 the plates were sold as a collection without title page as indicated by Cornelis Claesz’s catalogue of 1609. Claesz died in May 1609 and the following year there was an auction of his stock. The van den Keere plates were amongst many items acquired by Willem Janszoon (Blaeu).
In 1617 the plates were used in an abridgement of William Camden’s ‘Britannia’, compiled by Regner Vitellius and published in Amsterdam by Blaeu. For this edition, the maps have Latin text on the verso and a typographic page number printed. The only plate altered is that of TIMEA whose title now reads ‘MIDEA’, which also appears on the face of the map, this was the toponym used by Camden. The work was reprinted in 1639 using a different series of maps, by Bertius, as those of van den Keere were then owned by George Humble. He used 40 of Van den Keere’s plates, but has them reworked, titles changed into English and plate numbers added. Provenance: ‘E Libri Erasmi Darwin1756’, Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), noted English physician and key individual in the Midland Enlightenment, and grandfather of Charles Darwin. Burden (2007) pp. 497-508; Chubb (1927) 10; Kingsley (1982) no. 5; Krogt (1997-2003) 373:02; Shirley (2004) T.Camd 2a; Skelton (1970) no. 12 (erroneously calling for a portrait).