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Natural History Of New York

November 2023
1min read

The luminous pictures of apples which appear on these pages are taken from the fourth volume of Natural History of New York , published by Ebenezer Emmons in 1851. Emmons’ work was an early entry in the natural history survey of New York State, an immense project that eventually generated thirty books. A gifted scientist, Emmons would be better known today had he not been hampered by what the Dictionary of American Biography delicately refers to as “a certain obstinacy and inability to see things as others saw them. ” He managed, for instance, to turn his theories of the stratigraphie formations that he felt underlay the town of Potsdam, New York, into a bitter professional squabble which poisoned the last years of his life. Something of this unfortunate querulousness emerges in his introduction to the third volume of the series. When he saw the apple lithographs, he found them positively odious, and he used the introduction for an astonishingly long plaint, in which all involved were castigated for their carelessness: “I am … dissatisfied with many [of the plates] … ; circumstances beyond my control have obliged me to give to the public some plates which are unworthy of a place in the volume. The fact is, both paper and printing are of that character that it was impossible to color the plates handsomely—I inspected and corrected the proofs furnished me, and those were well executed; but it appears that the drawing upon the stone soon wore out, and hence bad impressions were often made, and which could not be converted afterwards, by colors, into handsome figures.” But, however repellent to Emmons’ botanist’s eye, the lithographs nonetheless manage to convey to us a hundred and thirty years later the almost infinite variety of our brightest and best-loved fruit.

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