Published in 1658, “The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents” depicts both real and fantastical creatures in detailed woodcuts. A wide swath of the animal kingdom is represented, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and marine life, as well as an array of mythical beasts. The digital collection contains 175 of these illustrations from the book, presented alphabetically by animal.
A clergyman in the Church of England, Edward Topsell published several books on religion and other matters during his lifetime. In 1658 – some 20 years after his death – his zoological books were reissued together as part of a three-volume work called “The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents” (which also features “The Theater of Insects” by Thomas Moffet, not included in this digital collection). The illustrations that Topsell used in his books came directly from earlier works by Swiss physician, naturalist, and author Konrad Gesner.
Entries in the digital collection include the original titles taken directly from Topsell’s work, as well as the modern names of the animals. For example, Topsell’s “Bear Ape Arctopithecus” is now known as the three-toed sloth. Also on display here are bees, scorpions, frogs, crocodiles, goats, apes, bison, snakes, lizards, camels, sea serpents, tortoises, and many other animals.
Topsell’s mythical creatures are particularly interesting, such as the “Hydra,” with two claws, a curled serpent’s tail, and seven small mammalian heads; the “Lamia,” with a cat-like body, hooves on the hind feet, claws on the front, and a human woman’s face and hair; and the “Mantichora,” with a lion’s body and mane, a man’s face and head of hair, and a grotesquely smiling mouth.
The digital collection also includes a document about the book and a related bibliography.
The original item is available in UH Libraries Special Collections.