A Newsworthy Naturalist: The Life of William Yarrell

PLAUDITS to Christine E. Jackson for rescuing the legacy of one of the greatest British ornithologists.

Her excellent  book - A Newsworthy Naturalist: the Life of William Yarrell - describes how her subject gave purpose and structure to ornithology in the 1840s and beyond.

He was both  a foremost field naturalist in his own right and an encourager and confidant of others of similar disposition who sent him not just letters describing their own experiences with birds, but also eggs and avian skins preserved in spirit.

The material  he accumulated must have been colossal, but, thanks to his enthusiasm, diligence (and stamina),  he managed to assess the accuracy of the combined data, to interpret its relevance and then to collate it, complete with  illustrations from Thomas Bewick and others, in his highly readable History of British Birds.

This remains as informative and entertaining now as it was when it was published, in three volumes, in 1843.

In her thoroughly engaging narrative, the author outlines Yarrell's life and times, and she explores his prodigious output which also included an equally comprehensive sister-work on British fishes as well as learned articles for specialist nature magaines such as The Zoologist.

She also writes authoritatively about his day job as a partner in Jones and Yarrell, a flourishing advertising agency and supplier of books and journals to customers which included Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.

Like many biographers, she has probably fallen a bit in love with her subject.

"There is no doubt he was a paragon of virtue,"she writes. "He was liked not because he was upright at a period when that was much appreciated but because he was kind with a sense of humour and fun."

A Newsworthy Naturalist is beautifully produced and printed - a real joy to handle.

Published at £25 by John Beaufoy Publishing in association  with the British Ornithologists' Club, it is available wherever good books are sold.