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Nature and Knowledge in F.O. Morris' A History of British Birds



Volume I of A History of British Birds by Frances Orpen Morris was published in 1862 and reflects the motif of classification in natural history. Morris, born in 1810 in Ireland, was not educated to be a scientist but actually a reverend, yet his interests ranged from naturalism to etymology to biblical studies. This particular work was completed during a time when scientists were fascinated by classifying and identifying species and thus the text elucidates how nature was observed and documented in the nineteenth century. In this work, the subject matter is limited to British birds, yet Morris provides nuanced and detailed insight into the birds’ environments, physical appearances, diets, life cycles, and other factors. Each chapter in this book commences with a realistic illustration of the bird for the respective chapter seemingly drawn from observation. Unlike works documenting nature in previous centuries that infused the mythical with the real, this work is grounded in fact and observation, whether Morris actually observed these birds or cited sources that did. His accounts and descriptions of birds heavily cite other sources and include theories of his own, illustrating the quest for documenting and synthesizing knowledge on nature at this period in history. Therefore, Morris’ A History of British Birds illuminates the classification of natural knowledge in 19th century Europe.

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