Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Albin, Eleazar

ALBIN, ELEAZAR (fl. 1713–1759), naturalist and water-colour painter, tells us himself (vide preface to Natural History of Insects) that he was a teacher of water-colour drawing by profession, and that he was first attracted to the study of natural history by observing the beautiful colours of flowers and insects. He calls attention at the same time to the length of his family and the relative shortness of his subscribers' list.

Füssli discovers in a catalogue under Albin the three names, Eleazar, Elizabeth, and Fortin, and speculates upon the relationship of the first and the two last. Elizabeth Albin was his daughter. In his preface to vol. i. of the ‘Natural History of Birds' he explains that he has taught his daughter to ‘draw and paint after the life,' and the illustrations are stated upon the title-page to have been ‘carefully coloured by his daughter and himself.' Many of the plates are signed ‘Elizabeth Albin.' Of Fortin there is no mention. For the better accomplishment of his designs on the lower creation he solicits presents of curious birds, which should be sent to him at his house in the comfortable vicinage of the ‘Dog and Duck.' In vol. ii. of the same work he reviews his labour with pardonable complaisance, and gravely announces a new publication, ‘An History of an hundred and eighty different Spiders in their proper Colours.' This appeared in 1736. It was made the basis of a more comprehensive work by Mr. T. Martin in 1793, who says of Albin: ‘His information in general is loose, miscellaneous, and unmethodical, though sometimes it is amusing and often instructive; but he principally excels in the fidelity and correctness with which his subjects are delineated, both as to their size and distinctive marks.' Albin is interesting as having anticipated by so long a period the still less systematic publications of Bewick, and as having been, at so early a date as 1720, a teacher of water-colour painting. The dates of his birth and death are not known. His bibliography is a little complicated. A list of his publications is subjoined :— 1. ‘A Natural History of English Insects, with 100 coloured plates, 4to, London, 1720; 2nd edition, with observations by W. Derham, 4to, 1724; 3rd edition, in Latin, 1731; 4th edition, 1749. 2. ‘A Natural History of Birds, with (306) copper-plates curiously engraved from the life and exactly coloured by the author, &c.,’ 3 vols. 4to, London, 1731, 1734, 1738; 2nd edition, 1738–1740; a translation of this book, entitled ‘Histoire naturelle des oiseaux, augmentée de notes et de remarques par W. Derham, trad. de l'anglais,’ was published at the Hague, 1750. 3. ‘A Natural History of Spiders and other Curious Insects,’ plates and portrait of the author, 4to, 1736. 4. ‘A Natural History of English Songbirds,’ &c., with coloured plates, 8vo, 1737; later editions, 1747, 1759, and 1779; an Edinburgh edition, 1776. 5. ‘The History of Esculent Fish,’ with plates drawn and egraved by Eleazar Albin; with an essay on the breeding of fish and the construction of fishponds, by Roger North. This work was not published till 1794. Plates, 4to.

[Nagler, Künstler-Lexicon, 2nd edit.; Redgrave's Dictionary of Painters; Biog. Dict. of Useful Knowledge Society, 1842; Füssli. Supplement to Künstler-Lexicon, 1824; Nouvelle Biographie Générale; Brit. Mus. General Catalogue.]

E. R.