Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Donovan, Edward

DONOVAN, EDWARD (1798–1837), naturalist and author, fellow of the Linnean Society, seems in early life to have been possessed of a considerable fortune, and to have made collections of objects in natural history. At Dru Drury's death many of the insects which he had collected fell into Donovan's hands. He travelled through Monmouthshire and South Wales in the summers of 1800 and the succeeding years, publishing an account of his travels in 1805, illustrated with coloured engravings from his own sketches. The first excursion took him many hundred miles in various directions. Thus he surveyed the country from Bristol to Pembroke, and his observations during the time are among the most useful of his works. He formed a collection of natural history specimens at the cost of many thousands of pounds, and under the title of the London Museum and Institute of Natural History admitted the public freely in 1807 and for many years afterwards. In 1833 he published a piteous memorial respecting his losses at the hands of the booksellers. He states that he began to publish in 1783, and during those fifty years a complete set of his publications would cost nearly 100l. From affluence he was nearly reduced to ruin, as the publishers retained nearly the whole of his literary property in their hands. The booksellers, he adds, by withholding accounts for six years could by the statute of limitations utterly ruin him. The property in question was between 60,000l. and 70,000l., and he begs for contributions to enable him to take his case into the courts of chancery. He died in Kennington Road, London, on 1 Feb. 1837.

Donovan was a laborious worker and writer. Swainson says his entomological figures are most valuable, ‘the text is verbose and not above mediocrity.’ The same critic is severe on his plates, ‘the colouring of which is gaudy and the drawings generally unnatural.’ This is correct with regard to Donovan's representations of birds and quadrupeds; his fishes are, many of them, excellently drawn, and their colouring will compare favourably with similar plates in any modern books. His works consist of:

  1. The articles on ‘Natural History’ in Rees's ‘Cyclopædia.’
  2. ‘Essay on the Minute Parts of Plants,’ appended to Smith's ‘Botany of New Holland,’ 1793.
  3. ‘Instructions for Collecting and Preserving Objects of Natural History,’ 8vo, 1805—a very practical treatise.
  4. ‘General Illustrations of Entomology,’ 3 vols., dedicated to Sir J. Banks, and his best work. The illustrations are excellent. Vol. i. contains the insects of Asia, 1805; vol. ii. the insects of India and of the islands in the Indian seas; vol. iii. the insects of New Holland and the islands of the Indian, Southern, and Pacific oceans. Westwood edited the ‘Insects of China and India,’ and brought them up to date in 1842.
  5. ‘Descriptive Excursions through South Wales,’ 2 vols. 1805.
  6. ‘Natural History of British Birds,’ 10 vols. and plates, 8vo, 1799; of ‘British Fishes,’ 5 vols. and plates, 8vo, 1802; of ‘British Insects,’ 10 vols. and plates, 8vo, 1802; of ‘British Shells,’ 5 vols. with plates, 8vo, 1804; and of ‘British Quadrupeds,’ 3 vols. and plates, 8vo, 1820.
  7. ‘The Nests and Eggs of British Birds,’ 8vo.
  8. Several papers in the three vols. of the ‘Naturalists' Repository’ (which he also edited), 1821 seq.
  9. ‘The Memorial of Mr. E. Donovan respecting his Publications,’ 4to, 7 pp. 1833.

[Donovan's own works; Biographia Zoologiæ, Agassiz and Strickland, Ray Soc. 1850, ii. 253; Annual Register, 1837; Swainson's Discourse on the Study of Natural History, p. 70, and his Taxidermy and Biography, p. 169 (Lardner's Cabinet Cyclop.).]

M. G. W.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.101
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
235 ii 18 f.e. Donovan, Edward: for 1798 read 1768