Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lewin, William (d.1795)

LEWIN, WILLIAM (d. 1795), naturalist, was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society 20 Dec. 1791, and was residing at Darenth, Kent, in 1792, and at Hoxton in 1794. He probably died at the end of 1795. His name does not appear in the list of fellows of the Linnean Society for 1796, and he is described as ‘the late William Lewin’ in the ‘Transactions’ of 1797. Lewin published after more than twenty years of study ‘The Birds of Great Britain accurately figured’ (in 7 vols. 1789–1795), engraved and coloured by Lewin himself. Plates of eggs were added from the Duchess of Portland's collection. In the descriptions of birds Lewin was helped by his sons, and the work was dedicated to John Latham (1740–1837) [q. v.], from whom, as well as from Parkinson and Pennant, Lewin had received material assistance. The second edition of the ‘Birds’ was published in 8 vols. 1795–1801, 4to, with descriptions in French as well as in English. The drawings, numbering twenty thousand, and including 267 plates, were executed by Lewin. They are spirited, and show considerable artistic taste, but the colouring is crude and the birds at times badly proportioned. As for the descriptions, Lewin speaks of the black woodpecker as having been found in England, but being exceedingly scarce, and of the great auk as appearing in the northern parts of the kingdom, without a word of its excessive rarity, so that Professor Newton is amply justified in describing Lewin's ‘British Birds’ as a very worthless book (art. ‘Ornithology,’ Encycl. Britt.) Lewin also contributed a paper in 1793 on some rare British insects to the ‘Linnean Society's Transactions’ (iii. 1–4), and published a first volume only of ‘The Insects of Great Britain systematically arranged, accurately engraved, and painted from Nature,’ London, 1795, 4to, with forty-six coloured plates. The plates in this work were engraved by Lewin himself, and the descriptions written in both French and English, but the value of the work is much lessened by the painting (done under Lewin's ‘immediate direction’), which is in several instances very bad.

A brother, John William Lewin (fl. 1805), settled in Paramatta, New South Wales, and spent nine years in making collections of the birds and insects of the country. He published ‘The Birds of New Holland, with their natural history, collected, engraved and faithfully painted after nature,’ London, 1808–22, consisting of twenty-six carefully coloured plates, with short descriptions (a new edition is dated 1838); and ‘Prodromus (sic) Entomology,’ eighteen coloured plates and descriptions of moths and their food-plants, London, 1805, 4to, forming a history of the lepidopterous insects of New South Wales. His brother Thomas assisted him in these works, to the former of which he wrote a preface.

[Agassiz's Catalogue of Writings on Zoology, ed. Strickland, iii. 465; Lowndes's Bibl. Man., ed. Bohn; Lewin's works in British Museum, Library; information kindly supplied by J. L. Harting, esq., of the Linnean Soc.]

M. G. W.