SMITH, Robert.

The Universal Directory for taking alive and destroying Rats, and all other kinds of four-footed and winged Vermin, in a method hitherto unattempted…

London: Printed for the author, 1768

8vo, pp. iv, (iii)–vii, 218, and 6 engraved plates (4 folding). Contemporary mottled sheep (ends of spine worn, joints cracked but perfectly firm), later red morocco label on spine. Armorial bookplate (defaced with lower portion missing) on front pastedown and later bookplate of J. Hainstock Anderson on front free endpaper.

FIRST EDITION. The first successful English book on the control of vermin. There had been three or four small works on catching vermin published prior to Smith’s book, most of them short works now known in only a few copies or even only one copy. Smith himself published a 48-page pamphlet The complete rat-catcher in 1768, presumably before expanding it into the present book-length treatise which went to three editions in less than twenty years. It includes all manner of animals including some that we no longer consider vermin such as badgers, otters, owls, hawks, and the nightjar. He does include that modern nuisance, ‘the sheep-killing dog’. Smith was rat-catcher to Princess Amelia, daughter of George II, and his rat trap was still being recommended by the Royal Agricultural Society of England as the best example of its kind more than a century later. The Preservation of Grain Act of 1532 was passed by Henry VIII as a result of a series of poor harvests coupled with population growth resulting in food shortages. Therefore the Tudors declared war on that part of the wildlife population that was deemed a threat to food supplies, and it was the duty of every parishioner to despatch these pests at every opportunity. The practice continued essentially uncontrolled into the twentieth century.


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