Maurice Moss

A dozen favourite books related to microscopy

As a boy, with my first brass microscope, what I started to examine was influenced by a slim volume purchased for a few pence. Pond-Life: algae by T. Spencer Smithson was one of the Young Collector series published by Swan Sonnenschein in 1890. Its serious intent was characterised by the note on the Cyanophyceae “This order has been removed from the Algae by Sachs but many English botanists still include it in that class”. Of course we now know that they are bacteria and that Sachs was right! The somewhat austere presentation of this first book was tempered by two further volumes acquired during my late teens and still much enjoyed. Hidden Beauties of Nature by Richard Kerr was published by the Religious Tract Society and I guess it was the set of 15 plates illustrating Radiolaria, many of them based on the Challenger Series, which especially appealed. The second was Marvels of Pond Life with the subtitle A Years Microscopic Recreations among the Polyps, Infusoria, Rotifers, Water Bears, and Polyzoa, by H. J. Slack published by Newmann in 1891. It contains some delicately coloured plates, especially of rotifers.

It was a particular pleasure to discover that two of the societies I had joined, the Quekett and the British Mycological Society, involved an eminent mycologist during their formative years, Mordecai Cubitt Cooke, and my next three favourite books are associated with him. Rust, Smut, Mildew and Mould – an Introduction to the Study of Microscopic Fungi is beautifully illustrated by J. E. Sowerby and my own copy is the 6th edition published by W. H. Allen in 1902. The 6th edition of Cooke’s A Plain and Easy Account of British Fungi, from the same publishers in 1898, is illustrated with coloured lithographs by the author. Although concerned with macrofungi it includes some microscopic details in some of the plates. When Mary English, distantly related to M. C. Cooke, produced her biography Mordecai Cubitt Cooke, Victorian Naturalist, Mycologist, Teacher and Eccentric it was an essential purchase. Published by Biopress in 1987 this is a truly enjoyable and detailed account of a remarkable man.

When I was offered a copy of G. A. Mantell’s Thoughts on Animalicules; or a Glimpse of the Invisible World Revealed by the Microscope, published by John Murray in 1846, I was pleased to part with what seemed like a small fortune to have it. When I discovered that the frontispiece was signed by John Quekett I was quite thrilled, and this remains one of my treasured possessions. It contains twelve delicately coloured lithotints based on “sketches, taken with a camera lucida while the objects were under the microscope, either by my daughter or myself”.

My next book is essentially a compilation of photomicrographs of Snow Crystals. W. A Bentley had taken many beautiful photographs of snow crystals which had become disseminated throughout the world. It was W. J. Humphreys who collected them all together in a book which was published by McGraw-Hill in 1931. My own copy is the facsimile edition published by Dover Publications in 1962 and contains about 200 plates, each illustrating a dozen snow flakes and the images are exquisite.

I must include three modern texts in my favourite dozen. The publication of An Atlas of British Diatoms, arranged by Bernard Hartley, edited by Patricia Sims, and based entirely on the illustrations meticulously drawn by Horace Barber and John Carter was published by Biopress in 1996. All the individuals involved have made considerable contributions to the study of diatoms and it is always a pleasure to consult this book. Biopress was also responsible for publishing Freshwater Algae, Their Microscopic World Explored in 1995. Based mainly on the superb photomicrographs of Hilda Canter-Lund, and a detailed and knowledgeable commentary by John Lund, this book provides endless enjoyment as well as detailed information about the ecology, structure and classification of algae. Another book full of high quality coloured photomicrographs is Free-Living Freshwater Protozoa, a Colour Guide by D. J. Patterson. I have the reprint of 1998 published by Manson Publishing. A useful feature of this book is the presence of careful line drawings by S. Hedley with each photomicrograph to help in its interpretation. It could be argued that the line drawings alone are all that is needed to produce a text book on the subject, bur this book is more than a text book. It is an opportunity to share the experience of the author carefully focussing on his subjects and adjusting the illumination to achieve some wonderful images. The book also contains a detailed account of the author’s methods and equipment.

For my final book in this favourite dozen I shall have to cheat for it is in two volumes. It is, of course, The Microscope and its Revelations by W. B. Carpenter and W. H. Dallinger. My own copy is the 8th edition published by Churchill in 1901. This work will be so well known by members of the Quekett, and indeed by microscopists throughout the world, that it requires no further comments!

Quekett Journal of Microscopy, 2002, 39, 305–306

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