The earth as modified by human action.

New York, Scribner, Amstrong, 1874.

8vo, pp. xxi, [i], 656, 10; some spotting to the initial quire containing preliminaries, but a very good copy, in the original publisher’s cloth, gilt lettering on spine; corners bumped, extremities a little rubbed; contemporary paper slip pasted opposite the title, with an inscription in Italian containing remarks on the rarity of the work and in particular of this copy; several minute authorial corrections in brown ink throughout the text.


US $2340€1982

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First edition thus (a previous version had been published ten years earlier under the title Man and Nature) of the first modern discussion of ecology and environmental issues. This copy bears several authorial manuscript corrections. A revised edition was posthumously published in 1885.

A polymath, linguist, and indefatigable diplomat, Marsh was elected to the US Congress in 1840; his studies of the effects of the interactions between people and the natural world began with a Commission report on fisheries. Appointed Minister to the recently unified Italy in 1860, Marsh spent there the remaining twenty-two years of his life, reporting to the State Department on affairs in Italy and in Europe, and developing his environmental studies. His groundbreaking work presented current affairs readers, who had so far celebrated human interventions on nature as unquestioned progress, with an unfamiliar and unsettling flip-side view, and with unprecedented ecological insights. Throughout history, Marsh argued, timber harvesting and sheep grazing magnified the effects of floods, water scarcity and soil erosion; extermination of insect-eating birds resulted in an increased number of crop-eating pests; rivers and harbours management and engineering had a bearing on erosion and land conformation issues; domestication, introduced species and seed dispersal would each carry interrelations and consequences. Indeed, he contended that every small and apparently insignificant modification of the environment could in time have dramatic consequences.

Marsh never advocated the utopian, absolute preservation of unchanged wilderness, but was the first to articulate the magnitude of the effects of the human impact on nature, and to call for policies of preservation. Marsh died in 1882 and is buried in Rome.

See T. G. Garvey, The Civic Intent of George Perkins Marsh’s Anthrocentric Environmentalism, ‘New England Quarterly’, 82 (2009), 80–111, and D. Lowenthal, George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation. Seattle, 2000.

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