Souvenirs Entomologiques

Pardon me for my use of the word serendipitous, but that's just due to the serendipitousness of this.

There was an antique store on the way to the farmers market that I had always been interested in, but I never got around to visiting. Then one day I went inside and it was incredible, I wandered the place and was floored when I saw these:

These are the original volumes of Souvenir Entomologiques, and they are stunning. The marbled covers and marble inside cover are a beutiful sea of colors. And the spines are so beautifully and intricately gilded. Someone put a lot of care into them, And I always have an appreciation for small caps done well. Whoever designed them knew these would get their own shelf and made them a statement.

It's hard to rationalize buying an entire book set in a language I don't speak, but I thought to myself maybe I could compare the stories and learn that way. There's something romantic to it, I think, to knowing solely Entomological French.

Fabre's Book of Insects

By observing nature and making experiments—nearly all my lessons have been learnt
— Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre

This book has had a huge impact on me, not necessarily the design, but the language and the way the author articulates his fascination. Fabre was an accomplished teacher, botanist, and chemist, and due to the poverty of his family he was mostly self taught. Darwin called him “an inimitable observer” because of the way he writes what he sees.

The entire book was written in first person, in a very intimate manner, as if the insects were characters, giving them personality and showing his wonder.

As soon as she has done her work the mother withdraws. I expected to see her return and show some tender feeling for the cradle of her family, but it evidently has no further interest for her. The mantis I fear, has no heart. She eats her husband, and deserts her children

Here it is in all it's beauty, resting in the grass with it's subject matter probably crawling beneath. 

There was something serendipitous to how i found the book. It was my first time in New York City (as an adult) and it was on the shelf in the corner in the rare and vintage books section at Strand. Just getting off that elevator and entering that floor has the smell of old books and I just feel so transported when the doors open. I sat there and took pictures of the section about Cicadas (my friend was really into cicadas at the time) and left. I put them into a .PDF for her and while reading it I realized how unique the language was. I had left the book on the shelf, but as soon as I got home I immediately bought a copy off etsy. 

This particular translation is the best one. It was originally written in french, in several volumes and they were called "Souvenirs Entomologiques." I believe there are other translations out there, but the one by Mrs. Rodolph Stawell has a poetry to it, making it closer to Fabre's original writing.

I was so inspired by his work that, when in a book design class, I chose his work as my text. I played around with a few ideas but eventually landed on the use of doilies to represent the delicateness and intimate nature of insects, and plants, leaves and flowers to show their surroundings and life. It was a very flawed piece, I designed every page thinking solely of the content of the page and not the flow of the book. Even so, I love every imperfection, it almost adds to the personal nature of his writing. The scanner dust even gives a texture, and feels right in the world of the glow worm. And the beautiful Pitch, the first typeface I've ever bought, looks great even after it's been nibbled on by caterpillars. 

Four years of hard work in the darkness, and a month of delight in the sun such is the Cicada’s life. We must not blame him for the noisy triumph of his song. For four years he has dug the earth with his feet, and then suddenly he is dressed in exquisite raiment, provided wings that rival the birds’, and bathed in heat and light! What cymbals can be loud enough to celebrate his happiness, so hardly earned and so very very short.
— Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre