Only edition. An extraordinary illustrated anatomical record, in the form of a letter to William Petty at the Royal Society in London, from Allan Mullen, Fellow of the College of Physicians in Ireland, describing Mullen's dissection of an African elephant. His opportunity to study the animal arose as the result of a most horrific zoological tragedy: the captive elephant, on public display in an exhibition hall in Dublin in 1681, died after its wooden pen caught fire. Petty describes the scenario in a letter, which was not published until 1927:
"Unfortunately, on the night of Friday the 17th of June 1681, things went disastrously wrong for his zoological enterprise. At approximately three in the morning the wooden booth caught fire and was quickly enveloped by flames. The elephant, trapped inside, was overcome by the fire and smoke. News of the elephant’s death soon drew a large crowd of onlookers, many of whom had not been able to see the living animal due to the high admission price. It was a motley crew and things soon got out of hand. As the flames died down many of the onlookers rushed forward and attempted to carry parts of the dead animal away. The manager, Mr. Wilkins, became alarmed as he realized there was still money to be made out of the unfortunate animal. Ever the businessman, he intended to put the elephants skeleton’s on display and he couldn’t afford to lose any of its corpse. He quickly sent for a troop of musketeers who were ordered to guard the dead animal by force arms. Work was also started on a shed to cover the elephant’s body and this was completed by 7 o’clock on the Friday evening. Wilkins then assembled a team of butchers to deflesh the elephant’s corpse. These were just about to commence work when Dr. Mullen arrived at 8pm. Mullen, who was a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and a member of The Royal Society, had a keen interest in anatomy. Unsurprisingly he wanted to carry out a far more clinical dissection of the dead animal and he requested Mr. Wilkins to wait until a proper team was assembled. However, this appeal fell on deaf ears. The elephant’s corpse was beginning to stink and Wilkins feared that the Lord Mayor would order its removal as the newly built shed was located very close to the Custom House and City Council Chambers. In addition, he was worried about how much longer the ‘rabble’ assembled outside could be held at bay. Wilkins would allow Mullen to oversee the work, but it had to commence immediately. Thus by candlelight Dublin’s very first elephant dissection began. A team of local butchers slowly took the animal apart under the watchful eyes of the doctor. Mullen studiously recorded the impromptu dissection and his observations were published the following year."
Our book is in two parts: the first is a thorough description of the elephant's anatomy, as detailed by Mullen, and is illustrated with two folding plates, each of which is accompanied by detailed tables. The second part is a letter from Mullen to Robert Boyle of the Royal Society, discussing modern observations in the anatomy of the eye in mammals, including fresh notes on the Dublin elephant. It is unknown how the elephant came to Dublin, but the incident developed legendary status, with a local pub acquiring the skeleton, which was reassembled, then perched upon a rotating platform. Beer was probably more expensive at this particular pub. At least one Elephant Lane exisited in Dublin till the 19th century. An exceptional zoological work, and a testimonial on the treatment of captive exotic animals in early modern Europe.
Full title: AN | Anatomical Account | of the | Elephant | Accidentally Burnt in | Dublin, | on | Fryday, June 17. in the Year 1681. | Sent in a Letter | To Sir Will. Petty, | Fellow of | The Royal Society. | Together | With a Relation of new Anatomical Obſervations in the | Eyes of Animals; Communicated in another Letter | to the Honourable R. Boyle, Eſq; Fellow of the ſame | Society. || [Rule] | By A. M. Med. of Trinity Colledge near Dublin. | [Rule] | London, Printed for Sam. Smith, Bookſeller, at the Prince's Arms | in St. Paul's Church-Yard. 1682.
Quarto, 205 x 154 x 11 mm (binding), 203 x 151 x 9 mm (text block); A-E4, F2, G-K4, 72,  pp., two folding plates, F2 blank and present. Divisional title to second work at G1r. Modern calf, titled in gilt vertically on maroon morocco lettering-piece: ANATOMICAL ACCOUNT OF THE ELEPHANT. Minor wear to extremities; boards slightly bowed; hinges a bit tender, but holding firm; new endpapers. Interior: Leaves toned and a bit tired; title torn in tail gutter margin and tail fore-corner, not near text; fore-margins of C3 and C4 cut a bit close, touching a couple letters of shoulder notes; plates soiled at extreme margins, with closed tears at stress points; last page soiled.
Bookplate of Robert S. Pirie to upper pastedown: this copy sold at the Pirie sale, conducted by Sotheby's, 2.XII.2015, lot 605 (£4000 hammer); cataloguers' modern penciled bibliographical notes to endpapers.
ESTC R32097; Wing M3057; Hoppen K. T., "The Royal Society and Ireland. II," Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 20, No. 1., 1965; Marquis of Lansdowne, The Petty-Southwell Correspondence 1676-1687, London: Constable & Co, 1927.
Status: On Hold