Chapter 1 explores how the natural history discourses of taxonomy and classification are linked to the discourses of human improvement, social rank, and order. Smeathman’s early years in Scarborough are recounted, together with his entry into the world of gentlemen collectors in London, presided over by Dru Drury. The uncertain meaning and status of natural history is discussed by way of the collectors’ rivalry and the many satires of Banks. Did science legitimize empire, or was it the other way around? And what is the link between collecting and territorial conquest? Finally, the popularity of travel books meant that Smeathman must protect his chief investment—the narrative of his tropical adventures.
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