Ralph Hoffmann as Guide to Nature:
Bird-Teacher to Bird-Students:

Prepared With Special Reference to
New England And Eastern New
York, But Serviceable In All
The Northern States East
Of The Mississippi River

Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293
(310) 821-9045

We are fortunate that in May, 1923, Ralph Hoffmann wrote a "preface" for the second edition of his remarkable "GUIDE TO THE BIRDS." Between 1904 and 1923, birders in New England particularly, would have relied on his first edition, as well as its second printing in 1910, with its beautiful cover of swifts. It is fascinating to get a glimpse into the thinking of this remarkable "bird-teacher" through his writing and philosophy as it is laid out in the preface. After reading, this preface, it has been also useful to read his "prefatory remarks" of 1904, as well as the "introduction" to gain further insights.

Ralph Hoffmann was living in southern California, in 1923, so he likely wrote the preface of the second edition from his home in Carpinteria. Interestingly, he also completed a monograph barely a year earlier in 1922 on the plants found in Berkshire County of western Massachusetts, entitled: "Flora of Berkshire County." It is clear that Ralph Hoffmann had many projects going on at the same as his mind was very fertile.

In 1921, Ralph Hoffmann began work on a second book, which would take 6 years to complete, in 1927. This new book was modeled after the New England field guide to birds, discussed above. The new book was entitled: "Birds of the Pacific States. These two books from the two sides of the North American continent are interestsing to compare and the "prefaces" of them are worthy of inspection.

The results of this study are to share excerpts of the second edition of the field guide to birds that Ralph Hoffmann wrote in May, 1923. The "preface" is two paragraphs, the first being rather long, while the second paragraph is fairly short. The "preface" appears to be a justification mostly explaining why a second edition to his "field guide" is needed for the public. It appears that his book is desired to reach a wider audience outside of New England, mostly to the west toward the "Great Lakes" region and at least to the Mississippi River.

Printed below are the two paragraphs of Ralph Hoffmann's 1923 edition of his book:

"In bringing out this new edition of A Guide to the Birds under a slightly different title it is necessary to say that the book was originally intended for use in New England, eastern New York, and northern New Jersey, and statments relating to the distribution of birds make especial reference to this particular region. The matters relating to the habits of birds and the treatment ow ways of identification in the field have, however, been found useful in a wider region, including all the States north of Virginia and Kentucky and east of the Mississippi, particularly about the Great Lakes, where conditions very similar to those of New England exist. It has seemed best not to alter the original text with its especial application to a limited field, but to trust that students outside this field will find the book a useful supplement to the local lists and to the more comprehensive manuals."

"The particular attention paid to the means of identification of the various species out of doors has earned a secure place for this book and should of itself commend it to a still wider circle of bird-students."

The "bird-students" as he describes birders is very fascinating, as he is genuinely reaching out to the public that is yearning to learn about birds and therefore also about nature as they embark on a journey of becoming avocational naturalists. Ralph Hoffmann is successful in teaching that birds are beautiful, and that nature is wonderful and beautiful, not unlike art, such as landscape paintings.

Hoffmann, Ralph. 1904. A Guide to the Birds of New England and Eastern New York. The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1922. Flora of Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Proc. Boston Soc. Nat. Hist. 36(5):171-382.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1923. A Guide to the Birds. Houghto-Mifflin Company. The Riverside Press Cambridge.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1927. Birds of the Pacific States. The Riverside Press. Cambridge, Mass.