Great Britain's, if not the world's, most elegant book of flower pictures is the Temple of Flora. First published in 1807, it brought fame and financial ruin to the man who conceived it. He was a well-heeled doctor named Robert Thornton, who spared no expense to make his book the most sumptuous of florilegia. He hired four obscure artists to paint the illustrations exactly as he wanted them, and then got some second-rate poets to apostrophize the plants in sticky verse. Now the London firm of William Collins has reissued the Temple (at $35 a copy) with a new text to...

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