Tasty Butterflies

Richard Fortey

  • Bugs and the Victorians by J.F.M. Clark
    Yale, 322 pp, £25.00, June 2009, ISBN 978 0 300 15091 9

John Lubbock, Liberal MP and social reformer (he introduced the bank holiday into law in 1871), was also the founding father of scientific anthropology and an obsessive entomologist. Of his many books, the most successful, Ants, Bees and Wasps, ran to 18 editions. In 1872, he presented a wasp that he had tamed (allegedly) to the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. When the wasp died the following year, Nature gave it an obituary. He had up to 40 glass ants’ nests constructed in his house in Kent, the better to observe the daily workings of these diminutive species. He was also a friend and neighbour of Charles Darwin. He provided the land on which Darwin constructed the Sand Walk at Down, where he pondered the problems of organic evolution as he took his daily stroll. Lubbock was the type example (as an entomologist might say) of the preternaturally energetic and intellectually voracious Victorian: busy as a bee, if rather more idealistic.

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