Victorian Interest in Natural History
Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901. During this period, the study of natural science was enormously appealing to the middle classes. In the nineteenth century, museums, botanical gardens, and other scientific exhibitions educated and entertained the general public and introduced them to the discoveries of science. Among the sciences, entomology proved an especially popular hobby. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the majority of scientists consisted of amateur scholars, who observed and recorded everyday phenomena. These hobbyists often compiled vast private collections of specimens, which they or other scientists would then catalog. Later in the century, amateurs and trained scientists would band together to form scientific societies that served to provide a forum for discussion of current observations and theories. Scientists joined international natural history societies, which served as a source of funding by providing awards or medals with monetary prizes and by funding teaching positions or examination posts. In many cases, the societies replaced the private patronage of earlier periods, in which a benefactor supported the amateur scientist. Science enjoyed extensive coverage in popular literature of the period. Scholars of the Victorian era have attributed this popularity to the rapid development of science and technology and the move from rural communities to cities. These changes led the public to romanticize nature and see plants and animals as exotic. Newspapers ran natural history sections, and every correspondence column became a debate over issues such as whether swallows could hibernate or whether toads could live for centuries immured in blocks of stone.
John Curtis, 1791-1862. Fellow of the Linnean Society. British Entomology; Being Illustrations and Descriptions of the Genera of the Insects Found in Great Britain and Ireland: Containing Coloured Figures from Nature of the Most Rare and Beautiful Species, and in Many Instances of the Plants Upon Which They Are Found. London: Printed for the author, 1824.
This photo of Ernst Haeckel in Ceylon, 1881, is typical of those taken of European explorers and naturalists during the Victorian period. Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel, 1834-1919. Indische Reisebriefe. Berlin: Gebrüder Paetel, 1909.
Haeckel was a German evolutionary zoologist, popularizer of biology, and Germany's foremost proponent of Darwin's theory of evolution. This volume has vivid descriptions of the flora and fauna of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and of the people and manners from 1881. Haeckel was born at Potsdam on February 16, 1834. He studied medicine and science at Würzburg, Berlin, and Vienna and graduated with an M.D. and M.Ch. from Berlin in 1857. Haeckel abandoned his medical practice after reading Darwin's Origin of Species. Haeckel used the Origin as ammunition to attack entrenched religious dogma and to develop his own unique world view about the nature of the universe and of the human mind. In 1862, Haeckel became professor of comparative anatomy and director of the Zoological Institute at Jena. He was appointed chair of the zoology department in 1865 and remained at Jena for forty-three years. Haeckel's literary output was enormous.
Henry Noel Humphreys, 1810-1879. The Butterfly Vivarium, or Insect Home: Being an Account of a New Method of Observing the Curious Metamorphoses of Some of the Most Beautiful of Our Native Insects, Comprising also a Popular Description of the Habits and Instincts of Many of the Insects of the Various Classes Referred to, with Suggestions for the Successful Study of Entomology by Means of an Insect Vivarium. London: William Lay, King William Street, Strand, 1853.
Sir William Jardine, 1800-1874. The Naturalist's Library: The Natural History of Beetles Illustrated by Thirty-two Plates, Numerous Woodcuts, with Memoir and Portrait of Ray. Conducted by Sir William Jardine. Entomology. Volume II. Beetles. By James Duncan, Member of the Wernerian Society. Edinburgh: W. H. Lizars; S. Highley, 1835.
Carl Ribbe. Zwei Jahre unter den Kannibalen der Salomo-Inseln. Reiseerlebnisse und Schilderungen von land und Leuten. Unter mitwirkung von Heinrich Kalbfus. Dresden-Blasewitz: H. Beyer, 1903. Victorian binding: silver and black on bright red.
Frederic Tippmann, 1894-1974. Sammelband von 29 Arbeiten uber Cerambyciden von 9 Autoren. This is an anthology that Tippmann compiled and bound. It includes 29 works on Cerambycidae (Coleoptera) by nine authors. Tippmann was a meticulous collector of specimens and books. In this volume he recorded the authors and titles of papers he extracted from journals and wrote extensive notes on different kinds of beetles. This book is an excellent example of the kind of detail and attention many amateur entomologists gave to their work collecting insects and assembling literature collections.
Rev. Gilbert White, 1720-1793. The Natural History of Selborne; with Observations on Various Parts of Nature, and the Naturalist's Calendar. Additions and supplementary notes by Sir William Jardine. Edited, with further illustrations, a biographical sketch of the author, and a complete index, by Edward Jesse. London: Bell, 1876.
Rev. John George (J. G.) Wood, 1827-1889. Homes without Hands; Being a Description of the Habitations of Animals, Classed According to Their Principle of Construction. New designs by W. F. Keyl and E. Smith. Engraved by G. Pearson. London, Longmans, Green, 1865. The Reverend J. G. Wood was a popular author of natural history books in the nineteenth century.
Philip Barker Webb was born in 1793 in Milford House in Surrey, England to a wealthy aristocratic family. He studied languages, botany, and geology at Harrow and Oxford. Webb became interested in the Canary Islands while on an expedition to Brazil. He collected specimens on the islands between 1828 and 1830. Webb ended up working on this text in collaboration with Sabin Berthelot, who had lived on the island for some time. This book was almost 20 years in the making. It is one of the most important botanical works ever done on the Canary Islands.
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