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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Arthur Conan Doyle on the Dangers of Collecting Butterflies

Warning: This post contains a spoiler for Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. Read on at your own risk!

In Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dr John Watson takes a walk across the moor. There, in the wilds of England's Dartmoor National Forest, he meets a man dressed in a grey suit and wearing a straw hat. Or, as Watson describes him: A tin box for botanical specimens hung over his shoulder and he carried a green butterfly net in one of his hands. The man introduces himself as Mr Stapleton of nearby Merripit House. Then, after warning Watson to beware the dangers of Grimpen Mire, he dashes off in the hopes of capturing a Cyclopides, a type of butterfly also known as a South American Skipper. 

Dartmoor National Forest is a place of rugged natural beauty. As my wife and I drove through the park, stopping off at Princetown, the home of the famous prison, where Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired to write The Hound of the Baskervilles, and several important tors, I could not help but wonder what it was like to travel through and live on the moor in the day when people crossed it on foot, on horseback, or in wooden wagons pulled by those delightful Dartmoor ponies. It's hard to imagine living there, especially when the wind howls across the land. But people do, and some of them own some pretty large spreads.

Mr Stapleton could have enjoyed a long life in Dartmoor, spending each evening in Merripit House, and days out wandering the moors in search of his beloved butterflies and insects. He was a noted naturalist, and made several important finds there. Unfortunately, he decided to covet his neighbor's property, and reawakened the old myth about the Hound of the Baskervilles to frighten away the residents of Baskerville Hall, in the hope that he could gain possession of it instead. Unfortunately for him, Sherlock Holmes takes the information Watson gathers on Mr Stapleton to the British Museum. There he learns that the man's really a Baskerville, and that he was the first to describe a species of moth while living in Yorkshire.

So, I guess the moral of the story is that if you plan on becoming a criminal, keep your hobbies at the amateur level. Otherwise, the police will discover your true identity, these days via a quick internet search. Either that, or you can devote yourself to pursuing your interests, and sharing that passion with others.

Dragon Dave

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