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Monday, May 9, 2016

E. F. Benson & Charles Kingsley on Collecting Butterflies

England's Dartmoor National Forest:
A great place to capture Butterflies.

"I hate water except when it’s a hot bath. Water is meant not to drink, but to heat and wash in.”

“Babe, do you mean to say you have hot baths in the morning?”

“Invariably when the weather is cold, and a cigarette, whatever the weather is. I am no Charles Kingsley, though I used to collect butterflies when I was a child.”
--from The Babe by E. F. Benson

Like the title character in The Babe, Georgie in E. F. Benson's novel Mapp And Lucia also likes to collect butterflies. He's a man who is fascinated by everything: every aspect of our world fascinates him, with the possible exception of sex. For him, that's a topic best left undiscussed. Even after he and Lucia marry, in the later books, one gets the feeling that theirs was a sexless marriage. But that's part of Georgie's charm: he's a little boy who never quite got around to growing up.

A search regarding Charles Kingsley and Butterflies sent me to an essay entitled "The Unconscious Naturalist," part of a selection of essays written by Charles Kingsley, another English author who was fascinated about every aspect of our world. Unlike Georgie, he was presumably interested in sex, as Mary St Leger Kingsley, who wrote under the pen name Lucas Malet, succeeded her father in becoming a popular Victorian author. In any event, here's the passage on Butterflies from Charles Kingsley's essay:

At a foreign barrack once, the happiest officer I met, because the most regularly employed, was one who spent his time in collecting butterflies. He knew nothing about them scientifically--not even their names. He took them simply for their wonderful beauty and variety; and in the hope too--in which he was really scientific--that if he carefully kept each form which he saw, his collection might be of use someday to entomologists at home.

Collecting butterflies used to be a hobby practiced by English gentlemen of culture and refinement. They were most like introduced to this hobby during childhood. Growing up in America, in a far from aristocratic family, I remember being instructed in how to collect butterflies. Today, with our concentration on preserving the natural world, you don't hear a lot about collecting butterflies. Instead, we build playgrounds near zoo exhibits, and hope children learn to appreciate animals while they're playing on a lifelike facsimile.

Isn't it ironic how most of us live in cities, spend most of our workdays indoors, spend much of our free time on our computers, laptops, and smart phones, and then preach the virtues of nature conservation to our children? I suppose it's a very different thing to promote capturing and killing any animal or insect as a hobby, when we live in a world of six billion people, versus the quarter of that who lived in Arthur Conan Doyle's time. But does posting photographs of butterflies on Instagram, and sharing videos of Butterflies on Facebook really constitute a superior way to teach children about their world?

Dragon Dave

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