June 15, 1829 (a Monday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On this date, Charles Darwin had records of insects published in Stephen’s Illustrations of British Entomology.

While he was an undergraduate at Cambridge, Darwin had sent records of insects that he had captured to James Francis Stephens, and some of these were published in Illustrations of British Entomology. He refers to the pleasure that he got from seeing his name in print against his records of beetles in his autobiography (Life and Letters, Vol. I, p. 51) although he gets both the title of the work and the method of citation wrong:

But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as well as the third one.

I was very successful in collecting and invented two new methods; I employed a labourer to scrape during the winter, moss off old trees and place [it] in a large bag, and likewise to collect the rubbish at the bottom of the barges in which reeds are brought from the fens, and thus I got some very rare species. No poet ever felt more delight at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing in Stephen’s Illustrations of British Insects the magic words, “captured by C. Darwin, Esq.”

Stephens’ classic work was published in parts between 1 May 1827 and November 1845, with a supplement in August 1846. The following is a short description of it:

Illustrations of British Entomology; or, a synopsis of indigenous insects etc. 8vo, 245 mm, 11 vols, 80 coloured plates, Baldwin and Cradock for the author, London [1827-]1828-1835[-1845]; supplement, vi + 32 pp, 15 coloured plates, 1846.

Stephens, J. F. 1829-1832. Illustrations of British Entomology, or, a Synopsis of Indigenous Insects.

The main work is divided into four volumes of Haustellata and seven of Mandibulata. The beetles occur in the first five volumes of the latter, and there are about thirty records bearing Darwin’s name, the earliest being in an appendix to Volume II, which is dated June 15, 1829. The localities include Cambridge, North Wales and Shrewsbury. There is one further record which is earlier than this. In Haustellata, Volume II, p. 200, Darwin records the occurrence of the common noctuid moth Graphiphora plecta at ‘Cambridge’, and the date of this part is June 1, 1829. The modern scientific name of this moth is Ochropleura plecta (L.), and its common name the flame shoulder. In most cases these records are given in quotation marks, and therefore represent the earliest genuine publications by Darwin in a book.


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