15-Jun-1829: Darwin’s delight

Starlings have their murmurations, toads their knots, weasels their sneaks. I always felt the collective noun for beetles should be a fondness. I take my cue from JBS Haldane: when a clergyman asked him what we might conclude about the creator by studying the natural world, Haldane’s reported response was that He must have an inordinate fondness for beetles.

In his youth, Charles Darwin also had an inordinate fondness for beetles. Late in life, he wrote in his autobiography:

No poet ever felt more delighted at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing, in Stephens’ ‘Illustrations of British Insects,’ the magic words, “captured by C. Darwin, Esq.”

The Stephens in question was James Francis Stephens, a top entomologist, whom the young Darwin had visited in early 1829, later writing to his cousin:

On Monday evening I drank tea with Stephens: his cabinet is more magnificent than the most zealous Entomologist could dream of: He appears to be a very goodhumoured pleasant little man.

The momentous event of Darwin’s citation in Stephens’ illustrious journal occurred a few months later, on 15th June 1829.

Stephens Illustrations of British Entomology
Stephens’ Illustrations of British Entomology, opened at a page showing one of young Charles Darwin’s finds.
Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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