“Entomology in Sport, and Entomology in Earnest”

May 21, 2019

The calendar says May, which has made us think about maypoles and mayflies, though the weather here has been falling somewhat short of spring-like. We’re looking for inspiration to a fairly new acquisition in Special Collections, however.

Decorative publisher’s binding for Entomology in sport, and entomology in earnest [1859] by the Honourable Mrs. W. and Lady M. Call number: CA 19262. Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Acquired through the Fuller Fund.

Even though the front cover focused on “sport,” in Entomology in sport, and entomology in earnest [1859], Mrs. W. (Mary King Ward, 1827-1869) and her sister Lady M. (Lady Jane Mahon) presented the study of entomology as both recreation and serious fare for youthful readers.

Textual title page for Mrs. Ward’s and Lady Mahon’s book. Though the title page lacks a publication date, the British Library dates the work as appearing in 1859, the same year as the publication of Darwin’s On the origin of species.

The decorative title page restated their objective: “Entomology as sport, by two lovers of the science. To which is added entomology in earnest.”

With recreation in mind, Mrs. W. and Lady M. took a lighthearted look at a miniature maypole:

Let us dance round a May-pole this beautiful day!

Harry Long Legs exclaimed, the first morning of May,

As he met with a party of neighbours;

(There were Syrphus, and Weevil, a Beetle and Bee,

And good Mr Saw-Fly, most frightful to see.

With jaws like a couple of sabres.)

An illustration opened up that lively imaginary world:

Illustration of insects dancing around a maypole.

We aren’t the first to point to this work as engaging youthful imagination while encouraging entomological investigations in earnest. A few years ago Hellen Pethers at the Natural History Museum in London described the book as “inspiring young Victorian minds,” and called attention to Ward’s other work in microscopy, telescopic observation, and scientific illustration.

Somewhat earlier, zoologist Owen G. Harry, writing in the journal Annals of science (1984), described Ward as “Ireland’s first lady of the microscope.” He explored in detail Ward’s work in microscopical preparations, close observation of insect eggs and larvae, talent for natural historical illustration, and use of lithography to publish some of her entomological investigations.

An edition of Ward’s Microscope teachings (1866), “illustrated by the author’s original drawings” as announced on its title page, is freely available online in the Biodiversity Heritage Library. For more about Ward, see IsisCB Explore, an open access research tool for history of science that builds on a core dataset of over 40 years of curated bibliographical data, and the biographical sketch of Ward by G. L’E. Turner in the Oxford dictionary of national biography.

For more examples from our strong entomological holdings, we urge you to come visit the next exhibit in Special Collections — Pollinators, as curated by our colleague Carly Sentieri. It opens June 10, 2019.