Bugs and the Victorians by J F M Clark - review by Stephen Halliday

Stephen Halliday

Buzz, Buzz, Buzz

Bugs and the Victorians


Yale University Press 341pp £25

This book’s title does not do justice to its contents since some of the most interesting material covers events that occurred either before Victoria came to the throne or long after she died. It describes the activities of Victorian entomologists but also introduces their eighteenth-century forebears, who set some (often misleading) ground rules for the science, and their twentieth-century successors who made practical use of their discoveries in the fields of agriculture and medicine. It also places interest in insects in a broader historical context, avoiding the danger of becoming a technical treatise. 

Thus we learn that Henry Smeathman (1742–86), businessman, entomologist and philosopher, found that African termite mounds called to mind the constitutional settlement in 1689 after the Glorious Revolution. Termites had created an ordered hierarchy of ‘working insects, which I shall generally call labourers; next the fighting ones, or

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