In amongst the collections of one of the largest natural history libraries in the world, are some unexpected items and here’s one of my favourites:
Traditionally the Museum Library has not actively purchased natural history material aimed at younger readers, but there are some to be found within the shelves.
Entomology in Sport is an example of a publication aimed at aspiring young Victorian minds. A miniature visual world of insects has been intertwined within the words and paragraphs of this little book. Regardless of your age, you can’t help but be charmed.
The authors are referred to as the ‘Honorable Mrs W’ and ‘Lady M’, which immediately hooks your curiosity. On further investigation, the authorship is given added weight, when it transpires that Mary Ward (1827-1869) was an Irish microscopist, astronomer, naturalist and artist.
As a young girl she was encouraged by her parents (her father was a landowner) to be interested in the sciences, and as a young woman was immersed in the scientific society of the day, through her cousin William Parsons (3rd Earl of Rosse). This included being party to the construction of a giant telescope in the grounds of Birr Castle in 1845, which she was then able to use for her own observations.
She became friends with Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), the Scottish scientist and inventor, and later she would illustrate some of his scientific articles. Mary became the first woman to write and publish a book on the microscope, which went on to be re-printed numerous times.
Entomology in Sport is believed to be dated from 1858, at about the same time and both – as with some of her works – she used the pseudonym ‘The Honorable Mrs W’. She was renowned for her artistic talents in her scientific literature, and the more child-friendly illustrations used in this book show the talent and care with which the author has created them.
Mrs M was her sister Lady Jane Mahon, which is made clear when you read the touching preface, referring to their mother as being the inspiration for their book:
‘Entomology in Sport was composed many years since as a present to a mother who ever felt the warmest interest in the pursuits and enjoyments of her children.’
The opening lines alone are also rather wonderful:
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.)
They conjure up a world akin to that of Enid Blyton or Lewis Carroll, and truly bring this miniature world of natural history alive for any young mind taking the words in.
The second part of the book is of a more instructive level, helping to provide practical advice and address any common questions a young scientist may have as they set out to discover the world of entomology. It is clear that their wish was to produce a book for children, one firmly grounded in scientific knowledge.
‘They trust, however, that the accounts which the insects are supposed to give of themselves, as well as the facts related in the second part of this little work, – marvellous as many of those facts appear, – will be found to be accurate, and confirmed by good authorities.’
Sadly her life was cut short whilst riding aboard a steam road locomotive at Birr Castle, on the 31 August 1869, she fell and was killed.
See the Library’s record for Entomology in Sport and Entomology in Earnest by The Honorable Mrs W and Lady M. If you would like to learn more about the collections and how to make an appointment visit us, please visit the Library and Archive pages.
- Ward, The Hon. Mrs (1866) Microscope teachings: descriptions of various objects of especial interest and beauty adapted for microscope observation London: Groombridge and Sons Available freely from: http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/43467747 [Accessed 13 August 2015]
- Brewster, D (1862) On certain vegetable and mineral formations in calcareous spar. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 23. p.97-99. Available freely from: http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40720442 [Accessed 13 August 2015].
- L’E. Turner, ‘Ward , Mary (1827–1869)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2010 Available from: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/38818 [Accessed 7 Aug 2015]
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