As a boy, Thomas Say, born into a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia, often visited the family garden, Bartram’s Garden, where he could take butterfly and beetle specimens to his great-uncle William.
A self-taught naturalist, he became an apothecary, and helped found the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1812.
He served as librarian for the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, curator at the American Philosophical Society, and professor of natural history at the University of Pennsylvania
In 1816, he met Charles Alexandre Lesueur, a French naturalist, malacologist, and ichthyologist who soon became a member of the Academy and served as its curator until 1824.
To collect insects, Say made expeditions to the frontier, in spite of the risk of attacks by American Indians and the hazards of traveling in wild countryside.
In 1818, Say accompanied his friend William Maclure, then the ANSP president and father of American geology; Gerhard Troost, a geologist; and other members of the Academy on a geological expedition to the off-shore islands of Georgia and Florida, then a Spanish colony.
In 1819–20, Major Stephen Harriman Long led an exploration to the Rocky Mountains and the tributaries of the Missouri River, with Say as zoologist.
Their official account of this expedition included the first descriptions of the coyote, swift fox, western kingbird, band-tailed pigeon, rock wren, Say’s phoebe, lesser goldfinch, lark sparrow, lazuli bunting, and orange-crowned warbler.
In 1823, Say served as chief zoologist in Long’s expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
He traveled on the “Boatload of Knowledge” to the New Harmony Settlement in Indiana (1826–34), a utopian society experiment founded by Robert Owen.
He was accompanied by Maclure, Lesueur, Troost, and Francis Neef, an innovative education reformer.
There he later met Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz, another naturalist.
Say married Lucy Way Sistare, whom he had met as one of the passengers to New Harmony, near the settlement.
She was an artist and illustrator of specimens, as in the book American Conchology, and was elected as the first woman member of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Say was a modest and unassuming man, who lived frugally, like a hermit, in New Harmony. He abandoned commercial activities and devoted himself to his studies.
He died, apparently from typhoid fever, when he was 47 years old.
The quality of the plates, in his book on American insects, and the clarity of Say’s description won him immediate fame abroad, and he was made a foreign member of the Linnean Society of London.
Say named some 1,500 new species – many of his discoveries (such as the American dog tick) were crucial for the future study and control of disease in humans, livestock and crops
“an inoffensive race; born to pass thro’ their little stage of being, the prey to a thousand enemies; but hurtful to no creature”
John Hill (1714?-1775)
from A Decade of Curious Insects
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Comprising Figures and Descriptions of Upwards of One Hundred New, Singular, and Beautiful Species; Together with some that are of Importance in Medicine, Domestic Economy, &c.
Apart from occasional excursions in England and Wales, Edward Donovan (1768–1837) never left London.
His Insects of New Holland is based on specimens collected by Joseph Banks and the astronomer William Bayly on the second and third voyages of James Cook, specimens in the collection of entomologist Dru Drury, and other private collections as well as his own museum. It is the first publication dealing exclusively with the insects of Australia.
For An Epitome of the Natural History of the Insects of China he obtained specimens and information from George Macartney a British envoy to China.
The source of the specimens in Insects of India is less clear.
Donovan personally undertook all steps of the illustration process for his books, the drawing, the etching and engraving and the handcolouring.
Collection 941. Alexander Marshal Insect Watercolors. Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
In 1766, one hundred years after Newton’s separation of white light through a prism, a book appeared in England with the title The Natural System of Colours. In this work, Moses Harris, the English entomologist and engraver, examines the work of Isaac Newton and attempts to reveal the multitude of colours which can be created from three basic ones. As a naturalist, Harris wishes to understand the relationships between the colours, and how they are coded, and his book attempts to explain the principles, “materially, or by the painters art”, by which further colours can be produced from red, yellow and blue.
Genetically modified seeds, scattered during harvest or fallen off a truck during transport, lead to transgenic plants cross-pollinating in the wild.