Letters on the Natural History of the Insects Mentioned in Shakspeare’s Plays

mothOrder 3. Lepidoptera
William Bartram (1739 – 1823)

 

“Robert Patterson (1802-1872) was a remarkable naturalist you’ve probably never heard of. At the age of 19, he co-founded the Belfast Natural History Society. He also wrote a number of zoology texts and designed a series of zoological diagrams for use in schools. In 1857, he posted a ‘real Irish Rabbit’ across the Irish Sea to Charles Darwin, at Darwin’s request.”
Manu Saunders, https://ecologyisnotadirtyword.com/

Manu Saunders introduces Robert Patterson irresistably, and so caused me to seek his book online–where I found it!
But the introduction and table of contents were so charming: intermingling the science, the poetry, the observations of human as well as insect life, that I have yet to work my way through to the actual body of the book itself.
Here is some of what snared my attention, broken up, and sometimes re-punctuated, by me:

Letters on the Natural History of the Insects Mentioned in Shakspeare’s Plays.
With Incidental Notices of The Entomology of Ireland.
by Robert Patterson

Contents

LETTER I. INTRODUCTORY EPISTLE.

Ennui occasionally experienced while residing in the country.
Its cause. (Originates in a defective system of education.)
Proper meaning of the term Naturalist. The legitimate objects of his inquiry.
Periodical changes in the aspect of the external world.
Pleasures which the study of Nature affords; mental effects of such pursuits.
Poetry and Natural History might “each give to each a double charm.”
Inquiry proposed with regard to the knowledge of Natural Phenomena, exhibited by some of our most admired Poets.
Shakspeare “the Poet of Nature.”
Opinion of Dr. Johnson.
Remark of the late John Templeton, Esq.
Shakspeare, in accurate observation, superior to Milton.
Illustrative extracts from ” Lycidas” and the” Winter’s Tale.”
Number of the notices of natural objects in the Dramatic Works of Shakspeare.
Their investigation, why interesting . . . page 1

 

LETTER II. ENTOMOLOGY RECOMMENDED.

Solace which the study of Natural History affords to the man
of business. The benefits it confers on the man possessed of leisure.
The study of insects proposed. It should not be deemed frivolous, because the objects are diminu-tive. They are a portion of the works of God. Their diversity and beauty.
Peculiar advantage enjoyed by the Entomologist.
Numbers of insects.
Importance of a knowledge of their habits.
Their destructive powers. Benefits they confer . . . page 13

 

LETTER III. LARVAE AND PUPAE.

Advantages which may be anticipated from the proposed in-
quiry. Subject of the present Letter — Insects in their
early or imperfect states.
Expression used by Hamlet, “If the sun breed maggots in a dead dog.”
Distinction between the vertebrate animals and insects.
Destructive powers possessed by caterpillars; frequently mentioned by Shakspeare.
The pupa state. “There is a difference between a grub and a butterfly.”
“The smirch’d moth- eaten tapestry.”
“The worm i’ the bud ;” “the canker.”
Cocoon of the silk-worm; its value. “The worms were hallowed that did breed the silk.”
“An empty hazel nut.”
“The old grub.”
“Your worm is your only emperor for diet.”
Different meanings of the word “worm” in Shakspeare . . . 27


There is more–much more. I don’t want to overload anyone’s attention, but allow the words and ideas to stay lively as you take them with you.

I may not be able to resist sharing more at some other time.

 

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A Midsummer Night

midsummer night dream lDetail, Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Edwin Landseer (1802 – 1873)

 

Everything changes, nothing dies: the spirit wanders, arriving here or there, and occupying whatever body it pleases, passing from a wild beast into a human being, from our body into a beast, but is never destroyed.
So, I say as a seer, cease to make kindred spirits homeless, by wicked slaughter: do not let blood be nourished by blood!


Pythagoras of Samos (c. 570 BC – c. 495 BC)

in Ovid’s Metamorphosis

 

Herbs, Plants, Stones

ligozzi poppyJacopo Ligozzi (1547 – 1627)
Opium Poppy


O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies
In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities.
For naught so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give.
Nor aught so good but, strained from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,
And vice sometime by action dignified.

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1613)
Friar Laurence, Romeo and Juliet

Wear your rue with a difference

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet, PRA (1829 – 1896)

Most of the flowers in Ophelia are included either because they are mentioned in the play, or for their symbolic value. Millais observed these flowers growing wild by the river in Ewell. Because he painted the river scene over a period of five months, flowers appear next to those that bloom at different times of the year.

The following flowers and foliage are mentioned in Act IV.

Crow flowers in the foreground look similar to buttercups and symbolise ingratitude or childishness The weeping willow tree leaning over Ophelia is a symbol of forsaken love. The nettles that are growing around the willow’s branches represent pain.
The daisies floating near her right hand represent innocence. Ophelia also mentions ‘There’s a daisy’ in act 4, scene 5. The purple loosestrife on the upper right hand corner of the painting, near the edge of the frame, alludes to ‘long purples’ in the play. Shakespeare actually meant the purple orchid.
The pink roses that float by her cheek(above left) and her dress (above middle) and the white field rosesgrowing on the river bank (above right), may refer to Act IV, Scene V when Laertes calls his sister, ‘rose of May’. They are also included for their many symbolic meanings such as youth, love and beauty.The crownet weeds mentioned in the text refer to garlands of weeds. They may symbolise entanglement, choking, death and decline.
The garland of violets around Ophelia’s neck refer to Act IV, Scene V. ‘I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died: they say he made a good end.’ Violets are a symbol of faithfulness and they can also symbolise chastity and death in the young.
The following flowers were added to the scene by Millais:
The Meadowsweet flowers to the left of the purple loosestrife may signify the futility of her death. The pale blue forget-me-nots on the river bank below the purple loosestrife and in the immediate foreground, carry their meaning in their name. The pansies that float on the dress in the centre, refer to Act IV, Scene V where Ophelia gathers flowers in the field (‘that’s for thoughts’). They represent thought and they can also mean love in vain (the name comes from French, penses).
Ophelia’s sorrow is symbolised by the pheasant’s eye floating near the pansies (similar to the poppy) … …and the fritillary floating between the dress and the water’s edge in the bottom right hand corner. The vivid red poppy with its black seeds represents sleep and death.
Millais originally included some daffodils in the painting not observed in Ewell but later bought from Covent Garden in London as he felt the painting needed more yellow. But his friend, the poet Tennyson, suggested that they were not appropriate as they symbolised false hope. Perhaps they are primroses? There is a reference to primroses in Act 1, Scene 3, when Ophelia speaks to Laertes:

Ophelia : But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.

http://www.tate.org.uk/ophelia/subject_symbolism.htm