Insects of Britain and Ireland

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L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz

Notes on Edward Newman’s British Moths and British Butterflies (1869 and 1871)

Most observers familiar with the insects depicted in early printings of Newman’s classic volumes will surely concur with the Rev. Joseph Greene’s (1875) opinion of the woodcuts, viz., that ‘... they are truly wonderful, and, though not coloured, yet, in the majority of instances, ... the veriest tyro will at once recognize his insect, upon comparison with the figure.’ Newman’s magnificent works (of which the first was glowingly reviewed in 1869 in the inaugural issue of Nature), also contain superb, detailed word-pictures of adult insects and larvae, as well as the original illustrations, and give copious information on mid-19th century species distributions and localities within Britain and Ireland. The latter information serves to emphasize the absurdity of blaming a harmless, healthy and educational pastime (‘collecting’) for the restriction and disappearance of species. The root cause (understood by John Curtis in 1830: see B. Ent. 336) has been and remains the destruction of environmental diversity through failure to control human population growth, with concomitant urban expansion, installation of millions of insect traps in the form of artificial lights, exploitation of all the land suitable or adaptable for cultivation (resulting in reduction in botanical diversity by elimination of native flora), and widespread contamination of the remnant habitats with pesticides and herbicides.

Copies of ‘Newman’ are still easily obtainable at reasonable prices from second-hand book dealers, as separate volumes or bound into one; but persons desirous of acquiring them should note that the only editions remained ‘in print’ for many decades after the original publisher was superseded, and that the illustrations were very poorly reproduced in later printings. The ‘Butterflies’ and ‘Moths’ volumes scanned by us were published as one volume in London by W. Tweedie, and appear to represent compilations from the original sheets (30 for Moths, 11 for Butterflies), which were issued monthly by that publisher for circulation among subscribers, and sold at 6 pence each. A Web search of booksellers’ advertisements at the time of writing readily locates about a hundred copies, variously comprising ‘Moths’, ‘Butterflies’ or both in one, attributed to several different publishers and usually designated ‘first edition’; but only six are attributed to Tweedie, and none of these include the ‘Butterflies’ component.

Curiously, the Tweedie volumes give no information on the origins of the fine woodcuts, which in later printings are generally attributed to George Willis (drawing) and John Kirchner (engraving).

Edited 29 July 2007


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