Nature Notes

Another thing I found when fossicking in that cupboard was a scrap of paper on which was scribbled the following:

11 Petiver, Buddle & Doody. 48 Withering. 53 Rousseau’s wife. 56 Huttonian theory. 63/64 Buckland. 76 Robert Dick – biscuit. 77/78 McGillivray’s journey. 80 Philip Gosse diary entry. 82 Buckland concealed hammer on the Sabbath. 129 Discovery of plankton.

Deploying my Holmesian deductive skills, I worked out that these were notes I had made, long ago, when reading The Naturalist In Britain : A Social History by David Elliston Allen (1976). Seeking enlightenment, I located the volume on the teetering bookshelves, and turned to the relevant pages. In some cases, it is no longer clear to me what sparked my interest. Others, however, I was extremely pleased to be reminded of. Here are the relevant quotes:

“Rousseau’s extreme short-sight was such that at the best of times he saw the landscape as a blur, while his wife, in similar fashion, never knew which day of the week it was and never even learned to tell the time.”

“In many ways [Buckland] was undeniably a very curious person: an oddly truncated man… He sported childish jests and puns, devised peculiar contraptions, went in for the weirdest kinds of food… It was typical of him that he drove round in a special kind of carriage, strengthened in an ostentatious manner… he carried around a mysterious blue bag… he led his students on excursions into the field wearing quite incongruously formal clothes.”

“Robert Dick… ‘the Botanist of Thurso’ made it his regular practice to walk all day, for up to forty miles, with one ship’s biscuit as his only sustenance.”

“Philip Henry Gosse became so lost in his work that he registered the birth of his only child with the remarkable entry in his diary: ‘Received green swallow from Jamaica. E delivered of a son.'”

One thought on “Nature Notes

  1. Regarding Robert Dick (‘Rocket-Bird’) and his prodigious ambulation. I walk a puny six miles a day, on average. If I could maintain a typical rate, forty miles would take me the best part of twelve hours. Not sure how much botany I would get done. But the question is, where can one procure a supply of the ship’s biscuits, on which this ‘Botanist of Thurso’ (‘Sustain foot-throb’) so evidently throve? And how big must they be, to sustain the pedestrian for so long? Did he push one before him on a trolley, bending forward every five hundred paces or so to gnaw off a fresh mouthful?

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