Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/November 1892/Sketch of Henry Walter Bates

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 42 November 1892  (1892) 
Sketch of Henry Walter Bates
PSM V42 D010 Henry Walter Bates.jpg



HENRY WALTER BATES is "best known to science as the propounder of the doctrine of protective resemblance or mimicry; and to science and the reading public as the author of the book, A Naturalist on the Amazons, which has been accorded by competent critics a place as a scientific book of travels alongside of Darwin's Voyage of a Naturalist, Wallace's Malay Archipelago, and the volume of Hooker.

Mr. Bates was born in Leicester, England, February 8, 1825, and died in London, February 16, 1892. He was the son of a manufacturer of his native town, known as "Honest Harry Bates," and was intended for a business career. After receiving the usual instruction of tradesmen's sons at a boarding school in Billesdon, he was apprenticed to Alderman Gregory, hosiery manufacturer, Leicester, in whose shop his working hours were from 7 A. M. to 8 P. M. With all the laborious character of his duties, it was during the apprenticeship, his brother says, that he laid the foundation of all that he afterward was. He became a member of the Mechanics' Institute of Leicester, which had a good library and numerous evening classes with competent masters; entered the Greek, Latin, French, drawing, and composition classes; "and worked with an energy and perseverance that brought him to the front in all." This he did by studying late into the night and in the early hours of the morning. He was a diligent reader, setting special value upon Gibbon's great history, joined a glee club, learned to play the guitar, and became known as a good barytone singer.

While attending the classes in the Mechanics' Institute he became acquainted with a number of gentlemen who had tastes for natural history. He was specially inclined to entomology, and cultivated first the Lepidoptera and afterward the Coleoptera. Holidays came rarely to the boy, but they were eagerly utilized for collecting excursions, beginning the year's work usually with Good Friday. Young Bates habitually wrote descriptive accounts of his expeditions, and was accustomed to sketch and write out descriptions of all the principal insects captured.

After the death of Alderman Gregory, his master, several years before the expiration of his apprenticeship, Bates managed the business on a small scale for the deceased proprietor's son. He had formed an extensive collection of British beetles and was in correspondence with the chief coleopterists of the time. Probably his first contribution to entomological literature was a Note on Coleopterous Insects frequenting Damp Places, which was published in the first number of The Zoologist, in 1813. A situation was procured for him in the offices of Messrs. Alsopp, Burtonon-Trent, where he remained, in an uncongenial atmosphere, till arrangements were made for his starting with Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace on their scientific expedition to the Amazons.

He first became acquainted with Mr. Wallace in 1844, when Wallace was a master in the English Collegiate School, and began a correspondence with him. Three years later, or in 1847, Mr. Wallace suggested a joint expedition to the Amazons for the purpose of exploring the natural history of its banks, and of gathering facts, as he said, "toward solving the origin of species." The two friends, after spending some time in studying South American plants and animals in the principal collections in London, embarked in a small trading vessel April 26, 1848, and arrived at Pará May 28th. They set to work forthwith, sending home from time to time duplicates of their collections to defray expenses. Though zoölogy was the primary object of their expedition, they also acquired much geographical and ethnographical information. Pará continued to be the headquarters of the two, and of Bates after the separation, from which their excursions were made and to which they returned, and after the departure of Wallace, till November 6, 1851, when Bates started on his voyage of seven years and a half to the Tapajos and the upper Amazons. One of their excursions was down the Tocantins River and to the town of Cametá, and furnished much information on the subject of the complicated river geography. In September, 1849, Bates started on his first voyage up the Amazons in a small sailing vessel (for steamers were not established until the year 1853) and reached Santarem, which he subsequently made his headquarters for a period of three years, but on this journey he pushed on to Obydos, about fifty miles farther. Here a trader was found who was proceeding in a cubesta laden with merchandise to the Rio Negro, which was arranged to stop frequently on the way, and Bates, securing a passage, once more increased his knowledge of the Amazons. The destination of the boat was Manaos, or the Barra of the Rio Negro, a spot rendered memorable by the visit of Spix and Martius in 1820. After a short stay Bates proceeded to Ega, the first town of any importance on the Solimoens River, which he reached on the 26th of March, 1850. Here he spent nearly two months before returning to Pará, and thus finished what may be considered as his preliminary survey of the vast collecting ground to be almost called his own. In November, 1851, he again arrived at Santarem, on a second journey, where, after a residence of six months, he commenced arrangements for an excursion up the little-known Tapajos River, which in magnitude stands sixth among the tributaries of the Amazons. A stay was made at the small settlement of Aveyros, and from this spot an expedition was made up the Chipari, a branch river which enters the Tapajos about eight miles above it. At this time Bates was thrown in contact with the Mundurucus Indians, and was able to acquire much valuable ethnological information. It was also during this second jonrney that the long stay was made at Ega, and the many excursions in its neighborhood resulted in so much general knowledge, both zoölogical and geographical. Bates returned again to Pará on the 17th of March, 1859, after an interval of seven and a half years in the interior. During this long sojourn in the tropics Mr. Bates obtained more than 14,700 species of animals, of which 14,000 were insects, and of these 8,000 were new to science.

After they had been two years together in South America, Mr. Wallace separated from Bates, to visit the Rio Negro and the upper waters of the Orinoco, whence he subsequently went to the Malay Archipelago.

Mr. Bates sent contributions to The Zoölogist from time to time during the whole of the eleven years which he spent in the Amazonian regions. One of his letters gives a curious picture of him as equipped for a day's expedition, in colored shirt, trousers, boots, and old hat; his double-barreled gun over his shoulder, loaded with two kinds of shot; his net in his right hand, while "on my left side is suspended a leathern bag with two pouches, one for my insect-box, the other for powder and two sorts of shot; on my right side hangs my 'game-bag,' an ornamental affair, with red leather trappings and things to hang lizards, snakes, frogs, or large birds; one small pocket in this bag contains my caps, another papers for wrapping up the delicate birds; others for wads, cotton, box of powdered plaister, and a box with damped cork for the micro-lepidoptera; to my shirt is pinned my pincushion, with six sizes of pins."

The summary of the adventures and results of his voyage is given in the Naturalist on the Amazons, "one of the most delightful books of travel ever perused, full of varied information charmingly arrayed," which, prepared after the persistent urgency of Darwin, was published in 1863. This was Mr. Bates's only book.

His most memorable contribution to biological science was a paper published in the Transactions of the Linnrean Society, entitled Contributions to an Insect Fauna of the Amazon Valley, in which the phenomenon of mimicry was unfolded and explained as a means of protecting animals—by giving them guises tending to ward off pursuit by enemies, or by so likening them to surrounding objects that they escape notice. Darwin spoke of the book as one of the most remarkable that he ever read, and "as clearly stating and solving a wonderful problem," and found in it a strong support of his theory of natural selection.

In a paper on the classification of the Rhopalocera, or butterflies, Mr. Bates proposed a new system of arrangement by which the progressive modification in structure, or the evolution from a simple to a more specialized type, could be shown. Its merit is attested by the fact of its almost universal adoption in later works on evolution and natural history.

Mr. Bates's long sojourn in the region of the Amazons, fruitful as it was in scientific results, was detrimental to his constitution, and he returned "a wreck of his former self." His "frame remained enduring, but the elasticity had been taken out of it." But "we may rest assured," says the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, "that nothing but physical prostration actually brought about the long-deferred return to England, and this abandonment of the anticipated visit westward, 'to gather the yet unseen treasures of the marvelous countries lying between Tabatinga and the slopes of the Andes.'"

In 1864 Mr. Bates was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, a position in which, says The Athenæum, for the last twenty-seven years he exercised an influence "none the less effectual that he always carefully avoided any action that might make it or himself conspicuous over the progress in our country [England] of geographical science. He had the satisfaction, while other sciences have more or less specialized themselves, of seeing Geography throwing aside the restrictions that bound her to mere records of discovery and surveying, and taking her true place as a link between the other natural sciences, viewing them all from her own separate standpoint, and bringing out the points of connection between them, from a special and novel aspect." He edited the Transactions of the society from the beginning. In this office, according to Mr. Clements R. Markham, "he was unwearied and most successful in obtaining information bearing on geographical work from every quarter and in all parts of the world. He supplied invaluable hints and suggestions to the authors of papers, and he smoothed over difficulties with never-failing tact. His own rich stores of information were invaluable to all who needed help in their work, and over and over again they enabled him to supply a missing clew in some difficult inquiry, or to elucidate and piece together isolated facts, and show their bearings on each other. In all their intercourse with him, his colleagues, as well as the general body of geographers and travelers, have always been as much impressed by his ability and knowledge, and by the soundness of his judgment, as by that simple and kind-hearted way of giving advice which endeared the late assistant secretary to all who came in contact with him."

Among the notices of Mr. Bates's personal characteristics contributed by his old friends to the Transactions, Sir Joseph. D. Hooker tells of the time when he first saw him, at Mr. Darwin's, at Down, shortly after his return from the Amazons. "We there spent several days together, and I can remember none more enjoyable. There was such a fascination in his manner and character, and such a boyish, hearty enjoyment of his return to his native country, and all that it contained, from Shakespeare to Punch, and from Darwin to the merest bug-hunter (so long as the work was honest). Darwin's appreciation of him was wholehearted and all-round, and Bates's first visit to Down was marked with a white stone in his host's memory, as in mine, and often recurred to by us." "Perhaps, to know him at his best," says Mr. Edward Clodd, "and pierce the thick husk of his modesty, was when, the evening employment of beetle-sticking over, and the frugal supper eaten, the pipe was lit and talk started, sometimes on some topic of the day, but, more often, on some subject suggested by his wide and varied reading." Says a writer in The Academy, whose initials indicate that he is also Mr. Clodd: "His leisure hours, diversified by chat with one or two intimates and by omnivorous reading, were mainly devoted to the classification of certain families of the Coleoptera, his collection of which, although partly in course of dispersal, is unique. . . . The results of this labor of love and of years are entombed in technical memoirs, and notably in the scarcely more accessible Biologia Centrali Americana." Hooker was impressed with his "power of mind," and with that, says this writer, "was conjoined the simplicity and teachableness of a child."

Mr. Bates received many honors, but he never spoke of them, and no one knows how many or what they were. He was made a Fellow of the Linnsean Society in 1871, and of the Royal Society in 1881, and he was twice President of the Entomological Society.


According to Dr. J. J. M. de Groot, of the University of Leyden, whose paper is illustrated by specimens from his collection, the wedding garments of a Chinese woman are symbolical of the happiness, official dignity, and long life which she desires for the numerous children expected to bless the union. These hopes are represented by the dragon, the bat, the stag, the tortoise, and the crane or stork. The head-gear is very elaborate, and is attached by a silver hair-pin with a head of precious stones. These gorgeous garments are frequently used as grave-clothing for the mother, by the piety of the sons, who believe that to place things of good omen in the tombs of ancestors is to secure for themselves and their offspring the blessings of which they are emblems. Asteroid No. 323, the first that was discovered by the aid of photography (by M. Wolf, of Heidelberg, November 28, 1891), has been named Brucia, after Miss C. W. Bruce, of this country, who has appropriated a considerable part of her fortune to the aid of astronomical research.