1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bates, Henry Walter

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BATES, HENRY WALTER (1825–1892), English naturalist and explorer, was born at Leicester on the 8th of February 1825. His father, a manufacturing hosier, intended him for business, and for a time the son yielded to his wishes, escaping as often as he could into the neighbouring country to gratify his love of botany and entomology. In 1844 he met a congenial spirit in Alfred Russel Wallace, and the result was discussion and execution of a plan to explore some then little-known region of the globe. The banks of the Amazons was the district chosen, and in April 1848 the two friends sailed in a trader for Pará. They had little or no money, but hoped to meet their expenses by the sale of duplicate specimens. After two years Bates and Wallace agreed to collect independently, Wallace taking the Rio Negro and the upper waters of the Orinoco, while Bates continued his route up the great river for 1400 m. He remained in the country eleven years, during which time he collected no fewer than 8000 species of insects new to science. His long residence in the tropics, with the privations which it entailed, undermined his health. Nor had the exile from home the compensation of freeing him from financial cares, which hung heavy on him till he had the good fortune to be appointed in 1864 assistant-secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, a post which, to the inestimable gain of the society, and the advantage of a succession of explorers, to whom he was alike Nestor and Mentor, he retained till his death on the 16th of February 1892. Bates is best known as the author of one of the most delightful books of travel in the English language, The Naturalist on the Amazons (1863), the writing of which, as the correspondence between the two has shown, was due to Charles Darwin’s persistent urgency. “Bates,” wrote Darwin to Sir Charles Lyell, “is second only to Humboldt in describing a tropical forest.” But his most memorable contribution to biological science, and more especially to that branch of it which deals with the agencies of modification of organisms, was his paper on the “Insect Fauna of the Amazon Valley,” read before the Linnaean Society in 1861. He therein, as Darwin testified, clearly stated and solved the problem of “mimicry,” or the superficial resemblances between totally different species and the likeness between an animal and its surroundings, whereby it evades its foes or conceals itself from its prey. Bates’s other contributions to the literature of science and travel were sparse and fugitive, but he edited for several years a periodical of Illustrated Travels. A man of varied tastes, he devoted the larger part of his leisure to entomology, notably to the classification of coleoptera. Of these he left an extensive and unique collection, which, fortunately for science, was purchased intact by René Oberthur of Rennes.