Bloodlust

Returning to Wallace, it is becoming clear that some of his peculiarities are to be explained simply by money. I’ll get into this later, but he is very conspicuously self-funded by the organized sale of specimens through his London dealer. Obviously Sir Joseph Banks and even Darwin were not detained by such details.

Also without parallel (so far) among professional naturalists, though, is his ecstatic need to kill upon sighting a beautiful organism, quoted again below. Comparable flights are easily found, however, among nineteenth-century imperial hunters:

On beholding him [a “princely” bushbuck] I was struck with wonder and delight. My heart beat with excitement. I sprang from my saddle, but before I could fire a shot this gem of beauty bounded into the reeds, and was lost to my sight. At that moment I would have given half what I possessed in this world for a broadside at that lovely antelope, and I at once resolved not to proceed farther on my expedition until I had captured him, although it should cost me the labor of a month.

— Roualeyn Gordon Cumming, Five Years of a Hunter’s Life in the Far Interior of South Africa (London, 1850), quoted in John M. Mackenzie, The Empire of Nature: Hunting, Conservation, and British Imperialism (Manchester, 1988).

Many of these hunters were also naturalists, of course. In 1917 Teddy Roosevelt went on a “scientific” safari to collect specimens for the Smithsonian and AMNH. He and his son Kermit killed 512 head of big game, including 9 white rhinos, already endangered. His hosts reported him overweight, reckless, disturbing, unreasonable, and a poor shot.

So trophy hunters and specimen hunters have more in common than one would like, if only because I would rather not deal with hunting at all. But it is not easy to come up with any meaningful difference between them.

Here’s (a small part of) Wallace’s passage on his butterfly bloodlust:

The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced when I at length captured it. On taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done when in apprehension of immediate death. I had a headache the rest of the day, so great was the excitement produced by what will appear to most people a very inadequate cause.
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