The Substitute (1856-57)

The first volume of the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer ended in September 1856, having begun in April that year. Henry Tibbats Stainton (1856-90), who had established and edited this periodical, did not believe that such a publication was required during the winter months, as most entomologists ceased to collect at this time. There would no longer be any  information to share regarding the capture of insects, as the majority of species were only active during the warmer months. The Intelligencer therefore ‘hibernated’ until the following April, when the collecting ‘season’ would recommence.  However, such was the popularity Stainton’s periodical had gained in this short time that a plan was put in place to fill this temporary void with another publication, and thus the Substitute was created.

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Title for the Substitute‘s first issue

The editor of the Substitute was John William Douglas (1814-1905), a long-term friend of Stainton’s, and it was printed by Edward Newman (1801-1876). The periodical’s title was a play on words, as the Substitute was both a replacement (or ‘substitute’) for the Intelligencer, and also an ‘entomological exchange facilitator’. Collectors were not entirely idle during the winter months, but instead used this time to consolidate their collections by identifying and preparing specimens for display. Often they had taken multiples of a particular species, and through the periodical they could advertise to ‘substitute’ these ‘duplicates’ for others. Typically, a correspondent would write a list of the insects they wished to exchange, along with their address, and readers could then peruse these notices and respond to those who possessed the insects they desired. Douglas declared ‘the trouble is not much; it need only be done once, and we shall thus be the “Substitute” for lots of letters’.

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Extract from a poem entitled ‘Beetling for Beginners’, describing the different families of Coleoptera

The Substitute also described itself as an ‘entomologist’s fire-side companion’, publishing interesting or entertaining articles to amuse its readers as they remained indoors during the inclement weather. In this spirit, it published picaresque accounts of ‘entomological rambles’ taken in the summer months. Roland Trimen, seventeen years old and with a feted scientific career ahead of him, contributed a florid account of such a trip to the Isle of Wight, which conveys a sense of breathless excitement in the pursuit of Lepidoptera: ‘Here comes something! […] A jump and a twist of the net! We’ve got him!’. Poetry – entomological in theme, of course – also featured. Newman and Douglas both turned their hands to writing verse, usually doggerel in style, and the Substitute printed a number of these. A representative example is ‘The Hymenoptera Described’, which gives an exhaustive description of how to identify members of this insect family. The poem therefore served the dual purpose of entertaining and informing the readers.

In future years, Stainton found that there was ample material to ensure the Intelligencer could be continued over the winter months. The ongoing popularity of specimen exchange provided more than enough letters to publish, and entomologists developed new techniques for collecting hibernating insects (usually by digging them up), thereby allowing collectors to continue their activities throughout the year.

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