Monday, 9 July 2012

Russet-coated captains

The greatest glory of last week's butterflies in France, for me, was the abundance of fritillaries. I have always loved these, possibly because of the coincidence between my youthful adventures with my net coincided with the excitement I felt in history lessons.

The aristocrats of the butterfly world in Britain were obvious: the Purple Emperor and Camberwell Beauty among the impossibly rare, and the Peacock, Red Admiral and Painted Lady among the blessedly frequent. All gaudy and magnificent, but not my favourites, any more than the Meadow and Hedge Browns and Small Heaths, which resembled the put-upon and multitudinous mediaeval peasantry.

The fritillaries were different. For me, they were like the fledgling democrats whose rise we followed under the guidance of Hugh Trevor-Roper and Wallace Notestein, whose brief but invaluable lecture The Winning of the Initiative by the House of Commons secured me my necessary A level grade, I'm convinced. It's much harder in the age of Google, but if you can find a rare piece of work like this which few rivals are likely to track down, young readers, that's a handy tip for exam technique.

There was also Cromwell, as quoted by Clarendon in his History of the Great Rebellion, speaking appositely of how: 
I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else.

But back to butterflies...  I am in danger of falling into my notorious mothy confusion, because fritillaries can be very similar, but I think that we have here in the order shown: Silver-washed, High Brown (over and then underwing), Spotted, Marble, Niobe and finally the relatively humble Knapweed which lacks the bright foxy, russet tone. But I will look further later, after work which resumes today.

This is my 600th post. Good heavens. 

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