Victorian essayist

Richard Spruce, along with his favorite bryological specimens, occupied tenuous, almost dual identities in Victorian science. Both the botanist and his bryological colleagues struggled with how “popular” their work could aspire to be. Although he generally fits into the category of masculine, sensationalist Victorian explorer (along with Wallace and Bates), Spruce was far from the strong, resilient model of conqueror of nature; for most of his life, the naturalist was too sick to work, and spent his favorite days in the Amazon sitting quietly on the ground, examining the miniscule plants that reminded him of home. These miniscule plants, too, fit uneasily into broader botanical categories. While they represented something clandestine, sexual, and primeval in literature, bryophytes were considered relatively uninteresting and even unimportant in a rapidly expanding British botanical empire. Although he never fully transformed into a species of moss, Richard Spruce’s uncommon affinity with the plants relegated his work to the depths of the botanically obscure, wildly useful to other bryologists, but unread and uninteresting to the broader public.

Victorian essayist

victorian essayist

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