Fact and Fable Life of WF Kirby_Cover

Ursula Kirby Brett

Amazon Digital Services


ISBN: 9798458010207

Reviewed by Richard Jones

For as long as I’ve had his Elementary Textbook of Entomology (1885) on my bookshelves, I’ve never quite grasped that its author William Forsell Kirby was not the same entomologist as William Kirby founder member and honorary president for life of this Society. Born in Leicester in 1844, W.F. Kirby came from a completely different stratum of society than his celebrated namesake, and this has left him slightly overshadowed in the history of the science. In his lifetime he worked in several museums, published high-brow monographs and detailed catalogues, numerous scientific papers in the scientific press, and general popular guides. He was also an accomplished linguist, competent in 10 languages, and he translated or edited translations of various literary works. He translated the Finnish epic Kalevala, maintaining its trochaic tetrameter and he contributed to Richard Burton’s famous ten-volume translation of the Arabian Nights. Ursula Kirby Brett, W.F. Kirby’s great granddaughter, has taken family oral tradition, private and public documents, and his vast published record to present a wealth of information on this fascinating character. But this is an odd book. Being self-published it lacks the editorial finesse and cohesion imposed by a conventional publishing company. It is presented, rather, as a dossier of documents, anecdotes, quotes, reminiscences and short chapters on various aspects of Kirby’s life. As such, it lacks the formal narrative you might expect in a standard biography. Nevertheless, its manifold segments are readable and extremely detailed with copious footnote, and it comes with full references and bibliography. My biggest gripe is that it does not have an index, a heinous crime in my book, or indeed any book. But I now know all about the ‘other’ Mr Kirby, and I am grateful for that.