John Curtis (1791-1862)
John Curtis (3 September 1791 – 6 October 1862) was an English entomologist and illustrator. He was born in Norwich and learned his engraving skills in the workshop of his father, Charles Morgan Curtis.Charles Curtis died young and his widow, Frances, became a flower grower.She encouraged her son to study natural history with a local naturalist, Richard Walker (1791–1870).,
At the age of 16 he became an apprentice at a local lawyer's office in Norwich but devoted his spare time to studying and drawing insects and, with insect collecting becoming a growing craze, he found he could make a living selling the specimens he found.At this time he became a friend of Simon Wilkin (1790–1862) ,finally leaving his job and living with Wilkin at Costessey where he undertook systematic insect studies and learned engraving. Through Wilkin he met the entomologists William Kirby and William Spence and his illustrations were published in An Introduction to Entomology (1815–1826).
Sometime between 1817 and 1819 Curtis moved to London meeting Sir Joseph Banks , president of the Royal Society. Banks introduced him to William Elford Leach a curator at the British Museum.He studied conchology with Leach. Through Leach he met James Charles Dale who became his patron. In 1824 he began his greatest achievement ,British Entomology - being illustrations and descriptions of the genera of insects found in Great Britain and Ireland, widely considered one of the finest works on the subject of the nineteenth century. It was published monthly by subscription from 1824 to 1839, each instalment featuring four plates with 2 pages of text to accompany them. The finished work comprised 16 volumes covering 770 insect species.Georges Cuvier (1769–1832) described British Entomology as "the paragon of perfection".
By 1840 Curtis suffered with poor eyesight which worsened in later life and he had financial problems.These were partly solved by publishing a number of entomological articles in the Gardener's Chronicle, as "Ruricola", and in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society.This led to the profitable Farm insects: being the natural history and economy of the insects injurious to the field crops of Great Britain and Ireland published in 1860.
By the end of 1856 Curtis was totally blind and receiving a civil list pension. Many years after his death, when the original illustrations for British Entomology were up for sale, there were fears that the precious collection would be split up. The whole collection was, however, purchased by Walter Rothschild and later bequeathed to the Natural History Museum, where they remain today.
He was a Fellow of the Linnean Society from 1822,in 1833.He lent support to the founding of what became the Royal Entomological Society of London and served as it's president from 1855 to 1857. He was an honorary member of the Société Entomologique de France.
Curtis, J. 1829. Myrmecina Latreillii. Plate 265 [plus 2 unnumbered pages of text] in: Curtis, J. British entomology; being illustrations and descriptions of the genera of insects found in Great Britain and Ireland. Volume 6. London: published by the author, plates 242-289.
Curtis, J. 1839. Formica rufa. The red, hill, or horse Ant, or Pismire. Plate 752 [plus 2 unnumbered pages of text] in: Curtis, J. British entomology; being illustrations and descriptions of the genera of insects found in Great Britain and Ireland. Volume 16. London: published by the author, plates 722-769.
Curtis, J. 1854. On the genus Myrmica and other indigenous ants. Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond. 21: 211-220
Evenhuis, N.L. 1997. Litteratura Taxonomica Dipterorum (1756-1930) 1: 168, portrait.
Herman, L.H. 2001. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 265: 55-58, portrait.