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Some Aspects of Collecting

From a letter to Edmund Wilson, August 9, 1942
From West Wardsboro, Vermont.

I am going to Cambridge on the 31st of August as my duties at the Mus. Comp. Zool. begin on the 1st of Sept. We have taken a flat there -- 8 Craigie Circle. It is amusing to think that I managed to get into Harvard with a butterfly as my sole backer. I am capturing a good deal of them here, chiefly moths. It is one of the most perfect pleasures I know of -- to open the window wide on a muggy night and watch them come. Each has its own lampside manner: one will settle quietly on the wall to be boxed in comfort, another will dash and bang against the lampshade before falling with quivering wings and burning eyes upon the table, a third will wander all over the ceiling. The system is to have several tumblers with a piece of "carbona" soaked cotton-wool stuck to the bottom, and you overturn the tumbler upon the bug. When stunned it is transferred to another jar to be pinned later. Tonight I shall sugar for them: you mix: a bottle of stale beer, two pounds of brown sugar (or treacle) and a little rum (added just before applying); then just before dusk you smear (with a clean paint brush) a score of tree trunks (preferably old lichened ones) with the concoction and wait. They will come from nowhere, settling on the glistening bark and showing their crimson underwings (especially brilliant in the flashlight) and you cover them with a tumbler beginning with the lower ones. Try, Bunny, it is the noblest sport in the world.

[Nabokov-Wilson Letters 69]

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Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; April 2000; Nabokov's Butterflies, Some Aspects of Collecting - 00.04; Volume 285, No. 4; page 64.