Thomas Penny the first English Entomologist


W. T. W. Potts and L. Fear.


Thomas Penny, who was born at Eskrigg near Lancaster in about 1532, was a pioneer English biologist, indeed he was the first modern English zoologist but, owing to the peculiar history of his major work on insects, he is little known. One of the chapters in Canon Raven’s book English Naturalists from Nekham to Ray is entitled “Penny the Botanist” doubtless because he was familiar with Penny’s drawings of plants preserved in L’Ecluse’s Stirpium Pannonicarium but Penny’s contributions to zoology were more significant. In addition to being amongst the first to make a detailed study of insects, he was also the first Englishman to perform biological experiments. He is also remarkable in that he seems to have doubted the theory of spontaneous generation, the belief that living organisms, even mice, could arise from rotting matter, and to have defied Aristotle and grouped caterpillars with their butterflies and moths rather than with the worms.

Modern science began in England in the middle of the sixteenth century when men such as Gilbert, Penny and Camden began to describe the world around them with the minimum of preconceptions. Unfortunately Penny’s writings have not survived and he is known only through quotations in the works of his contempories and his remarkable drawings of insects and plants which have been preserved in books by other authors. Penny’s drawings of insects were cut out of his manuscript on insects, which has not suvived,  and glued into Thomas Moufet’s Insectorum Theatrum. Unfortunately very few of the original drawings have ever been published and they are known mainly through the crude woodcuts which were used to illustrate the Insectorum Theatrum, when it was published many years later. From the quotations from Penny’s works, preserved by other writers, from Penny’s drawings and from the high regard in which he was held by his contempories, it is clear that he was an exacting and painstaking observer of both plants and animals.

Eskrigg, Penny’s birthplace, is a hamlet, near Gressingham, nine miles north-east of Lancaster. Penny almost certainly went the Lancaster Grammar School, though no records survive, and went up to Queens’ College Cambridge to read Divinity. He was evidently an outstanding scholar. He was awarded a Sizarship at Trinity College in 1550, took his B.A. in 1551  and was elected a Fellow at Trinity  in 1553. Only a year later he was Senior Bursar. Like many Cambridge men at that time he was strongly of the Puritan persuasion. After keeping a low profile during the reign of Roman Catholic Queen Mary, he was rapidly promoted when the more liberal Elizabeth came to the throne, becoming a Prebend of St. Paul’s in 1560 and the Cambridge Preacher in 1561. Although his puritan opinions may have been acceptable in radical Cambridge, his Spittal Sermon at St. Paul’s Cross in 1565, a prestigious occasion, was bitterly criticised. Archbishop Parker observed that Penny was “ill affected towards the establishment”. At this time the Queen and the establishment were trying to steer a middle course betweens the extremes of Catholicism and Puritanism. Although he was dismissed as preacher he was allowed to keep his stall in St. Paul’s, and its income, until 1577.

After his Spittal sermon further advancemant in the church was unlikely  and Penny left for the Continent to study medicine. By this time Penny was already an authority on both plants and animals. While abroad he travelled to Zurich where he spent some time with the pioneer Swiss entomologist Conrad Gesner. He may have had an introduction to Gesner from either Caius or Turner, both of whom were friends of Gesner. How or when Penny first became interested in biology is uncertain. He had begun to make meticulous observations of plants before he left for the Continent and his immediate visit to Gesner indicates that he was already interested in entomology. After Gesner’s death but before going to Montpelier to study medicine in 1566, he helped Gesner’s pupil  Wolf prepare Gesner’s History of Plants for publication, contributing thirty three additional observations. For example, in volume 11, page 18 Penny adds “calls Cypredium calceolus Damsoniaum nothum. I prefer to call it Satyricon polyrrhizon.  The botanist De l’Ecluse, whom Penny befriended in Montpelier, named what is now Swertia perennis, Gentiana punctata Pennaei, in his honour, while Gerrard described Penny as "a second Dioscorides for his singular knowledge of plants" ( Herbal, p. 352.) A picture and description of the cloudberry, Rubus chamaemorus, sent to L’Ecluse by Penny, which Raven believes was incorporated almost verbatim into L'Ecluse's Stirpium Pannonicarium, illustrates his style. The description, translated from the Latin, reads as follows.

“Among thornless brambles we must include this elegant plant whose picture and history were communicated to us by the eminent Dr Thomas Penny, the London doctor above mentioned, under the title of Chamaemorus. It consists of stems twelve inches long on which alternatively grow three, four, or rarely, five leaves, rough in texture, not unlike those of the mallow or rather a mulberry divided into five points and serrated (per ambitum. serrata ) on long pedicels, and springing out of two wings or processes ( apophoses ) embracing the stalk. The top of the stem bears a single flower, standing out of blackish purple bracts. The fruit is very like that of a mulberry ( hence the name "ground mulberry ) but a little smaller, at first whitish and bitter, then red and sharply sweet. The root is knotted sending out a few fibres from each knot. It spreads wonderfully and creeps very far, so that it quickly covers a wide area. It flowers in June and early July: the fruit is ripe in August. It loves snowy and open places and the tops of hills, and grows in great plenty among heather on mount Ingleborrow the highest in all England, twelve miles from Lancaster. The English call it knotberries from the knot-like fruit: to the taste astringent, drying and cooling”

It is now known as the cloudberry, Rubus chamaemorus, still, in part, retaining the name Penny gave it. As he collected the plant on Ingleborough, within sight of his home at Eskrigg, it is likely that he became interested in botany while a schoolboy or an undergraduate.

At Cambridge Penny was a contemporary of Peter Turner, the son of William Turner, one of the first English botanists. Turner senior was born in 1508 and compiled a herbal which contained 238 descriptions of recognisable native species. He was interested in the observation of nature and may be regarded as the founder of field studies. He recognised the need for consistent, unambiguous names, both in Latin and English. Many of the English names in use today, such as Goatsbeard and Hawkweed were coined by Turner from translations from the Latin. If Penny had become interested in biology before going to Cambridge his interest may well have been strengthened by his contact with the Turners.

During his four years on the Continent he travelled widely, visiting Orleans, Paris, Geneva, Heidelburg, and Montpelier. Although he had studied medicine on the Continent, whe he returned the College of Physicians refused him entrance and even had him briefly imprisoned for practising medicine while unlicensed but  Penny soon established a successful practice in fashionable Leadenhall St. Surprisingly he retained his Stall in St. Paul's until 1577. when his support for the zealous Puritan Richard Gawton, a Norfolk clergyman who refused to wear a surplice or conform to the Book of Common Prayer, overtaxed the patience of the Church authorities.

The time he had to spare from his practice he devoted to the detailed description and illustration of insects. While at Orleans he had already described a bed-bug, Cimex lectularis, Insectorum Theatrum p. 269, and had devoted some of his time in Heidelberg with Turner and Brewer, to entomological studies. After his return he continued his field studies, visiting the Cartmel Fells, pp. 45 & 74, Northumberland, Peterborough, the home of his brother, Colchester , where he met his future wife Margaret Lucas, and Norfolk and Suffolk , the home of his friends the Knivets. He remained in close contact with his continental friends with whom he regularly exchanged specimens and drawings. For fifteen  years after he returned from the Continent, Penny worked on his monograph on Insects. Unfortunately his health was not good, he suffered from asthma, which he treated with woodlice crushed in wine I.T. p.204, and other ailments which Thomas Moufet describes in his book Health's Improvement, and he died prematurely in January 1588. A Puritan to the end, he left instructions in his will that the burial, in St Andrews Undershaft, was to be "without any ceremony whatever, nor mourning apparel, nor ringing, nor singing."

He left his uncompleted manuscript manuscript, with its 500 detailed life-sized drawings, to his friend Thomas Moufet.. His brother, who was his executor, died only a few weeks later and the transfer of his manuscript to his younger friend Moufet was delayed. Moufet is best remembered as the father of  “Little Miss Muffet” of the nursery rhyme. Moufet claimed that he  collected the manuscript just as it was about to be destroyed and that it had become “delapidated”. Moufet then decided to write his own book on entomology, though it may be suspected that the delapidation was just an excuse. Much of his work can be no more than a rewrite of Penny’s manuscript, and he used 500 of Penny’s drawings to illustrate his own text, adding 150 more drawings from various sources, including Gesner and Wotton. Moufet completed his Insectorum Theatrum in only one year, the manuscript ends with the words “Finis 3 Marty 1589”. It would be impossible to compose and write in a very precise hand over 500 pages of manuscript, transfer 500 illustrations and prepare some new ones in such a short time unless the backbone and much of the detail had already been provided by Penny. The first six chapters, on bees, appear to be Moufet’s work so it is possible that he had begun his own book on bees before he inherited Penny’s manuscript and decided to combined the two works.

Unfortunately Moufet was unable to find a printer. The cost of preparing 650 woodcuts to illustrate the book was probably the cause of the delay and Moufet then lost interest in the Theatrum. He wrote and published a new book on Silkworms and their Flies and became an M.P. but  when Aldrovani, a wealthy Italian, published his De Animalibus Insectis in 1602, a verbose work, “ much of it of little value and is also swamped in vast accumulations of quotations, epigrams and proverbs” ( Raven 1947 ) Moufet was spurred to attempt to publish his manuscript once more. The dedication to Queen Elizabeth was crossed out and it was rededicated to King James. However the book was still unpublished when Moufet died in 1604. By fortunate chance the manuscript survived and was sold on behalf of his widow to Sir Thomas Mayerne, a physician to the King, who eventually had it published in 1634, over a centuary after Penny’s birth. The 650 woodcuts inevitably lack the exquisite detail of the original drawings. Few of Penny’s drawings have ever been published but the fees demanded by the British Library make it impossible to publish the originals here. Moufet’s manuscript is now in the rare books collection in the British Library.MS Sloane, 4015.

Penny’s contribution to biology extends beyond his drawings and desciptions of insects

The classification of animals was a vital stage in the development of the theory of evolution. Before the construction of the theory of evolution the theoretical basis of classification was uncertain. It is obvious that animals and plants fall into natural groups, such as deer or butterflies, and these can be grouped into larger units, such as mammals and insects. Even without a theoretical basis there was an appreciation that a classification should be ‘natural’ as well as convenient. Aristotle classified animals in a logical fashion but he included the winged insects in one group but placed the wingless insects in another and classified the caterpillars with the worms.  The recognition that larvae and adults should be grouped together represents a great improvement but required the rejection of Aristotles’s system, although Aristotle’s works were then one of the major pillars of western thought.

An examination of Moufett’s Insectorum Theatrum shows that Penny had made that intellectual leap although, unfortunately, Moufet reverted to Aristotle’s system and adapted Penny’s drawings to it. Moufet classified winged insects in the first part of his book, “volume one” and and placed wingless insects, some arachnids, millipedes and crustacea in the second part, “volume two”. He divided wingless insects into terrestrial and aquatic insects. The terrestrial insects were further divided into legless insects, which included the earthworms, and into insects with legs, which included the caterpillars and arachnids. The latter were Moufet’s own speciality as the nursery rhyme ‘Little Miss Muffet’ still recalls.

Penny’s manuscrip thas been lost but Moufet glued his drawings into the margins of his text as required. It is clear that in Penny’s original manuscript the caterpillars were drawn alongside their butterfliews and moths. Fortunately Moufet was not a very systematic worker and did not always separate caterpillar and imago. On page 182, in Book 2 of the Theatrum, which was intended to deal only with wingless insects, both the Privet Hawk Moth, Sphinx ligustri and its caterpillar appear together.  An inspection of the original manuscript show that they are both on the same cut out. Similarly, on page 99, in Book 1, which deals with winged insects, the caterpillar of the southern swallowtail, Papilio machaeon, appears together with the butterfly. Further on in volume two, drawings of a number of moths are still attached to the drawings of their larvae, pp. 180, 184, 186 and 188. There are only sixty nine drawings of caterpillars in volume 2 of the Theatrum compared with seventy three species of butterflies and moths in volume 1, although many of the species are drawn twice, once from above with wings open and once from the side, with wings closed. Many of the caterpillars are the same species as the butterflies or moths in volume 1. For example the Emperor moth, Saturnia pavoria, appears on page 90 ( volume 1 ) and its caterpillar appears on page 189 ( volume 2). Similarly the Large Tortoiseshell butterfly, Nymphalis polychloros, appears on page  102  and its caterpillar is to be found at the top of page 190. Again, the Emperor Hawk Moth, Deilophilia elpenor, appears on page 91, while its caterpillar appears upside down on page 179 and again right way up, on page 183, together with a third illustration of the caterpillar in its defensive posture, with the eyes displayed, on the same page. The number of butterflies and moths which appear without their larvae suggests that Moufett saved only a portion of Penny’s drawings of caterpillars. It is clear that Penny grouped his caterpillars, and occasional drawings of pupae and eggs, with the adults of the same species.

Penny was also one of the first biologists to carry out experiments. On occasions Moufet mentions that Penny made observations of mating flies in glass bottles, he refers to experiments that Penny planned, and records that while on the Continent Penny threw a salamander into a fire and observed that the unfortunate animal did not survive. At that time it was widely believed that the salamander was fire-proof. He also recorded the habits, behaviour, seasons and environments of his plants and animals in unusual detail and so qualifies as a pioneer naturalist.

The first English settlement in America was on Roanoke Island, now on the border of Virginia and North Carolina, in 1587. The settlement was remarkably sophisticated, rather like a lunar settlement would be today. As well as sending a wide range of artisans, including blacksmiths, potters, weavers and carpenters, the settlers were  accompanied by  a fine artist, White, whose duties were to record the native  Indians and the local plants and animals. The settlers were also instructed to collect and send back specimens of the plants and animals for description by experts back home. Such was Penny’s reputation that the insects were sent to him for descrition, together with White’s drawings. Whites picture of the cicada and of an American Swallow-tailed butterfly are preserved in the manuscript. A note alongside, which must be in Penny’s hand, records that the drawng was sent to him from Virginia by White. These two drawings are one of the very few relics of the first English settlement. Because of the threat of the Spanish Armada the intended relief expeditions for the following years had to be cancelled and when the island was finally revisited in 1590 the settlers had vanished. Their fate is a mystery but the Roanoke settlement inspired the refoundation of Virginia 1607.

Moufet’s introduction to the Insectorum Threatrum is enlightening. His good intentions are clear. " I had rather something should be taken off my own estate than off` his ( Penny's ) glory." On the other hand the scale and character of his additions and deletions seem to have been damaging. The scale of his alterations is revealed by his comments. " I have forged the history to the best of my abilities, adding at the same time the light of oratory which Penny wanted I have amended the method and language and put out a thousand tautologies, trivial matters and things unreasonably spoken. I have inserted entire histories of insects and above one hundred and fifty pictures which Penny and Gesner knew not”. Altogether there are over six hundred and fifty drawings in the book and it is difficult to identify all of Moufet’s additions. Several of the chapters which are identifiably Moufet’s work are almost bereft of illustrations. Where it is possible to identify Penny's contributions they are accurate and concise while it is Moufet himself who  seems to supply the trivial matters and the “things unreasonably spoken.” Whether Penny really wanted the “light of oratory” and would have appreciated the folklore and numerous classical illusions, is very doubtful, as they are in marked contrast to his own style, where it can be identified. The chapters with the most illustrations, for example that on butterflies and moths, also contain the most references to Penny and may be based largely on his work. The first seven chapters contain few or no illustrations are probably the work of Moufet. Most of the chapters in volume two are poorly illustrated, and towards the end, when he had probably reached the end of Penny’s manuscript, the chapters become short and scrappy.

The remarkable and complex history of the book has masked and diluted Penny's original contribution but by extracting the references to Penny in the book and identifying the associated drawings on the original manuscript, it is still possible assess something of his pioneering work. The high quality of his drawings and the loss of detail in the woodcuts, is very evident. All descriptions which are specifically attributed to Penny are meticulous but concise and all observations are original, logical and accurate with no trace of folklore or myth. In marked contrast Moufet made little effort to distinguish fact from fiction and padded out the text with as many classical allusions as he could collect.

The Insectorum Theatrum, is, of course, in Latin but the extracts below have been translated for convenience. The first six chapters are devoted to bees, in which Moufet had a particular interest. There is only one casual reference to Penny, (how, when in Paris, he was shown how to break a wax seal and reseal it without leaving any sign) but there are many references to classical authors, such as Aristotle, Theophrastus, Pliny, Hesychius and Virgil. It is likely that these chapters are all Moufet's own work. They provide an indication of his style and scientific judgement. In chapter 1 Moufet claims that in stormy weather bees carry a stone between their " little feet " to stabilise their light bodies. In chapter 2 he describes the King bee and writes " and if he chance to find amongst his young ones any one that is a fool, unhandsome. or naturally ill conditioned he gives orders to put them to death". These observations seem more appropriate to the Tudor Court than in the beehive. It is significant that these chapters are not illustrated. It is odd that if Moufet had added 150 drawings to Penny’s collection that he could not find a single drawing to illustrate these six chapters. It also shows that he had no faith in his own artistic abilities.

From chapter 8 onwards descriptions of insects are accompanied with illustrations and Penny is more frequently referred to, although the work has been edited and embellished by Moufet. In Chapter 8 " Of Wasps " Moufet records an incident which occurred whilst he was on an expedition with Penny. P45 " A sort of these ( wasps ) I found once in a wood in Essex not without great peril of my life, at such time as by chance I carelessly wandered here and there a sampling, with my friend Penny. I would needs be prying into their nest: with which they being offended, all the swarm rushed out upon us and a great while it was before they would leave persueing us." The tale is devoid of scientific interest which has been sacrificed for dramatic effect.

In marked contrast Chapter 9 contains much of Penny's work. The description of a species of hornet ( p.53.) and Plate X, is taken directly from Penny's notes. " Penny refers it to the species of the wasp and described it in his drafts": ‘ All the body is black except the back, which is reddish from the middle almost to the tail, the end of the tail is black, it has silvery coloured wings affixed, the former twice as big as the other: they harbour in walls and in the brinks of ditches and ruinous buildings, whether they have any sting 1 know not.’" The detailed description and the notes on their habit, together with a willingness to admit to limitations of knowledge seem to be characteristic of Penny. Penny was evidently an authority on insect classification. On page 52 Penny is quoted as arguing that Pemphredo should "on no account be the same as Tenthreda" because the former is like a bee while the latter is more like a wasp." Raven (1947 ) suggests that the arrangement of insects into social groups as opposed to solitary forms ( Page 53 ) is also likely to be Penny's.

The chapter on flies chapter 10, includes accounts of some of Penny's experiments. " The most learned Dr Penny put two flies mating in a jar and found them still mating the following day, which confirm what Aristotle, Aelin and Niphus said, to wit, that flies do continue very long in the act of generation.” p.55. While Moufet  adhered to the traditional belief in the generation of flies by putrefaction, although allowing that mating was an alternative method, Penny evidently was prepared to take a more enlightened view and notes that his friend  Knivet's believed that they were produced from "corrupted" caterpillars, presumably maggots. Penny's contribution to the second chapter on flies is considerable. Moufet  states that Penny was the first to distinguish between the Tabanus fly and the Afilus fly ( p61 ) and the illustrations of the two are likely to be his. Moufet relates that Penny received two other rare Afili one from Virginia sent by White  and the other sent from Moscow by Elmer, a surgeon. The range of his contacts is remarkable and demonstrate that he was the recognised authority on entomology by this time. The descriptions of the Afili must be Penny's. " That out of Virginia was as big as the biggest flies, having a reddish head and very like in shape too, but only the head was black, it had from the shoulders a white streak down to the mouth having also bigger and blacker eyes. He had in his mouth a long sting and very strong, his shoulder of a blackish brown colour, from whence comes forth two wings of a silver colour, to the tail downward it had six or seven joints of a whitish colour, all the rest of the body was blackish.” p.60.

The description of the Whame or Burrell fly ( p. 62 ) is also attributed to Penny, although embellished by Moufet. What is almost certainly another reference to Penny's reliance on the experimental method follows on the same page. "Another fly closely related to these infests cattle. This Penny justly called the Curvicauda for it always clings to the legs or stomach of the animal... Horses fear this fly ... and at its mere touch as if afraid, frequently try to drive away so cruel a foe with their tail, feet or hips. There are those who think that this fly does not sting but fastens with its tail to the dung in the hair of the horse.. But this will be determined by experiment."

The drawings of the various dragon and damsel flies are most likely to be by Penny. The original specimen of Libellula maxima was hatched in Penny's study from a larva, Fig.2, while Libellula minima was sent to Penny by Brewer. All the drawings on pages 67 and 68 show the accurate but delicate touch of the other identifiable drawings by Penny. Chapter 12 on flies is not illustrated but contains several references to Penny. The descriptions of an Erinopteran species sent to Penny by Knivet, p.75, of a flower-grazing fly, sent by Clusius and of a Triemerus, sighted near Peterborough in 1582, page 77, must all be must be by Penny. The following chapter on gnats is of minor interest but the difference between the scientific competence of Moufet and Penny is illustrated by the way in which Moufet contradicts Penny's view that the gnat's mouthparts are used for biting; preferring instead the hypothesis that they are used for “singing.” Page 81.

The chapter on the Lepidoptera has more illustrations than any other. The quality of the original illustrations is higher than those of the same species in Aldrovani's book. Many of the species can be identified from their descriptions. Most of the species are, or were , native to Britain and the those which are not could have been collected by Penny while on his continental travels or sent later by some of his numerous continental correspondents. The descriptions read like others by Penny. For example a Parnassus sp (Apollo ), not found in Britain, runs as follows. " ( It ) is white all over, only the outer wings are bedaubed with certain black spots and freckles and the innermost with very red specks and pimples white in the midst, the eyes very black, the feet and horns yellowish, instead of a nose there comes forth a rough hair or bristle, which is wound up together like a roll." There is a fine drawing of a Saturnia pyri, an exotic silk moth, at the beginning of the chapter, which could well be by Penny. A scarce swallow tail, Iphicledes podalirius, is now confined to the Continent but there is evidence that a colony survived in Shropshire until the nineteenth century. The original figure is in Penny's delicate style.

Moufet claims that both Penny and Gesner ignored the Cantharides and claims that chapter 20, on this group, is his own work. This is corroborated by the nature of much of the chapter which is devoted largely to their use as love potions and poisons. However, at the beginning of the chapter are some competent descriptions in the style of Penny.

The second part of the manuscript, “volume two” is less dependent on Penny, it contains fewer illustrations and references to Penny are less frequent. The first chapter is devoted to silkworms, which Moufet had studied in detail in Italy. There are no illustrations in the manuscript but in the printed book there are several crude woodcuts, derived from Aldrovandus. Moufet had evidently made no drawings while in Italy or, if he had, they were too poor to use. These illustrations must have been added before Moufet's second attempt to publish the book. At the beginning of the book he provides a primitive classification of insects, following Aristotle, which groups the caterpillars and larvae with the worms, spiders and shrimps. In his discussion of generation Moufet records that Penny discounted Pliny's view that caterpillars are "born of dew",( Page 191) a brave contradiction of a classical authority.

In Chapter 8 "Of Centipedes" Penny again appears as a field naturalist." O happy Penny who divers times with his bare hands provoked and killed them and was never bitten nor hurt.” This chapter contains an excerpt from Penny's notes ( page 201 ) which is testimony to his recognition for need for direct observation and his talent for concise description. " A little scolopender is bred and lives in logs of trees, or in pots driven into the earth ( whence it has its name ) remove these or stir them and it will come forth... when it creeps it lifts up the middle of the body like a vault, if you touch it with a little twig.. it rolls itself together. It is a brazen colour, a slender body, not broad, but three fingers long." Page 201.

In the chapters on woodlice and scorpions Moufet relies almost entirely on classical sources, apart from a mention of Penny's use of crushed woodlice in wine, as a treatment for asthma. Chapters 11 to 15 , which are devoted to Moufet's speciality, spiders, show what the Theatrum would have been like without access to Penny's manuscript. The only figures are taken from Penny, one of a Tarantula sent by an Italian merchant. The other, of two spiders from Colchester, is accompanied by  Penny's observation of young spiders on the parents back. He first thought that they were warts. Elsewhere Moufet unusually criticises Penny  but only for objecting to the habit of eating spiders. Moufet's literary flourishes and "fanciful eulogies" abound. " I know not whether were best to commend the spider for the gifts of her mind, as wisdom, justice, valour .. humanity, love of poverty.." When even his scientific friends were so anthropomorphic in their approach to animals Penny's modern approach is all the more remarkable.

At this time it was generally believed that living organisms, even mice, could arise from rotting material. The recognition that living organisms can only arise from other living organisms was a great step forward, Penny seems to have been making this move. Whenever the subject is mentioned by Moufet it is clear that Penny prefered the the theory of sexual reproduction to that of spontaneous generation. In his discussion of bed-bugs, chapter 25, Moufet mentions Penny's belief that bed-bugs reproduced sexually. “For while he ( Penny ) was studying plant life with Natalis Capero he tried to draw his sword to cut off a branch of a tree, when however, it wouldn't come because of rust he had to cut open the scabbard and in it he found lots of adult cimices (bed bugs ) and a good few young with a great number of pale white eggs.” p.169. This delightful vignette of the English traveller in Italy, shows once again that Penny was always alert to interesting biological phenomena, even if he couldn't draw his sword in an emergency. In spite of this Moufet continued to insist that bed-bug were also born from “certain putrescent humours found around beds.” Moufet also records that Penny, on a visit to Mortlake, was able to assure two women that red marks on their bodies were merely bed-bug bites and not evidence of the plague.

The chapters on clothes moths and sheep ticks preserve few of Penny's notes but in chapter 28 Moufet queries Penny's observation of copulating fleas, no doubt preferring the theory of spontaneous generation. The remaining chapters in book two contain little mention of Penny. They deal mainly with earthworms and parasitic worms although chapter 36 returns to chrysalides. It is clear that Moufet had no rational system of classification and made no attempt to classify the different stages in the life history of an animal together. It is particularly unfortunate that Moufet gives no direct hint of the system of classification that Penny must have used

We must be grateful to Moufet or preserving something of Penny's manuscript but it is clear from the above analysis that Penny and Moufet belonged to different worlds. Penny relied on observation and deduction, Moufet feared to contradict his "ancient philosophers." Whenever Moufet quotes Penny it is like a breath of fresh air in a stagnant room, when he leaves Penny and relies on the works of others, he relapses back into the prescientific age. In practically every case the drawings  in the Theatrum can be attributed to Penny or to other artists. The absence of illustrations, even in those parts of the subject in which Moufet had a particular interest, suggests that Moufet was not an artist. Penny. in contrast, was a fine and exact artist and a careful observer. Even in the few records that survive of his activities there are references to several experiments while, above all, he was willing to challenge the classical authors on matters such as classification and spontaneous generation.

It is clear that Moufet’s book would never have seen the light of day had he not possessed Penny’s manuscript. In essence it must be an expanded and badly edited version of it. Moufet was evidently conscious that Penny was the master and he the pupil and on occasions gives Penny great credit but at other times he is defensive and perhaps over compensates for his own inadequacies, as when he claims to have removed “about a thousand tautologies, trivial matters and things unreasonably spoken” It is  clear however that Penny was the concise writer and acute observer while Moufet was verbose and uncritical.




1. In the Theatrum Animalium the authors name is given as Moufet but in the original manuscript it is given as Moffett(i). The reason for the change is unknown.The family came from Moffat, Dumfriesshire.


2 Unfortunately, it is not possible to reproduce here any of Penny’s exquisite original drawings, owing to the very high charges required by the British Library, which hold the manuscript. The figures below are from Moufet’s Theatrum Animalium’



1. Page 65 of the Theatrum Animalium, showing 26 drawings of various flies. It is often difficult to relate the woodcuts of the flies to the text.


2. Woodcuts of two species of dragonflies. The crudity of the woodcuts make it difficult to identify the species but they both belong to the genus Libellula. The insect on the lower right is a lace wing ( Neuroptera ).