Living Lights: a Popular Account of Phosphorescent Animals and Vegetables (1887)


Living lights: a popular account of phosphorescent animals and vegetables, by Charles Frederick Holder; 1887; Sampson Low, Marston, London.

A beautifully illustrated book all about creatures endowed with the remarkable ability to produce and emit light: what we now call “bioluminescence”. In addition to the exquisite illustrations (which seem to be from the hand of someone called “A.L. Clement”), the author Charles Frederick Holder gives us some wonderful anecdotes relating to these light-giving creatures, such as the following about an American gentleman’s experience at a masquerade ball in South America:

The ball-room was the garden, a veritable fairy-land abounding in plants of the most novel and beautiful description, and upon the grass had been laid an extended platform for the dancers. It was moonlight when the festivities began, and no artificial lights were used ; yet at various intervals among the flowers soft gleams appeared, apparently for ornament. Among the first comers was a tall gentleman dressed in a style of several centuries ago, a most picturesque costume ; but what particularly attracted the attention of the American were the decorations of this gentleman and his companion. Around the broad-brimmed hat he wore a band of what appeared, from a distance, to be gems, that flashed like diamonds, presenting a magnificent appearance. The lady’s costume was still more remarkable, being fairly ablaze with these brilliant scintillations. As the evening wore on, he was presented to these maskers, when he found that the light proceeded from innumerable luminous insects which had been secured by delicate wires, and fastened upon the hat and the lady’s dress.

On a side note the author, Charles Frederick Holder (1851–1915), in addition to his work in botany, was also hailed as the the inventor of big-game fishing, and in 1910 traveled with Frederick Russell Burnham to Mexico and uncovered Mayan artefacts, including the Esperanza Stone, a supposedly “paranormal relic”.

For further reading on these incredible creatures, we highly recommend checking out Bioluminescence: Living Lights, Lights for Living from Harvard University Press.

Housed at: Internet Archive | From: California Digital Library
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: No Additional Rights
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