While reading Nabokov’s Butterflies, I came across a likely source for the “Poling Prize” given to John Ray Jr. for his “modest” work “Do the Senses [M]ake Sense?” which prize helped him land the job as editor of Humbert’s manuscript.
The source is Nabokov’s paper, Some new or little known Nearctic Neonympha, which, far from modest, Nabokov referred to as “my big work.” Here are the references to Poling:
Neonympha dorothea edwardsi n. subsp.
Male, holotype, labelled: “Gila Co. Ariz. June 1902, O.C. Poling,” ex A.g. Weeks Coll., Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge, Mass.;[…] Paratypes: 3 males “Gila Co. Ariz. June 1902, O.C. Poling,” ex A.G. Weeks Coll., Mus. Comp. Zool.;
Neonympha dorothea avicula n. subsp.
Fifteen smallish specimens, twelve males, three females (Carn. Mus.), from Paradise, Ariz. taken by Poling late in the season (August–October) represent a certain transition from edwardsi to avicula;
This little subplot can be followed through a dozen or so letters — here are a select few:
From letter to Mark Aldanov, May 20, 1942
“I have finished my big work on ‘Some New or Little Known Nearctic Neonympha,’”
From letter to Edmund Wilson, August 9, 1942
From West Wardsboro, Vermont.
“It is amusing to think that I managed to get into Harvard with a butterfly as my sole backer.”
From letter to Edmund Wilson, December 13, 1942
From Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“I envy so bitterly your intimacy with English words, tumbling them as you do, that it seems rather silly to send you the poem [A Discovery] you will find on a separate page…. I wrote it on my way to Washington where I went for the only purpose of sorting out some butterflies I had described (not the one referred to here, which is in New York and which I visited too […] ).”
From letter to Donald Eff, May 1, 1953
From Portal, Arizona. Unpublished.
“I am on leave of absence from the university this spring and thought it a good idea to spend it collecting in the Chiricahua Mts — and writing a book [Lolita].
I am eager to get here (this is its type locality) my Neonympha maniola (which R. Chermock demoted to a subspecies of my dorothea — wrongly, I think). It should appear late in May. Another Neonympha, henshawi Edw., (the northern form of the Mexican pyracmon) coexists with maniola. The three are readily separated by the females: what Holland figures as “henshawi” male, is dorothea, female. The female of henshawi is figured by Edwards (it has a slightly tailed and banded appearance), and that of maniola (a rather ruddy thing) is figured by Wright (Butt. W. Coast).”
From letter to Harry Levin, May 2, 1953
From Portal, Arizona.
“We are in the south-east corner of Arizona, on the border of New and Old Mexico. The nearer mountains are maroon, spotted with the dark green of junipers and the lighter green of mesquites, and the far mountains are purple as in the Wellesley song. From eight A.M. to noon, or later, I collect butterflies (only Wells, Conan Doyle and Conrad have portrayed lepidopterists — all of them spies, or murderers, or neurotics) and from two P.M. to dinner time I write (a novel) [Lolita].”
I'll leave this without comment for the time being, but feel free to weigh in.