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In Memory of Bill Hamilton

A Letter for The Memorial Event for Professor William Donald Hamilton at New College Chapel (27 June 2000)

Yosiaki Ito, Professor Emeritus, Nagoya University, Japan

Dear friends:

Thanks for all the attendants who have come to the New College Chapel today to commemorate William Donald Hamilton. Unfortunately I cannot attend this event, but here I would like to express my personal message of condolence.

It was my astonishment to hear sudden death of Bill Hamilton due to malaria, only two months after the beginning of this year, when I received his long Christmas letter (four typewritten pages), in which he explained why he must go to Congo soon, despite risky social conditions in this country.

There may be no need to write here on his great contributions to the theoretical biology, especially revolution of evolutionary theories, including the first presentation of kin-selection and theory on the evolution of sex, because many obituaries (e. g. an anonymous obituary in Times, March 9, and a retrospective by D. Haig, N. E. Pierce and E. O. Wilson in Science, March 31) mentioned them, and appropriate persons may speak about them in this event. Reasons of his recent interest in AIDS may also be explained by some attendants. I write here only private, naturalistic, experience gained with him.

On hearing his death, I have first remembered Bill's large specimen-box showing many Amazonian butterflies. I saw it, when I first met him in a seminar at the Zoological Laboratory of Oxford University in 1985, and went to his home after this. I was deeply impressed by this, that is, although most of his papers published are theoretical and mathematical, Bill is a person who has heartily loved nature, especially insects (This read him to discover, with young students, some animal species having amazingly specialized life histories, such as a mite, Pygmephorus priscus, of which female progeny become adults in mother's body, copulate with brothers there, and after the copulation, these females emerge from their mother's body.

Since he first visited Japan in 1986 to attend a small international symposium on 'Biological Aspects of Optimal Strategy and Social Structure' in Kyoto (his paper read here was published as 'Kinship, recognition, disease, and intelligence: constraints of social evolution' in pp. 81-102 of the report of this symposium "Animal Societies: Theories and Facts", edited by Y. Ito J. L. Brown and J. Kikkawa, Japan Scientific Socie ties Press, 1987), he visited my home near Nagoya City three times (once with Christine Hamilton). In these occasions, we went to Nagano Prefecture to observe 'aphid soldiers' in their natural habitat, to Okinawa to see an ant, Cardiocondyla wroughtonii, for which Prof. K. Yamauchi, my friends, found siblicide between wingless males in their nest, as previously supposed by Bill in his review on wingless and fighting males in fig wasps and other insects, and enjoyed many Japanese foods and Japanese style hot-spring inns. Yamauchi also brought him to a montane part of Gifu Prefecture to collect 'Gifu butterfly' (Luehdorfia japonica). I heared that he satisfied.

It is my satisfaction that myself and Miss M. Arai asked him to write his autobiographical paper in 'Insectarium', a popular entomological magazine being published from Tokyo Zoological Park Society (Arai is an editor of this). He gave soon an MS "My Intended Burial and Why" with many colour photographs, and this was translated into Japanese by Mr. Y. Ohira, another editor, and published in 1991 (Insectarium, 28; 238-247). Thus only Japanese can so far read Bills autobiography (I heared that the original English version of this may be published in "Narrow Roads of Gene Land: The Collected Papers of W. D. Hamilton, Volume 2", W. H. Freeman & Company. I hope early publication of it).

According to Ms. Mary Bliss, Bill's sister, Bill had especially interested on culture and life in Japan, before his first visit to Japan. When he saw an old man who took a cicada by a net and gave it to a litle girl (possibly his granddaughter) bringing an insect cage on a busy suburban street in Kyoto, he told me "When I was a boy and collecting insects by a net, I was felt strange by other English persons who saw me". He wrote in his autobiography: "it is my impression that in Japan there is less of a human divergence in attitudes about insects and fewer examples of the almost hysterical dislike and fear which is quite common in Britain," Bill knows that butterflies and other insects were common subject of Japanese arts but had become subject of European pictures and arts after the influence of "Japonism", when Japanese pictures during Edo-period stimulated European artists.

Bill wrote in preface to his "Narrow Roads of Gene Land": "What title could I give to a mixture of anecdotes, opinions, and serious science such as are included here? 'Rambling' seemed indeed a key word and at length there crossed my mind a book describing a tour that was made on foot in northern Japan in the seventeenth century. The tourist and writer Matsuo Basho was a poet and he interspersed lively descriptive and anecdotal prose concerning his journey with brief poems - haiku - that were also inspired by the people, events, and scenery he encountered. ...... It was therefore with obeisance to Basho and his 'Narrow Road of Oku' that I chose my title 'Narrow Roads of Gene Land'.

Bill has always been concerned about world peace and preservation of nature. He has worked on preservation of Amazonian ecosystems and encouraged me to avoid destruction of nature of Okinawa, the southernmost part of Japan. As a men grew in a country which experienced atomic bombs, I like to quart a part of his personal letter, sent to me on February 26, 1986: " I am writing to say that I give my support to anything you can do towards making the world safer from nuclear weapons. This is a very serious issue affecting the safety of all of mankind. Please use this letter and my name in any way you think useful"(Bill's underline).

Nobel Prizes do not include ecology and evolution, but K. von Frisch, K. Lorenz and N. Tinbergen received it. I hoped Bill's survival until reception of this prize. However, I heartily regret failure of his hope described in the last part of his autobiography (due to recent difficulty to continue field works in Brazil). He wrote "I will leave a sum in my last will for my body to be carried to Brazil and to these forests. It will be laid out in a manner secure against the possums and the vultures just as we make our chickens secure; and this great Coprophanaeus beetle will bury me. They will enter, will bury, will live on my flesh; and in the shape their children and mine, I will escape. ... I will be many, buzz even as motorbikes, be born, body by flying body out into the great Brazilian wilderness beneath the stars, lofted under those beautiful and un-fused elytra which we will all hold over our backs. So finally, I too will shine like a violet ground beetle under a stone".

Yosiaki Ito