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Hence it is that the utility of books becomes obvious. You witness with your own eyes some puzzling, perplexing, strange, and unaccountable -fact; twenty different statements of it have been given by twenty different ornithologists; you consult them all, and getting a hint from one, and a hint from another, here a glim mer of light to be followed, and there a gloom of darkness to be avoided-why, who knows but that in the end you do yourself solve the mystery, and absolutely become not only happy but illustrious? We cannot deny ourselves and friends the pleasure of perusing, in proof of this, the following passage, which exhi bits a characteristic specimen of Professor Rennie's happy style of treating whatever subject comes within the range either of his reading or his observation.
"You pay a visit, for example, to the nest of a dabchick or grebe, (Podiceps,) which you had discovered some days before among reeds at the edge of a pond, and are surprised to find that the eggs have disappeared; but much more so on taking up some of the rude materials of the nest, to see the eggs snugly concealed beneath. The question immediately arises, Did the mother bird thus cover the eggs herself, and if so, for what purpose was it done? If you be not too impatient, (a state of mind exceedingly adverse to accuracy and originality,) you will endeavour to ascertain whether the covering of the eggs was peculiar to this individual, or common to the species, by repeated observation, as frequently as opportunity offers; or, if patience fail you for this, such books as you have access to may be consulted. Look into Linnæus, and all you find is, that this bird builds a floating nest of grass and reeds.' Latham says, the nest is made of water-plants among the reeds, and close to the surface of the water, floating independent.' Willughby, Ray, and Brisson, say not a word about the nest. Fleming says, the 'nest is in marshes of aquatic plants, and made so as to float.'' They breed,' says Goldsmith,' among reeds and flags, in a floating nest, kept steady by the weeds and margin.' They construct their nest,' says Griffith, evidently copying Temminck, with rushes, &c., interlaced, which they attach to the stems of reeds, resting it on their broken tops, or suffering it to float.' 'Nest large,' according to Jennings, made of aquatic plants not attached to any thing, but floats among
the reeds and flags penetrated by water.' Belon, who is followed by Gesner, Aldrovand, Jonston, and M. Drapiez, says, 'it nestles near the ground upon some turfy clump in a marsh, difficult of access.' 'On our large pools,' says Buffon, they build with reeds and rushes interwoven, and the nest is half dipped
in the water, though not entirely afloat,
as Linnæus asserts, but shut and attached to the reeds.' Wood subsequently adds, in a note, " they construct a floating nest of reeds.' They build their nests,' says Hill, floating and loose among the flags'; and being altogether unconnected with the reeds among which it floats, it sometimes happens that it is blown from among them into the open lake. In this situation the owner, like a skilful pilot, it is said, steers the nest into a safe harbour, by passing her feet through it.'
"In all these various notices of the nest in question, by the well known naturalists thus consulted, there occurs no mention of any covering of the eggs, though the enquiry has brought under notice some other curious particulars, which, no doubt, a young and ardent observer will be anxious to verify on the nest itself, from which his book-research originated. Some of the authors, it has been seen, assert that the nest floats on water, nay, that it is purposely built to float by the mother bird; while others make no mention of its floating, and some expressly deny it. In a supposed case like this, it may, perhaps, be deemed premature for me to decide; but the nests which have fallen under my observation, agree with those originally described by Belon, in being built on raised clumps in marshes, or at least so supported by water plants as not to be iu tended to float. That in consequence of floods these nests may, by accident, have been found floating, it would be wrong to deny, though there can be little doubt that Linnæus, who was much too credulous of wonders, magnified a chance occurrence into a general rule. The story of the mother bird navigating her nest when it has been carried away by a flood, is altogether incredible; for the nest is not only constructed of a bedding of reeds, rushes, and other water plants, more than a foot in thickness, but the feet of the bird are so broad and clumsy, that they could not be thrust through it without entirely destroying its texture.
"Pennant, however, seems to believe this nonsense, for he adds to the account -'In these circumstances the halcyon's nest, its floating house, Auctivaga domus,
as Statius expresses it, may in some measure be vindicated.' The same author also is more particular about the floating of the nest, which he says is built near banks in the water, but without any fastening, so that it rises and falls as that does. To make its nest, it collects an amazing quantity of grass, water-plants,' &c.; and he adds, it should seem wonderful how they are hatched, as the water rises through the nest and keeps them wet; but the natural warmth of the bird bringing on a fermentation in the vegetables, which are full a foot thick, makes a hot-bed fit for the purpose.' If our young student, upon reading this very questionable doctrine, turn to this Dictionary, page 127, he will learn that Colonel Montagu uniformly found the nests cold, and that, taking into account the chemical principles of fermentation, it was impossible they could be warm.
"But Pennant also mentions a circumstance of much more interest in reference to the original enquiry, when he says that this bird lays five or six white eggs, and always covers them when it quits the nest,'the very point to ascertain which the research was begun. With this authority, supported as it is by Montagu, most students might rest satisfied, but the ardent naturalist never arrives at any conclusion like this, without bringing all the facts within his knowledge to bear upon it, in order to elucidate connecting causes and consequences; for the fact being ascertained of the mother bird covering her eggs, it becomes interesting to enquire why she does this.
"It is admitted by all the naturalists already quoted, that the nest in question is built on moist ground, if not actually touching the water, and that part at least of the materials consist of moist waterplants. Now, it is indispensable to hatching, that the eggs be kept at a high temperature, and not be suffered for a moment to cool. The natural heat of the bird itself is sufficient for this purpose, without the heat of fermentation, erroneously supposed by Pennant; but if she quits them for a moment to go in pursuit of food, or to withdraw the attention of an intruding water-spaniel, or a prying naturalist, their near vicinity to moist plants or to water, would certainly prove fatal to the embryo chicks. In order then to prevent her brood from being destroyed by cold, the careful bird covers the eggs with a quantity of dry hay, to keep them warm till her return.
"By keeping this interesting fact in his mind, our young naturalist may subsequently find that other birds employ
the same, or similar devices. The carrioncrow, (Corvus corone,) for example, who lines her nest with wool and rabbits' fur, always covers her eggs with a quantity of this before leaving her nest, no doubt, for the same reason that the dabchick employs hay. Again, several birds of very different habits, such as the wood-wren, (Sylvia sibilatrix,) and the hay-bird, (Sylvia trochilus,) construct a permanent arch of moss and dried grass over their nests. leaving a narrow entrance in the side. Having recently had occasion to investigate the structure of various nests with some minuteness, I have been led to adopt the opinion, that the arched coping, or dome, so remarkable in several small birds for ingenious and beautiful workmanship, is designed to preserve their animal heat from being dissipated during the process of incubation; an opinion which appears to be corroborated by the fact of our native birds that thus cover in their nests at the top, being all very small, Among these, besides the wood-wren and the hay-bird, are the common wren, the chiff-chaff, (Sylvia hipolais,) the goldcrested wren, the bottle-tit, (Purus caudatus, RAY,) and the dipper, (Cinclus aquaticus, BECHSTEIN.) There are other birds, no doubt, little larger than these, such as the blackcap and the babillard, (Curruca garrula, BRISSON,) which do not build domed nests; but it is worthy of remark, that the latter usually lay much fewer eggs; the babillard seldom more than four, and the blackcap four or five; while the gold-crested wren lays from seven to ten, the bottle-tit from nine to twelve, and the common wren from eight to (some say) fourteen, and even twenty. It will follow of course, that in order to hatch so large a number, these little birds require all their animal heat to be concentrated and preserved from being dissipated. The dipper, indeed, lays but five or six eggs, and weighs from six to eight times more than any of our other dome builders; but it is to be recollected, that, from its being a water bird, and building near water, it may have more occasion to 'all appliances' to concentrate its heat. In tropical countries, where the heat is great, such domed nests are very common, and are probably intended to protect the mother birds, while hatching, from the intense heat of a perpendicular sun; though most naturalists think they are designed to avert the intrusion of snakes, forgetting that snakes would more naturally run their heads into a nest with a small side entrance, than if it were open above. A circumstance which fell under my observation, corroborative of
this remark, I have recorded under the article Hay Bird. Other birds, in warm countries, leave their eggs during the day exposed to the heat of the sun, and only sit upon them during the night, or in cloudy weather, when the temperature of the air is not sufficiently high,-a fact which has given origin to the error, that the ostrich (Struthio camelus,) lays her eggs in the sand and abandons them to chance."
What, then, in the opinion of this acute observer and enquirer, is the use of what in Natural History is called a system? A methodical classification is useful in as far only as it may serve as a framework or a cabinet, into the partitions of which many little facts may be stored and dove-tailed, that would otherwise be scattered through the memory at random, at the great hazard of being lost. The advantage of a system of this kind, then, consists in its preserving such collections of facts, as a cabinet preserves a collection of specimens; and, provided the several facts be not too far separated from their usual associations, it matters little what other qualities the systems possess. Simplicity, indeed, must always be valuable, and a simple system may be likened to a plain unornamented cabinet, where the specimens hold a prominent place, and the cabinet itself is almost overlooked; while a complex system may, in the same way, be likened to a cabinet bedizened with grotesque carving and fretwork, the compart ments of which are "curiously cut," and fantastically arranged, consisting indeed chiefly of empty framework, without a useful fact, or an interesting specimen on which the mind can rest; and afterwards Mr Rennie says, with equal truth and boldness, of these same systemmongers, that the alphabet of their system is all they study, yet they scruple not to call themselves naturalists, and the alphabet of their system, Natural History, though they might, with equal propriety, call the twenty-four letters in a hornbook the History of England, and rank the village schoolmaster who teaches it with Hume or Lingard. That some minds may be so constituted as to take pleasure in such nicknack study, is proved by the analo
gous pursuits of collectors of old coins and medals, not for their utility, but solely on account of their rarity, or to perfect a series; yet it would be as preposterous to rank such mere collectors with a man like Niebuhr, who investigated medallion inscriptions, in order to elucidate the history of Rome, as it would be to rank a mere systematist with Aristotle, Ray, or John Hunter.
A loud outcry will doubtless be raised against Professor Rennie on account of these opinions, by the self-appointed cabinet-ministers of nature, who are assuredly neither her secretaries nor her interpreters. He need not care for the abuse of such persons-he writes for those who aim at philosophical and extended views of nature. With all his admiration of the enthusiasm, devotion, and even genius of Linnæus, he cannot consider that extraordinary man a philosophic naturalist. Linnæus thought that the superiority of a naturalist depended upon his knowing the greatest number of species, and that the study of Natural History consisted in the collection, arrangement, and exhibition of the various productions of the earth. Unquestionably, by storing the memory with specific names and technical distinctions, "a good gossiping naturalist" might be made; but good gossiping naturalists are of all old women the most wearifu' and superfluous, and the breed should be subjected to all possible discouragements. A study, again, narrowed down as Linnæus narrowed it, and without reference to causes, effects, or the wise contrivances of the Creator, would never lead to the Natural History which Lord Bacon declares to be the basis of all science, and "fundamental to the erecting and building of a true philosophy." Nor is Professor Rennie singular in his just severities on Linnæus and his followers-for he backs them with the opinions of Dr Aikin, Professor Lindley, Mr White of Selborne, Mr Vigors, Mr MacLeay, Dr Fleming, and Dr Heineken; and sums up all by asserting the truth to be, that the Linnæan system mainly contributed to extinguish the genuine study of nature, and rendered it unpopular for many years, since every writer surrendered himself uncon
ditionally to its shackles, and, of course, repelled every student imbued with a particle of philosophy or of taste, or alive to the glorious beauties of the Creation.
What, in good truth, can be more puerile than to limit, as Linnæus did, his descriptions of specific character to twelve words-or than his division of one of his works into twelve parts, because there are twelve months in the year-and into three hundred and sixty-five paragraphs, to correspond to the number of days in the year! Thus, all that Linnæus tells us of the Bank Swallow (Hirundo riparia-RAY,) is contained in the following twelve words :-" H. riparia, cinerea, gula abdomineque albis-Habitat in Europa collibus arenosis abruptis, foramine serpentino." This is all we are taught to believe-" that the industry of man has been able to discover concerning it!" Pennant and Latham are nearly as brief and just as meagre, and Cuvier himself does not improve on it, "by gravely adding this absurdity:" -"Elle pond dans des trous le long des eaux. Il parait constant qu'elle s'engourdit pendant l'hiver, et même qu'elle passe cette saison au fond de l'eau des marais!" Compare this useless stuff with all the interesting facts" that the industry of man" has really accumulated concerning the same bird, and you will acknowledge that Linnæus, wonderful being as he was, may, without offence to any rational mind, be safely pronounced an ignoramus. The late Dr Heineken, speaking of Gmelin, a disciple of the Linnæan school, characterises him as having "an instinctive propensity towards the erroneous ;"and of that gifted person's "thirteenth edition of Linnæus, as it is called," quoth the Doctor, "I have had the good fortune never to be burdened with it-but in an evil hour, a kind friend bestowed on me the seven ponderous tomes of that kindred spirit, Turton." Temminck calls Gmelin's edition of Linnæus "the most undigested book in existence." Of Temminck's "Manuel d'Ornithologie," Rennie of course speaks highly, which, though essentially Linnæan, is much more circumstantial and accurate than is usual with the disciples of that school. It proves, however, that Temminck is much better acquainted
with collections of stuffed specimens than with living birds, except such aquatic ones as frequent the shores of Holland, and in that point of view, it contrasts strongly with the Dictionary of Montagu-especially now that that book has been so greatly enriched from many sources by its editor. On turning from Montagu to Temminck, we indeed are made to feel the truth of the observation, that a lexicon or explanatory catalogue is of unquestionable and indispensable use, for the purpose of identifying the species which may come under observation, or chance to be connected with interesting discussion and detail; but that nobody beyond the barriers of Linnæanism could ever dream of designating any of these, useful though they be, a natural history, any more than of calling a book like Blair's Chronology the History of the World.
Mr Rennie concludes his sixty page preface to Montagu with three lists containing almost all the names of the writers of any note on ornithology-rudimental, literary, and philosophic naturalists. Under the first he includes all works consisting of descriptive catalogues, chiefly of museum specimens, arranged systematically; including either whole classes, or particular groups of animals; the latter termed Monographs, and only useful to aid the student in identifying specimens by form, colour, and structure, commonly omitting historical and philosophical details, and rarely like the beautiful account of the British swallows, which White of Selborne called by the now abused title of Monograph
such works, particularly the Monograph, often dealing in critical disquisitions about names, divisions, and the particular place a species, genus, or group, ought to occupy in the system adopted, exhibiting, in many instances, passages of worthless trifling, undeserving of perusal. The second comprehends all works consisting of notices and details, sometimes, though less frequently, derived from the observation of living Nature than from closet reading, but often highly interesting and valuable, though very commonly sprinkled with inaccuracies. The third contains works
consisting of personal observations on the habits, character, or physiology of living animals, and enquiries into the causes and reasons of what is observed, for the purpose either of supporting theories, often fanciful, or of illustrating the providential wisdom of the Great Creator. It is to be noted, that philosophical na turalists are often no less deficient in knowledge of systematic catalo gues, than the rudimental naturalists are of philosophy-both are important to be known. The three lists contain, if not a complete, a comprehensive bibliography of birds.
We have been led into these somewhat detailed remarks-some of them our own, and some of them Mr Rennie's-who, we are sure, will not grudge us the use of them in a magazine which occasionally touches, in its own way, on zoology -from our anxiety to encourage students in this department of natural history, against those depressing fears that must sometimes assail them from the cold, dry, and horrid aspect which the science assumes in the Linnæan school. With him we do indeed lament that the meagre index fashion of describing natural productions was ever introduced, since, as he says, it has so seldom been employed in the only way in which it can be useful; and it appears to have taken such deep root as to threaten, like some sorts of noxious weeds, to be incapable of being eradicated; for by far the greater number of recent works upon the subject, even when they pretend to novelty of system, have the essential characteristic of the Linnæan school, of being most carefully stripped of every interesting detail, and trimmed down to a limited number of lines, reminding one strongly of the old poets, who squared their leaves into the forms of adzes, hearts, and triangles, and left the consideration of sentiment and imagery to bards who would not condescend to such puerile trifling.
It has been well said by a writer in Loudon's Magazine of Natural History, that "those who employ themselves in disguising and degrading science by cacophonous nomenclature, and a parade of barbarous Latinity, which fools think learning,
are entitled to reprobation and contempt. There are many such in France, and some among ourselves, great men in their little circles; they do well to make the most of this, for they may rest assured that however high they rank in their own estimation, or in that of their coteries, the world neither knows nor cares any thing about them." Yet the puerile triflers thus employed hold in contempt the works that alone deserve the name of science; these miserable manufacturers of words complaining in querulous tones of their "legitimate productions" being "left to languish and decay," "because the grown-up public are satisfied with infants' food in the shape of cheap compilations, crude translations, wonders of the insect world, &c. &c. with such like amusing trifles, fit only for children." A consumptive blockhead with a queasy stomach might as well call roast-beef and plum-pudding" infants' food," as the sapid and nutritive dishes which have lately been set before the healthy public, and which she has plentifully devoured with great gusto. Why a translation should be crude we do not see, any more than its original; and the ninny of ninnies must he indeed be, who, in a nation owing a million million of debt, and taxed accordingly, complains of a compilation "that it is cheap." The sneer at" wonders of the insect world" is aimed, we presume, at Professor Rennie's "Insect Architecture," "Insect Transformations," &c.; but the person who could call such wonders as are revealed there," amusing trifles fit only for children," must be himself an insect scarce worthy even of this short notice,—an ephemeral and a midge.
It is encouraging, however, to know, that flesh-and-blood naturalists are held now in far higher repute in Britain than the skeletons. The good sense of the English public never stomached such a work for instance as Turton's seven ponderous Linnæan tomes, which sell now for little more than the price of waste paper; and that too at a time when the works of genuine naturalists, such as White's Selborne, and Knapp's Journal of a Naturalist, are selling by