Animal Biography

Animal Biography:
Introduction and Sources


























printed for RICHARD PHILLIPS, no. 71, st. paul’s
churchyard; and sold by all booksellers.


S. Rousseau, Printer, Wood Street, Spa Fields.






in virtues, in pursuits, and affection,

these volumes are


a token of sincere esteem and respect,

by their most faithful and

much obliged servant,





In giving the following Work to the public, I wish to be understood, as laying no claim whatever to attention, except on the score of utility. If however by going somewhat out of the track of former writers, adhering at the same time strictly to system, it shall appear, that I have brought forward anecdotes and observations that tend to promote the study of this delightful science, I shall consider my labour as not having been unprofitably bestowed. For this purpose, besides my own immediate observations, I have ranged through a most expensive collection of books, amounting in number to near a thousand volumes; and I have taken in the accounts of nearly all the authentic travellers and historians, from the earliest to the present times.

The principal intention of the work, is to induce, in persons who have not hitherto attended to the subject, a taste for the study of Natural History; and, by confining my remarks almost exclusively to the manners of the animals, I have endeavoured to put such of my readers, as may think the subject worth attention, into a train for looking more deeply into it than any books can possibly lead them, and to point out to them the mode of making observations for themselves in the grand volume of Nature, that lies always open for their perusal.

To the female reader I must remark, that every indelicate subject is scrupulously excluded. The dangerous tendency in this respect of the writings of the Comte de Buffon, and a few others, his followers, is too generally known to render any further apology for such a liberty necessary.

The work, as it at present stands, may I think, without impropriety, be denominated an Animal Biography⁕1: To this end, I have omitted nearly every thing that did not serve to illustrate the characters of the animals; and the reader will also observe, that to render the anecdotes of their manners as interesting and as little interrupted as possible, by matter not immediately relative to the subject, I have in general confined even the descriptive parts of dimensions, colour, shape, &c. to the first ten or twelve lines of the account. I have also left entirely unnoticed all such animals as afforded nothing but this kind of description; for a sufficient account of these is to be found in almost every authentic book of Natural History extant; but particularly in Dr. Shaw’s elegant and valuable work on General Zoology. I am well aware, that the reader may recognize many of the anecdotes. It is impossible entirely to prevent this; but, in order to avoid it as much as possible, I have omitted nearly all those that were the most trite and well known.

In composing these volumes, I have all the way attended to every thing that might be of use in juvenile instruction. Youth are caught by anecdote; and from this peep into nature, many may be induced to look further than they at first I.vii intended, and to enter with spirit into the study of such more abstruse books as would, at first sight, have alarmed them.

It is necessary that I should explain one circum­stance, that may be remarked by critical readers: This is, that, in some instances, an author is quoted, and no reference appears to him in the notes. At the commencement of the work, it was my intention to let the general list of authorities suffice for all, except doubtful cases; but, after I had proceeded some way, I was induced to change my plan in this respect, and, as far as I then could, to insert no statement, but on an immediate reference to the writer. Where, therefore, this is not found, the reader must conclude, that I had passed the part when the after resolution was formed.

All the writers from whom I have derived information, are, I believe, esteemed authentic: but, even amongst the most careful of these, I have at times found some difficulty in separating truth from falsehood. Many are too apt to depend on report for subjects, that require somewhat more than report for their authentication. We should not, however, be justified in entirely throwing aside even those writings, in which some glaring absurdities are discoverable: but it is necessary, that we should be careful in selecting the sterling grains of truth from the imperfect and drossy matter that frequently surrounds them.—To render myself less liable to censure, I have been extremely careful, wherever any statement appeared doubtful, never to omit citing my authority.

The system to which I have adhered in my arrangement, is that of Linnæus, as corrected by Gmelin, Shaw, and a few other later writers. This, though perhaps not altogether so natural as some others, is, I conceive, the best calculated of any extant to simplify and assist the study.

The figures I have referred to are such authentic ones, as the reader may have admission to at the least expence.—These I.viii are marked in Italics, in the notes, at the commencement of each species, immediately after the list of synonyms.

Christ Church, Hants,
Feb. 1, 1804.

W. B.

I shall esteem myself greatly obliged by the communications of any gentlemen, on the manners and habits of animals, but more particularly of those of Great Britain.

⁕1 The Monthly Reviewers in their very handsome critique on the former edition of this work, express their opinion that the title is exceptionable. “Animal Biography (they say) is equivalent to an account of the lives of living creatures,” and is therefore redundant. This strictly speaking, is the case; but since Biography is a term that, by long usage, has become exclusively appropriated to the lives of individuals among mankind, the term Animal Biography may surely, and without impropriety, he considered to express traits of the lives and habits of individual species of the lower orders of animated creation, as distinct from those of men. This is the precise signification in which it is here used.—Another critic has altogether objected to the term Biography, as having never hitherto been applied to animals. But, doubtless, the compound of βιος and γραφω is as applicable to the lives of animals, as to those of men.

Notes and Corrections: Preface

I have ranged through a most expensive collection of books
[He probably meant to say “extensive”, but it’s inarguably true either way.]

The dangerous tendency in this respect of the writings of the Comte de Buffon
[There, in a nutshell, is the difference between France and England.]

The work, as it at present stands
text has prerent

to illustrate the characters of the animals
text has charaters

[Footnote] “Animal Biography (they say) is equivalent to
text has superfluous close quote after “is”

. . . This strictly speaking, is the case
text has sirictly








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⁕1 It may be proper to remark that these authorities are all quoted from a perusal of the volumes themselves, and not through the medium of other books.—Translations of foreign works, as more easy of access, have been in general preferred to the originals.—Such publications as have been quoted only in one or two instances are for the most part omitted in this list, having their titles inserted, at length, in the margin.

Notes and Corrections: List of Sources

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Although this list was printed at the beginning of Volume I, it includes all sources cited throughout the work—not only for mammals, but for birds, fishes, and the assorted living things lumped together in Volume III. Errors in titles of works were corrected if it is clear that the mistake is Bingley’s, not the original author’s, or if it is unambiguous, like “Pennysylvania”.

[Footnote] It may be proper to remark that these authorities are all quoted
text has authories

Bewick. A General History of Quadrupeds.
[1792 is the third edition, which sold for nine shillings.]

Dampier . . . a supplement to the voyage round the world
word “the” in “round the world” missing
[The mistake is Bingley’s, not Dampier’s (or his translator’s). Dampier’s voyages must have been popular reading; a century after Bingley, an English translation was still in print.]

Du Pratz . . . History of Louisiana
[Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz (1695?-1775) lived for many years in what is now northeastern Louisiana, in an area then occupied by the Natchez tribe. His book came out in 1758.]

[Hans Egede, the father, not to be confused with Poul Hansen Egede, the son.]

[These are two different Ellises, hence the repetition. Zoophytes was by John Ellis (1710–1776), Voyage by Henry Ellis (1721–1806).]

[We will have to take Bingley’s word for it, since the cited edition will set you back anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000 US. (The first edition runs about three times that.)]

Hunter, J. Observations on certain parts of Animal Oeconomy
text has Oeconmy
[In fact it is really the Animal Oeconomy.]

Kirby. Monographia Apum Angliæ
[This looks like a mistake, but isn’t. Apparently even the Romans couldn’t decide if the word is apes, consonant-stem, or apis, i-stem; the genitive plural forms apum and apium both occur.]

La Ménagerie . . . par Citoyans La Cepede et Cuvier
spelling unchanged
[The spelling is probably a mistake. Later editions of the Ménagerie reverted to “MM. Lacépède, Cuvier” (and a long list of others), which leaves less room for misspelling.]

Pennant. Outlines of the Globe
[Yes, Volume IV really does say “Spicy Islands”.]

text unchanged: error for Phillips

Pontoppidan. Natural History of Norway, translated from the Danish
[Not because the author was Danish but because there was officially no written Norwegian language; everything had to be written in Danish. Bishop Erik Potoppidan’s modestly titled “The First Attempt at the Natural History of Norway” came out in 1752, with an English translation in 1755. His list of publications suggests that Norwegian clergymen, like their English counterparts, had plenty of time on their hands; other works include one of the first Norwegian dictionaries.]

Purchas. His Pilgrims
[That is, “Purchas his Pilgrims”, with spelling to taste.]

Shaw, Dr. G. General Zoology, or Systematic Natural History, vol. i.-iii.
[Only these first three volumes—two of Quadrupeds and one of Amphibians—were available to Bingley.]

[There are probably four different Smiths. The author of Nevis was named William, but doesn’t seem to have been the same William Smith who went to Guinea—or said he did. One William was a clergyman (“The Revd. Mr. Smith”), the other a surveyor. The second Smith—the one in Churchill’s collection—is Captain John Smith; Bingley’s “&c.” elides “from the year 1592 to 1629”.]

Smith . . . the rest of the English Leeward Caribee Islands.
text has Island
[In fact, Smith spelled it “Charibee”. His first name was William, though his book lists him only as “Mr. Smith”.]

St. John . . . a Farmer in Pennsylvania,
text has Pennysylvania

Troil. Letters on Iceland; containing Observations made during a Voyage
text has Observations / tions at line break

Vancouver. Voyage to the North Pacific Ocean
[Captain George Vancouver (1757–1798) never saw the city named for him, because it wasn’t established until decades after his death—and wasn’t (re)named Vancouver until 1886.]

Venegas. Natural and Civil Hiſtory of California
[A long ſ must have fallen into the round-s bin by mistake; the first edition doesn’t have one.]

White. Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne
text has Antiquites
[This title remained in print for more than a century after Bingley’s time.]



“Once upon a time the Seven Wise men of Greece were met together at Athens, and it was proposed that each of them should mention what he thought the greatest wonder in the Creation. One of them, of higher attainments than the rest, explained the opinions of some of the astronomers respecting the fixed stars, that they were so many suns, each having their planets rolling round them, which, were stocked with plants and animals like this earth. Fired with the idea, they agreed to supplicate Jupiter that he would at least permit them to take a journey to the Moon, and remain there three days, in order to see the wonders of that place, and give an account of them to the world at their return.—Jupiter consented, and ordered them to assemble on a high mountain, where a cloud should be in readiness to convey them thither. They chose some men of talents as their companions, to assist them in describing and painting the objects they should meet with. I.2 At length they arrived at the Moon, and found a palace there well fitted up for their reception. The day following, being much fatigued with their journey, they remained in the house till noon; and continuing still faint, partook of a most delicious entertainment by way of refreshment, which they relished so much that it overcame their curiosity. This day they only saw, through the windows, that delightful country, adorned with the most beautiful flowers, to which the beams of the Sun gave an uncommon lustre; and heard the singing of the most melodious birds, till evening came on.—The second day they rose very early in order to begin their observations, but some elegant young females of the country calling upon them, advised that they should first recruit their strength, before they exposed themselves to the laborious task they were about to undertake. The delicate meats, the rich wines, and the beauty of these females, prevailed over the resolution of the strangers. Music is introduced, the young ones begin to dance, and all is turned to jollity; so that the whole of this day seemed dedicated to gallantry, till some of the neighbours, envious of their mirth, rushed into the room with swords. With some difficulty they were taken, and it was promised, as a recompence to the younger part of the company, that on the following morning they should be brought to justice.—On the third day their trial was heard, and what with accusations, pleadings, exceptions, and the judgment itself, the whole day was occupied, and the term allowed by Jupiter expired. On their return to Greece, the whole country flocked around I.3 the wise men to hear the wonders of the Moon described; but all they could say, for it was all they knew, was, that the ground was covered with green, intermixed with flowers; and that the birds sung delightfully among the trees; bur what was the nature of the flowers they saw, or of the birds they had heard, they were entirely ignorant.—On which they were every where treated with the utmost contempt.”⁕1

This fable was applied with extreme propriety by our great master, Linnæus, to mankind in general. In youth we are, in every respect, too feeble to examine the great objects around us: all that season, therefore, is lost amidst indolence, luxury, and amusement. Little better are we in manhood: settling ourselves in life; marrying; bustling through the world; overwhelmed, at length, with business, cares, and perplexities, we suffer those years also to glide away. Old age succeeds: yet still some employments intervene, till at last we are passed through the world, without scarcely a single recurrence to the admirable works of our Creator; and, in many instances, even without having at all considered the end for which we were brought into it.—This is, with a few exceptions, the progress of man through life. It is true that every person takes some notice of nature. All can remark the beautiful verdure of I.4 the fields and woods; the elegance of the flowers; the melodious and delightful singing of the birds: yet few indeed ever give themselves the trouble of enquiring one step further, or exhibit any desires of examining into the nature of these wonderful combinations of Divine Power.

It is one material use of the study of Nature, to illustrate this greatest of all truths:—“That there must be a God: that he must be almighty, omniscient, and infinite in goodness; and that, although he dwells in a light, inaccessible to any mortal eye, yet our faculties see and distinguish him clearly in his works⁕2.”

In these we are compelled to observe a degree of greatness far beyond our capacities to understand:—we see an exact adaption of parts composing one stupendous whole; an uniform perfection and goodness that are not only entitled to our admiration, but that command from us the tribute of reverence, gratitude, and love, to the Parent of the Universe. Every step we tread in our observations on Nature, affords us indubitable proofs of his super­intendance. From these we learn the vanity of all our boasted wisdom, and are taught that useful lesson, humility. We are compelled to acknowledge our dependance on the protecting arm of God, and that, deprived of this support, we must, that moment, dissolve into nothing.

Every object in the Creation is stamped with the characters of the infinite perfection and overflowing I.5 benevolence of its author. If we examine with the most accurate discrimination the construction of bodies, and remark even their most minute parts, we see clearly a necessary dependance that each has upon the other; and if we attend to the vast concurrence of causes that join in producing the several operations of Nature, we shall be induced to believe further, that the whole world is one connected train of causes and effects, in which all the parts, either nearly or remotely, have a necessary dependance on each other. We shall find nothing insulated, nothing dependant only on itself. Each part lends a certain support to the others, and takes in return its share of aid from them.

Previously to entering further into the subject, we will examine for a moment that part of every animal body called the Eye, which, though one of the most conspicuous, is not still the most surprizing part of the body. Here we have exhibited to us nicety of formation, connexions, and uses, that astonish us. We see it placed in a bony orbit, lined with fat, as an easy socket in which it rests, and in which all its motions readily take place. We find it furnished, among many others, with those wonderful contrivances the iris, pupil, and different humours; and that incompre­hensible mechanism the optic nerve, which affords to the brain, in a manner greatly beyond our conceptions, the images of external objects.—How admirable is the construction of the Skeleton; every particular bone adapted peculiarly to the mode of life and habits of the animal possessing it. The muscular system is still more entitled to our wonder; I.6 and if we enter into examination of the viscera, the skin, and the other parts of the body, we can fix no bounds to our astonishment.

But all the common operations of Nature, great as they are, become in general so familiar to us, that in a great measure they cease to attract our notice. Thus also all the usual powers of animal life, which, were they but adverted to, could not fail to affect the mind with the most aweful impressions, are suffered to operate unheeded, as if unseen.—We all know, for example, that, whenever inclination prompts to it, we can, by a very slight exertion of our vital faculties, raise our hand to our head. Nothing seems more simple, or more easy than this action; yet when we attempt to form an idea of the way in which that incorporeal existence that we call mind, can operate upon matter, and thus put it in motion, we are perfectly lost in the incompre­hensible immensity that surrounds us. When we try to investigate the properties of matter, we perceive that by patience and attention we can make a progress in attainments to which, according to our limited ideas, bounds can scarcely be assigned. The motions of the planets can be ascertained, their distances measured, and their periods assigned. The Mathematician can demonstrate, with the most decisive certainty, that no Fly can alight upon this globe which we inhabit, without communicating motion to it; and he can ascertain, if he chuses to do it, with the most accurate precision, what must be the exact amount of the motion thus produced. In this train of investigation the mind of a Newton can display its superior I.7 powers, and soar to a height that exalts it far above the reach of others; and yet, in trying to explain the cause of animal motion, the meanest reptile that crawls upon the ground is, humiliating as the thought may be, on a footing of perfect equality with a Newton: they can alike exert the powers conferred on them by the Almighty Creator, without being able to form the smallest idea of the way in which they are enabled to produce these effects. Man, however, can contemplate these effects if he will; and Man, perhaps alone, of all the animals that exist on this globe, is permitted, by contemplating the wonders that these unfold, to form, if he pleases, some idea of his own nothingness, with a view to moderate his pride, and thus to exalt himſelf above the unconscious agents that surround him.

When the Anatomist considers how many muscles must be put in motion before any animal exertion can be effected: when he views them one by one, and tries to ascertain the precise degree to which each individual muscle must be constricted or relaxed, before the particular motion indicated can be effected, he finds himself lost in the labyrinth of calculations in which this involves him. When he further reflects that it is not his own body only that is endowed with the faculty of calling forth these incompre­hensible energies, but that the most insignificant insect is vested with powers of a similar nature, he is still more confounded. A skilful naturalist has been able to perceive that in the body of the lowest Caterpillar, which, in the common opinion, is one of the most degraded existences on this globe, there I.8 are upwards of two thousand muscles, all of which can be brought into action with as much facility, at the will of that insect, and perform their several offices with as much accuracy, promptitude, and precision, as the most perfect animal; and all this is done by that insect, with equal consciousness of the manner how, as the similar voluntary actions of Man himself are effected!⁕3 It would be no easy matter to make some men believe that the minute Ephemera Fly, whose life is but for the continuance of a few hours, is, in all its parts, for the functions it has to perform, as complete as the stately Elephant that treads the forests of India for a century. Little do they suppose that even in its appearance, under the greatest magnifying powers, it is as elegant in every respect, and as beautifully finished, as any of the larger animals! Unlike the paltry productions of Man, all the minute parts of these works of God appear in greater perfection, and afford to us a greater decree of admiration, the more minutely and more accurately they are examined. M. de Lisle saw, with a microscope, a very small insect, that, in one second of time advanced three inches, taking five hundred and forty steps; and many of the discoveries of Leuwenhoek were even still more wonderful than this. Thus we evidently discern that all the operations of God are full of beauty and perfection, and that he is as much to be adored in the insect Creation as in that of the Elephant or Lion.

If, from the contemplation of microscopic objects, we turn our attention to the stupendous system of I.9 the Universe, and view the Heavens, what an astonishing field of admiration is again afforded us. This huge world that we tread is but a speck in the solar system; and that system, immense as it is, is lost in the immensity of the space around, our Sun becoming a Star to Planets revolving round other Suns, as their Suns become Stars to us. Of these no fewer than seventy-five millions may be discovered in the expanse exposed to our investigation: but what are even all these when compared with the multitudes distributed through the boundless space of air! The Universe must contain such numbers as exceed the utmost stretch of human imagi­nation.—To obtain some faint conception of the wonderful extent of space, we may remark that stars of the first magnitude, or such as seem to us the largest, are near 19,000,000,000,000 miles from our Sun; and that some of the smaller ones are many times that distance! “Great is our God, and great is his power! O God, who is like unto thee!”

But to return to the animal part of the Creation, we find there innumerable proofs of our hypothesis: we see all the smaller creatures that serve us for food particularly fruitful, and increasing in a much greater proportion than others; and in the bird kind it is extremely remarkable, that, lest they should fall short of a certain number of eggs, they are endowed with the power of laying others in the place of those that are taken away; but when their number is complete, they invariably stop. Here is an operation, like many others that we shall have to observe, much beyond our comprehension. How the mere privation of part I.10 should cause a fresh production, is not easy to understand. The organization of an offspring should, in this case, almost seem a voluntary act of the female; but in what manner it is done, we are not only ignorant at present, but most probably shall ever remain so. Noxious animals multiply in general so slowly as never to become above the power of Man. But whenever we find a great increase of these, we generally discover something given by Providence to destroy and counterbalance them. Many species devour each other, and multitudes, that might otherwise, by their numbers, soon be of serious injury to mankind, afford food to other creatures. The insect tribes increase most rapidly. Some bring so many as two thousand young each: these would soon fill the air were they not destroyed by innumerable enemies.

The number of young produced by every animal invariably bears a certain proportion to the duration of its life. The Elephant is said to live to the age of a hundred years or upwards: the female produces therefore but one young one, and this does not arrive at maturity till it is sixteen or eighteen years old. Nearly the same thing may be remarked in the Rhinoceros, and all the larger animals: but in most of the smaller ones, whose life is short, or whose increase is not so injurious to Man as the increase of these would be, we always find the number of young much greater: many of the Rat and other tribes produce several times in the year, and have from three or four to ten and upwards at a litter.—One species has never been found to increase so much as I.11 to exclude the others; and this singular harmony and just proportion has now been supported for several thousand years. “One generation passeth away, and another succeedeth,” but all so equally as to balance the stock in all ages and in all countries.

We will for a moment recur, as it certainly belongs to our subject, and is a material illustration of the above remarks, to the first peopling of the world. In the beginning we find that the life of Man was lengthened to ten or twelve times its present term. After the flood it appears to have been the same. We have an account of one person who lived upwards of nine hundred years. Several of those born in the first century reached four hundred years; none of the second, that we can discover, reached two hundred and forty; and only one of the third, arrived at the age of two hundred years. The number of children had also been in full proportion to the age, and at this period cities, nations, and societies began to be formed. In the time of Moses, when the Earth was fully peopled, and from thence to the present, we find that seventy or eighty years was the extent of Man’s life. “The days of our age,” says David, “are threescore years and ten; and though Men be so strong that they come to fourscore years, yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow, so soon passeth it away, and we are gone⁕4.” These exact adaptions to circum­stances and situation can be accounted for in no other manner but by an immediate recurrence to God, their first cause.


In the vegetable Creation we observe the same regularity as in animals. There is scarcely a plant that is not rejected as food by some animals, and ardently desired by others. The Horse yields the Hemlock to the Goat; and Monkshood, which kills the Goat, is said not to injure the Horse. Plants thus, which afford only the natural nourishment to some, are avoided by others as injurious. Poison is indeed, only a relative term. Several plants that are noxious to Man, are greedily devoured by some of the insect tribes. Thus does every creature enjoy its allotted portion; and all this was contrived for the wisest of purposes. Had the Author of Nature formed all the plants equally grateful to all kinds of animals, it must necessarily have happened that some species would have had an enormous increase, whilst others must have perished for want of food. But as every species must of necessity leave certain plants to certain animals, we find that all are able to obtain their due share of nourishment.

All animals are calculated, in every respect, in the best possible manner, for the climates in which they have to live, and for their separate and peculiar modes of life. In the dreary Northern regions, the dark animals become white, to evade, by their resemblance to the prevailing colour of the country, the quick sight of their enemies. Their clothing also, becomes, during winter nearly double what it is in the Summer. In the torrid climates the Sheep loses his fleece, and is covered with hair. The Camel that traverses the burning sands of the deserts, is formed with soft spungy feet which the heat cannot I.13 crack: it has a reservoir for water, which enables it to resist for many days the attacks of thirst, in a country where water is seldom to be had; and it is contented with brouzing on such miserable food as is to be met with in its progress.—We might go on through innumerable instances, but these are reserved, with greater propriety, for the body of the work.

In vegetables again, we observe similar marks of super­intendance. Some are Alpine, and can exist only on the high summits of the mountains; some grow in marshes, others on the sandy plains, &c. and each of these is exactly adapted to its peculiar situation. The plants of the desert are nearly all succulent, and able to bear the privation of moisture for an astonishing length of time. Those that are found on the seashore could not, in many instances be retained in their situation, did not their roots become so matted among the sand, or strike so deeply down as to render them perfectly immoveable by all the shocks they sustain either from the wind or water. It is also a remarkable circum­stance, that Evergreens grow principally in the hottest climates, where they are chiefly found in the barren woods, thus affording a natural shelter to the various animals from the excessive heats to which they would otherwise be exposed.

If we attend to the contrivances of Nature in the preservation of those animals that would otherwise, in the colder climates, be deprived of food during the Winter, we have an additional source of admiration. Most of the insect-eating tribes either migrate to other countries, or become torpid during this rigorous I.14 season. Insects themselves, unable to bear the extreme cold, generally lie hidden within their cases, from whence, at the approach of Spring, they burst, and fly forth. Some animals, as the Beaver, Squirrel, &c. that feed on such vegetables as can be preserved through the winter, do not sleep, but live in their retreats on those provisions which Nature has kindly taught them to store up in the Summer.

The preservation of the young of all animals is not less wonderful than this. However savage may be the natural disposition of the parents, they are remarkably affectionate to their offspring, and provide every thing necessary for them with the utmost tenderness. However powerful their enemies may be, the dam will stand forward in their defence, and frequently die rather than yield them up. In no more than about three species, of all that our books have mentioned, are we able to trace any want of affection in the female parents, to whose care the young generally devolve; and even these may have arisen from the misappre­hensions of the writers, for Nature seems so uniform in this necessary and pleasing operation, that we cannot allow, without superabundant proof, even of exceptions. Quadrupeds, when they bring forth their young, have, secreted in receptacles provided for the purpose, a liquor which we call milk. With this, which is peculiarly easy of digestion, the young are nourished, till their stomachs are able to bear, and their teeth to chew, more solid food. Birds are destitute of this; their offspring therefore are able, as soon as hatched, to take into their stomachs such food as the parents collect for them. I.15 The insect tribes are generally brought to life in a nidus that itself affords them nourishment. Thus does an uniformly beautiful contrivance in rearing and nourishing their tender young, pervade every species of the animal creation.

It is very remarkable that birds of the same species should always form the same kind of nest, of the same materials, laid in the same order, and made exactly of the same figure; so that whenever a nest is seen, the bird that constructed it is immediately known. This circum­stance is invariable in all birds and in all countries; with those taken, when just hatched, from the nest, and brought up in a cage as well as with those that have all their lives been in a wild state.

All creatures know how to use their weapons of defence from mere instinct. The Calf and Lamb push with their heads long before the horns begin to shoot. A young Boar, in the same manner, knows the use of his tusks; a Cat of its claws; a Dog of his teeth; a Horse of his hoofs; and the Cock of his spurs. The Calf, however young, never attempts to bite its enemy; the Foal does not push with its head, nor do the Dog or Cat make use of their heels.

From the animal we will once again turn to the vegetable kingdom, and examine into the contrivances of Nature there. If we look around us we shall find it a very difficult matter to discover an entirely barren spot. If, by any devastation such is made, it does not long remain unoccupied. Seeds are soon scattered over it; the downy ones of the thistles, wafted by the winds, are the first to take root, and I.16 after these come various other plants, till at length the whole space is filled. If a rock is left entirely bare by the receding of water, the minute crustaceous Lichens in a few years entirely cover it. These dying, turn to earth, and the imbricated Lichens now have a bed to strike their roots into. Those also die, and various species of Mosses succeed; and when, after some time, a sufficiency of mould has been formed, the larger plants, and even shrubs, take root and live.

The quickness of vegetation in hot and cold climates is so astonishing as to be perfectly unaccountable, were we not able to refer it to a most exalted wisdom.

The following is the Calendar of a Siberian or Lapland Year.
June 23. Snow melts.
July 1. Snow gone.
9. Fields quite green.
17. Plants at full growth.
25. Plants in flower.
August 2. Fruits ripe.
10. Plants shed their seed.
18. Snow.
From August 18, to June 23, Snow and Ice.

Thus it appears that from their first emerging from the ground, to the ripening of their seeds, the plants take but a month; and Spring, Summer, and Autumn, are crowded into the short space of fifty-six days⁕5.


Again, in the torrid climates, where a scorching heat, destructive to general vegetation, prevails through the greater part of the year, we have a similar wonderful contrivance. In India, when the wet season commences, the rain falls in such abundance as to cover the whole surface of the Earth, as if with a sheet; so that in the course of a few hours, ponds of considerable depth are formed in every hollow place, in many of which there had not been, for several months past, the smallest appearance of moisture, not even so much as to afford nourishment to any of the plants. No sooner, however, does this rain begin to fall, than in the fields, which were, to appearance, as destitute of vegetation as the most frequented roads in our country are, vegetation commences; and in less than twenty-four hours the appearance of verdure can be distinctly perceived which ever way the eye is directed. But the most surprizing circum­stance that occurs on this occasion is, that almost as soon as this verdure begins to appear, these newly formed ponds are found swarming with fish of such a size as to admit of being taken with nets, and to afford food for man: they are esteemed a great delicacy, and therefore universally known. This fact is related by Dr. Anderson, on the authority of a very respectable person of Bombay, and was not stated till the fullest enquiries had been made, and the most satisfactory evidence had appeared respecting it.⁕6

Thus does the uniform voice of Nature exclaim I.18 aloud, that “the merciful and gracious Lord hath so done his marvellous works, that they ought to be had in remembrance.” The whole material system throughout Heaven and Earth, presents a varied scene rich in use and beauty, in which nothing is lost, and in which, according to our former observations, the meanest and minutest creatures have their full designation and importance.—“Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the Lord, who maketh all things, who stretcheth forth the Heavens along, and spreadeth abroad the Earth by myself.”

Nothing of all these various existences was formed in vain: and that which is, however it may appear to our confined and imperfect comprehensions, is formed with supreme wisdom. It does not become us to pry too boldly into the designs of God. We, whose lives are but those of day, are unable to judge of the councils of that Providence, whose economy regards, not the objects merely of our senses, but the whole system of Nature. We cannot scrutinize the performances of God, nor can we possibly, with all our boasted wisdom and cunning, discover the grand connexions between incidents that lie widely separate in time, and which are only known to power infinitely surpassing ours. The Creator did not plan the order of Nature according to our confined principles of economy. The stupendous performance of the Deity is one throughout the Universe; and if Providence does not always calculate exactly according to our mode of reckoning, it would but become our inferior stations and judgment, I.19 instead of industriously seeking out imperfections, to discover that these lie alone in our own erroneous powers of discrimination. It would be well, if, instead of looking to self-interest only, in the works of the Creation, we could, according to the remark of a late writer, consider these things in the same light as when different seamen are waiting at one port for fair winds, each to the country to which he is bound; where we plainly see it impossible that all should be satisfied.

In Lapland, and some others of the Northern regions, Providence has kindly contrived that what would seem an evil, and is in some respects an inconvenience to the inhabitants, should become a means of their preservation. They are pestered with multitudes of Gnats which teaze them so much by their stings, that to defend themselves they have recourse to smearing their faces, and keeping constantly a thick smoke in their cottages. These insects deposit their eggs in the water, and thus bring into the country immense numbers of aquatic birds, which feed on them; and which constitute the principal support of the inhabitants; and thus are these people unhappy in the very circum­stances that procures them life. If it be asked, why it is necessary they should be unhappy in order to live? we answer, that having developed one step, we find ourselves involved as deeply in obscurity, as those whose short-sightedness has not penetrated thus far; but we are taught by this not to rest too securely on our own judgments (which are frequently built without a proper basis), when we are about to censure the performances I.20 of superior intelligence; and to suppose that as one step more than we suspected has been explained, so might the rest be rendered equally clear, had we but the capacity to comprehend them.

In our own country birds are, almost invariably, considered as injurious to the industry of the farmer; they are said to devour his crops, and to destroy at least one half of the fruits of his labour. Little does the farmer suspect, that, were he deprived of these so much detested creatures, but a very small portion of the present produce of the Earth could be brought to perfection. Their manure alone is of very considerable value: but all the slender-billed birds, the Lark, Black-bird, Thrush, Red-breast, Goldfinch, Hedge-sparrow, and many others, live almost entirely on insects; and are therefore peculiarly beneficial to him. Even those that devour the grain destroy infinitely more of the noxious insects, than will compensate for any damage they commit.—It has been calculated, with some accuracy, that a single pair of the common Sparrows, while their young are in the nest, destroy on an average above three thousand Caterpillars every week. Does the farmer consider this, and yet issue an unlimited edict for their destruction? Mankind in general want a proper degree of confidence in that Being, who cannot form any thing in vain: trusting only in their own judgment, which, every moment of their lives they find in error, they impiously censure, only because they cannot understand.

From all the preceding observations, it appears that Natural History affords us a much more extensive I.21 moral than has generally been supposed. And the blind curiosity, which formerly was the principal motive in making collections and studying the science, is now giving way to more noble and more estimable ideas; and there are yet, “in the instructive book of Nature, many leaves, which hitherto no mortal has perused⁕7.”

It is evident that the general tendency of the Study is to lead us from the admiration of the works, to the contemplation of their Author; to teach as to look, through Nature, up to Nature’s God. It is a study which terminates in the conviction, the knowledge and the adoration of that Being, to whom we owe every thing that we enjoy.

When Mr. Mungo Park, in the wilds of Africa, had been plundered by a banditti, nearly of all he possessed, we find of what material use his contemplations were to him, on a subject, that to many persons would appear extremely insignificant. “Whichever way I turned,” says he, “I saw myself in the midst of a vast wilderness, in the depth of the rainy season; naked and alone: surrounded by savage animals, and by Men still more savage. I was five hundred miles from any European settlement. All these circum­stances crowded at once on my recollection; and I confess that my spirits began to fail me. I considered my fate as certain, and that I had no alternative but to lie down and perish. The influence of religion, however, aided and supported me. I reflected that no human I.22 prudence or foresight could possibly have averted my present sufferings. I was indeed a stranger in a strange land, yet I was still under the protecting eye of that Providence, who has condescended to call himself the Stranger’s Friend. At this moment, painful as my reflections were, the extraordinary beauty of a small Moss, in fructification, irresistibly caught my eye. I mention this to shew from what trifling circum­stances the mind will sometimes derive consolation; for though the whole plant was not larger than the top of one of my fingers, I could not contemplate the delicate conformation of its roots, leaves, and capsula, without admiration. Can that Being (thought I) who planted, watered, and brought to perfection, in this obscure part of the world, a thing which appears of so small importance, look with unconcern upon the situation and sufferings of creatures formed after his own image?—Surely not! Reflections like these would not allow me to despair. I started up, and, disregarding both hunger and fatigue, travelled forwards, assured that relief was at hand; and I was not disappointed⁕8.”

It is impossible to consider properly all these important objects, and then unconcernedly to ask, “of what use is this Science?

Natural History is a study that seems well calculated to employ the female mind: and it has this advantage over most other pursuits, that the more earnestly it is attended to, the more interesting it becomes. It is a study also that meliorates the heart, I.23 at the same time that it captivates the understanding. Every branch of it teems with delight and instruction. Even Botany, which has been ignorantly stigmatized as a study merely of names, is, when entered upon with spirit, a most instructive and enticing pursuit:

Not a tree,

A plant, a leaf, a blossom, but contains

A folio volume. We may read, and read,

And read again, and still find something new;

Something to please, and something to instruct

E’en in the noisome weed.

It would be no inconsiderable improvement to the rising generation, if Natural History could in some measure be introduced to their attention, in preference to novels and the usual pernicious books of entertainment. If they could have recourse to a rational source of amusement, rather than corrupt their hearts and bewilder their imaginations with these, the common trash of Circulating Libraries:—Early impressions frequently afford such a stamp to the future character, as to render the proper introduction of them a matter of the utmost importance.—That thoughtless cruelty which we now so frequently observe toward the inferior orders of created beings, would scarcely be known, could we but teach mankind that the same God “who gives its lustre to an insect’s wing” ordains with it a right to life and happiness as well as ourselves; and that wantonly to deprive it of these is an offence against His works who formed nothing in vain.—An attention to Nature I.24 from childhood would also contribute greatly to the happiness of mankind in general, and to that of females in particular, by enabling them to overcome all those fears and vulgar prejudices which have commonly attached to some of the smaller quadrupeds and to the reptile and insect tribes. They would then have no greater repugnance towards handling a Lizard, a Beetle, or a Spider, than they now have towards that of a Bird, or a Flower.

It is necessary, however, to inform them, that they must not be contented merely with reading: the principal use of this is to direct them to contemplations on the objects themselves, and to induce a taste for more minute investigation; but it is from this investigation only that they will be enabled to reap the advantages of the science, and such advantages as books alone do not always bestow.

These are thy glorious works, Parent of Good,

Almighty! Thine this universal frame,

Thus wondrous fair; thyself how wondrous then!

Unspeakable, who sitt’st above these Heav’ns,

To us invisible, or dimly seen

In these thy lowest works; yet these declare

Thy goodness beyond thought, and power divine!

⁕1 In the Lectures of Linnæus on the subject of Natural History, he frequently made use of some apt similitude by way of exciting the attention of his audience. The present fable was one that he adopted in his Lecture on Insects.

⁕2 Pontoppidan, Pref. p. 1.

⁕3 Anderson’s Recreations in Agriculture.

⁕4 Psalm xc. v. 10.

⁕5 Amœnitates Academicæ, vol. iv.—Stillingfleet.

⁕6 And. Rec. in Ag. i. 270.

⁕7 Pontoppidan, Pref. p. 1.

⁕8 Park’s Travels, 243.

Notes and Corrections: On the Study of Nature

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This fable was applied with extreme propriety by our great master, Linnæus
[The story is obviously not Athenian. At best, Linnaeus may have lifted bits and pieces of it from Lucian.]

and thus to exalt himſelf above the unconscious agents
[As usual, the long ſ wasn’t present—or, if you like, preſent—in the first edition.]

when he views them one by one
text has by / by at line break

before any animal exertion can be effected . . . before the parti­cular motion indicated can be effected
text has affected both times
[Corrected from 1st edition to agree with “effected” on the next page (same paragraph).]

[the Ephemera Fly] is as elegant in every respect, and as beautifully finished, as any of the larger animals
[In Volume III it will become obvious that the author is exceedingly fond of insects.]

the female produces therefore but one young one
[In the Elephant chapter it is made plain that he means “but one at a time”.]

their resemblance to the prevailing colour of the country
text has prevaling

Evergreens grow principally in the hottest climates
[Reminder: Although the words “evergreen” and “conifer” are often used interchangeably, the two have nothing to do with each other. The same goes for “deciduous” and “broadleaf”.]

had been plundered by a banditti
text unchanged

Not a tree
[The Village Curate, a book-length poem by James Hurdis (1763–1801). By 1797 it had gone to a 4th edition.]

These are thy glorious works, Parent of Good
[Paradise Lost, Book V. It was probably safe to assume the readers recognized Milton’s words, though the same may not have been true of Hurdis, Somervile or the assorted other authors who will litter the following pages.]



The following information, respecting the manners of some of the Quad­rupeds, that, within the last ten or twelve years, have been brought into England, was obtained too late to admit of its being incorporated into the body of the work. Rather, however, than it should be lost to the reader, I have inserted it here by way of Appendix. It principally relates to such as have been deposited in the Exhibition rooms at Exeter ’Change, and in the menagerie at the Tower of London.


Notes and Corrections: Appendix

This paragraph from the end of Volume I is included here for completeness. It seemed more useful to move the “following infor­mation”—a page or two per animal—to the appropriate articles.

Each Appendix item has a footnote that says explicitly “vol. i.” even though we are already in Volume I. It reads like a last-minute change: perhaps the additional material—including the Zebra appendix, which really belongs in Volume II—was originally planned for Volume III. (The first edition has no Appendix in any of the three volumes.)

[The first edition makes the same assertion at this point—immediately before the Index—although the volume isn’t really over.]

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.