Thursday, August 2, 2007

Rev. Gilbert White's Nature

Letter XXXVI

Selborne, Aug. 1, 1770.

Dear Sir, --The French, I think, in general, are strangely prolix in their natural history. What Linnaeus says with respect to insects holds good in every other branch: 'Verbositas praesentis saeculi calamitas artis.'
Pray how do you approve of Scopoli's new work? As I admire his Entomologia, I long to see it.

I forgot to mention in my last letter (and had not room to insert in the former) that the male moose, in rutting time, swims from island to island, in the lakes and rivers of North America, in pursuit of the females. My friend the chaplain saw one killed in the water, as it was on that errand, in the river St. Lawrence: it was a monstrous beast, he told me; but he did not take the dimensions.

When I was last in town our friend Mr. Barrington most obligingly carried me to see many curious sights. As you were then writing to him about horns, he carried me to see many strange and wonderful specimens. There is, I remember, at Lord Pembroke's, at Wilton, a horn-room furnished with more than thirty different pairs; but I have not seen that house lately.

Mr. Barrington showed me many astonishing collections of stuffed and living birds from all quarters of the world. After I had studied over the latter for a time, I remarked that every species almost that came from distant regions, such as South America, the coast of Guinea, etc., were thick-billed birds, of the loxia and fringilla genera; and no motacillae or muscicapidae were to be met with. When I came to consider, the reason was obvious enough; for the hard-billed birds subsist on seeds which are easily carried on board, while the soft-billed birds, which are supported by worms and insects, or, what is a succedaneum for them, fresh raw meat, can meet with neither in long and tedious voyages. It is from this defect of food that our collections (curious as they are) are defective, and we are deprived of some of the most delicate and lively genera.

-from The Natural History of Selborne by Rev. Gilbert White (London: Oxford University Press, 1904) 'The World's Classics, Volume XXII' p. 95-96.

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