Memoir of the Late William Thompson, Esq., President of the Natural and Philosophical Society of Belfast
|Memoir of the Late William Thompson, Esq., President of the Natural and Philosophical Society of Belfast. (1856)
MEMOIR OF THE LATE WILLIAM THOMPSON, ESQ., PRESIDENT OF THE NATURAL HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY OF BELFAST.
A "WISH has been expressed by some of the personal friends of the late William Thompson, that this volume should contain a biographical notice of his life and labours : in deference to the desire so expressed, the pre- sent memoir has been prepared. It is brief, for his was a quiet and uneventful life ; no " stirring incidents by flood or field" have to be recorded ; nor difficulties long encountered and successfully overcome. It is brief for another reason: his letters do not in general contain those outpourings of thought or sentiment, those revelations of the inner man, which to reflective minds are even more interesting than the open and noon-day occurrences of the outward life. To his most intimate friends, his correspondence, though frequent, was of the briefest possible kind. Such letters do not furnish the biographer with materials likely to be of general interest; and remarks on persons or occurrences, made on the impulse of the moment, and transmitted in the full confidence of private friendship, should not, we think,be torn from their shrines, and exposed to public comment.
Our author, born 2nd of November, 1805, was the eldest son of a Belfast merchant, then extensively engaged in the linen trade; and, being intended by his parents for the same business, he received such an education as was at the time considered suitable for commercial life. In 1821 he was apprenticed to a highly respectable firm in the linen business, the staple trade of the North of Ireland. The senior partner of that firm, himself a keen sportsman, has survived the subject of the present memoir, and is not unfrequently referred to in the volumes on " The Birds of Ire- land," as an authority on their habits.
A gentleman who was then in the same counting-house, and is now a merchant resident in Belfast, has kindly communicated some particulars respecting Mr. Thompson's habits and tastes at this period of his life. According to him, Thompson never showed any great inclination for business, but while engaged in it his habits were strictly methodical.His leisure hours were chiefly spent in rural walks, in which this gentle man, though ten years his senior, was frequently his companion. He adds that he was fond of reading poetry, particularly the works of our great Dramatist.Information still more detailed and more ample respecting the same period, has fortunately been obtained from one who had been Thompson's chosen playmate in childhood, his comrade at school, his companion in the same office when at business, and his friend in maturer years. This gentleman, Mr. William Sinclaire, had emigrated to America with his family, a few years prior to Mr. Thompson's death. When this little memoir was contemplated, application was made to him for reminiscences of the character and habits of his departed friend during the early period of his life, and he was more especially requested to give such particulars as he could furnish, as to the period when a fondness for Natural History pursuits first became apparent. To this request he had the kindness to reply, in two letters so creditable to himself, and so highly characteristic of his friend Thompson, that they are given almost entire.
West Hoboken , N. J.,
January 26, 1853.
" The death of my poor friend in his very prime gave me much sorrow, and it was so little anticipated, that I could hardly realize that William Thompson was dead. I shall do everything in my power to elucidate the life of my oldest friend, even from his boyish days.
" William Thompson and I were at school together for several years, during all which time he never evinced the remotest taste for those pursuits to which he devoted himself with such ardour at an after period, and he passed through the different branches of an education, such as it was in those days, with nothing more than average ability, nothing very brilliant, and in no respect ever dull. In regard also to the various sports and pastimes common to boys at that period, he never showed much aptitude, especially for such as required much muscular exertion. After leaving school, and in, I should think, his sixteenth year, he came into my father's office to learn the linen business, which I had been at some time previously. Here he came into immediate contact with my ornithological pursuits, the taste for which was, I may say, in me decidedly innate, as my earliest perceptions were drawn towards the flights of swallows as seen from the nursery windows, where I have spent many an hour in the summer evenings of my earliest days. At the time above alluded to I had commenced forming a collection of stuffed birds, and an old edition of ' Bewick's British Birds,' which was lent me by Dr. Drummond,, was at the time in my office drawer, and at all leisure moments in constant use both for study and reference ; it was therefore a very natural consequence that W. T., who was my sporting companion, should take some interest in the pursuit he saw me attending to with considerable ardour, and when the spoils of the day were brought home he began to be interested in identifying the species acquired ; and the above volume of Bewick, with its beautiful and characteristic illustrations, gradually brought about in my friend a taste for birds, so that he then purchased a more recent edition of the work in two volumes, which thenceforth became our only work of reference. At this period, and for two or three years, he spent the summer in Holywood with the family, coming up to town every morning for business during the day, and returning in the evening for dinner. During the autumn he was in the habit of shooting along the shore in the early mornings prior to coming up to town, and the various species of ' Grallatores ' which at that season visit Belfast Lough were constantly acquired and identified from Bewick upon coming to the office ; and I well recollect the interest taken in a very rare species killed one morning, the description of which was given to me, and the bird to have been brought the next day for preservation, when judge of the vexation of both of us at the miserable fate of the much-prized species, it having been plucked and cooked ere my friend's return in the evening! During this time my collection was going on, and W. T. began to have a few species preserved, which he had himself procured ; I had previously given him lessons in the manual operations necessary for stuffing birds, but he never liked the trouble, especially the soiling his fingers, and I well recollect his first visit to a bird preserver in Belfast, to have stuffed a very fine heron which he shot ; the bird being unwieldy from its great length of neck and legs, he did not like carrying it through the streets in the day-time (I may observe that in youth he was naturally shy, and did not like to attract personal notice), so we deferred our visit till evening, when we started with the bird for Nicholl's, who then lived in North Street ; it was carried by my friend, holding it by the legs, and in order to prevent the head coming in contact with the ground, it had to be held so high, that even under gas light it became a most conspicuous object, and in passing along the streets attracted universal attention, and even remark, to the very great annoyance of poor T., and I am sorry to add to my great delight, suggesting that probably the amazement of the spectators was caused by the length of legs of both parties, viz., T. and the heron. That excursion was a standing joke in the office for many a day, and always taken by T. with the most imperturbable good nature."
West Hoboken, N. J.,
February 9, 1853.
"Our various sporting and ornithological pursuits then went on for several years, up to the summer of 1826, when my friend made a tour upon the Continent ; he was at that time so conversant with the birds of his own country that he made notes in regard to various species met with abroad, some of which are adverted to in his work on the ' Birds of Ire- land.' I think I was at this time a member of our Natural History Society, which I well recollect urging him to join, without at that time success ; he had not yet become enthusiastic enough in the pursuit, and was, as I remarked before, rather shy and diffident. From this time, for several years, he hunted regularly a good deal with me, seldom missing a day when the hounds were out ; these were favourable opportunities for making ornithological observations, and our notes were frequently compared in the evenings as to the birds seen by either or both during the day ; he had great power of sight, and nothing escaped his keen observation. As an instance of his power of vision, I may mention that he could distin guish the pole erected on the top of Devis mountain, above Belfast, when leaving Lurgan on horseback to return home. About this time he displayed a considerable inclination for planting trees, and had a most correct taste for landscape gardening. He was well acquainted with the forms and peculiar habits of growth of all our forest trees, both indigen- ous and exotic. He planted many various species at the family place in the country, and, had he ever gone there to reside permanently, would have beautified it much by his taste in this department of rural pursuits.
Up to the years 1830 and 1831, his taste for Natural History was more that of an amateur than a scientific naturalist, and he had every intention of pursuing the business to which he had been brought up ; but in these years circumstances of a domestic nature occurred which had the effect of altogether changing his intentions with regard to business, and in fact to make him give it up entirely. This was the pivot upon which his future life turned, and I am satisfied, had matters then gone on as he wished, we should never have heard of him as a naturalist. But such not being the case, and his mind being of such a cast that frivolous pursuits had no charm, he began in real earnest to devote himself to the investigation of the Natural History of his native country ; and you will observe, that with few exceptions all his observations date from 1832.* *It was in the month of June this year, in company with Mr. Hyndman, that he made his first Natural History excursion to Strangford Lough, County Down, where he visited many of the islands. Scenes which were at that time known but to a few of our countrymen, and those belonging to the wealthier classes, are now visited annually by thousands, and are more familiar to tourists than many parts of these kingdoms. From this period up to the time of my leaving Ireland, he and I were in the constant interchange of thought in regard to ornithological observations, and he was always most particular in noting down at the time anything new that I might have observed in our favourite branch of Natural History ; and the frequent allusions to the ' Falls ' in his works, always recall something to my mind probably long forgotten. Many a pleasant ramble he and I have had together ; one of our favourite excursions was to Colin Glen, entering at the foot and ascending to the top of the glen ; every foot of the way would be subjected to his indefatigable research ; the heaps of fallen leaves would be our ' diggings,' and were as carefully searched for land shells, as ever were the golden lands of Australia or California for that treasure, the love of which ' is the root of all evil.' The trees and rocks afforded lichens, the sandstone its fossils, while overhead among the foliage not a bird could open its mouth, without note of observation on our parts. Sometimes the top of Colin, and at others that of Devis, would be our aim ; if in summer, the golden sunsets as seen from the latter, when the orb of day would slowly descend beyond the waters of Lough Neagh, were to rny friend inexpressibly charming ; he saw nature with a painter's eye and a poet's soul, and the apt quotations from our best poets, which were always so ready, would be given with great expression. I cannot recall those days without much sorrow for his loss ; I still looked forward to a period when I might again revisit my nativ'e land, and the most pleasing anticipation was that of again rambling to some of our former haunts, and living over again the days of our youth or early manhood : that vision has faded, never to reappear."
The usual length of an apprenticeship to business — five years — was completed by the subject of the present memoir early in 1826.That year was a memorable one in the life of Mr. Thompson, then in his twenty-first year. In the spring he set out on his first visit to the Continent, accompanied by his friend and relative, the late George Langtry, junior, Esq., of Fort William, Belfast. Their route lay through Holland and Belgium, thence by the Rhine to Switzerland, Rome, and Naples ; returning homewards by Florence, Geneva, and Paris. Travelling was in 1826 a slow and expensive procedure, compared with what it now is. During Mr. Thompson's tour, which occuped four months, he was daily in the habit of noting down the leading incidents of his journey. These memoranda are occasionally copious, but in general they are very concise. They bear intrinsic evidence of being written on the spur of the moment, and do not embody in a narrative form the details of personal adventure and dialogue, nor discussions on habits and manners, remains of antiquity, nor works of art.
From some interlineations obviously added at a later date, it would, appear probable that the author had intended at some future period transcribing into a more regular and extended form the rough notes of his original diary. If such was his intention, it was never fulfilled. To him the hurried jottings of the note-book would have been replete with meaning, rich in pleasant memories and bright associations. To others they are little more than a list of places and objects — sketches of scenery enjoyed — an enumeration of paintings visited — and occasionally a brief phrase expressive of admiration and delight.
We have read this journal with much interest, not for the sake of any information which it contains respecting the localities visited, but because of the manifestations it affords of the mental characteristics of the author. It furnishes examples of the habits of obsei'vation and the modes of thought by which he was afterwards distinguished. To those who knew him well, it likewise evinces his quiet humour, his appreciation of art, and the spring of poetic feeling which throughout life was ever welling up, amidst all his devotion to science. But while the journal presents these attractions to the members of the family circle and a few attached and intimate friends, it did not seem to be such as would warrant publication. As a guide-book it is out of date, and the facts which it contains have been told by a hundred other writers. We felt convinced also that no one would have shrunk more sensitively than Mr. Thompson himself, from the idea of giving to the public the crude and hasty notes jotted down by him more than a quarter of a century ago. The first and the concluding paragraphs may, however, be given, as embodying the dates both of his departure from Belfast and his return.
" I commence this journal with the idea, that in after years I will read it over, and think upon it, as on a lovely dream never to be realized.
" On Sunday morning at nine o'clock, 21st May, 1826, left Belfast in the Chieftain S. P. for Liverpool. Sailing down the Lough, the shore on every side looked as beautiful as a fine summer day could make it, and when opposite Donaghadee the waters assumed the most glassy smoothness I ever witnessed. Our vessel stopped here to land a party of pleasure ; all the boats of the town, that were scattered around us, in an instant ceased their motion, and nothing was heard in the intervals of our music ceasing, but ' the light drip of the suspended oar.' The waters lay calm and motionless as the sky above them, so that we could neither distinguish where the one terminated, nor where the other commenced, which made the vessels at a distance appear as if suspended in air."
The journal concludes thus : —
" 20th September. — At three we set sail from Liverpool in the Chieftain, and after a delightful passage occupying seventeen hours, landed upon ' mine own, my native land,' about eight o'clock, on Thursday, 21st September, having been absent (since 21st May) within a few minutes of four months."
Some time after his return he commenced business on his own account, with the intention of ultimately occupying the bleach-green at Wolf-hill, where his father had carried on a trade extensive for those days. The linen trade at that time was conducted in a different manner, and on a very different scale, from what it now is. Mr. Thompson for a time went on successfully, in proportion to the amount of capital employed. A change, however, took place, some losses occurred, and by these and other circumstances he was induced to abandon the idea of continuing in business. From this period science became not only the pleasure but the occupation of his life.
In 1826 he had been prevailed on by his friend the late Dr. Jas. L. Drummond , founder of the Natural History Society of Belfast , to become a member of that body. In the ensuing year, 1827, he was appointed a member of the Council. In that year, on the 13th of August, he read his first paper, choosing for his subject " The Birds of the Copeland Isles," situated at the entrance of Belfast Bay. He was chosen one of the Vice-presidents in June, 1833 ; was elected President in 1843, on the retirement of Dr. Drummond, and was annually re-elected during the remain- der of his life, a period of nearly nine years.
In 1827, when Mr. Thompson visited the Copeland Isles, he made a few notes of some of the objects observed. This was a commencement of a series of memoranda botanical and zoological, remarkable both for their extent and their minuteness. Every locality visited furnished a supply of fresh materials, all of which were carefully preserved. When the time came for putting them in order and arranging them as scientific communications, they were carefully winnowed, and every grain of value which they contained was transferred to its fitting place, with all those details which authenticated the accuracy of the record. Twenty-four of those journals are now in possession of the editors. Some of them occupy but two or three pages ; others extend to many sheets. They refer principally, as might be expected, to Irish localities, visited in the course of successive tours, or made the place of sojourn during a few weeks or months in the summer or autumn. But they are not limited to these ; they refer to some of the loveliest and most romantic English scenery, and also to portions of that of Scotland, especially of Ayrshire, Inverness-shire, and the islands of Islay and Skye. The last of these journals was written at Newcastle, County Down, in the autumn of 1851, and consequently but a few months before his death.
During this long period of years he gave great attention to specific distinctions, and was gifted with an eye quick in detecting their existence. It was a natural result, that he would soon be able to detect species which science had not yet named or described, and others well known but unrecorded as Irish. Having satisfied himself of the accuracy of the facts, the next step was to impart a knowledge of them to his brother naturalists, by communications to different Societies and to scientific periodicals. He first came forward in this way in 1833, by submitting to the Zoological Society of London some notes on the Sterna arctica, and other birds observed in Ireland. In 1834 he contributed a paper to the same Society, which appeared in their Proceedings ; and another to the Linnaean, the substance of which was published in the London and Edinburgh Philosophical Journal of that year. His first appearance as a contributor to the Magazine of Natural History, whose pages he enriched with many vakiable articles, took place in 1836, and did not cease until a few months prior to his death.
The London men of science were not slow in appreciating the value of these papers on the Natural History of the Sister Isle, nor the unassuming worth of the yoimg Irishman wlio was their author. The consequence was, that acquaintance thus commenced ripened in many instances into permanent friendships. What wonder, then, that an annual visit to London should be one of Mr. Thompson's greatest pleasures ! There he mingled with that variety of intellectual fellowship which the great metropolis alone can afford. There he not unfrequently had difficulties removed and doubts cleared up, such as every Naturalist who critically examines species has at times experienced. To London he brought for comparison, specimens which seemed to him ill-defined, and which could not be satisfactorily determined, except by reference to books and spe- cimens which were not accessible in a provincial town. The meetings of the London societies, the conversaziones where the devotees of science, of literature, and of art mingle so happily together, had peculiar attractions to a refined and cultivated mind such as Thompson possessed, and which was not narrowed by a too exclusive attention to one pursuit. He took pleasure in every ennobling eff'ort of the intellect, in the fair creations of the artist — the bright imaginings of the poet, in every discovery within the wide domain of physical science, and in the applications of its laws to lessen the labour or minister to the happiness of man.
From about the year 1833 he went steadily on recording the occurrence of species previously unknown as Irish, and gradually accumulating the materials for a Fauna of Ireland. As his labours became better known, correspondents in every province of Ireland sprang up, and information of the most varied character poured in upon him. This was sifted with exemplary care. Questions were asked, and if not answered with sufficient perspicuity, new interrogatories followed, until his own mind was perfectly satisfied as to the accuracy of the statement. It occasionally happened, that the communication related not to something in relation to the habits of a well-known species, but to the capture of a species which was either rare or known only as the denizen of other lands. In such cases he sometimes did not rest content, until he had the opportunity of examining the specimen, and determining the species by actual inspection. That being done, then all details were given, especially the date, the locality, and the name of the correspondent to whom he was indebted for the information. Detached observations, each separately of little account, assumed a new character when combined, and bearing the stamp of his scrutiny and approval. Parties residing in widely scattered localities felt gratified at their observations being permanently embodied in Mr. Thompson's papers, and were thereby stimulated to co-operate by every means in their power. Thus a body of observers sprang up, who made choice of Mr. Thompson as the channel for what they wished to announce, in connexion with the Natural History of Ireland ; and never was such assistance more scrupulously acknowledged than by him. Perhaps no one of his mental characteristics was more uniformly manifested than his anxious desire to record any assistance he had received, and to express his gratitude for facts communicated or specimens sent for his inspection.
In the busy community amid which Mr. Thompson lived, he was the only one who was devoted to Natural Science, and whose time was so entirely at his own disposal as to be given up to its cultivation. Among the professional men, the merchants and manufacturers of Belfast, with whom he mingled, he stood in this respect alone. To him, therefore, all intelligence was brought of natural objects possessing either rarity or interest in the neighbourhood. To men of all ranks, thus calling to impart information, he gave a courteous reception ; to none more so than to the young. Many will remember the searching cross-examination to which, on such occasions, they were subjected.
The labours in which Mr. Thompson was engaged for more than twenty years of his life were not those which were obvious and external.To many a toiling mortal in his native town, he must have appeared to be one of those favoured individuals who have nothing to do. Yet few were more industrious, or more persevering in the execution of his self-appointed task. Every hour in the day had its allotted duty. For four hours after breakfast he was engaged in scientific research, preparation for the press, or in correspondence. Exercise for two or three hours followed. The interval between dinner and tea was given to the lighter literature of the day, and when the claims of local societies and social intercourse left him free, the study was again the scene of two or three hours' additional work ere bed-time. Such was the ordinary routine of his life, subject only to occasional interruptions of a local or personal nature.
Not only did each day present in some respects a general resemblance to other day's, but the very years of his life, for a long period, had a great uniformity of character. With spring came a visit to London — then a sojourn with the family at the sea-side — in the autumn a little tour with some friend — an attendance on the meeting of the British Association for Science, or an excursion to shooting quarters in Scotland. The month of November found him settled once more at home, and resuming the daily routine of occupation already mentioned. Throughout life he took pleasure in field sports ; and for many years went out regularly to hunt during the season.
It would not serve any useful purpose to endeavour to trace in detail the incidents by which one year was distinguished from another; we pass on, therefore, to the year 1840, in which, at the Glasgow meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Mr. Thompson's " Report on the Fauna of Ireland — Division Vertebrata," was brought forward. This was not merely an enumeration of the vertebrate animals of Ireland ; the comparative abundance or scarcity of particular species, and their distribution in that island, so far as it had then been recorded ; but it was also an exponent of the number of species inhabiting this the most western land of Europe, compared with those known as British, and in some instances with those of continental countries. The knowledge acquired during many years of careful observation and patient research were here embodied in a manner the most simple and perspicuous. It was justly characterized by Prince Charles Lucien Bonaparte as " a valuable and lucid essay, which faithfully exhibits the subject, and seems worthy of imitation."* " Report on the State of Zoology in Europe, as regards the Vertebrata, read at the third meeting of the Italian Congress of Science, Florence, 1841."Published by the Ray Society. London, 184.').
The ensuing year brought with it to Mr. Thompson a change of scene, and an abandonment for a time of all the established routine of occupation. Early in 1841 his friend Captain Graves, of H.M. surveying ship, the Beacon, then laid up at Malta, paid a visit to Belfast. Acting in conformity with that devotion to science by which he had been ever dis- tinguished. Captain Graves took measures to obtain from the Admiralty, for Mr. Edward Forbes — the late (alas ! that we should have to speak of him as the late) eminent Professor of Natural History in the University of Edinburgh — the honorary appointment of Naturalist to his vessel, then about to proceed to the Aegean. A survey of the Island of Candia was at that time in contemplation. On his arrival in Belfast, Captain Graves kindly invited Mr. Thompson to join the party, and succeeded in inducing him to do so, as a most welcome guest.
In consequence of these arrangements, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Forbes left London together on the 2nd of April, 1841, and proceeded by Paris and Marseilles to Malta, where the Beacon then was. On the 21st of April they embarked, reached Navarino on the 28th, and anchored at Syra  on 6th of May. Leaving the vessel there. Captain Graves and Mr. Thompson, on the 11th of May, embarked in the French steamer Sesostris, for Smyrna and Constantinople. On their return, a few days were spent by the three friends together in the Beacon, and in short excursions connected with the surveying work that was in progress. Mr. Thompson then started on his return homewards, accompanied by Mr. Wilkinson, son of the British Consul at Syra. They reached Athens on the 12th of June, Trieste on the 18th, Venice on the 30th. Thence Mr. Thompson's route was by Milan, Constance, Strasburg, Manheim, Cologne, and Antwerp, reaching London on the 19th of July, after an absence of about three and a half months.
The first fruit of this voyage was a paper published in the Annals of Natural History, and afterwards reprinted in the Appendix to the Birds of Ireland. It was entitled, " Notice of Migratory Birds which alighted on, or were seen from, H.M.S. Beacon, Captain Graves, on the passage from Malta to the Morea, at the end of April, 1841." It enumerates twenty- three species, seen under those circumstances, and is valuable because of the critical knowledge and accuracy of the observer, and its bearing on a question of popular interest, which cannot be better stated than in the words Mr. Thoiupson has himself employed. "Persons even of education," says he, " still exist who are incredulous respecting the fact that many species which in summer frequent the British Islands, winter south of the Mediterranean, and cross that sea annually on their northern migration in the spring ; but surely the fact of twenty-three of them having been seen crossing the Mediterranean during several successive days in spring, and all flying northward, should be a conclusive proof; in addition to which it may be stated, that migratory species only were observed."
During this tour a journal had been regulai'ly kept by Mr. Thompson.It is much fuller and more carefully written than the journal of 1826. Fifteen years had passed since his former visit to the continent, and had brought with them the ordinary amount of change. On a part of the route traversed in either going or returning, steam had been at work, and old modes of conveyance had been superseded. Some of the scenery had been modified in its character ; " formal " vineyards had replaced on the banks of the Rhine much of its natural planting ; and wood had been cleared away even in the proximity of the ruined castles. " Thus," he remarks, " are they divested for the sake of gain of their richest charm. Were Byron now to write of them he could not say with truth, Where ruin greenly dwells,' though when I was last here, the expression was strictly applicable." Changes had in some cases taken place in the con dition or in the habits and customs of a community. Thus, in Venice, as the journal informs us, " The gondolas are greatly changed for the worse since 1825, the fine steel front being now only seen on old ones ; the modern are simply bound with polished steel for a protection, and instead of the canopy overhead, a common awning is used, which in some is plain canvas, in others blue and white striped, and a few more tasteful, all as in British boats. In connexion with the fast disappearing gondolas, I could not but think of the changes in Greece and Turkey. Pictorially, it IS a pity that it is becoming a more matter-of-fact world every day, though it is well that the human race is becoming daily more and more one great family. In the evening I saw a few gondolas, each rowed by two livery servants (de l'Anglais). I could not hear any songs of gondoliers this time, though in 1826 they were occasionally to be heard."
The changes, however, which the journal indicates as having occurred in the external world, are few compared to those which had taken place in the mind of its author. Fifteen years of the most active period of man's existence had passed by, and had cast their mellowing influence both on his feelings and on his intellect. He had lived during that time among the intelligent inhabitants of his native town, and among the literary and scientific circles of Metropolitan Societies. His reading had not been restricted to Natural Science, but had embraced biography, history, travels, poetry, and the fine arts. The journal in every page indicates his more mature and cultivated intellect; and passages occasionally occur whIch breathe a comprehensive charity for his fellow-men, and a sympatny with their social advancement. There is, too, a discrimination in praise or in censure, which time and experience alone can give ; and a nice perception of beauty in form, outline, colouring, and aerial tint, which mark the artistic eye. To personal friends, therefore, it contains much that is interesting. Yet it cannot be denied that many scenes or incidents which are graphically narrated, are told as well or better by other travellers, such as the ordeal of a Turkish bath— the slave-market at Smyrna— a turtle chase in the Aegean, and the absurd annovances connected with the Lazaretto at Trieste. The journal too is obviously a personal and_ private record, not written with a view to publication. But while the insertion of it as a whole would not seem justifiable or judicious, a few extracts illustrative of the remarks which have just been made,may not appear out of place, especially if they be regarded as revelations made by Thompson himself of his own mind, perceptions, and feelings.
_ Valence to Avignon, April 9th, 1841.—" Never did I see the Almond in flower look so beautiful as to-day, when several large trees in full bloom were in their graceful beauty backed by dark-hued rocks." "Finally, to contrast the scenery of the Rhine and the Rhone, in vine- covered hills they are alike— the rivers are much on a par— the Rhine rather the grander— the Rhone more varied by the hills coming forward and again receding or folding in the most romantic manner back and forward. No verdure from grass or pasture is to be seen on the Rhone banks, the more Southern character of the vegetation being from ferns springing from a sterile soil. The Rhine has its numerous castles, but against these are the snow-clad mountains seen from the Rhone."
May 5th.— " The setting of the sun, as we lay off Syra, was very grand, so many hues as the land displayed I never before witnessed. The island on which he sank was empurpled ; another displayed the ordinary distant blue ; those in the west were tinged with lilac. Immediately in the foreground some little islets looked richly green, and one strongly displayed its grey sterile rocky barrenness. After sunset for some time the hues of earth and sky were still more varied. Syra, which was purple a short time before, assumed a dark rich oil-green, and strongly cut, whilst the water at its base was no less strongly marked."
Syra, May 9th. — " Dined with Mr. Wilkinson, the British Consul. From the balcony of his drawing-room is the finest and most beautiful view I have ever seen from a house situated in a town. It is placed at a great height above the sea, and commands a view over several of the islands, some of them at a considerable distance. The sea is beautifully clear beneath, and several species of fish are seen feeding and gambolling about. The hues of the sea-weed, too, are extremely pleasing to the eye, the rich green of the Ulva so much exceeding that of any plants seen here on land. Just below the balcony fishermen were engaged last night, with torches of pine, spearing the fish that were exposed to view. Here the water is shallow, and the fishermen waded ; whilst further out the sepia or cuttle-fish hunters were engaged, and with a brilliant light placed on a gridiron-like article, placed at the bow of the boat, looked most picturesque."
May 12th. — " At half-past five o'clock we left Smyrna in the Sesostris French steam-packet for Constantinople. The " jable " of green waves up to the quay was precisely as I have seen them represented in some of Claude's paintings, and I think in some of Canaletti's fine Venetian views."
Delos, June 2nd. — " Never was I so struck with the appearance of utter desolation as at Delos. At Rome, Athens, &c., the ruins connect the past with the present and tell the tale of many centuries, but here all is past — there is no present — not a human being claims the island as his home, though still before us are the columns of one of the seven wonders of the world, and well might the temple of Apollo (judging from its ruins) so be called."
Venice, July 2nd. — " Went to church [Santa Maria de Fraria], containing Canova's tomb, the grandest monument I have ever beheld : design and execution are alike most admirable. Opposite to it in the church is the tomb of Titian, with his simple surname inscribed on one of the ordinary floor flags of the building. How strange this seems ! The galleries of Venice teem with his sublime paintings, many of them in colours rich and glowing, as they had just passed from the hands of their great artificer. We are enraptured with them, and pacing over the floor of a neighbouring church, start back with alfright on lifting our foot from a common flag, to find that it rested upon and covered the name of Titian, who sleeps beneath it. In Venice, however, should Titian rest. In many respects is it of high importance that the mortal remains of the workman should thus as it were go hand in hand with his noblest work. Thus are the mortality and immortality of earth a striking lesson ! "
" The first mournful reflections over on visiting such a tomb, do we not feel the bodily and intellectual pulse beat quicker, and urge us on to the best work of which we feel ourselves capable, before we are hidden beneath the flag-stone."
Aldstatten, July 11th. — "The mountain rises steeply from the town, and before proceeding very far, a most grand and extensive prospect was presented. In the immediate foreground on the sloping mountain-side all was of the loveliest Swiss character. Most picturesque cottages with their pretty little gardens and numerous bees'-caps placed against the houses Against one cottage I reckoned fifty of these, of ordinary size each abode with its appliances seemed a little paradise ; everything, toobeing in that order which betokened in their owners, what above all things most delights me, a heart at ease. Such a sight strikes upon the inmost chord of a passing stranger's heart, see it in what part of this world he may.
Appenzel, July 12th.-" The eastern side of the mountain-chain which separates the canton of St. Gallen from Appenzel is a grain, fruit, and vegetable country. On the western side, where it slopes into a great table land, very many square miles in extent, it is meadow or pasture, unbroken by a single patch of grain, vegetables, or fruit. It seemed to me a prac- tical illustration of what should be done the whole world over, the energies of every country being applied to whatever it could do best, and its surplus production exchanged with its neighbours "
The Zoological notes scattered through the journal are few in number. The botanical refer chiefly to the appearance of plants or trees in connexion with their altitudinal range or geographical distribution.Ihe enjoyment which Mr. Thompson experienced in his tour to the Aegean, had like all other earthly pleasures, a certain portion of alloy..n his case, this proceeded principally from his sensitiveness to sea-sickness when on the vessel, and from the heat and vermin in some localities on shore. But he always spoke in glowing terms of the beauty of the classic and historic scenes he had visited, and the kindness not only of his friend, Captain Graves, but of all the officers of the Beacon.
From 1841 to 1843, he was a frequent contributor to the Annals of Natural History and he was steadily preparing his Report on the Invertebrate Fauna of Ireland. This was presented at the Cork meeting of the British Association, in August, 1843; and, to use the words of the Very Rev. the Dean of Ely, was "remarkable for the minuteness and fulness of the inforniation which it conveys." *Vid. address of the Very Rev. Geo. Peacock, D. D.. as President of thr British Association at the York meeting, 1844. At the same meeting, Professor E Forbes, who had returned to these countries, presented his valuable " Report on the Mollusca and Radiata of the Aegean Sea."
The attendance of members and associates at the Cork meeting was un usually small ; but those who compare the number and importance of the papers read in the Natural History section with those at other meetings will find no inferiority there, and will naturally attribute a portion of the success of Section D. to the personal influence and character of Mr Thomson, who acted as its President, and whose courtesy on the occasion was noticed by all. His own communications he compressed into the briefest possible space, so as to give time and opportunity for the reading of those contributed by other members.
At intervals during the succeeding five years, he was engaged in preparing for the press his intended work on the Natural History of Ireland and his writing for the Annals of Natural History, the well-known series of papers on the Irish Fauna. But his labour was liable to many interruptions. Some of these were caused by visitors; some by the arrival of new specimens, or the sending away of duplicates to other Naturalists ; but chiefly by the extensive correspondence in which he was engaged His letters were in general very concise, and went at once right to the subject-matter, in the briefest terms. They often consisted of merely a message or a question, written on a scrap of paper, signed with his initials, and then enclosed in an envelope. Dr. Ball, who for years had some of those communications almost every week, received one complaining that a question in the previous letter had not been answered. On searching for the " letter," which had been overlooked, Dr. Ball at last found it in his pocket-book, between the folds of a bank-note, into which it had accidentally dropped, and where, from its diminutive size, it had lain concealed !
This habit of writing upon scraps of paper, to the great embarrassment of editors and printers, is one to which several well-known authors have been addicted. We may refer as examples to the " paper-sparing Pope," whose translation of the Iliad, preserved in the British Museum, is written on the backs and other blank portions of letters ; and to Sharon Turner, whose third volume of the " Sacred History of the World" is written on fragments of letters and notes, and on covers of periodicals.
The first volume of the "Natural History of Ireland" appeared in 1849 ; the second in 1850; the third in I85I. The reviews of it were, as might be expected, of a very favourable character ; and letters relating to it, from many of Mr. Thompson's friends and correspondents, afforded him much pleasure. He valued very highly the good ojiinion of those he really esteemed. The volumes contained a large amount of popular matter relative to the instincts, habits, and economy of our native birds, to which they were exclusively devoted ; and among these were occasionally interspersed graphic descriptions of localities or of picturesque groups, such as Horn Head, County Donegal, vol. iii. p. 223 ; Grotto of Egeria, near Rome, vol. i. p, 367 ; and Grouse Shooting Scenes in the Highlands, vol. ii. pp. 51 and 55. As might have been expected, they were largely quoted from in the periodical literature of the day. Perhaps no one passage was more frequently republished than the one (vol. i. p. 11) in which the author dwells on the effects produced on the birds of a district by the industrial operations of man.
He had himself expressly stated that the volumes on Birds were " put forward merely as supplementary to the several excellent works already published on British Ornithology." Viewed merely in that light, they were welcomed as a very desirable addition to the stores left by preceding writers. When considered apart from other works, and simply as an ex- ponent of what was known to Mr. Thompson respecting the Birds of Ireland, the philosophic mind found in its pages fresh food for speculation, especially concerning those great laws which regulate the distribution of animal life. The pains-taking care of its author was visible on every page ; and, if some reader should now and then have wished that dates, localities, and names were of less frequent occurrence, by others these details were regarded as very desirable. To the future explorer of the Natural History of Ireland, such evidence will be of the highest value. It will satisfy him that Thompson has furnished a true record of the Irish Birds, as known to him and his correspondents. From the basis thus established, he may proceed to rear his structure with perfect confidence that he builds on a good foundation, and that, if his own observations be correct, and embrace a sufficiently wide range, he may contrast the then existing Birds of Ireland with the species which now belong to it.
It was during the time Mr. Thompson was engaged preparing this work for the press, that he became interested in the welfare of " The Belfast-Man" — Francis Davis — author of "Poems and Songs," published in Belfast, in 1847. They were composed, as the preface informs us. " amid the monotonous din of the work-shop," the vocation in which Mr.Davis was then engaged being that of a muslin weaver, " an employment not very remarkable for its remunerative qualities." He now fills the responsible situation of Librarian and Secretary to the Working Classes' Association at Belfast ; and, on being applied to by one of the Editors of the present volume, most kindly forwarded the following letter respecting his intercourse with Mr. Thompson : —