Zoological Illustrations/Preface

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PREFACE.

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The termination of the first volume of the Zoological Illustrations is accomplished, and its contents will not only enable our readers to discern the nature of the work, but likewise to form a judgement, on that degree of improvement which we have introduced since its first publication, and they may safely rely on the continuation being in no respect inferior.

In commencing a work of this nature, we have had two principal objects in view: the diffusion of original observations, which, while they might further the ends of science, would also be interesting to the general reader; and that of discouraging the publication of distorted figures copied from old authors, by accustoming the public eye to original designs and correct representations of natural objects. How far we may have succeeded in this latter object, remains to be judged by others; we are however satisfied with having made the attempt, and we hope that abler pencils than our own, may engage in the prosecution of this most desirable object; for it is only by the publication of original matter, that a check can be given to the increasing number of compilations and multiplied copies of "ill-shaped" figures, by which error is perpetuated, and science retarded.

The only original work that has appeared in this country similar to our own, is the Zoological Miscellany by Dr. Leach, which, as it was discontinued after the third volume, it may be presumed was unsuccessful: although little can be said of many of the figures in the early volumes, those in the latter are much to be praised, and the whole are original; the descriptions also abound with details highly interesting to the scientific world, for which indeed the learned author principally intended it; nevertheless it is a question, whether science in the end would not have been equally, and perhaps more advanced, had this work been more adapted to general readers. Instruction in these days of refinement must be made easy, palatable, and enticing; the eye must be pleased, while the understanding is improved, and Wisdom in her simple dignified garb will often be deserted for Ignorance, decked out in the glittering trappings of Folly.

The Naturalist's Miscellany conducted by Dr. Shaw, in its miscellaneous nature also resembled the present work, and reached to the extent of twenty-four volumes. What an invaluable fund of information these might have contained had their contents been original! Unfortunately, however, the exceptions are so few, that the whole may be termed a loose compilation, the descriptions being mostly given in as few words as possible, and the figures not only copied from wretched representations found in old authors, but often coloured from their descriptions only! It is indeed lamentable that the Author, whose talents and abilities were unquestionable, should have exerted them so little, and thus have descended to the rank of a voluminous compiler, for little better can be said of the General Zoology, begun and continued under his name: little original matter can there be found, excepting in the latter volumes, yet even in these no notice whatever is taken of the immense number of new species discovered in Africa by Le Vaillant, and long ago published in the Oiseaux d'Afrique: the engravings also are in like manner copied from old prints, enlarged or diminished as occasion offers, without even a regard to the selection of the best. It may be as well to observe in this place, that a great number of generic distinctions have been made in the two last volumes; which, as they have not been followed by any of the great and acknowledged Zoologists on the Continent, and appear to us in many instances trivial and unnecessary, will not be adopted in this work.

It will be unnecessary to point out with regard to the scientific arrangement, that we have avowedly adopted the principles of the modern classification; which the strict followers of Linnæus (in this country alone) have so long, but so ineffectually opposed. The first has been designated as the natural, and the other the artificial system; and, without entering into a critical disquisition on these definitions, it will be sufficient to observe, that by the Artificial System we bend nature to conform to certain arbitrary principles, which we lay down and to which we insist all her productions known and unknown will conform; while in the Natural method, we endeavour by tracing her modifications, to adapt our system to that which appears to regulate her operations. In the one we give laws, in the other receive them; by the first we are taught to believe that the highest attainment of the science, is that of ascertaining the name of an object in our Museum, or of giving a new one; we record it in our favourite system as a grammarian enters a new word in his dictionary, and there the matter terminates. Where the artificial system ends, the natural begins; for we then proceed to the investigation of affinities founded on anatomical construction, economy, and geographic distribution; our attention ceases to be confined to individuals, and extends to large groups; general facts enable us to draw general conclusions, till the mind begins faintly to discern a vast and mighty plan, by which the zones of the earth are peopled by their own respective races of animate beings; blending their confines unto each other with divine harmony, beauty, and usefulness.

That these inquiries and results have had a most wonderful effect on the natural sciences of late years, is abundantly evident. Geology, a subject hardly thought of in this country a few years ago, is now found to be a science of the first importance; with this, however, Conchology is so intimately connected, that without a certain knowledge of it, the geologist is frequently unable to prosecute inquiries of the most interesting nature; and there is little doubt but that Botany has been raised to the rank it now so justly holds, solely because its natural system has been more generally studied and advocated in this country, than that of any other branch of Natural History. In this science at least, we possess a superiority which our continental neighbours cannot dispute; and the name of Brown will be enrolled in the brightest page of our philosophic inquirers.

That the prejudiced adherence to the strict Linnæan system, has been the primary cause why Zoology has been more neglected with us than on the Continent, will admit of little doubt; for by shutting the door to all further improvement, it has impressed the generality of our countrymen with an idea, that the highest object of the Naturalist was to label the contents of a museum, and to arrange stuffed animals, like quaint patterns of old china, in glass cases: to thinking minds no less than to the vulgar, this idea has produced a feeling of contempt and ridicule, and very few of those qualified by nature for accurate investigation and philosophic reasoning, have been induced to make the science a study; and thus from such an unfortunate prejudice, to use the words of a powerful writer of the present day, "some future historian of the progress of human knowledge, will have to state that England, till within the few last years, stood still at the bottom of the steps where Linnæus had left her; while her neighbours were advancing rapidly towards the entrance of the temple[1]."

Finally—Linnæus to a comprehensive genius united indefatigable industry; yet he could not see and study those innumerable productions that have been discovered since his death: in proportion as our knowledge of objects increases, so must our systems change, until the natural one is fully developed; and the question simply comes to this, Whether the Linnæan method should be upheld as a solitary exception to the mutability of human wisdom.

The sun of truth must however finally prevail, and there is every reason to think it has already broke, and will gradually disperse these mists of prejudice. It is however much to be regretted, that our public institutions are wholly inadequate to facilitate not only the advancement of students, but the researches of those who are already engaged in prosecuting their inquiries: in Scotland alone are founded any Professorships of Natural History, and the establishment of our National Museum (in this branch only) is confessedly difficult: materials for study are more necessary in this science than any other; yet the public Institutions and libraries of the metropolis, "rich and rare" in every other department of knowledge, in most instances are deficient in this of the most elementary books; setting aside those of illustration, which, from being unavoidably expensive and within the reach of few purchasers, are more particularly adapted for such general repositories of learning. The protracted ill-health of its noble possessor, was the cause no doubt of the Banksian magnificent library being left deficient in several of the latest continental works; and that of the British Museum I have reason to think is still more defective. To the honour however of the keepers of the Bodleian and Radcliffe Libraries, it should be mentioned, that no pains or expense have been spared to render them as perfect in this branch as possible; and we have been told that the latter particularly is the most magnificent in the kingdom.

We shall now as briefly as possible advert to the contents of this volume.

In the Ornithological department the systems of Cuvier and Temminck have mostly superseded all others: as a whole, we give a decided preference to the latter, as being more natural, though it may be doubted if the generic distinctions are not too few, while those of Cuvier are too many: both however can be considered only as sketches, subject to improvement—as natural affinities are more studied.

Regarding that part of our work which relates to Entomology, we have given a decided preference to the Lepidoptera, for the simple reason that this order has received less attention from all writers, concerning their real characters and affinities, than any other; indeed they have been most unaccountably neglected even by Latreille, the great founder of the modern school: we have therefore thought it necessary to propose in this department many new genera, and only have to regret that their definitions could not be made more perfect without the destruction of the specimens, frequently not our own, and which therefore was unattainable: a more extended knowledge of the natural affinities existing in this tribe, will alone confirm or annul the propriety of these distinctions.

In Conchology many of the genera long established on the Continent, but new to our own collectors, have been characterized and illustrated, as well as specific distinctions defined between shells hitherto considered as varieties; and here it must be observed that so much latitude has been given to the meaning of the term variety, that in its general acceptation its definition becomes impossible: our own idea of its true meaning is, a shell possessing one or more characters which are changeable and uncertain, and which consequently will not serve as indications by which it may infallibly be distinguished from all others; variety depends on local circumstances, and affects the size, colour, and greater or less development of the same modification of structure; a species is permanent, its structure always the same though more or less developed, producing and perpetuating its kind, and depending on formation, discernible in youth, and matured in age: we cannot therefore comprehend the contradictory term of permanent varieties in a state of nature (though such occur in domesticated animals), which some authors have used, and which has led to, in many instances, the most erroneous conclusions.

It is lamentable to see the opposition which is still made by our own writers against all the modern improvements; yet although Linnæan Introductions to Conchology are constantly issuing from the press, the desire of being acquainted with a more natural and intelligible classification has already appeared; and as we are frequently questioned on the subject, we cannot in this place do better than refer the young student to the valuable article on Conchology contained in the late supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the perusal of which will convey more solid information, and less perplexity, than all the Introductions our booksellers can boast of.

With respect to the quotations or synonyms, it should be observed that we have in most instances limited them only to original works, all doubtful ones have been rejected, and such only given as have been actually consulted; indeed to this latter cause must be attributed the occasional omission of some, existing in books we had not the immediate power of consulting; our own library is not small; but the difficulty and expense of procuring all the new continental publications, and the impossibility of meeting with them at our public libraries[2], may have sometimes led us into error, and unintentionally to have passed over the discoveries of others.

With the few additions contained in the Appendix we shall now conclude; trusting that in the remarks drawn from us by the present state of the science in this country, our zeal for truth will not give us an appearance of want of candour or of vanity. The truth of our remarks on the labours of others, every one at all acquainted with the subject can inquire into, and either acknowledge or disprove: we neither deprecate nor despise criticism: an author who presumes to instruct others, should have his pretensions publicly canvassed, his merits admitted, or his deficiency exposed; no one is more sensible than we are that our own pretensions chiefly consist in having set an example for others more able to follow: and if we have in any way advocated the cause of truth and science, our object will be attained, and we shall then gladly retire in the shade.

London,
Sept. 15, 1821.


LIST OF BOOKS REFERRED TO.

Bruguire, Encycl. Meth. Histoire Naturelle des Vers, par M. Bruguire, 1 vol. 4to. and 4 vols. of Plates, forming part 10, 19, 21, 23, of the "Encyclopedie Méthodique." Paris, 1789-1792.
Bloch. Histoire Naturelle des Poissons, en 6 parties, 8vo. Berlin, 1796.
Cramer. Papillons Exotiques, 4 vols. 4to. Amsterdam, 1779-1782.
Cuvier. Le Règne Animal, 4 vols. 8vo. Paris, 1817.
Chemnitz, Martini. Neus Systematisches Conchylein Cabinet, 11 vols. Nurnburg, 1781-1795.
Dill. A Descriptive Catalogue of Recent Shells. By F. W. Dillwyn, 2 vols. 8vo. London, 1817.
Edwards. A Natural History of uncommon Birds, &c.; and Gleanings of Natural History. By G. Edwards, 7 vols. 4to. 1763, &c.
Fab. Ent. Syst. Entomologia Systematica, emendata et aucta. J. C. Fabricius, 4 vols. 4to. Hafnia, 1792-1794.
Gen. Zool. General Zoology, commenced by Dr. Shaw, and continued by Mr. Stevens, 11 vols. 8vo. to 1819.
Gmelin Linn. Syst. Nat. C. Linné Systema Naturæ. Cura J. F. Gmelin. Lipsiæ, 1788-1793.
Godart in Encycl. Method. Encyclopedie Méthodique, t. 9. p. 1. 1819.
Gualtieri. Index Testarum Conchyliorum quæ adservantur in Musæo N. Gualtieri. Florentiæ, 1742.
Illiger. Prod. Systematis Mammalium et Avium, 8vo. Berolini, 1811.
Knorr. Les Delices des Yeux et de l'Esprit, 6 P., 4to. Nuremb. 1760, &c.
Klein Hist. Pisc. Historiæ Nat. Piscium promovendæ Missus, 6, 4to. Dantzic, 1740-49.
Linn. Syst. Nat. See Gmelin.
Linn. Trans. Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, 13 vols. 4to. 1791-1821.
Lister. M. Lister Historia Conchyliorum, folio. Oxonii, 1770.
Lamarck Syst. Hist. Nat. des Animaux sans Vertèbres. Par le Chevalier de Lamarck, 6 vols. 8vo. Paris, 1815-1819.
—— Anal. Mus. Annales du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle de Paris, 4to. 1802-1821.
Lath. Synop. Suppl. A General Synopsis of Birds. By Dr. J. Latham, 3 vols, and 2 Supplements, 4to. London, 1782, &c.
—— Index Ornith. Index Ornithologicus, 2 vols. 4to. London, 1790.
Martyn Univ. Conch. The Universal Conchologist. By T. Martyn, 4 vols. 4to. London, 1784, &c.
Martini. See Chemnitz.
Pennant. British Zoology. By T. Pennant, 4 vols. 8vo. London, 1812.
Risso Icth. Ichtyologie de Nice, 1 vol. 8vo. Paris, 1810.
Rumph. Thesâurium Imaginum Piscium, &c., folio. Hagæ, 1739.
Seba. Albertus Seba Rerum Naturalium Thesauri, 4 vols. folio. Amsterdam, 1734-1765.
Say. Description of the Land and Fresh-water Shells of the United States. By Thomas Say. Philadelphia, 1819.
Shaw in Gen. Zool. See General Zoology.
Temminck Pig. et Gall. Histoire Naturelle Générale des Pigeons et des Gallinaces. Par C. J. Temminck, 2 vols. 8vo. Amst. 1813.
—— Manuel. Manuel d'Ornithologie, 2d edit., 2 vols. 8vo. 1820.
Le Vaill. Hist. Nat. des Toucans et des Barbus, folio. Paris, 1806.
—— Hist. Nat. des Perroquets, 2 vols. folio. Paris, 1801.
White's Voyage. Journal of a Voyage to N. S. Wales, 4to. Lond. 1790.

1 ^  Horæ Entomologicæ, by W. S. MacLeay, Esq. M.A. of Trinity College, Cambridge. London, 1819. A work which for acuteness of reasoning and profound research, has never been equalled either in this, or perhaps in any other country.
2 ^  It is truly grievous in those which are privileged to possess themselves of the works of their countrymen, however expensive, at free cost, and thus to inflict a ruinous fine on authors. Thus—National Institutions, founded for the encouragement of learning, are made to oppress and impoverish its followers.