Zoological Illustrations/Volume III

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Zoological Illustrations
by William Swainson
Preface to Volume III.

PREFACE.

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In concluding the last volume of these Illustrations, I may be allowed to express the satisfaction I feel, at the favourable manner in which the work has been received, both in this country and on the continent.

Several objections have been urged, even by sensible writers, against miscellaneous works on Zoology. First, that they range over the whole animal kingdom, without completing the history of any one tribe. Secondly, that their authors, while professing to illustrate only what is new or little known, intrude a large proportion of subjects to be found in all the common natural histories. And thirdly, that this rapid mode of publishing new discoveries, is an infringement on the right, and is detrimental to the labours, of those naturalists who direct their attention to one particular branch. These objections, however, are not unanswerable; for, in the first place, these miscellanies should more properly be considered as graphic illustrations, or collections of figures, wherein the efforts of the artist, aided by scientific knowledge, are called forth, to complete, by his pencil, the more minute and detailed descriptions which should proceed from the pen of the monographer. The most perfect works in the science are undoubtedly those which unite the labours of both; but, in proportion as this perfection is attained, the general utility of such works is diminished. They become so enormously expensive, that they are only to be seen in universities and princely libraries; for the most part inaccessible to the naturalist, and nearly unknown to the public at large. The works of Le Vaillant, Desmarest, Vieillot, Ferussac, and several others, published in France and Germany, are of this description; and while in one sense they have considerably benefitted the science, they have in another proved very detrimental to its general diffusion. No sensible naturalist will risk his fame, by giving his observations to the world, without knowing what has been done by those who have preceded him;—until, in fact, he has proper materials to work upon. He knows that these sumptuous authors should be consulted; he has not the means of so doing; and he relinquishes his purpose in despair. Such has been the result in two or three instances which I could mention: and the power of materially extending the bounds of science is thus confined to those favoured few, who are so fortunate as to possess, or to have the power of consulting, those splendid publications.

The second objection is well grounded; but in whatever degree it may apply elsewhere, I trust the following pages will evince my anxiety to render the work replete with subjects hitherto unknown or unrecorded; and my own collections, in most cases, have given me ample means for examining and comparing both the genera and species of nearly all the subjects I have attempted to illustrate.

In several instances my opinions will be found to differ from those of many celebrated naturalists of the day; but I have endeavoured to put the reader in possession of the reasons which have led to the conclusions I have adopted. This is but justice towards those who have preceded me, and to the great body of naturalists, by whom such questions will ultimately be decided. The age is past wherein the ipse dixit of a great name was enough to check all inquiries after truth. Assertions must now be proved before they are admitted: and those writers who lay before the public tribunal of science their facts, their arguments, and their deductions, can alone hope to have their opinions generally adopted.

The third and last objection is as new as it is singular; and has been urged against Miscellanies in general by an anonymous French writer.[1] However an author may feel annoyance or disappointment, that another should be the first to publish discoveries, which he fancies belong exclusively to himself, he surely has no title to complain. The field of Nature is open to the inquiries of all. In her domain there are not yet established any scientific preserves.[2] If occupation or indolence does not permit one labourer to make known his discoveries, is another (who perhaps unconsciously has been working on the same ground) to hide the knowledge he has gained? This is surely a principle at once illiberal and unjust. At this time, there is not perhaps a single department of Zoology which is not employing the attention of more than one writer. It is to the honour, and to the lasting benefit of science, that it should be so: and although a great part of the new objects collected during my travels in Europe and Brazil have recently been made public by MM. Temminck and Godart, I feel rejoiced that this has been done by such distinguished men.

I have been induced to enter (perhaps too fully) into a general defence of Zoological miscellanies, from the opinion I entertain of their great utility. First, in diffusing a general knowledge, and exciting a taste for such pursuits among the great mass of readers; and secondly, as being a prompt and interesting channel of communicating new discoveries to the scientific world. Their periodical appearances and comparative cheapness renders them of easy access to the student; and, if well conducted, they unite all that is essential from the pen and the pencil.

Several foreign journals have noticed the appearance of these Illustrations, and generally in such terms as to stamp a value on their contents. One of these, however,[3] contains several misrepresentations, which have doubtless escaped the notice of the editor; and which, therefore, it may be as well to explain in this place. The writer in this journal, while noticing my Illustrations, seems to have mixed up with it criticisms intended for another periodical miscellany,[4] to which this has, perhaps, given birth, and which professes to be on a similar plan. He states that these Illustrations are to be completed in sixty numbers, making five volumes. No such declaration, to my knowledge, has ever been made, although such is the averred plan of the Naturalist's Repository. The reviewer goes on to state: "Il suit pour l'Entomologie et la Conchologie la classification surannée de Linnæus." This is not a very respectful mode of speaking of the labours of the greatest naturalist whom his age produced; but the proposition is a total mistake; the charge is refuted by almost every page of my work; and, what is rather extraordinary, by the very quotations of the reviewer. In reply to the regret expressed, "que l'auteur n'indique pas toujours les ouvrages les plus récens," I should have been thankful had he subjoined what works these were; as I do not find, in the monthly lists of the Bulletin, any one which I have not consulted or referred to, if connected with the objects here described.[5] M. de Ferussac's work has been regularly cited, but his Prodromus I have never been able to procure, either in England or Paris.

And here I cannot refrain from adverting to the great number of Zoological publications which have appeared in this country during the last three years; a number far exceeding in proportion that of any period in the annals of the science. Dr. Horsfield has commenced a beautiful work on the Animals of Java; and Mr. Sowerby is prosecuting his Genera of Shells with much zeal, and with increased ability. Both these appear periodically. They are conducted on the modern principles of science, and do credit to their authors. The Naturalist's Repository, before alluded to, likewise appears monthly, but is carried on according to the Linnæan system, pure and unadulterated. All these, however, unite in showing how rapidly the taste for such works has increased. Added to these, a new quarterly Journal, exclusively devoted to Zoology, has been announced, and, if conducted on liberal principles, its utility will be very great.

But nothing, perhaps, has more fully evinced the state of public feeling on this point among men of enlightened minds, than the discussions which have arisen on the present state of the British Museum. It is a subject on which I might be tempted to say much, did I not feel, that among those who do not know me, I might be suspected of interested or unworthy motives. But from the retirement of a country life, I may now be allowed perhaps to say a few words. It is indeed most true, that, in the Zoological department, this institution is a full century behind the rest of Europe; I might almost add, of America. But the fault is deep-rooted; and does not spring from the person (whoever he may be) to whom this overwhelming charge is given. It is ridiculous to suppose that the exertions of any one person (however great his talents, his zeal, and his assiduity,) are sufficient to discharge the duties of so complicated an office. Such a supposition implies the expectation of a moral impossibility; and so long as such a Herculean task is allotted him, so long will the Museum continue, with little alteration, in its present state. Where we have one Zoologist, the museums of Paris, Berlin, and Vienna have many; each is charged with the care of one particular branch; and, by their united efforts, the whole is displayed to the examination of the scientific, and to the view of the public. Each professor has thus leisure to prosecute the most important objects of his duty; i. e. to examine, compare, and describe, to detect analogies, to investigate affinities, and to give to the world the fruits of his studies. To France more particularly this honour is due. And what has been the result? Why, that Paris has become the Zoological university of Europe; and that the principles which have emanated from it, are now considered the only true ones by which Nature is to be studied.

It is not my object to attach reproach to any body of men collectively, or to any one individually; but truth is not to be concealed. Every writer who has the advancement of his favourite study at heart, is bound (however feebly) to advocate its cause. The truth of the preceding remarks cannot be questioned; and it remains with those in power, to consider well, whether such a state of things is consistent with the honour and reputation of the country; with the justice due to those great men who founded the institution; and to the expectations of the public, by whom it is supported.

Warwick, October, 1823.

  1. "Pendant que les naturalistes font des monographies, des ouvrages généraux où la synonymie, les coupes systématiques sont, à force de temps et de soins, établies avec rigueur, les auteurs des miscellanées, avec quelques phrases et des noms nouveaux, font des genres ou des espèces, et publient 50 cahiers dans lesquels les fruits de dix ans de recherches ou de voyages sont enlevés à leurs auteurs. (F.)"—Bulletin des Annonces et des Nouvelles Scientifiques; publié sous la direction de M. le B. de Ferussac. N. 4. p. 53.
  2. See the Sketch Book of G. Crayon, vol. i. p. 130.
  3. Bulletin des Annonces et des Nouvelles Scientifiques, N. 6. p. 438.
  4. Donovan's Naturalist's Repository.
  5. The additional list of synonyms subjoined at the end of this volume almost entirely refer to one or two books which have been subsequently published: the date of 1822, affixed to the seventh volume of Lamarck's H. N. des Animaux sans Vertèbres, is considerably before the time it was issued to the public.