The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 680/Notices of New Books

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Notices of New Books (February, 1898)
editor W.L. Distant
4077136Notices of New BooksFebruary, 1898editor W.L. Distant


Wild Traits in Tame Animals; being some Familiar Studies in Evolution. By Louis Robinson, M.D., &c.William Blackwood & Sons.

It is in such books as these that we recognize the vast influence exercised by Darwinism in the direction of zoological study. In endeavours to trace back the habits of animals to antecedent factors in the struggle for existence, which have received the imprimatur of natural selection, we often seem to meet teleology under a new name, like Pagan customs under more modern creeds. In fact, the evolutionary Dr. Pangloss proclaiming that this is the very best possible system of nature, and that Natural Selection tells us all about it, is not uncommon. On the other hand, there is a quiet undercurrent pervading all zoological work which is the strength of the new teaching, which finds that Darwin's key opens most locks, though not necessarily all, and that patient skill and observation and not forensic sledgehammers are needful at the still closed gates.

These prefatory remarks are necessary to introduce the contents of this most interesting and suggestive book, and to indicate the philosophical conception which has evidently prompted the composition of every page. Dr. Robinson is an observer, and many of our readers and contributors will appreciate the remark that "most of the future discoveries of great moment to the naturalist will be made, not in the remote and minute ramifications of science such as are occupying the attention of so many of our learned investigators, but among the everyday phenomena which are open to the eyes of all." Some may likewise possibly agree with the remark that "there seems also a tendency on the part of a larger number of professional naturalists to assume quasi-manorial rights in certain regions of nature's kingdom."

In our author's suggestions as to the "wild traits in tame animals" and his theories thereon, it must be remembered, as we once heard the late Prof. Rolleston remark, that not every shot hits the bull's-eye; and we might add that whilst unproven theories are held as suggestions and not as facts we cannot complain, especially when they are the result of careful observation and deliberate thought as are those in this volume. We can only refer to some, and must leave their consideration to the reader, who will also meet with the arguments for the propositions. The speed and endurance of the Horse is considered to have been primitively acquired by the pursuit of wolves. "The wild horses which in ancient times swarmed over nearly all the great plains of the world, and from which all our modern steeds have sprung, would never have developed the swiftness and staying power which they undoubtedly possessed before they became captives," save for the persecution of the "grim grey wolf," with his "perpetual hunger and untiring gallop." The dread of asses to entering running water, which Darwin considered as indicating that the Ass originally came from a region where water was scarce, is differently interpreted by Dr. Robinson: "Crocodiles and similar reptiles were much more plentiful in the past than they are now. The rivers in all the warmer parts of the world once swarmed with them. If, as is probable, the wild asses' forefathers have inhabited a Crocodile-infested country ever since the Tertiary epoch, they must have had business relations (of a very unprofitable sort for the poor jackass) with these voracious saurians for hundreds of thousands of years. It would be a matter for surprise, especially when we consider the rigidly conservative principles of the donkey tribe, if such a connection had left no traces in the instinctive habits of the race." The original progenitor of the "tabby" Cat is considered as having been a "distinct natural variety which no longer exists as a wild animal." This animal—a true tabby—it is suggested is a "remarkable instance" of "protective mimicry," inasmuch as when curled up asleep it resembles the appearance of a coiled serpent.

We will conclude with one observation made on less debateable ground, which our author believes "has not been alluded to by any naturalist." It relates to the alliance of the Redshank and the Lapwing. "The herdsmen of the Essex marshes are well aware of this compact, and if they find a Redshank's nest they invariably search about with the expectation of finding the eggs of a Plover within a few yards' distance."