The Zoologist/4th series, vol 4 (1900)/Issue 710/Notices of New Books
NOTICES OF NEW BOOKS.
Such a series of publications on zoology—text-books, handbooks, introductions, manuals, &c.—is now appearing, that it seems only possible to suggest at present what shall be considered canonical, and what not. And this estimate becomes more difficult every day, especially when, as in the present work, the bionomical element is a pronounced feature; for now many brilliant, some hazardous, and a multitude of strange theories more or less enter the purview of every author. The editor—Mr. Cunningham—in his preface, opines that even in this volume, in reference to colouration, the author's idea is perhaps carried too far. But Dr. Schmeil advances no particular theory, and is anxious throughout to exhibit adaptability in structure to environmental conditions in a way that could have met with the approval of the—presumably—defunct teleologist, that ought not to offend the strictest "selectionist," and may be countenanced by the "neo-Lamarckian."
But these remarks, though legitimate to a general consideration, in no way express the aim of the book, which is one of the most interesting and suggestive to place in the hands of school-children, to whom zoology is not an end, but a part of a liberal education. It has the merit of producing thought, rather than the necessity of remembering details. Most children can repeat that a Cat "has nine lives," but how few can explain the operation of what is styled "always falling on its legs." Dr. Schmeil comes to the rescue:—"When a man in falling tries to support himself on his arms, he may easily break them; for, as he possesses clavicles, and needs them, his arms are firmly (without elasticity) connected with the shoulder-girdle, so that the shock in falling is not diminished. The Cat, on the other hand, at every spring alights on the fore-legs. Fracture, however, does not take place, because the shoulder-blades are only connected with the skeleton of the trunk by ligaments and muscles, and yield to the shock (prove on the living animal how easily the shoulder-blades can be moved), and also because yet another safeguard occurs in the shoulder-joint. When the weight of the body comes on the fore-legs, the angle between the upper arm and shoulder-blade is diminished, enlarging again when the bones return to their resting position. (Hence we understand why all swift-running and springing animals have no clavicles)." A similar element of practical reasoning is found throughout the whole of this excellent manual, "made in Germany," and its illustrations will serve to interest as well as instruct.
This publication is intended for the "use of secondary schools"; it "attempts to restore the old-time instruction in Natural History"—in method; it is "the outcome of a conviction that the needs of the secondary student are not best met by a course in comparative anatomy." The book is described "as like a 'Synoptic Room' in the vestibule of a vast museum, containing the most essential things for those who can go in but a little way, but also fundamental for those who can penetrate farther."
It will thus be seen that the authors have set themselves one of the most difficult tasks in the domain of natural science. To really popularise zoology—and the word "popularise" is not synonymic with "vulgarise"—requires the genius of a Huxley. It depends on knowing all, and having the faculty of stating clearly the one thing needful. To be a college professor is sometimes only the reward of tact and industry; to be a teacher of the people is a gift of the gods. After all, in secondary and other schools, zoology will be best taught by the enthusiastic and competent teacher, who knows how to expound the text-books; and this, combined with a fair-sized aquarium and vivarium in every school, and a weekly excursion with a good field naturalist, would do for children nearly as much as all the books. Like the people we all meet who quote from the Bible and Shakespeare without ever reading one or the other, so we should have a generation growing up who were at least imbued with an interest in animal life. Once create the love of zoology, and all the rest will follow; a knowledge from books alone is always second-hand. One might as well expect an appreciation of art from Midas because he has purchased a picture gallery.
This book is a means to an end, and will doubtless help on the work. It gives so much information that the space at disposal is not sufficient, in many cases, to elucidate the details, and hence the authors are often, like preachers, a little over the heads of their congregation. The illustrations are apt, but very often borrowed—though with all acknowledgment—and sometimes "after Brehm." Whether illustrations should be taken from the works of the taxidermist is a very open question, even when representing such excellent work as may be found in the Field Columbian Museum. Sometimes the text is a little vague, as when we read that "the Crocodile in the strict sense is found in the Nile and other African rivers," as well as in certain American localities, without any reference to its oriental habitats.
As an appendix, there is a very useful and suggestive outline of laboratory work, and a bibliography of standard works.
If under the pseudonym of scientific ornithology the ubiquitous collector did much damage in "bird-land," by the indiscriminate acquisition of eggs and nests, science seems now to have provided the antidote in the camera. The lovely photographs of nests and eggs, true to nature, and possessing all the real charms of the environment, which now embellish ornithological literature, will probably create a more exact knowledge of these objects, and prevent much unnecessary destruction. Better that the trade of the dealer should perish than that the birds must ultimately vanish; though the worst destruction of eggs by human agency is, we are thoroughly convinced, occasioned by the boys of the village.
Mr. Pike's photographing-ground has been principally North Middlesex and South Hertfordshire, and he has in this artistic and harmless occupation acquired a very large experience of birds and their ways, which he has related in a small but charmingly illustrated book. The successful placing of the camera is largely dependent on the habits of his "sitters," and not only the nest but the whole environment is reproduced on his plates. We read with regret the usual story of vanishing species from once frequent haunts. He remembers "the time when it was possible to see a Sparrow-Hawk almost any day in our North Middlesex fields; but now a specimen is only seen at very long intervals; for, although I am constantly abroad in the open air, it is over a year since I saw one of these fine birds on the wing." And again:—"Not very many years ago the Raven used to breed in our inland counties; and not far from my home there still stands a tree in which the last pair of these birds built their nest in Middlesex."
Although the collector becomes callous—and we plead guilty to the impeachment—most will regret the truth contained in Mr. Pike's narrative concerning the Sky-lark:—"It is pathetic to hear, as I have done, how this bird, which makes the countryside so enjoyable, will suddenly stop in the midst of its beautiful song when its nest far below is being robbed of its eggs. I was once a witness of this phenomenon, and felt sad as well as indignant." It is probable that the greatest mystery of life is its sorrow; but with birds the camera will not increase it.
As regards the beauty of the illustrations, we can refer to those reproduced in the present number in connection with Mr. Gurney's paper.
The aim of this book is apparently to assert "the influence of birds and beasts on what may be called prehistoric religion," as against the more prevalent hypothesis that the planets, their satellites, and other natural phenomena have induced this speculative view. The author asks "whether the primitive mind did not first invest the world of animals with mystery, because they are objects near at hand, within their limited horizon, and only afterwards rise to the point of grasping the heavenly bodies as being endowed with supernatural power?"
This is a purely mythological book, and, like all mythologists, the author must expect little sympathy when he fails to carry conviction. That disjointed but widely-spread custom, the couvade, the explanation of which has so perplexed anthropologists, is here sought to be divined by the aid of the habits of the Cuckoo, which, having been a pagan god, was afterwards "degraded to a devil." The Sphinx is considered as a Greek embroidery upon the Owl, and the author remarks that "we get thus an explanation of the sphinxes on the helmet of the great statue of Pallas Athene in the Parthenon, described by Pausanias. They were merely more elegant and artistic forms of the homely Owl, the bird of Minerva." That birds have entered largely into the old mythologies this book abundantly maintains with many valuable and apt references, but that they have played the part suggested for them by Mr. de Kay will, we venture to think, not be considered proven by all his readers. But, like the Phœnix, the best hypothesis usually arises from the ashes of its predecessors.
Whether the illustrations should be styled "decorations," as on the title-page, is altogether another question. Mr. Allenson's name appears as representing the publisher on the title-page, but A.S. Barnes & Co. is printed on the cover.
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.