The Zoologist/4th series, vol 5 (1901)/Issue 716/Notices of New Books
NOTICES OF NEW BOOKS.
British Flies. Vol. VIII. By G.H. Verrall.Gurney & Jackson.
This is the first of fourteen volumes on the British Diptera, in which Mr. Verrall proposes to describe and illustrate a very much neglected order of our insular insects. In writing his first volume, he has already helped to fill a gap which existed on the shelves containing the publications on the Natural History of Britain.
This volume commences the series devoted to the Diptera Cyclorrhapha, and describes the Platypezidæ, Pipunculidæ, and Syrphidæ. It is not a compilation, and for the very best reasons: firstly, the antecedent publication is too small for the purpose; and secondly, it is the result and condensation of some thirty years' collecting and observation. It mostly follows the best traditions of monographic productions, although on many points Mr. Verrall is a law unto himself. Thus the synonymy of the genera and species has been deferred to a catalogue at the end of the volume, though the author's synonymical criticisms are appended to his descriptions of the species. We are, perhaps, old-fashioned, but we like this course as little as the sometime practice of discarding footnotes, and placing such references in the same position as Mr. Verrall's synonymical records are to be found.
The author's descriptions of the species are ample, concise, and clear, and if his views recently expressed in a presidential address—that all insufficient descriptions should be discarded—are to be followed, then, as a logical correlation, the name of Verrall should in justice be applied as the parent name to many of these species. But we do not think this is likely to take place; all reforms are only partial; you may shift, but you cannot abolish, the vested interest. In nomenclature there is no finality. Its vicissitudes represent the phases of current opinion. We may change names to-day, and posterity will probably religiously restore them. Even the binomial nomenclature of Linnaeus only exists because we cannot at present imagine a better procedure—and this is the highest praise that can be given to any system or proposition.
This volume, however, represents much more than a discussion on nomenclature or a taxonomical digression. It is the descriptive history to date of a portion of the two-winged flies (Diptera) found in Britain, the general knowledge of which, it may be said, will date from the time of this publication. It is a work which is written in a calm, judicial spirit, and leaves the problems of evolution alone; it describes the insects as they are, and does not discuss the question why they should be so. Perhaps we need not regret this course, for to-day there seem more writers on the last subject than there are who can describe present appearances. A portrait of Meigen is supplied as a frontispiece to this welcome addition to the publications on the Zoology of our own country.
This is the second volume of the series devoted to the Fauna of South Africa; the first, relating to Birds, was noticed in the 'Zoologist' for 1900.
The mammals of this region, especially those belonging to the order Ungulata, are sufficient to inspire the pen of any naturalist; no area ever possessed more rich and wonderful herds of game than those which once roamed over its plains, now alas! sadly diminished in numbers, with its erstwhile Blaaubok and Quagga reported as absolutely extinct. We have only to read the narratives of the old travellers—Mr. Sclater has prefaced his volume with an excellent bibliography—and to compare their accounts of mammalian life with its diminished aspect to-day, to realise how man is after all the most destructive animal on the planet. But in South Africa it is not the sportsman so much as the trader who hath wrought this havoc, though it is often difficult to separate the one from the other.
The Primates occupy but a small part of the work, as they are very few in number, for although, as the author remarks, "this order comprises Man, the Monkeys, and the Lemurs," we have not yet reached a comprehensive treatment of the order in one publication, and Man still has an anthropological treatment all alone, as befits the "lord of the creation."
The Carnivora, by the presence of the African Lion, becomes an order of importance in this region. The animal is not now found south of the Orange River, but is still a denizen of many parts of the wooded Transvaal; and the writer of this notice has within the last decade seen many a skin brought in by the Boers for sale on the Pretoria market. It is, however, in the descriptions and details of the Viverridæ that this book will prove a perfect boon to all those who take an interest in the animal life of South Africa, a class likely to be largely augmented in numbers in the very near future. The Aard Wolf (Proteles cristatus), which enjoys an insectivorous diet, is now reported to have acquired a habit, like the Baboon, of attacking kids and lambs.
When we come to the Ungulata, we approach an almost vanishing race. The Blaaubok and Quagga are gone, and to anyone conversant with the number of Zebra hides which can be purchased in the season at Lourenço Marques, it is apparent that that animal must be making a struggle for continued existence in South-east Africa. The present writer, a few years ago, could have purchased some eight hundred game hides at Delagoa Bay, the greater portion of which were Zebras', and all killed in one season. This quantity was for sale by one firm alone! It is painful in reading the book to meet with so many fine animals now only represented by preserved and localised individuals. The Black Wildebeest (Connochætes gnu) "is now practically extinct in a true feral condition"; the Eland (Taurotragus oryx), which was "formerly found all over South Africa, including the Colony," is still found a few at a time in some favourite localities; "elsewhere they have been nearly exterminated." But it is needless to dwell on a too well-known fact.
This volume should form part of the equipment of any proposed emigrant to South Africa who is prepared to look at nature other than exhibited by a metalliferous reef. Its value is felt by those of us who were once there, but without a publication like the present, which would have supplied a long-felt want. We trust that Mr. Sclater will soon produce his second volume.
The principal portion of the pages of this last report—just received—is occupied by a posthumous communication by the late Dr. Cope, which extends over one thousand pages, is fully illustrated, and is a worthy legacy by a great palaeontologist and evolutionist now no longer with us. As is well known. Dr. Cope held his own views on evolution, and was neither swayed by modern theories, nor influenced by opinions which had obtained a present currency but not necessarily the assurance of a future canonization. It is not our province to advocate his evolutionary views; it is, however, our duty to more or less express them. In this treatise they are not too pronounced, and may be found in his preface. In these days, when it is the vogue to express generic resemblances as always due to the phenomenon of mimicry, it is perhaps well to remember that the explanation is at least of not universal acceptance. Thus Dr. Cope writes:—"I long since pointed out that generic characters may, and in fact generally do, arise in the process of evolution quite independently of the specific, so that certain species of different genera resemble each other in the so-called "natural," that is, specific characters, more than they do other species of their own genus. ... It is not, then, remarkable that sometimes one or more species of two or more genera should parallel each other."
It would, however, be a misrepresentation to lead a reader or student to suppose that this publication is of a speculative character. It is, on the contrary, a very fully descriptive monograph on the Crocodilians, Lizards, and Snakes of North America, in which the taxonomic features far exceed the bionomic details, and absolutely supplant theoretic speculations. It is, however, rare to find any zoological publication without some information that supports or minimises some evolutionary conceptions.
This contribution makes the last Smithsonian Report a notable publication.
Lord Lilford: a Memoir, by his Sister.Smith, Elder & Co.
This is not to be considered a full biography, especially from the ornithological standpoint; it is the worthy tribute of a sister to the memory of a naturalist brother, and "to keep such a memory alive in the family to which he belonged." Lord Lilford must have had an unique and lovable personality, which impressed, amongst others, the late Bishop of London, who wrote an introduction to the volume, and who bore this witness:—"To me he was a man of remarkable attainments and singular charm, a man whom to know was a life-long possession." The limitations and compensations of his existence are fully set forth, and yet we rise from the perusal of the volume with the opinion that his life was, on the whole, a happy one. There were shadows, but not sufficient to quench a sunlight that pervades the letters which occupy the larger portion of the book.
There can be no doubt, as we read these pages, that Lord Lilford was not only an ornithologist at heart, but possessed a desire to do all in his power to further the interests of the science. His "Coloured Figures of the Birds of the British Islands" is a publication which will prove a permanent monument to his memory, whilst his collection of living birds must have afforded a zoological lesson. The accident of high social position, with its wealth and leisure, he abundantly proved could be made a dominant factor in the study of nature, and we feel that the only discordant chord in the whole of a most charming and genial narrative is a quotation from the letter of the rector of the local living, who, speaking of the universal grief at the death of Lord Lilford, remarks, "Even the Radical papers have kindly notices." Why not? Surely politics are outside Zoology, and are largely the creation of environment. We neither particularly want to see Radical Peers nor Tory village artisans, the sense of proportion is a charm in life. But the subject of this memoir is outside these narrow restrictions; judged as an ornithologist by naturalists, or by the "abiding power of character," as expressed by the late Bishop, he strikes a deeper sympathy than can be expressed in the terms of a parliamentary jargon.