صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

ing and recounting the charms and riches of the natural universe; for, besides her acquaintance with books of history, biography, poetry, and travel, she was skilled, like the rest of the modern world, in botany, zoology, chemistry, and the kindred sciences; or knew enough of them, at least, to listen with interest and enjoyment, and communicate with pleasure and propriety, the incessant details which hourly diffusion and research are making matters of elegant, attractive, and instructive conversation. It was hence that many of those topics of inquiry which had hitherto been favourites at the cottage, still continued such after the arrival of Miss Wainfleet; and, as for me, my attention was peculiarly to be caught, when, as now, and as upon former occasions, the remarks made, however widely they ranged before they were finished, had their beginning in some reference to myself, or to my species !

While I was hopping over the carpet, as had become frequent with me, Emily, first looking with unusual scrutiny at the colour of my breast, observed to Miss Wainfleet, that either all Red-breasts were not alike, or else some of the poets whom they had read together were strangely in the wrong; for some had called their breasts rosy, and others crimson, while their Robin's, she was sure, was neither one nor the other? But, to this, Miss Wainfleet replied, that our breasts, as Emily might rest assured, were all of the same colour; and that the poets, in seeking to avoid the common and comprehensive epithet of red, only involved themselves in difficulties from which there was no escape: “ The name of red,” said she, “ embraces the description of so great a variety of reds, that it cannot but in. clude the real red of the pretty Robin's breast; but how to describe that red particularly, by the name of

any hue of red, or by comparison with any thing red, besides itself, is more, than I, for one, can tell you. Certainly, it is neither rose-colour, nor crimson, nor even fire-colour, nor orange, which two latter make nearer approaches to the truth; but this is all that I can say upon the subject.”

" And that reminds me, papa,” said Richard," of a mistake in a book of travels whicb I have been reading; where, though you have told us that there is no such thing as a Red-breast in America, the traveller says that he saw Robin-red-breasts, in that country ?”

“That, my dear Richard,” answered Mr. Paulett, “ is only a fresh example of what I have often told you to beware of; namely, the habit of Europeans (Europeans either by birth or by descent) to call the new things which they meet with in foreign countries, by the names of the old things which they have left at home; some slight resemblance of the one to the other, being all that can be alleged in the way of apology for the confused nomenclature thus introduced into natural history. In the present case, however, there has been a further temptation for the use of the name of “Red-breast,' and one of which the influence has been very wide in human language. To say only that a bird has a 'red breast,' is to give it a description so very general, that it may as easily apply to many birds as to one; and it is because, at their roots, all names or words usually signify no more than general qualities, that, in much more extensive examples than this, the same name, or at least the same radical word, has been made applicable to numerous objects that, under many important aspects, have no kind of likeness to each other. Now, in North America, there is a bird with a red breast, and it is called by the English name; but it is a species of thrush; it is larger than our English thrush; and the red upon the breast is indeed a kind of crimson ;--a dull crimson, something like the red upon an English red-pole. It has neither the figure nor the habits of the European Redbreast. But this confusion, in common, or, as the naturalists sometimes call them, vulgar names, makes it highly useful, for precision, to resort to the scientific names, by which the identity of the object is at once ascertained. Thus, the scientific name of the Redbreast (or, even in English ornithology, the Red-breast, or Red-breasted Warbler), as affixed to it by Linnæus, is Sylvia Rubecula; while the corresponding name for the American bird is wholly different.

The striking circumstance, in the meantime, being recalled to observation, that upon the continent of Europe, as far as relates to the countries south of the Baltic sea, the Red-breast migrates, in winter, to the southward of those parts which it inhabits in the summer; while, in the northern countries of Sweden and Norway, and in the northern island of Britain, it defies the frosts and snows; Mr. Paulett, after remarking that its want of strength of wing, to cross either the English Channel or the Cattegat seemed the indisputable reason of the difference of habits, added, that this explanation, if the true one, opened a variety of further considerations, both as to the history of the bird, and as to the geological history of our island.

“If,” said he, “the Red-breast is properly a bird of passage, remaining in the colder countries only during their summer season, then their resort to our houses during the winter, and the frequency of their probable perishing where they are not helped by that relief, paint them as southern strangers, shut up from their natural place of refuge during the hard weather; denied the benefit of their natural habit of migration ; and thus thrown, in a peculiar manner, upon our hospi. tality.

"But,” continued he, “ if their winter's residence in Great Britain is compulsory, and only so because they cannot cross the sea to Spain, or Portugal, or France; in what manner did they ever arrive among us? Was Great Britain, at any time (as is usually believed) a part of the European continent? Did the Red-breasts establish themselves here before the German Ocean had wrought its way into the Atlantic, and before, therefore, Great Britain was an island; and have been left here, and cut off from that continent, by the separation ? Again; is it because of the separation of America by the sea, both upon its European and Asiatic sides, and this even at its nearest approaches to the opposite shores, that the Red-breast has never found its way into the New World? If so, too, was America separated from Asia more early than Great Britain from France; or, was the cold climate, or the high latitude of the Americo-Asiatic junction, if ever existing, the more impervious obstacle to Robin-red-breast immigration ?"

From the weak wings of the Red-breasts, the Bur: ford philosophers passed to the strong ones of the swallows; and, here, Mr. Paulett referred to a new and late account of the disappearance of those birds in autumn, corroborative of the idea which has been sometimes entertained, that while they actually cross the sea in their flights to and from this island, the reason that they are never seen on their passages, unless in instances where disaster might seem to have overtaken them, is to be found in the extreme height at which it is their natural habit to fly. Before enter. ing upon the new account, he added, that this extreme heigbt, besides affording to their powerful vision a wide survey of the horizon, and thus, perhaps, one aid for the direction of their course, would raise them into an atmosphere so thin as to be unfit, with respect to many animals, for breathing; but which, at the same time, would offer so much the less resistance to their wings and bodies. The adaptation, also, of their lungs to a peculiarly thin and unburdened atmosphere, was also, he said, notorious, and had been matter for remark to the poet, where he speaks of the “ templehaunting martlet :"

“ I have observed, that ever where he builds,
The air is delicate."

Mr. Paulett took occasion, at the same time, to remark upon the long and lofty flights of butterflies, and of some of the smaller beetles; as, of that kind called the lady-bird, the most prodigious swarms of which have sometimes been seen alighted upon the dome of St. Paul's, in London; and upon the snowy heights of the Rocky Mountains, in North America. As to the migration of swallows, he stated, that a gentleman lately travelling near Yealm Bridge, in Devonshire, had his attention suddenly drawn to an unusual number of those birds, careering round bin at the height of from forty to fifty feet. He remarked to his companions, that there was assuredly sometbing more than commonly extraordinary in their movements; and, that they were certainly not seeking their food, but training themselves for the day of migration. In an instant, after, and as if by word of command, all

« السابقةمتابعة »