« السابقةمتابعة »
fresh supply of the smaller animalcules, but there appeared also among them one of a sluggish kind, much larger than even the first-observed de stroyer of these creatures. This animal seemed, even more than the other, to have been formed by nature with no other intent than to destroy her other productions, and perfectly to answer the character the Latin poet gives of the generality of certain people whom he calls men, Fruges consumere nati. It was of an oblong shape, destitute of limbs, and, for all that I could observe, of any power of changing its place: it seemed only a hollow body, formed to be the grave of the rest of the inhabitants of the fluid, which it swallowed by hundreds at a time, without giving itself the trouble of seeking after them.
Nature, I soon observed, had furnished this creature with a kind of fringe about the mouth, which it kept in continual play, and which putting the water that was near it, together with all contained in it, into an incessant motion, just as the arms of another minute insect, described in one of these papers some time since, carried the lesser animals into its throat every moment, without its taking the least pains to find them. The larger animal I had been before examining, at length found itself in the
reach of this destructive whirlpool; and instinct, I soon discovered, had implanted in it sufficient terrors for the avoiding the destruction. When it first found it was within the reach of the cur rent, it exerted its utmost strength to throw itself out of it. Several repeated efforts were made to this purpose with additional violence, but in vain; instead of disengaging itself, the unhappy animal found its strength every moment decaying, and its body nearer the scene of destruction, than when it had more power to fly from it.
It now shewed me the use of the expansion of its tail: the extremity of that part formed a broad smooth surface, which it applied to the plate of glass which the water was laid on, as we see boys do pieces of wet leather to stones, in order to lift them from the ground: thus fixed, it seemed, for some moments, to defy the power of the water to dislodge it; at length, however, whether its strength failed, or by what other accident I know not, it lost its hold, and was in an instant drawn vastly nearer the jaws of death it now thrust out the filaments I had before observed, from the extremity of the tail, and, after fixing the end of it, as it had done before, to the glass, it extended theṣe to their
full length several ways, and fastened itself by them as by so many roots.
The whole multitude of the lesser animalcules had now been successively drawn into the mouth of this destroyer, and were extinct; the only remaining prey was this single animal, which had thus at length fixed itself in defiance. Hunger now influenced the destroyer in a more violent degree; he exerted his power of moving the water with double vehemence; but the destined victim fixed himself so much the more firmly; the struggle lasted some time, and what would have been the issue is not easy to determine; but, in the midst of it the drop of water, in which they were placed before the microscope, exhaled, and they both perished at the same instant.
It was impossible to avoid moralising on an incident like this. "What, "exclaimed I to myself, "is the tyrant, whose nod commands ten thousand of his fellow-creatures to butcher one another, but such a hateful destroyer as this unwieldy insect! and what, alas! is the end of his conquests, and of his subjects' terrors! the drop dries up, and they perish, and are forgotten together.
INSPECTOR, No. 39.
The subsequent passages from Sulivan's View of Nature, will throw still farther light upon the microscopic world. "In a single drop of water, what thousands of little animals have been found to exist! So small, indeed, have they been observed by the aid of the microscope, that, from analogy, it may be conjectured, there are organised beings, who can pass through the leaves of a plant with as much facility as a horse can pass through a meadow; who can crouch under the imperceptible filaments of a flower; and who can exist at the fountain of a snow-drop's juices. Among the ephemera, youth is in the morning, maturity at noon, old age in the evening, and death at night. If insects have histories, they are the stories of a little day; and yet contain, perhaps, as much as the natural memoirs of a human century. They must, indeed, have a chronology and optics different from ours. How our science vanishes as we approach the elements of nature! Since exceedingly small animals are discovered and seen by the microscope, we may reasonably judge there are parts incomparably less yet, which escape all our senses, all the industry of man, and exceed even imagination itself. Since a mite walks along, it must have legs, and these legs. necessarily must have joints. In order to move these joints, there must be muscles, nerves, and tendons; and in the nerves, fibres, such as we see in those of larger animals, or, at least, something equivalent to them. And if we could carry this consideration yet farther, and speak of the heart, blood, brain, and animal spirits, we should be at a loss, and forced to confess our imagination unable to comprehend the extreme minuteness of the smallest parts in the system of a mite. +
"Man cannot draw aside the veil of nature: Not all the efforts of all the philosophers that the world has ever produced, have ever been able to penetrate into the inscrutable arcanum. The enormous volumes of their study have only
* Saint Pierre.
shewn uncertainty more uncertain. Enlightened minds, indeed, may have approached to where the secrets of animation commence, but there they have been obliged to stop. Vain is the search to arrive at first principles, vain is the attempt to gain an intimate knowledge of creation. Attend to the atmosphere, which is, perhaps, the mighty magazine in which nature has reposited her immense stores of the germs of diminutive beings; in whose species, manners, and variety of movements, there is every essential difference. Some are like eels; some move slow, others move fast; many even continually revolve like tops upon their axes, though this rotatory motion is attended with a progressive one.* But the animalcula in water are the smallest we can discover; for though animalcula equally minute may fly in the air, or creep upon the earth, it is scarcely possible to get a view of them; whereas water being transparent, and confining the little creatures within it, we are enabled by applying a drop of it to our glasses, to discover with ease a great part of its contents. These little animals move, in all directions, with ease and rapidity; sometimes obliquely, sometimes straight forwards, at other times circularly; one while rolling and turning round, and then running backwards and forwards through the whole dimensions of the drop, as if in sport; at other times, attacking with avidity the little heaps of matter they meet with in their way. One of the wonders of modern philosophy is, the bringing such beings to our acquaintance: a mite was formerly thought the limit of littleness; but we are not now surprised to be told of animals many millions of times smaller than a mite: for there are some animalcula so small, that, upon calculation, the whole earth is not found large enough to be a third proportional to the whale, as the whale is in comparison to these little animals.†
"The human mind, indeed, justly prides itself on the astonishing progress it has made in the science of optics; yet insects, without the aid of art, are probably man's superiors.
+ Cyclopædia Britannica.