Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/138

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
been said about them; a knowledge of the laws of Nature seen in special experiments and observations, before they are conceived in general terms; a knowledge of the types of natural forms, gathered from individual cases already made familiar. By such study of one or more departments of inductive knowledge, the mind may escape from the thralldom and illusion which reign in the world of mere words.


A Naturalist's Rambles about Home. By Charles C. Abbott. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 485. Price, $1.50.

There is no denying that natural history is one of the most fascinating of subjects, and now and then there appears a book written by some enthusiastic lover of nature, who has entered into communion with the inferior animate creatures, and writes a living book so pleasing and attractive that it is sought by readers with the avidity of a romance. Such works are never compilations, never scientific treatises, in the usual sense, but always original in observation, full of instruction, life-like and agreeable in description, and abounding in sympathetic interest with the habits, peculiarities, and curious lives of that portion of the animal kingdom which is taken up.

Mr. Abbott's book belongs to this class. Its author is a working naturalist who has made animal life a systematic and scientific study, of course with the aid of books, museums, and the usual helps, but he has always been fond of making the acquaintance of all the animals within reach, watching their ways, noting their characteristics, clearing up obscurities in their history, and finding out everything he could of interest concerning them. He has been an out-of-door student, at home with all sorts of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fishes that he could find in his neighborhood excursions, and the present book is a charming record of his varied observations, investigations, experiences, and adventures in his natural history excursions about home for many years.

We have often thought of that wealth of the farmer owning one or two hundred acres of land, which he never inventories when making up a statement of his property. It is wealth which ho can not sell, but does not have to buy, and he can only know of its existence or appreciate its magnitude in proportion to his intelligence regarding natural things. The soil of his hundred acres is a chemical laboratory in which he operates upon hundreds of thousands of tons of materials to carry on the most exquisite and multifarious chemical changes. Mineralogy and geology explain the depths of his estate. He may be said to own the atmosphere as far up as it extends above his grounds, with its millions of tons of gases, and if he is familiar with Sir William Thomson's paper on "The Energy of a Cubic Mile of Sunlight," he can understand the enormous amount of solar power which is necessary to drive the organic operations of his farm, and of which he may regard himself as the proprietor. Then there is a little world of vegetable life, of which he is the intellectual owner, if he knows something of botany, while his streams and ponds and earth abound with animal forms, besides the endless insect-life, the animals of field and forest, and the birds of the air, which are in a high sense his if he has enough of zoölogy to understand them. The lesson of the situation is, that there is an inexhaustible wealth and world of wonders about home to the mind so cultivated that it can discover and appreciate them.

Mr. Abbott has limited the scope of his natural history observations to his home environment, and he accordingly offers us "A Word at the Start, in Lieu of Preface," in which he describes his location and gives some clews to its interest for natural history purposes. lie lives in "the Jerseys," on Crosswicks Creek, a navigable stream that enters the Delaware River at Bordentown. His ancestor came from Nottingham two hundred years ago, and he now lives in a house built by his great-grandfather on the edge of a high terrace, and surrounded by old oaks, beeches, and locusts, under which the author declares that he chiefly lives. There is nothing romantic in the neighborhood, but it has long been a center of special interest to students of natural history. It has been much visited by botanists and zoölogists—Bertram, the poet and naturalist; Conrad the elder, botanist and mineralogist; Conrad the geologist, his son; and Rafinesque, Say, Le Seure, Bona-