The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 667/Editorial Address

Editorial Address (1897)
by William Lucas Distant
4028945Editorial Address1897William Lucas Distant


No. 667.—January, 1897.


A new Editor in any phase of journalism—scientific or otherwise—sometimes denotes a fresh departure, often implies a change in method, frequently creates prejudice that some particular subject may be more or less neglected, or another unduly favoured, and doubtless produces some reflex of individuality, as must and should be the case. It may therefore be well to assure our readers that this magazine is still 'The Zoologist,' a monthly journal devoted to Natural History, as founded in 1843; and its aim is still, as stated by Edward Newman in his first Preface, to "combine scientific truths with readable English;" while in its pages "everyone who subscribes a single fact is welcome—nay, more than that—has a direct claim to be admitted as a contributor." To this may be added the words of the recent editor, who has so ably conducted 'The Zoologist' since 1877, that "it must always be remembered that Zoology is one of the most progressive of the sciences." Thus acting on the lines of my predecessors, I trust this magazine—which now enters a new series—will follow the path on which it started, in the advancement of Zoology by recording facts and suggesting conclusions, in maintaining the interest in British Zoology, and in adding to the philosophical standpoint of our insular science by narrating the annals of the larger fauna of which our own forms only a part.

Some changes will take place in our pages. The official reports of the meetings of Natural History Societies will be discontinued. These are fully published in other journals both weekly and monthly, and much of the space now devoted to the same will be utilized for more original matter. The Editor, however, will always be glad to receive and insert notes recording facts and subjects of special interest which have been brought forward at the meetings of our Natural History Societies, and these may prove of a more readable, explanatory, and less technical character than must perforce be the nature of a bald abstract of the whole proceedings of a Society's meeting. Not only is it hoped to fill any lacuna that may thus occur with more general zoological information, but with the support of contributors to even increase the size of the publication.

A Zoology which excludes Homo is like 'Hamlet' without the Prince of Denmark. "Early Man in Britain" proclaims his identity to the out-door naturalist who comes across the ancient Barrow as well as the more recent Mound. His flint implements still remain in evidence, and often in conjunction with the débris of an extinct fauna which no Zoology can disregard. The fauna of the present cannot altogether be studied without reference to that of the past; and just as the palæontologist must have some zoological training, so the zoologist cannot dismiss and consign to a purely geological standpoint the animals—especially the British animals— of a past era. Prehistoric Man is now at least a reality, and not a theory; he existed with, and was part of, a phase of animal life which is only separated from that of to-day in degree and not in kind. It is therefore hoped that in our pages may be found contributions—so far as these islands are concerned—as to his past history, his physical peculiarities, and his connection with our old British fauna. General treatises on Anthropology are not desiderated, but it is desired to secure records of where his presence can be maintained.

Living in the age—nay, the atmosphere—of Darwin and Wallace, it is impossible to disregard those generalizations which add philosophy to the science and charm to the subject. Not only do we care to know how animals are as we see them, but also to trace the modifications which have so largely influenced their present appearance. Evolution is not only a subject which, in some form or other, is coeval with thinking man, however crude and wild some early hypotheses may have been, but it is now the established corner-stone of the zoological edifice. There may be much pure guessing, considerable theoretical sack without much bread of fact; but to abstain from all theory is equivalent to discarding the method of Darwin, to ignoring the speculation of a Humboldt. The Editor therefore hopes to receive the thought-out conclusions of contributors on the facts acquired in, and by, their special studies and observations, which may be qualified in the words of Treviranus, who prefaced his speculative opinions in these words:—"The author will give opinion and theory a place in this work, but he is far from those who give their dreams and fancies a reality and permanence, believing that his own theories may perish, and hoping to direct the current of thought in Biology to adapt itself to Nature, and not make Nature adapt itself to the current of thought."

If, however, facts are made more philosophical by generalization, it is clear that all speculation must and should depend on facts, and it is expected that 'The Zoologist' will in the future, as it has done in the past, prove a storehouse of the same, a journal worthy of the observations that immortalized Gilbert White and canonized Richard Jefferies. Its pages are open to record all observations, the only conditions being that such records shall be original, and the species to which they apply accurately determined. With all our knowledge of Natural History it is almost phenomenal how little is still known of the life-histories of many living creatures inhabiting even these islands, while with scarcely an exception there are no animals from which we cannot learn by intelligent observation. The ornithologists have worthily borne the heat and burden of the day in preceding volumes; it is to be hoped that their good example may be followed in other branches of our varied fauna. 'The Zoologist' invites the help of the successors and disciples of Yarrell, Bell, and Ray, of Knapp, "Rusticus," and Buckland.

In our pages a special interest will attach to Museum notes. It is of importance to zoologists to be reminded or informed in what institution or private museum the collections made by travelling and home naturalists are deposited; it is of even greater importance to tabulate the principal additions made to zoological science by such collections. Our 'Zoological Record' amply narrates the number of new species and forms added to the nomenclature, in fact, constitutes a Zoological Directory; we hope to receive some information as to how these accumulations have enlarged the bounds of zoological conclusions. It is well to remember in what Museum a fauna, or section of a fauna, is best represented. Again, well-known private collections are constantly, through death or other circumstances, either sold in their entirety or disposed of in parts by the auctioneer or natural-history agent; notes as to such removals will be always welcome. These are particularly valuable with regard to British collections. We often hear of the little done in Zoology by the "mere collector," and yet his collection, which in the hands of other naturalists could be made to tell its story, is allowed to be distributed—often virtually destroyed—without a record of its destination being published. No doubt the highest form of patriotism would be shown in bequeathing all such collections to the national or local museum; but human circumstances only too frequently make such a course impossible; or, again, a day may arrive when State or local funds are available to purchase them; but in the mean time it is at least advisable to chronicle the dispersal and migration of what has been achieved with so much labour, and may never in entirety be amassed again. The "mere collector" is not at all unimportant if his material subsequently reaches right hands. The ordinary subscriber to Mudie's is not necessarily a literary man, nor is the average collector always what we understand as a naturalist; but one has as much right to be encouraged as the other if we look to ideal potentialities and not to present fame or notoriety. Even the heads of the Church must have a congregation.

Finally, the present Editor solicits the special assistance of our British naturalists, and trusts that the pages of 'The Zoologist' may still be filled with facts and conclusions, whilst controversy and hyper-criticism may be thus crowded out.

January, 1897.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1931, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 92 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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