The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 672/Notices of New Books

Notices of New Books  (June, 1897) 
editor W.L. Distant

Published in: The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 1, issues 672 (June, 1897), p. 278–285


Problems of Nature: Researches and Discoveries of Gustav Jaeger, M.D. Edited and Translated by Henry G. Schlichter, D.Sc.London: Williams & Norgate. 1897.

This volume contains a selection made from numerous essays published by Dr. Gustav Jaeger, who is well known to the English-speaking world through his hygienic discoveries and researches. To many it will come as a surprise that the familiar name of the author is also attached to many original contributions on the subject of organic evolution, and that his work was not only approved, but commended, by Darwin himself. The contents of the present volume are divided into Part I.—Zoological; Part II.—Anthropological; Part III.—Varia. In each section zoologists will find much to interest them, though probably our readers will be more attracted by the first part.

Dr. Jaeger is an original thinker; his views are enunciated with much force and accentuated by brevity, whilst quotations and foot-notes are phenomenally absent. He seizes his problem, wrestles with it, and, it must be said, usually declares that he has conquered it. Essays V. and VI., "On the Origin of Species" and "Sexual Selection," though devoted to now somewhat hackneyed subjects, are brimful of original suggestions and fresh points for consideration; in fact, it is quite a relief to find a writer treating these topics by the Darwinian method and yet from his own point of view. As regard sexual selection Dr. Jaeger is one of the small coterie who are gradually acknowledging the strength of this hypothesis—in fact, to use his own words, he is "inclined to attribute considerably more importance to sexual selection than Darwin does." Another most interesting zoological essay is "On the Physiological Importance of Savorous and Odorous Matters (matters which can be tasted and smelled)." The author's "starting-point is that every animal species has its specific odour." He also claims the same diversity in taste, not only as regards the birds, but that the eggs of every species are distinctly different. From his own experience, as director of the Zoological Gardens at Vienna, he is able to state, and from his own examination, that many birds, such as the Cassowary, Turkey, Peacock, Guinea-fowl, Pheasant, Californian Quail, "have specifically different eggs." He therefore comes to the conclusion that "the substances which produce these specific odours and tastes have not been acquired by the animal during its embryological development, but that they form an important constituent of the germ-plasma itself."

Our limits will not allow of more reference to other essays or more quotations from the same, but they all have the merit of raising fresh thought-concepts, even when not securing the reader's conviction on their main thesis; they at least quicken when they do not convince, and are a valuable addition to the ever increasing literature on speculative zoology.

Pheasants: their Natural History and Practical Management. By W.B. Tegetmeier, M.B.O.U., &c.Third Edition, enlarged.Horace Cox. 1897.

The third and enlarged edition of this book will be welcomed alike by the naturalist and the sportsman, both at home and in our colonies, for the Pheasant, though an introduced bird by, or anterior to, the Romans, is still by most Britons cherished almost as a visible sign of a British institution. The name is always familiar; even in South Africa it is applied to species of Pternistes and Francolinus, and there are now more or less successful attempts at introducing the real bird in that much-talked-about region. Mr. Tegetmeier's volume should in our colonies be widely known and read, for it contains the information that is absolutely requisite to enable the bird to become established in those outlying estates of the Greater Britain. It is but a few years back that even in the Transvaal a wealthy Boer asked the present writer for advice on the subject, and stated his intention to procure birds from Holland. The present volume was the very one to have been placed in his hands, and might have inculcated also a better love for things British. We linger on this point, because the book is already so well known in our own country, while it is able to supply an actual want in the Colonies, where the Pheasant will certainly join his emigrant preservers. What is required there is a thorough knowledge of home methods as to breeding and preserving, qualified by adaptation to local conditions, and preservation from the attacks of foreign "vermin."

A wide margin of selection is possible, as the chapters on "Pheasants adapted to the Covert" amply testify, and the birds described therein are beautifully illustrated. But the illustrative charm is to be found in the vignettes, which represent many mutilations and distortions interesting to the zoologist, and "still" game which will not, as is often the case, appal the critical eyes of the experienced sportsman.

Papers presented to the World's Congress on Ornithology. Edited by Mrs. E. Irene Rood, under the direction of Dr. Elliott Coues.Chicago: Charles H. Sergei Company. 1896.

This volume is a souvenir of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. The Congress on Ornithology was decided on rather late, and but a few weeks elapsed 'between the formation of the Committee and the actual session of the Congress. The design of the Committee was "to have the Congress treat of birds from the standpoint of the scientist, the economist, and the humanitarian," and the last position has certainly been well represented.

The Presidential Address of Dr. Elliott Coues is a most interesting ornithological contribution, and reminds one very much of a compressed analogy to some of the letters in the 'Introduction to Entomology' by Kirby and Spence, for it details with much freshness the many benefits and the fewer injuries derived from birds.Dr. Coues emphasizes the fact of their beneficial qualities by a very practical remark, and one which to-day possesses as much force in England as in America. "The usefulness of birds as insecticides is measurable in money—and that is something everybody can understand."

A very suggestive paper entitled "Hints at the Kinship and History of Birds as shown by their Eggs" is contributed by Mr. Jas. Newton Baskett. Some coloration seems to be regarded by the author as of a survival nature. "The modern birds have come out of an unknown region, bringing with them their desire to get back—and their eggs marked to suit the foreign surroundings.... The bird which in the Arctics long ago may have lined its nest with green moss or grey lichens, may now floor it with flax in Dakota, or pad it with cotton in Texas; and yet in either deposit a solid green or mottled greyish egg in keeping with the colours of 'the old house at home.'"

Another instructive memoir is that by J.J. Quelch "On the Birds of British Guiana." The birds of this habitat have very pronounced features, such as the large number of species, the marked abundance of the individuals of a species, and an astonishing brilliance of plumage. Food relations are also peculiar: many Hawks examined at different times of the year, and in different places, have revealed only a diet of moths, beetles, grasshoppers, locusts, leaves, and fruit. The vultures, Cathartes, in the forest districts, contain almost invariably a preponderance of fruit and leaves; while Mycteria, the Giant Stork, in the depth of the dry and wet seasons lives on beetles, grasshoppers, and locusts. We must conclude a hasty survey by noticing the more personal contribution of Paul Leverkuhn, of Bulgaria, on "Ornithologists, Past and Present." The author possesses a collection of ornithologists' portraits "which is said to be the richest one in the world," and he is still desirous of receiving additions to his albums. It is well to know where such collections are amassed, and it is to be wished that copies of some may from time to time be published. How we would all value to-day the inspection of a portrait of Gilbert White of Selborne.

Wild Bird Protection and Nesting Boxes. By John R.B. Masefield, M.A.Leeds: Taylor Bros. 1897.

This delightfully illustrated little volume is written by a true lover of birds, who, by protection and affording facilities for nesting, has during the last few years had no fewer than thirty-six "species of our wild birds nesting in and around my own garden. shrubbery, and buildings," and the main object of the publication is to give "some information from actual experience on this subject, which I trust may induce others to do something for the preservation of our fast-diminishing wild birds."

Parts I. and II. are devoted to a résumé of the governmental edicts passed in this country for wild bird protection, and to the mediæval bird laws directed to the same purpose.

Part III. deals with the more important consideration of "Bird Nesting Boxes," in which the author not only details his own successful contrivances, but gives examples of similar measures pursued for the same purpose by other well-known naturalists and admirers of our native avian fauna. One observation is to be noted: "Many of our bird lovers seem to consider that success in attracting birds to nesting-boxes depends to a great extent on the aspect in which the boxes are placed, and probably a south or south-east aspect is the best, as the birds then get more sun; on the other hand, I have frequently found Flycatchers building against walls having a westerly and even northerly aspect, and Tits and Redstarts nesting in holes directly facing the north; so that it seems really to be of little moment in what direction a nesting-box or hole faces, if the bird finds the spot sufficiently quiet to carry on its nesting and family duties, and sufficiently sheltered from rain."

But with all care and contrivance three enemies must be reckoned with during the nesting season, viz. the small boy, the cat, and the House Sparrow. The evil propensities of the last-named bird as experienced by the author are clearly stated.

"No doubt remains that he is a determined destroyer of the eggs of other small birds, and to the House Martin he is an inveterate plague, taking possession of its nest, and appropriating it to his own use."

The volume concludes with an enumeration of "Orders applying to Counties, &c, under Wild Birds' Protection Acts."

The illustrations, the result of photography, give a peculiar charm to a remarkably interesting and useful little book.

Birds of our Islands. By F.A. Fulcher.Andrew Melrose. 1897.

This is an excellent book to put in the hands of a birdloving boy or girl, or better still to serve as a school prize book. We well recollect how little natural history was found in the academical volumes presented to the weary scholar some forty years ago; and when some zoological treatise was dispensed it was usually a mixture of second-hand observation and turgid teleology. Now all this is changed, and there seems to be a danger sometimes that the mass of juvenile literature will end in amateur science.

Mr. Fulcher writes pleasantly on our native birds, and treats his subject on the lines of a somewhat conversational narrative, in which a considerable amount of information is afforded as to habits, nesting, &c. The method is purely non-scientific—not by any means unscientific—the English bird names being alone given, and classification quite ignored; the principal works used in verification and amplification of the author's own observations being, we are told, Hudson's 'British Birds' and Dixon's 'Eggs and Nests of British Birds.'

The illustrations are numerous, but we cannot help thinking that the facial expression of the Long-eared Owl given at p. 249 is of a particularly benign and human-like description.[1]

The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma: Hymenoptera. Vol. I. By Lieut.-Col. C.T. Bingham. London: Taylor & Francis. 1897.

We recently noticed the completion of Sir G.F. Hampson's contribution to this series on the Moths or Heterocera. With commendable promptitude Col. Bingham's first volume of the Hymenoptera—Wasps and Bees—has appeared. Indian naturalists as a whole and oriental entomologists in general will gladly welcome this publication. The Hymenoptera have not attracted numerous workers and students as the Lepidoptera have done, and yet, as our author remarks, the "Hymenoptera have a right to be considered the most highly developed mentally of all insects." Many observations have proved this, but many also are lost through field naturalists being often unable to recognise the species, nay, even the genus, of the insect whose economy or traits they have observed. It is sometimes a modern habit to decry the labours of the describer—in fact, species-monger is not an unknown term—and the taxonomist is often looked upon as a harmless enthusiast of the type of the "Scarabee" of Oliver Wendell Holmes. But how can any philosophical observation be recorded concerning a species which belongs to no nomenclature and is outside a known classification? Such a book as we now notice becomes a positive boon as much to the observant naturalist as to the future specialist. It is the code by which we identify the creatures whose habits we study, or whose bodies we preserve.

The method of this volume is in accord with that of its predecessors; but "keys" are given, to species as well as to genera, and of the last a typical illustration is always afforded. Four coloured plates are appended, and we welcome a volume we would gladly have possessed when sojourning years ago in the region to which it refers. We can speak from sad experience of how the portals of nature remain hidden by the absence of a technical guide, and of how a good taxonomic volume is not a hindrance, but frequently a positive necessity, to one who would record his observations made in the field.

The illustrations are from drawings by Horace Knight, and the chromo-lithography is the work of West, Newman & Co.

Investigations into Applied Nature. By William Wilson, Junior.London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent, & Co., Limited. Aberdeen: John Rae Smith. 1890.

This small volume consists mainly of various papers and lectures contributed by the author to different institutions and publications during the last decade, and comprise some of a purely botanical and agricultural interest, and others of a zoological nature. Mr. Wilson has evidently an extensive knowledge of general agricultural and farming pursuits in Aberdeenshire, and has also devoted no little observation to the general fauna and flora of his county. Even under such a non-zoological title as "Our Indigenous Flora as Food-plants," we meet with facts illustrating the change of diet animals can sustain under necessity, and our author has seen sheep eating fronds of Asplenium viride, Trichomanes, and Adiantum nigrum, when he considers the ferns were supplying the place of trefoils "on our cultivated fields."[2] In 1883 and 1884 he also observed that all ferns in a certain district were "occasionally eaten by quadrupeds."

In a paper on the habits and instinct of the Rook, we obtain a few local facts relative to the visitation of birds as modified by man's action on the environment. In this part of Scotland drainage has brought about the disappearance of the Snipe, whilst other birds "more inclined to wade into water" have in some cases resorted to moors. The Pied Wagtail has been seen by Mr. Wilson several times inland during the winter season, and the Lapwing has of late years shown a similar tendency. The "Great Curlew," according to our author, only found its way into the moors of Aberdeenshire some forty years ago. The Common Gull, Larus canus, came to the moors of Aberdeen a few summers ago, and nested there.

In conclusion we may remark that, if many of the records are not told for the first time, the volume abounds with the natural observations made by a shrewd Scottish yeoman and lover of natural science, and should be interesting alike to those who manage an estate or cultivate a farm. It would, however, be improved by the supervision of a good "reader," for we do not all write with the majesty of Milton or the charm of Macaulay, and style has not only been known to float a bad book, but also to ruin a good one.

  1. This figure is clearly a reprint from 'A Year of Sport and Natural History.'
  2. Low in his 'Domesticated Animals of the British Islands' long since told us how the sheep of the Zetland and Orkney Islands at certain seasons find their way from the mountains to the shores, and feed on the Fuci and other marine plants.