The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 676/Notices of New Books

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

Published in: The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 1, issues 676 (October, 1897), p. 477–483


Life in Early Britain; being an Account of the Early Inhabitants of this Island and the Memorials which they have left behind them. By Bertram C.A. Windle, D.S., &c.David Nutt.

Zoologists who feel an interest in their own species, and would study some of the early factors which have served to mould the British race, will find this little book very helpful, and it is one that was much needed. It sketches the prehistoric and eohistoric eras in this country, from Palæolithic times to the Saxon occupation, and spans the period commencing when human weapons consisted of unpolished stone implements, to the iron sword, the coat of mail, and the Anglo-Saxon Church.

But these annals cannot be confined to a purely archæological consideration, nor can they be properly separated from the details of the early British fauna. Palæolithic man, who has not left an arrow-head to show us that he was acquainted with the use of the bow, lived in a Britain—still connected with the Continent—that would now be considered a hunter's paradise. The Hippopotamus, two species alike of Elephant and Rhinoceros, a cave Bear and a cave Lion, Hyæna, Bison, wild Horse, and Reindeer formed a wild Game which was ample for these poorly equipped savages "to chase and be chased by." Even in later Neolithic times, when England had been separated by the sea from the Continent and from Ireland, and primitive man, though still in the Stone Age, was better armed, although the larger animals had become extinct, there was still a fine mammalian fauna one would fain have seen. Our author here wisely quotes the graphic narrative of Boyd Dawkins. There were "wild boars, horses, roes and stags, Irish elks, true elks and reindeer, and the great wild ox, the urus, as well as the Alpine hare, the common hare, and the rabbit. Wolves, foxes and badgers, martens and wild cats were abundant; the brown bear, and the closely allied variety the grisly bear, were the two most formidable competitors of man in the chase. Otters pursued the salmon and trout in the rivers, beavers constructed their wonderful dams, and water rats haunted the banks of the streams." Mr. Windle adds the remark that while many of the animals just mentioned are no longer to be found in England, only one, the Irish elk, has become absolutely extinct.

With the Bronze Period, synchronous with Celtic immigration, of which a later band—the Brythons—have been located in the fourth century b.c, we come to historic facts, and Pytheas, who then visited the country, has given his impressions. It was probably then, as our author describes it, covered with vast forests and marshes, "overhung with constant fogs and deluged with frequent rains." Pytheas was probably the first to mention the British beer, known by a Celtic term curmi, now cuirm in Irish, and cwrw in Welsh, and which the Greek physicians warned their patients against, as "producing pain in the head and injury to the nerves."

We cannot further pursue a subject which not only appertains to Anthropology, but also to the general zoologist, altogether relating to our British fauna, and affording many side lights to the actual status of our animal life of to-day, man included. The size of the book, some 230 pages only, of course denotes that it is suggestive to further reading elsewhere, and a very fair and useful bibliography is given as an appendix. (The name Dr. Beddoes, as written throughout, might with advantage be deprived of its ultimate consonant). Another useful appendix is a County List, giving localities where many primitive remains may be observed.

The Vivarium, being a Practical Guide to the Construction, Arrangement, and Management of Vivaria, containing full information as to all Reptiles suitable as Pets, &c. By the Rev. Gregory C. Bateman, A.K.C.L. Upcott Gill.

Though animals and their habits are of course best studied under natural conditions, there are very many living creatures which can only be observed in captivity by naturalists. Certainly many of the reptiles included in this comprehensive volume—Crocodiles and Pythons, for example—are not usual out-door studies, and the second are not commonly encountered, though far from scarce in proper localities. We speak of our own experience, having resided in two good Python haunts—the Straits of Malacca and the warm eastern regions of South Africa; and though Malays frequently brought us these reptiles in the first locality, having also inspected an ample local supply in a dealer's shop in Durban, and purchased a fine specimen from a Transvaal "transport rider," we still never met with a specimen under natural conditions during many forest rambles in both countries.

Very much is to be learned in the successful prevention of voluntary starvation by reptiles in captivity. Our own experience with Snakes, Monitors and other Lizards is a tragic one; no contumacious prisoners ever refused food with equal persistency. Dr. Bateman fully describes the method of necessary artificial feeding, but to seize an 18-ft. Python and force food down its throat is at least a somewhat heroic undertaking, for though a Python is non-poisonous, it can still bite (we have seen the effects of its teeth) and knows how to dispose of its body. We should have been very glad to have possessed the book when sojourning among a rich reptilian population, for it is full of good hints, practical advice, and information as to constructing Vivaria. The illustrations are very satisfactory, and the long descriptive enumeration of Reptiles and Amphibians—for which the writings of Dr. Günther and Mr. Boulenger have been consulted—which may be kept, really constitutes a zoological handbook in which many natural history observations are compiled. No doubt a specialist would find it necessary to make some comments, but books must be judged by the purpose for which they are written, and accuracy in every detail can only be expected and made imperative in the actual thesis of the author. Though we cannot all afford to find the necessary accommodation for Crocodiles and Pythons, Tortoises and Terrapins, Bull Frogs and Salamanders, in comparison to which Orchid-growing would be an economy, there are still very many interesting, small and easily procured reptiles whose housing and observation could not fail to contribute—as they have already done in the past—many of the fresh facts which slowly aggregate to a future knowledge of the real Natural History of Animal Life.

A Bibliography of Gilbert White, the Natural Historian and Antiquarian of Selborne. By Edward A. Martin, F.G.S.Roxburghe Press.

The 'Natural History of Selborne' has passed beyond the appreciation and love of naturalists and long since become an English classic, read and to be read as long as our language survives. Whilst science will be coexistent with humanity, few scientific books are perused after a century, save by specialists and the curious, for science is ever advancing, and her publications only describe the area to her new landmarks. Art and literature produce more immortal productions: a great picture is for all the time it can be preserved; a noble tragedy or fine poem receives the imprimatur of humanity; while a few books are never lost and seldom forgotten. Gilbert White, writing in an obscure parsonage, on the simple annals of its surrounding animal life, with no desire for fame, and little expectation of literary canonization, has cast a spell over all readers and charmed every lover of books. The interest in his writings is soon combined with a regard for the author, and we seem to have a personal acquaintance with White as we read him, as well as with the various animals whose life-histories he did so much to unravel and described so well. He was the Nestor of British zoological observers, and incited the study of Natural History in every lover of nature who had the aptitude and industry of observation combined with a facility to record such observations.

Zoology in a very important branch is thus open to all classes, to the leisured squire as well as to the recreative artizan, and an intimacy with the 'Natural History of Selborne' still inculcates the lesson, that in these Islands, as well as in the more prolific Tropics, the cataloguing of a fauna is not the sole end of the science.

The book has gone through many editions, seventy-three according to the investigations of Mr. Martin, commencing with the original edition in 1789, when the author was sixty-nine years of age,[1] and within four years of his death, and ending with Macmillan's American edition of 1895. Many competent editors have been engaged in the production of these editions, and as most of them have provided their own editorial notes without reproducing those of their predecessors, it would not be unwelcome to have yet another edition containing all the annotations which have been made from time to time.

The bibliography contributed by Mr. Martin is a most desirable and useful compilation, and will be of great service to librarians and all interested in Selbornian literature. The volume also contains a biography and much information concerning the village, church, and parsonage, which with all the attributes of obscurity have become through the delightful writings of a naturalist one of our well-known and not unvisited literary Meccas.

Bæveren (Castor fiber) i Norge, dens Udbredelse og Levemaade (1896). Af R. Collett.Bergen: Griegs Bogtrykkeri. 1897.

This brochure on the Beaver in Norway is written by Prof. Collett, of Christiania, and is "Separataftryk af Bergens Museums Aarbog, 1897." Scandinavian scientific literature not infrequently appears in the English language, and in the publication under notice Prof. Collett has not trusted to a general knowledge of Norwegian, in which it is written, but has appended an excellent English summary of its contents.

"The Beaver still belongs to the fauna of Norway, and will, in all probability, be retained amongst it well into the next century, provided only the small amount of care is taken in protecting it as hitherto." Even at the close of the seventeenth century the Beaver had begun to decrease in numbers, though up to the middle of the eighteenth century they were "probably still distributed through most of the woodland valleys, from the southernmost parts of the country, to the farthest confines of Finmarken," and a great number of names, to be met with almost everywhere throughout the land, still bear the designation of the Beaver (Bjor-, Bjur-, Böver-, &c.)[2]

"The occurrence of the Beaver in Norway at the present time is chiefly confined to the Stifts of Christiania and Christiansand (the Amt of Nedenæs, as well as that of Lister and Mandal)... The largest tribe is at present located in the middle and southern parts of the river Nisser (or Nid), in Nedenæs Amt."

In 1883 Professor Collett estimated the number of surviving Beavers as about a hundred, and we are glad to read that "it may be regarded as probable that, since that time, the number has been maintained, or possibly somewhat increased."

Twelve photographic plates afford beautiful representations of the natural homes and tree-felling powers of this once abundant animal.

The Concise Knowledge Natural History. By R. Lydekker, B.A. F.R.S.; R. Bowdler Sharpe, LL.D.; W.F. Kirby, F.L.S.; W. Garstang, M.A., F.Z.S.; B.B.Woodward, F.L.S., F.S.S.; F.A. Bather, M.A., F.G.S.; R. Kirkpatrick; R.I. Pocock; and H.M. Bernard, M.A., F.L.S.Hutchinson & Co.

During recent years there have been published several illustrated general Natural Histories. We might mention, in sequence, Wood's, Cassell's, and the "Royal." Of handy, condensed, or concise volumes on the subject, Baird's 'Student's Natural History' still held the field for handy reference to a busy man, a student, or a specialist outside his own study. Baird's volume referred to the "Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral Kingdoms"; and at least Plants should form a subject when the term "Natural History" is employed. We therefore prefer to consider this publication as devoted to a concise knowledge of Zoology, and if we cannot rely on the information provided by such a specially strong staff of authorities as have written the volume under notice, then should our faith be in vain. Most of the names of the writers are household words on their subjects. With Lydekker on Mammals, and Sharpe on Birds, and Woodward on Mollusca, we recognize old friends and old instructors; while the names of Garstang, Bather, and Bernard are linked with the groups they study. Mr, Kirby has written much on insects, but we do not remember him having previously essayed the description of the Crustacea. Mr. Pocock has undertaken the subject "Vermes," and Mr. Kirkpatrick has contributed a necessarily short account of the Bryozoa, a term he prefers to Polyzoa.

This book is an undoubtedly useful manual for reference, and should find a place on most shelves. Journalists might well, and with advantage, keep it handy.

Citizen Bird: Scenes from Bird-Life in Plain English for Beginners. By Mabel Osgood Wright and Elliott Coues.New York: The Macmillan Company. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited.

This book is dedicated to "all boys and girls who love birds and wish to protect them." The birds referred to in conversational method, recalling our 'Sandford and Merton' of long ago, belong to the North American Continent; and the name of Dr. Elliott Coues is sufficient for those critics who would deprive children of a book calculated to foster a love of the subject because of some errors in nomenclature. We still think a natural history publication may be too elementary in style, and that a young naturalist will grapple with and surmount many difficulties when his heart is in the subject. The merits of this work are its scientific accuracy, its illustrations, a short but clear description of each bird at the end of its conversational ordeal; and the last chapter, which is devoted to an orderly review of the birds referred to, "each bearing its scientific name, which the wise men write in Latin."

  1. Bloch, the ichthyologist, had reached the age of fifty-six when he commenced to write on ichthyological subjects.
  2. In France we have similar survivals, bearing witness to its wide distribution in that country, as Bièvre, Beuvron, Beuvray, &c. In this country, Beverley, Bevere (near Worcester), and Nant Françon (the glen of the beavers), in North Wales, are cases in point.