The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 677/Notices of New Books

Notices of New Books (November, 1897)
editor W.L. Distant
4044307Notices of New BooksNovember, 1897editor W.L. Distant


Darwin, and after Darwin. Vol. iii. By the late George John Romanes, M.A., LL.D., F.R.S.Longmans, Green & Co.

There now exists almost a library of books which may be classified under the well-known term "Darwinism"; we have a terminology, used in representing the different views and theories, of a really turgid description; there has arisen a study in evolutionary polemics which bids fair in several cases to prove the whole work of some lives; and we might almost say—without intending offence—that dogmas have produced sectaries, and we hear of Lamarckians and Neo-Lamarckians, Neo- and Ultra-Darwinians; the apostles of Weismann and the disciples of Spencer. In fact, the study of Darwinism seems to have resulted in the evolution of a doctrinal literature that makes the reperusal of 'The Origin of Species' a matter of considerable importance, and of great refreshment to the wearied enquirer. In 1889 Mr. Wallace produced a brilliant volume which he entitled 'Darwinism,' and endeavoured to focus the new views which had arisen around the problem of the origin of species during the thirty years which had elapsed since Darwin published his memorable work. In this publication Mr. Wallace reaffirmed the theory, supporting it with new facts, but in a concluding chapter added some novel but incongruous views on the subject of "Darwinism applied to Man."

In 1892 Dr. Romanes published his first volume on 'Darwin, and after Darwin,' an exposition of the Darwinian theory, and a discussion of post-Darwinian questions. His lamented death occurred before the appearance of the second volume in 1895, which dealt with the questions of "Heredity and Utility," whilst the present and concluding section is devoted to the much-argued theses of "Isolation and Physiological Selection," with which the names of the Rev. J.S. Gulick and his own are so justly and indissolubly connected with papers severally communicated to the Linnean Society. To those who would study in an authoritatively condensed manner the principles of the theories of Isolation and Physiological Selection in the process of organic evolution, as more or less opposed to what may be perhaps styled the all-sufficiency of Natural Selection as held by Mr. Wallace, this volume must of course be recommended. The arguments are here, their acceptance must be left to the reader, but their bearings on modern evolutionary speculation cannot be ignored.

This volume, as was the case with the last, has received the able supervision, and in some chapters the selective discretion, of Prof. C. Lloyd Morgan, and a portrait of Gulick forms an excellent and interesting frontispiece. New terms seem inseparable from any new theory of the method of evolution or a restatement of an old one. We notice the creation of "apogamy" for separate breeding, and "homogamy" for segregate breeding.

A Hand-Book to the Birds of Great Britain. Vols. i.-iv. By R. Bowdler Sharpe, LL.D. Edwd. Lloyd, Limited.

Under the popular name of 'Lloyd's Natural History' there is a possibility of this high-class work on British Ornithology being somewhat overlooked. It is not a re-edited and enlarged volume of the old Jardine series, but a thoroughly new and standard work written by one of our best authorities, and as such bound to be freely consulted and widely used.[1] The many publications already existing on our native birds or those found in these islands make it imperative that new books on the subject do not necessitate unknown authors, while the information now required is that of an authoritative, condensed, and up-to-date character. Perhaps no work on British Zoology is to-day more difficult than the production of a new work on British Birds. The material for life-histories and habits is unlimited, but amidst these vast chronicles of avian existence great selective judgment is necessary, for all that are new may not ultimately prove true, nor are the true always new. In some books we wish that much might have been added, in others that much might have been omitted. Many field observations require to be canonised by repetition, whilst a habit or characteristic, resting on a record beyond question, may still prove to be but an individual occurrence based on a local circumstance. We cannot have too many of these records; they are generally valuable and always suggestive, but the task of sifting and arranging them, of focussing the important, and not altogether discarding the less prominent, requires a master-hand. Dr. Sharpe, in the opening sentence of his Preface, remarks:—"Every ornithologist who, in the course of his career, may be called upon to write a book upon British Birds, will always find this to be one of the most interesting, but certainly one of the most difficult tasks which he has ever undertaken. He is sure to discover that not only is the path well-worn, but that the work of his many predecessors has been so well done that little chance of originality remains to him." The rule may be true, but this work is certainly an exception to it.

Our author commences with the Passeriformes, and places at their head the family Corvidæ, for which he gives his reasons.[2] The Accipitres are divided into two sub -orders—Pandiones for the Ospreys; and Falcones, which "includes every Accipitrine bird except the Ospreys and the Owls." Geese, Swans, and Ducks (Anseriformes) precede the Herons, Storks, and Ibises (Ardeiformes). Cranes (Gruiformes) follow, and then the Bustards and Plovers (Charadiformes), the Thick-knees being considered Bustard-like Plovers "and forming the connecting-link with the True Plovers." Gulls (Lariformes), which, "though at first sight very different in appearance from the Plovers, are really allied to them, "precede the Petrels (Procellariiformes), which are followed by the Divers (Colymbiformes), Grebes (Podicipedidiformes), and the Rails (Ralliformes). The Pigeons (Columbiformes), the Sand Grouse (Pterocletes), and the Game-birds (Galliformes) conclude the series.

A very thorough method is pursued throughout. The genus is shortly described by its principal structural characters, and its geographical distribution detailed. Each species is dealt with in sections, and is described under the stages of "Adult Male," "Adult Female," and "Young." Then we find its "Range in Great Britain," followed by what is much rarer in hand-books, its "Range outside the British Islands." This feature alone would make the book; it supplies a want long felt, and could not be contributed by a better authority. We do not say it has been unattempted before, but it is here detailed with a fulness and with a method that makes reference very easy, and will enlarge the horizon of many British collectors. "Habits" succeed the last section, and then follow "Nest" and "Eggs."

Dr. Sharpe in his "Nomenclature" is content to be original, and we share his belief that many opponents of his views on this subject "will be found adopting my nomenclature in the near future." Revolutionary as some corrections at first appear, especially the employment of identical generic and specific names, reasons, and, we think, good reasons, are given in the preface to the fourth volume, which will well repay perusal. In Fishes Scomber scomber has long been a well-used name for the common Mackerel, and though Scomber scombrus has been shown to be what Linnæus intended, the use of the incorrect term evidently did not occasion much disquiet to ichthyologists. Thynnus thynnus has also been used for the Tunny.

These volumes are published at a low price, and possess many coloured plates, which, if not in the highest form of art, are at least trustworthy references.

British Birds, with their Nests and Eggs. Illustrated by F.W. Frohawk. Vols, i., ii., iii.Hull: Brumby & Clarke, Lim.

There are some subjects which blossom perennially in literature, and whose interest is never exhausted. An example is afforded in British Zoology by Birds, which, by the number of their students, observers, and collectors, and the almost universal regard they inspire, have long incited the pencil of the artist and the pen of the naturalist, and volume follows volume on their story. In quite recent years we have had a new and revised edition of Yarrell; Seebohm's volumes devoted both to birds and their eggs; Howard Saunders's well-known and generally followed Manual; Lord Lilford's magnificent illustrations; Bowdler Sharpe's contribution to Lloyd's Natural History, not to mention works on the same subject by Hudson, Dixon, and others; and now there lie before us the first three handsome volumes of this new work, which is a marvel in cheapness, and a credit to the publishers.

The publication, which is to be completed in six volumes, has been entrusted to the authorship of some well-known ornithological writers, and Mr. Frohawk illustrates throughout, each bird being the subject of a full-page illustration, while the eggs are depicted in a series of coloured plates.

Volumes i. and ii. and a portion of vol. iii. are devoted to the Passeres and Picariæ, and have been entrusted to the care of Dr. A.G. Butler, an aviculturist who has had much experience with the first group in captivity, and is therefore able to add original observations made under such conditions, as well as facts relating to nidification derived from a personal collection of nests and eggs. This contribution contains a special feature as to the treatment and food of the species in confinement, in this respect resembling a well-known volume by Bechstein. Dr. Butler has avoided the illustration of our casual visitors, or "Rare British Birds," which we think would have added to the completeness of the work. Many, especially of the smaller birds, may be more frequent visitors than generally supposed. Although we hear much of bird slaughter, such can seldom be laid to the charge of a real or capable ornithologist, and the gun of the collector is not so ubiquitous as sometimes described. Could such a scrutiny be maintained over the area of these islands as was and perhaps is still pursued in Heligoland, many more visitors, such as warblers and other of the smaller birds, might be noticed, if not secured. The keeper's gun is more to be feared than that of the ornithologist, but the first is seldom discharged at warblers, though, alas! too often at our decreasing Accipitres. Should the same restrictive method be pursued by the other authors throughout the work, a supplementary volume might be issued for the reception of "Strangers."

"Striges" and "Accipitres" have been dealt with by the Rev. Murray A. Matthew. We gladly quote his plea for the Barn Owl, than which "there is, perhaps, hardly any other bird that is so persecuted, and so ungratefully repaid. When they cannot find any other excuse, keepers will say they kill them because they are 'unlucky.' There is no bird more commonly found stuffed and distorted in a case in cottages and farm-houses throughout the land than this poor Owl, the writer has always made it his endeavour to plead for and protect. Then, too, there is the wretched fashion of turning the masks, wings, and tails of these birds into fire-screens, and the still more senseless decoration of ladies' hats with their soft and downy feathers."

The few Steganopodes fall to the care of Mr. Henry O. Forbes, with whose name we are glad to see associated that of Anna Forbes, whom we have not forgotten as the authoress of "Insulinde." Mr. Forbes, however, has but just commenced his share of the work, and in future volumes will deal with the Herodiones, Odontoglossæ, and Gaviæ.

Some of the drawings by Mr. Frohawk, with their backgrounds, are very successful, and possess a charm of their own. We might instance the plates of the Redwing, Dipper, and Osprey as examples.

John Hunter: Man of Science and Surgeon, 1728-1793. By Stephen Paget. T. Fisher Unwin.

That John Hunter was a great surgeon requires no telling; that he was also a great teacher the names of some of his pupils amply testify—Astley Cooper, Abernethy, and Edward Jenner were among the number; that he was a great collector is proved by the fact that his museum has been calculated to have contained more than 13,000 specimens; and that he was at heart an ardent naturalist will be manifest to any reader of this book.

"John Hunter was the youngest son, and his mother spoiled him." So writes his biographer, but the second statement we greatly doubt. It appears to be based on the fact that "He would do nothing but what he liked, and neither liked to be taught reading nor writing nor any kind of learning, but rambling amongst the woods, braes, &c, looking after birds'-nests, comparing their eggs—number, size, marks, and other peculiarities." His mother, probably, instead of spoiling him by this independence, helped to mould his practice of seeing for himself in after life, and thus indirectly inculcated the habit of proof by experience, and not faith by books. His career was not one of all sunshine. "First came the years of waiting for practice, that rise from the river of Time like the lean kine in Pharaoh's dream—poor and very ill-favoured and lean-fleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness"; while to the people round Golden Square, where he pitched his camp, "he was a zealous student of the human body, who might or might not restore you to health, but would certainly wish to anatomize you if he failed."

From a perusal of some of his letters—of which there are many, perhaps too many, printed—we seem to have lost the great surgeon, and to be reading the queries of a Gilbert White and the requests of an omnivorous collector. "In his old age, full of suffering, overworked, and close to death, he was yet writing to Africa for swallows, ostrich-eggs, a camel, cuckoos, a young lion, everything respecting the bee tribe, chameleons, and any other beast or bird." There was something magnificent in the way he purchased for his collection; he simply spent all he had in acquisitions. Ordinary people will call this improvidence, but ordinary people do not form scientific collections or create museums. Nemesis, however, spares not the man of lofty ideal, and Hunter had his distressing thoughts. "He had saved no income for his wife and children, and he could not insure his life; his museum must be sold to keep them after he was dead, or, if not sold to Government, then brought under the hammer; and the greater part of his writings was still in manuscript." Angina tortured him during his last years, but he received the mercy of a sudden death.

Two of his expressions will well bear repetition. "Never ask me what I have said, or what I have written; but if you will ask me what my present opinions are, I will tell you." The other relates to an experience on the hedgehog by Jenner. "I think your solution is just; but why think? why not try the experiment?" Under the immortal fame of the great surgeon and anatomist lies buried a real and enthusiastic naturalist.

  1. The first volume, which was then published by W.H. Allen & Co., was reviewed in this Journal, 1894, p. 468.
  2. Vide 'The Zoologist,' 1894, p. 470.