The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 679/Notices of New Books

Notices of New Books  (January, 1898) 
editor W.L. Distant

Published in: The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 2, issues 679 (January, 1898), p. 32–38


With Nature and a Camera. By Richard Kearton, F.Z.S. Illustrated by 180 Pictures from Photographs by Cherry Kearton. Cassell & Company Limited.

This is one of those delightful books which, though on the border land of science, can be read by the naturalist with pleasure and instruction, and will arouse the jaded appetite of the general reader. It is the record by two naturalists—for we can scarcely choose between the one who writes so well, and the brother who photographs so fearlessly—of "adventures and observations whilst wandering up and down the British Isles in search of subjects for our camera and note-book."

Photography is now becoming a valuable adjunct to zoology, and a new weapon for the collector and field naturalist. To obtain an exact reflection of a bird in its natural pose or in some little known attitude, to portray the nest in its natural surroundings and with the incubator in position, is surely more to be desired than the effigies which can so often be truly described as "stuffed specimens." Whilst on the other hand such photographs will render possible the highest results in artistic taxidermy. But even more original work can now be done with the aid of a magnesium flash-light. We find on p. 233 the photograph of a Thrush at roost in a hedgerow, taken at nine o'clock on a January night, for which the authors claim, as far as they know, that it is "the first photographic study of a wild bird on its natural roost ever made." The portrait of a Barn Owl achieved by the same means in an old barn in Essex, and a view of a red underwing moth in the act of sampling an entomologist's "sugar" from the trunk of a tree, also afford suggestion as well as interest.

The volume commences with the narrative of an expedition made to that "paradise of British ornithologists," the island of St. Kilda. The brave and kindly inhabitants of this isolated region, so near our own shores, have an anthropological interest of their own. "One of the civilities demanded by the etiquette of the place is that you shall shake hands with everybody you come in contact with night and morning." This practice of excessive hand-shaking seems common to simple folk who live much alone or by themselves, and recalls the same awful ordeal with the Transvaal Boers.[1] "The married women are distinguished from the unmarried ones by a white frill which is worn in front of the head-shawl or handkerchief, and serves the part of a wedding-ring, which is unknown in St. Kilda." To judge from the illustration, this emblem of matrimony is not unlike the badge which widows adopt among ourselves. These St. Kilda ladies have other more universal traits, as when the minister's servant-maid "asked permission to take the hearthrug to church by way of a shawl."

The ornithological fauna of the island may well attract both ornithologist and oologist. The claims of the St. Kilda Wren to be considered specifically distinct from the mainland bird are well set out, and photographs given of the eggs and fledglings of both birds. It would, however, be unwise to accept the ornithological lore of the natives, as Mr. Kearton was told, "in all good faith and sincerity, that Great Northern Divers make no nest at all, but hatch their single egg under their wings," in which position his informant "had himself seen a bird carrying one."

Chapter V., on "Nests, Eggs, and Young," is one of the most interesting in the book, both by its illustrations and subject-matter. Mr. Kearton is of opinion "that birds, like human beings, possess individually varying degrees of intelligence, skill, and energy, and that differences in any of these qualities are to the close observer plainly marked in the constructive character of their work." There are many illustrations of strange nesting sites; of old birds on, and young birds in, their nests; while the chapter closes with a charming vignette of a spider's web covered with hoar frost.

We have read this book with pleasure, and closed it with regret.

Observations on the Coloration of Insects. By Brunner von Wattenwyl. Translated by Edward J. Bles, B.Sc.Leipsic: Wilhelm Engelmann.

This sumptuous folio production, with nine magnificently coloured plates, is a distinct challenge to the theory of Natural Selection, and being based alone on the coloration of insects, to which the author has devoted twenty years of study, the argument is much narrowed, and the area of discussion curtailed into reasonable dimension and clearly defined. As well observed in the Introduction, the consideration of the question is no longer as formulated by the old school of naturalists—"How is man benefited by this phenomenon? The new query which takes its place is: What benefit does the particular species derive from the phenomena observed in connection with it? Teleology has become democratic."

The philosophical conception which permeates most biological teaching of to-day is that all peculiarities of structure and markings are the results of the process of natural selection, by which the living creature has survived as the fittest in the struggle for existence, and that where the result cannot be justified or demonstrated by our theory, the failure is caused by our present ignorance of all the reactions of the phenomena concerned. Brunner von Wattenwyl is quite outside this plane of thought, and considers that there are "a large number of phenomena devoid of benefit, and often, indeed, burdensome, to the animals and plants concerned"; and, further, that "this fact alone is sufficient to demonstrate that the plan of creation does not strive exclusively towards perfecting a species for its own sake."

The markings and coloration of insects are distinguished under nineteen sectional plans, many of which are considered as purposeless for the benefit of the species, while contrary evidence is not discarded. Thus, section 15 is devoted to "Changes of pattern due to Adaptation," and section 18 to "Coloring in relation to Position."

From this brief summary it will not be unexpected that the author decides that: "If one, therefore, calls modification through natural selection 'Darwinism,' a new name must be introduced for the undoubtedly demonstrable occurrence of phenomena in the whole living world which have no relation to their owners or are occasionally harmful to them, and hence are certainly not the result of selection." In fact, in the coloration of insects, "we meet with an arbitrariness striving to produce attributes without regard for their possessors, and, therefore, obviously to be looked upon as the emanation of a Will existing above the Universe."

Probably no greater service can be rendered to evolutionary speculation than by thus clearly marshalling every objection. We become nauseated by simple advocacy, which is often little more than an advertised assent. Brunner von Wattenwyl has here detailed a number of observations which he considers unexplainable by the theory of Natural Selection, and to support his own views on the subject. These are tersely detailed and well illustrated, and though not likely to destroy the Darwinian doctrine, are well calculated to modify dogmatic and hasty generalizations. We can well imagine the hearty welcome Darwin would have given these alleged contradictions to his theory, and the candid manner in which he would have discussed and probably re-explained them.

The Life of Sir Stamford Raffles. By Demetrius Charles Boulger.Horace Marshall & Son.

Sir Stamford Raffles, whose name is interwoven with that of our Eastern possessions as the founder of Singapore, has a more peculiar claim on the memory of our readers as the founder of the Zoological Society, and as one whose name is frequently used in the specific designation of many species of Eastern animals; and though the details of his life belong principally to the administration of Eastern islands, the time he thus passed was also fruitful in the study of, and assistance rendered to, Zoology. Raffles commenced his career without the flotation acquired by what—if we recollect aright—Huxley once called "social corks"; and though he may well be spared the indignity of that vague term, so much in vogue, "a self-made man," it cannot be disputed that he early formed lofty aims and achieved a very large measure of success. He was born at sea, on board a merchant-ship commanded by his father, left school at the age of fourteen and entered the secretary's office of the East India Company, rapidly rose in preferment, sailed for the East, and became enrolled as one of Britain's great administrators. With this part of his career 'The Zoologist' is necessarily out of touch, but we cannot forbear to mention that in governmental duties he took as his motto Lord Minto's observation: "While we are here, let us do all the good we can."

During his sojourn in the East it is only by side lights that we are able to observe the naturalist and forget the Proconsul. He met Horsfield on his first visit to Suracarta, and "from that time forward, both in Java and Sumatra, Dr. Horsfield served with Raffles in a scientific capacity, and, after the death of his chief, the doctor bore testimony to "the zeal, ardour, and liberality, with which Sir Stamford both pursued and patronized science." He received little encouragement in the formation of zoological collections. When, in 1820, he forwarded home the first half of a collection illustrating the natural history of Sumatra, "he received in reply a coldly worded despatch, remonstrating with him on his extravagance, and forbidding him to expend any of the Company's funds in such directions." But fortune was still to deal a heavier blow. On his final return, in 1824, with the remainder of his collections—both manuscripts and specimens—the ship that bore him was destroyed by fire and the whole of this precious cargo was consumed. The loss may be estimated in his own words. Besides the literary treasures, "all my collections of natural history; all my splendid collections of drawings, upwards of two thousand in number, with all the valuable papers and notes of my friends Arnold and Jack; and, to conclude, I will merely notice that there was scarce an unknown animal, bird, beast, or fish, or an interesting plant, which we had not on board; a living Tapir, a new species of Tiger, splendid Pheasants, &c, domesticated for the voyage; we were, in short, in this respect, a perfect Noah's Ark."

During his stay in London, in 1817, he had discussed with Sir Joseph Banks a plan "for establishing in London a zoological collection and museum, which should interest and instruct the public." This may be taken as the inception of an idea matured in 1825, when the prospectus of the new Zoological Society was drawn up and issued on the 20th of May. Sir Stamford Raffles was the first President of a Society vastly developed since then, and now one of our famous scientific institutions. To have done this is alone sufficient to enshrine Raffles in the annals of the vast zoological enterprise which has been achieved by our own countrymen.

The last years of Raffles were clouded by many worries and ill-health. The success of his career had ensured envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness. He died suddenly, in his forty-fifth year, was buried in Hendon Parish Church, "but, owing to differences with the vicar, a member of a slave-owning family, no monument was erected at the time, and the actual site of the grave has not been ascertained."

This is a book that may well be studied by Colonial politicians, imperialistic or otherwise, and the naturalist will read the life-history of the founder of our Zoological Society.

All about Animals.George Newnes, Limited.

This book may be described as a Zoological Photographic Album, in which each portrait is supplied with a basal paragraph affording characteristic details of the animal represented. It thus fulfils the promise contained on its title-page: "For Old and Young. Popular, interesting, amusing." Most of the animals have been photographed while in captivity, though a few have been portrayed with their natural surroundings, of which "In the Jungle"—Elephants with a back-ground of palm trees—is particularly pleasing.

The first idea on turning over these pages, is, that here is another excellent zoological incentive for young people, and certainly no more attractive volume can reach the hands of juveniles with a taste for natural history, as from personal experience we can bear witness. But the zoologist has still much to learn of the natural attitudes and physiognomy of many living creatures, which on more than one occasion artists have created from "stuffed specimens," and which photography applied to living animals is now beginning to reveal. It is difficult to appraise the suggestive and modifying influences which photography has brought, and will bring, to bear on many zoological conceptions. To the cabinet naturalist in particular it is almost an instruction in field observation, and, having proved the charm in many recent works, will in time be demanded when animated nature is illustrated. As the writer of the text well observes, in reference to a fine photograph of the head of "The Prairie King": "This portrait of the head of the Great Bison will be a valuable document if ever the living animal disappears from the New World. No one could reconstruct from the thousands of skulls and bones which lie bleaching on the prairie the exact features and lineaments of the extinct Prairie King." Already of many animals now extinct we know as little of their natural appearance as we do of the features of most of the ancient philosophers.

Of the many illustrations we may mention the open mouth of the Hippopotamus, which is a fine study; the Secretary Bird is good, but its attitude is modified by confinement, and this bird particularly requires to be seen in its natural condition; the Common Seal rising above the water is a living picture; the Serval's Leap is probably not taken from life; the angry Cobra is a demonstration in ophidian attitude; the Mute Swans with their surroundings and shadows form a very happy production; while a Rhea sleeping, and the "final shower of an Elephant's bath" are revelations.

The work is produced at a very reasonable price, and we trust that it may achieve a success sufficient to encourage the production of a further series.

  1. Other similar traits belonging to these widely separated and isolated peoples are their tastes for sweets, in St. Kilda "especially 'bull's-eyes' and peppermint lozenges"; while nothing delights these islanders more "(men and women alike) than to hear that the enemy is being smitten hip and thigh." The Transvaal Boer should spend a sea-side holiday at St. Kilda.