The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 690/Notices of New Books

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

Published in: The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 2, issue 690 (December, 1898), p. 510–515

4109098Notices of New BooksDecember, 1898editor W.L. Distant


The Structure and Classification of Birds. By Frank E. Beddard, M.A., F.R.S. Longmans, Green & Co.

There is an ornithology of the field—certainly the earliest form of the study, as proved by the traditions and languages of primitive races; a museum ornithology, which is the parent of most of our avian literature; and an anatomical ornithology, of which many of us have heard too little and studied less. This volume comes in the fulness of time; it supplies a real want to the general zoologist, as well as to the special ornithologist, and is a creation of the Prosector's department attached to the Gardens of our Zoological Society. To the late Prof. Garrod the inception of the work appears to be due—his successor, the late Mr. W.A. Forbes, did not live to carry it out as he intended; the third Prosector, Mr. Beddard, has now completed the task.

In discussing the affinities of birds, and the general belief as to their origin from some reptile stem, Mr. Beddard reviews the evidence which has led some of our highest authorities to detect a nearer kinship with the Dinosaurs than with any other group of reptiles.[1] As is now fairly well known, the celebrated tridactyle footprints in the sandstone of the Triassic period which were ascribed to birds are now considered as certainly footprints of Dinosaurs; but Mr. Beddard is cautious in adopting a purely derivative hypothesis. As he writes:—"Still, with so specialized a form as Archæopteryx certainly was, and as Laopteryx probably was in the Jura, it would not be surprising to meet with genuine avian remains in the Trias. But even then there are undoubtedly Dinosaurs belonging to that period, so that the question of relationship would resolve itself into a common origin, not a derivation of birds from Dinosaurs." Of the relation between birds and Pterosaurians, particularly Pterodactyles—and Prof. Newton has conclusively shown most interesting resemblances — Mr. Beddard considers the main difficulty "in the way of comparing Pterodacytles and birds is in the fact that both can fly, and that each has acquired the power of flight by a different method. Having acquired the power of flight, it seems clear that certain of the points of resemblance between them may easily be due to that mode of life, and may have been independently arrived at."

The consideration of the affinities brings us to the much-vexed question of the classification of birds, and "in considering a scheme of classification it is clear that we must bear in mind indications of the descent of birds"; and, in sketching the main outlines of a scheme, "attention must be paid only, or chiefly, to those characters which birds have inherited from their reptilian ancestors." But here a difficulty arises, if we seek the plane of low level in organization, by a plethora of undoubtedly reptilian characters. For "the few specially reptilian features in the organization of birds have, so to speak, been distributed with such exceeding fairness through the class that no type has any great advantage over its fellows."

Such discussions and conclusions as the above show the philosophical questions which may be debated and considered by the anatomical details of this volume, with its wealth of illustration. It would no doubt be possible to criticize; faultfinding is a facile occupation, but to recognize the great merits of a book is a more instructive process, even for a reviewer, than the eager quest for an error. We hold with Prof. Nichol on a literary subject—and the same remark applies to science — some "criticism has for its aim to show off the critic; good criticism interprets the author." This book is a standard contribution to ornithology.

Text-Book of Zoology. By H.S. Wells, B.Sc. Lond., &c, and A.M. Davies, B.Sc. Lond.London: W.B. Clive, University Correspondence College Press.

This is a new edition, "almost completely" rewritten, of Wells's 'Text-Book of Biology,' published some five years back. We are, however, somewhat puzzled by the Preface as to the authorship of this volume. Thus we read:—"Only one chapter in the book (Chapter XIV.) remains practically unaltered from the first edition, so that while the credit for the general plan of the work belongs to Mr. H.S. Wells, no responsibility attaches to him for any part of the present work." Who then is the writer who has "almost completely rewritten the book"? for we are told Mrs. Davies has supplied the diagrams to this volume of "the University Tutorial Series."

The "type-system" is employed throughout, pages 1–134 being devoted to a very thorough exposition of the Rabbit. We cannot devote a space in these pages sufficient to adequately notice the anatomical and physiological treatment of the subject, but those of our readers, who do not pay much attention to those important aspects of zoology, will still find many interesting conclusions in the life-history of the animal. Many points, often overlooked, are brought out very clearly and in plain language.

"Thus the Rabbit is dependent on the plant kingdom for the maintenance of its life. So, too, are all animals, directly or indirectly; for, though one animal may feed on another, and that in turn on another, this process cannot be carried on indefinitely: sooner or later we must come down to an animal which is a plant-feeder. In the long run all animals are dependent on plants for both the material and the energy of their bodies."

Again, in rightly estimating a subject so often misunderstood as "variation," it is well to bear in mind that "it is probable that out of the enormous numbers of Rabbits that live or have lived no two have ever been exactly alike." Perhaps, however, a strong and excellent theory is made too much a fact, when we are told that the upturned white tail of the Rabbit " serves as a 'recognition mark' to guide the young when during feeding an alarm is given, and a bolt is made for the burrows." This is a probability; and even Wallace does not confine its efficacious protection to the young alone, bat to those "more remote from home," as well as to the young and feeble.

Part II. is devoted to the "Lower Vertebrata," of which the Frog, Dogfish, and Lancelet are taken as types; Part III. treats of the "Development of Vertebrata"; and Part IV. deals with the "Invertebrata," the Slipper-Animalcule (Paramecium aurelia), the Fresh-water Polype (Hydra vulgaris, H. viridis, H. fusca), Earthworm, Fresh-water Mussel, and Crayfish being used as types.

An Appendix pertains to "General Advice to the Student."

The first advice to the student is on "the importance of some preliminary reading before dissection is undertaken." Against this may be instanced Scudder's historical narrative of his introduction to the study of a fish by Agassiz. An axiom, however, with which all will agree, which should be pondered by the young, and remembered by the old, is to avoid the common and easy delusion that one "really understands some statement, because he can remember the words of it."

The Wonderful Trout. By J.A. Harvie-Brown.Edinburgh: David Douglas.

"The Wonderful Trout" of Mr. Harvie-Brown has always had admirers; old Isaac Walton declared "he may be justly said, as the old poet said of wine, and we English say of venison, to be a generous fish, a fish that is so like the buck that he also has his seasons "; while in England at least the Trout stream and the cricket field are among our dearest experiences and reminiscences of country life. We quite recently (ante, p. 444) noticed another work on the same subject, but that referred principally to fish in British streams, while the present small volume is all Scotch,—fish, waters, author, publisher.

When a naturalist like Mr. Harvie-Brown writes on a subject of special interest to anglers, the zoologist may safely rely upon finding the record of many facts and observations which an ordinary fisherman would pass unheeded as almost outside the domain of sport. But to catch your fish you must know him, his food not alone, but his time and manner of eating it, his haunts, his habits, his idiosyncrasies; in fact, he who knows his Trout best should fill the largest basket. Thus we may leave the author's successful advocacy of "up-stream" angling, and the more startling disuse of the landing-net, as solely appertaining to the "gentle craft"; and as the angler fishes the stream for Trout, so must we search the book for natural history lore.

As regards the age of Trout, a personal experience is given of one which had passed nearly twenty years in confinement. Trout show decided preferences for colours; but our author does not consider, as many do, that a certain colour is more deadly because more readily seen, but rather " We believe, in most circumstances, the sky above and the water combined gives a better guide, and that the converse of Stewart's theory is the true one, viz. that 'a certain colour is more deadly because less readily seen,' and that movement is the more visible sensation to the eye of a fish." And further on we read that anglers of experience and with sufficient scientific interest in their practice believe in " a dark fly in a dark water and sky, and a light fly in a bright water and sky." We will only give another quotation: " If a large Trout is on the prowl, or has taken up his special feeding-lie in a stream, he commands the ' key of the situation,' and is not slow to repel all minor fry that come within many feet of his 1 monarchical throne.' This we have often seen when looking down into the clear water from a height. Even before taking the bait himself he will chase away the small fry, i.e. if the bait is lying stationary at his very nose."

Faune de France, contenant la description des espèces indigènes disposées en tableaux analytiques et illustrée de figures representant les types caractéristiques des genres. Par A. Acloque.Paris: J.B. Ballière et Fils.

This is the third volume of a series descriptive of the Fauna of France; those preceding were principally devoted to the Insecta. The present volume treats of the "Thysanoures, Myriopodes, Arachnides, Crustacés, Nemathelminthes, Lophostomés, Vers, Mollusques, Polypes, Spongiaires, and Protozoaires."

The method pursued is a synoptical one. The structural characters are given from class to species, very many of the genera are figured,—in fact, there are 1664 figures in the volume now before us,—and the most salient characters are sought to differentiate throughout. The labour expended in this work must be prodigious; for what monographer does not remember the travail incidental to the formation of a synoptical key to genera and species? Here a whole fauna is treated in the same manner. It is a purely technical work, embracing classification, differential enumeration, and nomenclature, and many a young English zoologist may find himself helped over several stiles by the possession of this small and not expensive book.. The illustrations are very clear, while the course followed throughout reminds us of the method of a well-thumbed volume of our early days—Stephen’s ‘Manual of British Beetles.’

We sometimes meet with antedated books, but this bears the date of 1899.

  1. Prof. Marsh's Memoir on the "Dinosaurs of North America" was noticed in our last volume (1897, p. 92).