The Zoologist/4th series, vol 3 (1899)/Issue 701/Notices of New Books
NOTICES OF NEW BOOKS.
We may indeed welcome a cheaper edition—and unabridged—of this great work on Ornithology, of which Parts I. and II. were reviewed in these pages by another pen in 1893. Since then the work has been completed, and now, in a single volume of 1232 pages, is within the reach of most naturalists, for its circulation will not be confined to ornithologists alone.
It is seldom that an Introduction forms such an important feature in a book as does the one which accompanies the volume under notice. It is a history of ornithology from the time of Aristotle, written by an expert both in the science and its literature. It is essentially a criticism throughout, and though the author alludes to the charm in Gilbert White by the apparent absence of conscious personality in those classical pages, his own individuality is, and happily is, stamped on every paragraph. When criticism is really intended it should not be invertebrate; a freedom of expression avoids the sting of innuendo, and even hostility is disarmed when anonymity is absent. These reflections are prompted by the weird appearance of Seebohm in the review of British ornithologists. He is linked with Morris! Whether this course unduly extols Morris, or underestimates Seebohm, is a question for the qualified reader, and is probably the crux criticorum of this encyclopædic summary. Few will disagree with the fair and judicial estimate of other writers: Le Vaillant is honestly treated, and the verdict on the late George Robert Gray is both kindly in spirit and brilliant in pungency. Macgillivray is classed with Willughby, and ornithological genius receives its recognition. Of Buffon—"It is certain that he despised any kind of scientific phraseology, a crime in the eyes of those who consider precise nomenclature to be the end of science; but those who deem it merely a means whereby knowledge can be securely stored will take a different view—and have done so." We need quote no more from this part of the work, the pages of which have quite a literary charm of their own, stimulating perusal, and with much original criticism compelling either acquiescence or dissent.
As regards the main body of the work, it has been, as already stated, previously noticed in these pages. A dictionary of birds is a fair trial of strength for any ornithologist. It indispensably requires three possessions: scientific capacity, knowledge of the literature, and the critical faculty; and if the great lexicographer shared the illusion that a language might be "fixed" by making a catalogue of its words, the present dictionary has very largely focussed ornithology to date. But, apart from special ornithology, Professor Newton, his assistant, and three contributors, have probably produced one of the best books on natural history that has appeared in the English language.
Some two years ago a notice appeared in these pages of a precursor to this book,—we allude to Mr. Keane's 'Ethnology.' That book discussed the fundamental problems of the science; the present work is of a more descriptive ethnological character, and deals with the various races of mankind. The four primary divisions of the Hominidæ, as proposed in his 'Ethnology,' are in the main followed here, due weight being given "to all available data—physical and mental characters, usages, religion, speech, cultural features, history, and geographical range." Whenever two or more groups are found agreeing in all, or at least in the more essential, of such elements, they are treated as branches of one stock. "So far, and no farther, is a strictly zoological or genetic classification possible in the present state of the multifarious inhabitants of the globe."
There was a time in Anthropology, and probably that period is not closed, when the non-acceptors of the evolutionary view of the origin of man triumphantly asked for the production of the missing link. There seems now to be a little extra reliance placed by some anthropologists on the discovery of Pithecanthropus erectus. Mr. Keane boldly states, "This pliocene inhabitant of Java may thus, in a sense, be taken as the longsought-for "First Man"; and as it is not very probable that he can have had any undoubtedly human precursors, the Indo-Malaysian inter-tropical lands may also, with some confidence, be regarded as the cradle of the human family." Reference of approval is also made to the views of the Danish anthropologist, Herluf Winge, who considers that Man is more closely allied to the Gibbon than to the other Simians,—"a conclusion also pointed at by the Java skull."
The wide reading of the author is perceptible on every page, and this is the most necessary equipment for the ethnologist. Very much information must, and can only be obtained from travellers, who are frequently men without ethnological insight, or, in other words, possessed of local prejudice. Hence travellers' tales do not always agree, and the key to the reconciliation of their narratives is not the invocation of fiction, but often the clear understanding of psychological variation and racial warps. Thus, how much is still to be learned as to the disgusting practice of cannibalism, of which Herrera is quoted as saying of the Colombian aborigines, "the living are the grave of the dead; for the husband has been seen to eat his wife, the brother his brother or sister, the son his father." And yet we are astonished to read that this savage brutalism is condoned by the Cocomas of the Marañon, who said "it was better to be inside a friend than to be swallowed up by the cold earth," while a baptized member of the Mayorunas of the Upper Amazons "complained on his deathbed that he would not now provide a meal for his Christian friends, but must be devoured by worms."
We cannot quote further from this mine of information relating to our own species; it describes many of the early errors which still cling to our onward march, and is a sound guide to events in our history of which the most ancient written records are but of yesterday.
This small book is an English translation of two chapters from Dr. Meyer's great work on the Negritos of the Philippines, and relates to the distribution of this peculiar and ancient race, the real affinities and derivation of which have long puzzled ethnologists and promoted more than one conclusion. The Negritos have been proved to inhabit many of the Philippines, and may possibly be eventually found on the whole of the islands when they are better known and more scientifically visited. The Philippines are, however, certainly the present headquarters of the Negritos. They are also well represented in the Malay Peninsula and the Andaman Islands, but as regards the Malayan Archipelago outside the Philippines, the accounts of their occurrence are considered by Dr. Meyer as "based on very poor evidence (properly speaking on none at all), or are the result of errors in consequence of insufficient criticism of the sources, or misunderstanding of the original statements, which in their turn are frequently unreliable and perverted."
The results of an exhaustive and critical reading of all that has been written on the subject are given in a very condensed form, in which process such generally considered authorities as De Quatrefages and Hamy are very freely handled. More than two hundred other authors are referred to, and the publication is in the best sense a monograph on the subject.
The recent death of Mr. Grant Allen gives a melancholy interest to the last edition of our old classic. Each edition has its specialty; sometimes the editorial notes on the natural history topics treated of by White are almost a host in themselves; at other times the illustrations or general "get-up" is the inducement to procure another copy of the book we all possess and know so well. The feature of this edition is that it is edited by one who was a literary man first and a naturalist afterwards, though this was the irony of Mr. Grant Allen's life, and, could he have lived up to his tastes, the arrangement would probably have been reversed. Gilbert White's masterpiece, however, appeals to the literary taste as much as it belongs to the science of natural history, and it is very questionable whether it would have obtained its immortality had its pure and charming style not have recorded its wealth of observation. This editor has a sympathetic touch with his author, and he is not far from his subject when he writes of "the life of a quiet, well-to-do, comparatively unoccupied, gentleman of cultivated manners and scientific tastes, studying nature at his ease in his own domain, untroubled by trains, by telegrams, by duns, by domestic worries; amply satisfied to give up ten years of his life to settling some question of ornithological detail, and well pleased if in the end his conclusions are fortunate enough to meet the approval of the learned Mr. Pennant, or the ingenious Mr. Barrington."
This book is well printed on good paper, and with wide margins; the illustrations are profuse, and enable us to almost master the present aspects of Selborne and its vicinity, but these are far superior to those given of zoological subjects. It is a good copy to possess, and those who care to make marginal notes will appreciate the appendix of the "Marginalia" from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's copy here printed for the first time. Of course we expect something original from Coleridge, and we are not disappointed. "Instinct is the wisdom of the species, not of the individual," is an anticipation of modern thought; while the keen but delightful criticism of the lines at the end of Letter XLI., commencing, "Say, what impels, amidst surrounding snow," is simply "a noble paraphrase of 'I don't know.'"
To many, if not to most, readers the above title will denote a purely botanical book foreign to our scope and pages. But much may be said, and has been said, as to the zoological affinities of the Myxomycetes, or Slime-Moulds, which "include certain very delicate and extremely beautiful fungus-like organisms common in all the moist and wooded regions of the earth." They were formerly classed with the "puff-balls," but their physiological characters have prompted the question, "Are they not animals?" This is the position suggested by De Bary in 1858, and adopted since by, amongst others, Mr. Saville Kent and Dr. William Zopf. The first was inclined to join them to the Sponges, whilst the second associated both Slime-Moulds and Monads. Prof. Macbride strikes a distinctly middle course. He asks:—"But why call them either animals or plants? Was nature then so poor that forsooth only two lines of differentiation were at the beginning open for her effort? May we not rather believe that Life's tree may have risen at first in hundreds of tentative trunks, of which two have become in the progress of ages so far dominant as to entirely obscure less progressive types? The Myxomycetes are independent; all that we may attempt is to assert their nearer kinship with one or other of Life's great branches."
This is an excellently illustrated technical book, with a purely biological and philosophical introduction.
A small and inexpensive book on a very difficult subject. There is an old proverb that he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client, and the young ornithologist might be advised, if he has the funds, to no more attempt to set up his birds in cases than to try to make his own gun. A few succeed, the many do not. The setting-up of birds is distinctly a profession, as the hideous work of the ordinary tradesman sufficiently testifies. To make one's own skins is, however, quite another matter; while a baronial hall and a respectable rent-roll are both necessary if even the British ornithologist is to possess a cased collection. But to fill one's cabinet drawers with good skins, and in sufficient variety, is not beyond the power of any real student or collector. Hence this small volume may be found useful for those who wish to learn how to skin and preserve, though "stuffing and mounting" are its main instructions.