The Zoologist/4th series, vol 4 (1900)/Issue 703/Editorial Gleanings

Editorial Gleanings (January, 1900)
editor W.L. Distant
3388450Editorial GleaningsJanuary, 1900editor W.L. Distant


The Address delivered by the President, Dr. A. Günther, at the last Anniversary Meeting of the Linnean Society of London, refers to and describes the "Fishes from Linné's private collection, many of which have served as types or cotypes for the species enumerated in the 'Systema Naturæ.' and which have never been catalogued." We learn that the collection consists now entirely of dried half-skins of fish either loose or mounted on folio sheets of paper; many have been fixed on cardboards, but this was done at a comparatively recent period. This method of preserving fish, like specimens of a hortus siccus, seems to have been first employed by Johann Friederich Gronow,[1] who described it in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' and whose collection of similarly prepared skins is still preserved in the Natural History Museum.

"We are informed by Sir J.E. Smith himself[2] that Linné's private collection contained, at the time of its purchase, 158 specimens of dried fish-skins, beside some in spirits. These latter were not kept by Smith; perhaps he did not sufficiently care for them to have them sent over from Sweden with the other parts of the collection." Dr. Günther makes the number of specimens at present in the Society's possession to be rather higher, viz. 168, the discrepancy being probably due to the circumstance that when two small specimens of the same species were mounted on the same sheet of paper they were counted as one by the person who prepared the original inventory. At any rate there is no evidence which might lead one to suspect that any of the specimens have been lost since they came into the possession of the Society.

The collection was kept for a great many years in one of Linné's own cabinets, which, however well it may have answered its purpose in the pure air of Linné's residence, is quite unsuitable in the dust-laden atmosphere of Piccadilly; and the wonder is, how little the specimens have suffered under the accumulation of matter in the wrong place. In order to render them more secure in the future, the Council has ordered them to be transferred to dust-proof glass-topped boxes, in which they are so arranged that, with the aid of an exhaustive catalogue appended to the Address, every specimen can be found without difficulty.

"In looking over the specimens one is at once struck by the fact that the sources whence Linné obtained his fishes were but few in number, and therefore that his private collection represents only a fraction of the materials upon which his work on the fishes in the 'Systema Naturæ' is based. His own specimens belonged to three faunæ only, and form, in fact, three distinct sets, viz.:—

"1. Scandinavian species.
"2. A series of German, chiefly fresh-water, fishes.
"3. The fishes collected for him by Dr. Alexander Garden in South Carolina."

The Fishes of the Firth of Forth and its Tributaries were till quite recently detailed alone in Dr. Parnell's List, published in 1838. In this month's 'Annals of Scottish Natural History,' Mr. Wm. Eagle Clarke has added the species found and recorded since that time. Parnell's List included 112 species—as we now know them—and Mr. Eagle Clarke's contribution adds twenty-eight, making a grand total of 140 species to date.

At a meeting of the Zoological Society on Dec. 19th last, on behalf of Mr. G.S. Mackenzie, F.Z.S., a photograph was exhibited of two remarkably large tusks of the African Elephant. They each measured, on the outside curve, 10 ft. 4 in. in length, and weighed respectively 235 lbs. and 225 lbs. These have since been illustrated in the 'Field' of Jan. 6th last.

We are glad to see that the number of our local Natural History Societies has been increased by the formation of the "Hampstead Astronomical and Scientific Society," for the encouragement of a popular interest in the practical study of astronomy, geology, microscopical research, zoology, and other branches of science. During the summer months field meetings will be organised. The Hon. Secretary is Mr. Basil W. Martin, 7, Holly Place, Hampstead, N.W.

A well-known traveller and naturalist has passed away in the person of Mr. E.L. Layard, who died on New Year's Day at his residence at Otterbourne, Budleigh Salterton, Devon. He was a sojourner in many lands, and interested himself in the natural history of all he visited. He will be best remembered in South Africa, where he founded the South African Museum at Cape Town, and collected the material for his well known work on the 'Birds of South Africa,' of which there is now an enlarged "Sharpe's" edition. Ceylon, New Zealand, Para on the Amazon, Fiji, and New Caledonia were the scenes of other governmental appointments, which covered a term of forty-seven years. He was an old and valued contributor to our contemporary the 'Field.'

In 'Nature' for Dec. 28th last is a most useful article on "Formalin as a preservative" under the easily recognised initials "R.L." We read that "for sterilising freshly killed specimens of mammals and birds, as well as eggs, that have to be sent some distance to a museum in the flesh, there can be no doubt that formalin is invaluable. And it is no less valuable to the field collector of mammals, not only on account of the small bulk a sufficiency of the fluid occupies, but also from the marvellous preservative power of the fluid itself. According to Mr. O. Thomas (who reports very favourably of it for this purpose), commercial formalin, which is itself 40 per cent, under proof, must be diluted with no less than twenty-five times its own bulk of water before use. Moreover, whereas when mammals are preserved in spirit it is necessary to allow a very large amount of fluid to each specimen, when formalin is employed the vessel may be crammed as full as possibles with specimens, which are preserved without exhibiting the slightest traces of putrefaction. When received at the British Museum all such specimens are, however, immediately transferred to alcohol, on account of their unsuitability for handling when in the original medium."

A large egg of Æpyornis maximus was sold at auction by Messrs. Stevens on November 7th for forty-two guineas. The purchaser was Mr. T.G. Middlebrook, of Great Auk-egg notoriety.

The late Sir James Paget, who died in London on Dec. 30th last at the age of eighty-five, beyond his renown as a surgeon, must be remembered as a naturalist. In 1834, with the assistance of his brother Charles, he published 'A Sketch of the Natural History of Yarmouth and its Neighbourhood, containing Catalogues of the Species of Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Fishes, Insects, and Plants at present known.' Our readers will call to mind frequent reference to the same in recent communications in these pages by Mr. A. Patterson.

News has reached this country of the death of America's great ornithologist, Dr. Elliott Coues, which took place at Baltimore, U.S.A., on Christmas Day. We hope to publish an obituary notice very shortly.

  1. "A Method of preparing Specimens of Fish by drying their Skins as practised by John Frederick Gronovius, M.D., at Leyden" ('Philos. Trans.' vol. xlii. 1744, p. 57).
  2. 'Mem. and Corresp. of the late Sir J.E. Smith,' vol. i. p. 114.