The Zoologist/4th series, vol 4 (1900)/Issue 705/Notices of New Books
NOTICES OF NEW BOOKS.
English readers have long been familiar with the writings of French anthropologists. The names of Broca, Topinard, and De Quatrefages are quite household words among those who study the zoology of their own kith and kin, while the present work of Dr. Deniker will further increase our respect for the capacities of anthropologists across the Channel. There is always room for a fresh book on Man; the multitude of subjects that make for his history are truly complicated; each student and professor is always stronger on his particular specialty than on others; we leave the school of anatomy to study written records; from the unwritten testimony of prehistoric archaeology we turn to the problems of philology; the physician and the zoologist compare notes; one measures the skull, another photographs the features; the traveller publishes his notes, the missionary gives his experience; the prison, the hospital, and the lunatic asylum alike contribute to our knowledge; the statistician, the comparative theologian, and the recruiting sergeant all have something to tell, while many a forgotten book contains the only detail of a vanished or vanishing race. Consequently to bring the subject up to date is a quest and not a feasibility; there is always something behind the arras.
Dr. Deniker in the present volume has added much to our knowledge by referring us to recent work that has been done, and his bibliographical notes are valuable. The general reader may learn much as to races other than savage, even as regards such a familiar being as the Jew. Of these people, contrary to general ideas, only some 250,000 are stated to be found in Asia, and Palestine can only claim about 75,000 in the present day. "Their total number is estimated at eight millions, of which the half is in Russia and Rumania, a third in Germany and Austria, and a sixth in the rest of the world, even as far as Australia. The great majority of Jews are unacquainted with Hebrew, which is a dead language; they speak, according to the country they inhabit, particular kinds of jargon, the most common of which is the Judeo-German." A foot-note also points out the well-established fact that the isolation of the Jews from the rest of the peoples is not complete, as other races have been converted to Judaism. This may be taken as an instance of the concise information to be found in the volume, which is well illustrated from original photographs.
Among the few opinions that Dr. Deniker allows himself to formulate is one as to the use of the laryngeal sacs in the Orang-utan. These, considerably larger than those of the Gorilla, may "serve him as air-cushions to lessen the enormous weight of the jaw resting on the trachea."
The Cetacea have long required treatment in a handy but authentic book of reference. They have received great attention from two late naturalists who both held high official positions at the British Museum—Dr. Gray and Sir William Flower. Dr. Gray wonderfully increased the number of these animals by the descriptions of proposed new species, while his successor, Sir William Flower, endeavoured to analyse these creations of the printing press and to restore the balance of Cetacean nature. Now, as Mr. Beddard writes, the student of the Cetacea "has to deal with not more than thirty-five genera and almost eighty species."
The origin of these immense creatures, which "are not only the largest of living mammals, but the largest of all animals, mammalian or otherwise, which have ever existed," is still unsettled, and Mr. Beddard takes a cautious position after a consideration of the views of both Professors Albrecht and Max Weber, the first of whom inclines to the view that the Cetacea are the nearest thing now existing to the hypothetical "Promammalia," and the second that they are not primitive Mammalia at all. The view held in this volume is that "The general conclusion which best suits the facts at our disposal seems to be to look upon the Cetacea as an off-shoot from an early group of the higher Mammalia. This is unsatisfactory in its vagueness, no doubt; but it is difficult to see what more can be said which is not entirely speculative and devoid of foundation in ascertained fact."
The enumeration of the species is happily treated on the synthetic method, but the question of specific consideration is a complex one. Not only are specimens not easily procurable, but the skeletons of stranded examples do not altogether solve the problem. "Two quite different species might conceivably have a quite similar skeleton, showing their specific difference only in colour and other outward features."
Mr. Beddard has well attained his desire to write "a solid book tempered by anecdote," and to illustrate by the means of Whales "a very important biological generalisation, the intimate relation between structure and environment." The book is well illustrated by Mr. Berridge, and is written throughout with a greater tendency to fact than speculation. On this point the author's words are clear: "Nothing is more difficult in zoology than to arrive at convenient generalisations—for the paradoxical reason that it is so easy to frame hypotheses. The expression 'simplex sigillum veri,' not composed for the purpose for which it is used, and yet used with such frequency in zoological writing, especially in the newer developments of what is called sometimes 'Darwinism,' has had a most deleterious effect upon speculation. A simple and obvious explanation often seems to such writers to settle the question at issue. And yet in the long run it seems to be plain that the processes of nature are not so simple."
The first volume of this beautiful quarto was published in 1894, and was devoted to the resident British Passerine birds. The second volume, now before us, "contains illustrations of all the Passerine Birds which are migrants to the British Islands,— the Occasional Visitors being left out; also of the Resident and Migrant Picariæ, Striges, Accipitres, and Columbæ, the same reservation being made to the Occasional Visitors." Fifty-three species are figured, and form subjects for forty-two handsome coloured plates.
The story of our British birds has been told in many ways and by many writers. This volume may almost be said to be devoted to their iconography. The author seems to have taken it for granted that there was not much left to be written about his subject, and to have limited himself absolutely to describing the plumage and its seasonal vicissitudes. In this course, individually, he was probably justified; a good book is not necessarily one that exhausts its subject; it should, however, completely deal with its selected theme. We must therefore refer to the illustrations, and by these the work will be known.
The plates all bear the initials of the author, and have evidently proved a labour of love. Not only have we life-like portraits of the birds, but their environment has been sketched in no inartistic manner, and we almost seem to recognize some of the landscapes which an excellent insular prejudice has made us love so well. The homestead behind the Spotted Flycatchers is a case in point, while the background to the Tree-Pipit makes us almost believe we are at home on the Surrey hills. A sketch of the true environment of a bird is no mean hint as to its habits, and, in looking over our skins obtained in other lands, a mental picture of the scenery where it was procured appears to pertain to each specimen. Apart from its value to all lovers of our avifauna, it would perhaps be difficult to select a more acceptable present to a British naturalist residing abroad than this beautiful representation of the well-remembered birds of the old country.
In our volume for 1898 (p. 132) we noticed, at such length as is available in our pages, 'A Text-Book of Zoology,' in two volumes, by the above authors. The present publication may be considered a condensation of the previous work, "adapted to the requirements of the student in higher classes of schools, and to some extent in junior classes of universities." The curtailment has been effected "(1) by leaving out altogether certain classes of existing animals; (2) by omitting all descriptions of extinct groups; (3) by dealing only very briefly with embryology." We may also accept Prof. Haswell as really the writer of this Manual, the death of Prof. Parker having taken place at an initial stage of the work.
Thus we have the essence of a really good book in a convenient form for teachers and students, and if the teacher has not also to learn his subject from its pages—as is unfortunately sometimes the irony of the position—but can really impress its contents on his pupils, then this volume should more than hold its own in that often undigested superstition that rejoices in the name of "science for schools." In these days, when everybody is a politician, a military general, and an evolutionist, it is at least something that the last position can be fortified by the sound zoological axioms obtainable in a small and inexpensive book. Not that the last word is said on any subject; and when we read that the Amphibia differ "from all fishes but the Dipnoi, in the presence of lungs for breathing air in the adult," we accept the rule, but recur to the exception in "Salamanders with and without lungs," recently noticed in these pages (ante, p. 96). Even a specialist may read with the greatest interest the introductory remarks as to what constitutes both "genus" and "species," and remember that in the description of the last a representative and not an individual is the real specific type. It is only fair to say that the authors of this volume do not lay down this rule, but the inference may be drawn from their definitions.
The South Sea Islands are still, among naturalists, a name to conjure with. In Spanish Micronesia alone, between 139° and 170° E. longitude, are scattered a long chain of 652 islands. It was in this almost zoologically unknown zone that the once princely Hamburg merchant house of Goddeffroy Bros, incited their employes to collect for their museum, and made their commerce a friendly helper to Natural History. The firm, we believe, no longer exists, but the name of its principals will be long remembered. Commerce and zoology are bad partners; they each exact too much to flourish together; it seems that one alone can succeed. Recently the Sandwich Islands have had their fauna investigated: missionaries from time to time collect in the Lotos lands to which they are not unoften consigned; huge folios still represent the partial work of the old voyagers; but it is probable that much more is known of the Ethnology than of the general Zoology of these lonely islands, where man alone seems to break the peaceful dream of life.
Mr. Christian has written a good book to lift the veil off the Caroline Islands, which he visited rather as a philologist than a zoologist, but has still given us incidentally much valuable information as to that insular natural history. Thus in the appendix we have not only a list of native names for "trees, plants, and shrubs," but also for "fishes, insects, birds, and animals" (sic). In the absence of scientific names we cannot of course identify the animals to which the local names apply, but we are able by his descriptions to form an estimate of the fauna and to seek for more precise information. Where the author allows himself to theorize he is always interesting—thus: "It is very remarkable the horror in which Micronesians and Polynesians alike hold Lizards and Eels, and it certainly seems to point to a traditional recollection of the Crocodiles and venomous Serpents they left behind them in the great rivers and jungles of Asia and the larger islands of Indonesia. What proves this so strongly is the fact that Crocodile and Snake names in New Guinea in many instances coincide with Lizard and Eel designations current in the dialects embracing all the isles of the Pacific."
The book is beautifully illustrated, and at p. 125 Mr. Macpherson will find an account of "Traps and Cages." We rise from its perusal with a full measure of the vast potentialities that exist for a naturalist who could spend a greater part of his life on one of these comparatively small islands, investigating the fauna as a whole, with a purview beyond both birds and insects, and pass the close of his days in publishing his life's work—one island, one man, one book.
- ↑ The German medicine Karl Martin Paul Albrecht (1851-1894), who wrote Über die cetoide Natur der Promammalia (About the cetoid nature of the Promammalia) (1886) OCLC:78814160all editions (Wikisource-ed.).
- ↑ The German-Dutch zoologist Max Wilhelm Carl Weber (1852-1937), who wrote Die Säugetiere: Einführung in die Anatomie und Systematik der recenten und fossilen Mammalia (The Mammals: Introduction to Anatomy and Taxonomy of recent and fossile Mammalia) (1904) OCLC:1032780180all editions (Wikisource-ed.).
- ↑ The motto of Herman Boerhaave (Wikisource-ed.).
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.