The Zoologist/4th series, vol 5 (1901)/Issue 721/Notices of New Books
NOTICES OF NEW BOOKS.
Since the publication of Semper's 'Animal Life,' we know of no book that has so surveyed the field of animal bionomics as this volume. The standpoint of the authors, however, is very different. Semper was outside the cult of Neo-Darwinism; Jordan and Kellogg will probably satisfy the canons of that apparently now dominant school of thought. When the perplexed evolutionist, wearied and unsettled with the new theories of advanced disciples, now and again goes back to the teaching of the master, and reperuses that wonderful argument in the 'Origin of Species,' he finds that Darwin records the facts and seeks an explanation for them in the doctrine of "natural selection." In the modern literature the method seems somewhat reversed, "natural selection" being taken as the fact, and the details of animal life as its evidence. There may be little intrinsic difference in the two positions, but the first requires argument, whilst the second relies on evidence too little submitted to cross-examination. Throughout the volume we are noticing this latter position is very pronounced, and we watch the natural transition of theories into dogmas.
The chapter on "Instinct and Reason" is one among the many interesting subjects discussed in this suggestive book, and here the argument enters the psychological arena. Our authors define instinct as "automatic obedience to the demands of external conditions," and state that it "differs from other allied forms of response to external conditions in being hereditary, continuous from generation to generation." But though it is stated "this sufficiently distinguishes it from reason," we are told that the line between the two "cannot be sharply drawn." This rather minimises the subsequent complaint that the "confusion of highly perfected instinct with intellect is very common in popular discussions."
The pages are always interesting, and very many are beautifully illustrated; but the figure of the Kallima butterfly given in support of "mimicry" is of an "hereditary" character, still showing the insect with the head uppermost on the twig, despite the many recent corrections that have appeared to the effect that the butterfly when at rest has head downwards.
This is a most valuable synopsis of the Mammals of North America, but the knowledge and industry displayed seem to be in an inverse ratio to the strength of purpose in the author. Mr. Elliot recognizes the plethora of proposed species in his fauna: "A considerable number of the so-called species and subspecies contained in this volume will eventually swell the list of synonyms already sufficiently formidable." He further makes the remark that in late years there is an inclination to unduly separate in a specific sense "at the risk of reducing the science to one founded on labels and localities, instead of distinctive and prominent characters." He clearly states that "there is hardly a genus of North American mammals that does not contain too many named forms," but decides that the present time cannot be supposed "as opportune for a final and satisfactory revision." We regret this decision: either the criticism need not have been made, or it should have been pressed home by the author's revision. In the purely artificial canons of nomenclature, where the greatest liberty—if not licence—is observed, it requires no more courage to dethrone than to elect in a process that Mr. Elliot recognizes as largely one of names. One statement deserves special attention, as presumably applied to species not described on outside colouration, or non-essential measurements, but absolutely founded on cranial characters, and that is that these are subject to a large element of error, for "the lack of resemblances often observed among crania is frequently but the individual variations of a type." In this work crania are mostly, if not entirely, figured so that the caution becomes authoritative.
There can be little doubt that this synopsis of the Mammals of North America will for some time hold the field; it is, like all American biological publications, lavishly illustrated, the figures being entirely of an osseous character. But we still wish that the author had, and we shall continue to hope that he will, in the light of his strictures, publish a revision, and give evidence of the faith that is within him.
Our country's shells and how to name them is really the aim of this little book. A knowledge of the British Mollusca is something quite distinct, being related to the animal, and not only to his dwelling place. However, everything comes in time; first a collection of shells, and then a desire to know something of their inhabitants. As an aid to recognize species, this compilation by Mr. Gordon is admirable, and is the main end of a profusely illustrated brochure. Few will probably read the classificatory chapters, but Chapter V., in its introductory paragraphs, has the charm of real natural history. "We grow in knowledge as we grow in years"; but oh to be a boy again, with an inexpensive book like this in our pocket, and all the seashore before us! Thirty-three chromo-lithographic plates are said to illustrate every British species.
In his preface to this small and very inexpensive publication, Mr. Hasluck informs us that "This Handbook contains, in a form convenient for everyday use, a comprehensive digest of the knowledge of Taxidermy, scattered over nearly twenty thousand columns of 'Work,' a weekly journal, and that the information was originally contributed by Mr. J. Fielding-Cottrill." It is certainly one of the simplest little books on the subject which we have seen, and the information is imparted in a concise and easily understood way. It also contains a chapter on "Preserving, Cleaning, and Dyeing Skins," and another on "Preserving Insects and Birds' Eggs." One of the best injunctions in the work is—"Beginners are advised not to purchase the 'boxes of bird-stuffing tools' as advertised, or they may find half of the tools useless, and the other half unnecessary."
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