The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 736/Notices of New Books
NOTICES OF NEW BOOKS.
The first part of this publication was reviewed in 'The Zoologist' for 1865! Since then another generation of ornithologists has arisen; but we may well, in more senses than one, congratulate Prof. Newton and ourselves that he is still the spirit of the work. In his preface we are given many reasons why the delay has been unavoidable, and in some respects beneficial to the production of this instalment; and we read with intense satisfaction, which will doubtless be shared by most naturalists, some wise words on classification. Classifications are always more or less propositions, and Prof. Newton remarks:—"The ideal Taxonomy of Birds is beyond the range of my vision. All that is wanted in the present case is care not to break up groups which are believed to be most nearly allied; their sequence signifies little, and in the existing condition of systematic ornithology—if such a phrase be allowable—the most ready way of referring to any species is to look for its name in an Alphabetical Index." We are glad these words bear the impress of his authority.
We are here given an interesting memoir of John Wolley, who, like many more, did much, though he died early. The memoir also observes the real obituary canon. In the record of every life there are facts we want to know; things we ought to know; but other matters of which we ought not to be told. A biography is not an autopsy, or at least should not be.
There are lessons we may find in the notes. How often and how readily mistaken identity is recorded! Wolley relates an instance in connection with the eggs of a Woodpecker: "I looked at the bird with my glass, and, alas! satisfied myself (!!) that it was Picus tridactylus; but the moment I saw the beautiful eggs brought to daylight I suspected an error, and went back to the boat to fetch my gun, and shot the bird. It turned out to be, as I anticipated, P. minor." Even now we can read with enthusiasm the facts as to the breeding habits of the Waxwing (Ampelis garrulus), which Wolley was the first to master and describe; while we are told that up to the time of his departure for Lapland in 1853 considerable uncertainty remained as to the colouration of the Redwing's egg.
It will interest aviculturists to learn that the same observer noticed in a wild Snow-Bunting (Plectrophanes nivalis) that "she was suffering badly from a distressing complaint, well known to those who keep birds in confinement as 'asthma.'"
References also recur to some well-known names of those now with us no more. We read of Salvin, and he is gone. Hewitson also is mentioned as a good oologist, and it is probable that his reputation as such will outlast his notoriety as a famous butterfly collector and monographer, a pursuit which occupied all the last years of his life. Altogether the notes in this volume constitute sufficient material for a whole series of modern books on birds, and, the editing being done by Prof. Newton, the records require no further elucidation. There are four coloured plates of eggs, four plates depicting boreal scenes, a portrait of Wolley, and one of L.M. Knoblock, who seems to have been a conscientious professional collector, with a first-hand knowledge of birds.
This part is the concluding publication detailing the results obtained by a memorable expedition; for when the Managers of the Balfour Studentship in the University of Cambridge can despatch an expedition with the avowed object of procuring material for the study of the embryonic development of the Pearly Nautilus, we may safely realize that the real biological spirit of zoology is not neglected, and that the results of a truly scientific expedition like this one will be remembered when many highly boomed excursions, promoted by wealth and designed for sport, will have been mercifully forgotten.
In this part Dr. Willey gives an interesting personal narrative of his travels, and a special contribution on the subject which was the primary object of the expedition. The Pearly Nautilus is of consummate interest to zoologists. It constitutes one of the "persistent types" that has travelled on practically unchanged from pre-tertiary ages; it possesses an earthly—or marine—tabernacle, perfected probably before the evolution of our own; and of its complete embryonic development we are even now not fully informed. But Dr. Willey has brought this subject within measurable distance of a final determination, and has written the memoir on this animal which is the last for present consultation. As regards the morphology of the structure of Nautilus, our author inclines to an epipodial theory; but here our function terminates, and we must refer the reader to the Memoir itself, which is embellished with nine beautiful plates, beside other textual illustrations.
Those to whom the volumes of Couch, Yarrell, and Day are inaccessible, and who are desirous of a cheap guide to the discrimination of British Fishes, will find this volume a boon. Of course it is a compilation, and made by one who will probably not claim to be a specialist on the subject; but if its aim is clearly understood, and its figures rather than its text be its principal recognition, then the publication will supply a want, and should ensure a very considerable circulation. The plates also are a distinct improvement on those in other publications of the series, and in some instances are successful in portraying the difficult colour-markings of fishes. In Chapter IX., "Genera and Species," will be found a considerable collection of bionomical and other facts, but we wish that space would have allowed of reference being made to the sources from which they were derived. In all branches of knowledge authority for statements is indispensable; we want to discriminate between the accepted observer and the accomplished purveyor.
In our volume for 1899 (p. 190) we drew attention to a small volume written by Mr. Hett, entitled "A Dictionary of Bird Notes, to which is appended a Glossary of Popular, Local, and Old-fashioned Synonyms of British Birds." So useful was this glossary found by all alike that Mr. Hett has now republished the same, very much enlarged, and nearly including 3000 names; "or on an average of between seven and eight for each species." This is a most welcome publication, but we wish that it had been issued in a more durable form, as a paper cover will certainly not survive the constant use to which it will be put.
This small brochure principally recounts the original observations made by Mr. John Craig, of Ayrshire, and contains reproductions of "four remarkable photographs taken direct from nature by J. Peat Millar."
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