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NATURE'S PROVIDENCE FOR MAN.
USES OF THE SWAN.
COME, let us mount on Contemplation's wings,
ALF THE WORLD AT LEAST, MY DEAR SIR, do appear to be what you describe them,indifferent to the why and because of what is daily passing under their observation. They seldom let their inquiries go beneath the surface; nor do they care to trouble themselves about causes and effects. This is a great neglect of the talent which has been given them to
These remarks, corroborative of your own recently-expressed opinions, are suggested by a perusal of "Le Monde des Oiseaux,' by A. Toussenel. I have been much interested by what I there find recorded of the Swan. With your permission, I will transfer his comments, in an English dress-not the unbecoming dress, I hope, of which you so loudly and justly complain!-to the columns of OUR OWN JOURNAL; and we shall find that this majestic animal, instead of being made simply to be looked at, was created for a much nobler end.
The history of animals will one day mention, to the disgrace of the era, that amongst all birds, the swan only (in France) was of use to man; and further, that this solitary auxiliary was of use to him without his even suspecting it. The "Dictionary of Natural History,' a work very recently published, has dared to attack Buffon, and many other poets of antiquity and of modern times, for their admiration of the swan,-a creature, it is said, suitable for the decoration of crnamental water, but from which nothing more
is to be expected. I acknowledge the ancients have gone to too great a length in their infatuation, when they endowed him with a melodious voice to sing his death-song, -a belief which Martial has so beautifully expressed in the distich,
"Nulla defecta modulatur carmina lingua Cantator Cycnus ipse sui."
But, for the tranquillity of my conscience, I had rather have sinned through adulation and lavish praise, like the Greeks, than through injustice and illiberality, like the authors of the above mentioned work. It is there said, the swan is only fit to decorate ornamental water; which is not the fact. The swan is an intelligent bird, and perfectly understands how to be at once beautiful and useful. Were his merits limited to the decoration of public gardens, I should still highly esteem him; but he does more than this, and he has a sacred right to the gratitude of man.
The mission of the swan is, to destroy every focus of contagious infection produced by stagnant waters. The swan is the most formidable enemy of the yellow fever; it is his ambition to annihilate it. He knows that this fearful pestilence, which is exactly the same as that in our marshes-whether in France or Algiers, is caused by the decomof the water, whether decorative, for the position of the weeds which impede the flow purposes of irrigation, or in the fossees of our citadels. He has no other occupation or anxiety than to cut down these poisonous weeds. Put a sufficient number of swans in stagnant waters where aquatic plants abound; and in a few months, they will have cleared all away, and transformed the most fetid, the muddiest waters, and those most obstructed by deleterious vegetation, into limpid mirrors.
The large bason of the Tuileries, and that of the Luxembourg, are both inhabited by a pair of swans; and the water-weed (lentille d'eau) has no time to spread its green mantle over the motionless surface of their waters. But in the garden of the Palais National, where the piece of water is much smaller, and is constantly agitated by the action of the waterfall (an agitation which must be greatly against the formation of any herbaceous growth), aquatic vegetation has in disfiguring the fountain. nevertheless succeeded in establishing itself
A creature that would destroy the yellow of all the marshes in the world; a creature fever, and prevent the pestilential exhalations that visibly metamorphoses fetid slime into drinkable water-is a creature which these unfortunate savans call a useless animal, fit only to please the eye on a public promenade.
There is a very easy method of avoiding any error in natural history; but it is quite in vain for me to tell the secret (even although gratuitously) to all the world. No one will employ it. This method consists in never saying aught about any animal, without having previously ascertained for what use it was created, and for what reason it has such and such peculiarities assigned to it; for every creature is a Sphynx which presents its enigma to be guessed, and the true savant is the Edipus who best deciphers it. But superficial minds find it more convenient to laugh at the "dabblers" in enigmas, than to heat their own brain by endeavoring, like the "dabblers," to discover their hidden meaning; and such are discouraged at the first failure. The "naturalistproper" (I owe my thanks to your corres pondent, Bombyx Atlas, for the term, which I think exactly gives my author's meaning in the words " Zoologiste officiel) falls into the error of imitating the practical economist; who will very readily explain "how wealth is produced," but who dares not say "why
it is sometimes so unequally bestowed." The "naturalist-proper" will admit that the tail of the stork is decorated with thirty feathers, while that of the eagle and of the falcon have twelve, and that of the woodpecker only ten; but he does not like to be urged further, nor to be questioned as to the causes of this unequal division. "It is a fact," he says; "and the only duty of Science is to state facts."
It is also a fact, that the swan has twentythree vertebræ in the neck; a much greater proportion than any other feathered creature. But this explanation does not suffice me. I ask the reason of the extraordinary number. If the authors alluded to had conceived the excellent idea of putting to themselves the same question, instead of servilely mentioning the bare fact, it is probable they would instantly have discovered the enigma of the
The tame swan, which I am describing, is a magnificent white bird; without any admixture of black, excepting only the eyes, beak, and feet. He weighs about 261bs.* His wings cover a space exceeding six feet; † they are concave like those of the stork; and appear to inflate with the breeze, like the sails of a ship. His long undulating neck, the sovereign type of grace, bends in a serpentine curve; even more flexible and pleasing than that of the Arab. His well proportioned beak unites all the requisites of elegance, dexterity, and strength. The mandibles are armed with sharp serratures, and the upper one is terminated by a sort of nail, horny and solid. The swan, strictly speaking, does not live upon fish, nor does he plunge like the duck. This might naturally have induced the savans to reflect, that this long neck, provided with a sharp-edged beak, could only have been given to the swan as an instrument with which to extirpate the bulbs and roots of marine vegetables. And once in possession of this luminous factwhich confers upon the swan the high functions of" preserver against infection,' "destroyer of frogs," and "preventive of effluvia"-the said naturalists would necessarily have abstained from the rash assertion that the swan was 66 only pleasing to the eye."
In this pre-eminently graceful creature, all leans towards the side of " beauty;" and the swan, conscious of his ornamental and hygeienic mission, adds to nature as much as he can by art. He is "the" coquet among birds; not excepting the peacock and the humming bird. He is longer at his toilette than a cat; he admires himself in the crystal wave like the beautiful Narcissus. If I wished to calumniate the swan, I would not
*25 lbs. French. † 2 Metres.
say he was only useful to decorate a public garden, but that he liked pure waters only because such best reflected his form. Ad mitting that an exaggerated self-love, and the desire of seeing the unspotted whiteness of his plumage reflected in the wave, are the only motives which induce the swan to destroy noxious weeds and croaking reptiles, the air is no longer poisoned with tainted miasma; the frog does not disturb my rest. That is all I know; and it is enough to have the right of saying-" Honor to the swan, which has given me pure air, and quiet nights."
But if I am not a sceptic; if I am an analogist; if I am convinced that every animal symbolises a human type,-how the scene expands to my intellectual vision! The swan will then be no longer a mere creature with palmated feet, which by chance prefers clear waters, as the duck prefers muddy ones. He will be at once transformed into the purifier of the waters, and the preserver of public health. The ancients guessed nearly as much, when they consecrated this bird to Apollo, the god of the fine arts, and to Venus the goddess of beauty; that is, to the two most charming creations of the Olympus. Many instances might be quoted, demonstrating the degree of regard and esteem which has everywhere been felt for this majestic bird, the noblest of all water birds. I have passed many hours in admiring him-more particularly in his functions as father of a family, preceding the convoy of his numerous young ones; his wings lovingly spread to the zephyr; tracing a long wake on the surface of the water; glancing keenly around; his head high, his eye glowing, and his beak threatening; the mother protects the rear-guard in an attitude no less imposingly-proud young meantime playing between them with all the gaiety and fearlessness peculiar to their age.
Whilst gazing on such a scene, what gratitude do I not feel for the many mercies shown to me; and for the charm lavished upon this spectacle which is mine for nothing! What gratitude, for having conferred upon me in my poverty, the enjoy ment of so many delights unknown to the rich!-to the poor rich, who have never given praise to Providence for aught but having directed the course of large rivers through large cities!
the eye being able to discern the movement The swan, gliding upon the waves without which impels him, is the perfect image of a ship-one of the most magnificent conceptions of human industry. Nautical science will only have reached perfection, when the system of the swan's sails shall be adapted to the ship; and when a paddle capable of
contracting itself like the swan's foot, and acquiring fresh impetus by again expanding, shall replace the wheel of the steam-boat. The swan is justly considered as the model of fathers; his fidelity perhaps is not livelong, but his paternal tenderness has a claim to be quoted as without a parallel. He never considers the number or the strength of the enemies which threaten the safety of his family. He rushes upon them furiously, and attacks with equal ferocity, man, dog, or horse. He awaits the eagle without flinching; his beak pointing, and set like a spring Striking and thrusting, both, he soon stuns his adversary, and drives him discomfited
He does not hide his nest, being ready to defend it; and the fox, so cunning, so greedy after young birds, dares not even approach his progeny. Unfortunately, his caprices expose him to desperate conflicts. A fight between swans is almost always a mortal combat; but the quarrel is not decided in a day. These creatures are tenacious of life. Strength and rage (alone) do not enable them to destroy each other. A considerable degree of skill, and of wrestling skill, is also required. The death-stroke consists in twisting the enemy's neck in his vertebræ ; and in holding it bent and sunk under water until the victim expires from suffocation. "I embrace my rival, but it is to strangle him," say the swans; unconsciously turning into a parody the celebrated line of Nero.
It was difficult not to lend to what was already so rich. On this account, the Greeks, who were naturally very generons, assigned to the swan a tender and melancholy voice; more plaintive and flute-like than that of the nightingale. The Greek fable was excusable, as proceeding from their love of ideal perfection. To extenuate it, they said the melodious voice with which they had gifted the swan, was heard but once during the life of the bird-at the hour preceding his death. The fable succeeded, because it was as pretty as are all Greek fables; but now we have had the advantage of it, I see no longer any use in concealing the truth,
The swan has not a more melodious voice than the nightingale. He clatters like the stork, and alas! he gabbles like the goose, his nearest relative. Nor is the hour in which he makes the most noise, that preceding his death; but rather, that which follows the hatching of his young. The ancients had however already successfully refuted the fable. Pythagoras, who was a geometrician, naturally admitted the version of the deathsong; he did even more. He proved, that its sweetness was to be attributed to the length of the circuit which the vital spark of the bird had to make, ere it could escape from his body through his long neck! But
Pliny successfully disputed the opinion of the geometrician; and the ingenious explanation relative to the influence of the dimensions of the tracheal artery of the swan, upon the sweetness of his vocal powers, necessarily fell before the fact that he did not possess any! Previous to Pliny, Aristotle had made a praiseworthy concession to truth. He still maintained that the swans of the African sea sang agreeably; but he also affirmed that the exercise was in no way injurious to their health, and that it did not foretell their death.
Three plagues exist in the world, which have committed their ravages with impunity for an immense length of time, the cholera, or black plague, originating in India; the plague strictly so called, originating in Egypt; the yellow-fever, originating in America.
A good police regulation respecting burials would remedy the two first, in six months. The third, undeniably the most difficult to subdue, would not hold out ten years against the judiciously-combined effects of the sluice (écluse de chasse), and—the Swan.
THERE'S ONLY ONE RIGHT PATH,—
THERE is a path which often lies
And yet for those who would possess
My study 'tis in simple rhyme, As others in a strain sublime,
To deck with love and beauty This "narrow path," that to the skies In gradual ascent doth rise
The path of Christian Duty.
Another path may soon be found,
So well the syren plays her part,
A warning to my readers all, Before she lets the curtain fall,
The moral Muse would give,Those who will duty's path forsake, For interest, or for pleasure's sake, IN PEACE SHALL NEVER LIVE!
THE NATURALIST, No. 31. Groombridge & Sons.
Our much-esteemed contemporary again comes forth with a goodly array of pleasing facts in Natural History.
side of the stone, where he soon completed a new one, apparently to the satisfaction of both, as he brought down the female (who had nothing to do with the work, but had remained quietly at the surface, resting amongst the branches), apparently to show that the structure was complete, and ready for use.
She spawned on the 24th, then lay listlessly at the bottom amongst the roots, and in a few days died-either from injuries in capture or from latterly observed driving her smartly about. being worried by her pugnacious partner, whom I
Having now undisputed possession of the glass, he mounted guard, hovering above the nest, and often drew his body slowly over and in contact with it; every now and then, at short intervals, placing himself directly in a line with the hole, he rapidly vibrated the fins and tail, apparently to pass a current of water through it; and did an unfortunate snail at any time trespass upon it, he immediately pounced upon and threw it aside. He merely quitted his post to feed, eagerly taking small portions of earthworms from the finger, and when satisfied, blowing the last portion from his mouth and catching it again, as if in play; but anything applied to the outside of the glass raised his choler and spines in a moment.
Commiserating his solitary condition, I one day put in three more, by way of company; but he had no idea of such intrusion, and having a home to defend, showed a most determined spirit, presently putting the late quiet little pond into a complete turmoil-rushing immediately on these unfortunate intruders on his domain, he chased them rapidly round the glass, biting fiercely at their tails, and, despite all their endeavors to hide amongst the plant, or in the mud, &c., at the bottom, they were speedily turned out, worried rapidly and repeatedly round, and would doubtless have been killed, if I had not quickly removed them with a silver tablespoon, which was also viciously attacked by this irritated and determined defender of his invaded rights. On placing the bottle with the removed fish against the glass, he immediately rushed at them; and I observed his formidable lateral spines repeatedly projected. Of course after this exhibition of his pugnacity, he was left to manage things his own way, and continued assiduously to attend the nest, frequently and rapidly vibrating before it; and on the 16th of May, the young fry were first observed swimming thickly about the nest, so small and transparent as easily to be overlooked. For the first few days he guarded them jealously, driving back stragglers to the nest; and occasionally seizing one, perhaps more obstreperous than his fellows, in his mouth, he took it back, and blew it out amongst the others-every now and then swimming round the glass, as if to ascertain that all was safe. The young, about fifty in number, re-gradually ascended, and in a few days scattered about at the surface and amongst the plant without interference.
We have a very interesting article, by James Davies, Esq., on the peculiarly-formed Femur of a Fox; Letters of an Ornithologist; a Paper on British Evergreens, by our old friend J. M'Intosh, Esq.; Gleanings by the Way, &c., &c., in addition to the usual Varieties and Miscellanies.
From this mass of delightful reading, we have been trying to pick and choose some fair specimen. Our election has fallen on a racy paper, detailing some pretty facts in con nection with our oldest friend THE STICKLEBACK, of whom, in a former number, we discoursed at considerable length. contributed by Mr. Clement Jackson, of East Looe; and shows the doings of our hero when confined to a very small space of water. The Stickleback (Gasterosteus Aculeatus) is not to be spoken of disrespectfully. He is a pattern for all the finny tribe. But let us listen to his exploits :
On the 12th of April, a fish glass, of seven inches diameter and depth, was furnished with some gravelly mud, and filled nearly to the top with spring water. A plant of Water Starwort (Callitriche verna), was fixed by placing a couple of spar-stones on the roots to steady it, whilst the leaves floated on the surface, and a number of Water Snails (Limnea stagnalis, and Ancylus fluviatilis), were added to devour decayed leaves, &c., and keep the water clear.
The muddy particles having subsided, and left the water very clear, half-a-dozen Sticklebacks were introduced about the 18th; and a male immediately took possession, attacking and driving the others sharply about. These were taken out successively as attacked, until only one, a large female, to which he did not exhibit much animosity, remained; and in the course of an hour or two afterwards I saw him carrying a long fibre in his mouth, and actively commence building with such scanty materials as the place afforded. Having liberally supplied him with skeleton leaves, fibrous roots, &c., he took them readily as soon as dropped into the water; seizing a fibre, blowing it out of his mouth, and attentively watching its fall to test its gravity and fitness for his work; if heavy enough, it was immediately recovered, and added to the building against the stone at the bottom; if too light, it was jected, and another tried; he every now and then adding a stone to secure the frail fabric, and occasionally blowing a mouthful of gravelly mud over it, boring vigorously into the accumulating mass with his head to form the nest, and keep the opening clear.
This first nest did not prove satisfactory; for a few days afterwards he commenced an active removal, carrying all his materials to the other
On the 20th of May, the water, which had not been meddled with, except to fill up the loss caused by evaporation, and had remained quite clear, became all at once so clouded, and with a greasy scum on the surface, that the fish were barely discernible; and fearing I should lose them, about a quart was dipped out, and refilled
with fresh. The cause I could not ascertain, possibly some discharge from the old fish, and from the number of young being too great for the confined space. The plant has grown freely; and being confined to one side by the stone, forms a good canopy over the fish; but its leaves are very much eaten by the molluscs, which swim freely about at the surface, shell downwards, with the foot hollowed, and guided by an undulating motion of its edges, exhibiting a very curious specimen of locomotion. They crawl along the under surface of the floating leaves, and are so nearly balanced in the water, that I have observed one turning back on the end of a long slender fibre, which scarcely bent under its weight; and at the bottom and sides they crawl about like the common snail. The Ancylus Fluviatilis also shifts its position freely, adhering indifferently either to the glass sides, or to the stones at the bottom. They deposit masses of spawn attached to the leaves, which are probably devoured by the fish soon after being hatched, as comparatively very few young snails are observed; and I have often seen the old fish take some minute object from the leaves, and from the mud at the bottom.
Among the Miscellaneous Notices, are two contributions from the pen of G. R. Twinn, Esq., Bawburgh Hill, near Norwich. The first astounds us; for he tells us that he has heard the Blue Tit (Parus cæruleus) sing so like a robin, that the difference was only distinguishable by seeing the vocalist. We have kept company with "Master Tom" from boyhood, and this is the first time we ever heard of his newly-acquired powers. Let us record the curiosity pro bono :
During the continuance of the snow in February and March, I had quite a family of birds that daily visited my window for food, which was as regularly furnished as they were punctual in coming for it. Blackbirds, Thrushes, Robins, Sparrows, and Tits all fed in peace and joy; the Robins only would enter and perch on our breakfast-table. The others, however, were very tame; and from a Blackbird we had many a note of thanks; but whilst the Robius gladly and merrily sang in our warm study, the Blue Tit replied; and had I not distinctly seen and heard the songster, I should have stated it was a Robin singing. But I can add further testimony. We at present have a Blue Tit's nest in our garden in a Laurestinus, and regularly the male Tit sits, after his feeding the brood, on the top of the shrub, and sings away very gaily. I think you will observe that the notes of this bird are much harsher and shorter than those of the Robin, and are devoid of that gradual cadence with which the Redbreast often ends his lays, or rather sinks in melody, that he may, like the Nightingale, break
out in richer music.
The second extract, from the same hand, has reference to the nesting of the NUTHATCH; a lovely fellow, whose praises we have often before sung. We saw a nest of these pretty creatures in a hollow tree, during a recent visit in Hampshire; and we were quite charmed to watch the affectionate movements of the
parents whilst sedulously tending their infant brood. Secure and happy, their fearless independence and indifference to the curiosity of lookers-on were ridiculously diverting. Some comments of ours on their little performances, will be found at p. 344, Vol. III. We talked to them; and got such a funny, squeaking reply! Did their and mamma resent this prying curiosity on our part? Oh, no! They sat by the while, and seemed to take it as a personal honor! But let us listen to Mr. T.'s account of the nesting of the Nuthatch (Sitta Europaea). We see that he too, like most of us lovers of birds, has suffered by those diabolical fiends, the birdtrappers. Of all robbers, these are the most
In a small but deep hollow of a shattered tree, about twenty feet from the ground, a pair of these birds selected their retreat, and had intended rearing a brood, had not my robbery prevented their peculiar mode of nesting. At the bottom of them. I had a very fine opportunity of observing the hole, about thirty small pieces of bark, (from the beech tree), were carelessly laid, and, without any other aid to promote heat and assist the bird in the period of incubation, this was the sole means, apparently, to be employed. An egg was the work proceeded regularly, till the seventh egg deposited on them, a layer of bark over it, and so was deposited, and then over all the bird began carefully to sit, and heat the pile of bark. I observed no variation in the daily appearance of the nest, to warrant any supposition that the eggs in regularity were removed from top to bottom, nor can I well fancy such a process without damage to the eggs in such a nest, formed so indifferently, and without any soft materials.. Now I have no doubt, from the depth of this hole, that the birds had with their "hammer-bills" bored to a depth (exceeding the natural) of nearly nine inches; and at the base of the tree many-very many—chips of wood were readily discernible. I have for several mornings scarcely missed observing, from four o'clock till long after five, a pair seated on a poplar tree; and as I read in my room, or ramble round our field, I hear their hammering, as though to them it were a merriment and a joy. They are called ". Creepers" here; and very active birds they are in scouring trees for insects, and digging for vermin. I have met with instances of the nests of these birds in the side of a trunk of a tree, and where the bark and wood have, on removal, left white traces that might betray their locality, I have seen a thin coating of dirt brushed over to imitate the natural appearance of the bark, and delude the eye. The under plumage of these birds beneath the wings is, in many specimens, very rich-of a deep claret-color. I have never met with eggs entirely white. On the contrary, all have an abundance of red spots on a clear white ground; and not small ones neither, but certainly not to be called blotches.
THE STORY OF MONT BLANC. BY ALBERT SMITH. Bogue.
If any one were asked, "Have you been to see Albert Smith's popular entertain