THE MOORS AND THE PAMPAS.*
COULD we combine the Scotch landscapes of Sir John Millais with the deer of Landseer, the hawks and game-birds of Mr. Wolf, the vignettes of Bewick, the wild-fowl of Bai Rei, and the eagles of Mr. Briton Riviere, and could the scenes so illus- trated be described with the pen of St. John, and the powers of observation of the late Mr. Booth, we should have an ideal work on the wild life of the Highlands. Such a combination of excel- lence is beyond a painter's or a critic's dreams; yet, if only because it seems to fill-in in detail the visions which Sir J. E. Millais' Scotch landscapes conjure up, and to acquaint us with the wild inhabitants of the moors round Murthly Castle, the • (1.) Game-Birds and Shooting Sketches. By John Gan) Millais, F.Z.S. With a Frontispiece by Sir J. E. Millais, Li. London Sotheran and Co.- 42.) The Naturalist in La Plata. By W. H. Hudson, 0.11.Z.8., Joint-Author of
" Argentine Ornithology." London : Chapman and Hall. •
grouse and ptarmigan that lie on the moors "Over the Hills and Far Away," the wild-fowl on the marsh in "Chill October," and the blackgame on the "Fringe of the Moor," the work which Mr. John Guille Millais has just published, under the title of Game-Birds and Shooting Sketches, suggests that the wild life of the Highlands might yet be illustrated completely in a single book. Mr. Millais has nominally limited himself to the description and illustration of the capercailzie, the blackgame, ptarmigan, and grouse. But the portrait of Thomas Bewick, seated in his chair and criti- cally contemplating a sketch on his knee, with which Sir John Millais has adorned the first page of his son's large and beauti- ful book, has a further reference to the form of the work than that which the name of the great engraver of birds naturally suggests. For Bewick supplemented the careful bird-portraits demanded by the nature of his subject, by backgrounds and vignettes suggesting the habits and surroundings of the creatures he drew ; and Mr. Millais has added to his large coloured plates of the capercailzie, grouse, blackgame, and ptarmigan in all their variations of plumage, sketches of their life and haunts in such number and variety as to make the work not only an exhaustive life-history of the birds which he describes, but also a record of the scenes in which they live, and of most other creatures which share with them the hills and glens of the Highlands. A series of admirable drawings is devoted to the illustration of the habits of the golden eagles on the high ground and mountain-tops where ptarmigan abound. Mr. Millais cites many facts in evidence of the recent great increase in the number of the eagles owing to their preservation in the deer-forests, and some of his notes on their habits, which his pen and brush have so charmingly pictured, will be new to most readers.. The eagles, it appears, have taken a lesson from man, and learnt to " drive " ptarmigan. "The eagle," writes Mr.. Millais, "has probably a far better knowledge of the habits of its victims than man, and knows full well the spots which they frequent at certain hours, and the direction of their retreat when flushed. For this reason it is by no means unusual to see the Golden Eagle, generally the male bird, doing a little amateur driving on his own account and that of his spouse. This may be described as follows. While the hen-bird takes her post on some overhanging rock on the face of a hill or exit of a corrie, the cock sails away high in the air till he has reached the end of the ground which he intends to beat; he then descends and proceeds to range the rocks up and down as systematically and regularly as a setter, in the direction of his mate. Game is soon found,. and instead of quickly dropping on the quarry, which is their usual habit when eagles are hunting by them- selves, he makes a sudden feint and gets his terrified victims on the wing at once ; after which he can always force two or three in the required direction by keeping just behind and below them Thus he keeps up with their low, scurrying flight with slow, heavy flaps of his own wings,. till the point is at length reached where the hen sits await- ing the coming of her lord, and giving a scream, or rather yelp, for it resembles the latter, he is immediately answered by her, and the two soon drop on their respective victims, and retire to adjacent rocks on which to enjoy their meal." In his pictures of the hurried flight of birds, especially when approaching the spectator, Mr. Millais is at his best ; and among the large autotypes which illustrate the stratagems of the eagle, "Hunted" (p. 67), the "Fatal Shadow" (p. 58), and the " Corrie Guisechan" (p. 71), in which the hen-eagle sits in the foreground in the real, not the conventional, attitude of an eagle just preparing for the chase, the movement and dash in the incidents are admirably shown. A charming contrast to these scenes of pursuit and rapine on the mountain-tops is the view of a loch-side at evening. The rolling band of mist which hangs half-way down the opposite mountain has not yet reached the surface of the lake ; and in the shallow water by the shore the grouse and blackgame are drinking and bathing, and the wild duck preparing for their evening flight to the feeding-grounds. We do not remember ever to have seen a more graphic portrait of bird.life at rest than this, in which the attitudes and movements of the grouse are painted with a truth and nicety which can only be due to the most minute and patient observation. The bathing grouse, flinging the water in showers over their backs with the quick twist of the head which is so characteristic of the toilet of birds, but so
seldom seen and so difficult to paint, has been caught with a dexterity and cleverness worthy of the ablest bird-painters of Japan. The secret of the artist's success, like theirs, lies in his patient and careful observation of the birds, without which the deftest pencil is apt to substitute convention for truth. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the illustrations is the frank acceptance of the teaching of the camera and the Japanese artists as to the real facts of flight, which gave such exceptional interest to the drawings contributed by Mr. Millais to the volume of the Badminton Library on wild-fowl shooting. The singular life and vigour of the sketches is largely due to this new departure, and should encourage future artists to abandon for ever the wooden conventions which have so inadequately represented the facts of the flight of birds. 'The descriptive notes, which form a large part of the book, have the merit of being records of personal observation at first-hand, and though in parts needlessly colloquial, the style is on the whole pleasing and readable, and the accounts of early morning hours spent upon the hills in watching the battles of the blackcocks, and the pairing of the ptarmigan, are written with spirit and a certain natural grace of truth.
The author of The Naturalist in La Plata is already known as the collaborateur with Dr. P. L. Sclater in an important work on Argentine Ornithology. By far the most striking of the interesting essays and observations in his later book is the wholly new and interesting light in which the puma is presented in its relations to man. In a recent article in the Spectator on "The Animal View of Man," it was suggested that there was no a priori ground for believing in the natural hostility of the large carnivora to human beings. According to a large mass of evidence, backed by ancient and consecu- tive traditions among the Guachos, and the records of the early Spanish settlers, the puma of the Pampas is not only not hostile, but is naturally attracted to the society of man, and was worshipped by the Indians before their conversion as the natural protector of man against other wild animals, especially the jaguar ; while if attacked by man it refuses to defend itself, and sometimes makes no effort to escape from its tormentors. The extra- ordinary tales of Yankee hunters of the ferocity of the " catamount " have for some time been the laughing-stock of American newspapers ; and Mr. Hudson, while admitting that the singular instinct of the South American puma may not be universal in a species extending from Tierra del Fuego to British North America, does not hesitate to assert that the -" imaginary man-eating monster" of backwood literature does not exist ; and quotes in evidence the opinion of Audubon and Bachman, who many years ago declared that "this animal— the puma—which has excited so much terror in the minds of the ignorant and timid, has been well-nigh exterminated in the Atlantic States; and we do not recollect a single authenticated instance where any hunter's life fell a sacrifice in a cougar hunt." The subject is most interesting, and the anecdotes collected by Mr. Hudson should be compared with the experience of other writers on the natural history of the Southern plains, in which, if our recollection is not wrong, much independent and corroborative evidence will be found tending to establish the curious affection which the puma has for man. Other creatures inhabiting the Argentine plains are less desirable neighbours. Among them are the skunk, which abounds, and, confident in its mephitic odour, fears neither man nor dogs ; a venomous toad ; and a spider which not only bites, but attacks and chases man. Settlers on the plains live in daily terror of the skunk, a visit from which may make the house uninhabitable for days. The venomous toad buries itself in moist ground, and there lies in wait for frogs, toads, mice, and birds. The author writes :— " In very wet springs they come sometimes about houses and lie in wait for chickens and ducklings. In disposition they are most truculent, savagely biting at anything that comes near them; and when they bite, they hang on with the tenacity of a bull-dog, poisoning the blood with their glandular secretions.
One summer two horses were found dead near my house. One while lying down had been seized by a fold in the skin near the belly, the other had been grasped by the nose while cropping grass. In both cases the vicious toad was found dead still grasping the dead horse."
It would be easy to multiply extracts from this most in- teresting book. But it is one to buy and read, for matter and style are alike excellent.