MIL THOMPSON'S NOTE-BOOK Or A NATITAA.LIST. AA Pope " lisped
in numbers," so Mr. Thompson began the study of natural history in something like babyhood : his first efforts to form a collection of insects are his earliest reminiscences. A few pill-boxes were his cabinet, one appropriated to each specimen ; and he writes—" I believe I shall never forget to my latest day my despair at not being able to accom- modate a huge dragon-fly in one of those repositories." Sent to Germany for his education shortly after the Peace, Mr. Thompson had more facili- ties for pursuing the study, as well as for collecting specimens; and during his sojourn in that country he formed a very perfect cabinet of its lepidoptera, and laid the foundation of one in ornithology. He has since pursued natural history systematically ; travelling over the greater part of Europe in search of specimens, and to acquire a living knowledge of the animal creation.
It appears to have been his custom to keep a journal or note-book, in which he recorded every thing in the course of his observations that struck him as curious or new. He also pursued the same course as re- garded his reading, but with more critical choice ; and a selection from this manuscript volume, the accumulation of years, is the basis of the work before us ; some attention being given to its arrangement under classified heads—as Physiognomy and Character of Animals, Migration of Birds, Hybernafion of Animals.
Mr. Thompson has moreover done a little of writing in some separate essays, and thrown a good many occasional reflections into the more descriptive parts.
In all that relates to original observation, The Note-book of a Na- turalist is agreeable, interesting, and fresh ; as might be supposed from its mode of collection. The hortatory matter is of less value ; partaking more of the character of sermonizing where Mr. Thompson is writing a species of volunteer Bridgewater Treatise, and dealing in commonplaces where he appears in the character of a general essayist. These parts, however, will be acceptable to a large and very worthy class of readers; whilst the more original and numerous passages may vie with the obser- vations of Jesse. In fact, there is a considerable resemblance between the two authors ; only Jesse does not pursue a mere theme so far, and has a more marked manner—a smack of the old court.
As anecdote is substantially the character of the better part of The Note-book, its quality is best shown by example.
The system of communication by means of carrier-pigeons, between London and Paris, is carried on to a very considerable extent, and at a great cost. There are several perfect establishments kept up by parties interested in the quick trans- mission of intelligence, at tbe ports of Dover and Calais, and at regular distances on the roads of the two countries; whence the birds are exchanged in regular
order, as they return with their little billet. The interruption occasioned by the
hours of night is made up by a man on horseback; who again at daylight, on ar- riving at a pigeon-station, transfers his despatch to the keeper, who has his bird
in readiness. The distance by day is accomplished in less than eight hours. It has been found that hawks have proved themselves dangerous enemies even to these quick-flighted birds; and a premium of half-a-crown is paid for every hawk's
head produced. The pay of a keeper is 501. a year; and when this is added to
the cost of food and the expense of sending the pigeons on from station to station to be ready for their flight home, it will appear that the service is attended with considerable outlay. The duty of training young birds, and the management of the old ones, in feeding them at proper times, and in keeping them in the dark till they are thrown up, is very responsible, and almost unceasing. It good bird if not supposed to last more than two years.
" In medio tutinsimus " is a safe general maxim even in improve- ments; for as there is no unmixed evil, so in getting rid of what seems
bad, and to some extent is so, we may get rid of some occult good. Mr. Mechi of Leadenhall Street has abolished hedges on his improved farm in Essex, and with great benefit to himself. The French have forestalled him upon a larger scale, but, according to our author, with a result not altogether beneficial. " Travellers in the North of France cannot but perceive the almost total ab- sence of birds in that district. The country is open, and rarely broken by a hedgerow; • and thus, shelter bein.g. denied them, they ;leek more favoured spots. The effect is as obvious as it is injurious, for there IS no limit set to the ravages of the caterpillar or the destruction of the grub. The Pontia rape, or small cabbage-butterfly, swarms to an extent which must be seen to be believed. I have seen many hundreds on the wing at one time. The Searabout melolontha, too, flies in myriads; and there are no rooks to follow the plough."
There is pictorial power in the following sketch of the combat of the bird and the snake, from the chapter on the Passions of Animals.
"Attack and defence call forth perhaps some of the most beautiful combinations of effect and passion which can be conceived—as, for instance, in the secretary- bird and the snake. In an instant, the former circumvents its intended prey; its escape is hopeless; it instinctively feels itself in the presence of its deadly enemy., and for the preservation of life prepares itself for the fearful encounter. Half
erected, with gleaming eye and its body coiled or straightened to meet the exi- gency of the moment, it faces its ever active foe; it writhes and sweeps the ground with the convulsive movements of its tail; and, like the skilful fencer, acts on the defensive till the opening for the fatal lunge presents itself. But the wary bird al-
lows no such advantage; for, dropping its wing shield-like before it, it repels every attack by prostrating the serpent by. the powerful action of its pinion- and, leap-
ing rapidly behind it, secures the victory and its prey by a well-diret:ted blow on the skull. This is a beautiful picture: the issue of life is in the straggle; of which Nature is the prompter, and in which the energies and passions of both
creatures are worked up to their highest pitch. Dreaded by every other living creature, the snake here encounters its mortal enemy, ordained by the hand of Providence to keep its race within due limits."
THE SHEPHERD AND MS SHEEP.
I was much amused once, in Belgium, at a curious contrivance adopted by a shepherd to extricate himself from a dilemma, and at the readiness with which his sheep obeyed his intentions. Precedie his flock, he was moving them to a fresh pasture, when his progress was stop by a large corn-field, through which there was only a narrow foot-path. His knowledge of the habits of his charge made him thoroughly aware of the destruction they would commit if left to follow him at their leisure; so, after a few moments' reflection, he started off at the top of his speed, the whole flock pursuing him at a gallop, 'and almost in single file, without doing the slightest damage.