CURIOSITIES OP NATURAL HISTORY.*
THEME is a power which defies analysis, which we all like the better because it does so, and Mr. Baokland possesses it. He disarms criticism, goes through the world with his eyes open, and good-temperedly thinking we may all like to hear what he has to tell, gives us the result of his observations in first-class English, and with a humour and raciness which are all his own. We are all very much obliged to him, and perhaps since it is so pedectly optional whether we read them or no, it is a little ungrateful on our part to find any fault with his stories ; but we can all per- haps remember some grim friend of our childhood, who was always assuring us, "it was because we were so clever, it was worth while to tell tis we were also conceited," and perhaps we have become duly grateful to some such friend since ; at all events, had Mr. Buckland been as wise as he is brilliant., he would pro- bably have condensed what he has Written. into one volume, which would have raised as much as we fear the two will diminish the prestige of his name. For instance, -it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to define what is, and what is not, worthy the atten- tion of any man, but it is also difficult to realize that an indi- vidual who has for twenty years devoted his life to training .fleas, giving two hours a day to the harnessing of six of them to a tiny chariot, is worthy of the immortality Mr. Buckland has striven to secure for him, striven possibly not in vain, for his graphic description of these little creatures (we really felt quite uncom- fortable, they were so present to our imagination) will be re- membered long after their unfortunate trainer has finished his • Curiosities of Natural History. By Frank Buckland, 31..a. London: Fdohard
Bentley. 186e. miserable existence. So again with notices, nay, whole chapters, devoted to giants of whom we learn no more than daily advertise- ments tell us, to baby shows and talking fish, performing bulls and blundering mountebanks. It is true we know now how much of the advertisements to believe—bow much is true, how much mere puffing ; so far a kindness has been done to the public, and had Mr. Buckland possessed less power, we would not have com- plained that he had wasted it in doing work any other man whose word could be relied on might have done as well. Surely it is not because the storehouse of that active brain is exhausted of facts and curiosities to which we might be more worthily admitted, that he tries to satisfy us with abnormal creatures like the "woolly woman of Hayti," or the baser forms of catchpenny art in performing elephants or "a spotted child." But with this remonstrance, we give ourselves up to the pleasanter task suggested by a large portion of the volumes before us. We follow our author in his trips with Robinson Crusoe, laugh heartily at the old sailor's quaint wit, and advise all our readers to make that old man's acquaintance as speedily as possible. From Mr. Buckland.'s visit to Knaresborough we get an insight into the history of dripping wells in general, and also about this parti- cular well, which is ordinarily supposed to turn into stone any article pladed within reach of the water, but in fact, as Mr.
Buckland assures us, the articles are only coated with a hard substance, much like in appearance, as indeed in composi- tion, the fur found inside ordinary tea-kettles,—the result of the water being so highly charged with mineral matter, a pint weighing twenty-four grains more than common water.
It seems that at San Filippo, between Rome and Sienna, there is a dripping well, the deposit from which is pure white, like marble, and the Italian proprietors have placed under the drip moulds and medallions of antique heads and figures made of sulphur; the result may be imagined. Mr. Buckland says he has in his possession a number of these beautiful casts, brought by his father from Italy, and he wishes the hint given as to the capacity of these wells might be taken in this country. It is certainly worth attention. At Borobridge, "amongst the most interesting remains of that ancient Roman station," Mr. Buckland examined the three enormous blocks of stone commonly known as " arrows." To all antiquarians his observations will prove of much interest, and probably his conjecture as to their origin may be the true one. He believes them to be the melte—goals or winning-posts—of a Roman racecourse, and there are few passages in the book of more interest than his description of "A Roman Derby Day," as it presents itself to his imagination while looking at these relics of a half forgotten time.
He has furnished us with many valuable hints on salmon fisheries, fishing, and fish in general. With regard to the first, the subject is too wide to be treated in our limited space, but at the present moment, when the cultivation of fish is more and more of necessity engaging public attention, it is a pleasant, even if a severe, exercise of faith to believe with Mr. Buckland that salmon will before long be restored to the Thames. We hope if that plea- sant dream be realized, a few others not remotely connected with it may find a chance of fulfilment also. There is a curious fact in connection with the eye of the salmon to which our attention is called. After making a careful dissection of the eye, Mr. Buck- land arrives at the conclusion that it is stereoscopic or microscopic. He says :—" Removing a section behind the cornea, and placing the crystalline lens upon a piece of newspaper, I found that it magnified the letters to an extraordinary degree, and even to a greater extent than a pocket lens. As the salmon which escape being caught return season after season to the same spot, Mr. Buck- land tried various experiments to ascertain by marking them the age to which the fish lived. With his usual appreciation of a joke, speaking of one of these occasions, he says :—
"I marked several fish last Christmas at Galway, in a groat variety of manners. On to the fin of one I fastened for fun a fourpenny-piece with a hole in it. The net-men who were assisting my operations did not seem to like this waste of money. A sovereign,' said I, a few minutes after I had let this moneyed fish into the river—' a sovereign reward for any man who catches that fish next season in the nets, and brings him to Mr. Miller.'—' Bedad, Sir,' said one of the men, we shall never see the money, though we may the fish again.'—' Why not, Turk ?' said I.—` Sure he is an Irish fish that's got the money, and he's off to the public-house and spent it by this time, Sir. You'll never see that coin again ; it's gone for whiskey long ago, Sir."
In another place we have some interesting speculations concern- ing the sleep of fish, which may be summed up in a probability that all fish which have brains enough to require it do sleep, while others, as the amphyoxus, more probably merely lie dormant and rest. Mr. Buckland's name is so intimately associated with
the Zoological Gardens, and the well known adventures of the poor porpoises therein, that every one will be glad to know that the facts which some three years ago so greatly amused the public, and which Thackeray with a stroke of his pen rendered for ever memorable, are here given in detail with irresistible humour.. His book is a piece of tapestry, and it is not easy to pick out the bits of gold thread which run through it, lighting up even its; tamest shades, but it will be widely read by those whose apprecia- tion Mr. Buckland can command in the club and the mess. Soon it will be the text-book for many a good story, the good genius of many an idle hour. But Mr. Buckland believes it to be a law of nature that the more space any animal is allowed, the larger it becomes. We hope his theory has very definite limitations, but we wish he would give himself a wider field, and bring that highly developed analytical faculty of his to bear on objects of wider interest. Perhaps it may yet be our good fortune to find "his stature heighten with his heightening aims," and that in the interval which must necessarily elapse before he again challenges' criticism he will have found room to grow.