WICKLAND'S CURIOSITIES OF NATURAL HISTORY.*
ENCOURAGED by the well-deserved successs of his First Series, Mr. Buckland has written a companion volume to it which will doubt- less be received with equal favour. He is quite right in thinking that too much cannot be written about the works of nature—pro- vided the writers be faithful students of nature as he is, and not mere literary jobbers ; and we hold with the late Thomas Hood that Natural History is much more wholesome caid pleasant read- ing than the Unnatural History with which we are surfeited in novels. It is certain, also, as Mr. Buckland remarks that many common facts which escape record in formal treatises, have, nevertheless much interest for the true lover of natural history. His little books abound with examples of this kind, some of which we proceed to reproduce in a desultory notice of his new volume.
Everyone knows that coprolites (i.e., fossil guano) are now an important article of commerce, being quarried and ground for manure ; and the fact has ceased to excite much wonder since it has been found to harmonize with other facts of everyday ex- perience. We warm our dwellings and set our iron horses in mo- tion with the fossilized remains of pricareval forests, and it is equally a matter of course that we should apply fossilized manure to our fields ; but it is rather startling to hear of this material being used for purposes of ornamental art. The eoprolites of Lyme Regis in Dorsetshire, produced by the extinct monsters ieh- thyosaurus and plesiosaurus, are as hard as marble, and suscep- tible of a high polish. The late Dr. Buckland had a drawing- room table which was made entirely of them, and was much ad- mired for its beauty ; and his son has seen the same material in actual use as earrings, and "made out distinctly the scales and bones of the fish which once formed the dinner of a hideous lizard, but now hung pendulous from the ears of an unconscious belle, who had evidently never read or heard of such things as copro- lites."
Mr. Buckland has a very amusing chapter on "The Game- keeper's Museum." Gilbert White, of Selborne, was, we believe, the first who deprecated the indiscriminate practice of nailing up specimens fera3 nature) against the barn door, and almost every subsequent naturalist has renewed the protest on behalf of science. Mr. Buckland, however, has a good word to say for this rough and ready way of preserving specimens, and thinks it has not re- ceived the attention it deserved amidst all that has lately been said and written upon educational subjects. Are you interested in the formation of local museums ? Why then do you leave un- noticed and despised those which lie open to inspection on the barn door, for these "will, if carefully examined, yield the most instructive information to those who take interest in the history of the animals now indigenous in England." Mr. Buckland found. matter to engage him for half a day in one of these rural museums near Brighton.
"The victims in our gamekeeper's museum had not been nailed up by chance in the first vacant place, but arranged with a certain degree of taste, a row being apportioned to each species of animal. The keeper's greatest enemies of course occupied the most prominent position ; and in the top row no less than fifty-three cats heads stared hideously down upon the visi- tor. There was a story attached to nearly each head : this cat was killed in such a wood, this in such a hedge-row, some in traps, some shot, some knocked on the head with a stick ; but what was most remarkable was, the different expression of countenance observable in each individual head. This one had died fighting bravely to the last ; inch by inch had it yielded i up its nine lives. Caught possibly n a trap in the early part of the evening by one of its legs, it had lingered the night through in agony, the pain of its entrapped limb causing it to make furious efforts to escape, and those very efforts adding additional torments to the wound. In the morning the keeper had come with his gun and his dogs ; putting his foot on the spring of the trap, he had let out the wounded and exhausted animal to the mercy of his terriers ; what little life was left in it the dogs worried out. It had died a martyr to its natural instinct. Do you doubt this ? Look at the head, now dried by the heat of two summers : the wrinkled forehead, the expanded eyelids, the glaring eyeballs, the whiskers extended their full stretch, the spiteful lips exposing the double row of tiger-like teeth, enve- nomed by agony, tell us all this. The hand of death has not been powerful enough to relax the muscles racked for so many hours with terror and pain. Let us examine another head ; what a difference in expression do we see in this cat at the end of the row ; she had never been worried or tormented ; stealthily creeping on the tips of her beautifully padded feet along some hedge-row, she has come within range of the gun of the concealed keeper, and in an instant been shot dead ; yea, shot dead ; her calm look, her ears cocked well forward, the sagacious set of the muscles of her face remain to this moment,—so sudden was her death that other feelings had no time to work upon her expression and physiognomy. Her mummied head tells us the story of an unexpected and instantaneous death." .
A cat that has once taken to poaching mill never again con- descend to rats and mice when game or rabbits can be had. It is commonly supposed that cats may be hindered from poaching by " doctoring " their ears, that is to say, cutting them off short, and clipping the hairs that line their large openings ; but Mr. Buck- land says that this will only keep puss at home in wet weather or immediately after it. On a fine day, when no drops of water hang on the bushes and grass, ready to fall into her mutilated ears, she will surely be at her old ticks again. Gamekeepers look upon the cat as "the worst vermin in existence, for although not hungry, she will kill for sport," and if she have kittens in the woods, it is incredible what havoc she will commit. Proofs of her ' guilt are seldom lacking ; if the corpus delicti be a rabbitskin the case is clear ; for, as the keeper deposes,—
• Curiosities of Natural History. Second Series. By Francis T. Buckland MA., 8r.e. Published by Bentley. i "'Every animal has his own way of killing and eating his prey. The eat always turns the skin insidsout, leaving the same reversed like a glove. The weasel and stoat will eat the brain and nibble about the head, and suck the blood. The fox will always leave the legs and hinder parts of a hare or a rabbit ; the dog tears its prey to pieces, and eats it 'anyhow—all over the place;' the crows and magpies always peck out the eyes before they touch any part of the body.'"
• "The heads of dogs are seldom seen in the keeper's museum. He gene- rally buries them. I have heard a theory that the reason why the game- keepers generally can produce finer gooseberries, cabbages, Sze., than his neighbours, is that his garden is well manured with defunct dogs buried all about it. If an Englishman is persecuted and followed by a yelping cur, he can generally manage to get rid of him by stooping down and pretending to pick up a stone, for all curs have a mortal dread of a thrown stone ; but on the bogs of Ireland the dogs don't care a bit if the person they are barking at pretends to pick up a atone; they know, cunning brutes, there are no stones in the bogs to be picked up and thrown at them, but they act very differently if there happens to be a heap of stories anywhere handy. It is an unpleasant situation to be attacked by a dog ; if you are so circum- stanced, never attempt to run, try throwing a stone at him, present your hat in your hand, and when he has seized it, hit him with a stick across the the nose or fore-kg. These are the most vulnerable points in a dog ; a blow on any other part of the head but the nose won't hurt him a bit. "If a dog comes up to you and growls, and won't be friendly, don't with- draw from him ; put on a bold face, and stretch your hand towards him, keeping it quite still (if you withdraw it after stretching it out he will bite you) ; the dog will come up and smell the hand, and, having once done this, will be your friend for life. A chimney-sweep once made a match to fight a bull-dog single-handed, armed only with his brush. He entered the arena with his brush in one hand and a foot of bramble bush covered with thorns in the other. The dog sprung at him ; he presented the bramble- bush to the animal, who seized it in his mouth, and so got hooked by the thorns on it; the chimney-sweep belaboured him over the head and nose with the back of the brush, and won the match. We may learn from this, that if a man is attacked by a bull-dog, he should hold out a stick between his hands, and present it to the dog, who will seize it, and give the man time for further measures. A rat-catcher lately told me that he had a monkey that would be a match for any dog in any pit.' The monkey was given a short stout stick ; he watched his opportunity, sprang on the dog's back, it was impossible for the dog to throw him, and the monkey beat him about the head at his will."
In Greece, where the dogs are as savage and as hostile to way- farers as they were in the days of Ulysses' it is a law amongst them to this day, that if the stranger will sit down at their ap- rioach they will halt in front of him, and forbear from molesting m so long as he sits still ; but if he dare to budge, they show their teeth immediately. "A Hunt on the Sea Shore," the longest section of Mr. Buck- land's volume, is full of interesting matter. He found subjects for curious speculation, even in the rubbish mingled with the shingle on the Brighton beach, the rolled bits of clay and glass bottles, tobacco-pipes, slag from the gas-works, Sre. These things "are of no use in themselves ; but imagine the beach to become suddenly fossil, and bow interesting would all these bits of rubbish then become, as proving the existence of a highly civilized people who once inhabited these shores." Among this jetsam and flotsam Mr. Buckland discovered a ball, as large as a good sized turnip, and quite as round, composed entirely of hu- man hair. The combs of the Brighton people had supplied. the materials which the drains had conveyed to the sea, there to be- come felted together by the waves perpetually rolling the mass on the hard shingle. On the end of an iron drainpipe, and moulded to it by a thick spun sheet nearly as firm as a door-mat, Mr. Buekland found a colony of mussels ; and this reminds him that the French engineers in Cherbourg have thrown several tons of mussels upon the breakwater, in order that these little workmen may bind the loose stones together with a living cement, more durable than any ever invented by man. Our author is very amusing and instructive on the subject of whales aground on our coasts. About thirty years ago a sperm whale between seventy and eighty feet long was captured at Whitstable. An anatomist was engaged in dissecting the enormous heart when his foot slipped, and he fell into the great artery, the aorta, down which he would have dropped and been smothered if aid had not been luckily at hand. "To show the narrow escape he had, he subse- quently cut rings out of this aorta, and found he could pass them, without stretching, over his head and shoulders right down to his feet." John Hunter's assistant, Mr. Clift, incautiously stepped upon the tongue of a whale that was moored off the Isle of Dogs, and sank in the huge spongy mass which had become exceedingly soft from exposure to the air. In a few seconds he would have lost his life, when he was with great difficulty hauled out of the oily bog with a boat-hook. Mr. Buckland's story of the whale caught in a seine-net is too good to be abridged; we give it in his own words- " Once upon a time, as Mr. Smith, one of the most experienced of the Folkestone fisherman, tells me, a large whale appeared off Weymouth, and was seen by several fishermen. The affair was talked over at night in the public houses, and one of the company, who happened to have a new seine- net which he had never used, was much taunted about it, and he was dared to go and net this whale with his new net. At first he took it as a joke, but, tinder the influence of beer and the chaff of his comrades, he stamped his hand on the table and said, Well, d— me, if I don't go and shoot the net after him, catch or no catch.' Accordingly a sentry was posted, and the next morning the whale was signalled as being in the offing. So the owner of the new seine put it into the boat, and, rowing quietly along, shot the net round the unsuspicious whale. At last Master Whale put his nose into the net, and feeling something strange, charged against it, dragging men, boats, and all along with him. He then plunged and dived, and ul- timately taking the new seine-net, rolled *bent his body, right away with him, in spite of all the fishermen could do. They looked after the whale, who had gone off with the net, much as an angler looks into the water when a fine fish has escaped from his hook; but, however, the whale was gone, and the would-be captors rowed home disconsolate and whaleless.
" Some three or four days afterwards, as a coastguard was going his
rounds in the dead of the night, he saw a huge black mass come rolling in with the tide ; it looked like a wreck, yet it was not a wreck, for a wreck has not a tail wherewith to flop the water as the object had. The coast- guardsman waited till the tide turned, and as it went down he got near to this strange object, which,had got hard and fast among the rocks. He then saw that it was a whale, and, what was exceeding strange, the whale had a net entanglod round about him in the most complicated manner. First come, first served,' said the coastguardsman to himself, as he pulled out his knife and cut two great slashes in the whale's fat sides, during which opera- tion (mark it, 0 reader) the whale kicked and evinced signs of life. The finder then shut up his knife and posted off with the news. Of course, as there was a net round the whale, his identity was established directly, and the owner of the net claimed the carcass because his net had cavglit him ; the coastguardsman claimed it because he had found him. Meanwhile, when the dispute was still going on, the lord of the manor put in his claim, as it was found between high and low water mark, gained It, and took pos- session of the whale, cut him up and boiled all the oil out of him, getting forty barrels, worth a lot of money; and there the matter ended.
"Some weeks afterwards, as the coastguard was sitting on his donkey ' (the term applied to the portable stool used by these men), a respectable looking gentleman walked up to him, and said, 'My man, don't you re- collect the whale that you found hereabouts some time since?' ' Yes,
said the man, it was me as found him.' 'Well, now, can't you recollect whether, when you cut him (as they tell me you did), he kicked and winced under the knife ? " In course he did ! ' was the answer ; he nearly knocked the knife out of my hand with his tail.' 'Well, then,' said the old gentleman, bristling up all of a sudden, 'now, I am a lawyer, and mind that you tell the same story tomorrow, air; for, as sure as tomorrow comes, you will have to swear that in court.' On the morrow the coastguards- man swore that the whale was alive when first he saw him on shore, and that he knew it by the knife test, as stated above. It was now the lord of the manor's turn to sing small, for he could not claim a thing if cast up alive. He had to refund the money he got for the oil, having taken all his trouble for nothing; so that, after all, the owner of the new seine caught his whale, got his new net back, and nearly a hundred pounds besides."