20 MAY 1905, Page 19

POPULAR NATURAL HISTORY.* IT was a favourite saying of St.

Thomas Aquinas : Utri eves ibi angeli. Whether he would have included owls we are

• (1) Bird Life and Bird Lore. By R. Bosworth Smith. With Illustrations. London : John Murray. (10s. 8d.)—(2) Natural History in Zoological Gardens. By Frank E. Beddard, M.A., F.B.S., F.Z.S., ate. With Illustrations by Gambier Bolton and Winifred Austen. London: A. Constable and Co. [6s. net.]—(3) British Bird Life. By W. Percival Westell, M.B.O.U., Ste. With an Introduction by the Bight Hon. Sir Herbert Maxwell, Bart., and 60 Illus- trations from Original Drawings by Arthur Martin, and Photographs taken direct from Nature. London : T. Fisher lInwin. [5s.]—(4) Peeps into Nature's Ways. By John J. Ward. Illustrated from Photographs and,hoto- micrographs taken by the Author. London : Isbister and Co. cm. 6d. doubtful, for they have always been regarded with super- stitious horror, and the spirit of rationalism has not yet dispelled the notion that owls are birds of ill omen. Owls are chosen by Mr. R. Bosworth Smith as the subject of the first chapter of his very pleasant book, most of which has already appeared in the shape of articles in the Nineteenth Century, Bailey's Magazine, and the Outlook. It is just such a book as we have a right to expect from one who is a keen amateur ornithologist, who has made a collection from the poetry and the folk-lore of all nations, and who writes like a scholar and a gentleman. It is a hard task convincing farmers, and still more gamekeepers, that owls are useful birds, and not noxious vermin. But we do not despair. The pole-trap is now made illegal by Act of Parliament, and we think Mr. R. Bosworth Smith would have done better had he revised those parts of the chapters which were written when that detestable engine of cruelty was in common use among game-preservers. " Their houses shall be full of doleful creatures ; and owls shall dwell there," wrote the Prophet Isaiah ; and the same author places together " an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls," as things equally awful. In classic literature the sacred bird of Pallas Athene fares equally ill. Loathsome, moping, and unclean are the usual epithets applied to it. An owl pre- dicted the downfall of Carthage, and the death of Julius Caesar. When a poor owl blundered into a Roman house, it was nailed alive and struggling to the door, to avert evil. There is a mysterious line in Shakespeare which runs : " The owl is said to have been the baker's daughter." The allusion is apparently to a legend that our Lord begged bread of a baker, who was about to give it, when his daughter demurred, and, as a punishment, she was turned into an owl. Tennyson, who is thought, quite wrongly, to have had a great knowledge of birds, describes it thus :—

" Alone and warming his five wits,

The white owl in the belfry sits."

This is true enough, and suggests a problem as to what the owls do of a Sunday morning when the bells are rung a few feet off, for they have the most exquisitely sensitive organs of hearing.

The raven is the next bird to be dealt with, and he holds a yet higher place in ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, fable and poetry. Some modern ornithologists place him at the head of all birds, thus dethroning the bird of Jupiter and emblem of Imperial power. In Rome be was placed at the head of the oscines, or birds of omen. He was the sacred bird of the Teutonic and Scandinavian races. It may well be supposed that Mr. R. Bosworth Smith, who has kept tame ravens, as he has tame owls, has plenty to say. Poetry, history, hagiology, folk-lore, and personal experiences all contribute to supply material about the raven. " A large black fowl, said to be remarkably voracious, and whose cry is pretended to be ominous," is Dr. Johnson's description. The raven, though in some ways uncanny, is not mobbed by small birds like the owl. The owl being nocturnal and very unlike other birds in appearance, they hardly recognise it as one of themselves. Mr. R. Bosworth Smith, who was for many years a Harrow master, points out the likeness between birds and boys. A boy at school who is unlike other boys and has higher interests than athletics is dubbed "mad," and too often suffers from the persecution of his comrades. It is worthy of note that the raven and crow have the honour of being mentioned more often by Shakespeare than any other birds ; and both are frequently contrasted in character with the dove. The raven has vanished now, chiefly owing to persecution by game- keepers, from many districts in England; though ravens nested in Hyde Park as late as the early nineteenth century, and in the rural parts of Middlesex and Surrey and Essex until much later. As a pet, he is unsurpassed by any other bird, with the possible exception of the magpie, to which graceful rascal another chapter of this book is devoted. Pie is the Latin pica, which became pyot in Scotland, pyanot in Northumberland, and pynot in Lancashire. Does the name haggister still exist in Kent? Ovid, whom Mr. It. Bosworth Smith calls a real observer of birds, the best, he thinks, in the whole range of classical literature, noted the magpie's power of talking : imitantes mania pica :— " Among the Romans not a bird Without a prophecy was heard;

Fortunes of empires often hung On the magician magpie's tongue."

Like the raven, her legends begin with Noah. The magpie was the only bird, it is said, though not recorded in Genesis, which refused to come into the ark, and remained chattering on the roof. Another chapter deals with the wild duck, and here sport rather than fable is to the fore. Two agreeably written chapters—though the birds in them play, to our regret, a minor part—describe Stafford Rectory, with its thatched roof, and the old manor house at Bingham's Melcombe. Both are in Dorset, and are associated with the author's earlier and later years. Among a few errors, we have noted a statement that the water-rail very rarely stays to breed in this country, and that no one has ever yet been able to explain the drumming of snipe. We may also point out that it is the County Councils and the Home Secretary, and not the " Magistrates," who fix the close seasons for wild birds. Some photographic illustrations do not contribute much to the charm of the book, which lies chiefly in the writer's great love of his subject.

Of a totally different kind is Mr. Beddard's book, which is the work of a scientific and professional zoologist writing a popular volume which he describes as " some account of vertebrated animals, with special reference to those usually to be seen in the Zoological Society's gardens in London and similar institutions." About a hundred animals are described as types of vertebrate life, and in one sense the little book is an introduction to zoology, in another it forms a guide-book for the intelligent visitor to the gardens. Mr. Gambier Bolton's photographs of living animals are much too well known for us to praise them again, and the lady who has contributed the other illustrations deserves even more honour-

able mention. Her drawings are admirable. As for the text, the introductory chapter would have been much more valuable if there had been some table showing the outlines of scientific classification and the relations of classes to orders and sub-king- doms. The same may be said of the chapter on the characters and classification of the mammalia. For the rest, the book is very fairly readable, and, in a rather disconnected fashion, contains a deal of interesting zoology. A book which covers the whole ground from the chimpanzee to the salamander is not to be expected. We are told, for instance, how the gibbon is the only monkey which does not swim, and thus its range is often limited by great rivers such as the Irrawaddy; how the rhinoceros which Diirer drew belonged to the King of Portugal, who found it so savage that he sent it to the Pope as a present, but it sank the vessel in an access of fury ; how Behemoth of the Book of Job is not the hippopotamus, but the mammoth (or elephant), " B " and " M " being interchange- able in Arabic ; how the giraffe has only seven vertebrae like other mammals with shorter necks ; how the European bison is not the "aurochs." Why, then, does Mr. Beddard call it aurochs under the photograph ? These are merely examples of the sort of information which the book gives. Birds, reptiles, and amphibians are included in a fashion, but fishes are apparently forgotten. Though sometimes pedantic, the book is not a "dry" one. It is a pity that Mr. Beddard delights in using such expressions as " edentulous " for toothless; "pentadactyle limb" for hand or foot ; "dental apparatus" for teeth ; and " tritmition " for chewing.

We are, unfortunately, not able to say much in favour of Mr. W. Percival Westell's book. The title is misleading, since only birds which regularly nest in the British Isles are included ; and the alphabetical order is inconvenient. Mistle- thrush will be found under " T," but wood-lark must be sought under " W." Some of those illustrations which are from photographs are good and well reproduced, but the original drawings have little merit. The information in the text is unreliable, and grammar as well as sense are frequently disregarded by the writer. We will say no more, and are sorry that we have to say such harsh things.

Mr. Ward's book, in spite of a somewhat offensive title, is a good work of a sort which now finds many readers. It is written in a simple and popular style, and a series of discon- nected chapters serve as commentary upon a great number of exceedingly good photographs taken by the author. The book is made doubly attractive by the fact that these photo- graphs are not reproduced on the detestable glazed paper which is now so common. There are over a hundred and fifty illustrations, which are the foundation of the book.

Some of these which show us very minute objects under the microscope, such as the tentacles of a hydra, the lancets of a flea, and the catkins of willow or hazel, are extremely interesting. The titles of a few of the chapters indicate the variety of subjects which Mr. Ward has chosen to write upon: the life-histories of the lappet moths and orange-tip butterflies, insect masqueraders, plant battles, gnats and mosquitoes, and the story of the gorse plant. Portions of the book have appeared as magazine articles, but they are worth republishing for the sake of the large class who like a small dose of accurate scientific information conveyed in popular language with attractive illustrations.