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P R E F A C E.
NATURAL History, considered in its utmost extent, comprehends two objects. First, that of discovering, ascertaining, and naming all the various productions of Nature. Secondly, that of describing the properties, manners, and relations, which they bear to us, and to each other. The first, which is the most difficult part of the science, is systematical, dry, mechanical, and incomplete. The second is more amusing, exhibits new pictures to the imagination, and improves our relish for existence, by widening the prospect of Nature around us.
Both, however, are necessary to those who would understand this pleasing science in its utmost extent. The first care of every enquirer, no doubt, should be, to see, to visit, and examine every object, before he pretends to inspect its habitudes or its history. From seeing and observing the thing itself, he is most naturally led to speculate upon its uses, its delights, or its inconveniencies.
Numberless obstructions, however, are found in this part of his pursuit, that frustrate his diligence and retard his curiosity. The objects in Nature are so many, and even those of the same kind are exhibited in such a variety of forms, that the enquirer finds himself lost, in the exuberance before him, and like a man who attempts to count the stars unassisted by art, his powers are all distracted in barren superfluity.
To remedy this embarrassment artificial systems have been devised, which grouping into masses those parts of Nature more nearly resembling each other, re
fer the enquirer for the name of the single object he desires to know, to some one of those general distributions, where it is to be found by further exami. nation. If, for instance, a man should in his walks meet with an animal, the name, and consequently the history of which he desires to know, he is taught by systematic writers of Natural History to exam mine its most obvious qualities, whether a quadru pede, a bird, a fish, or an insect. Having determined it, for explanation sake, to be an insect, he examines whether it has wings; if he finds it possessed of these, he is taught to examine whether it has two or four; if possessed of four, he is taught to observe, whether the two upper wings are of a shelly hardness, and serve as cases to those under them; if he finds the wings composed in this manner, he is then taught to pronounce that this insect is one of the bee tle kind; of the beetle kind there are three different classes, distinguished from each other by their feelers; he examines the insect before him, and finds that the feelers are elevated or knobbed at the ends; of beetles, with feelers thus formed, there are ten kinds, and among those, he is taught to look for the precise name of that which is before him. If, for instance, the knob be divided at the ends, and the belly be streaked with white, it is no other than the Dor or the Maybug, an animal, the noxious qualities of which give it a very distinguished rank in the history of the insect creation. In this manner a system of Natural History may, in some measure, be compared to a dictionary of words. Both are solely intended to explain the names of things; but with this difference, that in the dictionary of words we are led from the name of the thing to its definition, whereas in the system of Natural History, we are led from the definition to find out the name.
Such are the efforts of writers, who have composed their works with great labour and ingenuity, to direct the learner in his progress through Nature, and to inform him of the name of every ani. mal, plant, or fossil substance, that he happens to meet with; but it would be only deceiving the reader, to conceal the truth, which is, that books alone can never teach him this art in perfection; and the solitary student can never succeed. Without a master and a previous knowledge of many of the objects in Nature, his book will only serve to confound and disgust him. Few of the individual plants or animals that he may happen to meet with, are in that precise state of health, or that exact period of vegetation, whence their descriptions were ta. ken. Perhaps he meets the plant only with leaves, but the systematic writer has described it in flower. Perhaps he meets the bird before it has moulted its first feathers, while the systematic description was made in the state of full perfection. He thus ranges without an instructor, confused and with sickening curiosity from subject to subject, till at last he gives up the pursuit, in the multiplicity of his disappoint ments. Some practice, therefore, much instruction and diligent reading are requisite to make a ready and expert Naturalist, who shall be able, even by the help of a system, to find out the name of every object he meets with. But when this tedious, though requisite part of study is attained, nothing but delight and variety attend the rest of his journey. Wherever he travels, like a man in a country where he has many friends, he meets with nothing but acquaintances and allurements in all stages of his way. The mere uninformed spectator passes on in gloonny solitude, but the Naturalist, in every plant, in every insect, and every pebble, finds some. thing to entertain his curiosity, and excite his speculation. VOL. IV.
Hence it appears, that a system may be considered as a dictionary in the study of Nature. The ancients, however, who have all written most delightfully on this subject, seem entirely to have rejected those humble and mechanical helps of science. They contented themselves with seizing upon the great outlines of history, and passing over what was common, as not worth the detail; they only dwelt upon what was new, great and surprising, and sometimes even warmed the imagination at the expence of truth. Such of the moderns as revived this science in Europe, undertook the task more methodically, though not in a manner so pleasing. Aldrovandus, Gesner, and Johnson seemed desirous of uniting the entertaining and rich descriptions of the
ancients with the dry and systematic arrangement of • which they were the first projectors. This attempt, however, was extremely imperfect, as the great variety of Nature was, as yet, but very inadequately known. Nevertheless, by attempting to carry on both objects at once; first, of directing us to the name of the things, and than giving the detail of its - history, they drew out their works into a tedious and unreasonable length; and thus mixing incompatible aims, they have left their labours, rather to be occasionally consulted, than read with delight by posterity.
The later moderns, with that good sense which they have carried into every other part of science, have taken a different method in cultivating Natural History. They have been content to give, not only the brevity, but also the dry and digusting air of a dictionary to their systems. Ray, Klin, Brisson, and Linnæus, have had only one aim, that of pointing out the object in Nature, of discovering its name, and where it was to be found in those authors; that treated of it in a more prolix and satisfactory manner. Thus Natural History at present is carried
on in two distinct and separate channels, the one serving to lead us to the thing, the other conveying the history of the thing as supposing it alreadyknown.
The following Natural History is written with only such an attention to system as serves to remove the reader's embarrassments, and allure him to proceed. It can make no pretensions in directing him to the name of every object he meets with; that belongs to works of a very different kind, and written with very different aims. It will fully answer my design, if the reader, being already possessed of the name of any animal, shall find here a short, though satisfactory history of its habitudes, its subsistence, its manners, its friendships and hostilities. My aim has been to carry on just as much method, as was sufficient to shorten my descriptions by generalizing them, and never to follow order where the art of writing, which is but another name for good sense, informed me that it would only contribute to the reader's embarrassment.
Still, however, the reader will perceive that I have formed a kind of system in the history of every part of Animated Nature, directing myself by the great and obvious distinctions that she herself seems to have made, which, though too few to point exactly to the name, are yet sufficient to illuminate the sube ject, and remove the reader's perplexity. Mr. Buffon, indeed, who has brought greater talents to this part of learning than any other man, has almost entirely rejected method in classing quadru. pedes. This, with great deference to such a character, appears to me running into the opposite ex. treme; and, as some moderns have of late spent much time, great pains, and some learning, all to very little purpose, in systematic arrangement, he seems so much "disgusted by their trifling, but ostentatious efforts, that he describes his animals al.