ePub 版

WATERTON'S WANDERINGS IN SOUTH AMERICA.* The extracts from this work which appeared occasionally in the newspapers, conveyed to us a very erroneous idea of its character, and we took it up—we will not mince the matter—with the expectation of finding it somewhat in the Munchausen vein. There are certainly two or three surprising adventures in the book, and as they are recounted with a studied quaintness, in imitation of the style of the old travellers, they remind us very strongly of the various amusing little satires on invention which have been composed in the manner of those worthies. We were struck in these adventures by the free use of the first person, which is also so conspicuous in the histories of certain voyagers whom we do not care to name in the same page with Mr. Waterton; the first person is with them always first in every affair where danger is to be incurred, and honour and glory are to be acquired. So it is with Mr. Waterton in some two or three tastles with serpents, and therefore, with the rashness and infirmity of judgment by which London Magazine writers, as well as all the rest of mankind, are occasionally led astray, we ranked our author in our own minds with those historians who do not discriminate with sufficient nicety between their own faculties of memory and invention. It was a foolish and a wicked thing in us to come to this false conclusion on such insufficient evidence, but we repent it-and can we say more?

We had not read six pages of Mr. Waterton's book indeed before we discovered our error, and found that we had fallen into excellent hands (we trust that his book will return the compliment, and say as much of us.). In recording his wanderings in South America he affects the quaint old style it is true, but with the style he has caught the spirit of some of our ancient and amiable egotists, and that spirit is a very delightful one, for it is a spirit of goodness which leads the writer to view every living thing, however mean its place in the scale of the creation, not only with a tolerant, but a kindly feeling, and to discover some claim on our sympathies in the most repulsive and despised creatures. Mr. Waterton is a naturalist, and a fine critic he is on nature's works, for he finds beauties in all her productions, and not only finds them himself but makes us see and feel them too. He has also in perfeetion that attribute which should be inseperable from the critical capacity, the love of justice; and this sentiment has prompted him to vindicate from aspersion the characters of some creatures which have laboured under the unmerited ill report of man. He has put the characters of the woodpecker, the goat-sucker, and the sloth right with the world; and he has even given a good word to the vulture: he has done more, but these we name because we shall show how he has laboured in the cause of these traduced creatures, and if the reader can smile at the earnestness of his zeal without respecting the benevolent feeling whence it springs, and admiring the skill of the advocacy, he is not worthy of the treat which we are going to set before him. For our parts we are free to confess that, in our judgment, if Mr. Waterton's Wanderings in South America had produced nothing but his vindiction of the sloth, he

Wanderings in South America, the North-west of the United States, and the Antilles, &c. &c. By Chwies Waterton, Esq. 4to. London, Mawman, 1826.

would on this score alone have deserved well of the universe, and merited a vote of thanks from nature for his labours in behalf of one of her belied creatures. Conceive, that for centuries man has been calumniating the sloth, and that now for the first time we are taught our error, and learn that this byc-word for indolence is in fact a most active animal that is, after a sort. The sloth, indeed, in some respects may be resembled to an Irish peasant, for he lives on the rudest and the scantiust nourishment, is never easy in a smooth path, and never busy but in a breeze. We make no apology for plunging in medias res, and coming at once to Mr. Waterton's vindication of the sloth, because the natural history of South America is the staple of our author's book, and we cannot give a better specimen than that which we now subjoin of the delightful manner in which he communicates to us the results of his enquiries in this interesting province of science.

This is the native country of the sloth. His looks, his gestures, and his cries, all conspire to entreat you to take pity on bim. These are the only weapons of defence which nature hath given him. While other animals assemble in herds, or in pairs, range through these boundless wilds, the sloth is solitary, and almost stationary ; he cannot escape from you. It is said, his piteous moans make the tiger relent, and turn out of his way. Do not then level your gun at him, or pierce him with a poisoned arrow ;-he has never huit one living creature. A few leaves, and those of the commonest and coarsest kind, are all he asks for his support. On comparing hin with other animals, you would say that you could perceive deficiency, deformity, and superabundance in bis composition. He has no cutting teeth, and though four stomachs, he still wants the long intestines of ruminating animals. He has only one inferior aperture, as in birds. He has no soles to his feet, nor has he the power of moving his toes separately. His hair is flat, and puts you in mind of grass withered by the wintry blast. His legs are too short; they appear deformed by the manner in which they are joined to the body, and when he is on the ground, they seem as if only calculated to be of use in climbing trees. He has forty-six ribs, while the elephant only has forty; and his claws are disproportionably long. Were you to mark down upon a graduated scale, the different claims to superiority amongst the four footed animals, this poor, ill-formed creature's claim would be the last upon the lowest degree.-(P. 8.)

Let us turn our attention to the sloth, whose native haunts have hitherto been so little known, and probably little looked into. Those who have written on this singular animal have remarked that he is in a perpetual state of pain, that he is proverbially slow in his movements, that he is a prisoner in space, and that as soon as he has consumed all the leaves of the tree upon which he had mounted, he rolls himself up in the form of a ball, and then falls to the ground. This is not the case.

If the naturalists who have written the history of the sloth had gone into the wilds, in order to examine his haunts and economy, they would not have drawn the foregoing conclusions; they would have learned, that though all other quadrupeds may be des. cribed while resting on the ground, the sloth is an exception to this rule, and that his history must be written while he is in the tree.

This singular animal is destined by nature to be produced, to live and to die in the trees; and to do justice to him, naturalists must examine him in this his upper element. Jle is a scarce and solitary animal, and being good food, he is never allowed to escape. He inhabits remote and gloomy forests, where snakes take up their abode, and where cruelly stinging ants and scorpions, and swamps and innumerable thorny shrubs and bushes, obstruct the steps of civilized man. Viere you to draw your own conclusions from the descriptions which have been given of the sloth, you would probably suspect that no nāturalist had actually gone into the wilds with the fixed determination to find him out and examine his haunts, and see whether nature has committed any blunder in the formation of this extraordinary creature, which appears to us so forlorn and miserable, so ill put together, and so totally unfit to enjoy the blessings which have been so bouutifully given to the rest of animated nature ; for, as it has formerly been remarked, he has no soles to his feet, and he is evidently ill at ease when he tries to move on the ground, and it is then that he looks up in your face with a countenanco

“ llare pity on me, for I am in pain and sorrow.”

that says,

It mostly happens that Indians and Negroes are the people who catch the sloth, and bring it to the white man: hence it may be conjectured that the erroneous accounts we have hitherto had of the sloth, have noc been penned down with the slightest intention to mislead the reader, or give him an exaggerated history, but that these errors have naturally arisen by examining the sloth in those places where nature never intended that he should be exhibited.

However, we are now in his own domain. Man but little frequents these thick and noble forests, which extends far and wide on every side of us. This, then, is the proper place to go in quest of the sloth. We will first take a near view of him. By obtaining a knowledge of his anatomy, we shall be enabled to account for his movements hereafter, when we see him in his proper haunts. His fore legs, or, more correctly speaking, his arms, are apparently much too long, while his hind legs are very short, and look as if they could be bent almost to the shape of a corkscrew. Both the fore and hind legs, by their form, and by the manner in which they are joined to the body, are quite incapacitated from acting in a perpendicular direction, or in supporting it on the earth, as the bodies of other quadrupeds are supported, by their legs. Hence, when you place him on the floor, his belly touches the ground. Now, granted, that he supported himself on his legs like other animals, nevertheless he would be in pain, for he bas no soles to his feet, and his claws are very sharp and long, and curved; so that, were his body supported by his feet, it would be by their extremities, just as your body would be were you to throw yourself on all-fours, and try to support it on the ends of your toes and fingers-a trying position. Were the floor of glass, or of a polished surface, the sloth would actually be quite stationary ; but as the ground is generally rough, with little protuberances upon it, such as stones, or roots of grass, &c., this just suits the sloth, and he moves his fore legs in all directions in order to find something to lay hold of; and when he has succeeded, he pulls himself forward, and is thus enabled to travel onwards, but at the same time in so tardy and awkward a manner, as to acquire him the name of sloth.

Indeed his looks and his gestures evidently betray his uncomfortable situation; and as a sigh every now and then escapes him, we may be entitled to conclude that he is actually in pain.

Some years ago I kept a sloth in my room for several months. I often took him out of the house, and placed him upon the ground, in order to have an opportunity of observing his motions. If the ground were rough, he would pull himself forwards, by means of his fore legs, at a pretty good pace, and he invariably shaped his course towards the nearest tree. But if I put him upon a smooth and well-trodden part of the road, he appeared to be in trouble and distress : his favourite abode was the back of a chair; and after getting all his legs in a line upon the topmost part of it, he would hang there for hours together, and often, with a low and inward cry, would seem to invite me to take notice of him.*

The sloth, in its wild state, spends its whole life in the trees, and never leaves them but through force or accident. An all-ruling Providence has ordered man to tread on the surface of the earth, the eagle to soar in the expanse of the skies, and the monkey and squirrel to inhabit the trees : still these may change their relative situations without feeling much inconvenience : but the sloth is doomed to spend his whole life in the trees; and what is more extraordinary, not upon the branches, like the squirrel and the monkey, but under them. He moves suspended from the branch, he rests suspended from it, and he sleeps suspended from it. To enable him to do this, he must have a very different formation from that of any other known quadruped.

Hence, his seemingly bungled conformation is at once acconnted for; and in lieu of the sloth leading a painful life, and entailing a melancholy and miserable existence on its progeny, it is but fair to surmise that it just enjoys life as much as any other animal, and that its extraordinary formation and singular habits are but further proofs to engage us to admire the wonderful works of Omnipotence.

It must be observed, that the sloth does not hang head downwards like the vampire. When asleep, he supports himself on a branch parallel to the earth. He first seizes the branch with one arm, and then with the other; and after that, brings up both his legs, one by one, to the same branch; so that all four are in a line: he seems perfectly at rest in this position. Now, had he a tail, he would be at a loss to know what to do with it in this position : were he to draw it up within his legs, it would interfere with them; and were he to let it hang down it would become the sport of the winds. Thus

* By this action the sloth signified, as plainly as a sloth can signify any thing, the manner of life which was agreeable to him.--Rev.

his deficiency of tail is a benefit to him ; it is merely an apology for a tail, scarcely exceeding an inch and a half in length.

I observed when he was climbing, he never used his arms both together, but first one and then the other, and so on alternately. There is a singularity in his hair, different from that of all other animals, and, I believe, hitherto unnoticed by naturalists; his hair is thick and coarse at the extremity, and gradually tapers to the root, where it becomes fine as the finest spider's web. His fur has so much the hue of the moss which grows on the branches of the trees, that it is very difficult to make him out when he is at rest.

The male of the three-toed sloth has a longitudinal bar of very fine black hair on his back, rather lower than the shoulder-blades; on each side of this black bar there is a space of yellow hair, equally fine ; it has the appearance of being pressed into the body, and looks exactly as if it had been singed. If we examine the anatomy of his fore legs, we shall immediately perceive by their firm and muscular texture, how very capable they are of supporting the pendent weight of his body, both in climbing and at rest; and, instead of pronouncing them a bungled composition, as a celebrated paturalist has done, we shall consider them as remarkably well calculated to perform their extraordinary functions.

As the sloth is an inhabitant of forests within the tropics, where the trees touch each other in the greatest profusion, there seems to be no reason why he should confine himself to one tree alone for food, and entirely strip it of its leaves. During the many years I have ranged the forests, I have never seen a tree in such a state of nudity; indeed I would hazard a conjecture, that, by the time the animal had finished the last of the old leaves, there would be a new crop on the part of the tree he had stripped first, ready for him to begin again, so quick is the process of vegetation in these countries.

There is a saying amongst the Indians, that when the wind blows, the sloth begins to travel. In calm weather he remains tranquil

, probably not liking to cling to the brittle extremity of the branches, lest they should break with him in passing from one tree to another; but as soon as the wind rises, the branches of the neighbouring trees become interwoven, and then the sloth seizes hold of them, and pursues his journey in safety. There is seldom an entire day of calm in these forests. The trade wind generally sets in about ten o'clock in the morning, and thus the sloth may set off after breakfast, and get a considerable way before dinner. He travels at a good round pace; and were you to see him pass from tree to tree, as I have done, you would never think of çalling him a sloth.

Thus it would appear that the different histories we have of this quadruped are erroneous on two accounts: first, that the writers of them, deterred by difficulties and local annoyances, have not paid sufficient attention to him in his native haunts; and secondly, they have described him in a situation in which he was never intended by nature to cut a figure, I mean on the ground. The sloth is as much at a loss to proceed on his journey upon a smooth and level floor, as a man would be who had to walk a mile in stilts upon a line of feather beds.

One day, as we were crossing the Essequibo, I saw a large two-toed sloth on the ground upon the bank; how he bad got there nobody could tell : the Indian said he had never surprised a sloth in such a situation before ; he would hardly have come there to drink, for both above and below the place, the branches of the trees touched the water, and afforded him an easy and safe access to it. Be this as it may, though the trees were not above twenty yards from him, he could not make his way through the sand time enough to escape before we landed. As soon as we got up to him he threw himself upon his back, and defended himself in gallant style with his fore legs. "Come, poor fellow,” said I to him, “if thou hast got into a hobble to-day thou shalt not suffer for it: I'll take no advantage of thee in misfortune ; the forest is large enough both for thee and me to rove in : go thy ways up above, and enjoy thyself in these endless wilds ; it is more than probable thou wilt never have another interview with man. So, fare thee well.” On saying this, I took up a long stick which was lying there, held it for him to hook on, and then conveyed him to a high and stately mora." He ascended with wonderful rapidity, and in about a minute be was almost at the top of the tree. He now went off in a side direction, and caught hold of the branch of a neighbouring tree; he then proceeded towards the heart of the forest, I stood looking on, lost in amazement at his singular mode of progress. I followed him with my eye vill the intervening branches closed in betwixt us; and then I lost sight for ever of the twotoed sloth. I was going to add, that I never saw a sloth take to his heels ia such earnest; but the expression will not do, for the sloth has no hecls.-(P.161-169.)

Now, reader, confess that you are the wiser and the better, that

you are informed more correctly, and think more justly of the sloth, and that you admire the ability of his advocate, who has so interested us in the economy of his hitherto contemned little client. Nothing can be more skilful than this defence. First the sloth is brought before us in a posture to touch our compassion, he is placed on the earth, the theatre of man's and sloth's sorrow, and his troubles are made to speak in his countenance, “ have pity on me, for I am in pain and sorrow;" he is as much perplexed by the smoothness of his terrestrial path as we bipeds are by the roughness of our's; he is like an Irishman in London, he lacks congenial difficulties, and cannot make his way comfortably for want of rude encounters—there is nothing for him to struggle with; his parts are destined for rough places, and he pines in the plane; Nature did not fashion him for a polished state of things, she placed him in pathless forests, and, seeing how bad the travelling was, and the probability of a capsize, she ordained, with a view to the consistency of his carriage, that he should upset for a journey and scramble away from twig to twig belly upwards. When then he is shown to us on the earth back upwards, he is obviously in an unhappy false position, by no means suited to a sloth's abilities, and his awkward distress touches our compassion. It is then proved to us that we have given him a bad name merely because we have observed him out of his element; man has, with his accustomed rashness, belied him because he met with him out of his proper sphere of action. The author shows us how great the sloth is when in his proper station, the forest; and how actively he bestirs him, when the wind blows, in making a passage from one tree to another; as busy, as the sailors say, as the devil in a gale of wind, but more innocent. When we read these things we cannot choosc but confess that the despised sloth has both parts and industry, and we conceive a sort of kindness for so grievously traduced, and so really enterprising a traveller. Honour to Mr. Waterton who has rescued one of God's creatures from the calumny of man's tongue !

But our author's successful labours in the behalf of the belied creation are not confined to our now respected friend, the sloth. The woodpecker is under weighty obligations to Mr. Waterton, who has written for him this powerful, argumentative, and eloquent appeal to man's reason and justice:- It is said, if you once give a dog a bad name, whether innocent or guilty, he never looses it. It sticks close to him wherever he goes. He has many a kick, and many a blow to bear on account of it; and there is nobody to stand up for him. The wood. pecker is little better off. The proprietors of woods in Europe have long accused him of injuring their timber, by boring holes in it and letting in the water, which soon rots it. The colonists in America have the same complaint against him. Had he the power of speech, which Ovid's birds possessed in days of yore, he could soon make a defence. Mighty lord of the woods,” he would say to man, “why do you wrongfully accuse me? Why do you hunt me up and down to death for an imaginary offence ? I have never spoiled a leaf of your property, much less your wood. Your inerciless shot strikes me at the very time I am doing you a service. But your short-sightedness will not let you see it, or your pride is above examining closely the actions of so insig. nificant a little bird as I ain. If there be that spark of feeling in your breast, which they say man possesses, or ought to possess, above all other animals, do a poor injured creature a little kindness, and watch me in your woods only for one day. I never wound your healthy trees. I should perish for want in the attempt. The sound bark would easily resist the force of my bill, and were I even to pierce through it, there

« 上一頁繼續 »