網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

the Coluber gultatus, Coluber getulus, &c., at a time ; they all evinced the greatest distress, hanging to the sides of the cage, and endeavouring by every means to escape from their enerny, who attacked them all in turn, Two animals of its own species were then thrown into the cage; it seemed instantly aware of the character of its visitors, and became perfectly quiet. Indeed, I have often received four or five of these animals in safety, after their having peaceably travelled together a journey of fifty miles in the same box.” — p. 65.

Three species of Crotalus (rattlesnake), are described, the plates accompanying which are very good. Upon the miliarius, we find the following remarks ;

“The Crotalus miliarius is greatly dreaded, as it gives but a very slight warning with its rattle ; and, unlike the Crotalus durissus, will frequently be the aggressor. By the common people its bite is thought to be more destructive, and its venom more active, than that of the larger species ; various experiments have, however, satisfied me of the fallacy of this opinion. It is probable, that each Crotalus has the requisite quantity of venom to destroy the animals on which it preys, for it is certain that the miliarius can easily kill a small bird, such as the towhee bunting, a pigeon, or a field-mouse ; but a cat that was bitten several times, at different intervals, appeared to suffer much, and to droop for thirty-six hours, at the end of which time the effects of the poison entirely disappeared ; the same animal was long afterwards destroyed by a single blow of the Crotalus durissus." — p. 76.

The adamanteus is thus graphically depicted.

“ The Crotalus adamanteus is the largest of our rattlesnakes, reaching even to the length of eight feet. The individual from which the accompanying plate was taken, had reached the length of nearly six feet, and I have seen others over seven feet long ; a more disgusting and terrific animal cannot be imagined than this ; its dusky color, bloated body, and sinister eyes, of sparkling grey and yellow, with the projecting orbital plates, combine to form an expression of sullen ferocity unsurpassed in the brute creation." - p. 79.

The plate of the next species, the durissus, the common rattlesnake of New England, is admirable. The author's remarks upon the habits of this species are valuable, as correcting current errors upon the subject.

“ The Crotalus durissus lives on rabbits, squirrels, rats, &c.; and in general is a remarkably slow and sluggish animal, lying quietly in wait for his prey, and never wantonly attacking or VOL. XLIX. —NO. 104.

20

destroying animals, except as food, unless disturbed by them. A single touch, however, will effect this; even rustling the leaves in his neighbourhood is sufficient to irritate him. On these occasions he immediately coils himself, shakes his rattles violently in sign of rage, and strikes at whatever is placed within his reach. In his native woods, one may pass within a few feet of him unmolested ; though aware of the passenger's presence, he either lies quiet or glides away to a more retired spot, unlike some of the innocent snakes, that I have known attack passers-by, at certain seasons of the year. He never follows the object of his rage, whether an animal that has unwarily approached so near as to touch him, or only a stick thrust at him to provoke his anger, but strikes on the spot, and prepares to repeat the blow; or he may slowly retreat, like an unconquered enemy, sure of his strength, but not choosing further combat. It is remarkable, that he never strikes unless coiled; so that, if once thrown from this position, he may be approached with less danger.

“As to the fascinating or charming power of the rattlesnake, I have every reason to believe it a fable ; and the wonderful effects, related by credible witnesses, are attributable rather to terror than to any mysterious influence not possessed by all venomous or ferocious animals upon their weak, timid, and defenceless prey. The rattlesnake's charm lies in the horror of his appearance, and the instinctive sense of danger that seizes a feeble animal, fallen suddenly into the presence of an enemy of such a threatening aspect.” — p. 83.

That the age of the rattlesnake cannot be ascertained from the number of its rattles, is evident from the following observations.

" It is commonly supposed that the number of rattles marks the age of the animal, a new one being added annually to those already existing. It is now certain, that rattlesnakes have been known to gain more than one rattle in a year, and to lose in proportion, the exact number being regulated no doubt by the state of the animal as to health, nourishment, liberty, &c. I have known two rattles added in one year, and Dr. Bachman has observed four produced in the same length of time. Mr. Peale, of the Philadelphia Museum, kept a living female rattlesnake for fourteen years. It had when it came into his possession eleven rattles, several were lost annually and new ones took their place; at its death, after fourteen years' confinement, there were still but eleven joints, although it had increased four inches in length. It is thus evident, that the growth of their appendages is irregular, and that the age of the animal cannot be determined from their number. The number of

rattles varies much ; the largest I ever saw was twenty-one, all of which were perfect.” — p. 85.

To such as involuntarily shudder at the mere mention of a snake, a single remark of our author cannot be useless, as showing the folly of cherishing such aversions ; speaking of the Coluber æstivus, he says,

“ This beautiful snake is perfectly harmless and gentle, easily domesticated, and takes readily its food from the hand. I have seen it carried in the pocket, or twisted round the arm or neck as a plaything, without once evincing any disposition to mischief." - p. 120.

Besides the species we have thus cursorily referred to, the Elaps fulvius, Heterodon platirhinos, Scincus erythrocephalus, Heterodon niger, Coluber fasciatus, guttatus, punctatus, and æstivus, as well as two new species, the Coluber taxispilotus and elapsoïdes, are included in this volume. We repeat, that the work is a real acquisition to the natural history of the country. The minute accuracy of detail in description, exhibited on every page, together with the constant endeavour to ascertain the geographical limits of the species, and to collect all attainable facts with regard to their habits, will establish the scientific reputation of our author upon an enviable basis. We look with eagerness for the appearance of the succeeding volumes.

ART. VI. – 1. Memoirs of Aaron Burr, with Miscellaneous

Selections from his Correspondence. By Matthew L. Davis. New York: Harper & Brothers. 2 vols. 8vo. 2. The Private Journal of Aaron Burr, during his

Residence of Four Years in Europe, with Selections from his Correspondence. Edited by Matthew L. Davis. New York: Harper & Brothers. 2 vols. Svo.

We know of no reason why a biography should necessarily be a eulogy, though in most cases it is made so. Neither are we certain, that the history of a bad man, judiciously written, would not be more useful to the world, than that of a good one indiscriminately praised. The “ Newgate Calendar” is an interesting book, notwithstanding its very coarse delineation of character, and its general substitution of wretched

cant for the tone of true moral reflection. It exhibits the human species under an aspect not very agreeable, it must be confessed, but still, under one which it is daily and hourly assuming , perfect ignorance of which can be indulged in by no person, without leading him to very one-sided judgments of the virtues as well as of the vices of his kind. We must form a distinct idea of the depth to which man may be degraded by the indulgence of his evil passions, before we can fully estimate the height to which a victory over them raises him. It is the spirit in which the life of any distinguished individual is written, far more than the bare record of what he did, which should be regarded as the valuable portion of biography. There are no perfect heroes out of the regions of romance. When we see men described as such in books professing to speak of them as they really were, we know at once that the record is not and cannot be true. There is somewhere falsification or suppression, innocent, good-natured, or artful, which, however it may adorn the object for whom it is used, spoils the book for the rest of the world. We can claim kindred only with flesh and blood like ourselves; with those who are described as subject to appetites, to passions, and to impulses, good or bad, of the same kind with those which we feel to be working in us. We go to the history of the great good and great bad men who have lived before us, in order to find out what made them good and bad, and to observe and analyze the parts which went to the formation of their several characters, the connecting links which knit thoughts and words and deeds into the grand chain of human action. In order to draw benefit from the study, it is entirely indifferent whether the subjects presented are of that description in which virtuous principles have predominated or otherwise, provided both kinds are examined, and the truth has been told about them with simplicity. The varnish of defective morality is worse than the daubing of extravagant flattery, because it is more likely to deceive. And young minds, which have not yet arrived at the power of full discrimination in moral questions, are more likely to be misled by sophistical explanations of men's actions, which assume obvious and natural motives for their groundwork, than by the free use of superlative attributes, which their common sense dictates to them at once to disregard, because not resting upon truth.

We are not very sure, that Mr. Davis will come up to the mark which we have fixed for a biographer. He certainly does not praise his hero unduly ; but we are clear, that he does not censure him as he ought. Perhaps we hardly ourselves understand the spirit of his epigraph, through which he appears to have intended to convey an idea of his design. Shakspeare had not probably done much in the way of rhetoric and oratory as a study ; but he knew man ; and, when he presented Mark Antony, as addressing the Roman citizens over the body of the murdered Cæsar, he put into his mouth not such words as perhaps he would have thought the most proper to be said, but such as suited the supposed design of the individual who was to use them. He makes him a hypocrite and a villain, but not talking as if he was either. His apparent design, in commencing bis harangue, is to calm their passions ; his real one, to unsettle their judgment, and to cloud their reason, which had condemned the ambition of his chief. He recalls to their minds Cæsar's kind feelings to them, notwithstanding that he begins by saying, as Mr. Davis has quoted,

“I come to bury Cæsar, not to praise him." And throughout the speech of fair seeming, we gather only by natural implication the real and foul truth at the bottom of it, that Antony, burning with rancorous feelings against the persons who had destroyed the patron of his fortunes, was using the body of that patron as an instrument by which he might utterly overthrow and destroy them, and upon their ruin establish himself.

Now we do not mean to insinuate, that Mr. Davis had the sense of the whole speech in his mind, when he took the extract from it to adorn his title-page. Nor do we in truth suppose, that he designed to signify any more by it than a wish to be absolved from the ordinary obligations of eulogy, which are generally supposed to weigh upon every biographer. Yet, even in this view of the case, we think he has been injudicious. "Nobody would have found fault with him for praising Mr. Burr too little, whereas many would, as they do, condemn his half-way and inefficient censure. The choice of his quotation is unlucky in this, that it unavoidably associates with his work the commencement of a hypocrite's oration as the symbolical representation of its general character. Not that this is really the proper idea to be had of the book. Far from it. But it will be that entertained by the many, who never go beyond title-pages. We propose to ex

« 上一頁繼續 »