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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, refer the inquirer 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 farther examination. 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 examine its most obvious qualities, whether a quadruped, 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 beetle 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 animal, 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 taken. 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 disappointments. 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 gloomy solitude, but the naturalist, in every plant, in every insect, and every pebble, finds something to entertain his curiosity, and excite his speculation.
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 expense_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 then 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 disgusting air of a dictionary to their systems. Ray, Klein, 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 already known.
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 subject, and remove the reader's perplexity. M. Buffon, indeed, who has brought greater talents to this part of learning than any other man, has almost entirely rejected method in classing quadrupeds. This, with great deference to such a character, appears to me running into the opposite extreme 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 almost in the order they happen to come before him. This want of method seems to be a fault, but he can lose little by a criticism, which every dull man can make, or by an error in arrangement, from which the dullest are the most usually free.
In other respects, as far as this able philosopher has gone, I have taken him for my guide. The warmth of his style and the brilliancy of his imagination are inimitable. Leaving him, therefore, without a rival in these, and only availing myself of his information, I have been content to describe things in my own way; and though many of the materials are taken from him, yet I have added, retrenched, and altered as I thought proper. It was my intention at one time, whenever I differed from him, to have mentioned it at the bottom of the page; but this occurred so often, that I soon found it would look like envy, and might, perhaps, convict me of those very errors which I was wanting to lay upon him.
I have, therefore, as being every way his debtor, concealed my dissent, where my opinion was different; but wherever I borrow from him, I take care at the bottom of the page to express my obligations. But, though my obligations to this writer are many, they extend but to the smallest part of the work, as he has hitherto completed only the history of quadrupeds. I was, therefore, left to my reading alone, to make out the history of birds, fishes, and insects, of which the arrangement was so difficult, and the necessary information so widely diffused, and so obscurely related when found, that it proved by much the most laborious part of the undertaking. Thus, having made use of M. Buffon's lights in the first part of this work, I may, with some share of confidence, recommend it to the
public. But what shall I say of that part, where I have been entirely left without his assistance? As I would affect neither modesty nor confidence, it will be sufficient to say, that my reading upon this part of the subject has been very extensive; and that I have taxed my scanty circumstances in procuring books, which are on this subject, of all others, the most expensive. In consequence of this industry, I here offer a work to the public, of a kind which has never been attempted in ours, or any other modern language that I know of. The ancients, indeed, and Pliny in particular, have anticipated me in the present manner of treating Natural History. Like those historians who described the events of a campaign, they have not condescended to give the private particulars of every individual that formed the army; they were content with characterizing the generals, and describing their operations, while they left it to meaner hands to carry the muster-roll. I have followed their manner, rejecting the numerous fables which they adopted, and adding the improvements of the moderns, which are so numerous, that they actually make up the bulk of Natural History.
The delight which I found in reading Pliny, first inspired me with the idea of a work of this nature. Having a taste rather classical than scientific, and having but little employed myself in turning over the dry labours of modern system makers, my earliest intention was to translate this agreeable writer, and by the help of a commentary, to make my work as amusing as I could. Let us dignify Natural History ever so much with the grave appellation of a useful science, yet still we must confess, that it is the occupation of the idle and the speculative, more than of the ambitious part of mankind. My intention was to treat what I then conceived to be an idle subject, in an idle manner; and not to hedge round plain and simple narratives with hard words, accumulated distinctions, ostentatious learning, and disquisitions that produced no conviction. Upon the appearance, however, of M. Buffon's work, I dropped my former plan, and adopted the present, being convinced by his manner, that the best imitation of the ancients was to write from our own feelings, and to imitate nature.
It will be my chief pride, therefore, if this work may be found an innocent amusement for those who have nothing