Lives of Eminent Zoologists, from Aristotle to Linnus

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In this important work birds are divided into Terrestrial and Aquatic. The former are disposed in the following order:—

In the first place, land-birds are either furnished with hooked-bill and claws, or have these organs nearly straight.

Those with hooked-bill are carnivorous and predatory or frugivorous. The former are either diurnal, that is, hunt by day, or nocturnal, seeking their food by night.

The diurnal carnivorous birds are either large, as the eagles and vultures, or small. Of the former there are two kinds, the generous, as the peregrine falcon, lanner, goshawk, &c.; and the ignoble, as the buzzard, kite, &c. The smaller predatory birds are the shrikes, and birds of paradise.

The nocturnal birds of prey are the owls.

The frugivorous birds with hooked-bill are the macaws, parrots, and parrakeets.

Those having the bill and claws nearly straight, are divided into large, middle-sized, and small. The large are the ostrich, emeu, and dodo; the middle-sized are the crows and woodpeckers, peacock, pigeons, &c.; the small are such birds as the swallow and lark, which have the bill slender, and the sparrow, greenfinch, &c., in which it is thick.

The aquatic birds are of two kinds; some frequent watery places, without being capable of[Pg 154] swimming, while others betake themselves to the water.

Of the former some are large, as the crane; others of smaller size. The latter either live on fish, as the heron, spoonbill, stork, ibis, &c., or search for insects in the mud, as the oyster-catcher, plover, sandpiper, &c.

Of the swimming water-birds some have the toes separated, as the coot and water-hen; while in others they are united by membranes. The web-footed birds are either long-legged, as the flamingo and avocet, or furnished with short legs. Of the latter some have three toes, as the penguin, auk, &c.; others have four. The four-toed aquatic birds either have all the toes webbed, as the pelican, gannet, cormorant, &c., or have the hind toe loose. Of the latter some have a narrow bill, which is hooked at the tip in the merganser and albatross, or acute and straight in the divers and gulls. Others have the bill broad, as geese and ducks.

Of the figures which accompany the descriptions there certainly are not ten that bear a tolerably accurate resemblance to their originals; but, in criticizing ornithological plates, we are apt to forget that it was not until Audubon displayed his drawings that artists began to see how well nature might be imitated.

Mr Willughby's sons having been withdrawn from Mr Ray's inspection, in 1675, he left Middleton Hall where he had resided, and removed with his wife to Sutton Cofield, about four miles distant, where he continued till Michaelmas 1677, when he went to Falborne Hall in Essex, near his native place. In the course of his residence there his[Pg 155] mother died, to whom he was affectionately attached, and of whom he says that she stuck constantly to her profession, and never "left the church in these times of giddiness and distraction." Immediately after this event he repaired to Black Notley, where he resolved to remain during the "short pittance of time he had yet to live in this world."

He now finished his Methodus Plantarum Nova, which was published in 1682; and laboured at his Historia Plantarum Generalis, of which the first volume appeared in 1686, the second in the following year, and the third in 1704. In compiling this great work, he received much valuable assistance from his friends, but more especially from Sir Hans Sloane and Dr Tancred Robinson. With respect to the former of these publications, it may be stated, that it was founded upon the labours of his predecessors, such as Cæsalpinus and Jungius, as well as on the writings of Morison, whose method he principally followed. He divided plants into woody and herbaceous. The woody kinds he again divided into trees and shrubs, distinguishing the trees by their possessing buds; which he showed to be, in fact, new plants annually springing from the old ones. The families were better defined, the classes characterized with more precision, and various terms introduced which were of great advantage as tending to render the language of botany more appropriate. The General History of Plants is his most celebrated work on the vegetable kingdom. In it he describes with considerable exactness and perspicuity all the species which his predecessors had made known, adding those that had been discovered in his own time. All botanists who have spoken of this work agree in[Pg 156] considering it as one of immense labour, although, as the greater part was avowedly borrowed from other writers, it has not the advantage of ranking among those that have resulted from original observation.

About the same time he revised and arranged Mr Willughby's papers relative to fishes, which, being put in order for the press, and communicated by Dr Robinson to the Royal Society, were published at the charge of that learned body; the engravings having been executed at the expense of several of the members. This important treatise appeared in 1686.

Besides all the species of Belon, Rondelet, Gesner, Aldrovandi, Olina, and Margrave, says an eminent ichthyological writer, there are in these works a great number which Willughby and Ray had observed in Germany and Italy. The fishes of the Mediterranean in particular are described with great accuracy, and it is often easier to trace them in their volumes than in Linnæus. To these two works are appended numerous figures, most of which are only copies, although there are some very good original ones among them. Even such of them as are borrowed from Belon and Rondelet acquire an interest from the descriptions which accompany them, and which are much superior to those of the French writers.[I]

Dr Robinson appears, by his notices contained in the "Philosophical Letters between the late learned Mr Ray and several of his ingenious Correspondents," to have been of considerable use to our author in transmitting information on every subject that seemed interesting to the latter, and especially[Pg 157] in procuring objects for description. In one of his communications from Geneva is a passage respecting the celebrated Malpighi, which exhibits the character of that great anatomist in a favourable light:—"I had several conferences with S. Malpighi at Bononia, who expressed a great respect for you, and is not a little proud of the character you give him in your Method. Plantar. Nov., which book I had presented him withal a day before. Just as I left Bononia I had a lamentable spectacle of Malpighi's house all in flames, occasioned by the negligence of his old wife. All his pictures, furniture, books, and manuscripts, were burnt. I saw him in the very heat of the calamity, and methought I never beheld so much Christian patience and philosophy in any man before; for he comforted his wife, and condol'd nothing but the loss of his papers, which are more lamented than the Alexandrian Library, or Bartholine's Bibliothece at Copenhagen."

Of the epistolary correspondence of this gentleman, and of Sir Hans Sloane, it may be interesting to some of our readers to peruse a specimen:—

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