Lives of Eminent Zoologists, from Aristotle to Linnus

Page 41 of 79

Leaving the town of Lulen, on the 25th June, he embarked on the river, which he continued to navigate for several days and nights in a comfortable boat. At a place called Quickjock he was presented by the "famous wife of the curate, Mr Grot," with provisions sufficient to last a week. At Jockmock, the schoolmaster and the priest tormented him "with their consummate and most pertinacious ignorance." The latter began his conversation with remarks on the clouds, showing how they strike the mountains in their passage over the country, carrying off stones, trees, and cattle. "I ventured," says Linnæus, "to suggest that such accidents were rather to be attributed to the force of the wind, for that the clouds could not of themselves lift or carry away any thing. He laughed at me, saying, surely I had never seen any clouds. I replied, that whenever the weather is foggy I walk in clouds, and[Pg 208] when the fog is condensed, and no longer supported in the air, it immediately rains. To all such reasoning, being above his comprehension, he only returned a sardonic smile. Still less was he satisfied with my explanation how watery bubbles may be lifted up into the air, as he told me the clouds were solid bodies. On my denying this, he reinforced his assertion with a text of Scripture, silencing me by authority, and then laughing at my ignorance. He next condescended to inform me, that after rain a phlegm is always to be found on the mountains, where the clouds have touched them. Upon my replying that this phlegm is a vegetable called nostoc, I was, like St Paul, judged to be mad, and that too much learning had turned my brain.

"The other, the pedagogue, lamented that people should bestow so much attention upon temporal vanities, and consequently, alas! neglect their spiritual good; and he remarked that many a one had been ruined by too great application to study. Both these wise men concurred in one thing: They could not conceal their wonder that the Royal Academy should have expressly appointed a mere student for the purposes on which I was sent, without considering that there were already as competent individuals resident in the country, who would have undertaken the business. They declared they would either of them have been ready to accept the charge. In my opinion, however, they would but have exhibited a fresh illustration of the proverb of the ass and the lyre."

On the 1st July, the traveller obtained a glimpse of the Lapland Alps, which resembled a range[Pg 209] of white clouds rising from the horizon. Arriving in the evening at a place named Riomitis, he saw the sun set apparently on the summit of a high mountain,—a spectacle which, although common enough in hilly countries, was so new to him as to excite his utmost surprise, and to induce him to exclaim, "O Lord, how wonderful are thy works!"

Towards the close of day, July 6, accompanied by a native, who acted as his servant and interpreter, he ascended the heights of Wallavari, the first of the range. Here he found himself as in a new world. The forests had disappeared; mountains upon mountains, covered with snow, presented themselves on all sides; no traces of human habitations were to be seen; the plants of the lower districts had ceased, and a vegetation of a peculiar kind occupied their place, presenting such a profusion of new forms to the delighted eye of the naturalist, that he was overcome with astonishment. He observed the silken-leaved alpine lady's-mantle, the deep-green sibbaldia, the little purple-flowered azalea, the diapensia lapponica, the beautiful saxifraga stellaris, rivularis, and oppositifolia, the succulent rose-root, the red lychnis, several ranunculi, and a variety of other species, most of which are found towards the summits of our own Grampians. The more elevated parts were composed of slaty rocks; and from the snow with which they were covered the water was running in copious streams. He caught a young ptarmigan, upon which the parent bird ran so close to him that he might have taken her also. "She kept continually jumping round and round me," says he; "but I thought it a pity to deprive the tender brood of their mother, neither[Pg 210] would my compassion for the mother allow me long to detain her offspring, which I restored to her in safety."

About the evening of the following day, they reached a secluded spot where a Laplander had pitched his tent. Immediately after their arrival, the herd of reindeer, consisting of seven or eight hundred, came home to be milked. Some of the milk was boiled for the stranger, but it proved rather rich for his stomach. His host furnished him with his own spoon, usually carried in his tobacco-bag, and which he washed by squirting a mouthful of water upon it.

He was here joined by another guide, and after refreshing themselves by sleep they proceeded on their journey. On the sides of the hills were observed in abundance the holes of the lemming-rat; and the alpine hare occasionally presented itself. Scarcely any other fish occurs in the lakes than the char, a beautiful species of trout, with the belly of a bright-red colour. In the evening they sought in vain for one of the native dwellings. Linnæus had walked so much that he could hardly stand; and, being ready to faint with fatigue, lay down, resolving rather to endure the cold and boisterous wind than proceed any farther. But his companions at length found some reindeer-dung, which by smelling they discovered to be fresh; and, perceiving a track in the snow, they advanced till they came to a hut, where they remained all next day, it being Sunday.

It is mentioned that the reindeer of those mountains are innumerable. The herds are brought home night and morning to be milked, and are so tractable as to be easily conducted by a single driver[Pg 211] and a dog. The head is of a grayish colour, black about the eyes; the mouth whitish; the tail short and white; the feet encompassed with the same colour above the hoofs. The whole body is gray, darker when the new pile comes on, and lighter before it falls. The hair, like that of some other species of deer, is brittle and easily broken. The horns of the female are upright, or slightly bent backward, furnished with one or two branches in front near the base, the summit sometimes undivided, sometimes cleft. Those of the male are often two feet and a half long, and their points are as far distant from each other. They are variously branched. These animals cast their horns every year; the males about the end of November, the females in May; at first they are hairy, but the pile disappears before Michaelmas.

As the reindeer walks, a crackling noise proceeds from its feet, which is produced by the hooflets striking against each other. When these animals are driven to the place where they are accustomed to be milked, they all lie down, panting violently, and chewing the cud all the while. One of the attendants takes a small rope, and, making a noose, throws it over their heads in succession. The cord is then twisted round the horns, and the other end fastened to a stick thrust into the ground. If the milk does not come readily the udder is beaten sharply with the hand. The nipples are four, very rarely six, and all yield the fluid. After the process was finished, he observed the maid-servant taking up some of the dung, which she kneaded with her hands and put into a vessel. This was for the purpose of smearing the teats, to prevent the fawns from sucking too much.[Pg 212]

He remained a few days among the Laplanders, who were occupied in feeding their flocks along the valleys, during which time he had an opportunity of observing their manners. He then proceeded over the range westward.

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