Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Glaucus; or The Wonders of the Shore by Charles Kingsley

Glaucus; or The Wonders of the Shore by Charles Kingsley
I CANNOT forego the pleasure of dedicating this little book to you;
excepting of course the opening exhortation (needless enough in
your case) to those who have not yet discovered the value of
Natural History. Accept it as a memorial of pleasant hours spent
by us already, and as an earnest, I trust, of pleasant hours to be
spent hereafter (perhaps, too, beyond this life in the nobler world
to come), in examining together the works of our Father in heaven.
Your grateful and faithful brother-in-law,
APRIL 24. 1855.
You are going down, perhaps, by railway, to pass your usual six
weeks at some watering-place along the coast, and as you roll along
think more than once, and that not over-cheerfully, of what you
shall do when you get there. You are half-tired, half-ashamed, of
making one more in the ignoble army of idlers, who saunter about
the cliffs, and sands, and quays; to whom every wharf is but a
"wharf of Lethe," by which they rot "dull as the oozy weed." You
foreknow your doom by sad experience. A great deal of dressing, a
lounge in the club-room, a stare out of the window with the
telescope, an attempt to take a bad sketch, a walk up one parade
and down another, interminable reading of the silliest of novels,
over which you fall asleep on a bench in the sun, and probably have
your umbrella stolen; a purposeless fine-weather sail in a yacht,
accompanied by many ineffectual attempts to catch a mackerel, and
the consumption of many cigars; while your boys deafen your ears,
and endanger your personal safety, by blazing away at innocent
gulls and willocks, who go off to die slowly; a sport which you
feel to be wanton, and cowardly, and cruel, and yet cannot find in
your heart to stop, because "the lads have nothing else to do, and
at all events it keeps them out of the billiard-room;" and after
all, and worst of all, at night a soulless RECHAUFFE of third-rate
London frivolity: this is the life-in-death in which thousands
spend the golden weeks of summer, and in which you confess with a
sigh that you are going to spend them.
Now I will not be so rude as to apply to you the old hymn-distich
about one who
" - finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do:"
but does it not seem to you, that there must surely be many a thing
worth looking at earnestly, and thinking over earnestly, in a world
like this, about the making of the least part whereof God has
employed ages and ages, further back than wisdom can guess or
imagination picture, and upholds that least part every moment by
laws and forces so complex and so wonderful, that science, when it
tries to fathom them, can only learn how little it can learn? And
does it not seem to you that six weeks' rest, free from the cares
of town business and the whirlwind of town pleasure, could not be
better spent than in examining those wonders a little, instead of
wandering up and down like the many, still wrapt up each in his
little world of vanity and self-interest, unconscious of what and
where they really are, as they gaze lazily around at earth and sea
and sky, and have
"No speculation in those eyes
Which they do glare withal"?
Why not, then, try to discover a few of the Wonders of the Shore?
For wonders there are there around you at every step, stranger than
ever opium-eater dreamed, and yet to be seen at no greater expense
than a very little time and trouble.
Perhaps you smile, in answer, at the notion of becoming a
"Naturalist:" and yet you cannot deny that there must be a
fascination in the study of Natural History, though what it is is
as yet unknown to you. Your daughters, perhaps, have been seized
with the prevailing "Pteridomania," and are collecting and buying
ferns, with Ward's cases wherein to keep them (for which you have
to pay), and wrangling over unpronounceable names of species (which
seem to he different in each new Fern-book that they buy), till the
Pteridomania seems to you somewhat of a bore: and yet you cannot
deny that they find an enjoyment in it, and are more active, more
cheerful, more self-forgetful over it, than they would have been
over novels and gossip, crochet and Berlin-wool. At least you will
confess that the abomination of "Fancy-work" - that standing cloak
for dreamy idleness (not to mention the injury which it does to
poor starving needlewomen) - has all but vanished from your
drawing-room since the "Lady-ferns" and "Venus's hair" appeared;
and that you could not help yourself looking now and then at the
said "Venus's hair," and agreeing that Nature's real beauties were
somewhat superior to the ghastly woollen caricatures which they had
You cannot deny, I say, that there is a fascination in this same
Natural History. For do not you, the London merchant, recollect
how but last summer your douce and portly head-clerk was seized by
two keepers in the act of wandering in Epping Forest at dead of
night, with a dark lantern, a jar of strange sweet compound, and
innumerable pocketfuls of pill-boxes; and found it very difficult
to make either his captors or you believe that he was neither going
to burn wheat-ricks, nor poison pheasants, but was simply "sugaring
the trees for moths," as a blameless entomologist? And when, in
self-justification, he took you to his house in Islington, and
showed you the glazed and corked drawers full of delicate insects,
which had evidently cost him in the collecting the spare hours of
many busy years, and many a pound, too, out of his small salary,
were you not a little puzzled to make out what spell there could be
in those "useless" moths, to draw out of his warm bed, twenty miles
down the Eastern Counties Railway, and into the damp forest like a
deer-stealer, a sober white-headed Tim Linkinwater like him, your
very best man of business, given to the reading of Scotch political
economy, and gifted with peculiarly clear notions on the currency
It is puzzling, truly. I shall be very glad if these pages help
you somewhat toward solving the puzzle.
We shall agree at least that the study of Natural History has
become now-a-days an honourable one. A Cromarty stonemason was
till lately - God rest his noble soul! - the most important man in
the City of Edinburgh, by dint of a work on fossil fishes; and the
successful investigator of the minutest animals takes place
unquestioned among men of genius, and, like the philosopher of old
Greece, is considered, by virtue of his science, fit company for
dukes and princes. Nay, the study is now more than honourable; it
is (what to many readers will be a far higher recommendation) even
fashionable. Every well-educated person is eager to know something
at least of the wonderful organic forms which surround him in every
sunbeam and every pebble; and books of Natural History are finding
their way more and more into drawing-rooms and school-rooms, and
exciting greater thirst for a knowledge which, even twenty years
ago, was considered superfluous for all but the professional
What a change from the temper of two generations since, when the
naturalist was looked on as a harmless enthusiast, who went "bughunting,"
simply because he had not spirit to follow a fox! There
are those alive who can recollect an amiable man being literally
bullied out of the New Forest, because he dared to make a
collection (at this moment, we believe, in some unknown abyss of
that great Avernus, the British Museum) of fossil shells from those
very Hordwell Cliffs, for exploring which there is now established
a society of subscribers and correspondents. They can remember,
too, when, on the first appearance of Bewick's "British Birds," the
excellent sportsman who brought it down to the Forest was asked,
Why on earth he had bought a book about "cock sparrows"? and had to
justify himself again and again, simply by lending the book to his
brother sportsmen, to convince them that there were rather more
than a dozen sorts of birds (as they then held) indigenous to
Hampshire. But the book, perhaps, which turned the tide in favour
of Natural History, among the higher classes at least, in the south
of England, was White's "History of Selborne." A Hampshire
gentleman and sportsman, whom everybody knew, had taken the trouble
to write a book about the birds and the weeds in his own parish,
and the every-day things which went on under his eyes, and everyone
else's. And all gentlemen, from the Weald of Kent to the Vale of
Blackmore, shrugged their shoulders mysteriously, and said, "Poor
fellow!" till they opened the book itself, and discovered to their
surprise that it read like any novel. And then came a burst of
confused, but honest admiration; from the young squire's "Bless me!
who would have thought that there were so many wonderful things to
be seen in one's own park!" to the old squire's more morally
valuable "Bless me! why, I have seen that and that a hundred times,
and never thought till now how wonderful they were!"
There were great excuses, though, of old, for the contempt in which
the naturalist was held; great excuses for the pitying tone of
banter with which the Spectator talks of "the ingenious" Don
Saltero (as no doubt the Neapolitan gentleman talked of Ferrante
Imperato the apothecary, and his museum); great excuses for
Voltaire, when he classes the collection of butterflies among the
other "bizarreries de l'esprit humain." For, in the last
generation, the needs of the world were different. It had no time
for butterflies and fossils. While Buonaparte was hovering on the
Boulogne coast, the pursuits and the education which were needed
were such as would raise up men to fight him; so the coarse,
fierce, hard-handed training of our grandfathers came when it was
wanted, and did the work which was required of it, else we had not
been here now. Let us be thankful that we have had leisure for
science; and show now in war that our science has at least not
unmanned us.
Moreover, Natural History, if not fifty years ago, certainly a
hundred years ago, was hardly worthy of men of practical common
sense. After, indeed, Linne, by his invention of generic and
specific names, had made classification possible, and by his own
enormous labours had shown how much could be done when once a
method was established, the science has grown rapidly enough. But
before him little or nothing had been put into form definite enough
to allure those who (as the many always will) prefer to profit by
others' discoveries, than to discover for themselves; and Natural
History was attractive only to a few earnest seekers, who found too
much trouble in disencumbering their own minds of the dreams of
bygone generations (whether facts, like cockatrices, basilisks, and
krakens, the breeding of bees out of a dead ox, and of geese from
barnacles; or theories, like those of elements, the VIS PLASTRIX in
Nature, animal spirits, and the other musty heirlooms of
Aristotleism and Neo-platonism), to try to make a science popular,
which as yet was not even a science at all. Honour to them,
nevertheless. Honour to Ray and his illustrious contemporaries in
Holland and France. Honour to Seba and Aldrovandus; to Pomet, with
his "Historie of Drugges;" even to the ingenious Don Saltero, and
his tavern-museum in Cheyne Walk. Where all was chaos, every man
was useful who could contribute a single spot of organized standing
ground in the shape of a fact or a specimen. But it is a question
whether Natural History would have ever attained its present
honours, had not Geology arisen, to connect every other branch of
Natural History with problems as vast and awful as they are
captivating to the imagination. Nay, the very opposition with
which Geology met was of as great benefit to the sister sciences as
to itself. For, when questions belonging to the most sacred
hereditary beliefs of Christendom were supposed to be affected by
the verification of a fossil shell, or the proving that the
Maestricht "homo diluvii testis" was, after all, a monstrous eft,
it became necessary to work upon Conchology, Botany, and
Comparative Anatomy, with a care and a reverence, a caution and a
severe induction, which had been never before applied to them; and
thus gradually, in the last half-century, the whole choir of
cosmical sciences have acquired a soundness, severity, and fulness,
which render them, as mere intellectual exercises, as valuable to a
manly mind as Mathematics and Metaphysics.
But how very lately have they attained that firm and honourable
standing ground! It is a question whether, even twenty years ago,
Geology, as it then stood, was worth troubling one's head about, so
little had been really proved. And heavy and uphill was the work,
even within the last fifteen years, of those who stedfastly set
themselves to the task of proving and of asserting at all risks,
that the Maker of the coal seam and the diluvial cave could not be
a "Deus quidam deceptor," and that the facts which the rock and the
silt revealed were sacred, not to be warped or trifled with for the
sake of any cowardly and hasty notion that they contradicted His
other messages. When a few more years are past, Buckland and
Sedgwick, Murchison and Lyell, Delabàche and Phillips, Forbes and
Jamieson, and the group of brave men who accompanied and followed
them, will be looked back to as moral benefactors of their race;
and almost as martyrs, also, when it is remembered how much
misunderstanding, obloquy, and plausible folly they had to endure
from well-meaning fanatics like Fairholme or Granville Penn, and
the respectable mob at their heels who tried (as is the fashion in
such cases) to make a hollow compromise between fact and the Bible,
by twisting facts just enough to make them fit the fancied meaning
of the Bible, and the Bible just enough to make it fit the fancied
meaning of the facts. But there were a few who would have no
compromise; who laboured on with a noble recklessness, determined
to speak the thing which they had seen, and neither more nor less,
sure that God could take better care than they of His own
everlasting truth. And now they have conquered: the facts which
were twenty years ago denounced as contrary to Revelation, are at
last accepted not merely as consonant with, but as corroborative
thereof; and sound practical geologists - like Hugh Miller, in his
"Footprints of the Creator," and Professor Sedgwick, in the
invaluable notes to his "Discourse on the Studies of Cambridge" -
have wielded in defence of Christianity the very science which was
faithlessly and cowardly expected to subvert it.
But if you seek, reader, rather for pleasure than for wisdom, you
can find it in such studies, pure and undefiled.
Happy, truly, is the naturalist. He has no time for melancholy
dreams. The earth becomes to him transparent; everywhere he sees
significancies, harmonies, laws, chains of cause and effect
endlessly interlinked, which draw him out of the narrow sphere of
self-interest and self-pleasing, into a pure and wholesome region
of solemn joy and wonder. He goes up some Snowdon valley; to him
it is a solemn spot (though unnoticed by his companions), where the
stag's-horn clubmoss ceases to straggle across the turf, and the
tufted alpine clubmoss takes its place: for he is now in a new
world; a region whose climate is eternally influenced by some fresh
law (after which he vainly guesses with a sigh at his own
ignorance), which renders life impossible to one species, possible
to another. And it is a still more solemn thought to him, that it
was not always so; that aeons and ages back, that rock which he
passed a thousand feet below was fringed, not as now with fern and
blue bugle, and white bramble-flowers, but perhaps with the alprose
and the "gemsen-kraut" of Mont Blanc, at least with Alpine
Saxifrages which have now retreated a thousand feet up the mountain
side, and with the blue Snow-Gentian, and the Canadian Sedum, which
have all but vanished out of the British Isles. And what is it
which tells him that strange story? Yon smooth and rounded surface
of rock, polished, remark, across the strata and against the grain;
and furrowed here and there, as if by iron talons, with long
parallel scratches. It was the crawling of a glacier which
polished that rock-face; the stones fallen from Snowdon peak into
the half-liquid lake of ice above, which ploughed those furrows.
AEons and aeons ago, before the time when Adam first
"Embraced his Eve in happy hour,
And every bird in Eden burst
In carol, every bud in flower,"
those marks were there; the records of the "Age of ice;" slight,
truly; to be effaced by the next farmer who needs to build a wall;
but unmistakeable, boundless in significance, like Crusoe's one
savage footprint on the sea-shore; and the naturalist acknowledges
the finger-mark of God, and wonders, and worships.
Happy, especially, is the sportsman who is also a naturalist: for
as he roves in pursuit of his game, over hills or up the beds of
streams where no one but a sportsman ever thinks of going, he will
be certain to see things noteworthy, which the mere naturalist
would never find, simply because he could never guess that they
were there to be found. I do not speak merely of the rare birds
which may be shot, the curious facts as to the habits of fish which
may be observed, great as these pleasures are. I speak of the
scenery, the weather, the geological formation of the country, its
vegetation, and the living habits of its denizens. A sportsman,
out in all weathers, and often dependent for success on his
knowledge of "what the sky is going to do," has opportunities for
becoming a meteorologist which no one beside but a sailor
possesses; and one has often longed for a scientific gamekeeper or
huntsman, who, by discovering a law for the mysterious and
seemingly capricious phenomena of "scent," might perhaps throw
light on a hundred dark passages of hygrometry. The fisherman,
too, - what an inexhaustible treasury of wonder lies at his feet,
in the subaqueous world of the commonest mountain burn! All the
laws which mould a world are there busy, if he but knew it,
fattening his trout for him, and making them rise to the fly, by
strange electric influences, at one hour rather than at another.
Many a good geognostic lesson, too, both as to the nature of a
country's rocks, and as to the laws by which strata are deposited,
may an observing man learn as he wades up the bed of a troutstream;
not to mention the strange forms and habits of the tribes
of water-insects. Moreover, no good fisherman but knows, to his
sorrow, that there are plenty of minutes, ay, hours, in each day's
fishing in which he would be right glad of any employment better
than trying to
"Call spirits from the vasty deep,"
who will not
"Come when you do call for them."
What to do, then? You are sitting, perhaps, in your coracle, upon
some mountain tarn, waiting for a wind, and waiting in vain.
"Keine luft an keine seite,
Todes-stille fÅrchterlich;"
as Gîthe has it -
"Und der schiffer sieht bekÅmmert
Glatte flÑche rings umher."
You paddle to the shore on the side whence the wind ought to come,
if it had any spirit in it; tie the coracle to a stone, light your
cigar, lie down on your back upon the grass, grumble, and finally
fall asleep. In the meanwhile, probably, the breeze has come on,
and there has been half-an-hour's lively fishing curl; and you wake
just in time to see the last ripple of it sneaking off at the other
side of the lake, leaving all as dead-calm as before.
Now how much better, instead of falling asleep, to have walked
quietly round the lake side, and asked of your own brains and of
Nature the question, "How did this lake come here? What does it
It is a hole in the earth. True, but how was the hole made? There
must have been huge forces at work to form such a chasm. Probably
the mountain was actually opened from within by an earthquake; and
when the strata fell together again, the portion at either end of
the chasm, being perhaps crushed together with greater force,
remained higher than the centre, and so the water lodged between
them. Perhaps it was formed thus. You will at least agree that
its formation must have been a grand sight enough, and one during
which a spectator would have had some difficulty in keeping his
And when you learn that this convulsion probably took plus at the
bottom of an ocean hundreds of thousands of years ago, you have at
least a few thoughts over which to ruminate, which will make you at
once too busy to grumble, and ashamed to grumble.
Yet, after all, I hardly think the lake was formed in this way, and
suspect that it may have been dry for ages after it emerged from
the primeval waves, and Snowdonia was a palm-fringed island in a
tropic sea. Let us look the place over more fully.
You see the lake is nearly circular; on the side where we stand the
pebbly beach is not six feet above the water, and slopes away
steeply into the valley behind us, while before us it shelves
gradually into the lake; forty yards out, as you know, there is not
ten feet water; and then a steep bank, the edge whereof we and the
big trout know well, sinks suddenly to unknown depths. On the
opposite side, that flat-topped wall of rock towers up shoreless
into the sky, seven hundred feet perpendicular; the deepest water
of all we know is at its very foot. Right and left, two shoulders
of down slope into the lake. Now turn round and look down the
gorge. Remark that this pebble bank on which we stand reaches some
fifty yards downward: you see the loose stones peeping out
everywhere. We may fairly suppose that we stand on a dam of loose
stones, a hundred feet deep.
But why loose stones? - and if so, what matter? and what wonder?
There are rocks cropping out everywhere down the hill-side.
Because if you will take up one of these stones and crack it
across, you will see that it is not of the same stuff as those said
rocks. Step into the next field and see. That rock is the common
Snowdon slate, which we see everywhere. The two shoulders of down,
right and left, are slate, too; you can see that at a glance. But
the stones of the pebble bank are a close-grained, yellow-spotted
rock. They are Syenite; and (you may believe me or not, as you
will) they were once upon a time in the condition of a hasty
pudding heated to some 800 degrees of Fahrenheit, and in that
condition shoved their way up somewhere or other through these
slates. But where? whence on earth did these Syenite pebbles come?
Let us walk round to the cliff on the opposite side and see. It is
worth while; for even if my guess be wrong, there is good spinning
with a brass minnow round the angles of the rocks.
Now see. Between the cliff-foot and the sloping down is a crack,
ending in a gully; the nearer side is of slate, and the further
side, the cliff itself, is - why, the whole cliff is composed of
the very same stone as the pebble ridge.
Now, my good friend, how did these pebbles get three hundred yards
across the lake? Hundreds of tons, some of them three feet long:
who carried them across? The old Cymry were not likely to amuse
themselves by making such a breakwater up here in No-man's-land,
two thousand feet above the sea: but somebody or something must
have carried them; for stones do not fly, nor swim either.
Shot out of a volcano? As you seem determined to have a prodigy,
it may as well be a sufficiently huge one.
Well - these stones lie altogether; and a volcano would have hardly
made so compact a shot, not being in the habit of using Eley's wire
cartridges. Our next hope of a solution lies in John Jones, who
carried up the coracle. Hail him, and ask him what is on the top
of that cliff . . . So, "Plainshe and pogshe, and another Llyn."
Very good. Now, does it not strike you that this whole cliff has a
remarkably smooth and plastered look, like a hare's run up an
earthbank? And do you not see that it is polished thus only over
the lake? that as soon as the cliff abuts on the downs right and
left, it forms pinnacles, caves, broken angular boulders? Syenite
usually does so in our damp climate, from the "weathering" effect
of frost and rain: why has it not done so over the lake? On that
part something (giants perhaps) has been scrambling up or down on a
very large scale, and so rubbed off every corner which was inclined
to come away, till the solid core of the rock was bared. And may
not those mysterious giants have had a hand in carrying the stones
across the lake? . . . Really, I am not altogether jesting. Think
a while what agent could possibly have produced either one or both
of these effects?
There is but one; and that, if you have been an Alpine traveller -
much more if you have been a Chamois hunter - you have seen many a
time (whether you knew it or not) at the very same work.
Ice? Yes; ice; Hrymir the frost-giant, and no one else. And if
you will look at the facts, you will see how ice may have done it.
Our friend John Jones's report of plains and bogs and a lake above
makes it quite possible that in the "Ice age" (Glacial Epoch, as
the big-word-mongers call it) there was above that cliff a great
neve, or snowfield, such as you have seen often in the Alps at the
head of each glacier. Over the face of this cliff a glacier has
crawled down from that neve, polishing the face of the rock in its
descent: but the snow, having no large and deep outlet, has not
slid down in a sufficient stream to reach the vale below, and form
a glacier of the first order; and has therefore stopped short on
the other side of the lake, as a glacier of the second order, which
ends in an ice-cliff hanging high up on the mountain side, and kept
from further progress by daily melting. If you have ever gone up
the Mer de Glace to the Tacul, you saw a magnificent specimen of
this sort on your right hand, just opposite the Tacul, in the
Glacier de Trelaporte, which comes down from the Aiguille de
This explains our pebble-ridge. The stones which the glacier
rubbed off the cliff beneath it it carried forward, slowly but
surely, till they saw the light again in the face of the ice-cliff,
and dropped out of it under the melting of the summer sun, to form
a huge dam across the ravine; till, the "Ice age" past, a more
genial climate succeeded, and neve and glacier melted away: but
the "moraine" of stones did not, and remains to this day, as the
dam which keeps up the waters of the lake.
There is my explanation. If you can find a better, do: but
remember always that it must include an answer to - "How did the
stones get across the lake?"
Now, reader, we have had no abstruse science here, no long words,
not even a microscope or a book: and yet we, as two plain
sportsmen, have gone back, or been led back by fact and common
sense, into the most awful and sublime depths, into an epos of the
destruction and re-creation of a former world.
This is but a single instance; I might give hundreds. This one,
nevertheless, may have some effect in awakening you to the
boundless world of wonders which is all around you, and make you
ask yourself seriously, "What branch of Natural History shall I
begin to investigate, if it be but for a few weeks, this summer?"
To which I answer, Try "the Wonders of the Shore." There are along
every sea-beach more strange things to be seen, and those to be
seen easily, than in any other field of observation which you will
find in these islands. And on the shore only will you have the
enjoyment of finding new species, of adding your mite to the
treasures of science.
For not only the English ferns, but the natural history of all our
land species, are now well-nigh exhausted. Our home botanists and
ornithologists are spending their time now, perforce, in verifying
a few obscure species, and bemoaning themselves, like Alexander,
that there are no more worlds left to conquer. For the geologist,
indeed, and the entomologist, especially in the remoter districts,
much remains to be done, but only at a heavy outlay of time,
labour, and study; and the dilettante (and it is for dilettanti,
like myself, that I principally write) must be content to tread in
the tracks of greater men who have preceded him, and accept at
second or third hand their foregone conclusions.
But this is most unsatisfactory; for in giving up discovery, one
gives up one of the highest enjoyments of Natural History. There
is a mysterious delight in the discovery of a new species, akin to
that of seeing for the first time, in their native haunts, plants
or animals of which one has till then only read. Some, surely, who
read these pages have experienced that latter delight; and, though
they might find it hard to define whence the pleasure arose, know
well that it was a solid pleasure, the memory of which they would
not give up for hard cash. Some, surely, can recollect, at their
first sight of the Alpine Soldanella, the Rhododendron, or the
black Orchis, growing upon the edge of the eternal snow, a thrill
of emotion not unmixed with awe; a sense that they were, as it
were, brought face to face with the creatures of another world;
that Nature was independent of them, not merely they of her; that
trees were not merely made to build their houses, or herbs to feed
their cattle, as they looked on those wild gardens amid the wreaths
of the untrodden snow, which had lifted their gay flowers to the
sun year after year since the foundation of the world, taking no
heed of man, and all the coil which he keeps in the valleys far
And even, to take a simpler instance, there are those who will
excuse, or even approve of, a writer for saying that, among the
memories of a month's eventful tour, those which stand out as
beacon-points, those round which all the others group themselves,
are the first wolf-track by the road-side in the Kyllwald; the
first sight of the blue and green Roller-birds, walking behind the
plough like rooks in the tobacco-fields of Wittlich; the first ball
of Olivine scraped out of the volcanic slag-heaps of the Dreisser-
Weiher; the first pair of the Lesser Bustard flushed upon the downs
of the Mosel-kopf; the first sight of the cloud of white Ephemerae,
fluttering in the dusk like a summer snowstorm between us and the
black cliffs of the Rheinstein, while the broad Rhine beneath
flashed blood-red in the blaze of the lightning and the fires of
the Mausenthurm - a lurid Acheron above which seemed to hover ten
thousand unburied ghosts; and last, but not least, on the lip of
the vast Mosel-kopf crater - just above the point where the weight
of the fiery lake has burst the side of the great slag-cup, and
rushed forth between two cliffs of clink-stone across the downs, in
a clanging stream of fire, damming up rivulets, and blasting its
path through forests, far away toward the valley of the Moselle -
the sight of an object for which was forgotten for the moment that
battle-field of the Titans at our feet, and the glorious panorama,
Hundsruck and Taunus, Siebengebirge and Ardennes, and all the
crater peaks around; and which was - smile not, reader - our first
yellow foxglove.
But what is even this to the delight of finding a new species? - of
rescuing (as it seems to you) one more thought of the Divine mind
from Hela, and the realms of the unknown, unclassified,
uncomprehended? As it seems to you: though in reality it only
seems so, in a world wherein not a sparrow falls to the ground
unnoticed by our Father who is in heaven.
The truth is, the pleasure of finding new species is too great; it
is morally dangerous; for it brings with it the temptation to look
on the thing found as your own possession, all but your own
creation; to pride yourself on it, as if God had not known it for
ages since; even to squabble jealously for the right of having it
named after you, and of being recorded in the Transactions of Iknow-
not-what Society as its first discoverer:- as if all the
angels in heaven had not been admiring it, long before you were
born or thought of.
But to be forewarned is to be forearmed; and I seriously counsel
you to try if you cannot find something new this summer along the
coast to which you are going. There is no reason why you should
not be so successful as a friend of mine who, with a very slight
smattering of science, and very desultory research, obtained in one
winter from the Torbay shores three entirely new species, beside
several rare animals which had escaped all naturalists since the
lynx-eye of Colonel Montagu discerned them forty years ago.
And do not despise the creatures because they are minute. No doubt
we should most of us prefer discovering monstrous apes in the
tropical forests of Borneo, or stumbling upon herds of gigantic
Ammon sheep amid the rhododendron thickets of the Himalaya: but it
cannot be; and "he is a fool," says old Hesiod, "who knows not how
much better half is than the whole." Let us be content with what
is within our reach. And doubt not that in these tiny creatures
are mysteries more than we shall ever fathom.
The zoophytes and microscopic animalcules which people every shore
and every drop of water, have been now raised to a rank in the
human mind more important, perhaps, than even those gigantic
monsters whose models fill the lake at the Crystal Palace. The
research which has been bestowed, for the last century, upon these
once unnoticed atomies has well repaid itself; for from no branch
of physical science has more been learnt of the SCIENTIA
SCIENTIARUM, the priceless art of learning; no branch of science
has more utterly confounded a wisdom of the wise, shattered to
pieces systems and theories, and the idolatry of arbitrary names,
and taught man to be silent while his Maker speaks, than this
apparent pedantry of zoophytology, in which our old distinctions of
"animal," "vegetable," and "mineral" are trembling in the balance,
seemingly ready to vanish like their fellows - "the four elements"
of fire, earth, air, and water. No branch of science has helped so
much to sweep away that sensuous idolatry of mere size, which
tempts man to admire and respect objects in proportion to the
number of feet or inches which they occupy in space. No branch of
science, moreover, has been more humbling to the boasted rapidity
and omnipotence of the human reason, or has more taught those who
have eyes to see, and hearts to understand, how weak and wayward,
staggering and slow, are the steps of our fallen race (rapid and
triumphant enough in that broad road of theories which leads to
intellectual destruction) whensoever they tread the narrow path of
true science, which leads (if I may be allowed to transfer our
Lord's great parable from moral to intellectual matters) to Life;
to the living and permanent knowledge of living things and of the
laws of their existence. Humbling, truly, to one who looks back to
the summer of 1754, when good Mr. Ellis, the wise and benevolent
West Indian merchant, read before the Royal Society his paper
proving the animal nature of corals, and followed it up the year
after by that "Essay toward a Natural History of the Corallines,
and other like Marine Productions of the British Coasts," which
forms the groundwork of all our knowledge on the subject to this
day. The chapter in Dr. G. Johnston's "British Zoophytes," p. 407,
or the excellent little RESUME thereof in Dr. Landsborough's book
on the same subject, is really a saddening one, as one sees how
loth were, not merely dreamers like, Marsigli or Bonnet, but soundheaded
men like Pallas and Linne, to give up the old sense-bound
fancy, that these corals were vegetables, and their polypes some
sort of living flowers. Yet, after all, there are excuses for
them. Without our improved microscopes, and while the sciences of
comparative anatomy and chemistry were yet infantile, it was
difficult to believe what was the truth; and for this simple
reason: that, as usual, the truth, when discovered, turned out far
more startling and prodigious than the dreams which men had hastily
substituted for it; more strange than Ovid's old story that the
coral was soft under the sea, and hardened by exposure to air; than
Marsigli's notion, that the coral-polypes were its flowers; than
Dr. Parsons' contemptuous denial, that these complicated forms
could be "the operations of little, poor, helpless, jelly-like
animals, and not the work of more sure vegetation;" than Baker the
microscopist's detailed theory of their being produced by the
crystallization of the mineral salts in the sea-water, just as he
had seen "the particles of mercury and copper in aquafortis assume
tree-like forms, or curious delineations of mosses and minute
shrubs on slates and stones, owing to the shooting of salts
intermixed with mineral particles:" - one smiles at it now: yet
these men were no less sensible than we; and if we know better, it
is only because other men, and those few and far between, have
laboured amid disbelief, ridicule, and error; needing again and
again to retrace their steps, and to unlearn more than they learnt,
seeming to go backwards when they were really progressing most:
and now we have entered into their labours, and find them, as I
have just said, more wondrous than all the poetic dreams of a
Bonnet or a Darwin. For who, after all, to take a few broad
instances (not to enlarge on the great root-wonder of a number of
distinct individuals connected by a common life, and forming a
seeming plant invariable in each species), would have dreamed of
the "bizarreries" which these very zoophytes present in their
You go down to any shore after a gale of wind, and pick up a few
delicate little sea-ferns. You have two in your hand, which
probably look to you, even under a good pocket magnifier, identical
or nearly so. (1) But you are told to your surprise, that however
like the dead horny polypidoms which you hold may be, the two
species of animal which have formed them are at least as far apart
in the scale of creation as a quadruped is from a fish. You see in
some Musselburgh dredger's boat the phosphorescent sea-pen (unknown
in England), a living feather, of the look and consistency of a
cock's comb; or the still stranger sea-rush (VIRGULARIA MIRABILIS),
a spine a foot long, with hundreds of rosy flowerets arranged in
half-rings round it from end to end; and you are told that these
are the congeners of the great stony Venus's fan which hangs in
seamen's cottages, brought home from the West Indies. And ere you
have done wondering, you hear that all three are congeners of the
ugly, shapeless, white "dead man's hand," which you may pick up
after a storm on any shore. You have a beautiful madrepore or
brain-stone on your mantel-piece, brought home from some Pacific
coral-reef. You are to believe that its first cousins are the
soft, slimy sea-anemones which you see expanding their living
flowers in every rock-pool - bags of sea-water, without a trace of
bone or stone. You must believe it; for in science, as in higher
matters, he who will walk surely, must "walk by faith and not by
These are but a few of the wonders which the classification of
marine animals affords; and only drawn from one class of them,
though almost as common among every other family of that submarine
world whereof Spenser sang -
"Oh, what an endless work have I in hand,
To count the sea's abundant progeny!
Whose fruitful seed far passeth those in land,
And also those which won in th' azure sky,
For much more earth to tell the stars on high,
Albe they endless seem in estimation,
Than to recount the sea's posterity;
So fertile be the flouds in generation,
So huge their numbers, and so numberless their nation."
But these few examples will be sufficient to account both for the
slow pace at which the knowledge of sea-animals has progressed, and
for the allurement which men of the highest attainments have found,
and still find, in it. And when to this we add the marvels which
meet us at every step in the anatomy and the reproduction of these
creatures, and in the chemical and mechanical functions which they
fulfil in the great economy of our planet, we cannot wonder at
finding that books which treat of them carry with them a certain
charm of romance, and feed the play of fancy, and that love of the
marvellous which is inherent in man, at the same time that they
lead the reader to more solemn and lofty trains of thought, which
can find their full satisfaction only in self-forgetful worship,
and that hymn of praise which goes up ever from land and sea, as
well as from saints and martyrs and the heavenly host, "O all ye
works of the Lord, and ye, too, spirits and souls of the righteous,
praise Him, and magnify Him for ever!"
I have said, that there were excuses for the old contempt of the
study of Natural History. I have said, too, it may be hoped,
enough to show that contempt to be now ill-founded. But still,
there are those who regard it as a mere amusement, and that as a
somewhat effeminate one; and think that it can at best help to
while away a leisure hour harmlessly, and perhaps usefully, as a
substitute for coarser sports, or for the reading of novels.
Those, however, who have followed it out, especially on the seashore,
know better. They can tell from experience, that over and
above its accessory charms of pure sea-breezes, and wild rambles by
cliff and loch, the study itself has had a weighty moral effect
upon their hearts and spirits. There are those who can well
understand how the good and wise John Ellis, amid all his
philanthropic labours for the good of the West Indies, while he was
spending his intellect and fortune in introducing into our tropic
settlements the bread-fruit, the mangosteen, and every plant and
seed which he hoped might be useful for medicine, agriculture, and
commerce, could yet feel himself justified in devoting large
portions of his ever well-spent time to the fighting the battle of
the corallines against Parsons and the rest, and even in measuring
pens with Linne, the prince of naturalists.
There are those who can sympathise with the gallant old Scotch
officer mentioned by some writer on sea-weeds, who, desperately
wounded in the breach at Badajos, and a sharer in all the toils and
triumphs of the Peninsular war, could in his old age show a rare
sea-weed with as much triumph as his well-earned medals, and talk
over a tiny spore-capsule with as much zest as the records of
sieges and battles. Why not? That temper which made him a good
soldier may very well have made him a good naturalist also. The
late illustrious geologist, Sir Roderick Murchison, was also an old
Peninsular officer. I doubt not that with him, too, the
experiences of war may have helped to fit him for the studies of
peace. Certainly, the best naturalist, as far as logical acumen,
as well as earnest research, is concerned, whom England has ever
seen, was the Devonshire squire, Colonel George Montagu, of whom
the late E. Forbes well says, that "had he been educated a
physiologist" (and not, as he was, a soldier and a sportsman), "and
made the study of Nature his aim and not his amusement, his would
have been one of the greatest names in the whole range of British
science." I question, nevertheless, whether he would not have lost
more than he would have gained by a different training. It might
have made him a more learned systematizer; but would it have
quickened in him that "seeing" eye of the true soldier and
sportsman, which makes Montagu's descriptions indelible wordpictures,
instinct with life and truth? "There is no question,"
says E. Forbes, after bewailing the vagueness of most naturalists,
"about the identity of any animal Montagu described. . . . He was a
forward-looking philosopher; he spoke of every creature as if one
exceeding like it, yet different from it, would be washed up by the
waves next tide. Consequently his descriptions are permanent."
Scientific men will recognize in this the highest praise which can
be bestowed, because it attributes to him the highest faculty - The
Art of Seeing; but the study and the book would not have given
that. It is God's gift wheresoever educated: but its true schoolroom
is the camp and the ocean, the prairie and the forest; active,
self-helping life, which can grapple with Nature herself: not
merely with printed-books about her. Let no one think that this
same Natural History is a pursuit fitted only for effeminate or
pedantic men. I should say, rather, that the qualifications
required for a perfect naturalist are as many and as lofty as were
required, by old chivalrous writers, for the perfect knight-errant
of the Middle Ages: for (to sketch an ideal, of which I am happy
to say our race now affords many a fair realization) our perfect
naturalist should be strong in body; able to haul a dredge, climb a
rock, turn a boulder, walk all day, uncertain where he shall eat or
rest; ready to face sun and rain, wind and frost, and to eat or
drink thankfully anything, however coarse or meagre; he should know
how to swim for his life, to pull an oar, sail a boat, and ride the
first horse which comes to hand; and, finally, he should be a
thoroughly good shot, and a skilful fisherman; and, if he go far
abroad, be able on occasion to fight for his life.
For his moral character, he must, like a knight of old, be first of
all gentle and courteous, ready and able to ingratiate himself with
the poor, the ignorant, and the savage; not only because foreign
travel will be often otherwise impossible, but because he knows how
much invaluable local information can be only obtained from
fishermen, miners, hunters, and tillers of the soil. Next, he
should be brave and enterprising, and withal patient and undaunted;
not merely in travel, but in investigation; knowing (as Lord Bacon
might have put it) that the kingdom of Nature, like the kingdom of
heaven, must be taken by violence, and that only to those who knock
long and earnestly does the great mother open the doors of her
sanctuary. He must be of a reverent turn of mind also; not rashly
discrediting any reports, however vague and fragmentary; giving man
credit always for some germ of truth, and giving Nature credit for
an inexhaustible fertility and variety, which will keep him his
life long always reverent, yet never superstitious; wondering at
the commonest, but not surprised by the most strange; free from the
idols of size and sensuous loveliness; able to see grandeur in the
minutest objects, beauty, in the most ungainly; estimating each
thing not carnally, as the vulgar do, by its size or its
pleasantness to the senses, but spiritually, by the amount of
Divine thought revealed to Man therein; holding every phenomenon
worth the noting down; believing that every pebble holds a
treasure, every bud a revelation; making it a point of conscience
to pass over nothing through laziness or hastiness, lest the vision
once offered and despised should be withdrawn; and looking at every
object as if he were never to behold it again.
Moreover, he must keep himself free from all those perturbations of
mind which not only weaken energy, but darken and confuse the
inductive faculty; from haste and laziness, from melancholy,
testiness, pride, and all the passions which make men see only what
they wish to see. Of solemn and scrupulous reverence for truth; of
the habit of mind which regards each fact and discovery, not as our
own possession, but as the possession of its Creator, independent
of us, our tastes, our needs, or our vain-glory, I hardly need to
speak; for it is the very essence of a nature's faculty - the very
tenure of his existence: and without truthfulness science would be
as impossible now as chivalry would have been of old.
And last, but not least, the perfect naturalist should have in him
the very essence of true chivalry, namely, self-devotion; the
desire to advance, not himself and his own fame or wealth, but
knowledge and mankind. He should have this great virtue; and in
spite of many shortcomings (for what man is there who liveth and
sinneth not?), naturalists as a class have it to a degree which
makes them stand out most honourably in the midst of a self-seeking
and mammonite generation, inclined to value everything by its money
price, its private utility. The spirit which gives freely, because
it knows that it has received freely; which communicates knowledge
without hope of reward, without jealousy and rivalry, to fellowstudents
and to the world; which is content to delve and toil
comparatively unknown, that from its obscure and seemingly
worthless results others may derive pleasure, and even build up
great fortunes, and change the very face of cities and lands, by
the practical use of some stray talisman which the poor student has
invented in his laboratory; - this is the spirit which is abroad
among our scientific men, to a greater degree than it ever has been
among any body of men for many a century past; and might well be
copied by those who profess deeper purposes and a more exalted
calling, than the discovery of a new zoophyte, or the
classification of a moorland crag.
And it is these qualities, however imperfectly they may be realized
in any individual instance, which make our scientific men, as a
class, the wholesomest and pleasantest of companions abroad, and at
home the most blameless, simple, and cheerful, in all domestic
relations; men for the most part of manful heads, and yet of
childlike hearts, who have turned to quiet study, in these late
piping times of peace, an intellectual health and courage which
might have made them, in more fierce and troublous times, capable
of doing good service with very different instruments than the
scalpel and the microscope.
I have been sketching an ideal: but one which I seriously
recommend to the consideration of all parents; for, though it be
impossible and absurd to wish that every young man should grow up a
naturalist by profession, yet this age offers no more wholesome
training, both moral and intellectual, than that which is given by
instilling into the young an early taste for outdoor physical
science. The education of our children is now more than ever a
puzzling problem, if by education we mean the development of the
whole humanity, not merely of some arbitrarily chosen part of it.
How to feed the imagination with wholesome food, and teach it to
despise French novels, and that sugared slough of sentimental
poetry, in comparison with which the old fairy-tales and ballads
were manful and rational; how to counteract the tendency to
shallowed and conceited sciolism, engendered by hearing popular
lectures on all manner of subjects, which can only be really learnt
by stern methodic study; how to give habits of enterprise,
patience, accurate observation, which the counting-house or the
library will never bestow; above all, how to develop the physical
powers, without engendering brutality and coarseness - are
questions becoming daily more and more puzzling, while they need
daily more and more to be solved, in an age of enterprise, travel,
and emigration, like the present. For the truth must be told, that
the great majority of men who are now distinguished by commercial
success, have had a training the directly opposite to that which
they are giving to their sons. They are for the most part men who
have migrated from the country to the town, and had in their youth
all the advantages of a sturdy and manful hill-side or sea-side
training; men whose bodies were developed, and their lungs fed on
pure breezes, long before they brought to work in the city the
bodily and mental strength which they had gained by loch and moor.
But it is not so with their sons. Their business habits are learnt
in the counting-house; a good school, doubtless, as far as it goes:
but one which will expand none but the lowest intellectual
faculties; which will make them accurate accountants, shrewd
computers and competitors, but never the originators of daring
schemes, men able and willing to go forth to replenish the earth
and subdue it. And in the hours of relaxation, how much of their
time is thrown away, for want of anything better, on frivolity, not
to say on secret profligacy, parents know too well; and often shut
their eyes in very despair to evils which they know not how to
cure. A frightful majority of our middle-class young men are
growing up effeminate, empty of all knowledge but what tends
directly to the making of a fortune; or rather, to speak correctly,
to the keeping up the fortunes which their fathers have made for
them; while of the minority, who are indeed thinkers and readers,
how many women as well as men have we seen wearying their souls
with study undirected, often misdirected; craving to learn, yet not
knowing how or what to learn; cultivating, with unwholesome energy,
the head at the expense of the body and the heart; catching up with
the most capricious self-will one mania after another, and tossing
it away again for some new phantom; gorging the memory with facts
which no one has taught them to arrange, and the reason with
problems which they have no method for solving; till they fret
themselves in a chronic fever of the brain, which too often urge
them on to plunge, as it were, to cool the inward fire, into the
ever-restless seas of doubt or of superstition. It is a sad
picture. There are many who may read these pages whose hearts will
tell them that it is a true one. What is wanted in these cases is
a methodic and scientific habit of mind; and a class of objects on
which to exercise that habit, which will fever neither the
speculative intellect nor the moral sense; and those physical
science will give, as nothing else can give it.
Moreover, to revert to another point which we touched just now, man
has a body as well as a mind; and with the vast majority there will
be no MENS SANA unless there be a CORPUS SANUM for it to inhabit.
And what outdoor training to give our youths is, as we have already
said, more than ever puzzling. This difficulty is felt, perhaps,
less in Scotland than in England. The Scotch climate compels
hardiness; the Scotch bodily strength makes it easy; and Scotland,
with her mountain-tours in summer, and her frozen lochs in winter,
her labyrinth of sea-shore, and, above all, that priceless boon
which Providence has bestowed on her, in the contiguity of her
great cities to the loveliest scenery, and the hills where every
breeze is health, affords facilities for healthy physical life
unknown to the Englishman, who has no Arthur's Seat towering above
his London, no Western Islands sporting the ocean firths beside his
Manchester. Field sports, with the invaluable training which they
give, if not
"The reason firm,"
yet still
"The temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill,"
have become impossible for the greater number: and athletic
exercises are now, in England at least, becoming more and more
artificialized and expensive; and are confined more and more - with
the honourable exception of the football games in Battersea Park -
to our Public Schools and the two elder Universities. All honour,
meanwhile, to the Volunteer movement, and its moral as well as its
physical effects. But it is only a comparatively few of the very
sturdiest who are likely to become effective Volunteers, and so
really gain the benefits of learning to be soldiers. And yet the
young man who has had no substitute for such occupations will cut
but a sorry figure in Australia, Canada, or India; and if he stays
at home, will spend many a pound in doctors' bills, which could
have been better employed elsewhere. "Taking a walk" - as one
would take a pill or a draught - seems likely soon to become the
only form of outdoor existence possible for too many inhabitants of
the British Isles. But a walk without an object, unless in the
most lovely and novel of scenery, is a poor exercise; and as a
recreation, utterly nil. I never knew two young lads go out for a
"constitutional," who did not, if they were commonplace youths,
gossip the whole way about things better left unspoken; or, if they
were clever ones, fall on arguing and brainsbeating on politics or
metaphysics from the moment they left the door, and return with
their wits even more heated and tired than they were when they set
out. I cannot help fancying that Milton made a mistake in a
certain celebrated passage; and that it was not "sitting on a hill
apart," but tramping four miles out and four miles in along a
turnpike-road, that his hapless spirits discoursed
"Of fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end, in wandering mazes lost."
Seriously, if we wish rural walks to do our children any good, we
must give them a love for rural sights, an object in every walk; we
must teach them - and we can teach them - to find wonder in every
insect, sublimity in every hedgerow, the records of past worlds in
every pebble, and boundless fertility upon the barren shore; and
so, by teaching them to make full use of that limited sphere in
which they now are, make them faithful in a few things, that they
may be fit hereafter to be rulers over much.
I may seem to exaggerate the advantages of such studies; but the
question after all is one of experience: and I have had experience
enough and to spare that what I say is true. I have seen the young
man of fierce passions, and uncontrollable daring, expend healthily
that energy which threatened daily to plunge him into recklessness,
if not into sin, upon hunting out and collecting, through rock and
bog, snow and tempest, every bird and egg of the neighbouring
forest. I have seen the cultivated man, craving for travel and for
success in life, pent up in the drudgery of London work, and yet
keeping his spirit calm, and perhaps his morals all the more
righteous, by spending over his microscope evenings which would too
probably have gradually been wasted at the theatre. I have seen
the young London beauty, amid all the excitement and temptation of
luxury and flattery, with her heart pure and her mind occupied in a
boudoir full of shells and fossils, flowers and sea-weeds; keeping
herself unspotted from the world, by considering the lilies of the
field, how they grow. And therefore it is that I hail with
thankfulness every fresh book of Natural History, as a fresh boon
to the young, a fresh help to those who have to educate them.
The greatest difficulty in the way of beginners is (as in most
things) how "to learn the art of learning." They go out, search,
find less than they expected, and give the subject up in
disappointment. It is good to begin, therefore, if possible, by
playing the part of "jackal" to some practised naturalist, who will
show the tyro where to look, what to look for, and, moreover, what
it is that he has found; often no easy matter to discover. Forty
years ago, during an autumn's work of dead-leaf-searching in the
Devon woods for poor old Dr. Turton, while he was writing his book
on British land-shells, the present writer learnt more of the art
of observing than he would have learnt in three years' desultory
hunting on his own account; and he has often regretted that no
naturalist has established shore-lectures at some watering-place,
like those up hill and down dale field-lectures which, in pleasant
bygone Cambridge days, Professor Sedgwick used to give to young
geologists, and Professor Henslow to young botanists.
In the meanwhile, to show you something of what may be seen by
those who care to see, let me take you, in imagination, to a shore
where I was once at home, and for whose richness I can vouch, and
choose our season and our day to start forth, on some glorious
September or October morning, to see what last night's equinoctial
gale has swept from the populous shallows of Torbay, and cast up,
high and dry, on Paignton sands.
Torbay is a place which should be as much endeared to the
naturalist as to the patriot and to the artist. We cannot gaze on
its blue ring of water, and the great limestone bluffs which bound
it to the north and south, without a glow passing through our
hearts, as we remember the terrible and glorious pageant which
passed by in the glorious July days of 1588, when the Spanish
Armada ventured slowly past Berry Head, with Elizabeth's gallant
pack of Devon captains (for the London fleet had not yet joined)
following fast in its wake, and dashing into the midst of the vast
line, undismayed by size and numbers, while their kin and friends
stood watching and praying on the cliffs, spectators of Britain's
Salamis. The white line of houses, too, on the other side of the
bay, is Brixham, famed as the landing-place of William of Orange;
the stone on the pier-head, which marks his first footsteps on
British ground, is sacred in the eyes of all true English Whigs;
and close by stands the castle of the settler of Newfoundland, Sir
Humphrey Gilbert, Raleigh's half-brother, most learned of all
Elizabeth's admirals in life, most pious and heroic in death. And
as for scenery, though it can boast of neither mountain peak nor
dark fiord, and would seem tame enough in the eyes of a western
Scot or Irishman, yet Torbay surely has a soft beauty of its own.
The rounded hills slope gently to the sea, spotted with squares of
emerald grass, and rich red fallow fields, and parks full of
stately timber trees. Long lines of tall elms run down to the very
water's edge, their boughs unwarped by any blast; here and there
apple orchards are bending under their loads of fruit, and narrow
strips of water-meadow line the glens, where the red cattle are
already lounging in richest pastures, within ten yards of the rocky
pebble beach. The shore is silent now, the tide far out: but six
hours hence it will be hurling columns of rosy foam high into the
sunlight, and sprinkling passengers, and cattle, and trim gardens
which hardly know what frost and snow may be, but see the flowers
of autumn meet the flowers of spring, and the old year linger
smilingly to twine a garland for the new.
No wonder that such a spot as Torquay, with its delicious Italian
climate, and endless variety of rich woodland, flowery lawn,
fantastic rock-cavern, and broad bright tide-sand, sheltered from
every wind of heaven except the soft south-east, should have become
a favourite haunt, not only for invalids, but for naturalists.
Indeed, it may well claim the honour of being the original home of
marine zoology and botany in England, as the Firth of Forth, under
the auspices of Sir J. G. Dalyell, has been for Scotland. For here
worked Montagu, Turton, and Mrs. Griffith, to whose extraordinary
powers of research English marine botany almost owes its existence,
and who survived to an age long beyond the natural term of man, to
see, in her cheerful and honoured old age, that knowledge become
popular and general which she pursued for many a year unassisted
and alone. Here, too, the scientific succession is still
maintained by Mr. Pengelly and Mr. Gosse, the latter of whom by his
delightful and, happily, well-known books has done more for the
study of marine zoology than any other living man. Torbay,
moreover, from the variety of its rocks, aspects, and sea-floors,
where limestones alternate with traps, and traps with slates, while
at the valley-mouth the soft sandstones and hard conglomerates of
the new red series slope down into the tepid and shallow waves,
affords an abundance and variety of animal and vegetable life,
unequalled, perhaps, in any other part of Great Britain. It cannot
boast, certainly, of those strange deep-sea forms which Messrs.
Alder, Goodsir, and Laskey dredge among the lochs of the western
Highlands, and the sub-marine mountain glens of the Zetland sea;
but it has its own varieties, its own ever-fresh novelties: and in
spite of all the research which has been lavished on its shores, a
naturalist cannot, I suspect, work there for a winter without
discovering forms new to science, or meeting with curiosities which
have escaped all observers, since the lynx eye of Montagu espied
them full fifty years ago.
Follow us, then, reader, in imagination, out of the gay wateringplace,
with its London shops and London equipages, along the broad
road beneath the sunny limestone cliff, tufted with golden furze;
past the huge oaks and green slopes of Tor Abbey; and past the
fantastic rocks of Livermead, scooped by the waves into a labyrinth
of double and triple caves, like Hindoo temples, upborne on pillars
banded with yellow and white and red, a week's study, in form and
colour and chiaro-oscuro, for any artist; and a mile or so further
along a pleasant road, with land-locked glimpses of the bay, to the
broad sheet of sand which lies between the village of Paignton and
the sea - sands trodden a hundred times by Montagu and Turton,
perhaps, by Dillwyn and Gaertner, and many another pioneer of
science. And once there, before we look at anything else, come
down straight to the sea marge; for yonder lies, just left by the
retiring tide, a mass of life such as you will seldom see again.
It is somewhat ugly, perhaps, at first sight; for ankle-deep are
spread, for some ten yards long by five broad, huge dirty bivalve
shells, as large as the hand, each with its loathly grey and black
siphons hanging out, a confused mass of slimy death. Let us walk
on to some cleaner heap, and leave these, the great Lutraria
Elliptica, which have been lying buried by thousands in the sandy
mud, each with the point of its long siphon above the surface,
sucking in and driving out again the salt water on which it feeds,
till last night's ground-swell shifted the sea-bottom, and drove
them up hither to perish helpless, but not useless, on the beach.
See, close by is another shell bed, quite as large, but comely
enough to please any eye. What a variety of forms and colours are
there, amid the purple and olive wreaths of wrack, and bladderweed,
and tangle (ore-weed, as they call it in the south), and the
delicate green ribbons of the Zostera (the only English flowering
plant which grows beneath the sea). What are they all? What are
the long white razors? What are the delicate green-grey scimitars?
What are the tapering brown spires? What the tufts of delicate
yellow plants like squirrels' tails, and lobsters' horns, and
tamarisks, and fir-trees, and all other finely cut animal and
vegetable forms? What are the groups of grey bladders, with
something like a little bud at the tip? What are the hundreds of
little pink-striped pears? What those tiny babies' heads, covered
with grey prickles instead of hair? The great red star-fish, which
Ulster children call "the bad man's hands;" and the great whelks,
which the youth of Musselburgh know as roaring buckies, these we
have seen before; but what, oh what, are the red capsicums? -
Yes, what are the red capsicums? and why are they poking, snapping,
starting, crawling, tumbling wildly over each other, rattling about
the huge mahogany cockles, as big as a child's two fists, out of
which they are protruded? Mark them well, for you will perhaps
never see them again. They are a Mediterranean species, or rather
three species, left behind upon these extreme south-western coasts,
probably at the vanishing of that warmer ancient epoch, which
clothed the Lizard Point with the Cornish heath, and the Killarney
mountains with Spanish saxifrages, and other relics of a flora
whose home is now the Iberian peninsula and the sunny cliffs of the
Riviera. Rare on every other shore, even in the west, it abounds
in Torbay at certain, or rather uncertain, times, to so prodigious
an amount, that the dredge, after five minutes' scrape, will
sometimes come up choked full of this great cockle only. You will
see hundreds of them in every cove for miles this day; a seeming
waste of life, which would be awful, in our eyes, were not the
Divine Ruler, as His custom is, making this destruction the means
of fresh creation, by burying them in the sands, as soon as washed
on shore, to fertilize the strata of some future world. It is but
a shell-fish truly; but the great Cuvier thought it remarkable
enough to devote to its anatomy elaborate descriptions and
drawings, which have done more perhaps than any others to
illustrate the curious economy of the whole class of bivalve, or
double-shelled, mollusca. (Plate II. Fig. 3.)
That red capsicum is the foot of the animal contained in the
cockleshell. By its aid it crawls, leaps, and burrows in the sand,
where it lies drinking in the salt water through one of its
siphons, and discharging it again through the other. Put the shell
into a rock pool, or a basin of water, and you will see the siphons
clearly. The valves gape apart some three-quarters of an inch.
The semi-pellucid orange "mantle" fills the intermediate space.
Through that mantle, at the end from which the foot curves, the
siphons protrude; two thick short tubes joined side by side, their
lips fringed with pearly cirri, or fringes; and very beautiful they
are. The larger is always open, taking in the water, which is at
once the animal's food and air, and which, flowing over the
delicate inner surface of the mantle, at once oxygenates its blood,
and fills its stomach with minute particles of decayed organized
matter. The smaller is shut. Wait a minute, and it will open
suddenly and discharge a jet of clear water, which has been robbed,
I suppose, of its oxygen and its organic matter. But, I suppose,
your eyes will be rather attracted by that same scarlet and orange
foot, which is being drawn in and thrust out to a length of nearly
four inches, striking with its point against any opposing object,
and sending the whole shell backwards with a jerk. The point, you
see, is sharp and tongue-like; only flattened, not horizontally,
like a tongue, but perpendicularly, so as to form, as it was
intended, a perfect sand-plough, by which the animal can move at
will, either above or below the surface of the sand. (2)
But for colour and shape, to what shall we compare it? To polished
cornelian, says Mr. Gosse. I say, to one of the great red
capsicums which hang drying in every Covent-garden seedsman's
window. Yet is either simile better than the guess of a certain
lady, who, entering a room wherein a couple of Cardium tuberculatum
were waltzing about a plate, exclaimed, "Oh dear! I always heard
that my pretty red coral came out of a fish, and here it is all
"C. tuberculatum," says Mr. Gosse (who described it from specimens
which I sent him in 1854), "is far the finest species. The valves
are more globose and of a warmer colour; those that I have seen are
even more spinous." Such may have been the case in those I sent:
but it has occurred to me now and then to dredge specimens of C.
aculeatum, which had escaped that rolling on the sand fatal in old
age to its delicate spines, and which equalled in colour, size, and
perfectness the noble one figured in poor dear old Dr. Turton's
"British Bivalves." Besides, aculeatum is a far thinner and more
delicate shell. And a third species, C. echinatum, with curves
more graceful and continuous, is to be found now and then with the
two former. In it, each point, instead of degenerating into a
knot, as in tuberculatum, or developing from delicate flat briarprickles
into long straight thorns, as in aculeatum, is close-set
to its fellow, and curved at the point transversely to the shell,
the whole being thus horrid with hundreds of strong tenterhooks,
making his castle impregnable to the raveners of the deep. For we
can hardly doubt that these prickles are meant as weapons of
defence, without which so savoury a morsel as the mollusc within
(cooked and eaten largely on some parts of our south coast) would
be a staple article of food for sea-beasts of prey. And it is
noteworthy, first, that the defensive thorns which are permanent on
the two thinner species, aculeatum and echinatum, disappear
altogether on the thicker one, tuberculatum, as old age gives him a
solid and heavy globose shell; and next, that he too, while young
and tender, and liable therefore to be bored through by whelks and
such murderous univalves, does actually possess the same briarprickles,
which his thinner cousins keep throughout life.
Nevertheless, prickles, in all three species, are, as far as we can
see, useless in Torbay, where no wolf-fish (Anarrhichas lupus) or
other owner of shell-crushing jaws wanders, terrible to lobster and
to cockle. Originally intended, as we suppose, to face the strongtoothed
monsters of the Mediterranean, these foreigners have
wandered northward to shores where their armour is not now needed;
and yet centuries of idleness and security have not been able to
persuade them to lay it by. This - if my explanation is the right
one - is but one more case among hundreds in which peculiarities,
useful doubtless to their original possessors, remain, though now
useless, in their descendants. Just so does the tame ram inherit
the now superfluous horns of his primeval wild ancestors, though he
fights now - if he fights at all - not with his horns, but with his
Enough of Cardium tuberculatum. Now for the other animals of the
heap; and first, for those long white razors. They, as well as the
grey scimitars, are Solens, Razor-fish (Solen siliqua and S.
ensis), burrowers in the sand by that foot which protrudes from one
end, nimble in escaping from the Torquay boys, whom you will see
boring for them with a long iron screw, on the sands at low tide.
They are very good to eat, these razor-fish; at least, for those
who so think them; and abound in millions upon all our sandy
shores. (3)
Now for the tapering brown spires. They are Turritellae, snaillike
animals (though the form of the shell is different), who crawl
and browse by thousands on the beds of Zostera, or grass wrack,
which you see thrown about on the beach, and which grows naturally
in two or three fathoms water. Stay: here is one which is "more
than itself." On its back is mounted a cluster of barnacles
(Balanus Porcatus), of the same family as those which stud the
tide-rocks in millions, scratching the legs of hapless bathers. Of
them, I will speak presently; for I may have a still more curious
member of the family to show you. But meanwhile, look at the mouth
of the shell; a long grey worm protrudes from it, which is not the
rightful inhabitant. He is dead long since, and his place has been
occupied by one Sipunculus Bernhardi; a wight of low degree, who
connects "radiate" with annulate forms - in plain English, seacucumbers
(of which we shall see some soon) with sea-worms. But
however low in the scale of comparative anatomy, he has wit enough
to take care of himself; mean ugly little worm as he seems. For
finding the mouth of the Turritella too big for him, he has
plastered it up with sand and mud (Heaven alone knows how), just as
a wry-neck plasters up a hole in an apple-tree when she intends to
build therein, and has left only a round hole, out of which he can
poke his proboscis. A curious thing is this proboscis, when seen
through the magnifier. You perceive a ring of tentacles round the
mouth, for picking up I know not what; and you will perceive, too,
if you watch it, that when he draws it in, he turns mouth,
tentacles and all, inwards, and so down into his stomach, just as
if you were to turn the finger of a glove inward from the tip till
it passed into the hand; and so performs, every time he eats, the
clown's as yet ideal feat, of jumping down his own throat. (4)
So much have we seen on one little shell. But there is more to see
close to it. Those yellow plants which I likened to squirrels'
tails and lobsters' horns, and what not, are zoophytes of different
kinds. Here is Sertularia argentea (true squirrel's tail); here,
S. filicula, as delicate as tangled threads of glass; here,
abietina; here, rosacea. The lobsters' horns are Antennaria
antennina; and mingled with them are Plumulariae, always to be
distinguished from Sertulariae by polypes growing on one side of
the branch, and not on both. Here is falcata, with its roots
twisted round a sea-weed. Here is cristata, on the same weed; and
here is a piece of the beautiful myriophyllum, which has been
battered in its long journey out of the deep water about the ore
rock. For all these you must consult Johnson's "Zoophytes," and
for a dozen smaller species, which you would probably find tangled
among them, or parasitic on the sea-weed. Here are Flustrae, or
sea-mats. This, which smells very like Verbena, is Flustra
coriacea (Pl. I. Fig. 2). That scurf on the frond of ore-weed is
F. lineata (Pl. Fig. 1). The glass bells twined about this
Sertularia are Campanularia syringa (Pl. I. Fig. 9); and here is a
tiny plant of Cellularia ciliata (Pl. I. Fig. 8). Look at it
through the field-glass; for it is truly wonderful. Each polype
cell is edged with whip-like spines, and on the back of some of
them is - what is it, but a live vulture's head, snapping and
snapping - what for?
Nay, reader, I am here to show you what can be seen: but as for
telling you what can be known, much more what cannot, I decline;
and refer you to Johnson's "Zoophytes," wherein you will find that
several species of polypes carry these same birds' heads: but
whether they be parts of the polype, and of what use they are, no
man living knoweth.
Next, what are the striped pears? They are sea-anemones, and of a
species only lately well known, Sagartia viduata, the snake-locked
anemone (Pl. V. Fig. 3(5)). They have been washed off the loose
stones to which they usually adhere by the pitiless roll of the
ground-swell; however, they are not so far gone, but that if you
take one of them home, and put it in a jar of water, it will expand
into a delicate compound flower, which can neither be described nor
painted, of long pellucid tentacles, hanging like a thin bluish
cloud over a disk of mottled brown and grey.
Here, adhering to this large whelk, is another, but far larger and
coarser. It is Sagartia parasitica, one of our largest British
species; and most singular in this, that it is almost always (in
Torbay, at least,) found adhering to a whelk: but never to a live
one; and for this reason. The live whelk (as you may see for
yourself when the tide is out) burrows in the sand in chase of
hapless bivalve shells, whom he bores through with his sharp tongue
(always, cunning fellow, close to the hinge, where the fish is),
and then sucks out their life. Now, if the anemone stuck to him,
it would be carried under the sand daily, to its own disgust. It
prefers, therefore, the dead whelk, inhabited by a soldier crab,
Pagurus Bernhardi (Pl. II. Fig. 2), of which you may find a dozen
anywhere as the tide goes out; and travels about at the crab's
expense, sharing with him the offal which is his food. Note,
moreover, that the soldier crab is the most hasty and blundering of
marine animals, as active as a monkey, and as subject to panics as
a horse; wherefore the poor anemone on his back must have a hard
life of it; being knocked about against rocks and shells, without
warning, from morn to night and night to morn. Against which
danger, kind Nature, ever MAXIMA IN MINIMIS, has provided by
fitting him with a stout leather coat, which she has given, I
believe, to no other of his family.
Next, for the babies' heads, covered with prickles, instead of
hair. They are sea-urchins, Amphidotus cordatus, which burrow by
thousands in the sand. These are of that Spatangoid form, which
you will often find fossil in the chalk, and which shepherd boys
call snakes' heads. We shall soon find another sort, an Echinus,
and have time to talk over these most strange (in my eyes) of all
living animals.
There are a hundred more things to be talked of here: but we must
defer the examination of them till our return; for it wants an hour
yet of the dead low spring-tide; and ere we go home, we will spend
a few minutes at least on the rocks at Livermead, where awaits us a
strong-backed quarryman, with a strong-backed crowbar, as is to be
hoped (for he snapped one right across there yesterday, falling
miserably on his back into a pool thereby), and we will verify Mr.
Gosse's observation, that -
"When once we have begun to look with curiosity on the strange
things that ordinary people pass over without notice, our wonder is
continually excited by the variety of phase, and often by the
uncouthness of form, under which some of the meaner creatures are
presented to us. And this is very specially the case with the
inhabitants of the sea. We can scarcely poke or pry for an hour
among the rocks, at low-water mark, or walk, with an observant
downcast eye, along the beach after a gale, without finding some
oddly-fashioned, suspicious-looking being, unlike any form of life
that we have seen before. The dark concealed interior of the sea
becomes thus invested with a fresh mystery; its vast recesses
appear to be stored with all imaginable forms; and we are tempted
to think there must be multitudes of living creatures whose very
figure and structure have never yet been suspected.
"'O sea! old sea! who yet knows half
Of thy wonders or thy pride!'"
GOSSE'S AQUARIUM, pp. 226, 227.
These words have more than fulfilled themselves since they were
written. Those Deep-Sea dredgings, of which a detailed account
will be found in Dr. Wyville Thomson's new and most beautiful book,
"The Depths of the Sea," have disclosed, of late years, wonders of
the deep even more strange and more multitudinous than the wonders
of the shore. The time is past when we thought ourselves bound to
believe, with Professor Edward Forbes, that only some hundred
fathoms down, the inhabitants of the sea-bottom "become more and
more modified, and fewer and fewer, indicating our approach towards
an abyss where life is either extinguished, or exhibits but a few
sparks to mark it's lingering presence."
Neither now need we indulge in another theory which had a certain
grandeur in it, and was not so absurd as it looks at first sight, -
namely, that, as Dr. Wyville Thomson puts it, picturesquely enough,
"in going down the sea water became, under the pressure, gradually
heavier and heavier, and that all the loose things floated at
different levels, according to their specific weight, - skeletons
of men, anchors and shot and cannon, and last of all the broad gold
pieces lost in the wreck of many a galleon off the Spanish Main;
the whole forming a kind of 'false bottom' to the ocean, beneath
which there lay all the depth of clear still water, which was
heavier than molten gold."
The facts are; first that water, being all but incompressible, is
hardly any heavier, and just as liquid, at the greatest depth, than
at the surface; and that therefore animals can move as freely in it
in deep as in shallow water; and next, that as the fluids inside
the body of a sea animal must be at the same pressure as that of
the water outside it, the two pressures must balance each other;
and the body, instead of being crushed in, may be unconscious that
it is living under a weight of two or three miles of water. But so
it is; as we gather our curiosities at low-tide mark, or haul the
dredge a mile or two out at sea, we may allow our fancy to range
freely out to the westward, and down over the subaqueous cliffs of
the hundred-fathom line, which mark the old shore of the British
Isles, or rather of a time when Britain and Ireland were part of
the continent, through water a mile, and two, and three miles deep,
into total darkness, and icy cold, and a pressure which, in the
open air, would crush any known living creature to a jelly; and be
certain that we shall find the ocean-floor teeming everywhere with
multitudinous life, some of it strangely like, some strangely
unlike, the creatures which we see along the shore.
Some strangely like. You may find, for instance, among the seaweed,
here and there, a little black sea-spider, a Nymphon, who has
this peculiarity, that possessing no body at all to speak of, he
carries his needful stomach in long branches, packed inside his
legs. The specimens which you will find will probably be half an
inch across the legs. An almost exactly similar Nymphon has been
dredged from the depths of the Arctic and Antarctic oceans, nearly
two feet across.
You may find also a quaint little shrimp, CAPRELLA, clinging by its
hind claws to sea-weed, and waving its gaunt grotesque body to and
fro, while it makes mesmeric passes with its large fore claws, -
one of the most ridiculous of Nature's many ridiculous forms.
Those which you will find will be some quarter of an inch in
length; but in the cold area of the North Atlantic, their cousins,
it is now found, are nearly three inches long, and perch in like
manner, not on sea-weeds, for there are none so deep, but on
branching sponges.
These are but two instances out of many of forms which were
supposed to be peculiar to shallow shores repeating themselves at
vast depths: thus forcing on us strange questions about changes in
the distribution and depth of the ancient seas; and forcing us,
also, to reconsider the old rules by which rocks were distinguished
as deep-sea or shallow-sea deposits according to the fossils found
in them.
As for the new forms, and even more important than them, the
ancient forms, supposed to have been long extinct, and only known
as fossils, till they were lately rediscovered alive in the nether
darkness, - for them you must consult Dr. Wyville Thomson's book,
and the notices of the "Challenger's" dredgings which appear from
time to time in the columns of "Nature;" for want of space forbids
my speaking of them here.
But if you have no time to read "The Depths of the Sea," go at
least to the British Museum, or if you be a northern man, to the
admirable public museum at Liverpool; ask to be shown the deep-sea
forms; and there feast your curiosity and your sense of beauty for
an hour. Look at the Crinoids, or stalked star-fishes, the "Lilies
of living stone," which swarmed in the ancient seas, in vast
variety, and in such numbers that whole beds of limestone are
composed of their disjointed fragments; but which have vanished out
of our modern seas, we know not why, till, a few years since,
almost the only known living species was the exquisite and rare
Pentacrinus asteria, from deep water off the Windward Isles of the
West Indies.
Of this you will see a specimen or two both at Liverpool and in the
British Museum; and near them, probably, specimens of the new-old
Crinoids, discovered of late years by Professor Sars, Mr. Gwyn
Jeffreys, Dr. Carpenter, Dr. Wyville Thomson, and the other deepsea
disciples of the mythic Glaucus, the fisherman, who, enamoured
of the wonders of the sea, plunged into the blue abyss once and for
all, and became himself "the blue old man of the sea."
Next look at the corals, and Gorgonias, and all the sea-fern tribe
of branching polypidoms, and last, but not least, at the glass
sponges; first at the Euplectella, or Venus's flower-basket, which
lives embedded in the mud of the seas of the Philippines, supported
by a glass frill "standing up round it like an Elizabethan ruff."
Twenty years ago there was but one specimen in Europe: now you may
buy one for a pound in any curiosity shop. I advise you to do so,
and to keep - as I have seen done - under a glass case, as a
delight to your eyes, one of the most exquisite, both for form and
texture, of natural objects.
Then look at the Hyalonemas, or glass-rope ocean floor by a twisted
wisp of strong flexible flint needles, somewhat on the principle of
a screw-pile. So strange and complicated is their structure, that
naturalists for a long while could literally make neither head nor
tail of them, as long as they had only Japanese specimens to study,
some of which the Japanese dealers had, of malice prepense, stuck
upside down into Pholas-borings in stones. Which was top and which
bottom; which the thing itself, and which special parasites growing
on it; whether it was a sponge, or a zoophyte, or something else;
at one time even whether it was natural, or artificial and a makeup,
- could not be settled, even till a year or two since. But the
discovery of the same, or a similar, species in abundance from the
Butt of the Lows down to Setubal on the Portuguese coast, where the
deep-water shark fishers call it "sea-whip," has given our savants
specimens enough to make up their minds - that they really know
little or nothing about it, and probably will never know.
And do not forget, lastly, to ask, whether at Liverpool or at the
British Museum, for the Holtenias and their congeners, - hollow
sponges built up of glassy spicules, and rooted in the mud by glass
hairs, in some cases between two and three feet long, as flexible
and graceful as tresses of snow-white silk.
Look at these, and a hundred kindred forms, and then see how nature
is not only "maxima in minimis" - greatest in her least, but often
"pulcherrima in abditis" - fairest in her most hidden works; and
how the Creative Spirit has lavished, as it were, unspeakable
artistic skill on lowly-organized creature, never till now beheld
by man, and buried, not only in foul mud, but in their own
unsightly heap of living jelly.
But so it was from the beginning; - and this planet was not made
for man alone. Countless ages before we appeared on earth the
depths of the old chalk-ocean teemed with forms as beautiful and
perfect as those, their lineal descendants, which the dredge now
brings up from the Atlantic sea-floor; and if there were - as my
reason tells me that there must have been - final moral causes for
their existence, the only ones which we have a right to imagine are
these - that all, down to the lowest Rhizopod, might delight
themselves, however dimly, in existing; and that the Lord might
delight Himself in them.
Thus, much - alas! how little - about the wonders of the deep. We,
who are no deep-sea dredgers, must return humbly to the wonders of
the shore. And first, as after descending the gap in the sea-wall
we walk along the ribbed floor of hard yellow sand, let me ask you
to give a sharp look-out for a round grey disc, about as big as a
penny-piece, peeping out on the surface. No; that is not it, that
little lump: open it, and you will find within one of the common
little Venus gallina. - The closet collectors have given it some
new name now, and no thanks to them: they are always changing the
names, instead of studying the live animals where Nature has put
them, in which case they would have no time for word-inventing.
Nay, I verify suspect that the names grow, like other things; at
least, they get longer and longer and more jaw-breaking every year.
The little bivalve, however, finding itself left by the tide, has
wisely shut up its siphons, and, by means of its foot and its
edges, buried itself in a comfortable bath of cool wet sand, till
the sea shall come back, and make it safe to crawl and lounge about
on the surface, smoking the sea-water instead of tobacco. Neither
is that depression what we seek. Touch it, and out poke a pair of
astonished and inquiring horns: it is a long-armed crab, who saw
us coming, and wisely shovelled himself into the sand by means of
his nether-end. Corystes Cassivelaunus is his name, which he is
said to have acquired from the marks on his back, which are
somewhat like a human face. "Those long antennae," says my friend,
Mr. Lloyd (6) - I have not verified the fact, but believe it, as he
knows a great deal about crabs, and I know next to nothing - "form
a tube through which a current of water passes into the crab's
gills, free from the surrounding sand." Moreover, it is only the
male who has those strangely long fore-arms and claws; the female
contenting herself with limbs of a more moderate length. Neither
is that, though it might be, the hole down which what we seek has
vanished: but that burrow contains one of the long white razors
which you saw cast on shore at Paignton. The boys close by are
boring for them with iron rods armed with a screw, and taking them
in to sell in Torquay market, as excellent food. But there is one,
at last - a grey disc pouting up through the sand. Touch it, and
it is gone down, quick as light. We must dig it out, and
carefully, for it is a delicate monster. At last, after ten
minutes' careful work, we have brought up, from a foot depth or
more - what? A thick, dirty, slimy worm, without head or tail,
form or colour. A slug has more artistic beauty about him. Be it
so. At home in the aquarium (where, alas! he will live but for a
day or two, under the new irritation of light) he will make a very
different figure. That is one of the rarest of British seaanimals,
Peachia hastata (Pl. XII. Fig. 1), which differs from most
other British Actiniae in this, that instead of having like them a
walking disc, it has a free open lower end, with which (I know not
how) it buries itself upright in the sand, with its mouth just
above the surface. The figure on the left of the plate represents
a curious cluster of papillae which project from one side of the
mouth, and are the opening of the oviduct. But his value consists,
not merely in his beauty (though that, really, is not small), but
in his belonging to what the long word-makers call an
"interosculant" group, - a party of genera and species which
connect families scientifically far apart, filling up a fresh link
in the great chain, or rather the great network, of zoological
classification. For here we have a simple, and, as it were, crude
form; of which, if we dared to indulge in reveries, we might say
that the Creative Mind realized it before either Actiniae or
Holothurians, and then went on to perfect the idea contained in it
in two different directions; dividing it into two different
families, and making on its model, by adding new organs, and taking
away old ones, in one direction the whole family of Actiniae (seaanemones),
and in a quite opposite one the Holothuriae, those
strange sea-cucumbers, with their mouth-fringe of feathery gills,
of which you shall see some anon. Thus there has been, in the
Creative Mind, as it gave life to new species, a development of the
idea on which older species were created, in order - we may fancy -
that every mesh of the great net might gradually be supplied, and
there should be no gaps in the perfect variety of Nature's forms.
This development is one which we must believe to be at least
possible, if we allow that a Mind presides over the universe, and
not a mere brute necessity, a Law (absurd misnomer) without a
Lawgiver; and to it (strangely enough coinciding here and there
with the Platonic doctrine of Eternal Ideas existing in the Divine
Mind) all fresh inductive discovery seems to point more and more.
Let me speak freely a few words on this important matter. Geology
has disproved the old popular belief that the universe was brought
into being as it now exists by a single fiat. We know that the
work has been gradual; that the earth
"In tracts of fluent heat began,
The seeming prey of cyclic storms,
The home of seeming random forms,
Till, at the last, arose the man."
And we know, also, that these forms, "seeming random" as they are,
have appeared according to a law which, as far as we can judge, has
been on the whole one of progress, - lower animals (though we
cannot yet say, the lowest) appearing first, and man, the highest
mammal, "the roof and crown of things," one of the latest in the
series. We have no more right, let it be observed, to say that
man, the highest, appeared last, than that the lowest appeared
first. It was probably so, in both cases; but there is as yet no
positive proof of either; and as we know that species of animals
lower than those which already existed appeared again and again
during the various eras, so it is quite possible that they may be
appearing now, and may appear hereafter: and that for every
extinct Dodo or Moa, a new species may be created, to keep up the
equilibrium of the whole. This is but a surmise: but it may be
wise, perhaps, just now, to confess boldly, even to insist on, its
possibility, lest any should fancy, from our unwillingness to allow
it, that there would be ought in it, if proved, contrary to sound
I am, I must honestly confess, more and more unable to perceive
anything which an orthodox Christian may not hold, in those
physical theories of "evolution," which are gaining more and more
the assent of our best zoologists and botanists. All that they ask
us to believe is, that "species" and "families," and indeed the
whole of organic nature, have gone through, and may still be going
through, some such development from a lowest germ, as we know that
every living individual, from the lowest zoophyte to man himself,
does actually go through. They apply to the whole of the living
world, past, present, and future, the law which is undeniably at
work on each individual of it. They may be wrong, or they may be
right: but what is there in such a conception contrary to any
doctrine - at least of the Church of England? To say that this
cannot be true; that species cannot vary, because God, at the
beginning, created each thing "according to its kind," is really to
beg the question; which is - Does the idea of "kind" include
variability or not? and if so, how much variability? Now, "kind,"
or "species," as we call it, is defined nowhere in the Bible. What
right have we to read our own definition into the word? - and that
against the certain fact, that some "kinds" do vary, and that
widely, - mankind, for instance, and the animals and plants which
he domesticates. Surely that latter fact should be significant, to
those who believe, as I do, that man was created in the likeness of
God. For if man has the power, not only of making plants and
animals vary, but of developing them into forms of higher beauty
and usefulness than their wild ancestors possessed, why should not
the God in whose image he is made possess the same power? If the
old theological rule be true - "There is nothing in man which was
not first in God" (sin, of course, excluded) - then why should not
this imperfect creative faculty in man be the very guarantee that
God possesses it in perfection?
Such at least is the conclusion of one who, studying certain
families of plants, which indulge in the most fantastic varieties
of shape and size, and yet through all their vagaries retain - as
do the Palms, the Orchids, the Euphorbiaceae - one organ, or form
of organs, peculiar and highly specialized, yet constant throughout
the whole of each family, has been driven to the belief that each
of these three families, at least, has "sported off" from one
common ancestor - one archetypal Palm, one archetypal Orchid, one
archetypal Euphorbia, simple, it may be, in itself, but endowed
with infinite possibilities of new and complex beauty, to be
developed, not in it, but in its descendants. He has asked
himself, sitting alone amid the boundless wealth of tropic forests,
whether even then and there the great God might not be creating
round him, slowly but surely, new forms of beauty? If he chose to
do it, could He not do it? That man found himself none the worse
Christian for the thought. He has said - and must be allowed to
say again, for he sees no reason to alter his words - in speaking
of the wonderful variety of forms in the Euphorbiaceae, from the
weedy English Euphorbias, the Dog's Mercuries, and the Box, to the
prickly-stemmed Scarlet Euphorbia of Madagascar, the succulent
Cactus-like Euphorbias of the Canaries and elsewhere; the Gale-like
Phyllanthus; the many-formed Crotons; the Hemp-like Maniocs,
Physic-nuts, Castor-oils, the scarlet Poinsettia, the little pink
and yellow Dalechampia, the poisonous Manchineel, and the gigantic
Hura, or sandbox tree, of the West Indies, - all so different in
shape and size, yet all alike in their most peculiar and complex
fructification, and in their acrid milky juice,- "What if all these
forms are the descendants of one original form? Would that be one
whit the more wonderful than the theory that they were, each and
all, with the minute, and often imaginary, shades of difference
between certain cognate species among them, created separately and
at once? But if it be so - which I cannot allow - what would the
theologian have to say, save that God's works are even more
wonderful than he always believed them to be? As for the theory
being impossible - that is to be decided by men of science, on
strict experimental grounds. As for us theologians, who are we,
that we should limit, Ö priori, the power of God? 'Is anything too
hard for the Lord?' asked the prophet of old; and we have a right
to ask it as long as the world shall last. If it be said that
'natural selection,' or, as Mr. Herbert Spencer better defines it,
the 'survival of the fittest,' is too simple a cause to produce
such fantastic variety - that, again, is a question to be settled
exclusively by men of science, on their own grounds. We,
meanwhile, always knew that God works by very simple, or seemingly
simple, means; that the universe, as far as we could discern it,
was one organization of the most simple means. It was wonderful -
or should have been - in our eyes, that a shower of rain should
make the grass grow, and that the grass should become flesh, and
the flesh food for the thinking brain of man. It was - or ought to
have been - more wonderful yet to us that a child should resemble
its parents, or even a butterfly resemble, if not always, still
usually, its parents likewise. Ought God to appear less or more
august in our eyes if we discover that the means are even simpler
than we supposed? We held Him to be Almighty and All-wise. Are we
to reverence Him less or more if we find Him to be so much
mightier, so much wiser, than we dreamed, that He can not only make
all things, but - the very perfection of creative power - MAKE ALL
THINGS MAKE THEMSELVES? We believed that His care was over all His
works; that His providence worked perpetually over the universe.
We were taught - some of us at least - by Holy Scripture, that
without Him not a sparrow fell to the ground, and that the very
hairs of our head were all numbered; that the whole history of the
universe was made up, in fact, of an infinite network of special
providences. If, then, that should be true which a great
naturalist writes, 'It may be metaphorically said that natural
selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world,
every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad,
preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly
working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the
improvement of each organic being, in relation to its organic and
inorganic conditions of life,' - if this, I say, were proved to be
true, ought God's care and God's providence to seem less or more
magnificent in our eyes? Of old it was said by Him without whom
nothing is made - 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.' Shall
we quarrel with physical science, if she gives us evidence that
those words are true?"
And - understand it well - the grand passage I have just quoted
need not be accused of substituting "natural selection for God."
In any case natural selection would be only the means or law by
which God works, as He does by other natural laws. We do not
substitute gravitation for God, when we say that the planets are
sustained in their orbits by the law of gravitation. The theory
about natural selection may be untrue, or imperfect, as may the
modern theories of the "evolution and progress" of organic forms:
let the man of science decide that. But if true, the theories seem
to me perfectly to agree with, and may be perfectly explained by,
the simple old belief which the Bible sets before us, of a LIVING
GOD: not a mere past will, such as the Koran sets forth, creating
once and for all, and then leaving the universe, to use Goethe's
simile, "to spin round his finger;" nor again, an "all-pervading
spirit," words which are mere contradictory jargon, concealing,
from those who utter them, blank Materialism: but One who works in
all things which have obeyed Him to will and to do of His good
pleasure, keeping His abysmal and self-perfect purpose, yet
altering the methods by which that purpose is attained, from aeon
to aeon, ay, from moment to moment, for ever various, yet for ever
the same. This great and yet most blessed paradox of the
Changeless God, who yet can say "It repenteth me," and "Behold, I
work a new thing on the earth," is revealed no less by nature than
by Scripture; the changeableness, not of caprice or imperfection,
but of an Infinite Maker and "Poietes," drawing ever fresh forms
out of the inexhaustible treasury of His primaeval Mind; and yet
never throwing away a conception to which He has once given actual
birth in time and space, (but to compare reverently small things
and great) lovingly repeating it, re-applying it; producing the
same effects by endlessly different methods; or so delicately
modifying the method that, as by the turn of a hair, it shall
produce endlessly diverse effects; looking back, as it were, ever
and anon over the great work of all the ages, to retouch it, and
fill up each chasm in the scheme, which for some good purpose had
been left open in earlier worlds; or leaving some open (the forms,
for instance, necessary to connect the bimana and the quadrumana)
to be filled up perhaps hereafter when the world needs them; the
handiwork, in short, of a living and loving Mind, perfect in His
own eternity, but stooping to work in time and space, and there
rejoicing Himself in the work of His own hands, and in His eternal
Sabbaths ceasing in rest ineffable, that He may look on that which
He hath made, and behold it is very good.
I speak, of course, under correction; for this conclusion is
emphatically matter of induction, and must be verified or modified
by ever-fresh facts: but I meet with many a Christian passage in
scientific books, which seems to me to go, not too far, but rather
not far enough, in asserting the God of the Bible, as Saint Paul
says, "not to have left Himself without witness," in nature itself,
that He is the God of grace. Why speak of the God of nature and
the God of grace as two antithetical terms? The Bible never, in a
single instance, makes the distinction; and surely, if God be (as
He is) the Eternal and Unchangeable One, and if (as we all confess)
the universe bears the impress of His signet, we have no right, in
the present infantile state of science, to put arbitrary limits of
our own to the revelation which He may have thought good to make of
Himself in nature. Nay, rather, let us believe that, if our eyes
were opened, we should fulfil the requirement of Genius, to "see
the universal in the particular," by seeing God's whole likeness,
His whole glory, reflected as in a mirror even in the meanest
flower; and that nothing but the dulness of our own souls prevents
them from seeing day and night in all things, however small or
trivial to human eclecticism, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself
fulfilling His own saying, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I
To me it seems (to sum up, in a few words, what I have tried to
say) that such development and progress as have as yet been
actually discovered in nature, bear every trace of having been
produced by successive acts of thought and will in some personal
mind; which, however boundlessly rich and powerful, is still the
Archetype of the human mind; and therefore (for to this I confess I
have been all along tending) probably capable, without violence to
its properties, of becoming, like the human mind, incarnate.
But to descend from these perhaps too daring speculations, there is
another, and more human, source of interest about the animal who is
writhing feebly in the glass jar of salt water; for he is one of
the many curiosities which have been added to our fauna by that
humble hero Mr. Charles Peach, the self-taught naturalist, of whom,
as we walk on toward the rocks, something should be said, or rather
read; for Mr. Chambers, in an often-quoted passage from his
Edinburgh Journal, which I must have the pleasure of quoting once
again, has told the story better than we can tell it:-
"But who is that little intelligent-looking man in a faded naval
uniform, who is so invariably to be seen in a particular central
seat in this section? That, gentle reader, is perhaps one of the
most interesting men who attend the British Association. He is
only a private in the mounted guard (preventive service) at an
obscure part of the Cornwall coast, with four shillings a day, and
a wife and nine children, most of whose education he has himself to
conduct. He never tastes the luxuries which are so common in the
middle ranks of life, and even amongst a large portion of the
working classes. He has to mend with his own hands every sort of
thing that can break or wear in his house. Yet Mr. Peach is a
votary of Natural History; not a student of the science in books,
for he cannot afford books; but an investigator by sea and shore, a
collector of Zoophytes and Echinodermata - strange creatures, many
of which are as yet hardly known to man. These he collects,
preserves, and describes; and every year does he come up to the
British Association with a few novelties of this kind, accompanied
by illustrative papers and drawings: thus, under circumstances the
very opposite of those of such men as Lord Enniskillen, adding, in
like manner, to the general stock of knowledge. On the present
occasion he is unusually elated, for he has made the discovery of a
Holothuria with twenty tentacula, a species of the Echinodermata
which Professor Forbes, in his book on Star-Fishes, has said was
never yet observed in the British seas. It may be of small moment
to you, who, mayhap, know nothing of Holothurias: but it is a
considerable thing to the Fauna of Britain, and a vast matter to a
poor private of the Cornwall mounted guard. And accordingly he
will go home in a few days, full of the glory of his exhibition,
and strong anew by the kind notice taken of him by the masters of
the science, to similar inquiries, difficult as it may be to
prosecute them, under such a complication of duties, professional
and domestic. Honest Peach! humble as is thy home, and simple thy
bearing, thou art an honour even to this assemblage of nobles and
doctors: nay, more, when we consider everything, thou art an
honour to human nature itself; for where is the heroism like that
of virtuous, intelligent, independent poverty? And such heroism is
thine!" - CHAMBERS' EDIN. JOURN., Nov. 23, 1844.
Mr. Peach has been since rewarded in part for his long labours in
the cause of science, by having been removed to a more lucrative
post on the north coast of Scotland; the earnest, it is to be
hoped, of still further promotion.
I mentioned just now Synapta; or, as Montagu called it, Chirodota:
a much better name, and, I think, very uselessly changed; for
Chirodota expresses the peculiarity of the beast, which consists in
- start not, reader - twelve hands, like human hands, while Synapta
expresses merely its power of clinging to the fingers, which it
possesses in common with many other animals. It is, at least, a
beast worth talking about; as for finding one, I fear that we have
no chance of such good fortune.
Colonel Montagu found them here some forty years ago; and after
him, Mr. Alder, in 1845. I found hundreds of them, but only once,
in 1854 after a heavy south-eastern gale, washed up among the great
Lutrariae in a cove near Goodrington; but all my dredging outside
failed to procure a specimen - Mr. Alder, however, and Mr. Cocks
(who find everything, and will at last certainly catch Midgard, the
great sea-serpent, as Thor did, by baiting for him with a bull's
head), have dredged them in great numbers; the former, at Helford
in Cornwall, the latter on the west coast of Scotland. It seems,
however, to be a southern monster, probably a remnant, like the
great cockle, of the Mediterranean fauna; for Mr. MacAndrew finds
them plentifully in Vigo Bay, and J. MÅller in the Adriatic, off
But what is it like? Conceive a very fat short earth-worm; not
ringed, though, like the earth-worm, but smooth and glossy, dappled
with darker spots, especially on one side, which may be the upper
one. Put round its mouth twelve little arms, on each a hand with
four ragged fingers, and on the back of the hand a stump of a
thumb, and you have Synapta Digitata (Plates IV. and V., from my
drawings of the live animal). These hands it puts down to its
mouth, generally in alternate pairs, but how it obtains its food by
them is yet a mystery, for its intestines are filled, like an
earth-worm's, with the mud in which it lives, and from which it
probably extracts (as does the earth-worm) all organic matters.
You will find it stick to your fingers by the whole skin, causing,
if your hand be delicate, a tingling sensation; and if you examine
the skin under the microscope, you will find the cause. The whole
skin is studded with minute glass anchors, some hanging freely from
the surface, but most imbedded in the skin. Each of these anchors
is jointed at its root into one end of a curious cribriform plate,
- in plain English, one pierced like a sieve, which lies under the
skin, and reminds one of the similar plates in the skin of the
White Cucumaria, which I will show you presently; and both of these
we must regard as the first rudiments of an Echinoderm's outside
skeleton, such as in the Sea-urchins covers the whole body of the
animal. (See on Echinus Millaris, p. 89.) (7) Somewhat similar
anchor-plates, from a Red Sea species, Synapta Vittata, may be seen
in any collection of microscopic objects.
The animal, when caught, has a strange habit of self-destruction,
contracting its skin at two or three different points, and writhing
till it snaps itself into "junks," as the sailors would say, and
then dies. My specimens, on breaking up, threw out from the
wounded part long "ovarian filaments" (whatsoever those may be),
similar to those thrown out by many of the Sagartian anemones,
especially S. parasitica. Beyond this, I can tell you nothing
about Synapta, and only ask you to consider its hands, as an
instance of that fantastic play of Nature which repeats, in
families widely different, organs of similar form, though perhaps
of by no means similar use; nay, sometimes (as in those beautiful
clear-wing hawk-moths which you, as they hover round the
rhododendrons, mistake for bumble-bees) repeats the outward form of
a whole animal, for no conceivable reason save her - shall we not
say honestly His? - own good pleasure.
But here we are at the old bank of boulders, the ruins of an
antique pier which the monks of Tor Abbey built for their
convenience, while Torquay was but a knot of fishing huts within a
lonely limestone cove. To get to it, though, we have passed many a
hidden treasure; for every ledge of these flat New-red-sandstone
rocks, if torn up with the crowbar, discloses in its cracks and
crannies nests of strange forms which shun the light of day;
beautiful Actiniae fill the tiny caverns with living flowers; great
Pholades (Plate X. figs. 3, 4) bore by hundreds in the softer
strata; and wherever a thin layer of muddy sand intervenes between
two slabs, long Annelid worms of quaintest forms and colours have
their horizontal burrows, among those of that curious and rare
radiate animal, the Spoonworm, (8) an eyeless bag about an inch
long, half bluish grey, half pink, with a strange scalloped and
wrinkled proboscis of saffron colour, which serves, in some
mysterious way, soft as it is, to collect food, and clear its dark
passage through the rock.
See, at the extreme low-water mark, where the broad olive fronds of
the Laminariae, like fan-palms, droop and wave gracefully in the
retiring ripples, a great boulder which will serve our purpose.
Its upper side is a whole forest of sea-weeds, large and small; and
that forest, if you examined it closely, as full of inhabitants as
those of the Amazon or the Gambia. To "beat" that dense cover
would be an endless task: but on the under side, where no seaweeds
grow, we shall find full in view enough to occupy us till the
tide returns. For the slab, see, is such a one as sea-beasts love
to haunt. Its weed-covered surface shows that the surge has not
shifted it for years past. It lies on other boulders clear of sand
and mud, so that there is no fear of dead sea-weed having lodged
and decayed under it, destructive to animal life. We can see dark
crannies and caves beneath; yet too narrow to allow the surge to
wash in, and keep the surface clean. It will be a fine menagerie
of Nereus, if we can but turn it.
Now the crowbar is well under it; heave, and with a will; and so,
after five minutes' tugging, propping, slipping, and splashing, the
boulder gradually tips over, and we rush greedily upon the spoil.
A muddy dripping surface it is, truly, full of cracks and hollows,
uninviting enough at first sight: let us look it round leisurely,
to see if there are not materials enough there for an hour's
The first object which strikes the eye is probably a group of milkwhite
slugs, from two to six inches long, cuddling snugly together
(Plate IX. fig. 1). You try to pull them off, and find that they
give you some trouble, such a firm hold have the delicate white
sucking arms, which fringe each of their five edges. You see at
the head nothing but a yellow dimple; for eating and breathing are
suspended till the return of tide; but once settled in a jar of
salt-water, each will protrude a large chocolate-coloured head,
tipped with a ring of ten feathery gills, looking very much like a
head of "curled kale," but of the loveliest white and primrose; in
the centre whereof lies perdu a mouth with sturdy teeth - if indeed
they, as well as the whole inside of the beast, have not been
lately got rid of, and what you see be not a mere bag, without
intestine or other organ: but only for the time being. For hear
it, worn-out epicures, and old Indians who bemoan your livers, this
little Holothuria knows a secret which, if he could tell it, you
would be glad to buy of him for thousands sterling. To him blue
pill and muriatic acid are superfluous, and travels to German
Brunnen a waste of time. Happy Holothuria! who possesses really
the secret of everlasting youth, which ancient fable bestowed on
the serpent and the eagle. For when his teeth ache, or his
digestive organs trouble him, all he has to do is just to cast up
forthwith his entire inside, and, faisant maigre for a month or so,
grow a fresh set, and then eat away as merrily as ever. His name,
if you wish to consult so triumphant a hygeist, is Cucumaria
Pentactes: but he has many a stout cousin round the Scotch coast,
who knows the antibilious panacea as well as he, and submits, among
the northern fishermen, to the rather rude and undeserved name of
sea-puddings; one of which grows in Shetland to the enormous length
of three feet, rivalling there his huge congeners, who display
their exquisite plumes on every tropic coral reef. (9)
Next, what are those bright little buds, like salmon-coloured
Banksia roses half expanded, sitting closely on the stone? Touch
them; the soft part is retracted, and the orange flower of flesh is
transformed into a pale pink flower of stone. That is the
Madrepore, Caryophyllia Smithii (Plate V. fig. 2); one of our south
coast rarities: and see, on the lip of the last one, which we have
carefully scooped off with the chisel, two little pink towers of
stone, delicately striated; drop them into this small bottle of
sea-water, and from the top of each tower issues every half-second
- what shall we call it? - a hand or a net of finest hairs,
clutching at something invisible to our grosser sense. That is the
Pyrgoma, parasitic only (as far as we know) on the lip of this same
rare Madrepore; a little "cirrhipod," the cousin of those tiny
barnacles which roughen every rock (a larger sort whereof I showed
you on the Turritella), and of those larger ones also who burrow in
the thick hide of the whale, and, borne about upon his mighty
sides, throw out their tiny casting nets, as this Pyrgoma does, to
catch every passing animalcule, and sweep them into the jaws
concealed within its shell. And this creature, rooted to one spot
through life and death, was in its infancy a free swimming animal,
hovering from place to place upon delicate ciliae, till, having
sown its wild oats, it settled down in life, built itself a good
stone house, and became a landowner, or rather a glebae adscriptus,
for ever and a day. Mysterious destiny! - yet not so mysterious as
that of the free medusoid young of every polype and coral, which
ends as a rooted tree of horn or stone, and seems to the eye of
sensuous fancy to have literally degenerated into a vegetable. Of
them you must read for yourself in Mr. Gosse's book; in the
meanwhile he shall tell you something of the beautiful Madrepores
themselves. His description, (10) by far the best yet published,
should be read in full; we must content ourselves with extracts.
"Doubtless you are familiar with the stony skeleton of our
Madrepore, as it appears in museums. It consists of a number of
thin calcareous plates standing up edgewise, and arranged in a
radiating manner round a low centre. A little below the margin
their individuality is lost in the deposition of rough calcareous
matter. . . . The general form is more or less cylindrical,
commonly wider at top than just above the bottom. . . . This is but
the skeleton; and though it is a very pretty object, those who are
acquainted with it alone, can form but a very poor idea of the
beauty of the living animal. . . . Let it, after being torn from
the rock, recover its equanimity; then you will see a pellucid
gelatinous flesh emerging from between the plates, and little
exquisitely formed and coloured tentacula, with white clubbed tips
fringing the sides of the cup-shaped cavity in the centre, across
which stretches the oval disc marked with a star of some rich and
brilliant colour, surrounding the central mouth, a slit with white
crenated lips, like the orifice of one of those elegant cowry
shells which we put upon our mantelpieces. The mouth is always
more or less prominent, and can be protruded and expanded to an
astonishing extent. The space surrounding the lips is commonly
fawn colour, or rich chestnut-brown; the star or vandyked circle
rich red, pale vermilion, and sometimes the most brilliant emerald
green, as brilliant as the gorget of a humming-bird."
And what does this exquisitely delicate creature do with its pretty
mouth? Alas for fact! It sips no honey-dew, or fruits from
paradise. - "I put a minute spider, as large as a pin's head, into
the water, pushing it down to the coral. The instant it touched
the tip of a tentacle, it adhered, and was drawn in with the
surrounding tentacles between the plates. With a lens I saw the
small mouth slowly open, and move over to that side, the lips
gaping unsymmetrically; while with a movement as imperceptible as
that of the hour hand of a watch, the tiny prey was carried along
between the plates to the corner of the mouth. The mouth, however,
moved most, and at length reached the edges of the plates,
gradually closed upon the insect, and then returned to its usual
place in the centre."
Mr. Gosse next tried the fairy of the walking mouth with a housefly,
who escaped only by hard fighting; and at last the gentle
creature, after swallowing and disgorging various large pieces of
shell-fish, found viands to its taste in "the lean of cooked meat
and portions of earthworms," filling up the intervals by a
perpetual dessert of microscopic animalcules, whirled into that
lovely avernus, its mouth, by the currents of the delicate ciliae
which clothe every tentacle. The fact is, that the Madrepore, like
those glorious sea-anemones whose living flowers stud every pool,
is by profession a scavenger and a feeder on carrion; and being as
useful as he is beautiful, really comes under the rule which he
seems at first to break, that handsome is who handsome does.
Another species of Madrepore (11) was discovered on our Devon coast
by Mr. Gosse, more gaudy, though not so delicate in hue as our
Caryophyllia. Mr. Gosse's locality, for this and numberless other
curiosities, is Ilfracombe, on the north coast of Devon. My
specimens came from Lundy Island, in the mouth of the Bristol
Channel, or more properly from that curious "Rat Island" to the
south of it, where still lingers the black long-tailed English rat,
exterminated everywhere else by his sturdier brown cousin of the
Hanoverian dynasty.
Look, now, at these tiny saucers of the thinnest ivory, the largest
not bigger than a silver threepence, which contain in their centres
a milk-white crust of stone, pierced, as you see under the
magnifier, into a thousand cells, each with its living architect
within. Here are two kinds: in one the tubular cells radiate from
the centre, giving it the appearance of a tiny compound flower,
daisy or groundsel; in the other they are crossed with waving
grooves, giving the whole a peculiar fretted look, even more
beautiful than that of the former species. They are Tubulipora
patina and Tubulipora hispida; - and stay - break off that tiny
rough red wart, and look at its cells also under the magnifier: it
is Cellepora pumicosa; and now, with the Madrepore, you hold in
your hand the principal, at least the commonest, British types of
those famed coral insects, which in the tropics are the architects
of continents, and the conquerors of the ocean surge. All the
world, since the publication of Darwin's delightful "Voyage of the
Beagle,"' and of Williams' "Missionary Enterprises," knows, or
ought to know, enough about them: for those who do not, there are
a few pages in the beginning of Dr. Landsborough's "British
Zoophytes," well worth perusal.
There are a few other true cellepore corals round the coast. The
largest of all, Cervicornis, may be dredged a few miles outside on
the Exmouth bank, with a few more Tubulipores: but all tiny
things, the lingering and, as it were, expiring remnants of that
great coral-world which, through the abysmal depths of past ages,
formed here in Britain our limestone hills, storing up for
generations yet unborn the materials of agriculture and
architecture. Inexpressibly interesting, even solemn, to those who
will think, is the sight of those puny parasites which, as it were,
connect the ages and the aeons: yet not so solemn and full of
meaning as that tiny relic of an older world, the little pearshaped
Turbinolia (cousin of the Madrepores and Sea-anemones),
found fossil in the Suffolk Crag, and yet still lingering here and
there alive in the deep water of Scilly and the west coast of
Ireland, possessor of a pedigree which dates, perhaps, from ages
before the day in which it was said, "Let us make man in our image,
after our likeness." To think that the whole human race, its joys
and its sorrows, its virtues and its sins, its aspirations and its
failures, has been rushing out of eternity and into eternity again,
as Arjoon in the Bhagavad Gita beheld the race of men issuing from
Kreeshna's flaming mouth, and swallowed up in it again, "as the
crowds of insects swarm into the flame, as the homeless streams
leap down into the ocean bed," in an everlasting heart-pulse whose
blood is living souls - and all that while, and ages before that
mystery began, that humble coral, unnoticed on the dark sea-floor,
has been "continuing as it was at the beginning," and fulfilling
"the law which cannot be broken," while races and dynasties and
generations have been
"Playing such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep."
Yes; it is this vision of the awful permanence and perfection of
the natural world, beside the wild flux and confusion, the mad
struggles, the despairing cries of the world of spirits which man
has defiled by sin, which would at moments crush the naturalist's
heart, and make his brain swim with terror, were it not that he can
see by faith, through all the abysses and the ages, not merely
" Hands,
From out the darkness, shaping man;"
but above them a living loving countenance, human and yet Divine;
and can hear a voice which said at first, "Let us make man in our
image;" and hath said since then, and says for ever and for ever,
"Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world."
But now, friend, who listenest, perhaps instructed, and at least
amused - if, as Professor Harvey well says, the simpler animals
represent, as in a glass, the scattered organs of the higher races,
which of your organs is represented by that "sca'd man's head,"
which the Devon children more gracefully, yet with less adherence
to plain likeness, call "mermaid's head," (12) which we picked up
just now on Paignton Sands? Or which, again, by its more beautiful
little congener, (13) five or six of which are adhering tightly to
the slab before us, a ball covered with delicate spines of lilac
and green, and stuck over (cunning fellows!) with stripes of dead
sea-weed to serve as improvised parasols? One cannot say that in
him we have the first type of the human skull: for the
resemblance, quaint as it is, is only sensuous and accidental, (in
the logical use of that term,) and not homological, I.E. a lower
manifestation of the same idea. Yet how is one tempted to say,
that this was Nature's first and lowest attempt at that use of
hollow globes of mineral for protecting soft fleshy parts, which
she afterwards developed to such perfection in the skulls of
vertebrate animals! But even that conceit, pretty as it sounds,
will not hold good; for though Radiates similar to these were among
the earliest tenants of the abyss, yet as early as their time,
perhaps even before them, had been conceived and actualized, in the
sharks, and in Mr. Hugh Miller's pets the old red sandstone fishes,
that very true vertebrate skull and brain, of which this is a mere
mockery. (14) Here the whole animal, with his extraordinary
feeding mill, (for neither teeth nor jaws is a fit word for it,) is
enclosed within an ever-growing limestone castle, to the
architecture of which the Eddystone and the Crystal Palace are
bungling heaps; without arms or legs, eyes or ears, and yet
capable, in spite of his perpetual imprisonment, of walking,
feeding, and breeding, doubt it not, merrily enough. But this
result has been attained at the expense of a complication of
structure, which has baffled all human analysis and research into
final causes. As much concerning this most miraculous of families
as is needful to be known, and ten times more than you are likely
to understand, may be read in Harvey's "Sea-Side Book," pp. 142-
148, - pages from which you will probably arise with a sense of the
infinity and complexity of Nature, even in what we are pleased to
call her "lower" forms, and the simplest and, as it were, easiest
forms of life. Conceive a Crystal Palace, (for mere difference in
size, as both the naturalist and the metaphysician know, has
nothing to do with the wonder,) whereof each separate joist,
girder, and pane grows continually without altering the shape of
the whole; and you have conceived only one of the miracles embodied
in that little sea-egg, which the Creator has, as it were, to
justify to man His own immutability, furnished with a shell capable
of enduring fossil for countless ages, that we may confess Him to
have been as great when first His Spirit brooded on the deep, as He
is now and will be through all worlds to come.
But we must make haste; for the tide is rising fast, and our stone
will be restored to its eleven hours' bath, long before we have
talked over half the wonders which it holds. Look though, ere you
retreat, at one or two more.
What is that little brown thing whom you have just taken off the
rock to which it adhered so stoutly by his sucking-foot? A limpet?
Not at all: he is of quite a different family and structure; but,
on the whole, a limpet-like shell would suit him well enough, so he
had one given him: nevertheless, owing to certain anatomical
peculiarities, he needed one aperture more than a limpet; so one,
if you will examine, has been given him at the top of his shell.
(15) This is one instance among a thousand of the way in which a
scientific knowledge of objects must not obey, but run counter to,
the impressions of sense; and of a custom in nature which makes
this caution so necessary, namely, the repetition of the same form,
slightly modified, in totally different animals, sometimes as if to
avoid waste, (for why should not the same conception be used in two
different cases, if it will suit in both?) and sometimes (more
marvellous by far) when an organ, fully developed and useful in one
species, appears in a cognate species but feeble, useless, and, as
it were, abortive; and gradually, in species still farther removed,
dies out altogether; placed there, it would seem, at first sight,
merely to keep up the family likeness. I am half jesting; that
cannot be the only reason, perhaps not the reason at all; but the
fact is one of the most curious, and notorious also, in comparative
Look, again, at those sea-slugs. One, some three inches long, of a
bright lemon-yellow, clouded with purple; another of a dingy grey;
(16) another exquisite little creature of a pearly French White,
(17) furred all over the back with what seem arms, but are really
gills, of ringed white and grey and black. Put that yellow one
into water, and from his head, above the eyes, arise two serrated
horns, while from the after-part of his back springs a circular
Prince-of-Wales's-feather of gills, - they are almost exactly like
those which we saw just now in the white Cucumaria. Yes; here is
another instance of the same custom of repetition. The Cucumaria
is a low radiate animal - the sea-slug a far higher mollusc; and
every organ within him is formed on a different type; as indeed are
those seemingly identical gills, if you come to examine them under
the microscope, having to oxygenate fluids of a very different and
more complicated kind; and, moreover, the Cucumaria's gills were
put round his mouth, the Doris's feathers round the other
extremity; that grey Eolis's, again, are simple clubs, scattered
over his whole back, and in each of his nudibranch congeners these
same gills take some new and fantastic form; in Melibaea those
clubs are covered with warts; in Scyllaea, with tufted bouquets; in
the beautiful Antiopa they are transparent bags; and in many other
English species they take every conceivable form of leaf, tree,
flower, and branch, bedecked with every colour of the rainbow, as
you may see them depicted in Messrs. Alder and Hancock's unrivalled
Monograph on the Nudibranch Mollusca.
And now, worshipper of final causes and the mere useful in nature,
answer but one question, - Why this prodigal variety? All these
Nudibranchs live in much the same way: why would not the same
mould have done for them all? And why, again, (for we must push
the argument a little further,) why have not all the butterflies,
at least all who feed on the same plant, the same markings? Of all
unfathomable triumphs of design, (we can only express ourselves
thus, for honest induction, as Paley so well teaches, allows us to
ascribe such results only to the design of some personal will and
mind,) what surpasses that by which the scales on a butterfly's
wing are arranged to produce a certain pattern of artistic beauty
beyond all painter's skill? What a waste of power, on any
utilitarian theory of nature! And once more, why are those strange
microscopic atomies, the Diatomaceae and Infusoria, which fill
every stagnant pool; which fringe every branch of sea-weed; which
form banks hundreds of miles long on the Arctic sea-floor, and the
strata of whole moorlands; which pervade in millions the mass of
every iceberg, and float aloft in countless swarms amid the clouds
of the volcanic dust; - why are their tiny shells of flint as
fantastically various in their quaint mathematical symmetry, as
they are countless beyond the wildest dreams of the Poet? Mystery
inexplicable on the conceited notion which, making man forsooth the
centre of the universe, dares to believe that this variety of forms
has existed for countless ages in abysmal sea-depths and untrodden
forests, only that some few individuals of the Western races might,
in these latter days, at last discover and admire a corner here and
there of the boundless realms of beauty. Inexplicable, truly, if
man be the centre and the object of their existence; explicable
enough to him who believes that God has created all things for
Himself, and rejoices in His own handiwork, and that the material
universe is, as the wise man says, "A platform whereon His Eternal
Spirit sports and makes melody." Of all the blessings which the
study of nature brings to the patient observer, let none, perhaps,
be classed higher than this: that the further he enters into those
fairy gardens of life and birth, which Spenser saw and described in
his great poem, the more he learns the awful and yet most
comfortable truth, that they do not belong to him, but to One
greater, wiser, lovelier than he; and as he stands, silent with
awe, amid the pomp of Nature's ever-busy rest, hears, as of old,
"The Word of the Lord God walking among the trees of the garden in
the cool of the day."
One sight more, and we have done. I had something to say, had time
permitted, on the ludicrous element which appears here and there in
nature. There are animals, like monkeys and crabs, which seem made
to be laughed at; by those at least who possess that most
indefinable of faculties, the sense of the ridiculous. As long as
man possesses muscles especially formed to enable him to laugh, we
have no right to suppose (with some) that laughter is an accident
of our fallen nature; or to find (with others) the primary cause of
the ridiculous in the perception of unfitness or disharmony. And
yet we shrink (whether rightly or wrongly, we can hardly tell) from
attributing a sense of the ludicrous to the Creator of these forms.
It may be a weakness on my part; at least I will hope it is a
reverent one: but till we can find something corresponding to what
we conceive of the Divine Mind in any class of phenomena, it is
perhaps better not to talk about them at all, but observe a stoic
"epoche," waiting for more light, and yet confessing that our own
laughter is uncontrollable, and therefore we hope not unworthy of
us, at many a strange creature and strange doing which we meet,
from the highest ape to the lowest polype.
But, in the meanwhile, there are animals in which results so
strange, fantastic, even seemingly horrible, are produced, that
fallen man may be pardoned, if he shrinks from them in disgust.
That, at least, must be a consequence of our own wrong state; for
everything is beautiful and perfect in its place. It may be
answered, "Yes, in its place; but its place is not yours. You had
no business to look at it, and must pay the penalty for
intermeddling." I doubt that answer; for surely, if man have
liberty to do anything, he has liberty to search out freely his
heavenly Father's works; and yet every one seems to have his
antipathic animal; and I know one bred from his childhood to
zoology by land and sea, and bold in asserting, and honest in
feeling, that all without exception is beautiful, who yet cannot,
after handling and petting and admiring all day long every uncouth
and venomous beast, avoid a paroxysm of horror at the sight of the
common house-spider. At all events, whether we were intruding or
not, in turning this stone, we must pay a fine for having done so;
for there lies an animal as foul and monstrous to the eye as
"hydra, gorgon, or chimaera dire," and yet so wondrously fitted to
its work, that we must needs endure for our own instruction to
handle and to look at it. Its name, if you wish for it, is
Nemertes; probably N. Borlasii; (18) a worm of very "low"
organization, though well fitted enough for its own work. You see
it? That black, shiny, knotted lump among the gravel, small enough
to be taken up in a dessert spoon. Look now, as it is raised and
its coils drawn out. Three feet - six - nine, at least: with a
capability of seemingly endless expansion; a slimy tape of living
caoutchouc, some eighth of an inch in diameter, a dark chocolateblack,
with paler longitudinal lines. Is it alive? It hangs,
helpless and motionless, a mere velvet string across the hand. Ask
the neighbouring Annelids and the fry of the rock fishes, or put it
into a vase at home, and see. It lies motionless, trailing itself
among the gravel; you cannot tell where it begins or ends; it may
be a dead strip of sea-weed, Himanthalia lorea, perhaps, or Chorda
filum; or even a tarred string. So thinks the little fish who
plays over and over it, till he touches at last what is too surely
a head. In an instant a bell-shaped sucker mouth has fastened to
his side. In another instant, from one lip, a concave double
proboscis, just like a tapir's (another instance of the repetition
of forms), has clasped him like a finger; and now begins the
struggle: but in vain. He is being "played" with such a fishingline
as the skill of a Wilson or a Stoddart never could invent; a
living line, with elasticity beyond that of the most delicate flyrod,
which follows every lunge, shortening and lengthening,
slipping and twining round every piece of gravel and stem of seaweed,
with a tiring drag such as no Highland wrist or step could
ever bring to bear on salmon or on trout. The victim is tired now;
and slowly, and yet dexterously, his blind assailant is feeling and
shifting along his side, till he reaches one end of him; and then
the black lips expand, and slowly and surely the curved finger
begins packing him end-foremost down into the gullet, where he
sinks, inch by inch, till the swelling which marks his place is
lost among the coils, and he is probably macerated to a pulp long
before he has reached the opposite extremity of his cave of doom.
Once safe down, the black murderer slowly contracts again into a
knotted heap, and lies, like a boa with a stag inside him,
motionless and blest. (19)
There; we must come away now, for the tide is over our ankles; but
touch, before you go, one of those little red mouths which peep out
of the stone. A tiny jet of water shoots up almost into your face.
The bivalve (20) who has burrowed into the limestone knot (the
softest part of the stone to his jaws, though the hardest to your
chisel) is scandalized at having the soft mouths of his siphons so
rudely touched, and taking your finger for some bothering Annelid,
who wants to nibble him, is defending himself; shooting you, as
naturalists do humming-birds, with water. Let him rest in peace;
it will cost you ten minutes' hard work, and much dirt, to extract
him; but if you are fond of shells, secure one or two of those
beautiful pink and straw-coloured scallops (Hinnites pusio, Plate
X. fig. 1), who have gradually incorporated the layers of their
lower valve with the roughnesses of the stone, destroying thereby
the beautiful form which belongs to their race, but not their
delicate colour. There are a few more bivalves too, adhering to
the stone, and those rare ones, and two or three delicate Mangeliae
and Nassae (21) are trailing their graceful spires up and down in
search of food. That little bright red and yellow pea, too, touch
it - the brilliant coloured cloak is withdrawn, and, instead, you
have a beautiful ribbed pink cowry, (22) our only European
representative of that grand tropical family. Cast one wondering
glance, too, at the forest of zoophytes and corals, Lepraliae and
Flustrae, and those quaint blue stars, set in brown jelly, which
are no zoophytes, but respectable molluscs, each with his wellformed
mouth and intestines, (23) but combined in a peculiar form
of Communism, of which all one can say is, that one hopes they like
it; and that, at all events, they agree better than the heroes and
heroines of Mr. Hawthorne's "Blithedale Romance."
Now away, and as a specimen of the fertility of the water-world,
look at this rough list of species, (24) the greater part of which
are on this very stone, and all of which you might obtain in an
hour, would the rude tide wait for zoologists: and remember that
the number of individuals of each species of polype must be counted
by tens of thousands; and also, that, by searching the forest of
sea-weeds which covers the upper surface, we should probably obtain
some twenty minute species more.
A goodly catalogue this, surely, of the inhabitants of three or
four large stones; and yet how small a specimen of the
multitudinous nations of the sea!
From the bare rocks above high-water mark, down to abysses deeper
than ever plummet sounded, is life, everywhere life; fauna after
fauna, and flora after flora, arranged in zones, according to the
amount of light and warmth which each species requires, and to the
amount of pressure which they are able to endure. The crevices of
the highest rocks, only sprinkled with salt spray in spring-tides
and high gales, have their peculiar little univalves, their crisp
lichen-like sea-weed, in myriads; lower down, the region of the
Fuci (bladder-weeds) has its own tribes of periwinkles and limpets;
below again, about the neap-tide mark, the region of the corallines
and Algae furnishes food for yet other species who graze on its
watery meadows; and beneath all, only uncovered at low spring-tide,
the zone of the Laminariae (the great tangles and ore-weeds) is
most full of all of every imaginable form of life. So that as we
descend the rocks, we may compare ourselves (likening small things
to great) to those who, descending the Andes, pass in a single day
from the vegetation of the Arctic zone to that of the Tropics. And
here and there, even at half-tide level, deep rock-basins, shaded
from the sun and always full of water, keep up in a higher zone the
vegetation of a lower one, and afford in nature an analogy to those
deep "barrancos" which split the high table-land of Mexico, down
whose awful cliffs, swept by cool sea-breezes, the traveller looks
from among the plants and animals of the temperate zone, and sees
far below, dim through their everlasting vapour-bath of rank hot
steam, the mighty forms and gorgeous colours of a tropic forest.
"I do not wonder," says Mr. Gosse, in his charming "Naturalist's
Rambles on the Devonshire Coast" (p. 187), "that when Southey had
an opportunity of seeing some of those beautiful quiet basins
hollowed in the living rock, and stocked with elegant plants and
animals, having all the charm of novelty to his eye, they should
have moved his poetic fancy, and found more than one place in the
gorgeous imagery of his Oriental romances. Just listen to him
"It was a garden still beyond all price,
Even yet it was a place of paradise;
And here were coral bowers,
And grots of madrepores,
And banks of sponge, as soft and fair to eye
As e'er was mossy bed
Whereon the wood-nymphs lie
With languid limbs in summer's sultry hours.
Here, too, were living flowers,
Which, like a bud compacted,
Their purple cups contracted;
And now in open blossom spread,
Stretch'd, like green anthers, many a seeking head.
And arborets of jointed stone were there,
And plants of fibres fine as silkworm's thread;
Yea, beautiful as mermaid's golden hair
Upon the waves dispread.
Others that, like the broad banana growing,
Raised their long wrinkled leaves of purple hue,
Like streamers wide outflowing.' - KEHAMA, xvi. 5.
"A hundred times you might fancy you saw the type, the very
original of this description, tracing, line by line, and image by
image, the details of the picture; and acknowledging, as you
proceed, the minute truthfulness with which it has been drawn. For
such is the loveliness of nature in these secluded reservoirs, that
the accomplished poet, when depicting the gorgeous scenes of
Eastern mythology - scenes the wildest and most extravagant that
imagination could paint - drew not upon the resources of his
prolific fancy for imagery here, but was well content to jot down
the simple lineaments of Nature as he saw her in plain, homely
"It is a beautiful and fascinating sight for those who have never
seen it before, to see the little shrubberies of pink coralline -
'the arborets of jointed stone' - that fringe those pretty pools.
It is a charming sight to see the crimson banana-like leaves of the
Delesseria waving in their darkest corners; and the purple fibrous
tufts of Polysiphonia and Ceramia, 'fine as silkworm's thread.'
But there are many others which give variety and impart beauty to
these tide-pools. The broad leaves of the Ulva, finer than the
finest cambric, and of the brightest emerald-green, adorn the
hollows at the highest level, while, at the lowest, wave tiny
forests of the feathery Ptilota and Dasya, and large leaves, cut
into fringes and furbelows, of rosy Rhodymeniae. All these are
lovely to behold; but I think I admire as much as any of them, one
of the commonest of our marine plants, Chondrus crispus. It occurs
in the greatest profusion on this coast, in every pool between
tide-marks; and everywhere - except in those of the highest level,
where constant exposure to light dwarfs the plant, and turns it of
a dull umber-brown tint - it is elegant in form and brilliant in
colour. The expanding fan-shaped fronds, cut into segments, cut,
and cut again, make fine bushy tufts in a deep pool, and every
segment of every frond reflects a flush of the most lustrous azure,
like that of a tempered sword-blade." - GOSSE'S DEVONSHIRE COAST,
pp. 187-189.
And the sea-bottom, also, has its zones, at different depths, and
its peculiar forms in peculiar spots, affected by the currents and
the nature of the ground, the riches of which have to be seen,
alas! rather by the imagination than the eye; for such spoonfuls of
the treasure as the dredge brings up to us, come too often rolled
and battered, torn from their sites and contracted by fear, mere
hints to us of what the populous reality below is like. Often,
standing on the shore at low tide, has one longed to walk on and in
under the waves, as the water-ousel does in the pools of the
mountain burn, and see it all but for a moment; and a solemn beauty
and meaning has invested the old Greek fable of Glaucus the
fisherman: how eating of the herb which gave his fish strength to
leap back into their native element, he was seized on the spot with
a strange longing to follow them under the waves, and became for
ever a companion of the fair semi-human forms with which the
Hellenic poets peopled their sunny bays and firths, feeding "silent
flocks" far below on the green Zostera beds, or basking with them
on the sunny ledges in the summer noon, or wandering in the still
bays on sultry nights amid the choir of Amphitrite and her seanymphs:-
"Joining the bliss of the gods, as they waken the coves with their
in nightly revels, whereof one has sung, -
"So they came up in their joy; and before them the roll of the
Sank, as the breezes sank dead, into smooth green foam-flecked
Awed; and the crags of the cliffs, and the pines of the mountains,
were silent.
So they came up in their joy, and around them the lamps of the seanymphs,
Myriad fiery globes, swam heaving and panting, and rainbows,
Crimson, and azure, and emerald, were broken in star-showers,
Far in the wine-dark depths of the crystal, the gardens of Nereus,
Coral, and sea-fan, and tangle, the blooms and the palms of the
So they went on in their joy, more white than the foam which they
Laughing and singing and tossing and twining; while, eager, the
Blinded with kisses their eyes, unreproved, and above them in
Fluttered the terns, and the sea-gulls swept past them on silvery
Echoing softly their laughter; around them the wantoning dolphins
Sighed as they plunged, full of love; and the great sea-horses
which bore them
Curved up their crests in their pride to the delicate arms of their
Pawing the spray into gems, till a fiery rainfall, unharming,
Sparkled and gleamed on the limbs of the maids, and the coils of
the mermen.
So they went on in their joy, bathed round with the fiery coolness,
Needing nor sun nor moon, self-lighted, immortal: but others,
Pitiful, floated in silence apart; on their knees lay the sea-boys
Whelmed by the roll of the surge, swept down by the anger of
Hapless, whom never again upon quay or strand shall their mothers
Welcome with garlands and vows to the temples; but, wearily pining,
Gaze over island and main for the sails which return not; they,
Sleep in soft bosoms for ever, and dream of the surge and the seamaids.
So they passed by in their joy, like a dream, on the murmuring
Such a rhapsody may be somewhat out of order, even in a popular
scientific book; and yet one cannot help at moments envying the old
Greek imagination, which could inform the soulless sea-world with a
human life and beauty. For, after all, star-fishes and seaanemones
are dull substitutes for Sirens and Tritons; the lamps of
the sea-nymphs, those glorious phosphorescent medusae whose beauty
Mr. Gosse sets forth so well with pen and pencil, are not as
attractive as the sea-nymphs themselves would be; and who would
not, like Menelaus, take the grey old man of the sea himself asleep
upon the rocks, rather than one of his seal-herd, probably too with
the same result as the world-famous combat in the Antiquary,
between Hector and Phoca? And yet - is there no human interest in
these pursuits, more humanity and more divine, than there would be
even in those Triton and Nereid dreams, if realized to sight and
sense? Heaven forbid that those should say so, whose wanderings
among rock and pool have been mixed up with holiest passages of
friendship and of love, and the intercommunion of equal minds and
sympathetic hearts, and the laugh of children drinking in health
from every breeze and instruction at every step, running ever and
anon with proud delight to add their little treasure to their
parents' stock, and of happy friendly evenings spent over the
microscope and the vase, in examining, arranging, preserving,
noting down in the diary the wonders and the labours of the happy,
busy day. No; such short glimpses of the water-world as our
present appliances afford us are full enough of pleasure; and we
will not envy Glaucus: we will not even be over-anxious for the
success of his only modern imitator, the French naturalist who is
reported to have fitted himself with a waterproof dress and
breathing apparatus, in order to walk the bottom of the
Mediterranean, and see for himself how the world goes on at the
fifty-fathom line: we will be content with the wonders of the
shore and of the sea-floor, as far as the dredge will discover them
to us. We shall even thus find enough to occupy (if we choose) our
lifetime. For we must recollect that this hasty sketch has hardly
touched on that vegetable water-world, which is as wonderful and as
various as the animal one. A hint or two of the beauty of the seaweeds
has been given; but space has allowed no more. Yet we might
have spent our time with almost as much interest and profit, had we
neglected utterly the animals which we have found, and devoted our
attention exclusively to the flora of the rocks. Sea-weeds are no
mere playthings for children; and to buy at a shop some thirty
pretty kinds, pasted on paper, with long names (probably mis-spelt)
written under each, is not by any means to possess a collection of
them. Putting aside the number and the obscurity of their species,
the questions which arise in studying their growth, reproduction,
and organic chemistry are of the very deepest and most important in
the whole range of science; and it will need but a little study of
such a book as Harvey's "Algae," to show the wise man that he who
has comprehended (which no man yet does) the mystery of a single
spore or tissue-cell, has reached depths in the great "Science of
Life" at which an Owen would still confess himself "blind by excess
of light." "Knowest thou how the bones grow in the womb?" asks the
Jewish sage, sadly, half self-reprovingly, as he discovers that man
is not the measure of all things, and that in much learning may be
vanity and vexation of spirit, and in much study a weariness of the
flesh; and all our deeper physical science only brings the same
question more awfully near. "Vilior algÉ," more worthless than the
very sea-weed, says the old Roman: and yet no torn scrap of that
very sea-weed, which to-morrow may manure the nearest garden, but
says to us, "Proud man! talking of spores and vesicles, if thou
darest for a moment to fancy that to have seen spores and vesicles
is to have seen me, or to know what I am, answer this. Knowest
thou how the bones do grow in the womb? Knowest thou even how one
of these tiny black dots, which thou callest spores, grow on my
fronds?" And to that question what answer shall we make? We see
tissues divide, cells develop, processes go on - but How and Why?
These are but phenomena; but what are phenomena save effects?
Causes, it may be, of other effects; but still effects of other
causes. And why does the cause cause that effect? Why should it
not cause something else? Why should it cause anything at all?
Because it obeys a law. But why does it obey the law? and how does
it obey the law? And, after all, what is a law? A mere custom of
Nature. We see the same phenomenon happen a great many times; and
we infer from thence that it has a custom of happening; and
therefore we call it a law: but we have not seen the law; all we
have seen is the phenomenon which we suppose to indicate the law.
We have seen things fall: but we never saw a little flying thing
pulling them down, with "gravitation" labelled on its back; and the
question, why things fall, and HOW, is just where it was before
Newton was born, and is likely to remain there. All we can say is,
that Nature has her customs, and that other customs ensue, when
those customs appear: but that as to what connects cause and
effect, as to what is the reason, the final cause, or even the
CAUSA CAUSANS, of any phenomenon, we know not more but less than
ever; for those laws or customs which seem to us simplest
("endosmose," for instance, or "gravitation"), are just the most
inexplicable, logically unexpected, seemingly arbitrary, certainly
supernatural - miraculous, if you will; for no natural and physical
cause whatsoever can be assigned for them; while if anyone shall
argue against their being miraculous and supernatural on the ground
of their being so common, I can only answer, that of all absurd and
illogical arguments, this is the most so. For what has the number
of times which the miracle occurs to do with the question, save to
increase the wonder? Which is more strange, that an inexplicable
and unfathomable thing should occur once and for all, or that it
should occur a million times every day all the world over?
Let those, however, who are too proud to wonder, do as seems good
to them. Their want of wonder will not help them toward the
required explanation: and to them, as to us, as soon as we begin
asking, "HOW?" and "WHY?" the mighty Mother will only reply with
that magnificent smile of hers, most genial, but most silent, which
she has worn since the foundation of all worlds; that silent smile
which has tempted many a man to suspect her of irony, even of
deceit and hatred of the human race; the silent smile which Solomon
felt, and answered in "Ecclesiastes;" which Goethe felt, and did
not answer in his "Faust;" which Pascal felt, and tried to answer
in his "Thoughts," and fled from into self-torture and
superstition, terrified beyond his powers of endurance, as he found
out the true meaning of St. John's vision, and felt himself really
standing on that fragile and slippery "sea of glass," and close
beneath him the bottomless abyss of doubt, and the nether fires of
moral retribution. He fled from Nature's silent smile, as that
poor old King Edward (mis-called the Confessor) fled from her hymns
of praise, in the old legend of Havering-atte-bower, when he cursed
the nightingales because their songs confused him in his prayers:
but the wise man need copy neither, and fear neither the silence
nor the laughter of the mighty mother Earth, if he will be but
wise, and hear her tell him, alike in both - "Why call me mother?
Why ask me for knowledge which I cannot teach, peace which I cannot
give or take away? I am only your foster-mother and your nurse -
and I have not been an unkindly one. But you are God's children,
and not mine. Ask Him. I can amuse you with my songs; but they
are but a nurse's lullaby to the weary flesh. I can awe you with
my silence; but my silence is only my just humility, and your gain.
How dare I pretend to tell you secrets which He who made me knows
alone? I am but inanimate matter; why ask of me things which
belong to living spirit? In God I live and move, and have my
being; I know not how, any more than you know. Who will tell you
what life is, save He who is the Lord of life? And if He will not
tell you, be sure it is because you need not to know. At least,
why seek God in nature, the living among the dead? He is not here:
He is risen."
He is not here: He is risen. Good reader, you will probably agree
that to know that saying, is to know the key-note of the world to
come. Believe me, to know it, and all it means, is to know the
keynote of this world also, from the fall of dynasties and the fate
of nations, to the sea-weed which rots upon the beach.
It may seem startling, possibly (though I hope not, for my readers'
sake, irreverent), to go back at once after such thoughts, be they
true or false, to the weeds upon the cliff above our heads. But He
who is not here, but is risen, yet is here, and has appointed them
their services in a wonderful order; and I wish that on some day,
or on many days, when a quiet sea and offshore breezes have
prevented any new objects from coming to land with the rising tide,
you would investigate the flowers peculiar to our sea-rocks and
sandhills. Even if you do not find the delicate lily-like
Trichonema of the Channel Islands and Dawlish, or the almost as
beautiful Squill of the Cornish cliffs, or the sea-lavender of
North Devon, or any of those rare Mediterranean species which Mr.
Johns has so charmingly described in his "Week at the Lizard
Point," yet an average cliff, with its carpeting of pink thrift and
of bladder catchfly, and Lady's finger, and elegant grasses, most
of them peculiar to the sea marge, is often a very lovely flowerbed.
Not merely interesting, too, but brilliant in their vegetation are
sandhills; and the seemingly desolate dykes and banks of salt
marshes will yield many a curious plant, which you may neglect if
you will: but lay to your account the having to repent your
neglect hereafter, when, finding out too late what a pleasant study
botany is, you search in vain for curious forms over which you trod
every day in crossing flats which seemed to you utterly ugly and
uninteresting, but which the good God was watching as carefully as
He did the pleasant hills inland: perhaps even more carefully; for
the uplands He has completed, and handed over to man, that he may
dress and keep them: but the tide-flats below are still
unfinished, dry land in the process of creation, to which every
tide is adding the elements of fertility, which shall grow food,
perhaps in some future state of our planet, for generations yet
But to return to the water-world, and to dredging; which of all
sea-side pursuits is perhaps the most pleasant, combining as it
does fine weather sailing with the discovery of new objects, to
which, after all, the waifs and strays of the beach, whether
"flotsom jetsom, or lagand," as the old Admiralty laws define them,
are few and poor. I say particularly fine weather sailing; for a
swell, which makes the dredge leap along the bottom, instead of
scraping steadily, is as fatal to sport as it is to some people's
comfort. But dredging, if you use a pleasure boat and the small
naturalist's dredge, is an amusement in which ladies, if they will,
may share, and which will increase, and not interfere with, the
amusements of a water-party.
The naturalist's dredge, of which Mr. Gosse's "Aquarium" gives a
detailed account, should differ from the common oyster dredge in
being smaller; certainly not more than four feet across the mouth;
and instead of having but one iron scraping-lip like the oyster
dredge, it should have two, one above and one below, so that it
will work equally well on whichsoever side it falls, or how often
soever it may be turned over by rough ground. The bag-net should
be of strong spunyarn, or (still better) of hide "such as those
hides of the wild cattle of the Pampas, which the tobacconists
receive from South America," cut into thongs, and netted close. It
should be loosely laced together with a thong at the tail edge in
order to be opened easily, when brought on board, without canting
the net over, and pouring the contents roughly out through the
mouth. The dragging-rope should be strong, and at least three
times as long as the perpendicular depth of the water in which you
are working; if, indeed, there is much breeze, or any swell at all,
still more line should be veered out. The inboard end should be
made fast somewhere in the stern sheets, the dredge hove to
windward, the boat put before the wind; and you may then amuse
yourself as you will for the next quarter of an hour, provided that
you have got ready various wide-mouthed bottles for the more
delicate monsters, and a couple of buckets, to receive the large
lumps of oysters and serpulae which you will probably bring to the
As for a dredging ground, one may be found, I suppose, off every
watering-place. The most fertile spots are in rough ground, in not
less than five fathoms water. The deeper the water, the rarer and
more interesting will the animals generally be: but a greater
depth than fifteen fathoms is not easily reached on this side of
Plymouth; and, on the whole, the beginner will find enough in seven
or eight fathoms to stock an aquarium rivalling any of those in the
"Tank-house" at the Zoological Gardens.
In general, the south coast of England, to the eastward of
Portland, affords bad dredging ground. The friable cliffs, of
comparatively recent formations, keep the sea shallow, and the
bottom smooth and bare, by the vast deposits of sand and gravel.
Yet round the Isle of Wight, especially at the back of the Needles,
there ought to be fertile spots; and Weymouth, according to Mr.
Gosse and other well-known naturalists, is a very garden of Nereus.
Torbay, as may well be supposed, is an admirable dredging spot;
perhaps its two best points are round the isolated Thatcher and
Oare-rock, and from the mouth of Brixham harbour to Berry Head;
along which last line, for perhaps three hundred years, the decks
of all Brixham trawlers have been washed down ere running into
harbour, and the sea-bottom thus stored with treasures scraped up
from deeper water in every direction for miles and miles.
Hastings is, I fear, but a poor spot for dredging. Its friable
cliffs and strong tides produce a changeable and barren sea-floor.
Yet the immense quantities of Flustra thrown up after a storm
indicate dredging ground at no great distance outside; its rocks,
uninteresting as they are compared with our Devonians, have yielded
to the industry and science of M. Tumanowicz a vast number of seaweeds
and sponges. Those three curious polypes, Valkeria cuscuta
(Plate I. fig. 3), Notamia Bursaria, and Serialaria Lendigera,
abound within tide-marks; and as the place is so much visited by
Londoners, it may be worth while to give a few hints as to what
might be done, by anyone whose curiosity has been excited by the
salt-water tanks of the Zoological Gardens and the Crystal Palace.
An hour or two's dredging round the rocks to the eastward, would
probably yield many delicate and brilliant little fishes; Gobies,
brilliant Labri, blue, yellow, and orange, with tiny rabbit mouths,
and powerful protruding teeth; pipe fishes (Syngnathi) (25) with
strange snipe-bills (which they cannot open) and snake-like bodies;
small cuttlefish (Sepiolae) of a white jelly mottled with brilliant
metallic hues, with a ring of suckered arms round their tiny
parrots' beaks, who, put into a jar, will hover and dart in the
water, as the skylark does in air, by rapid winnowings of their
glassy side-fins, while they watch you with bright lizard-eyes; the
whole animal being a combination of the vertebrate and the mollusc,
so utterly fantastic and abnormal, that (had not the family been
amongst the commonest, from the earliest geological epochs) it
would have seemed, to man's deductive intellect, a form almost as
impossible as the mermaid, far more impossible than the seaserpent.
These, and perhaps a few handsome sea-slugs and bivalve
shells, you will be pretty sure to find: perhaps a great deal
Meanwhile, without dredging, you may find a good deal on the shore.
In the spring Doris bilineata comes to the rocks in thousands, to
lay its strange white furbelows of spawn upon their overhanging
edges. Eolides of extraordinary beauty haunt the same spots. The
great Eolis papillosa, of a delicate French grey; Eolis pellucida
(?) (Plate X. fig. 4), in which each papilla on the back is
beautifully coloured with a streak of pink, and tipped with iron
blue; and a most fantastical yellow little creature, so covered
with plumes and tentacles that the body is invisible, which I
believe to be the Idalia aspersa of Alder and Hancock.
At the bottom of the rock pools, behind St. Leonard's baths, may be
found hundreds of the snipe's feather Anemone (Sagartia
troglodytes), of every line; from the common brown and grey snipe's
feather kind, to the white-horned Hesperus, the orange-horned
Aurora, and a rich lilac and crimson variety, which does not seem
to agree with either the Lilacinia or Rubicunda of Gosse. A more
beautiful living bouquet could hardly be seen, than might be made
of the varieties of this single species, from this one place.
On the outside sands between the end of the Marina and the Martello
tower, you may find, at very low tides, great numbers of a sandtube,
about three inches long, standing up out of the sand. I do
not mean the tubes of the Terebella, so common in all sands, which
are somewhat flexible, and have their upper end fringed with a
ragged ring of sandy arms: those I speak of are straight and
stiff, and ending in a point upward. Draw them out of the sand -
they will offer some resistance - and put them into a vase of
water; you will see the worm inside expand two delicate golden
combs, just like old-fashioned back-hair combs, of a metallic
lustre, which will astonish you. With these combs the worm seems
to burrow head downward into the sand; but whether he always
remains in that attitude I cannot say. His name is Pectinaria
Belgica. He is an Annelid, or true worm, connected with the
Serpulea and Sabellae of which I have spoken already, and holds
himself in his case like them, by hooks and bristles set on each
ring of his body. In confinement he will probably come out of his
case and die; when you may dissect him at your leisure, and learn a
great deal more about him thereby than (I am sorry to say) I know.
But if you have courage to run out fifteen or twenty miles to the
Diamond, you may find really rare and valuable animals. There is a
risk, of course, of being blown over to the coast of France, by a
change of wind; there is a risk also of not being able to land at
night on the inhospitable Hastings beach, and of sleeping, as best
you can, on board: but in the long days and settled fine weather
of summer, the trip, in a stout boat, ought to be a safe and a
pleasant one.
On the Diamond you will find many, or most of those gay creatures
which attract your eye in the central row of tanks at the
Zoological Gardens: great twisted masses of Serpulae, (26) those
white tubes of stone, from the mouth of which protrude pairs of
rose-coloured or orange fans, flashing in, quick as light, the
moment that your finger approaches them or your shadow crosses the
You will dredge, too, the twelve-rayed sun-star (Solaster papposa),
with his rich scarlet armour; and more strange, and quite as
beautiful, the bird's foot star (Palmipes membranaceus), which you
may see crawling by its thousand sucking-feet in the Crystal Palace
tanks, a pentagonal webbed bird's foot, of scarlet and orange
shagreen. With him, most probably, will be a specimen of the great
purple heart-urchin (Spatangus purpureus), clothed in pale lilac
horny spines, and other Echinoderms, for which you must consult
Forbes's "British Star-fishes:" but perhaps the species among them
which will interest you most, will be the common brittle-star
(Ophiocoma rosula), of which a hundred or so, I can promise, shall
come up at a single haul of the dredge, entwining their long spineclad
arms in a seemingly inextricable confusion of "kaleidoscope"
patterns (thanks to Mr. Gosse for the one right epithet), purple
and azure, fawn, brown, green, grey, white and crimson; as if a
whole bed of China-asters should have first come to life, and then
gone mad, and fallen to fighting. But pick out, one by one,
specimens from the tangled mass, and you will agree that no Chinaaster
is so fair as this living stone-flower of the deep, with its
daisy-like disc, and fine long prickly arms, which never cease
their graceful serpentine motion, and its colours hardly alike in
any two specimens. Handle them not, meanwhile, too roughly, lest,
whether modesty or in anger, they begin a desperate course of
gradual suicide, and, breaking off arm after arm piecemeal, fling
them indignantly at their tormentor. Along with these you will
certainly obtain a few of that fine bivalve, the great Scallop,
which you have seen lying on every fishmonger's counter in
Hastings. Of these you must pick out those which seem dirtiest and
most overgrown with parasites, and place them carefully in a jar of
salt water, where they may not be rubbed; for they are worth your
examination, not merely for the sake of that ring of gem-like eyes
which borders their "cloak," lying along the extreme out edge of
the shell as the valves are half open, but for the sake of the
parasites outside: corallines of exquisite delicacy, Plumulariae
and Sertulariae, dead men's hands (Alcyonia), lumps of white or
orange jelly, which will protrude a thousand star-like polypes, and
the Tubularia indivisa, twisted tubes of fine straw, which ought
already to have puzzled you; for you may pick them up in
considerable masses on the Hastings beach after a south-west gale,
and think long over them before you determine whether the oat-like
stems and spongy roots belong to an animal, or a vegetable.
Animals they are, nevertheless, though even now you will hardly
guess the fact, when you see at the mouth of each tube a little
scarlet flower, connected with the pink pulp which fills the tube.
For a further description of this largest and handsomest of our
Hydroid Polypes, I must refer you to Johnston, or, failing him, to
Landsborough; and go on, to beg you not to despise those pink, or
grey, or white lumps of jelly, which will expand in salt water into
exquisite sea-anemones, of quite different forms from any which we
have found along the rocks. One of them will certainly be the
Dianthus, (27) which will open into a furbelowed flower, furred
with innumerable delicate tentacula; and in the centre a mouth of
the most delicate orange, the size of the whole animal being
perhaps eight inches high and five across. Perhaps it will be of a
satiny grey, perhaps pale rose, perhaps pure white; whatever its
colour, it is the very maiden queen of all the beautiful tribe, and
one of the loveliest gems with which it has pleased God to bedeck
this lower world.
These and much more you will find on the scallops, or even more
plentifully on any lump of ancient oysters; and if you do not
dredge, it would be well worth your while to make interest with the
fish-monger for a few oyster lumps, put into water the moment they
are taken out of the trawl. Divide them carefully, clear out the
oysters with a knife, and put the shells into your aquarium, and
you will find that an oyster at home is a very different thing from
an oyster on a stall.
You ought, besides, to dredge many handsome species of shells,
which you would never pick up along the beach; and if you are
conchologizing in earnest, you must not forget to bring home a tin
box of shell sand, to be washed and picked over in a dish at your
leisure, or forget either to wash through a fine sieve, over the
boat's side, any sludge and ooze which the dredge brings up. Many
- I may say, hundreds - rare and new shells are found in this way,
and in no other.
But if you cannot afford the expense of your own dredge and boat,
and the time and trouble necessary to follow the occupation
scientifically, yet every trawler and oyster-boat will afford you a
tolerable satisfaction. Go on board one of these; and while the
trawl is down, spend a pleasant hour or two in talking with the
simple, honest, sturdy fellows who work it, from whom (if you are
as fortunate as I have been for many a year past) you may get many
a moving story of danger and sorrow, as well as many a shrewd
practical maxim, and often, too, a living recognition of God, and
the providence of God, which will send you home, perhaps, a wiser
and more genial man. And when the trawl is hauled, wait till the
fish are counted out, and packed away, and then kneel down and
inspect (in a pair of Mackintosh leggings, and your oldest coat)
the crawling heap of shells and zoophytes which remains behind
about the decks, and you will find, if a landsman, enough to occupy
you for a week to come. Nay, even if it be too calm for trawling,
condescend to go out in a dingy, and help to haul some honest
fellow's deep-sea lines and lobster-pots, and you will find more
and stranger things about them than even fish or lobsters: though
they, to him who has eyes to see, are strange enough.
I speak from experience; for it was not so very long ago that, in
the north of Devon, I found sermons, not indeed in stones, but in a
creature reputed among the most worthless of sea-vermin. I had
been lounging about all the morning on the little pier, waiting,
with the rest of the village, for a trawling breeze which would not
come. Two o'clock was past, and still the red mainsails of the
skiffs hung motionless, and their images quivered head downwards in
the glassy swell,
"As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean."
It was neap-tide, too, and therefore nothing could be done among
the rocks. So, in despair, finding an old coast-guard friend
starting for his lobster-pots, I determined to save the old man's
arms, by rowing him up the shore; and then paddled homeward again,
under the high green northern wall, five hundred feet of cliff
furred to the water's edge with rich oak woods, against whose base
the smooth Atlantic swell died whispering, as if curling itself up
to sleep at last within that sheltered nook, tired with its weary
wanderings. The sun sank lower and lower behind the deer-park
point; the white stair of houses up the glen was wrapped every
moment deeper and deeper in hazy smoke and shade, as the light
faded; the evening fires were lighted one by one; the soft murmur
of the waterfall, and the pleasant laugh of children, and the
splash of homeward oars, came clearer and clearer to the ear at
every stroke: and as we rowed on, arose the recollection of many a
brave and wise friend, whose lot was cast in no such western
paradise, but rather in the infernos of this sinful earth, toiling
even then amid the festering alleys of Bermondsey and Bethnal
Green, to palliate death and misery which they had vainly laboured
to prevent, watching the strides of that very cholera which they
had been striving for years to ward off, now re-admitted in spite
of all their warnings, by the carelessness, and laziness, and greed
of sinful man. And as I thought over the whole hapless question of
sanitary reform, proved long since a moral duty to God and man,
possible, easy, even pecuniarily profitable, and yet left undone,
there seemed a sublime irony, most humbling to man, in some of
Nature's processes, and in the silent and unobtrusive perfection
with which she has been taught to anticipate, since the foundation
of the world, some of the loftiest discoveries of modern science,
of which we are too apt to boast as if we had created the method by
discovering its possibility. Created it? Alas for the pride of
human genius, and the autotheism which would make man the measure
of all things, and the centre of the universe! All the invaluable
laws and methods of sanitary reform at best are but clumsy
imitations of the unseen wonders which every animalcule and leaf
have been working since the world's foundation; with this slight
difference between them and us, that they fulfil their appointed
task, and we do not.
The sickly geranium which spreads its blanched leaves against the
cellar panes, and peers up, as if imploringly, to the narrow slip
of sunlight at the top of the narrow alley, had it a voice, could
tell more truly than ever a doctor in the town, why little Bessy
sickened of the scarlatina, and little Johnny of the hooping-cough,
till the toddling wee things who used to pet and water it were
carried off each and all of them one by one to the churchyard
sleep, while the father and mother sat at home, trying to supply by
gin that very vital energy which fresh air and pure water, and the
balmy breath of woods and heaths, were made by God to give; and how
the little geranium did its best, like a heaven-sent angel, to
right the wrong which man's ignorance had begotten, and drank in,
day by day, the poisoned atmosphere, and formed it into fair green
leaves, and breathed into the children's faces from every pore,
whenever they bent over it, the life-giving oxygen for which their
dulled blood and festered lungs were craving in vain; fulfilling
God's will itself, though man would not, too careless or too
covetous to see, after thousands of years of boasted progress, why
God had covered the earth with grass, herb, and tree, a living and
life-giving garment of perpetual health and youth.
It is too sad to think long about, lest we become very
Heraclituses. Let us take the other side of the matter with
Democritus, try to laugh man out of a little of his boastful
ignorance and self-satisfied clumsiness, and tell him, that if the
House of Commons would but summon one of the little Paramecia from
any Thames' sewer-mouth, to give his evidence before their next
Cholera Committee, sanitary blue-books, invaluable as they are,
would be superseded for ever and a day; and sanitary reformers
would no longer have to confess, that they know of no means of
stopping the smells which in past hot summers drove the members out
of the House, and the judges out of Westminster Hall.
Nay, in the boat at the minute of which I have been speaking,
silent and neglected, sat a fellow-passenger, who was a greater
adept at removing nuisances than the whole Board of Health put
together; and who had done his work, too, with a cheapness
unparalleled; for all his good deeds had not as yet cost the State
one penny. True, he lived by his business; so do other inspectors
of nuisances: but Nature, instead of paying Maia Squinado,
Esquire, some five hundred pounds sterling per annum for his
labour, had contrived, with a sublime simplicity of economy which
Mr. Hume might have envied and admired afar off, to make him do his
work gratis, by giving him the nuisances as his perquisites, and
teaching him how to eat them. Certainly (without going the length
of the Caribs, who upheld cannibalism because, they said, it made
war cheap, and precluded entirely the need of a commissariat), this
cardinal virtue of cheapness ought to make Squinado an interesting
object in the eyes of the present generation; especially as he was
at that moment a true sanitary martyr, having, like many of his
human fellow-workers, got into a fearful scrape by meddling with
those existing interests, and "vested rights which are but vested
wrongs," which have proved fatal already to more than one Board of
Health. For last night, as he was sitting quietly under a stone in
four fathoms water, he became aware (whether by sight, smell, or
that mysterious sixth sense, to us unknown, which seems to reside
in his delicate feelers) of a palpable nuisance somewhere in the
neighbourhood; and, like a trusty servant of the public, turned out
of his bed instantly and went in search; till he discovered,
hanging among what he judged to be the stems of ore-weed
(Laminaria), three or four large pieces of stale thornback, of most
evil savour, and highly prejudicial to the purity of the sea, and
the health of the neighbouring herrings. Happy Squinado! He
needed not to discover the limits of his authority, to consult any
lengthy Nuisances' Removal Act, with its clauses, and counterclauses,
and explanations of interpretations, and interpretations
of explanations. Nature, who can afford to be arbitrary, because
she is perfect, and to give her servants irresponsible powers,
because she has trained them to their work, had bestowed on him and
on his forefathers, as general health inspectors, those very
summary powers of entrance and removal in the watery realms for
which common sense, public opinion, and private philanthropy are
still entreating vainly in the terrestrial realms; so finding a
hole, in he went, and began to remove the nuisance, without
"waiting twenty-four hours," "laying an information," "serving a
notice," or any other vain delay. The evil was there, - and there
it should not stay; so having neither cart nor barrow, he just
began putting it into his stomach, and in the meanwhile set his
assistants to work likewise. For suppose not, gentle reader, that
Squinado went alone; in his train were more than a hundred thousand
as good as he, each in his office, and as cheaply paid; who needed
no cumbrous baggage train of force-pumps, hose, chloride of lime
packets, whitewash, pails or brushes, but were every man his own
instrument; and, to save expense of transit, just grew on
Squinado's back. Do you doubt the assertion? Then lift him up
hither, and putting him gently into that shallow jar of salt water,
look at him through the hand-magnifier, and see how Nature is
maxima in minimis.
There he sits, twiddling his feelers (a substitute, it seems, with
crustacea for biting their nails when they are puzzled), and by no
means lovely to look on in vulgar eyes; - about the bigness of a
man's fist; a round-bodied, spindle-shanked, crusty, prickly, dirty
fellow, with a villanous squint, too, in those little bony eyes,
which never look for a moment both the same way. Never mind: many
a man of genius is ungainly enough; and Nature, if you will
observe, as if to make up to him for his uncomeliness, has arrayed
him as Solomon in all his glory never was arrayed, and so fulfilled
one of the proposals of old Fourier - that scavengers, chimneysweeps,
and other workers in disgusting employments, should be
rewarded for their self-sacrifice in behalf of the public weal by
some peculiar badge of honour, or laurel crown. Not that his
crown, like those of the old Greek games, is a mere useless badge;
on the contrary, his robe of state is composed of his fellowservants.
His whole back is covered with a little grey forest of
branching hairs, fine as a spider's web, each branchlet carrying
its little pearly ringed club, each club its rose-coloured polype,
like (to quote Mr. Gosse's comparison) the unexpanded birds of the
acacia. (28)
On that leg grows, amid another copse of the grey polypes, a
delicate straw-coloured Sertularia, branch on branch of tiny double
combs, each tooth of the comb being a tube containing a living
flower; on another leg another Sertularia, coarser, but still
beautiful; and round it again has trained itself, parasitic on the
parasite, plant upon plant of glass ivy, bearing crystal bells,
(29) each of which, too, protrudes its living flower; on another
leg is a fresh species, like a little heather-bush of whitest
ivory, (30) and every needle leaf a polype cell - let us stop
before the imagination grows dizzy with the contemplation of those
myriads of beautiful atomies. And what is their use? Each living
flower, each polype mouth is feeding fast, sweeping into itself, by
the perpetual currents caused by the delicate fringes upon its rays
(so minute these last, that their motion only betrays their
presence), each tiniest atom of decaying matter in the surrounding
water, to convert it, by some wondrous alchemy, into fresh cells
and buds, and either build up a fresh branch in their thousandtenanted
tree, or form an egg-cell, from whence when ripe may
issue, not a fixed zoophyte, but a free swimming animal.
And in the meanwhile, among this animal forest grows a vegetable
one of delicatest sea-weeds, green and brown and crimson, whose
office is, by their everlasting breath, to reoxygenate the impure
water, and render it fit once more to be breathed by the higher
animals who swim or creep around.
Mystery of mysteries! Let us jest no more, - Heaven forgive us if
we have jested too much on so simple a matter as that poor spidercrab,
taken out of the lobster-pots, and left to die at the bottom
of the boat, because his more aristocratic cousins of the blue and
purple armour will not enter the trap while he is within.
I am not aware whether the surmise, that these tiny zoophytes help
to purify the water by exhaling oxygen gas, has yet been verified.
The infusorial animalcules do so, reversing the functions of animal
life, and instead of evolving carbonic acid gas, as other animals
do, evolve pure oxygen. So, at least, says Liebig, who states that
he found a small piece of matchwood, just extinguished, burst out
again into a flame on being immersed in the bubbles given out by
these living atomies.
I myself should be inclined to doubt that this is the case with
zoophytes, having found water in which they were growing (unless,
of course, sea-weeds were present) to be peculiarly ready to become
foul; but it is difficult to say whether this is owing to their
deoxygenating the water while alive, like other animals, or to the
fact that it is very rare to get a specimen of zoophyte in which a
large number of the polypes have not been killed in the transit
home, or at least so far knocked about, that (in the Anthozoa,
which are far the most abundant) the polype - or rather living
mouth, for it is little more - is thrown off to decay, pending the
growth of a fresh one in the same cell.
But all the sea-weeds, in common with other vegetables, perform
this function continually, and thus maintain the water in which
they grow in a state fit to support animal life.
This fact - first advanced by Priestley and Ingenhousz, and though
doubted by the great Ellis, satisfactorily ascertained by Professor
Daubeny, Mr. Ward, Dr. Johnston, and Mr. Warrington - gives an
answer to the question, which I hope has ere now arisen in the
minds of some of my readers, -
How is it possible to see these wonders at home? Beautiful and
instructive as they may be, can they be meant for any but dwellers
by the sea-side? Nay more, even to them, must not the glories of
the water-world be always more momentary than those of the rainbow,
a mere Fata Morgana which breaks up and vanishes before the eyes?
If there were but some method of making a miniature sea-world for a
few days; much more of keeping one with us when far inland. -
This desideratum has at last been filled up; and science has shown,
as usual, that by simply obeying Nature, we may conquer her, even
so far as to have our miniature sea, of artificial salt-water,
filled with living plants and sea-weeds, maintaining each other in
perfect health, and each following, as far as is possible in a
confined space, its natural habits.
To Dr. Johnston is due, as far as is known, the honour of the first
accomplishment of this as of a hundred other zoological triumphs.
As early as 1842, he proved to himself the vegetable nature of the
common pink Coralline, which fringes every rock-pool, by keeping it
for eight weeks in unchanged salt-water, without any putrefaction
ensuing. The ground, of course, on which the proof rested in this
case was, that if the coralline were, as had often been thought, a
zoophyte, the water would become corrupt, and poisonous to the life
of the small animals in the same jar; and that its remaining fresh
argued that the coralline had re-oxygenated it from time to time,
and was therefore a vegetable.
In 1850, Mr. Robert Warrington communicated to the Chemical Society
the results of a year's experiments, "On the Adjustment of the
Relations between the Animal and Vegetable Kingdoms, by which the
Vital Functions of both are permanently maintained." The law which
his experiments verified was the same as that on which Mr. Ward, in
1842, founded his invaluable proposal for increasing the purity of
the air in large towns, by planting trees and cultivating flowers
COUNTERBALANCE EACH OTHER; the animal's blood being purified by the
oxygen given off by the plants, the plants fed by the carbonic acid
breathed out by the animals.
On the same principle, Mr. Warrington first kept, for many months,
in a vase of unchanged water, two small gold fish and a plant of
Vallisneria spiralis; and two years afterwards began a similar
experiment with sea-water, weeds, and anemones, which were, at
last, as successful as the former ones. Mr. Gosse had, in the
meanwhile, with tolerable success begun a similar method, unaware
of what Mr. Warrington had done; and now the beautiful and curious
exhibition of fresh and salt water tanks in the Zoological Gardens
in London, bids fair to be copied in every similar institution, and
we hope in many private houses, throughout the kingdom.
To this subject Mr. Gosse's book, "The Aquarium," is principally
devoted, though it contains, besides, sketches of coast scenery, in
his usual charming style, and descriptions of rare sea-animals,
with wise and goodly reflections thereon. One great object of
interest in the book is the last chapter, which treats fully of the
making and stocking these salt-water "Aquaria;" and the various
beautifully coloured plates, which are, as it were, sketches from
the interior of tanks, are well fitted to excite the desire of all
readers to possess such gorgeous living pictures, if as nothing
else, still as drawing-room ornaments, flower-gardens which never
wither, fairy lakes of perpetual calm which no storm blackens, -
[Greek text which cannot be reproduced]
Those who have never seen one of them can never imagine (and
neither Mr. Gosse's pencil nor my clumsy words can ever describe to
them) the gorgeous colouring and the grace and delicacy of form
which these subaqueous landscapes exhibit.
As for colouring, - the only bit of colour which I can remember
even faintly resembling them (for though Correggio's Magdalene may
rival them in greens and blues, yet even he has no such crimsons
and purples) is the Adoration of the Shepherds, by that "prince of
colorists" - Palma Vecchio, which hangs on the left-hand side of
Lord Ellesmere's great gallery. But as for the forms, - where
shall we see their like? Where, amid miniature forests as
fantastic as those of the tropics, animals whose shapes outvie the
wildest dreams of the old German ghost painters which cover the
walls of the galleries of Brussels or Antwerp? And yet the
uncouthest has some quaint beauty of its own, while most - the
star-fishes and anemones, for example - are nothing but beauty.
The brilliant plates in Mr. Gosse's "Aquarium" give, after all, but
a meagre picture of the reality, as it may be seen in the tankhouse
at the Zoological Gardens; and as it may be seen also, by
anyone who will follow carefully the directions given at the end of
his book, stock a glass vase with such common things as he may find
in an hour's search at low tide, and so have an opportunity of
seeing how truly Mr. Gosse says, in his valuable preface, that -
"The habits" (and he might well have added, the marvellous beauty)
"of animals will never be thoroughly known till they are observed
in detail. Nor is it sufficient to mark them with attention now
and then; they must be closely watched, their various actions
carefully noted, their behaviour under different circumstances, and
especially those movements which seem to us mere vagaries,
undirected by any suggestible motive or cause, well examined. A
rich fruit of result, often new and curious and unexpected, will, I
am sure, reward anyone who studies living animals in this way. The
most interesting parts, by far, of published Natural History are
those minute, but graphic particulars, which have been gathered up
by an attentive watching of individual animals."
Mr. Gosse's own books, certainly, give proof enough of this. We
need only direct the reader to his exquisitely humorous account of
the ways and works of a captive soldier-crab, (31) to show them how
much there is to be seen, and how full Nature is also of that
ludicrous element of which we spoke above. And, indeed, it is in
this form of Natural History: not in mere classification, and the
finding out of means, and quarrellings as to the first discovery of
that beetle or this buttercup, - too common, alas! among mere
closet-collectors, - "endless genealogies," to apply St. Paul's
words by no means irreverently or fancifully, "which do but gender
strife;" - not in these pedantries is that moral training to be
found, for which we have been lauding the study of Natural History:
but in healthful walks and voyages out of doors, and in careful and
patient watching of the living animals and plants at home, with an
observation sharpened by practice, and a temper calmed by the
continual practice of the naturalist's first virtues - patience and
Practical directions for forming an "Aquarium" may be found in Mr.
Gosse's book bearing that name, at pp. 101, 255, ET SEQ.; and those
who wish to carry out the notion thoroughly, cannot do better than
buy his book, and take their choice of the many different forms of
vase, with rockwork, fountains, and other pretty devices which he
But the many, even if they have Mr. Gosse's book, will be rather
inclined to begin with a small attempt; especially as they are
probably half sceptical of the possibility of keeping sea-animals
inland without changing the water. A few simple directions,
therefore, will not come amiss here. They shall be such as anyone
can put into practice, who goes down to stay in a lodging-house at
the most cockney of watering-places.
Buy at any glass-shop a cylindrical glass jar, some six inches in
diameter and ten high, which will cost you from three to four
shillings; wash it clean, and fill it with clean salt-water, dipped
out of any pool among the rocks, only looking first to see that
there is no dead fish or other evil matter in the said pool, and
that no stream from the land runs into it. If you choose to take
the trouble to dip up the water over a boat's side, so much the
So much for your vase; now to stock it.
Go down at low spring-tide to the nearest ledge of rocks, and with
a hammer and chisel chip off a few pieces of stone covered with
growing sea-weed. Avoid the common and coarser kinds (fuci) which
cover the surface of the rocks; for they give out under water a
slime which will foul your tank: but choose the more delicate
species which fringe the edges of every pool at low-water mark; the
pink coralline, the dark purple ragged dulse (Rhodymenia), the
Carrageen moss (Chondrus), and above all, the commonest of all, the
delicate green Ulva, which you will see growing everywhere in
wrinkled fan-shaped sheets, as thin as the finest silver-paper.
The smallest bits of stone are sufficient, provided the sea-weeds
have hold of them; for they have no real roots, but adhere by a
small disc, deriving no nourishment from the rock, but only from
the water. Take care, meanwhile, that there be as little as
possible on the stone, beside the weed itself. Especially scrape
off any small sponges, and see that no worms have made their
twining tubes of sand among the weed-stems; if they have, drag them
out; for they will surely die, and as surely spoil all by
sulphuretted hydrogen, blackness, and evil smells.
Put your weeds into your tank, and settle them at the bottom; which
last, some say, should be covered with a layer of pebbles: but let
the beginner leave it as bare as possible; for the pebbles only
tempt cross-grained annelids to crawl under them, die, and spoil
all by decaying: whereas if the bottom of the vase is bare, you
can see a sickly or dead inhabitant at once, and take him out
(which you must do) instantly. Let your weeds stand quietly in the
vase a day or two before you put in any live animals; and even
then, do not put any in if the water does not appear perfectly
clear: but lift out the weeds, and renew the water ere you replace
This is Mr. Gosse's method. But Mr. Lloyd, in his "Handbook to the
Crystal Palace Aquarium," advises that no weed should be put into
the tank. "It is better," he says, "to depend only on those which
gradually and naturally appear on the rocks of the aquarium by the
action of light, and which answer every chemical purpose." I
should advise anyone intending to set up an aquarium, however
small, to study what Mr. Lloyd says on this matter in pp. 17-19,
and also in page 30, of his pamphlet; and also to go to the Crystal
Palace Aquarium, and there see for himself the many beautiful
species of sea-weeds which have appeared spontaneously in the tanks
from unsuspected spores floating in the sea-water. On the other
hand, Mr. Lloyd lays much stress on the necessity of aârating the
water, by keeping it in perpetual motion; a process not easy to be
carried out in small aquaria; at least to that perfection which has
been attained at the Crystal Palace, where the water is kept in
continual circulation by steam-power. For a jar-aquarium, it will
be enough to drive fresh air through the water every day, by means
of a syringe.
Now for the live stock. In the crannies of every rock you will
find sea-anemones (Actiniae); and a dozen of these only will be
enough to convert your little vase into the most brilliant of
living flower-gardens. There they hang upon the under side of the
ledges, apparently mere rounded lumps of jelly: one is of dark
purple dotted with green; another of a rich chocolate; another of a
delicate olive; another sienna-yellow; another all but white. Take
them from their rock; you can do it easily by slipping under them
your finger-nail, or the edge of a pewter spoon. Take care to tear
the sucking base as little as possible (though a small rent they
will darn for themselves in a few days, easily enough, and drop
them into a basket of wet sea-weed; when you get home turn them
into a dish full of water and leave them for the night, and go to
look at them to-morrow. What a change! The dull lumps of jelly
have taken root and flowered during the night, and your dish is
filled from side to side with a bouquet of chrysanthemums; each has
expanded into a hundred-petalled flower, crimson, pink, purple, or
orange; touch one, and it shrinks together like a sensitive plant,
displaying at the root of the petals a ring of brilliant turquoise
beads. That is the commonest of all the Actiniae
(Mesembryanthemum); you may have him when and where you will: but
if you will search those rocks somewhat closer, you will find even
more gorgeous species than him. See in that pool some dozen large
ones, in full bloom, and quite six inches across, some of them. If
their cousins whom we found just now were like Chrysanthemums,
these are like quilled Dahlias. Their arms are stouter and shorter
in proportion than those of the last species, but their colour is
equally brilliant. One is a brilliant blood-red; another a
delicate sea-blue striped with pink; but most have the disc and the
innumerable arms striped and ringed with various shades of grey and
brown. Shall we get them? By all means if we can. Touch one.
Where is he now? Gone? Vanished into air, or into stone? Not
quite. You see that knot of sand and broken shell lying on the
rock, where your Dahlia was one moment ago. Touch it, and you will
find it leathery and elastic. That is all which remains of the
live Dahlia. Never mind; get your finger into the crack under him,
work him gently but firmly out, and take him home, and he will be
as happy and as gorgeous as ever to-morrow.
Let your Actiniae stand for a day or two in the dish, and then,
picking out the liveliest and handsomest, detach them once more
from their hold, drop them into your vase, right them with a bit of
stick, so that the sucking base is downwards, and leave them to
themselves thenceforth.
These two species (Mesembryanthemum and Crassicornis) are quite
beautiful enough to give a beginner amusement: but there are two
others which are not uncommon, and of such exceeding loveliness,
that it is worth while to take a little trouble to get them. The
one is Dianthus, which I have already mentioned; the other Bellis,
the sea-daisy, of which there is an excellent description and
plates in Mr. Gosse's "Rambles in Devon," pp. 24 to 32.
It is common at Ilfracombe, and at Torquay; and indeed everywhere
where there are cracks and small holes in limestone or slate rock.
In these holes it fixes its base, and expands its delicate browngrey
star-like flowers on the surface: but it must be chipped out
with hammer and chisel, at the expense of much dirt and patience;
for the moment it is touched it contracts deep into the rock, and
all that is left of the daisy flower, some two or three inches
across, is a blue knot of half the size of a marble. But it will
expand again, after a day or two of captivity, and will repay all
the trouble which it has cost. Troglodytes may be found, as I have
said already, in hundreds at Hastings, in similar situations to
that of Bellis; its only token, when the tide is down, being a
round dimple in the muddy sand which firs the lower cracks of
But you will want more than these anemones, both for your own
amusement, and for the health of your tank. Microscopic animals
will breed, and will also die; and you need for them some such
scavenger as our poor friend Squinado, to whom you were introduced
a few pages back. Turn, then, a few stones which lie piled on each
other at extreme low-water mark, and five minutes' search will give
you the very animal you want, - a little crab, of a dingy russet
above, and on the under side like smooth porcelain. His back is
quite flat, and so are his large angular fringed claws, which, when
he folds them up, lie in the same plane with his shell, and fit
neatly into its edges. Compact little rogue that he is, made
especially for sidling in and out of cracks and crannies, he
carries with him such an apparatus of combs and brushes as Isidor
or Floris never dreamed of; with which he sweeps out of the seawater
at every moment shoals of minute animalcules, and sucks them
into his tiny mouth. Mr. Gosse will tell you more of this marvel,
in his "Aquarium," p. 48.
Next, your sea-weeds, if they thrive as they ought to do, will sow
their minute spores in millions around them; and these, as they
vegetate, will form a green film on the inside of the glass,
spoiling your prospect: you may rub it off for yourself, if you
will, with a rag fastened to a stick; but if you wish at once to
save yourself trouble, and to see how all emergencies in nature are
provided for, you will set three or four live shells to do it for
you, and to keep your sub-aqueous lawn close mown.
That last word is no figure of speech. Look among the beds of seaweed
for a few of the bright yellow or green sea-snails (Nerita),
or Conical Tops (Trochus), especially that beautiful pink one
spotted with brown (Ziziphinus), which you are sure to find about
shaded rock-ledges at dead low tide, and put them into your
aquarium. For the present, they will only nibble the green ulvae;
but when the film of young weed begins to form, you will see it
mown off every morning as fast as it grows, in little semicircular
sweeps, just as if a fairy's scythe had been at work during the
And a scythe has been at work; none other than the tongue of the
little shell-fish; a description of its extraordinary mechanism
(too long to quote here, but which is well worth reading) may be
found in Gosse's "Aquarium." (32)
A prawn or two, and a few minute star-fish, will make your aquarium
complete; though you may add to it endlessly, as one glance at the
salt-water tanks of the Zoological Gardens, and the strange and
beautiful forms which they contain, will prove to you sufficiently.
You have two more enemies to guard against, dust, and heat. If the
surface of the water becomes clogged with dust, the communication
between it and the life-giving oxygen of the air is cut off; and
then your animals are liable to die, for the very same reason that
fish die in a pond which is long frozen over, unless a hole be
broken in the ice to admit the air. You must guard against this by
occasional stirring of the surface, or, as I have already said, by
syringing and by keeping on a cover. A piece of muslin tied over
will do; but a better defence is a plate of glass, raised on wire
some half-inch above the edge, so as to admit the air. I am not
sure that a sheet of brown paper laid over the vase is not the best
of all, because that, by its shade, also guards against the next
evil, which is heat. Against that you must guard by putting a
curtain of muslin or oiled paper between the vase and the sun, if
it be very fierce, or simply (for simple expedients are best) by
laying a handkerchief over it till the heat is past. But if you
leave your vase in a sunny window long enough to let the water get
tepid, all is over with your pets. Half an hour's boiling may
frustrate the care of weeks. And yet, on the other hand, light you
must have, and you can hardly have too much. Some animals
certainly prefer shade, and hide in the darkest crannies; and for
them, if your aquarium is large enough, you must provide shade, by
arranging the bits of stone into piles and caverns. But without
light, your sea-weeds will neither thrive nor keep the water sweet.
With plenty of light you will see, to quote Mr. Gosse once more,
(33) "thousands of tiny globules forming on every plant, and even
all over the stones, where the infant vegetation is beginning to
grow; and these globules presently rise in rapid succession to the
surface all over the vessel, and this process goes on
uninterruptedly as long as the rays of the sun are uninterrupted.
"Now these globules consist of PURE OXYGEN, given out by the plants
under the stimulus of light; and to this oxygen the animals in the
tank owe their life. The difference between the profusion of
oxygen-bubbles produced on a sunny day, and the paucity of those
seen on a dark cloudy day, or in a northern aspect, is very
marked." Choose, therefore, a south or east window, but draw down
the blind, or throw a handkerchief over all if the heat become
fierce. The water should always feel cold to your hand, let the
temperature outside be what it may.
Next, you must make up for evaporation by FRESH water (a very
little will suffice), as often as in summer you find the water in
your vase sink below its original level, and prevent the water from
getting too salt. For the salts, remember, do not evaporate with
the water; and if you left the vase in the sun for a few weeks, it
would become a mere brine-pan.
But how will you move your treasures up to town?
The simplest plan which I have found successful is an earthen jar.
You may buy them with a cover which screws on with two iron clasps.
If you do not find such, a piece of oilskin tied over the mouth is
enough. But do not fill the jar full of water; leave about a
quarter of the contents in empty air, which the water may absorb,
and so keep itself fresh. And any pieces of stone, or oysters,
which you send up, hang by a string from the mouth, that they may
not hurt tender animals by rolling about the bottom. With these
simple precautions, anything which you are likely to find will well
endure forty-eight hours of travel.
What if the water fails, after all?
Then Mr. Gosse's artificial sea-water will form a perfect
substitute. You may buy the requisite salts (for there are more
salts than "salt" in sea-water) from any chemist to whom Mr. Gosse
has entrusted his discovery, and, according to his directions, make
sea-water for yourself
One more hint before we part. If, after all, you are not going
down to the sea-side this year, and have no opportunities of
testing "the wonders of the shore," you may still study Natural
History in your own drawing-room, by looking a little into "the
wonders of the pond."
I am not jesting; a fresh-water aquarium, though by no means as
beautiful as a salt-water one, is even more easily established. A
glass jar, floored with two or three inches of pond-mud (which
should be covered with fine gravel to prevent the mud washing up);
a specimen of each of two water-plants which you may buy now at any
good shop in Covent Garden, Vallisneria spiralis (which is said to
give to the Canvas-backed duck of America its peculiar richness of
flavour), and Anacharis alsinastrum, that magical weed which,
lately introduced from Canada among timber, has multiplied, selfsown,
to so prodigious an extent, that it bid fair, a few years
since, to choke the navigation not only of our canals and fenrivers,
but of the Thames itself: (34) or, in default of these,
some of the more delicate pond-weeds; such as Callitriche,
Potamogeton pusillum, and, best of all, perhaps, the beautiful
Water-Milfoil (Myriophyllium), whose comb-like leaves are the
haunts of numberless rare and curious animalcules:- these (in
themselves, from the transparency of their circulation, interesting
microscopic objects) for oxygen-breeding vegetables; and for
animals, the pickings of any pond; a minnow or two, an eft; a few
of the delicate pond-snails (unless they devour your plants too
rapidly): water-beetles, of activity inconceivable, and that
wondrous bug the Notonecta, who lies on his back all day, rowing
about his boat-shaped body, with one long pair of oars, in search
of animalcules, and the moment the lights are out, turns head over
heels, rights himself, and opening a pair of handsome wings, starts
to fly about the dark room in company with his friend the waterbeetle,
and (I suspect) catch flies; and then slips back demurely
into the water with the first streak of dawn. But perhaps the most
interesting of all the tribes of the Naiads, - (in default, of
course, of those semi-human nymphs with which our Teutonic
forefathers, like the Greeks, peopled each "sacred fountain,") -
are the little "water-crickets," which may be found running under
the pebbles, or burrowing in little galleries in the banks: and
those "caddises," which crawl on the bottom in the stiller waters,
enclosed, all save the head and legs, in a tube of sand or pebbles,
shells or sticks, green or dead weeds, often arranged with quaint
symmetry, or of very graceful shape. Their aspect in this state
may be somewhat uninviting, but they compensate for their youthful
ugliness by the strangeness of their transformations, and often by
the delicate beauty of the perfect insects, as the "caddises,"
rising to the surface, become flying Phryganeae (caperers and sandflies),
generally of various shades of fawn-colour; and the watercrickets
(though an unscientific eye may be able to discern but
little difference in them in the "larva," or imperfect state)
change into flies of the most various shapes; - one, perhaps, into
the great sluggish olive "Stone-fly" (Perla bicaudata); another
into the delicate lemon-coloured "Yellow Sally" (Chrysoperla
viridis); another into the dark chocolate "Alder" (Sialis lutaria):
and the majority into duns and drakes (Ephemerae); whose grace of
form, and delicacy of colour, give them a right to rank among the
most exquisite of God's creations, from the tiny "Spinners" (Baâtis
or Chloron) of incandescent glass, with gorgeous rainbow-coloured
eyes, to the great Green Drake (Ephemera vulgata), known to all
fishermen as the prince of trout-flies. These animals, their
habits, their miraculous transformations, might give many an hour's
quiet amusement to an invalid, laid on a sofa, or imprisoned in a
sick-room, and debarred from reading, unless by some such means,
any page of that great green book outside, whose pen is the finger
of God, whose covers are the fire kingdoms and the star kingdoms,
and its leaves the heather-bells, and the polypes of the sea, and
the gnats above the summer stream.
I said just now, that happy was the sportsman who was also a
naturalist. And, having once mentioned these curious water-flies,
I cannot help going a little farther, and saying, that lucky is the
fisherman who is also a naturalist. A fair scientific knowledge of
the flies which he imitates, and of their habits, would often
ensure him sport, while other men are going home with empty creels.
One would have fancied this a self-evident fact; yet I have never
found any sound knowledge of the natural water-flies which haunt a
given stream, except among cunning old fishermen of the lower
class, who get their living by the gentle art, and bring to indoors
baskets of trout killed on flies, which look as if they had been
tied with a pair of tongs, so rough and ungainly are they; but
which, nevertheless, kill, simply because they are (in COLOUR,
which is all that fish really care for) exact likenesses of some
obscure local species, which happen to be on the water at the time.
Among gentlemen-fishermen, on the other hand, so deep is the
ignorance of the natural fly, that I have known good sportsmen
still under the delusion that the great green May-fly comes out of
a caddis-bait; the gentlemen having never seen, much less fished
with, that most deadly bait the "Water-cricket," or free creeping
larva of the May-fly, which may be found in May under the riverbanks.
The consequence of this ignorance is that they depend for
good patterns of flies on mere chance and experiment; and that the
shop patterns, originally excellent, deteriorate continually, till
little or no likeness to their living prototype remains, being tied
by town girls, who have no more understanding of what the feathers
and mohair in their hands represent than they have of what the
National Debt represents. Hence follows many a failure at the
stream-side; because the "Caperer," or "Dun," or "Yellow Sally,"
which is produced from the fly-book, though, possibly, like the
brood which came out three years since on some stream a hundred
miles away, is quite unlike the brood which is out to-day on one's
own river. For not only do most of these flies vary in colour in
different soils and climates, but many of them change their hue
during life; the Ephemerae, especially, have a habit of throwing
off the whole of their skins (even, marvellously enough, to the
skin of the eyes and wings, and the delicate "whisks" at their
tail), and appearing in an utterly new garb after ten minutes'
rest, to the discomfiture of the astonished angler.
The natural history of these flies, I understand from Mr. Stainton
(one of our most distinguished entomologists), has not yet been
worked out, at least for England. The only attempt, I believe, in
that direction is one made by a charming book, "The Fly-fisher's
Entomology," which should be in every good angler's library; but
why should not a few fishermen combine to work out the subject for
themselves, and study for the interests both of science and their
own sport, "The Wonders of the Bank?" The work, petty as it may
seem, is much too great for one man, so prodigal is Nature of her
forms, in the stream as in the ocean; but what if a correspondence
were opened between a few fishermen - of whom one should live, say,
by the Hampshire or Berkshire chalk streams; another on the slates
and granites of Devon; another on the limestones of Yorkshire or
Derbyshire; another among the yet earlier slates of Snowdonia, or
some mountain part of Wales; and more than one among the hills of
the Border and the lakes of the Highlands? Each would find (I
suspect), on comparing his insects with those of the others, that
he was exploring a little peculiar world of his own, and that with
the exception of a certain number of typical forms, the flies of
his county were unknown a hundred miles away, or, at least,
appeared there under great differences of size and colour; and
each, if he would take the trouble to collect the caddises and
water-crickets, and breed them into the perfect fly in an aquarium,
would see marvels in their transformations, their instincts, their
anatomy, quite as great (though not, perhaps, as showy and
startling) as I have been trying to point out on the sea-shore.
Moreover, each and every one of the party, I will warrant, will
find his fellow-correspondents (perhaps previously unknown to him)
men worth knowing; not, it may be, of the meditative and halfsaintly
type of dear old Izaak Walton (who, after all, was no flyfisher,
but a sedentary "popjoy" guilty of float and worm), but
rather, like his fly-fishing disciple Cotton, good fellows and men
of the world, and, perhaps, something better over and above.
The suggestion has been made. Will it ever be taken up, and a
"Naiad Club" formed, for the combination of sport and science?
And, now, how can this desultory little treatise end more usefully
than in recommending a few books on Natural History, fit for the
use of young people; and fit to serve as introductions to such
deeper and larger works as Yarrell's "Birds and Fishes," Bell's
"Quadrupeds" and "Crustacea," Forbes and Hanley's "Mollusca,"
Owen's "Fossil Mammals and Birds," and a host of other admirable
works? Not that this list will contain all the best; but simply
the best of which the writer knows; let, therefore, none feel
aggrieved, if, as it may chance, opening these pages, they find
their books omitted.
First and foremost, certainly, come Mr. Gosse's books. There is a
playful and genial spirit in them, a brilliant power of wordpainting
combined with deep and earnest religious feeling, which
makes them as morally valuable as they are intellectually
interesting. Since White's "History of Selborne," few or no
writers on Natural History, save Mr. Gosse, Mr. G. H. Lewes, and
poor Mr. E. Forbes, have had the power of bringing out the human
side of science, and giving to seemingly dry disquisitions and
animals of the lowest type, by little touches of pathos and humour,
that living and personal interest, to bestow which is generally the
special function of the poet: not that Waterton and Jesse are not
excellent in this respect, and authors who should be in every boy's
library: but they are rather anecdotists than systematic or
scientific inquirers; while Mr. Gosse, in his "Naturalist on the
Shores of Devon," his "Tour in Jamaica," his "Tenby," and his
"Canadian Naturalist," has done for those three places what White
did for Selborne, with all the improved appliances of a science
which has widened and deepened tenfold since White's time. Mr.
Gosse's "Manual of the Marine Zoology of the British Isles" is, for
classification, by far the completest handbook extant. He has
contrived in it to compress more sound knowledge of vast classes of
the animal kingdom than I ever saw before in so small a space. (35)
Miss Anne Pratt's "Things of the Sea-coast" is excellent; and still
better is Professor Harvey's "Sea-side Book," of which it is
impossible to speak too highly; and most pleasant it is to see a
man of genius and learning thus gathering the bloom of his varied
knowledge, to put it into a form equally suited to a child and a
SAVANT. Seldom, perhaps, has there been a little book in which so
vast a quantity of facts have been told so gracefully, simply,
without a taint of pedantry or cumbrousness - an excellence which
is the sure and only mark of a perfect mastery of the subject. Mr.
G. H. Lewes's "Sea-shore Studies" are also very valuable; hardly
perhaps a book for beginners, but from his admirable power of
description, whether of animals or of scenes, is interesting for
all classes of readers.
Two little "Popular" Histories - one of British Zoophytes, the
other of British Sea-weeds, by Dr. Landsborough (since dead of
cholera, at Saltcoats, the scene of his energetic and pious
ministry) - are very excellent; and are furnished, too, with welldrawn
and coloured plates, for the comfort of those to whom a
scientific nomenclature (as liable as any other human thing to be
faulty and obscure) conveys but a vague conception of the objects.
These may serve well for the beginner, as introductions to
Professor Harvey's large work on British Algae, and to the new
edition of Professor Johnston's invaluable "British Zoophytes,"
Miss Gifford's "Marine Botanist," third edition, and Dr. Cocks's
"Sea-weed Collector's Guide," have also been recommended by a high
For general Zoology the best books for beginners are, perhaps, as a
general introduction, the Rev. J. A. L. Wood's "Popular Zoology,"
full of excellent plates; and for systematic Zoology, Mr. Gosse's
four little books, on Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, and Fishes,
published with many plates, by the Christian Knowledge Society, at
a marvellously cheap rate. For miscroscopic animalcules, Miss
Agnes Catlow's "Drops of Water" will teach the young more than they
will ever remember, and serve as a good introduction to those
teeming abysses of the unseen world, which must be afterwards
traversed under the guidance of Hassall and Ehrenberg.
For Ornithology, there is no book, after all, like dear old Bewick,
PASSE though he may be in a scientific point of view. There is a
good little British ornithology, too, published in Sir W. Jardine's
"Naturalist's Library," and another by Mr. Gosse. And Mr. Knox's
"Ornithological Rambles in Sussex," with Mr. St. John's "Highland
Sports," and "Tour in Sutherlandshire," are the monographs of
naturalists, gentlemen, and sportsmen, which remind one at every
page (and what higher praise can one give?) of White's "History of
Selborne." These last, with Mr. Gosse's "Canadian Naturalist," and
his little book "The Ocean," not forgetting Darwin's delightful
"Voyage of the Beagle and Adventure," ought to be in the hands of
every lad who is likely to travel to our colonies.
For general Geology, Professor Ansted's Introduction is excellent;
while, as a specimen of the way in which a single district may be
thoroughly worked out, and the universal method of induction learnt
from a narrow field of objects, what book can, or perhaps ever
will, compare with Mr. Hugh Miller's "Old Red Sandstone"?
For this last reason, I especially recommend to the young the Rev.
C. A. Johns's "Week at the Lizard," as teaching a young person how
much there is to be seen and known within a few square miles of
these British Isles. But, indeed, all Mr. Johns's books are good
(as they are bound to be, considering his most accurate and varied
knowledge), especially his "Flowers of the Field," the best cheap
introduction to systematic botany which has yet appeared. Trained,
and all but self-trained, like Mr. Hugh Miller, in a remote and
narrow field of observation, Mr. Johns has developed himself into
one of our most acute and persevering botanists, and has added many
a new treasure to the Flora of these isles; and one person, at
least, owes him a deep debt of gratitude for first lessons in
scientific accuracy and patience, - lessons taught, not dully and
dryly at the book and desk, but livingly and genially, in
adventurous rambles over the bleak cliffs and ferny woods of the
wild Atlantic shore, -
"Where the old fable of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona's hold."
Mr. Henfrey's "Rudiments of Botany" might accompany Mr. Johns's
books. Mr. Babington's "Manual of British Botany" is also most
compact and highly finished, and seems the best work which I know
of from which a student somewhat advanced in English botany can
verify species; while for ferns, Moore's "Handbook" is probably the
best for beginners.
For Entomology, which, after all, is the study most fit for boys
(as Botany is for girls) who have no opportunity for visiting the
sea-shore, Catlow's "Popular British Entomology," having coloured
plates (a delight to young people), and saying something of all the
orders, is, probably, still a good work for beginners.
Mr. Stainton's "Entomologist's Annual for 1855" contains valuable
hints of that gentleman's on taking and arranging moths and
butterflies; as well as of Mr. Wollaston's on performing the same
kind office for that far more numerous, and not less beautiful
class, the beetles. There is also an admirable "Manual of British
Butterflies and Moths," by Mr. Stainton, in course of publication;
but, perhaps, the most interesting of all entomological books which
I have seen (and for introducing me to which I must express my
hearty thanks to Mr. Stainton), is "Practical Hints respecting
Moths and Butterflies, forming a Calendar of Entomological
Operations," (36) by Richard Shield, a simple London working-man.
I would gladly devote more space than I can here spare to a review
of this little book, so perfectly does it corroborate every word
which I have said already as to the moral and intellectual value of
such studies. Richard Shield, making himself a first-rate
"lepidopterist," while working with his hands for a pound a week,
is the antitype of Mr. Peach, the coast-guardsman, among his
Cornish tide-rocks. But more than this, there is about Shield's
book a tone as of Izaak Walton himself, which is very delightful;
tender, poetical, and religious, yet full of quiet quaintness and
humour; showing in every page how the love for Natural History is
in him only one expression of a love for all things beautiful, and
pure, and right. If any readers of these pages fancy that I overpraise
the book, let them buy it, and judge for themselves. They
will thus help the good man toward pursuing his studies with larger
and better appliances, and will be (as I expect) surprised to find
how much there is to be seen and done, even by a working-man,
within a day's walk of smoky Babylon itself; and how easily a man
might, if he would, wash his soul clean for a while from all the
turmoil and intrigue, the vanity and vexation of spirit of that
"too-populous wilderness," by going out to be alone a while with
God in heaven, and with that earth which He has given to the
children of men, not merely for the material wants of their bodies,
but as a witness and a sacrament that in Him they live and move,
and have their being, "not by bread alone, but by EVERY word that
proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
Thus I wrote some twenty years ago, when the study of Natural
History was confined mainly to several scientific men, or mere
collectors of shells, insects, and dried plants.
Since then, I am glad to say, it has become a popular and common
pursuit, owing, I doubt not, to the impulse given to it by the many
authors whose works I then recommended. I recommend them still;
though a swarm of other manuals and popular works have appeared
since, excellent in their way, and almost beyond counting. But all
honour to those, and above all to Mr. Gosse and Mr. Johns, who
first opened people's eyes to the wonders around them all day long.
Now, we have, in addition to amusing books on special subjects,
serials on Natural History more or less profound, and suited to
every kind of student and every grade of knowledge. I mention the
names of none. For first, they happily need no advertisement from
me; and next, I fear to be unjust to any one of them by
inadvertently omitting its name. Let me add, that in the
advertising columns of those serials, will be found notices of all
the new manuals, and of all apparatus, and other matters, needed by
amateur naturalists, and of many who are more than amateurs.
Microscopy, meanwhile, and the whole study of "The Wonders of the
Little," have made vast strides in the last twenty years; and I was
equally surprised and pleased, to find, three years ago, in each of
two towns of a few thousand inhabitants, perhaps a dozen good
microscopes, all but hidden away from the public, worked by men who
knew how to handle them, and who knew what they were looking at;
but who modestly refrained from telling anybody what they were
doing so well. And it was this very discovery of unsuspected
microscopists which made me more desirous than ever to see - as I
see now in many places - scientific societies, by means of which
the few, who otherwise would work apart, may communicate their
knowledge to each other, and to the many. These "Microscopic,"
"Naturalist," "Geological," or other societies, and the "Field
Clubs" for excursions into the country, which are usually connected
with them, form a most pleasant and hopeful new feature in English
Society; bringing together, as they do, almost all ranks, all
shades of opinion; and it has given me deep pleasure to see, in the
case at least of the Country Clubs with which I am acquainted, the
clergy of the Church of England taking an active, and often a
leading, interest in their practical work. The town clergy are,
for the most part, too utterly overworked to follow the example of
their country brethren. But I have reason to know that they regard
such societies, and Natural History in general, with no unfriendly
eyes; and that there is less fear than ever that the clergy of the
Church of England should have to relinquish their ancient boast -
that since the formation of the Royal Society in the seventeenth
century, they have done more for sound physical science than any
other priesthood or ministry in the world. Let me advise anyone
who may do me the honour of reading these pages, to discover
whether such a Club or Society exists in his neighbourhood, and to
join it forthwith, certain that - if his experience be at all like
mine - he will gain most pleasant information and most pleasant
acquaintances, and pass most pleasant days and evenings, among
people whom he will be glad to know, and whom he never would have
known save for the new - and now, I hope, rapidly spreading -
freemasonry of Natural History.
Meanwhile, I hope - though I dare not say I trust - to see the day
when the boys of each of our large schools shall join - like those
of Marlborough and Clifton - the same freemasonry; and have their
own Naturalists' Clubs; nay more; when our public schools and
universities shall awake to the real needs of the age, and - even
to the curtailing of the time usually spent in not learning Latin
and Greek - teach boys the rudiments at least of botany, zoology,
geology, and so forth; and when the public opinion, at least of the
refined and educated, shall consider it as ludicrous - to use no
stronger word - to be ignorant of the commonest facts and laws of
this living planet, as to be ignorant of the rudiments of two dead
languages. All honour to the said two languages. Ignorance of
them is a serious weakness; for it implies ignorance of many things
else; and indeed, without some knowledge of them, the nomenclature
of the physical sciences cannot be mastered. But I have got to
discover that a boy's time is more usefully spent, and his
intellect more methodically trained, by getting up Ovid's Fasti
with an ulterior hope of being able to write a few Latin verses,
than in getting up Professor Rolleston's "Forms of Animal Life," or
any other of the excellent Scientific Manuals for beginners, which
are now, as I said, happily so numerous.
May that day soon come; and an old dream of mine, and of my
scientific friends, be fulfilled at last.
And so I end this little book, hoping, even praying, that it may
encourage a few more labourers to go forth into a vineyard, which
those who have toiled in it know to be full of ever-fresh health,
and wonder and simple joy, and the presence and the glory of Him
whose name is LOVE.
THE forms of animal life which are now united in an independent
class, under the name Polyzoa, so nearly resemble the Hydroid
Zoophytes in general form and appearance that a casual observer may
suppose them to be nearly identical. In all but the more recent
works, they are treated as distinct indeed, but still included
under the general term "ZOOPHYTES." The animals of both groups are
minute, polypiform creatures, mostly living in transparent cells,
springing from the sides of a stem which unites a number of
individuals in one common life, and grows in a shrub-like form upon
any submarine body, such as a shell, a rock, a weed, or even
another polypidom to which it is parasitically attached. Each
polype, in both classes, protrudes from and retreats within its
cell by an independent action, and when protruded puts forth a
circle of tentacles whose motion round the mouth is the means of
securing nourishment. There are, however, peculiarities in the
structure of the Polyzoa which seem to remove them from
Zoophytology to a place in the system of nature more nearly
connected with Molluscan types. Some of them come so near to the
compound ascidians that they have been termed, as an order,
"Zoophyta ascidioida."
The simplest form of polype is that of a fleshy bag open at one
end, surmounted by a circle of contractile threads or fingers
called tentacles. The plate shows, on a very minute scale, at
figs. 1, 3, and 6, several of these little polypiform bodies
protruding from their cells. But the Hydra or Fresh-water Polype
has no cell, and is quite unconnected with any root thread, or with
other individuals of the same species. It is perfectly free, and
so simple in its structure, that when the sac which forms its body
is turned inside out it will continue to perform the functions of
life as before. The greater part, however, of these Hydraform
Polypes, although equally simple as individuals, are connected in a
compound life by means of their variously formed POLYPIDOM, as the
branched system of cells is termed. The Hydroid Zoophytes are
represented in the first plate by the following examples.
A species which has the cells in pairs on opposite sides of the
central tube, with the openings turned outwards. In the more
enlarged figure is seen a septum across the inner part of each cell
which forms the base upon which the polype rests. Fig. 6 B
indicates the natural size of the piece of branch represented; but
it must be remembered that this is only a small portion of the
bushy shrub.
This Zoophyte twines itself parasitically upon a species of
Sertularia. The cells in this species are thrown out at irregular
intervals upon flexible stems which are wrinkled in rings. They
consist of lengthened, cylindrical, transparent vases.
A still more beautiful species, with lengthened foot-stalks ringed
at each end. The polype is remarkable for the protrusion and
contractile power of its lips. It has about twenty knobbed
Among Polyzoa the animal's body is coated with a membraneous
covering, like that of the Tunicated Mollusca, but which is a
continuation of the edge of the cell, which doubles back upon the
body in such a manner that when the animal protrudes from its cell
it pushes out the flexible membrane just as one would turn inside
out the finger of a glove. This oneness of cell and polype is a
distinctive character of the group. Another is the higher
organization of the internal parts. The mouth, surrounded by
tentacles, leads by gullet and gizzard through a channel into a
digesting stomach, from which the rejectable matter passes upwards
through an intestinal canal till it is discharged near the mouth.
The tentacles also differ much from those of true Polypes. Instead
of being fleshy and contractile, they are rather stiff, resembling
spun glass, set on the sides with vibrating cilia, which by their
motion up one side and down the other of each tentacle, produce a
current which impels their living food into the mouth. When these
tentacles are withdrawn, they are gathered up in a bundle, like the
stays of an umbrella. Our Plate I. contains the following examples
of Polyzoa.
From a group in one of Mr. Lloyd's vases. Fig. 3 A is the natural
size of the central group of cells, in a specimen coiled round a
thread-like weed. Underneath this is the same portion enlarged.
When magnified to this apparent size, the cells could be seen in
different states, some closed, and others with their bodies
protruded. When magnified to 3 D, we could pleasantly watch the
gradual eversion of the membrane, then the points of the tentacles
slowly appearing, and then, when fully protruded, suddenly
expanding into a bell-shaped circle. This was their usual
appearance, but sometimes they could be noticed bending inwards, as
in fig. 3 C, as if to imprison some living atom of importance.
Fig. B represents two tentacles, showing the direction in which the
cilia vibrate.
I have only drawn the cells from a prepared specimen. The polypes
are like those described above.
Here the cells are placed in pairs, back to back. 5 A is a very
small portion on the natural scale.
The cells are alternate on the stem, and are curiously armed with
long whip-like cilia or spines. On the back of some of the cells
is a very strange appendage, the use of which is not with certainty
ascertained. It is a minute body, slightly resembling a vulture's
head, with a movable lower beak. The whole head keeps up a nodding
motion, and the movable beak occasionally opens widely, and then
suddenly snaps to with a jerk. It has been seen to hold an
animalcule between its jaws till the latter has died, but it has no
power to communicate the prey to the polype in its cell or to
swallow and digest it on its own account. It is certainly not an
independent parasite, as has been supposed, and yet its purpose in
the animal economy is a mystery. Mr. Gosse conjectures that its
use may be, by holding animalcules till they die and decay, to
attract by their putrescence crowds of other animalcules, which may
thus be drawn within the influence of the polype's ciliated
tentacles. Fig. 7 B shows the form of one of these "birds' heads,"
and fig. 7 C, its position on the cell.
In Flustrae, the cells are placed side by side on an expanded
membrane. Fig. 1 represents the general appearance of a species
which at least resembles F. lineata as figured in Johnston's work.
It is spread upon a Fucus. Fig. A is an enlarged view of the
We figure a frond or two of the common species, which has cells on
both sides. It is rarely that the polypes can be seen in a state
of expansion.
The "tobacco-pipe"" appendages, fig. 11 B, are of unknown use:
they are probably analogous to the birds' heads in the Cellularae.
THE connection between Brainstones, Mushroom Corals, and other
Madrepores abounding on Polynesian reefs, and the "Sea Anemones,"
which have lately become so familiar to us all, can be seen by
comparing our comparatively insignificant C. Smithii with our
commonest species of Actinia and Sagartia. The former is a
beautiful object when the fleshy part and tentacles are wholly or
partially expanded. Like Actinia, it has a membranous covering, a
simple sac-like stomach, a central mouth, a disk surrounded by
contractile and adhesive tentacles. Unlike Actinia, it is fixed to
submarine bodies, to which it is glued in very early life, and
cannot change its place. Unlike Actinia, its body is supported by
a stony skeleton of calcareous plates arranged edgewise so as to
radiate from the centre. But as we find some Molluscs furnished
with a shell, and others even of the same character and habits
without one, so we find that in spite of this seemingly important
difference, the animals are very similar in their nature. Since
the introduction of glass tanks we have opportunities of seeing
anemones crawling up the sides, so as to exhibit their entire basal
disk, and then we may observe lightly coloured lines of a less
transparent substance than the interstices, radiating from the
margin to the centre, some short, others reaching the entire
distance, and arranged in exactly the same manner as the plates of
Caryophyllaea. These are doubtless flexible walls of compartments
dividing the fleshy parts of the softer animals, and corresponding
with the septa of the coral. Fig. 2 A represents a section of the
latter, to be compared with the basal disk of Sagartia.
This genus has been separated from Actinia on account of its habit
of throwing out threads when irritated. Although my specimens
often assumed the form represented in fig. 3, Mr. Lloyd informs me
that it must have arisen from unhealthiness of condition, its usual
habit being to contract into a more flattened form. When fully
expanded, its transparent and lengthened tentacles present a
beautiful appearance. Fig. 3 A, showing a basal disk, is given for
the purpose already described.
Another species of British madrepore, found by Mr. Gosse at
Ilfracombe, and by Mr. Kingsley at Lundy Island. It is smaller
than O. Smithii, of a very bright colour, and always covers the
upper part of its bony skeleton, in which the plates are
differently arranged from those of the smaller species. Fig. 1
shows the tentacles expanded in an unusual degree; 1 A, animal
contracted; 1 B, the coral; 1 C, a tentacle enlarged.
This common species is more frequently met with than many others,
because it prefers shallow water, and often lives high up among
rocks which are only covered by the sea at very high tide; so that
the creature can, if it will, spend but a short portion of its time
immersed. When uncovered by the tide, it gathers up its leathery
tunic, and presents the appearance of fig. 1 A. When under water
it may often be seen expanding its flower-like disk and moving its
feelers in search of food. These feelers have a certain power of
adhesion, and any not too vigorous animals which they touch are
easily drawn towards the centre and swallowed. Around the margin
of the tunic are seen peeping out between the tentacles certain
bright blue globules looking very like eyes, but whose purpose is
not exactly ascertained. Fig. 1 represents the disk only partially
This genus of Actinioid zoophytes is distinguished from Actinia
proper by the tubercles or warts which stud the outer covering of
the animal. In B. gemmacea these warts are arranged symmetrically,
so as to give a peculiarly jewelled appearance to the body. Being
of a large size, the tentacles of B. crassicornis exhibit in great
perfection the adhesive powers produced by the nettling threads
which proceed from them.
This figure is to show a whiter variety, with the flesh and
tentacles fully expanded
A VERY active Mollusc, given here chiefly on account of the
opportunity afforded by the birth of young fry in Mr. Lloyd's
tanks. The NASSA feeds on small animalcules, for which, in
aquaria, it may be seen routing among the sand and stones,
sometimes burying itself among them so as only to show its caudal
tube moving along between them. A pair of Nassae in Mr. Lloyd's
collection, deposited, on the 5th of April, about fifty capsules or
bags of eggs upon the stems of weeds (fig. 2 B); each capsule
contained about a hundred eggs. The capsules opened on the 16th of
May, permitting the escape of rotiferous fry (fig. 2, C, D, E), not
in the slightest degree resembling the parent, but presenting
minute nautilus-shaped transparent shells. These shells rather
hang on than cover the bodies, which have a pair of lobes, around
which vibrate minute cilia in such a manner as to give them an
appearance of rotatory motion. Under a lens they may be seen
moving about very actively in various positions, but always with
the look of being moved by rapidly turning wheels. We should have
been glad to witness the next step towards assuming their ultimate
form, but were disappointed, as the embryos died. Fig. 2 F is the
tongue of a Nassa, from a photograph by Dr. Kingsley.
small SERTULARIAE, compared with CRISIAE and CELLULARIAE, are very
good examples. For a fuller description of these, see Appendix
explaining Plate I.
(2) If any inland reader wishes to see the action of this foot, in
the bivalve Molluscs, let him look at the Common Pond-Mussel
(Anodon Cygneus), which he will find in most stagnant waters, and
see how he burrows with it in the mud, and how, when the water is
drawn off, he walks solemnly into deeper water, leaving a furrow
behind him.
(3) These shells are so common that I have not cared to figure
(4) Plate IX. Fig. 3, represents both parasites on the dead
(5) A few words on him, and on sea-anemones in general, may be
found in Appendix II. But full details, accompanied with beautiful
plates, may be found in Mr. Gosse's work on British sea-anemones
and madrepores, which ought to be in every seaside library.
(6) Handbook to the Marine Aquarium of the Crystal Palace.
(7) An admirable paper on this extraordinary family may be found in
the Zoological Society's Proceedings for July 1858, by Messrs. S.
P. Woodward and the late lamented Lucas Barrett. See also
Quatrefages, I. 82, or Synapta Duvernaei.
(8) Thalassema Neptuni (Forbes' British Star-Fishes, p. 259),
(9) The Londoner may see specimens of them at the Zoological
Gardens and at the Crystal Palace; as also of the rare and
beautiful Sabella, figured in the same plate; and of the
Balanophyllia, or a closely-allied species, from the Mediterranean,
mentioned in p. 109.
(10) A Naturalist's Rambles on the Devonshire Coast, p. 110.
(11) Balanophyllia regia, Plate V. fig. 1.
(12) Amphidotus cordatus.
(13) Echinus miliaris, Plate VII.
(14) See Professor Sedgwick's last edition of the "Discourses on
the Studies of Cambridge."
(15) Fissurella graeca, Plate X. fig. 5.
(16) Doris tuberculata and bilineata.
(17) Eolis papi losa. A Doris and an Eolis, though not of these
species, are figured in Plate X.
(18) Plate III.
(19) Certain Parisian zoologists have done me the honour to hint
that this description was a play of fancy. I can only answer, that
I saw it with my own eyes in my own aquarium. I am not, I hope, in
the habit of drawing on my fancy in the presence of infinitely more
marvellous Nature. Truth is quite strange enough to be interesting
without lies.
(20) Saxicava rugosa, Plate XI. fig. 2.
(21) Plate VIII. represents the common Nassa, with the still more
common Littorina littorea, their teeth-studded palates, and the
free swimming young of the Nassa. (VIDE Appendix.)
(22) Cyproea Europoea.
(23) Botrylli.
(24) Molluscs.
Doris tuberculata.
- bilineata.
Eolis papillosa.
Pleurobranchus plumila.
Trochus, - 2 species.
Nassa, - 2 species.
Arca lactea.
Pecten pusio.
Tapes pullastra.
Kellia suborbicularis.
Shaenia Binghami.
Saxicava rugosa.
Gastrochoena pholadia.
Pholas parva.
Anomiae, -2 or 3 species
Cynthia,-2 species.
Botryllus, do.
Phyllodoce, and other Nereid worms.
Polynoe squamata.
4 or 5 species.
Echinus miliaris.
Asterias gibbosa.
Ophiocoma neglecla.
Cucumaria Hyndmanni.
- communis.
Sertularia pumila.
- rugosa.
- fallax.
- filicula.
Plumularia falcata.
- setacea.
Laomedea geniculata.
Campanularia volubilis.
Actinia mesembryanthemum.
Actinia clavata.
- anguicoma.
- crassicornis.
Tubulipora patina.
- hispida.
- serpens.
Crisia eburnea.
Cellepora pumicosa.
Lepraliae,- many species.
Membranipora pilosa.
Cellularia ciliata.
- scruposa.
- reptans.
Flustra membranacea, &c.
(25) Plate XI. fig. 1.
(26) Plate X. fig. 1.
(27) There are very fine specimens in the Crystal Palace.
(28) Coryne ramosa.
(29) Campanularia integra.
(30) Crisidia Eburnea.
(31) Aquarium, p. 163.
(32) P. 34. Figures of it are given in Plate VIII.
(33) P. 259.
(34) But if any young lady, her aquarium having failed, shall (as
dozens do) cast out the same Anacharis into the nearest ditch, she
shall be followed to her grave by the maledictions of all millers
and trout-fishers. Seriously, this is a wanton act of injury to
the neighbouring streams, which must be carefully guarded against.
As well turn loose queen-wasps to build in your neighbour's banks.
(35) Very highly also, in interest, ranks M. Quatrefages' "Rambles
of a Naturalist" (about the Mediterranean and the French Coast),
translated by M. Otte.
(36) Van Voorst & Co. price 3s.

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