Glaucus; or The Wonders of the Shore by Charles Kingsley Scanned and proofed by David Price firstname.lastname@example.org
Glaucus; or The Wonders of the Shore
MY DEAR MISS GRENFELL,
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.
GLAUCUS; OR, THE WONDERS OF THE SHORE.
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 superseded.
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 question?
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 student.
What a change from the temper of two generations since, when the naturalist was looked on as a harmless enthusiast, who went "bug- hunting," 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, Delabche 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 alp- rose 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 trout- stream; 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 frchterlich;"
as Gthe has it -
"Und der schiffer sieht bekmmert Glatte flche 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 mean?"
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 footing.
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 Charmoz.
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 below.
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 I- know-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 sound- headed 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 classification?
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 sight."
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 sea- shore, 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 word- pictures, 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 school- room 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 fellow- students 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,"
"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 watering- place, 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 bladder- weed, 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 alive!"
"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 briar- prickles 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 briar- prickles, 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 strong- toothed 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 forehead.
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, snail- like 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, sea- cucumbers (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 sea- weed, 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.