« AnteriorContinuar »
litters are produced in a year. The female carries thirty or thirty-one days; but she suckles her young only twenty days, after which they provide for themselves, and leave her free to a new litter.
The care of animals to preserve their young from harm is a beautiful instance of Providence. When a hind hears the hounds, she puts herself in the way of being hunted, and leads them from her fawn. The lapwing is no less ingenious : if a person approach, the fies about, retiring always from her nest. A partridge is extremely artful ; she hops away, hanging a wing as if broken : lingers till the person approach, and hops again *. A hen, timid by nature, is bold as a lion in defence of her young : fhe darts upon every creature that threatens danger. The roebuck defends its young with resolution
* The following incident hardly deserves to be mentioned, it is so common, but that the tear is scarce dry which the fight wrung from me. A man mowing a field for hay, passed over a partridge sitting on her eggs. Turning about to cut down a tuft that had been left, he unhappily brought up the partridge on the point of his scythe. Such affection there is even for a brood not yet brought to light:
and courage. So doth a ram ; and so do many other quadrupeds.
Let me add a few words about the nature of instinct in animals. Instinct is an impulse of nature to perform necessary acts where reason is deficient. The actions of brute animals are generally directed by instinct ; but, as in man, the rational principle is more vigorous, he is trusted to the conduct of that principle, and is not left to be directed by instinct, except in singular cases where reason cannot be of use. The inftinéts of animals are finely adjusted to the other branches of their constitution. An ox, which chews the cud, swallows greedily, and grinds after at leisure. A horse, which does not chew the cud, grinds carefully in eating. Monsieur Buffon admits, that, by instinct, birds of passage change their habitation; and yet, so crude are his notions of instinct, as to assign causes for the change, which require both reflection and foresight far above the glimmering reason they are endued with. Quails, says he, during summer, are always travelling north, because they are afraid of heat ; or, perhaps, to leave a country where the harvest is over, for another where it is later. This would be a degree of knowledge denied even to man, unless from experience, Aristotle, with as little accuracy, maintains, that it is from a thorough knowledge of the seasons that birds of passage change their habitation twice a year. It is, I admit, the final cause of their migration ; but undoubtedly blind instinct is the efficient cause. The magpy, he observes, covers its neft, leaving only a hole in the side to get in and out at; well knowing that many birds of prey are fond of its eggs. Yet the fame Buffon observing, that, when a sparrow builds under a roof, it gives no cover to its nest, covering it only when it builds on a tree ; and that a beaver, which erects a strong dam-dike to keep a running water always at the fame height, never thinks of such an operation when it settles on the brink of a lake which varies little in height; maintains these variations to be the perfection of instinct. Is it not apparent that reason is necessary to make a being to vary its conduct according to circumstances; and that what is observed of the sparrow and beaver is evidence of no flight degree of reflection ? Instinct, on the contrary, is a blind impulse of nature, which prompts always the same uniform course, without regard to variation of circumstances.
It is observed by an ingenious writer(a), that nature sports in the colour of domestic animals, in order that men may the more readily diftinguish their own. It is not easy to say why colour is more varied in such animals, than in those which remain in the state of nature : I can only fay, that the cause assigned is not satisfactory. One is seldom at a loss to distinguish one animal from another ; and Providence never interposes to vary the ordinary course of nature, for an end so little necessary as to make the distinction ftill more obvious. I add, that it does not appear, in any instance, the intention of Providence, to encourage inattention and indolence.
The foregoing particulars are offered to the public as hints merely : may it not be hoped, that they will excite curiosity in those who relish natural history ? The field is rich, though little cultivated ; and I know no other branch of natural history that opens finer views into the conduct of Providence. (a) Pennant.
Progress and Effects of Luxury.
THE wisdom of Providence is in no
1 instance more conspicuous than in adjusting the constitution of man to his external circumstances. Food is extremely precarious in the hunter-state ; sometimes superabounding with little fatigue, sometimes failing after great fatigue. A favage, like other animals of prey, has a stomach adjusted to that variety : he can bear a long faft; and gorges voracioully when he has plenty, without being the worse for it. Whence it is, that barbarians, who have scarce any sense of decency, are great and gross feeders *. The
• In the Iliad of Homer, book 9. Agamemnon calls a council at night in his tent. Before entering on business, they go to supper, (line 123). An em. bassy to Achilles is resolved on. The ambassadors a. gain sup with Achilles on pork griskins, (line 271). Achilles rejects Agamemnon's offer ; and the same night Ulysses and Diomed set out on their expedition to the Trojan camp : returning before day, they had a third supper.