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CURIOSITIES OF NATURAL HISTORY.
THE son of the celebrated Dean Buckland may seem to have a hereditary right to instruct us touching the "Curiosities of Natural History," only by the laws of suggestion. We naturally expected that they would be palæontological curiosities- certainly nothing more modern than Reliquiae Diluviana. Having no stomach for the Ichthyosauri, and other extinct monsters of Geology, we were somewhat shy of dipping into Mr Buckland's Curiosities; but observing that his first chapter had the delectable title of "A Hunt in a Horse-pond," our curiosity about his Curiosities was highly quickened, and incontinently we proceeded to read, and drew not bridle until the assistant surgeon of Her Majesty's 2d Life Guards pulled us up at the insuperable finis. In saying so, we are incidentally bestowing the highest praise on Mr Buckland's volume. It is, indeed, a very amusing mélange, abounding in curious information, written in a discursive and gay style, with quiet gleams here and there of genial wit. Mr Buckland is evidently a patient, skilful, enthusiastic and original observer. It is marvellous what he finds in a horse-pond. He proves it to be a little kosmos. He finds "saleable articles" in it. Probably he could live on it. Evidently, he has lived much in it. He is impassionedly fond of the lower creatures-especially creeping things. He knows more of frogs, we venture to affirm, than any man living. He has observed them ab ovo, through all their transformations, until they reached perfect froghood. He expounds the curious provision for their hybernation-tells us all about their croaking, and how their croaking is produced. The cause of croaking in the genus homo is yet obscure. The "showers of frogs," of which the press from time to time admonishes us, are utterly dissipated by Mr Buckland. Was this wise? The "penny-a-liners"
will be all against him. Like their betters, they live partially on frogs. Mr Buckland has dissected dead frogs has ate cooked frogs - has swallowed live frogs; or to speak with historic precision, he has opened his mouth wide and allowed the paludine leaper to jump down the "red lane" to the abyss below. (P. 13.)
This is not given as a curiosity of Natural History, nor does Mr Buckland seem to require such devotion to the study of natural science in his pupil, that, in prosecuting his inquiries into the habits of the Rana aquatica, he should turn his interior into a horse-pond. From the feat of "leapfrog" adverted to, Mr Buckland's friends seem to have ascribed a tendency to croaking in our author. Never was there a more unwarrantable surmise. At least throughout the whole of this volume, so far from croaking, he chirps cheerfully as a grasshopper. Moreover, frogs are always happy when they croak, and it was in Bootian ignorance of frog-life that the word was used to describe the irrational groanings of the human biped. Perhaps, however, the human croaker is not really unhappy. He is a misery to his friends, but is he so to himself? Nay, he cherishes his gloom and gloats over it. His lugubrious voice is music to his own ear. He is an ill-used and neglected man, and he ingeniously aggrandises his fancied ills. How pleasant it is to bewail them. If sympathy does not come, that only adds to his pleasure. Like Charles Lamb's "convalescent," he is "his own sympathiser;" and under the doleful mask which he wears, he enjoys a delicious inward self-complacency. If this view be right, then the term is not used so anomalously, and the philosophy of language is in harmony with the philosophy of croaking. That curious old writer, Felix Slater, tells us of a man who fancied that he had one of Aristo
Curiosities of Natural History. By FRANCIS T. BUCKLAND M.A., Student of Christ's Church, Oxford; Assistant Surgeon 2d Life Guards. R. Bentley: London, 1857.
phanes' frogs in his belly, and who took the tour of Europe with the view of relieving himself of the intruder. We recommend a course less circuitous and expensive. Let any one so situated, go and read Buckland's Curiosities. Their perusal will infallibly remove any melancholy that is not of the "green and yellow" type.
There are fissures at the corners of the frog's mouth, which admit the external protrusion of certain bladder-like cheek-pouches, and these are inflated from the windpipe, and with these instruments the croaking noise is produced. The male frog alone possesses these voice-sacs, and Mr Buckland supposes that their use is for the purpose of apprising the lady of the presence of the gentleman. There can be no doubt of that. The frog is a dumb dog when the tender passion is not on him, but when he would "a-wooing go," gallantly does he blow his amorous acclaim. To Madam Frog the song is sweeter than any Sappho ever sung, and she is as much charmed as the thrush is with her gallant mate perched on the neighbouring elmtop, piping impetuously his mellifluous notes. In the month of April, what is finer than a symphonious frog-pond! We have our pet pond that we duly visit. The south wind has been blowing. All nature is feeling the genial power of the season. The little celandine, with starry eyes, gems the bank; and lower down, with its roots drinking nourishment from the pond, the watermarigold raises aloft its glowing flower, and gazes ardently at the sun; the bees, humming in ecstasy, are getting the first sip of the season from the osiered margin; the ribbon-like foliage of the water-grass is shooting athwart the pond; above, the heavenly minstrel is "carolling clear in her aerial tower;" and lol see the frogs looking up with large, mild-philosophic eyes; and hear how rapturously they proclaim their love. Go, thou bilious, melancholious, croaking biped, to the pond. My yellow friends there may take fright at thy vinegar visage; but if thou art patient and contemplative, they will reveal themselves even to thee, and teach thee a wisdom deeper
than thine own. Go to the pond and studiously consider its treasures and marginal beauties, and learn to doff thy sad attire, and to modulate thy voice to less dismal accents. Nature, sir, has placed no sacculi in thy cheek to mark thee out as meant for a croaker, but has given thee lips and tongue for the utterance of a deep and thoughtful praise. Talk of crossing seas and seeking in Continental travel the healing of thy griefs and the removal of thy ennui. Čumbrous cure for artificial woes! Nature's medicine is near thy home, and our author could teach thee in thy pensive moods to recreate thyself on the margin of his unpretending pond, when the frogs would rebuke thy gloom, and the laughing flowers would beguile thee of thy fancied ills. "Nature is never melancholy," says Coleridge, and as "Wilkes was no Wilkesite," so frogs are no croakers.
Mr Buckland brought with him from Germany a dozen specimens of the green tree-frog.
"I started at night on my homeward journey by the diligence, and I put the bottle containing the frogs into the pocket inside the diligence. My fellowpassengers were sleepy smoke-dried Germans; very little conversation took place; and after the first mile, every one settled himself to sleep, and soon all were snoring. I suddenly awoke with a start, and found all the sleepers had been roused at
the same moment. On their sleepy faces were depicted fear and anger. What had ing was just breaking, and my frogs, woke us all up so suddenly? The mornthough in the dark pocket of the coach, had found it out, and with one accord all twelve of them had begun their morning song. As if at a given signal, they, one and all of them, began to croak as loud as ever they could. The noise their united concert made, seemed, in the closed compartment of the coach, quite deafening. Well might the Germans look bottle and all, out of the window; but I angry. They wanted to throw the frogs, gave the bottle a good shaking, and made the frogs keep quiet."
"A good shaking," we believe, would silence all croakers. This seems to us, however, a very unsatisfactory explanation of the cause why these frogs should have indulged in such a morning concert. Frogs are
not especially sensitive to the light. They keep no vigils. They are not wont to herald in the dawn of day. They copy not chanticleer, who disturbs the dull ear of the departing night with his shrill clarion. Horace indeed talks of the fenny frogs driving away sleep: "Ranæ palustres avertunt somnos." But Horace was a toper, and Sol was riding high in his fiery car ere the Falernian cups were slept off. Moreover, these German frogs must have been quicksighted indeed, bottled up as they were and deposited in the pocket of a dusky German diligence, could they have been aware that the rosy morn was reddening the east. The cause of the concert is evident. The smokedried Germans were snoring. There is a variety of snoring that approaches indefinitely near to croaking. The frogs heard the challenge, and unanimously responded. But it is clear that Mr Buckland has not studied the natural history of snoring. The subject, indeed, seems never to have received any competent discussion. The variety of power in the nasal organ is great. You have the piano snore, commencing on a weak key, and passing away into a thin whistle, which we have mistaken for the wind playing through the keyhole or some other cranny. Then there is the great sonorous snore, pealing awfully through the house in the silence of the night. We once had a visitor with such gifted nostrils, and we can depone, that although he did not awaken any responsive concert in the pond, he set our two terriers, at dead of night, into a furious fit of barking. It was a new terror to them, and we had the greatest difficulty of explaining to Billy and Pepper that no harm was meant that no invasion of the premises was threatened—that it was vox et præterea nihil. The great snore is often varied by wild unearthly cadences, harmonising with the howling wind without; and in listening to such a performance, we are free to confess that sometimes on our solitary pillow we have felt a little eery. But the most characteristic and best defined snore is the sudden quick convulsive snore, properly described as a snort. It is as like as may be to the snort of the war-horse, or to that of
the starting, struggling locomotive, for which it has been more than once mistaken by a half-awake traveller who had to go by an early train. The locomotive seems clearly to have copied from the human engine. If Mr Buckland wishes to study the subject, let him take his station during night in the lobby of the bedroomflat of a large hotel. His opportunities will be better if the hotel is much frequented by commercial gentlemen. The stewed kidneys and stout gintoddy in which they indulge previous to retiring, form a good basis for a full nocturnal diapason—
"From their full racks the gen'rous steeds retire,
Dropping ambrosial foams and snorting fire."
A full rack seems to be the approved method of tuning the instrument. It is a vulgar error to sup pose that a large proboscis is necessarily an organ of great power. On the contrary, in the huge cavern the air seems to lose itself; and we have seen an insignificant snub that would have outsnored the most exaggerated Roman variety. There is a nice question in casuistry- whether a sleeper can hear himself snoring, and, if he cannot, whether he can awaken himself by his own snoring. Being disposed to adopt the affirmative side of that question, we should certainly, had we been in Mr Buckland's position, have vindicated our frogs, and demonstrated, on principles of the highest rationalism, that the drowsy Germans had awakened themselves.
These green German tree-frogs came to an unhappy end. Mr Buckland brought them safely to Oxford; but on the day after their arrival, a novice of a housemaid, with true feminine curiosity, must have a peep into the strange bottle. No sooner had she removed the cover, than she was saluted with a German croak, when, even more frightened than the sleepy sages of the diligence, she fled, leaving the bottle uncovered. "They all got loose in the garden, where, I believe, the ducks ate them, for I never heard or saw them again. These frogs cost six shillings each in Covent Garden market. They are not difficult to keep alive, as they
will eat black beetles, and these are to be procured at all seasons of the year.' Dear ducks these, Mr Buckland! their déjeuné costing you some three pounds twelve shillings of current coin. And thus the German frogs, like many other German things, ended in quackery.
Mr Buckland quotes some very interesting experiments, which we do not remember ever previously to have read, that had been made by his father, with the view of testing the possibility of the toad existing in a state of suspended animation when enclosed in a block of stone or wood. He caused twelve circular cells to be cut in a large block of coarse oolite limestone, and twelve smaller cells in a block of compact silicious sandstone. In each of these cells a toad was placed, and then the cells being carefully covered with plates of glass and slate, and cemented at the edge with clay, the blocks were buried in his garden beneath three feet of earth. At the end of a twelvemonth every toad in the cells of the compact sandstone was dead, while the greater number of these in the larger cells of porous limestone were alive, although, with one exception, they had all diminished in weight. Before the expiration of the second year the large toads were also dead. Dr Buckland draws larger inferences from these experiments than the facts seem to warrant. There were allowed defects in the mode in which the experiment was conducted. The toads were immured in a cucumber frame for upwards of two months previous to their imprisonment in the cells. They must have had a scanty supply of food, and been in an unhealthy and emaciated state. Had they crept spontaneously into the cells in good bodily condition, when the natural torpor of hybernisation was falling upon them, the result would have been different, as seems evidently proved by the fact that some of them survived (and these the most healthy) much longer than others. While Dr Buckland seems disposed, from his experiments, to question the possibility of frogs or toads existing in a semianimous condition when enclosed in blocks of wood or stone, he judiciously adds:
"But it still remains to be ascertained how long this state of torpor may continue under total exclusion from food and from external air; and although the experiments above recorded show that life did not extend two years in the case of any one of the individuals which formed the subjects of them, yet, for reasons which have been specified, they are not decisive to show that a state of torpor, or suspended animation, may not be endured for a much longer time by toads that are healthy and well fed up to the moment when they are finally cut off from food and from all direct access to atmospheric air" (p. 52). On the contrary we think the experiments are decisive to show that, under different conditions, toads so enclosed might survive for periods much longer, and truly corroborate the many authentic cases, attested by competent observers, of these. animals being found in blocks of wood or porous stone. If some of Dr Buckland's toads survived nearly two years without food in their cells, there seems no conceivable reason, as far as food was concerned, why they should not have lived for many years. And as for the perfect exclusion of atmospheric air from the cavities, we know not that this was ever contended for. It has not been said that these animals would survive for a period of years in an exhausted receiver. It is only said, as far as we understand the question, that these animals will survive in a torpid state for an indefinite period on less atmospheric air than any other living creatures. Although the cavity might be perfectly enclosed, with no aperture or direct communication with the atmospheric air, yet it has never been argued that the cavity was hermetically inaccessible to atmospheric influence, and more especially that it was inaccessible to moisture. Porous rock or wood is permeable by water; and a cavity in either must drain the circumambient moisture towards it. Now there is a beautiful provision in the skin of a frog or toad, whereby not only it absorbs moisture, but whereby it can withdraw from the moisture thus absorbed the oxygen necessary for life. Nor is this all. The
creature has a power of absorbing more fluid than is required for present existence, and of hoarding it away in an internal reservoir, where it is retained until wanted. In its imprisonment, therefore, it is not at all necessary that it should have a continuous supply of moisture. This exquisite peculiarity in the animal economy of these reptiles, which strangely enough seems to have been overlooked by Dr Buckland,appears to give us the solution of the phenomenon which his experiments were intended to elucidate, and to render scientific doubts about the many really wellauthenticated cases of toads and frogs being found enclosed in wood or stone unreasonable. Of course we do not mean to vindicate the integrity of the antediluvian toad of Mr Buckland's " newspaper - scrap," which, emerging from a lump of coal, the naturalist of the newspaper supposes to have "breathed the same air as Noah, or disported in the same limpid streams in which Adam bathed his sturdy limbs." It is very well to smile at the traditionary fancies of the old naturalists, who believed that swallows rolled themselves up in a huge mass, mouth to mouth, and wing to wing, and plunged to the bottom of lakes or rivers, where they waited patiently for the return of spring. "Immergunt se fluminibus lacubusque per hyemem totam, &c." But when the zoological peculiarities of certain reptiles indicate a provision calculated to preserve existence in a state of suspended animation for an indefinite period, it does not seem the province of scientific induction in such circumstances to reject well-recorded facts. With this academic tendency, Mr Buckland seems somewhat tinctured.
easy, off-hand style, he explodes the idea of frogs falling in showers, and laughs at the newspaper paragraphist and his wondering readers. Does Mr Buckland question the many well-attested instances of small fish having fallen many miles inland? Will any one who has witnessed the effects of a whirlwind or a waterspout doubt the possibility of such a thing? Amid many well-authenticated cases, we may refer to a shower of small herrings that fell in Kinross-shire; see
Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 1826. But if herrings, why not frogs? Holinshed tells us that frogs fell in Angusshire during the time of Agricola (Chron. v. ii. p. 59.) It will be easy to laugh at the old chronicler; but what does Mr Buckland say to the discussion that took place on this subject before the Academy of Sciences at Paris in 1844, and to the personal experience of M. Peltier then communicated? At Ham, in the department of Somme, during a heavy rain, he reported that the Place was instantly covered with small toads; that they struck his outstretched hand during their fall; and that he saw them fall on the roof of the house opposite to him, and rebound thence to the pavement. But, indeed, abundant evidence of similar facts as unquestionable could be given. Mr Buckland disposes of all such evidence in a very simple fashion, by supposing that the little creatures had been hidden in fissures of the earth and under stones, and that they had crept out on the descent of the shower, and that thus the journalist was furnished with his phenomenon of the clouds raining frogs. The explanation is as old as Theophrastes, and was adopted by Redi, the cele brated Italian naturalist; but later observations render it untenable. It is the business of science to dissipate vulgar errors, but not scornfully to reject well-attested facts that are themselves feasible, and that admit of a natural and reasonable explanation. There are prodigies in nature as well as curiosities, and we are not disposed sceptically to question that frogs fall in showers, or to begrudge the paragraphist his pleasure in reporting the fact, or the gobemouches theirs, in annually filling their maws with the descending marvels. Of all men in the world, why should Mr Buckland smile at the credulous rustics swallowing showers of frogs?
Few of our readers most probably have ever observed the toad at his repast. It is performed with electric rapidity, and with more than telegrammic precision. The tongue is doubled back upon itself, and is tipped with a glutinous secretion. The moment the beetle comes within range, the tongue is shot forth with