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NATURAL HISTORY.-MARVELS FROM PLINY.
D ET any one who wishes to feast his appetite for the marvellous, and
Blo at the same time to be studying a grave and philosophising writer, G open that part of “ Pliny's Natural History" (Books viii to xi) in
which he treats of the history of animals.
In the preceding book (vii), which professes to treat of mankind, 2) he would find sufficient matter for many Othellos to tell, and many
& wondering Desdemonas to hear; Anthropophagi in plenty; and if not "men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders," at all events he could find Astomi, having no mouths at all, but living altogether upon scents; and if these be not enough, there are Sciapodes, with feet so large that on hot days they lie on their backs and put them up as a natural umbrella.
But it is upon animals that Pliny has concentrated his powers: for with the book in our hands we can put down wonders at every step, as we go through his list. He begins with the elephant, probably thus honouring it on account of its size. We learn that it worships the sun and moon; by a kind of worship novel perhaps, consisting in blowing water through its trunk; also, that when it throws grass and leaves into the air it is performing a religious ceremony of its own. Moreover that it is a very truthful animal itself, and will not embark in a ship until the captain has bound himself by a solemn oath to attend to its safety.
Among various instances of ingenuity, it is mentioned that when tormented by flies it has a way of first making its skin smooth, so as to induce the flies to settle, and then suddenly contracting it into wrinkles, it squeezes its unsuspecting victims to death in the creases. It cannot endure the grunt of swine or the sight of mice. It keeps one of its tusks always sharp for fighting, the other it uses for ordinary purposes. The Rhinoceros i one of the elephant's chief enemies; and to make sure of him always sharpens his horn against a stone before attacking him. A good deal is said about the contests of the elephant with the serpent; which would seem always to take place after a prescribed form (and as our author says) because nature takes pleasure in such matches. The serpent drops from a tree upon the elephant, and encircles him in its folds; the elephant endeavours to rub himself against a rock or large tree: this the serpent prevents by entangling his tail in his feet: the elephant, with his trunk, endeavours to untie the knots : the serpent then inserts his head in the elephant's eyes, nostrils, and ears, which last mentioned the elephant cannot reach with his trunk; he sucks the elephant's blood with peculiar pleasure, as we are told, because of its coolness; till at last the elephant falls, and in his fall crushes his enemy: the whole forming a tableau worthy of Astley's Amphitheatre.
The mention of this leads Pliny to speak of serpents, which he must have considered to be adventurous as well as ingenious animals, for he says that when they want to remove from one country to another and cannot pass by land, they intrust themselves to the water; three or four of them plaiting or weaving themselves together so as to form a water-tight boat of living basket-work, and lifting their heads high to serve as masts and sails.
Next comes a wonderful animal, the Achlis; an inhabitant of the "island of Scandinavia,” not unlike a horse in shape, but with no joints to its legs. On this account it cannot lie down, but takes its rest leaning against a tree; by cutting down the tree it is captured, for it cannot rise when once on the ground. It cannot spend a comfortable life, for it has likewise the very inconvenient appendage of a large upper lip, which would be sadly in its way were it not for the simple expedient of walking backwards, instead of forwards, when grazing. There is also an animal named the Catoblepas, whose glance, if it meets the glance of a man, causes instant death. But what does the considerate animal do? It always walks with its head down to the ground. But not so the Basilisk: though a serpent, it erects itself straight upon the end of its tail, and progresses (we are not told how) in this imposing manner, continually looking round on purpose, and thus destroying not merely animals, but plants and trees, and causing even stones to break to pieces. Yet nature, says Pliny, has provided a match for it in the weasel, for if a weasel be put in the basilisk's hole, both basilisk and weasel will die.
The Amphisbæna, another serpent, has a head where its tail ought to be : others stiffen themselves like a lance, and project themselves so as to transfix their enemies.
The Egyptian ichneumon, before it attacks serpents, fits itself with armour for the purpose. It rolls itself in mud and suffers the first coat to dry; then rolls itself again, covering itself with layer after layer till it is as hard as a stone. It is also the chief foe of the crocodile. When the latter animal is troubled with leeches in his mouth and throat, he lies on the bank with his mouth open: upon which a small wren enters his mouth and employs itself in removing the leeches which annoy its friend. The operation over, the crocodile goes to sleep, still with its mouth open; of this the ichneumon takes advantage, jumps down his throat, and feeds upon his vitals.
The hippopotamus, when gorged with over feeding, searches for a stout and sharp reed, against which he strikes his leg so as to pierce it. When he thinks he has let himself bleed long enough, he closes the place with mud.
To come down to smaller animals: when a pair of Alpine mice, or marmots, are collecting food at the time of laying up their winter store of provision, one of the animals lies down; the other piles upon its body whatever is to be carried home : then taking the end of his partner's tail in his mouth, drags away body load and all to the nest where they live. This is the reason, says Pliny, that their backs are always scratched : and no wonder.
The hedgehog has another way of carrying his food home; he lies down and rolls in the middle of it, and goes away with it sticking on his spines. It is to be supposed that when he comes home, he finds some one to take them off for him.
The melis, or marten, can so distend its outer skin, like a bladder, separate from its flesh, that blows or bites cannot injure it.
It must not be supposed that Pliny tells nothing but such marvels and travellers' tales : on the contrary, there can be found in him many facts of great value, laboriously collected. We have taken the above from book vii, on land animals : in time we shall come to the birds and fishes.
RAGGED SCHOOLS. YING between the criminal and destitute and the industrious Eo well-to-do poor children, there is a large horde who are by slow 9 degrees and very scantily embraced by Ragged Schools. In June
last it seemed good to the Committee of Council to put forth a too minute, whereby great encouragement was given to these schools, 25 and sundry grants promised in aid of their teachers' salaries, and
even of the food given to the children. Whereupon philanthrophy was jubilant; and ragged schools threatened to increase and multiply apace; which seems to have alarmed the treasury, for lo! another edict has just issued, confining these munificent grants to reformatories, or to such ragged schools as can get it certified by two justices that none other children frequent them than such as are either prone to become criminal, or are without house and home-intensely vagrant in short. Now very few, if any, ragged schools are wholly filled by such outcast urchins. Some few are always admitted because their parents are too poor or ill disposed to give them the benefit of schooling for which they would have to pay; and who (as Miss Carpenter, of Bristol, very justly says, “would grow up without any education, and consequently become an incubus on the community." In a circular recently printed on this subject, it is truly argued that, - to be efficient for their object of giving a useful education to this class, ragged schools must be good; to be good they must be far more expensive than ordinary schools, no pence being paid by the children, and besides this, and in various ways, the expenditure being greater. More than double the amount of pecuniary outlay and voluntary exertions are needed to make a ragged school good, than a day school; and it is a principle already recognised by Government that aid shall be granted, with inspection, in proportion to the effort made.”
“Ragged schools should, therefore, receive a larger amount of aid from the educational grant than day schools, and this aid should be so directed as to secure the school being good, and therefore efficient.” .
The new regulation is clearly intended to check an obvious abuse. The grants are on a far more liberal scale than those made to common day schools. Consequently common day schools have a direct inducement to become, or pretend that they are, ragged schools. The prevention of the abuse, however, will well nigh extinguish the use along with it. Ragged schools cannot be exclusively filled with a purely criminal class, or with houseless and homeless young vagabonds. There must always be a good number of those we have described. The necessity is to prevent any from being admitted who can get into common schools, and a certificate to the effect that all such were rigorously excluded might, one would imagine, suffice.
A very large grant of public money-probably more than half a millionwill be voted this year for education, and none of it will be more usefully applied than that which goes to 'ragged and reformatory schools, both of which are “ distinctly recognised” by the June minute of the Committee of Council, and which will form perhaps the most interesting if not the most important part of the dealings of Government with education on the principle that the whole need not the physician; and that society is first concerned in the cure of those whose diseases are noxious to itself.
THE DECIMAL COINAGE QUESTION.
F only the convenience of bankers, merchants, and professed arithmeEk ticians had to be considered, it is probable that the most suitable
decimal system for this country would be the millesimal division of
the pound sterling. But the interests of the community at large 624 must not be lost sight of, and it needs but a very little reflection to go convince one's self that, so far as the masses are concerned, the scheme
would prove to be both impracticable and mischievous, and consequently a complete failure.
It is fondly imagined by the advocates of the pound-and-mil system that, on the passing of an act of Parliament depreciating the copper coinage four per cent. people would at once and for ever banish from their speech and thoughts that “household word” of many centuries—the penny- and thenceforward estimate the value of all their small purchases in “mils” or farthings. How little do those who expect this understand human nature! Even if the alteration rendered petty calculations more easy, which, however, is very far from being the case, 999 out of every thousand buyers and sellers would, from sheer force of habit, stick to the depreciated penny, and speak of a loaf or a yard of ribbon as costing eightpence or seventeenpence, in preference to the proposed 32 mils or 68 mils. They would also, however perversely it might seem to the millesimist, call 12 d. a shilling, instead of five cents, and 25d. two shillings, instead of a florin. Accordingly the new plan would involve the study of a revised “pence table,” in which 20d. would be 1s. 7d. ; 30d. 2s. 5d. ; 40d. 3s. 2 d.; and so on. Also the shopkeeper, who might require to book his accounts by the new method. would have to be well up in his farthings table and other mental aids for momentarily reducing shillings and pence to the three new terms of account-florins, cents, and mils—and vice versa. So that instead of finding decimal coinage “a boon,” his arithmetical difficulties would be greatly increased thereby
In addition to a multitude of such inconveniences and annoyances as have just been glanced at, there would be positive injury inflicted on the bulk of the population, in the shape of a serious pecuniary loss in an increasing ratio to the poverty of the people. The following items of a Saturday night's expenditure in a grocer's shop, by the wife of a mechanic, will illustrate this effect of substituting the “mil” for the penny as a standard of value:
PENCE. 1 oz. tea . ..
3 would be charged 13
lb. cheese ..
179=3s. 7d. Now here, although the alteration in each item is only about half a farthing, it amounts in the aggregate to threepence, being equivalent to a tax on the poor woman's outlay of eighteen pence in the pound. And in return for this, be it remembered, she derives not the least shadow of benefit whatever. But the rich merchant or banker will, at her expense, be enabled to save a few seconds of his valuable time in casting up a column of his cash book.
It is asserted that competition would at some indefinite period set all this to rights. Competition forsooth! As if competition had not long ago far exceeded its just limits, and merged into a disgraceful rivalry in the adulteration of almost every necessary of life. The result of competition would be very likely an increased proportion of spurious leaves in the tea; of roasted beans or some viler stuff in the coffee ; of flour and turmeric in the mustard; of “P. D.” in the pepper; &c. &c. No. The small shopkeeper would be compelled either to sacrifice, it may be, five shillings in the pound of his ordinary business profits, or to overcharge his customers at the rate of from five to twenty per cent. on all articles under sixpence in price. There would certainly be no middle course practicable.
S. A. Good.
INFLUENCE OF TEACHER'S EXAMPLE.—Teacher, your Sabbath scholar is an emigrant, a voyager on the stormy ocean of life. It is an important crisis in his history, and it is for you to answer the serious questions-How must he act? What preparations must he make? What and where are the sandbanks and rocks which he must avoid ? For what port is he bound ? Will you advise him to steer in one direction while you are swiftly sailing in the contrary? Will you enumerate certain necessary equipments for his voyage, not one of which you have procured for yourself? Will you counsel him to shun rocks and whirlpools towards which your own bark is drifting to a swift destruction ? Will you bid him to steer straight for the Fair Havens while you are scudding rapidly to the bleak cliffs of ruin and despair? This is folly-arrant, unutterable folly. Be assured the quick and discerning intellect of your scholars can and will compare your line of teaching with your line of practice, conduct, and experience; and as sure as these diverge and disagree, so sure will your labour be like sowing chaff or beating the air. ---James Wray.