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tantique operis materiæ uterus ipsius sufficit; sive ita corrupta alvi natura stato tempore (ut Democrito placet) sive est quædam intus lanigera fertilitas.”
These passages, indeed, Mr. L. adds, are, in his opinion, “ fair hints for the darting of threads, if it be not absolutely so to be understood ; but for these sailing and mounting up into the air, as yet, I find the ancients were silent; and I think I was the first who acquainted you (i. e. Mr. Ray) with it; but that is best known to yourself; and I challenge it only by way of emulation, not envy, there being nothing more likely than that several persons, following the same studies, may, many of them, light upon one and the same observation. I am no arcana man; and, methinks, I would have every body free and communicative, that we may, if possible, (considering the shortness of our lives) participate with posterity.” We wish that all members of all sects and parties, in science, philosophy, or religion, were prompted by similar feelings and such unselfish principles. It is rather singular, that a learned contemporary, and one of the earliest Fellows of the Royal Society, Mr. Robert Hooke, in noticing “a certain white substance after fogs flying up and down” looking more like to a flake of worsted prepared to be spun (though of its generation or production he professes his utter ignorance,) should have entertained the fanciful idea, " that those great white clouds, that appear all the summer time, may be of the same substance;" little suspecting, that they were the vehicles which his more accurate associate in science had, with better judgment and truth, provided for his flying spiders. Of this extraordinary power and provision of nature much remains to be said before the causes and effects, in all their bearings, can be fully developed. That certain spiders have the power of shooting forth fine threads, of an extremely light and volatile texture, is unquestionable : but by what law or impulse they are able to direct the course of that thread, and immediately springing from their point of contact with a given point, rise rapidly, and almost instantaneously disappear in the air, is a secret at present beyond our ken. We think there are sufficient grounds for suspecting that they are gifted with some faculty (we must not call it an additional sense) by which the course of these minute aërial threads is regulated. We speak with all humility and deference, but we would suggest the possibility of there being some connexion between this strange loco-motive power and polarity, or the influence of some of these invisible but active fluids (whether magnetism or galvannism, we know not,) which are now admitted to take so large a share in the government of matter, and enter so intimately into every process of animal and vegetable, economy. Thus, and we mention it as in some measure analogous, it has been
what study, it ation of
surmised by no mean authority, that the uniform simultaneous motions of the various species of gnat tribe, which must be familiar to almost every person, may be regulated by the controling agency of one of these fluids. For the information of those who have not made natural history their study, it may be desirable to state, that the profusion of what are called gossaamer webs, occasionally seen to cover the face of the country, and fill the air in autumn, are the production of small spiders, continuing or terminating their airy voyages; and, therefore, that season of the year may be selected as most favourable for such as feel inclined to investigate the proceedings of these little travellers, and explain how and why these things are.
In dismissing our entomological remarks, we cannot avoid noticing the increased knowledge in the lepidopterous class. Mr. Ray, in mentioning his “ Diurnal English Papilios,” reckons their number at about forty, whereas the present number consists of about eighty-three.
We shall now make a short excursion into the vegetable world. Every body has heard of weeping willows, but few, we believe, are prepared to admit the literal fact, that weeping willows are actually ploratory plants and do really weep. The seventeenth century was, indeed, a hot-bed of factious times, and, perhaps, they “ wept over their country's wrongs :" but so it was, for we have the authority of Dr. Robinson, in support of the fact, that in the year 1685, (the very year, be it remembered, of King James the Second's accession, when royal prerogative threatened annihilation to liberty and regeneration to papal power,) ► the willows wept so fast at noon day, in the month of March, that Dr. Plucknet, passing on the road, was extremely surprised (and well he might be,) and almost wet to the skin; yet it had been no rain for many weeks before, and the air and other trees were very dry at the same time. I have heard (adds Mr. Robinson, in his letter to Mr. Ray,) this relation confirmed by other persons that observed the same. Trees may, now and then, be subject to bleedings, sweatings, catarrhs, and other extravasations ; yet this is no very strong argument (I confess) for the Arbor aquam fundens.”
At page 207, we find this same Dr. Robinson discussing the nature and character of the Coffee plant; concerning which, their information seems to have been very vague and defective ; a strong proof, how little it was used as an article of commerce in those days: tea, in fact, was barely known, and taken more as a medicine than a luxury, having been introduced about twenty-five years preceding the date of this letter (May, 1687,) and about twenty years later than the introduction of coffee into England. This latter article, however, seems to have made a more rapid progress in public estimation, as, in 1650, ten years
ous tong warlem tha tance to w coffee in the
after its introduction, we hear of the establishment of a coffeehouse, namely, at the sign of the Angel, in Oxford, kept by a Jew. Two years afterwards, an English Turkey merchant opened another in London, which was kept by his Greek servant; but we fear, that its sedative and tranquillising qualities were little valued, and out of vogue, and some more potent beverage patronised in its stead, since, in the short space of five years, viz. in 1657, the Rainbow coffee-house, near Temple bar, was presented as a nuisance to the neighbourhood.
It would seem that, before the time of Ray, the plan of introducing warm air, and thereby producing artificial heat of various temperatures, was unknown in England ; for, in 1684, we find no less a person than Sir Hans Sloane describing it as a new discovery. Mr Watts (says he) has a “new contrivance (at least in this country), viz. he makes, under the floor of his green-house, a great fire-place, with grate, ash-hole, &c.; and conveys the warmth through the whole house, by tunnels; so that he hopes, by the help of weather-glasses within, to bring or keep the air at what degree of warmth he pleases, letting in, upon occasion, the outward air by the windows; he thinks to make, by this means, an artificial spring, summer, winter, &c.”
Had we space to spare, we should feel disposed to examine, seriatim, the various lists of plants, with their habitats given by different correspondents as rare, since the comparison between the present and former knowledge of several, might enable us to draw some relative comparison between the botanical attainments of past and present times, and would be found, we are convinced, to reflect the greatest credit upon the accuracy and diligence invariably displayed by the indefatigable Ray. We are not, indeed, prepared to go all lengths with him, in asserting that certain plants are “ peculiar to this or that shire;” though we are ready to grant, that few facts in natural history are more extraordinary than the tenacity with which certain plants attach themselves to particular spots, where they are found to exist for years (we may almost add for ages), withering away whenever attempts are made to transport and naturalize them in other sorts and situations, to all appearance as congenial with their habits and characters. Thus we might mention, as an instance, though, by no means, without its exceptions, the beautiful profusion of pasque flowers (anemone pulsatilla), familiar to botanical students, blooming in full luxuriance on a small dry knoll on the Gog Magog hills, near Cambridge; and, again, as another instance, (which, to the best of our knowledge, has no exception,) the almost equal profusion of that rare plant Saxifraga Herculus, (yellow marsh saxifrage) known however, and we believe first discovered, by either Ray or one of his associates, on a small marshy spot,
elose to the town of Knutsford, in Cheshire, which, together with several other plants, has never been met with by succeeding botanists any where but in the places mentioned by their original discoverers. In making the above remark, Ray pays a well merited, though, on his part, an unintentional compliment to his own diligence; as a further proof of which, we cannot forbear adding the following instance, which is casually introduced, on his noticing some experiments of Lewenhock's, the accuracy of which he presumes to call in question ; “for, in those of the seeds of plants, I find him mistaken in some, v. g. radish, turnips, and others of that kind, which I bave forty times dissected and opened with my hands, and seen clearly with my naked eyes.”
It has been long known that seeds, pieces of wood, and other productions, evidently of tropical climates, are occasionally found on the North-western shores of Scotland, Hebrides, and even Orknies; and it is now generally allowed, that the phenomenon admits of easy solution by the ascertained course of the Florida stream, which, sweeping by the banks of Newfoundland, carries with it these floating passengers of West Indian birth. The following letter from Sir Hans Sloane, with Mr. Ray's answer, are, with reference to this subject, worthy of attention. Sir Hans Sloane says, “ I have received, after much search, three sorts of beans, from the N. W. islands of Scotland, which are thrown up by the sea from the N. W. great ocean, and gathered in plenty on those N. W. shores, and are such as grow in Jamaica, viz. the bean called, there, cocoons, that called horse-eye bean, and the ash-coloured nickar, or bonduch. There is, also, a fourth sent me thence, which is, I think, avellana quadrifida ; where its natural place is, I know not; but the others, you may find their countries by the authors which speak of them, for they must come to Scotland by the currents of the sea,” &c. Mr. Ray, in answer, says, "what you write concerning the fruits gathered in plenty on the shores of the N. W. Islands of Scotland, is very strange. I have, formerly, read something of it in the philosophical transactions, I think, but gave no great heed to it; but, now, I see there was truth in it. It is very unlikely to me, that they should be brought so far by any current of the sea. I should rather think they came from vessels cast away by shipwreck, near those parts. But it is a thing very well deserves to be further, and more diligently, inquired into, sith the matter of fact is certain.”
That they should have been ignorant of the precise course of the Gulph stream, is excusable; but we are rather surprised to find, from a correspondence of Dr. Robinson and Mr. Ray, that the indraught of the Atlantic toʻthe Mediterranean, through the Straights of Gibraltar, was by no means a generally acknowledged fact. It was in vain that “our sea officers” asserted, that the “Mediterranean sets out again into the Atlantic” by an “ ebbing out(i.e. an under current) of the Straights' mouth,” it being “scarce reconcilable to the common notions of philosophy, that there should be two contrary declivities, or currents, in the same channel.” As an apology for these learned men, a still greater ignorance of more practical importance, perhaps, prevailed, almost within our own memory: as we have heard that, not half a century ago, lime was actually sent from this country to Gibraltar, for the purpose of building ; the civil or military engineers not having had philosophy or common sense enough to discover, that the rock was stratified with masses of fine calcareous materials. Upon several other points, connected with general science and local knowledge, we find considerable ignorance, (in using, however, this term, we are far from imputing it as a fault to such men as Ray, &c.; on the contrary, considering the education, manners, and character of the times, our wonder is, rather, that any individual could collect a tithe of the information they possessed.) Thus, Mr. Ray makes it one of his queries to Sir Hans Sloane, on his going to Jamaica, “ whether ambergrise be the juice of any sort of metal, or aloe, dropt into the sea, as Tropham would have it ;” a substance now generally understood to be a concretion formed in the stomach, or intestines, of the physeter macrocephalus, or spermaceti whale. Again, the existence of that wonderful work of nature, the Giant's Causeway, seems to have been known only by vague report; for we find Mr. Lwhyd, an intelligent correspondent of Mr. Ray's, “ put in mind of a current report, how that, in the county of Antrim, in Ireland, there are divers large pillars of star stones, able to support a church."
But the most remarkable deficiency in their knowledge relates to their almost utter ignorance of the nature and character of fossil organic remains. It would be unreasonable, indeed, to expect to meet with a Buckland, or a Cuvier, at a period when the vast and important accession of information afforded by these celebrated men might have exposed them, if not to the fate of Galileo, at least to the pains and penalties with which the orthodox priesthood of that day might have overwhelmed them. That the word “ beginning,” as applied by Moses, (Genesis, ch. i., v. 1,) expressed an undefined period of time, antecedent to the last great change that affected the surface of the earth, and to the creation of its present animal and vegetable inhabitants; and that the days of the Mosaic are not to be strictly construed as implying the same length of