Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

1

ERRATA.

Page 65, line 3, for Faira, read Taira.

67, 27, for rebsort, read resort.
92, 16, for palma christis, read palma christi.

1, for This graceful tree, read The American acacia. 11, for minds, read mind.

102,

207,

THE

ANIMAL AND VEGETABLE PRODUCTIONS

OF

AMERICA.

WHEN America was first discovered, her natural historians did not scruple to assert that the principle of life seemed less active than in the ancient continent. They maintained that, notwithstanding the vast extent of the new world, its diversity of climate and soil, of vegetable productions, and atmospheric influence, the animal inhabitants were fewer in

pro-portion than those which peopled the other hemisphere; that in the islands there were only four kinds of quadrupeds, the largest of which did not exceed in size a common rabbit; and that, throughout the continent, although the variety was greater, and the individuals proportionably numerous, yet the number of distinct species was still extremely small. They further asserted, that of two hundred different kinds of animals spread over the surface of the earth, only one-third existed in America at the time of her discovery. Nor were they contented thus to diminish the number of the native species; they also contended, and Buffon has industriously dissemi

B

[blocks in formation]

nated the opinion, that all, and each, were strikingly inferior, both in sagacity and size, to those of the ancient world. In proof of which it was asserted, that America, throughout the whole extent of her vast savannas, and interminable forests, sheltered no one creature of such bulk as the elephant or camel. But the reason of this is obvious; their services are unnecessary. In the new world cold predominates. The rigour of the frigid zone extends over half those regions that should be temperate by reason of their position; countries where the fig and grape should ripen, are chilled with perpetual frost. Newfoundland, part of Nova Scotia, and Canada, lie in the same parallel with the finest provinces of France, yet how great the difference between them! In

one, corn-fields and vineyards abound; in the other, the ground is covered in many parts with deep snow, and the great river St. Lawrence is frozen at a season when the waters of the Thames and the Seine are usually free from ice. The rein-deer, that useful animal, from whom the natives of the arctic regions derive the greatest benefit, and whose constitution supports and even requires the most intense cold, abounds in Canada, though unable to exist in any country to the south of the Baltic. The same comparison holds good between the Esquimaux part of Labrador, the countries south of Hudson's Bay, and Great Britain; the last is highly cultivated, and enriched with flocks and herds, but in the former the cold is so intense, that even European industry has not availed to ameliorate the soil. As we advance towards those portions of America, which are similarly situated with many African and Asiatic pro

[blocks in formation]

vinces, that enjoy such a degree of warmth as is most friendly to life and vegetation, the dominion of cold continues, and winter reigns, though only during a short period, with extreme severity. If we pass from the continent of America into the torrid zone, we shall perceive the frigid character of the new world extending its unconquerable influence even to this region of the globe, and mitigating the excess of its fervour. While the negro on the coast of Africa is scorched with unremitting heat, the inhabitant of Peru breathes an air equally mild and temperate, beneath a canopy of gray clouds, which intercepts the fierce beams of the sun, without obstructing his kindly warmth. Throughout the eastern coast of America, the climate, though assimilating more to that of the torrid zone, in the elder continents, is nevertheless considerably milder, In treading her vast savannas, the traveller never complains of that intolerable heat which perpetually arrests his progress in those parts of Africa and Asia which lie in the same latitude. It is, therefore, obvious that neither the elephant nor camel are required in this milder portion of the globe, but instead of these the llama overspreads her fertile plains; nor are there wanting in the depth of her interminable forests, on the rugged flanks of the vast Andes, on the shores of her sea-like Plata, Orinoco, and Amazon, creatures, though perhaps less specifically numerous than those of the ancient continents, yet equally serving the purposes of man.

Another reason may also be assigned for the apparent smallness of their numbers. Natural history is the boast of modern times.

[blocks in formation]

The first discoverers of America were generally adventurers, drawn thither by the thirst of gold, while her historians spoke rather of the minerals which she concealed in her bosom, the rich productions of her soil, the habits and the manners of the natives, than of such animals as immediately surrounded them. If they endeavoured to penetrate her forests, the aborigines fled from the thunder of their guns; if they roused, in her savannas, the nimble elk, the caraboa, jaguar, or racoon, they, swift of foot, and readily alarmed by any unusual sound, found a retreat amid the luxuriance of their native fastnesses, thus precluding the possibility of ascertaining either specific or numerical varieties.

The natives, too, as they required not the aid, had subjugated few of the animals which surrounded them; and hence it was not surprising that the first historians of America, men whose sources of information were extremely limited, should represent the four-footed population as inferior to those of the countries with which they were acquainted.

But in proportion to the increase of geographical knowledge, and the progress of zoological science, in the older portions of the globe, has been the research of naturalists in the new.

Men of very different pretensions from the earlier discoverers of America, have made themselves acquainted with the animals of either continent; as unknown countries opened to their view, unknown species were found to inhabit them. Even at the present day, and, notwithstanding the improved state of knowledge in regard to the earth's surface, there is reason to conjecture that zoology is still in its infancy, espe

« НазадПродовжити »