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THE WOLF (Canis Lupus). There are many varieties of this fierce animal, extending over nearly every region of the northern portions of the globe; though from the more populous districts they have now been long expelled. A visit to the Zoological Gardens will give any reader a clearer idea of the external form of the wolf than the most careful description ; it will suffice to say, that the common wolf bears the closest resenıblance to a dog, especially to the kinds with long and narrow heads.
There was a time when the reader need not have gone to a menagerie to see a wolf; abundance of such opportunities would have been afforded in the woods and fields of old England, in the thirteenth century, when the doughty Edward I. was compelled to issue an order for a war against them, especially in the western counties. This strife with the wolves ended in far more decisive results than his wars with Scotland and France ; for the French and Scotch, though frightened, were not destroyed; but the wolves seem then to have met their death-blow in England, little more being heard of their ravages in this country,
The animals were not, however, entirely extinct in this island ; the mountains of Scotland gave a refuge to the savage depredators, and in the sixteenth century the Scotch farmers had to fight against their own countrymen and the wolves at the same time. For the battle of Langside, between Mary and her revolted subjects, was fought at a period when the depredations of the wolves had begun to work more mischief to the flocks scattered on many a hill-side than all the ravages of war. Nor did the race perish until after a hundred years of most diligent persecution by the population, aided by guns, dogs, and traps. As for Ireland, the wolf must either have had a singular love for that land, or the people have left the animal with little molestation, as it was not till the beginning of the eighteenth century that the last wolf perished in that country.
These animals still exist in France, Spain, and many parts of Germany, where the severity of the winter sends whole troops of raging wolves down upon the isolated farms and villages. At such times they penetrate into the forests on the borders of populous districts, and terrify the peasants with the unusual sight. Some parts of Spain are to this day so molested, that the flocks of sheep are guarded by powerful dogs, wearing spiked collars on their necks to protect them from the bites of the wolves in the fierce encounters which are continually occurring. The mule-drivers, in passing the defiles of the Pyrenees, are forced to maintain a keen look-out for the wolves, which, however, often attack their beasts. Not unfrequently, as night approaches, the belated traveller can detect the stealthy monsters keeping watch upon his movements and dogging his footsteps. In Norway and Sweden they are still more abundant, as also in Russia, being sheltered by the extensive regions of desert and forest abounding in those countries. Ages will probably be required to expel the wolf from such parts of Europe, if, indeed, this can ever be done, where agriculture and its connected arts cannot be expected to flourish. We may therefore consider ourselves fortunate in being so effectually separated from such countries, whence it is much more profitable to import iron and timber than wolves, with which we should doubtless be favoured were England joined on to either Norway, Sweden, or France. Thomson has described, in his “ Winter,” the ravages of the famishing wolves, and the ferocity of their attacks on all living creatures.
“ Cruel as death, and hungry as the grave;
Burning for blood; bony, and gaunt, and grim;
O'er churchyards drear (inhuman to relate !)
Mix'd with foul shades and frighted ghosts, they howl!” The terror which the wolf often produced in the people of a district
ages ago, was deepened by a peculiar superstition, which led the ignorant to believe that certain wizards were enabled, by the assistance of the devil, to transform themselves into wolves, in which shape, issuing forth from the forest, they attacked and slew men, women, and children. Thus the long howl of the wolf, when heard in the depth of a January night, would sound like the utterance of dark pangs of agony from Satan-bound magicians. It is easy to see how such a superstition would intimidate the people in their attempts to exterminate the wolf. The same notion prevailed in other lands; and the reader who has not perused the disgraceful trials for witchcraft in our English courts, may perhaps be surprised to learn that, at the end of the sixteenth century, a wretched man was executed in the Netherlands npon a charge of thus assuming the body of a wolf.
This animal, though ferocious when famished by long fasting, will not in general attack men; but shrinks from the hazard which he seems to be aware is attendant upon such a contest. This was clearly proved upon one occasion in North America, in the case of Dr. Richardson, who was in Captain Franklin's expedition to the Polar Sea. This gentleman had taken his share in the toils of his companions, and having the first watch, had gone to the top of a hill, from which he was gazing on the river beneath, and the last rays of the sun on the distant clouds, when he was suddenly startled by a noise from behind. Turning round, he saw enough to make a nervous man feel uncomfortable. Nine wolves were slowly advancing upon him, with a very deliberate intention of getting a supper from his body. The Doctor had, however, no such notion of contributing to their supply, and seeing all the wolves stop as soon as he turned and faced them, he resolved to advance; no sooner did the animals see this, than they drew up on each side, and allowed him to pass down the hill to his tent, where he felt much more comfortable at a safe distance from his unceremonious visitors. The wolf does not, indeed, seem to hate men; as, in a state of confinement, the animal sometimes expresses the highest pleasure when receiving the caresses of his keeper or of spectators; evincing, in this respect, one of the qualities so strongly developed in the dog. But when wolves are enraged by want of food, the unprotected traveller is attacked without hesitation by the savage packs which dart izto the very streets of mountain villages after their prey.
In the case of animals, the attacks of the wolf are at all times most determined, and there is no device to which the stealthy brute has not at times recourse. When the deer is the object of pursuit, the wolf is well aware that he cannot hope to run down so swift a creature, and therefore contrives to attack the timid animal in such a position as to drive it over a precipice, after which the ravenous troop descend and feast upon the crushed victim. The mode which the wolves arrange their forces shews no little generalship, and tends to prevent the hunted animal from turning off to the right hand or the left; the whole pack advances in the form of a crescent, and thus the prey is cut off from all escape except in the rear.
With all this ferocity, the wolf is exceedingly careful of himself, uniting great suspicion with a high degree of subtlety. The attempt to capture him is therefore attended with difficulties, save when hunger diminishes his caution; for the least
appearance of a rope, or aught which resembles a trap, excites his alarm, and sends him off at a gallop from the place. The appearance of a bladder tied to a string has frightened a prowling wolf from the door of an Indian wigwam, into which his courage was not sufficient to carry him, so long as the waving bladder suggested the presence of his persecutor and enemy, man. So careful is this fierce brute of his own welfare, that he will sometimes refrain from attacking an animal when tied to a string, as if he suspected it was placed there to entrap him. There can be little doubt that the habits of the wolf have been rendered doubly suspicious by ages of persecution, and that a high degree of caution is transmitted from generation to generation in these animals. A single glance at the
wolf suggests this view of his character; the sinister cast of the eye combines with the ferocious expression of the countenance to indicate an animal in which terror and rage are ever struggling. How different is all this from the dog, which rarely exhibits the treacherous qualities so generally found in the wolf! This extraordinary difference between the two animals may induce many to question whether the dog can be descended from the wolf.
But we must now consider another member of this family, and give a little of our attention to
Those readers whose life is passed in the country have doubtless been at times startled by the sudden appearance of reynard, as, darting from the shelter of the thicket of furze or fern, he slily steals along the hedge, fancying, conceited creature, that all his stealthy tricks are unobserved. With what a look of confused impudence does he catch sight of the poacher, or the nest-plunderer, as if feeling the rivalry of interlopers on his domain ! "How often does the rook, from her lofty seat in the old elm-tree, spy the marauder, and sounding the tocsin to the whole population of the wood, give spiteful notice of the lurking enemy to every bird !
Man and the larger quadrupeds have little to fear in England from destructive animals; not so, however, with the feathered tribes, which find no gentle foe in reynard. Many a plump partridge has met with an inglorious end from the hungry fox ; nor does the pert farm-chicken, or self-satisfied duckling, escape the earnest attentions of the four-footed spoiler. Well is it for him that country gentlemen protect him for the chase, or soon his sly race would disappear before the traps and guns of the farmer. Proud would the fox feel, were he able to estimate the care, expense, and trouble which many a squire takes on his account, and. the thousands of pounds paid each year in England to organise the means for scientifically following his footsteps. The fox, however, pays for this attention on the part of sportsmen, by the terror of the hunt. Often is he seen dashing from his eager pursuers through copse and wood, calling for entrance in vain at many a well-known hole, then closely stopped.
The fox has obtained for himself a home in each of the four quarters of the globe, being as well known to the American hunter as to the English squire; whilst the tribes of Northern Africa, and the inhabitants of the Himalayas, furnish themselves with clothing from his skin. Many of these animals are slaughtered every year in the Hudson's Bay territory, whence the furs are brought to England, where they are worn in various forms by many who little suspect from how many " colds” reynard's coat has saved them. Some of these American fox-furs are very beautiful, especially those of the silver and red fox; but these are not often seen amongst our furriers. One variety, called the Arctic fox, inhabiting the polar regions of America, is remarkable for the change of its fur from a light brown in summer to a pure snowwhite in winter, when it also becomes long and woolly. Thus, if men in some countries have their summer and winter houses, animals are provided with equally efficient remedies for the changes of temperature by corresponding variations in their fur, or, in other words, their clothing. This whiteness does not arise from the growth of new hairs on the approach of winter, but from a change of colour in the summer fur, which grows longer and thicker at the close of autumn, to prepare the animal for the intense cold of those high latitudes. This thick fur falls off in spring; the hunters therefore only prize those skins which are taken in winter, when the hair is both long and soft. The reader will of course remember that this change is not peculiar to the Arctic fox; certain hares, the ermine, and some wolves exhibit similar periodical variations. A white fur conducts heat more slowly than one of a darker colour; and whilst a dark coat would draw the heat from an animal's body in the depth of winter, and conduct it into the atmosphere, a white covering confines the warmth within the