« PreviousContinue »
fastened in the strongest manner possible; and this broad surface of bone, with its high longitudinal ridge in the centre, affords room for thus tying down the muscles of flight.
QUESTION: Has the sternum the same proportionate size in all birds ?
ANSWER: It has not. The ostrich, for example, has a sternum smaller than that of the swan or the eagle; and the naturalist is taught to decide, by the shape and size of the breast-bone, whether the bird be a slow or a vigorous flier. The sternum of the ostrich is too small and weak to give any strength to his wings, while that of the eagle is broad and stout, indicating an immense power of wing.
QUESTION: What do these and other facts concerning the skeleton of birds, teach the reflecting mind?
ANSWER: They show that exact adaptation of means to ends which pervades creation. He who contrived the skeleton of birds, made it to correspond minutely with the density of the atmosphere and the power of gravitation.
This specimen is sufficient; though the lesson on the skeleton might be continued to a great length, showing at every step new marks of wise design; and the whole might be as easily comprehended.
Take the bill, or beak, of birds; and whether we examine those which are made to tear flesh, or those intended to crack nuts, or catch fish, or open oysters, or strain water, in each and every group we shall see surprising differences, yet in each an exact adaptation of means to ends. So likewise of their feet; if to grapple live prey, or serve as stilts, or to defend the brood, or scratch the ground, or row in the water, each species will abundantly vindicate the perfection of its form, and show to a demonstration that every bone, quill, beak and talon, are in harmony with the universal order of creation.
We repeat, that this is not a tithe of what may be said on the skele. ton of birds ; but this is enough with our readers to show, as an example, that a youth of twelve years could perfectly understand it all. Every other point is susceptible of being made equally plain, and quite as interesting; and we will here venture to add, that we believe the whole science of natural history can be thus simplified, and made as much more clear and intelligible than grammar and rhetoric, as mathematics is more demonstrable than poetry.
Had we more space for adding proofs we should find them at hand and most abundant; but we must dismiss this part of the subject with a recapitulation. First, that the science of natural history is a regular and cherished classic in European schools; and Second, that its leading principles and facts may be so stated as to be level with the youthful comprehension.
II. Our second inquiry, therefore, is this: Is Natural History a science which will help to develope the intellectual powers and to elevate the moral affections ?
We answer, that it is admirably adapted to develope the intellectual powers. Nature was the first volume that Heaven published for the education of man, and Adam was its first student. He had no other book. Creation was the page spread out before him, and God was his
teacher; and the first thing he did was to give distinguishing names to all the animals of the earth and sky. From his day to ours the purehearted and reflecting have loved to hold communion with Nature in all her beautiful forms; and he whose thoughts are fixed on Botany, Che. mistry, Mineralogy, Geology, Zoology, will promptly confess that they are studies which require minute observation, delicate analyses, serial proofs, and philosophical classification ; thus being the freest, healthiest exercise to the intellectual powers. Matter in its various forms and combinations, and life in its various modes and forces, constitute the basis of all physical science, while they are the truest illustrations of the philosophy of mind. Natural History is thus the great source of human knowledge, the great object of mental activity. If mathematics claim to have positive strength in developing intellect, then surely natural history is equally potent; for, the severity of mathematics marks all the processes of thought. It is eminently, in this respect, an exact science, resting on demonstrations. The great Cuvier, that second legislator in natural science, says: The habit necessarily acquired in the study of natural history, of mentally classifying a great number of ideas, is one of the advantages of this science which is seldom spoken of, and which, when it shall have been generally introduced into the system of common education, will perhaps become the principal one. It exercises the student in that part of logic which is called method, as the study of geometry does in that which is called syllogism ; because natural history is the science which requires the most precise methods, as geometry is that which demands the most rigorous reasoning. Now, this art of method, when once well acquired, may be applied with infinite advantage to studies the most foreign to natural history. Every discussion which supposes a classification of facts, every research which requires a distribution of matters, is performed after the same manner; and he who has cultivated this science merely for amusement, is surprised at the facilities it affords for disentangling all kinds of affairs.' This testimony in favor of introducing natural history as a regular study into our elementary schools, is from a man who surpassed all others in his attainments in the science, and whose recommendation therefore has almost the force of a divine command.
Take chemistry, and see it penetrating to the primitive atoms of all substances, then unfolding their combinations, revealing their powers, and after all, reüniting them anew for the progress of all useful arts ! How do we admire when we see it harnessing galvanism, electricity and light to its car, and make them fill the earth with comforts and health! The results of chemical analysis are becoming every month more important to society; and every new one is a new reason why the course of instruction in our higher schools should embrace them. This science opens a field of inquiry to the young mind at once engaging and profitable; and we have known boys, twelve years old, who have repeated and understood the experiments of learned professors. It only needs in this, as in many other departments, that we should have sufficient faith in the capacity of young minds.
With equal justice similar remarks may be made concerning geology and mineralogy. They are sciences which can be made level to the
youthful comprehension ; and when so made, they will become sources of healthful excitement and industrious observation.
With regard to botany, there can be no doubt that it will soon become a regular classic in every elevated school. Its adaptation to the tastes and habits of children, its connexion with their pleasures, their food and even their medicine, would be enough to insure their love for it, without connecting it with the first form of organic life to which so large a part of the animal creation looks, and to which all animal life primarily has relationship.
With regard to zoology, this is a science which may be first introduced because most easily apprehended, and yielding the earliest reward. The animals which on every side arrest our attention, are too familiar to need description, and a youth would be already in possession of the requisite introductory knowledge in their study. He would often be but extending his view, teaching him the philosophy of what (as in the skele. ton of birds) his eyes had constantly beheld. The means of study would be so within reach that this part of natural history could be pur. sued at any time to almost any extent.
Among the advantages which this study imparts to the intellectual faculties, are those of tracing relationships and of comprehending its rigid rules of classification. Each part is connected as directly as antecedent and consequent can be. It is said in commendation of mathe. matics, that each preceding principle well understood becomes a lumi. nous introduction to the next succeeding. This is also true to its fullest extent in zoology. Each law of life with which the pupil becomes acquainted serves as a revealer to the next in order; and when once the series is well entered upon, the student will find too great enthusiasm growing within him, unless he has the privilege of entire devotion to the science. For example ; when the student is able to distinguish the peculiarities in the teeth of different orders of animals, how soon will he be able to decide on the form, food and habits of those animals. As soon as he knows accurately the bill and feet in birds, or the mouth and fins in fishes, how readily will he classify those which fall under his notice. Now think what an infinity of relationships are connected with each one of these inquiries ! Questions touching earth, air and water immedi. ately arise for adjustment, and before the student is aware he finds himself environed by truths, new and luminous, all rising out of his first lessons in animal life. Take the most unfavorable case ; a young man in a country village. That young man, if he had been taught the ele. ments of zoology at school, would feel an interest to collect all the different kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, insects, etc., which came within his reach; and fixing his attention on their shape, size, color, motions and habits, would soon gather a little museum of specimens. His taste for these pursuits would not die out in his soul, because there would be often presented to him new illustrations of what he had learned. With Nature for a book, and Nature's God for a teacher, he could not walk far without seeing some new passage to peruse.
Thus his mind would always be awake to his researches; and selecting one department as more agreeable to his taste than the others, he would miss no occasion of enlarging his experience. Thus, on his favorite topic he would cen
tre his thoughts and feelings, and that part of zoology would become his every day theme of conversation among his friends and fellow-laborers. How would he thus fill with delightful and improving pursuits many of the hours that others waste in vacuity, and thus educate his mind to reflection, and his heart to piety! What process more simple than this; what more rational ; what more attainable ; what more elevating? At how little cost does this fill life with interest! The habit of
methodical thinking would be gradually strengthened in that young man's mind, till it came to preside over all his studies. The thoughts must conform to that beautiful series of classes, orders, families, tribes, and species into which created beings classify and arrange themselves. Without the inductive methods nothing can be done; but with them we can make the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms speak out the laws which govern the stars.
The study of zoology demands and begets habits of observation. There is no study which so opens the eyes as natural history. There are times when the naturalist would be glad to be lined with eyes. Wakefulness and curiosity are up in all their strength, and the feelers of the soul are all spread out. Knowledge rushes in at every pore! What study can be more favorable to mental progress ?
And is it not equally favorable to moral ? This question we promised to answer. Let us then endeavor to look at creation from the angle at which the Deity looks at it.
The universe is the visible translation of the CREATOR's thought; the embodiment of that great idea which was patterned forth in his own mind before he said, Let there be light.' After that glorious prototype the things about us were made, each sustaining now as then its unbroken relationship to its mighty Maker. The careful study of the works of God must lead the human mind to adoration, trust and love. It is the study of natural history that most directly promotes this highest dig. nity of the mind, because it is tracking the Deity in his works; and surely the student, as he comes into possession of the divine thoughts, must feel his own enlarged and elevated. He thereby comes into the sanctuary of his own being; nay more, he comes into the society of a higher intelligence than his own, and therefore feels the dignity of one who is admitted to the holy of holies. What loftier science can there be than that where the Creator's ideas are the connecting links in the chain of human reasoning, and his works are the inspiration of the instructed heart?
Now, the difference between being an intelligent reader of the works of God, and no reader at all, is immense. Suppose you are placed in a splendid gallery of first-rate paintings, exhibiting the poetic conceptions of the most inventive artists. You know little or nothing of paintings, and therefore the views, figures and histories before you are so many bewildering hieroglyphics to your eye. You know not where to begin or how to read. Suppose a judge and connoisseur should enter the gal. lery, and standing with you before a group, should repeat to you in words the story the painter has told on the canvass. As soon as you have caught the idea and got the key, then you understand every stroke of the pencil; and now how entirely different to you is that painting!
The hieroglyphics immediately become the most simple and expressive words. You look at the facts from the same point as did the artist; you enter into his thought; you glow with his warmth, and kindle with his spirituality; and the difference between your present state of knowledge and your
former ignorance is about the difference between a seeing man and a blind one; and this, we take it, is exactly the difference between the naturalist and the uninstructed man, in their observance and relish of nature.
To make this point yet clearer : suppose you stood before the por. trait of Newton, not knowing it was his. You look at it and speak of it without any great interest, regarding it only as a man's head on a painted canvass. But, suppose a friend should come and tell you it was the original portrait of the illustrious mathematician ; would the state of your thoughts remain the same as before ? Oh, no; that face now becomes all radiant with hallowed associations; the very tints before you seem to glow with that mighty genius which decomposed the solar ray, and demonstrated, with all the majesty of truth, the compound nature of light. The moment the name of Newton reaches your ear you connect with his form before you the great law of gravitation, which stretches its arms to the outer boundaries of creation, holding in its steady grasp the universe of God. How many noble thoughts rush to the soul; and how different your mind and feelings now, from what they were in your ignorance ! "Be assured that Nature, to its true and loving student, awakens sentiments and emotions as vivid and as lasting ; while to the uninstructed and heedless she is a dead and unintelligible picture.
Pardon us one more illustration. He who looks on the letters of a printed page sees dark lines on a white ground; but, he who in addition can read and comprehend, he looks beyond the outward forms to the inner intelligence, and gathers up the inspiration that lies hidden under these dead signs; so he who looks with uninstructed eye upon the vast creation, sees sky, earth, fields, animals and motion, and there he stops; while the naturalist, regarding also these outward forms, passes through them to analyze the whole, and thus penetrates till he comes to the divine idea, or central model after which the whole uni. verse is formed, with its perfect unity of design and its infinite variety of parts. The naturalist reads on the page of nature the grand majestic text of Divine wisdom and love, written in characters into which Time cannot eat, and preserved from age to age from all corrupt interpolations. Yes; he traces there the sublime unity, the universal type, the frontal idea existing in the Divine Mind, connecting the mammoth and the snail. In one word, he • looks through nature up to Nature's God.'
By these illustrations and remarks we would enforce the simple fact, that the study of natural history opens to us ten thousand sources of knowledge and happiness which are forever closed to the rest of mankind. Now the question is, whether our children, who are to live in this world, shall always walk blindfold through it, shut out from all the glory, beauty and inspiration of nature ? Has God given us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to feel, and then placed us in the midst of this earthly paradise, where every sense can be regaled, only that we