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first. These were tiny sylphs, with black bodies and wings of snow-white gauze, and like choice spirits black, white, and grey,' for they wore plumes of the latter colour, they were greeting the quiet young year with mirth and revelry; and that over a frozen pool, whose icy presence one would have fancied quite enough for their instant annihilation. But though warmed by exercise, these merry mates care so little for the cold without, they are glad enough, when occasion serves, to profit by the shelter of our windows. In ours, we often watch them; and you, good reader, had better seek for them unless you would miss the sight of as pretty and elegant a little creature as anyone could desire to look at on a fine summer's, much more winter's, day.
We have spoken of the plumes of these winged revellers, black, white, and grey, which dance in the air as merrily as the Quaker's wife in the song; but here be it observed that our gnats' wives, with real Quaker-like sobriety, rarely, if erer, dance at all, and never by any accident wear feathers. They may do work, as we shall perhaps discover by and by ; but as for plumes, in poetic phrase, feathered antlers,' in scientific, 'pectinate antenne,' these are decorations of vanity exclusively confined among all gnats to the masculine gender. Gnats' balls, therefore, contrary to usual custom, are made up of beaux.
'Tis merry in the hall when beards wag all,
says the morose proverb, steeped in the boozing barbarism of days gone by; and these ungallant flies would seem still to think it merry in the air when their dames are not there ...
Though courting the winter's gleam, everybody can tell that gnats by no means hide their heads with the summer sun, for they seem to rejoice at his setting as much as at his rising in his absence as well as in his presence. In short, at every hour, as at every season, ' Dansez toujours' seems their motto: up and down, in and out, and round about, in the morning, noon, and evening, of our day, as in the morning, noon, and evening of their own existence.
“But stay! here we are arrived at the end of the dance, nay, at the end of our dancers' lives, without having said a word about their beginning. Well, we have nothing for it but to go backwards, jumping over the steps already made, up to the premier pas, our aërial performers' birth and parentage. Everybody, we conclude, has a general notion concerning the passage of a butterfly through the successive stages of caterpillar, chrysalis, and winged flutterer. Then, only let it be borne in mind that all perfect insects have passed through three states corresponding, though not similar, which are yelept by entomologists those of larva, pupa, and imago.
Now for the commencement of the gnat's life of buoyancy, which commences in the water. Man has been believed by the nations of antiquity to have
Learn'd of the little Nautilus to sail,
but he might also have taken a first lesson in boat-building from an object common in almost every pond, though, certainly, not so likely to attract attention as the sailing craft of that bold mariner, the little Argonaut. This object is a boat of eggs, not a boat egg-laden; nor yet that witches' transport, an egg-shell boat, but a buoyant life-boat, curiously constructed of her eggs by the common gnat. How she begins and completes her work may be seen by any one curious enough and wakeful enough to repair by fiv or six in a morning to a pond or bucket of water frequented by gnats. The boat itself, with all we are going to describe, and all we have depicted from the life may be seen at home, and at all hours, within the convenient compass of a basin filled from an adjacent pond. When complete, the boat consists of from 250 to 350 eggs, of which, though each is heavy enough to sink in water, the whole compose a structure perfectly buoyant-so buoyant as to float amidst the most violent agitation. What is yet more wonderful, though hollow, it never fills with water; and even if we push it to the bottom of our mimic pool, it will rise unwetted to the surface. This cunning craft has been likened to a London wherry, being sharp and high fore and aft, convex below, concave above, and always foating on its keel. · In a few days each of the numerous lives within, having put on the
shape of a grub or larva, issues from the lower end of its own flask-shaped egg ; but the empty shells continuing still attached, the boat remains a boat till reduced by weather to a wreck.
There let us leave it, and follow the fortunes of one of the crew, after he has left his cabin, which he quits in rather singular manner, emerging through its bottom into the water. Happily, however, he is born a swimmer and can take his pleasure in his native element, poising himself near its surface head downwards, tail upwards. Why chooses he this strange position ? Just for the same reason that we rather prefer, when taking a dabble in the waves, to bave our heads above water, for the convenience, namely, of receiving a due supply of air, which the little swimmer in question sucks in through a sort of tube in his tail. This breathing apparatus, as well as the tail itself, serves also for a buoy, and both end in a sort of funnel, composed of hairs arranged in a star-like form, and anointed with an oil by which they repel water. When tired of suspension near the surface, our little swimmer has only to fold up these divergent hairs, and plump he sinks down to the bottom. He goes, however, provided with the means of re-ascensiona globule of air, which the oil enables him to retain at his funnel's ends, on re-opening which he again rises whenever the fancy takes him. But yet a little while, and a new era arrives in the existence of this buoyant creature ;-buoyant in his first stage of larva, in his second of pupa he is buoyant still. Yet, in resemblance, how unlike! But lately topsyturvy, his altered body first assumes what we should call its natural position, and he swims, head upwards, because within it there is now contained a different, but equally curious, apparatus for inhaling the atmospheric fluid. Seated behind his head arises a pair of respirators, not very much unlike the aural appendages of an ass, to which they have been compared; and through these he feeds on air, requiring no grosser aliment. At his nether extremity there expands a fish-like, finny tail, by help of which he can either float or strike at pleasure through the water. Thus passes with our buoyant pupa the
of about a week; and then another, and a more important change comes 'o'er the spirit of his dream. With the gradual
development of superior organs, the little spark of sensitivity within seems awakened to a new desire to rise upwards. Fed for a season upon air, the insect's desires seem to have
While a noon-day sun is warm upon the water, as yet his native element, he rises to the surface, and above it, elevating both head and shoulders, as if gasping for the new enjoyments which await him. His breast swells, as it were, with the sweet anticipation; his confining corslet bursts; and the head—not that which has played its part on the stage of being now about to close, but another-all plumed and decorated for a more brilliant theatre, emerges through the rent, followed by the shoulders and the filmy wings which are to play upon the air. But have a care, my little debutant! Thou art yet upon the water; an unlucky somerset would wet thy still soft and drooping pinions, and render them unfit for flight. Now is thy critical moment—hold thee steady-lose not thy perpendicular, or—but why fear we for the little mariner? He who clothes the lily and feeds the sparrow, has provided him support in this his hour of peril. The stiff covering of his recent form, from which he is struggling to escape, now serves him as a lifeboat, the second to which he will owe his safety. His upright body forms its mast as well as sail ; and in the breeze now rippling the water, he is wafted rapidly along. He will assuredly be capsized from press of sail. But see, he has acquired by this time other helps to aid his selfpreserving efforts. His slender legs, hitherto hung pendant, now feel for and find the surface of the pool. His boat is left behind, and, still endowed with an aquatic power, he stands a moment on the water, then rises buoyant, a winged inhabitant of air !”
Such is the wonderful history of a common despised gnat, to our eyes one of the meanest of the myriad forms of creation; yet who can read it without feeling, in the somewhat altered words of Christ himself; “If God thus careth for, and hath thus endowed the gnat, how much more will He not care for you, oh ye of little faith!
As January is proverbially the coldest month of the year,
so is February the wettest; and, by way of change, after we have rejoiced over the first harbingers of spring, we shall most likely meet with one of the lingering features of winter in
A GREAT THAW. “There is a lack of comfort felt everywhere. In real winter weather the clear frosty air sharply saluted the face by day, and revealed to the eye at night a scene of pure
and sublime splendour in the lofty and intensely blue sky, glittering with congregated stars, or irradiated with the placid moon. There was a sense of vigour, of elasticity, of freshness about you, which made it welcome ; but now, most commonly, by day or by night, the sky is hidden in impenetrable vapour; the earth is sodden, and splashy, and wet; even the fire-side does not escape the comfortless sense of humidity. Everything presents to the eye, accustomed so long to the brightness of clear frosts, and the pure whiteness of snow, a dingy and soiled aspect. All things are dripping with wet: it hangs upon the walls like a heavy dew; it penetrates into the drawers and wardrobes of your warmest chambers; and you are surprised at the unusual dampness of your clothes, linen, books, and papers; and, in short, almost everything you have occasion to examine. Brick and stone floors are now dangerous things for thinly clad people to stand upon. To this source, and, in fact, to the damps of this month, operating in various ways, may be attributed not a few of the colds, coughs, and consumptions, so prevalent in England. Pavements are frequently so much elevated by the expansion of the moisture beneath, as to obstruct the opening and shutting of doors and gates; and your gravelwalks resemble saturated sponges. Abroad, the streets are flooded with muddy water, and slippery with patches of halfthawed ice and snow, which strikes through your shoes in a moment.
The houses, and all objects whatever, have a dirty and disconsolate aspect; and clouds of dim smoky haze hover over the whole dispiriting scene. In the country, the prospect is not much better: the roads are full of nire. In the woods and copses you hear a continued dripping and pattering of wet; while the fieldfares, instead of Aying