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Such are the efforts of writers, who have composed their works with great labor and ingenuity, to direct the learner in his progress through Nature, and to inform him of the name of every animal, plant, or fossil substance, that he happens to meet with ; but it would be only deceiving the reader, to conceal the truth, which is, that books alone can never teach him this art in perfection; and the solitary student can never succeed. Without a master, and a previous knowledge of many of the objects in Nature, his book will only serve to confound and disgust him. Few of the individual plants or animals that he may happen to meet with, are in that precise state of health, or that exact period of vegetation, whence their descriptions were taken. Perhaps he meets the plant only with leaves, but the systematic writer has described it in flower. Perhaps he meets the bird before it has moulted its first feathers, while the systematic description was *made in the state of full perfection. He thus ranges without an instructor, confused, and with sickening culiosity from subject to subject, till at last he gives up the pursuit, in the multiplicity of his disappointments. Some practice, therefore, much instruction, and dilitent reading, are requisite to make a ready and expert Naturalist, who shall be able, even by the help of a system, to find out the name of every object he meets with. But when this tedious, though requisite part of study is attained, nothing but delight and variety attend the rest of his journey. Wherever he travels, like a man in a country where he has many friends, he meets with nothing but acquaintances and allurements in all stages of his way. The mere uninformed Spectator passes on in gloomy solitude, but the Naturalist, in every plant, in every insect, and every Pebble, finds something to entertain his curiosity, and excite his speculation.
Hence it appears, that a system may be considered as a dictionary in the study of Nature. The ancients, however, who have all written most delightfully on this subject, seem entirely to have rejected those humble and mechanical helps of science. They contented themselves with seizing upon the great outlines of history, and passing over what was common, as not worth the detail; they only dwelt upon what was new, great, and surprising, and sometimes even warmed the imagination at the expence of truth. Such of the moderns as revived this science in Europe, undertook the task more methodically, though notin a manner so pleasing. Aldrovandus, Gesner, and Johnson seemed desirous of uniting the entertaining and rich descriptions of the ancients with the dry and systematic arrangement of which they were the first projectors. This attempt, however, was extremely imperfect, as the great variety of Nature was, as yet, but very inadequately known. Nevertheless, by attempting to carry on both objects at once ; first, of directing us to the name of the things, and then giving the detail of its history, they drew out their works into a tedious and unreasonable length; and thus mixing incompatible aims, they have left their labors, rather to be occasionally consulted, than read with delight by pos” terity.
The later moderns, with that good sense which they have carried into every other part of science, have taken a different method in cultivating Natural History. They have been content to give, not only the brevity, but also the dry and disgusting air of a dice tionary to their systems. Ray, Klin, Brisson, and Linnaeus, have had only one aim, that of pointing out the object in Nature, of discovering its name, and where it was to be found in those authors, that treated of it in a more prolix and satisfactory manner. Thus
Natural History at present is carried on in two distinct and separate channels, the one serving to lead us to the thing, the other conveying the history of the thing as supposing it already known. The following Natural History is written with only such an attention to system as serves to remove the reader's embarrassments, and allure him to proceed. It can make no pretensions in directing him to the name of every object he mects with ; that belongs to works of a very different kind, and written with very different aims. It will fully answer my design, if the reader, being already possessed of the name of any animal, shall find here a short, though satisfactory history of its habitudes, its subsistence, its manners, its friendships and hostilities. My aim has been to carry on just as much method as was sufficient to shorten my descriptions by generalizing them, and never to follow order where the art of writing, which is but another name for good sense, informed me that it would only contribute to the reader’s embarrassment. Still, however, the reader will perceive that I have formed a kind of system in the history of every part of Animated Nature, directing myself by the great and obvious distinctions that she herself seems to have made, which, though too few to point exactly to the name, are yet sufficient to illuminate the subject, and remove the reader's perplexity. Mr. Buffon, indeed, who has brought greater talents to this part of learning than any other man, has almost entirely rejected method in classing quadrupeds. This, with great deference to such a character, appears to me running into the opposite extreme; and, as some moderns have of late spent much time, great pains, and some learning, all to very little purpose, in systematic arrangement, he seems so much disgusted by their trifling, but ostentatious efforts, that he describes his animals Vol. IV. X
almost in the order they happen to come before him. This want of method seems to be a fault, but he can lose little by a criticism, which every dull man can make, or by an error in arrangement, from which the dullest are the most usually free. In other respects, as far as this able philosopher has gone, I have taken him for my guide. The warmth of his style, and the brilliancy of his imagination, are imitable. Leaving him, therefore, without a rival in these, and only availing myself of his information, I have been content to describe things in my own way; and though many of the materials are taken from him, yet I have added, retrenched, and altered as I thought proper. It was my intention at one time, whenever I differed from him, to have mentioned it at the bottom of the page; but this occurred so often, that I soon found it would look like envy, and might, perhaps, convict me of those very errors which I was wanting to lay upon him. I have, therefore, as being every way his debtor, concealed my dissent, where my opinion was different; but wherever I borrow from him, I take care at the bottom of the page to express my obligations. But though my obligations to this writer are many, they extend but to the smallest part of the work, as he has hitherto completed only the history of quadrupeds. I was therefore left to my reading alone, to make out the History of Birds, Fishes, and Insects, of which the are rangement was so difficult, and the necessary information so widely diffused, and so obscurely related when found, that it proved by much the most laborious part of the undertaking. Thus having made use of Mr. Buffon's lights in the first part of this work, I may: with some share of confidence, recommend it to the ublic. But what shall I say of that part, where have been entirely left without his assistance? As
would affect neither modesty nor confidence, it will be sufficient to say, that my reading upon this part of the subject has been very extensive; and that I have taxed my scanty circumstances in procuring books which are on this subject of all others the most expensive. In consequence of this industry, I here offer a work to the public, of a kind which has never been attempted in ours, or in any other modern language that I know of. The ancients, indeed, and Pliny in particular, have anticipated me, in the present manner of treating Natural History. Like those historians who described the events of a campaign, they have not condescended to give the private particulars of every individual that formed the army; they were content with characterising the generals, and describing their operations, while they left it to meaner hands to carry the muster roll. I have followed their manner, rejecting the numerous fables which they adopted, and adding the improvements of the moderns, which are so numerous, that they actually make up the bulk of Natural History. The delight which I found in reading Pliny, first inspired me with the idea of a work of this nature. Having a taste rather classical than scientific, and having but little employed myself in turning over the dry }abors of modern system-makers, my earliest intention was to translate this agreeable writer, and by the help of a commentary to make my work as amusing as I could. Let us dignify Natural History never so much with the grave appellation of a useful science, yet still we must confess that it is the occupation of the idle and the speculative, more than of the ambitious part of mankind. My intention was to treat what I then conceived to be an idle subject, in an idle manher; and not to hedge round plain and simple narratives with hard words, accumulated distinctions, os