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Title: Rambles of a Naturalist
Author: Godman, John D.
Language: English
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  The account of the life and character of DR. JOHN D. GODMAN has been
  prepared from the several brief memoirs and eulogies published shortly
  after his decease, and from the tract issued by "The Tract Association
  of Friends," entitled "A Sketch of the Life and Character of Dr. John
  D. Godman."

  "The Rambles of a Naturalist" have been republished from "The Friend,"
  a weekly paper, for the columns of which the essays were originally


Dr. John D. Godman, the author of the pleasing descriptions which, under
their simple title, "Rambles of a Naturalist," contain so much of the
beautiful and true, was born at Annapolis, in Maryland, in the year
1798. At a very early age he was deprived, by their death, of both his
parents. He was then placed under the care of an aunt, whose
intellectual attainments and elevated piety, united to much sweetness of
disposition, eminently qualified her for the direction of the youthful
mind. His fondness for books and aptitude for learning were remarkable;
while his frank, sensitive, and sweet temper gained the affection of all
around him. It is said that he had such a reverence for truth, even from
infancy, that he was never known to equivocate. When he attained the age
of six years, his excellent aunt died. The patrimony which should have
provided for his wants, was lost through the mismanagement of those to
whom the care of it had been entrusted; and thus, without resources,
and without suitable protection, he was left exposed to adversity and
temptation. It appears, however, that the moral and religious
impressions which had already been made upon his mind, though obscured
for a time, were never obliterated. In his last illness he bore this
testimony to the affectionate religious care of his pious aunt. "If,"
said he, "I have ever been led to do any good, it has been through the
influence of her example, instruction, and prayers."

Little is known of the next ten years of his life. He appears to have
had some opportunities for attending school; but to his own native
energy and uncommon intellectual endowments, self cultured under many
obstacles and discouragements, is his future superiority of mental
attainment to be chiefly attributed. An interesting incident of his
character, after he had attained his fifteenth year, has been furnished
by a physician who was, in 1810, a senior student in the office of Dr.
Thomas E. Bond, of Baltimore. "The office," says he, "was fitted up with
taste, and boys, attracted by its appearance, would frequently drop in
to gaze on the labelled jars and drawers. Among them I discovered one
evening an interesting lad, who was amusing himself with the manner in
which his comrades pronounced the 'hard words' with which the furniture
was labelled. He appeared to be quite an adept in the Latin language. A
strong curiosity soon prompted me to inquire, 'What is your name, my
little boy?' He was small of his age. 'My name is John D. Godman.' 'Did
you study the Latin language with Mr. Creery?' 'No, he does not teach
any but an English school.' 'Do you intend to prosecute your studies
alone?' 'I do; and I will, if I live, make myself a Latin, Greek, and
French scholar.'"

In 1812 he was bound an apprentice to a printer of a newspaper, in
Baltimore, but soon became much dissatisfied with the occupation, which,
he said, in a letter to a friend, "cramped his genius over a font of
types, where there are words without ideas." He had been placed in this
situation against his own wish, being anxious to enter a more
intellectual pursuit, and had selected that of medicine; but his
guardian was opposed to it.

His early views of the Christian religion are thus expressed in a letter
to a friend, in the early part of 1814: "I have not ever had a fixed
determination to read the works of that modern serpent (Thomas Paine),
nor had I determined not to do it; and it seems to me surprising that a
fellow-student of yours should recommend the perusal of such writings.

"There is a great comfort in the belief of that glorious doctrine of
salvation that teaches us to look to the Great Salvator for happiness in
a future life; and it has always been my earnest desire, and I must
endeavour to die the death of the righteous, that my last end and future
state may be like His. It would be a poor hope indeed, it would be a
sandy foundation for a dying soul, to have no hope but such as might be
derived from the works of Bolingbroke and Paine; and how rich the
consolation and satisfaction afforded by the glorious tidings of the
blessed Scriptures! It is my opinion there has never one of these modern
deists died as their writings would lead us to believe; nor are but few
of their writings read at the present day."

About this time he appears to have left the printing-office, and became
a sailor on board the flotilla stationed in Chesapeake bay, under Com.
Barney. It was while in this situation that an incident occurred to
which he has himself attributed much of the buoyancy and energy of his
character. A raw sailor, who had been sent aloft by the captain, and was
busy in performing some duty which required him to stoop, was observed
to falter and grow dizzy. "_Look aloft_" cried the captain; and the
fainting landsman, as he instinctively obeyed the order, recovered his
strength and steadiness. The young philosopher read a moral in this
trifling incident which he never forgot, and which frequently animated
and aroused him in the most adverse circumstances. It is not treating
the subject with undue levity to add, that in the last and closing scene
of his life, when the earth was receding from his view, and his failing
strength admonished him of his peril, the watchword was still ringing in
his ear. At that awful period he "looked aloft" to "worlds beyond the
skies," and therein derived strength and hope, which supported him in
his passage through the narrow valley.

At the close of the war, young Godman received an invitation from Dr.
L., the physician already mentioned, to come to his house in
Elizabethtown, Pa., where he would have the opportunity of studying
medicine. This offer was accepted with joy; and he resolved, by the most
indefatigable study and diligence, to deserve the kindness of his
friend. "In six weeks," says the doctor, "he had acquired more knowledge
in the different departments of medical science, than most students do
in a year. During this short period he not only read Chaptal, Fourcroy,
Chesselden, Murray, Brown, Cullen, Rush, Sydenham, Sharp, and Cooper,
but wrote annotations on each, including critical remarks on the
incongruities in their reasonings. He remained with me five months, and
at the end of that time you would have imagined from his conversation
that he was an Edinburgh graduate." When he sat down to study, he was so
completely absorbed by his subject, that scarcely any event would
withdraw his attention.

Returning to Baltimore, he commenced the attendance of the medical
lectures in that city, and pursued his studies under the direction of an
eminent medical preceptor. In this situation he, through many affecting
difficulties, finished his education as a physician. At one time his
feelings are thus described in a letter: "I have been cast among
strangers. I have been deprived of property by fraud that was mine by
right. I have eaten the bread of misery. I have drunk of the cup of
sorrow. I have passed the flower of my days in a state little better
than slavery, and have arrived at what? Manhood, poverty, and
desolation. Heavenly Parent, teach me patience and resignation to Thy

Professor Sewall, in his eulogy on Dr. Godman, remarks, in relation to
this period of his life: "He pursued his studies with such diligence and
zeal as to furnish, even at that early period, strong intimations of his
future eminence. So indefatigable was he in the acquisition of
knowledge, that he left no opportunity of advancement unimproved; and,
notwithstanding the deficiencies of his preparatory education, he
pressed forward with an energy and perseverance that enabled him not
only to rival, but to surpass all his fellows."

While attending his last course of lectures in the University of
Maryland, Professor Davidge, who was his preceptor, was disabled by the
fracture of a limb from completing the course. He selected his gifted
pupil to supply his place. "This situation he filled for several weeks
with so much propriety; he lectured with such enthusiasm and eloquence;
his illustrations were so clear and happy, as to gain universal
applause. At the time he was examined for his degree, the superiority of
his mind, as well as the extent and accuracy of his knowledge, were so
apparent, that he was marked by the professors of the university as one
who was destined at some future period to confer high honour upon the

Dr. Godman graduated in the Second month, 1818, and soon after settled
in Maryland, as a practitioner, in a county bordering on the Chesapeake,
the spot described with so much truthful beauty in some of the numbers
of his "Rambles of a Naturalist." Here he devoted all the intervals of
leisure from a laborious practice to the study of natural history, in
which, from his ardent love of the subject, and his minute, persevering
investigation of it, he became so distinguished.

His intellectual powers had fitted him for a wider sphere than that of a
village doctor. His nature urged him to enter on a field more worthy of
his gifts. He returned to Baltimore, with the hope of being engaged in
the university as a professor, but found that arrangements different
from what he anticipated had been made. Here he married, and not long
after received an appointment to fill the chair of surgery in the
medical college of Ohio, located at Cincinnati. He was recommended by
one of the professors of the school in which he had been educated, in
this emphatic language: "In my opinion, Dr. Godman would do honour to
any school in America."

The Ohio school not succeeding, Dr. Godman resided in Cincinnati for one
year only; but in that short period inscribed himself deeply on the
public mind. The memory of his works remains. In the midst of his varied
scientific labours, he found time to cultivate his social relations, and
every day added a new friend to the catalogue of those who loved him for
his simplicity and frankness, not less than they admired him for his
genius, vivacity, and diligence.

He returned to Philadelphia, and soon after began to lecture on anatomy
and physiology, his first and greatest objects. His residence in this
city continued for several years, during which time he wrote many
valuable papers on scientific subjects, and published his celebrated
work, "The Natural History of American Quadrupeds," which has attained
deserved popularity.

The fame of Dr. Godman as a teacher of anatomy was now widely spread,
and he was solicited to accept the professorship of that branch in the
Rutgers Medical College at New York. His practice soon became extensive,
and the affairs of the college prosperous, when, in the midst of his
second course of lectures, a severe cold settled on his lungs,
accompanied by a copious hemorrhage, and compelled him to abandon his
pursuits, and flee for his life to a milder region. He sailed for the
West Indies, and passed the remainder of the winter and spring in the
island of Santa Cruz. Returning after this to Philadelphia, he took a
house in Germantown, and by the labours of his pen, continued to support
his family. His consumptive disease continued, though for a time so far
mitigated, that his friends flattered themselves his life was yet to be
spared to science and his country. At this time he says of himself: "At
present, that I am comparatively well, my literary occupations form my
chief pleasure; and all the regret I experience is, that my strength is
so inadequate to my wishes. Should my health remain as it is now, I
shall do very well; and I cannot but hope, since we have recently passed
through a severe spell of cold weather without my receiving any injury.
All my prospects as a public teacher of anatomy are utterly destroyed,
as I can never hope, nor would I venture if I could, again to resume my
labours. My success promised to be very great, but it has pleased God I
should move in a different direction."

His disease advanced with steady pace, and, though there were many
fluctuations, his strength continued to decline. The gradual progress of
his disorder allowed him many intervals of comparative ease. In these he
returned to his literary labours with his usual ardour, and wrote and
translated for the press until within a few weeks of his death.
Perfectly aware of the fatal character of his disorder, he watched its
progress step by step with the coolness of an anatomist, while he
submitted to it with the resignation of a Christian. The "Rambles of a
Naturalist" were among the last productions of his pen, and were written
in the intervals of acute pain and extreme debility. These essays are
not inferior in poetical beauty, and vivid and accurate description, to
the celebrated letters of Gilbert White on the natural history of
Selbourne. He came to the study of natural history as an investigator of
facts, and not as a pupil of the schools; his great aim being to learn
the instincts, the structure, and the habits of all animated beings.
This science was a favourite pursuit, and he devoted himself to it with
indefatigable zeal. He has been heard to say that, in investigating the
habits of the shrew mole, he walked many hundred miles. His powers of
observation were quick, patient, keen, and discriminating: it was these
qualities that made him so admirable a naturalist.

His fame, however, rested chiefly, during his life, upon his success as
a teacher of anatomy, and in this capacity he raised himself at once to
the top of his profession. He was so intent on making his students
understand him, and he was so fully master of the subject himself, that
his clear and animated flow of eloquence never failed to rivet their
attention; and he became, wherever he taught, the idol of his pupils.
His lectures on anatomy were real analytical experiments. The subject
was placed before the class; tissue and muscle and blood, vessel and
bone, were laid bare in their turn, their use and position exemplified
to the eye, and enforced by the most lively and precise description;
while the student was at the same time receiving the most valuable
lessons in practical dissection.

Dr. Godman had a remarkable capacity for concentrating all his powers
upon any given object of pursuit. What he had once read or observed he
rarely, if ever, forgot. Hence it was that, although his early education
was much neglected, he became an excellent linguist, and made himself
master of Latin, French, and German, besides acquiring a knowledge of
Greek, Italian, and Spanish. He had read the best works in these
languages, and wrote with facility the Latin and French. His character
and acquirements are justly portrayed by a distinguished journalist, in
the extracts which follow. "The tributes," said he, "which have been
paid in the newspapers to the late Dr. Godman, were especially due to
the memory of a man so variously gifted by nature, and so nobly
distinguished by industry and zeal in the acquisition and advancement of
science. He did not enjoy early opportunities of self-improvement, but
he cultivated his talents, as he approached manhood, with a degree of
ardour and success which supplied all deficiencies; and he finally
became one of the most accomplished general scholars and linguists,
acute and erudite naturalists, ready, pleasing, and instructive
lecturers and writers, of his country and era. The principal subject of
his study was anatomy in its main branches, in which he excelled in
every respect. His attention was much directed also to physiology,
pathology, and natural history, with an aptitude and efficiency
abundantly proved by the merits of his published works, which we need
not enumerate.

We do not now recollect to have known any individual who inspired us
with more respect for his intellect and heart, than Dr. Godman; to whom
knowledge and discovery appeared more abstractly precious; whose eye
shed more of the lustre of generous and enlightened enthusiasm; whose
heart remained more vivid and sympathetic amidst professional labour and
responsibility, always extremely severe and urgent. Considering the
decline of his health for a long period, and the pressure of adverse
circumstances, which he too frequently experienced, he performed
prodigies as a student, an author, and a teacher; he prosecuted
extensive and diversified researches; composed superior disquisitions
and reviews, and large and valuable volumes; and in the great number of
topics which he handled simultaneously, or in immediate succession, he
touched none without doing himself credit, and producing some new
development of light, or happy forms of expression. He lingered for
years under consumption of the lungs; understood fully the incurableness
of his melancholy state; spoke and acted with an unfeigned and beautiful
resignation; toiled at his desk to the last day of his thirty-two years,
still glowing with the love of science and the domestic affections."

Upon all this bright attainment and brighter promise for the future the
grave has closed. Divine Providence saw fit to arrest him in the midst
of his unfinished labours. We have now to view him in another and far
more important relation--that which man, as an immortal being, bears to
his Almighty Creator.

Dr. Godman's generous and enthusiastic devotion to science and learning
commands our admiration; and perhaps no more ennobling pursuits can
occupy the mind of him who looks not beyond the present state of
existence; but when these are brought into contrast with the solemn and
momentous concerns of eternity, they sink into utter insignificance. How
then was the subject of this memoir influenced by _religious_

Unhappily, the philosophical and religious opinions of Dr. Godman were
formed originally in the school of the French naturalists of the last
century. Many of the most distinguished of these men were avowed
atheists, and a still greater number rejected absolutely the Christian
revelation. Such is fallen human nature! Surrounded by the most
magnificent displays of Almighty Wisdom--placed on a scene where all
things speak of God, and invite us to worship and obey Him--a purblind
philosophy may devote herself to the study of His works, yet pass by the
testimony they furnish of His existence and attributes, and see nothing
in all this wonderful creation more noble than the mere relations of
colour and form. It was so with Dr. Godman; for, while assisted by such
lights as these, and guided alone in his investigations by perverted
reason, he became, as he tells us, _an established infidel_, rejecting
revelation, and casting all the evidences of an existing Deity beneath
his feet. In the merciful providence of a long-suffering God, the light
of truth at length beamed upon his darkened understanding. In the winter
of 1827, while engaged in his course of lectures in New York, an
incident occurred which led him to a candid perusal of the New
Testament. It was a visit to the death-bed of a Christian--the death-bed
of a student of medicine. There he saw what reason could not explain nor
philosophy fathom. He opened his Bible, and the secret was unfolded. He
was in all things a seeker of the truth, and could not satisfy himself
with any superficial examination.

He applied himself assiduously to the study of the New Testament; and
that this sincere and thorough examination of the inspired volume was
made the means of his full conversion, will best appear from his own
eloquent pen. The following is an extract of a letter he addressed to a
medical friend, Dr. Judson, a surgeon in the navy of the United States,
who was at that time in the last stage of consumption:

                                   "_Germantown, December 25th, 1828._

In relation to dying, my dear friend, you talk like a sick man, and just
as I used to do, when very despondent. Death is a debt we all owe to
nature, and must eventually ensue from a mere wearing out of the
machine, if not from disease. Nature certainly has a strong abhorrence
to this cessation of corporeal action, and all animals have a dread of
death who are conscious of its approach. A part of our dread of death is
purely physical, and is avoidable only by a philosophical conviction of
its necessity; but the greater part of our dread, and the terrors with
which the avenues to the grave are surrounded, are from another and a
more potent source. ''Tis conscience that makes cowards of us all,' and
forces us by our terrors to confess, that we dread something beyond
physical dissolution, and that we are terrified not at merely ceasing to
breathe, but that we have not lived as we ought to have done, have not
effected the good that was within the compass of our abilities, and
neglected to exercise the talents we possessed, to the greatest
advantage. The only remedy for this fear of death is to be sought by
approaching the Author of all things in the way prescribed by himself,
and not according to our own foolish imaginations. Humiliation of
pride, denial of self, subjection of evil tempers and dispositions, and
an entire submission to His will for support and direction, are the best
preparatives for such an approach. A perusal of the gospels, in a spirit
of real inquiry after a direction how to act, will certainly teach the
way. In these gospels the Saviour himself has preached His own
doctrines, and he who runs may read. He has prescribed the course; He
shows how the approval and mercy of God may be won; He shows how awfully
corrupt is man's nature, and how deadly his pride and stubbornness of
heart, which cause him to try every subterfuge to avoid the humiliating
confession of his own weakness, ignorance, and folly. But the same
blessed Hand has stripped death of all the terrors which brooded around
the grave, and converted the gloomy receptacle of our mortal remains
into the portal of life and light. Oh! let me die the death of the
righteous; let my last end and future state be like his!

This is all I know on the subject. I am no theologian, and have as great
an aversion to priestcraft as one can entertain. I was once an infidel,
as I told you in the West Indies. I became a Christian from conviction
produced by the candid inquiry recommended to you. I know of no other
way in which death can be stripped of its terrors; certainly none better
can be wished. Philosophy is a fool, and pride a madman. Many persons
die with what is called _manly firmness_; that is, having acted a part
all their lives, according to their prideful creed, they must die
_game_. They put on as smooth a face as they can, to impose on the
spectators, and die _firmly_. But this is all deception: the true state
of their minds at the very time, nine times out of ten, is worse than
the most horrible imaginings even of hell itself. Some who have led
lives adapted to sear their conscience and petrify all the moral
sensibilities, die with a kind of indifference similar to that with
which a hardened convict submits to a new infliction of disgraceful
punishment. But the man who dies as a man ought to die, is the
humble-minded, believing Christian; one who has tasted and enjoyed all
the blessings of creation; who has had an enlightened view of the wisdom
and glory of his Creator; who has felt the vanity of merely worldly
pursuits and motives, and been permitted to know the mercies of a
blessed Redeemer, as he approaches the narrow house appointed for all
the living. Physical death may cause his senses to shrink and fail at
the trial; but his mind, sustained by the Rock of Ages, is serene and
unwavering. He relies not on his own righteousness, for that would be
vain; but the arms of mercy are beneath him, the ministering spirits of
the Omnipotent are around him. He does not die manfully, but he rests in
Jesus; he blesses his friends, he casts his hope on One all-powerful to
sustain and mighty to save, then sleeps in peace. He is dead, but
liveth; for He who is the resurrection and the life has declared, 'Whoso
believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.' 'And whosoever
liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.'" ...

This letter, which so truly contrasts the death-bed scene of the infidel
with that of the Christian, so beautifully portrays the history of the
change which had been effected in Dr. Godman's own sentiments and
affections, and so clearly points the benighted wanderer to the true
source of life and light, was not lost upon his friend to whom it was
addressed. It described his condition, and it reached his heart.

Dr. Judson, though religiously instructed when young, having a pious
clergyman for his father, and another for his elder brother, had
nevertheless long since freed himself from what he called the prejudices
of education, the shackles of priestcraft, and was ranging the fields of
infidelity. He had acquired wealth and reputation, and was an estimable
man in all the domestic relations of life; but the self-denying
doctrines of the Saviour were too humbling to his proud spirit, and he
could not submit to their influence. At the time he received Dr.
Godman's letter, however, he was gloomy and despondent, looking forward
with fearful forebodings to the period of his dissolution, which seemed
not far distant. He had no confidence but that of the sceptic--no hope
but that of ceasing to be. Aware of the fatal nature of the disease
under which he had lingered for years, he had long been arming himself
to meet the king of terrors with composure, that he might die like a
philosopher, "_with manly firmness_;" but as he drew nearer to the
grave, the clouds and darkness thickened around him, and he began to
fear that there might be something beyond this narrow prison. His
infidelity now began to give way, and he inquired with solicitude: "Is
there such a thing as the new birth, and if so, in what does it
consist?" He at length consented to make the investigation recommended
by Dr. Godman. He took up the New Testament, and read it in the spirit
of candid inquiry. A conviction of the truth of its doctrines fastened
upon him. The clouds which had so long enveloped him were dissipated,
light broke in upon his mind, and he was enabled to lay hold of the
promises. The remaining days of his life were devoted to fervent prayer
and the constant study of the Scriptures. Through the holy influences of
Divine grace, he was enabled to rely with undoubting confidence on the
infinite merits of his Redeemer, his soul was filled with heavenly
composure, and the last words he uttered were, "Peace, peace." If he did
not die with "_manly firmness_," he "_rested in Jesus_."

Dr. Godman's views of the authenticity and practical tendency of the
gospel, are expressed with singular force and beauty in the following
extract from an essay written not long before his death:

"Is proof wanting that these gospels are true? It is only necessary for
an honest mind to read them candidly, to be convinced. Every occurrence
is stated clearly, simply, and unostentatiously. The narrations are not
supported by asseverations of their truth, nor by parade of witnesses:
the circumstances described took place in presence of vast multitudes,
and are told in that downright, unpretending manner which would have
called forth innumerable positive contradictions had they been untrue.
Mysteries are stated without attempt at explanation, because
_explanation_ is not necessary to establish the _existence_ of facts,
however mysterious. Miracles, also, attested by the presence of vast
numbers, are stated in the plainest language of narration, in which the
slightest working of imagination cannot be traced. This very simplicity,
this unaffected sincerity, and quiet affirmation, have more force than a
thousand witnesses--more efficacy than volumes of ambitious effort to
support truth by dint of argumentation.

What motive could the evangelists have to falsify? The Christian kingdom
is not _of this world_, nor _in it_. Christianity teaches disregard of
its vanities, depreciates its honours and enjoyments, and sternly
declares that none can be Christians but those who escape from its vices
and allurements. There is no call directed to ambition, no gratification
proposed to vanity: the sacrifice of self, the denial of all the
propensities which relate to the gratification of passion or pride, with
the most humble dependence upon God, are invariably taught and most
solemnly enjoined, under penalty of the most awful consequences. Is it,
then, wonderful that such a system should find revilers? Is it
surprising that sceptics should abound, when the slightest allowance of
belief would force them to condemn all their actions? Or is it to be
wondered at that a purity of life and conversation so repugnant to human
passion, and a humility so offensive to human pride, should be opposed,
rejected, and contemned? Such is the true secret of the opposition to
_religion_--such the cause inducing men who lead unchristian lives, to
array the frailties, errors, weaknesses, and vices of individuals or
sects, against _Christianity_, hoping to weaken or destroy the system by
rendering ridiculous or contemptible those who _profess_ to be governed
by its influence, though their conduct shows them to be acting under an
opposite spirit.

What is the mode in which this most extraordinary doctrine of
Christianity is to be diffused? By force, temporal power, temporal
rewards, earthly triumphs? None of these. By earnest persuasion, gentle
entreaty, brotherly monition, paternal remonstrance. The dread resort of
threatened punishment comes last; exhibited in sorrow, not in anger;
told as a fearful truth, not denounced with vindictive exultation; while
to the last moment the beamy shield of mercy is ready to be interposed
for the saving of the endangered.

Human doctrines are wavering and mutable; the doctrines of the blessed
and adorable Jesus, our Saviour, are fixed and immutable. The traditions
of men are dissimilar and inconsistent; the declarations of the gospel
are harmonious, not only with each other, but with the acknowledged
attributes of the Deity, and the well-known condition of human nature.

What do sceptics propose to give us in exchange for this system of
Christianity, with its 'hidden mysteries,' 'miracles,' 'signs and
wonders?' Doubt, confusion, obscurity, annihilation! Life, without
higher motive than selfishness; death, without hope! Is it for this that
their zeal is so warmly displayed in proselyting? Is such the gain to
accrue for the relinquishment of our souls? In very deed, this is the
utmost they have to propose; and we can only account for their rancorous
efforts to render others like themselves, by reflecting that misery
loves company."

His intellect was strong and undimmed to the last, and almost the only
change that could be observed in his mind was that which belongs to a
being on the verge, of eternity, in whose estimate the concerns of this
life are sinking in comparison with the greater interests of that to
which he is approaching. His principal delight was in the promises and
consolations of the Bible, which was his constant companion. On one
occasion, a few days before his death, while reading aloud from the New
Testament to his family, his voice faltered, and he was desired to read
no longer, as it appeared to oppress him. "It is not that," replied he;
"but I feel so in the immediate presence of my Maker, that I cannot
control my emotion!" In a manuscript volume which he sent to a friend,
and which he intended to fill with original pieces of his own
composition, he wrote as follows: "Did I not in all things feel most
thoroughly convinced that the overruling of our plans by an all-wise
Providence is always for good, I might regret that a part of my plan
cannot be executed. This was to relate a few curious incidents from
among the events of my most singularly guided life, which, in addition
to mere novelty or peculiarity of character, could not have failed
practically to illustrate the importance of inculcating correct
religious and moral principles, and imbuing the mind therewith from the
very earliest dawn of intellect, from the very moment that the utter
imbecility of infancy begins to disappear. May His holy will be done,
who can raise up abler advocates to support the truth." "This is my
first attempt to write in my Token; why may it not be the last? Oh!
should it be, believe me, that the will of God will be most acceptable.
Notwithstanding the life of neglect, sinfulness, and perversion of heart
which I so long led, before it pleased Him to dash all my idols in the
dust, I feel a humble hope in the boundless mercy of our blessed Lord
and Saviour, who alone can save the soul from merited condemnation. May
it be in the power of those who chance to read these lines, to say, Into
thy hands I commit my spirit, for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord! thou
God of Truth!"

A reliance on the mercies of God through Jesus Christ became indeed the
habitual frame of his mind, and imparted to the closing scenes of his
life a solemnity and a calmness, a sweet serenity and a holy
resignation, which robbed death of its sting and the grave of its
victory. The following extracts from some of his letters afford
additional evidence of the great and glorious change which he had been
permitted to experience.

                                     "_Philadelphia, Feb. 17th, 1829._

"MY DEAR FRIEND,--Since my last to you my health has suffered various
and most afflicting changes."--"But thanks to the mercies of Him who is
alone able to save, the valley and shadow of death were stripped of
their terrors, and the descent to the grave was smoothed before me.
Relying on the mercies and infinite merits of the Saviour, had it
pleased God to call me then, I believe I should have died in a peaceful,
humble confidence. But I have been restored to a state of comparative
health, perhaps nearly to the condition in which I was when I wrote to
Dr. Judson; and I am again allowed to think of the education of my
children and the support of my family."

In reply to a letter from Professor Sewall, giving an account of the
last moments of his friend Dr. Judson, he responds in the following
feeling manner:

                                        "_Germantown, May 21st, 1829._

MY DEAR FRIEND,--I feel very grateful for your attention in sending me
an account of our dear Judson's last moments. After all his doubts,
difficulties, and mental conflicts, to know that the Father of mercies
was pleased to open his eyes to the truth, and shed abroad in his heart
the love and, salvation offered through the Redeemer, is to me a source
of the purest gratification, and a cause of the most sincere rejoicing.
The bare possibility of my having been even slightly instrumental in
effecting the blessed change of mind he experienced, excites in me
emotions of gratitude to the Source of all good which words cannot
express."--"My health has been in a very poor condition since my last to
you. The warm weather now appears to have set in, and possibly I may
improve a little, otherwise it will not be long before I follow our
lately departed friend. Let me participate in the prayers you offer for
the sick and afflicted, and may God grant me strength to die to His
honour and glory, in the hopes and constancy derived from the merits and
atonement of the blessed Saviour."

                                      "_Philadelphia, Oct. 6th, 1829._

MY DEAR FRIEND,--My health is, as for a considerable time past, in a
very tolerable condition; that is, I can sit up a great part of the day,
writing or reading, without much injury. My emaciation is great, and,
though not very rapid, is steady, so that the change in my strength
takes place almost imperceptibly. On the whole, though I suffer greatly,
compared with persons in health, yet so gently have the chastenings of
the Lord fallen upon me, that I am hourly called upon for thankfulness
and gratitude for His unfailing mercies. Equal cause have I had for
rejoicing, that I have learned to put my whole trust in Him, as He has
raised me up help and friends in circumstances which seemed to render
even hope impossible, and has blessed me and mine with peace and content
in the midst of all afflictions, trials, and adversity."

In his last letter to Dr. Best, of Cincinnati, with whom he had long
maintained an affectionate correspondence, he writes:

"It gives me great happiness to learn that you have been taught, as well
as myself, to fly to the Rock of Ages for shelter against the
afflictions of this life, and for hopes of eternal salvation. But for
the hopes afforded me by an humble reliance on the all-sufficient
atonement of our blessed Redeemer, I should have been the most wretched
of men. But I trust that the afflictions I have endured have been
sanctified to my awakening, and to the regeneration of my heart and
life. May we, my dear friend, persist to cling to the only sure support
against all that is evil in life and all that is fearful in death!"

Dr. Best's circumstances were in several respects similar to those of
his friend Godman: like him, he had been a disbeliever in the Christian
religion, and like him had been brought by a careful examination of its
evidences to a perception and an acknowledgment of the truth. He too was
at this time languishing in consumption, which brought him to the grave
a few months after Dr. Godman; and like him he was supported and
animated by the precious faith of the gospel, and yielded up his spirit
in hope and peace.

Professor Sewall,[A] from whose account much of this memoir has been
derived, remarks: "In the last letter which I ever received from him,
he observes: 'I have just concluded the publication of the translation
of Levasseur's account of Lafayette's progress through the United
States, which will appear next week. My health has for the last week or
two been very good, for me, since, notwithstanding my rather excessive
application during this time, I continue to do well. My cough and
expectoration are sufficiently troublesome; but by light diet, and
avoiding all irritation, I have but very little trouble from night
sweats, and generally sleep tolerably well. To-morrow I must resume my
pen to complete some articles of zoology for the Encyclopedia Americana,
now preparing in Boston. It shall be my constant endeavour to husband my
strength to the last; and, by doing as much as is consistent with safety
for the good of my fellow-creatures, endeavour to discharge a mite of
the immense debt I owe for the never-failing bounties of Providence.'"

  [A] "An Introductory Lecture delivered November 1st, 1830, by
  Thomas Sewall, M. D., Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the
  Columbian College, District of Columbia."

He did husband his strength, and he toiled with his pen almost to the
last hours of his life; and by thus doing has furnished us with a
singular evidence of the possibility of uniting the highest attainments
in science, and the most ardent devotion to letters, with the firmest
belief and the purest practice of the Christian. But the period of his
dissolution was not distant: the summons arrived; and conscious that the
messenger, who had been long in waiting, could not be bribed to tarry,
he commended his little family in a fervent prayer to Him who has
promised to be the 'Father of the fatherless, and the widow's God,' and
then, with uplifted eyes and hands, and a face beaming with joy and
confidence, resigned his spirit into the arms of his Redeemer, on the
morning of the 17th of Fourth month, 1830.

A friend who was his constant companion during his sickness, and
witnessed his last moments, writes thus:

"You ask me to give you an account of his last moments: they were such
as have robbed me of all terror of death, and will afford me lasting
comfort through life. The same self-composure and entire resignation
which were so remarkable through his whole sickness, supported him to
the end. Oh! it was not death; it was a release from mortal misery to
everlasting happiness. Such calmness, when he prayed for us all--such a
heavenly composure, even till the breath left him, you would have
thought he was going only a short journey. During the day, his
sufferings had been almost beyond enduring. Frequently did he pray that
the Lord would give him patience to endure all till the end, knowing
that it could not be many hours; and truly his prayers were heard.
'_Lord Jesus, receive my soul_,' were the last words he uttered, and his
countenance appeared as if he had a foretaste of heaven even before his
spirit left this world."

The fine imagination and deep enthusiasm of Dr. Godman occasionally
burst forth in impassioned poetry. He wrote verse and prose with almost
equal facility, and had he lived and enjoyed leisure to prune the
exuberance of his style, and to bestow the last polish upon his
labours, he would have ranked as one of the great masters of our
language, both in regard to the curious felicity and the strength and
clearness of his diction. The following specimens of his poetical
compositions are selected less for their intrinsic excellence, than for
the picture which they furnish of his private meditations.


    "'Tis midnight's solemn hour! now wide unfurled
    Darkness expands her mantle o'er the world;
    The fire-fly's lamp has ceased its fitful gleam;
    The cricket's chirp is hushed; the boding scream
    Of the gray owl is stilled; the lofty trees
    Scarce wave their summits to the failing breeze;
    All nature is at rest, or seems to sleep;
    'Tis thine alone, O man! to watch and weep!
    Thine 'tis to feel thy system's sad decay,
    As flares the taper of thy life away
    Beneath the influence of fell disease:
    Thine 'tis to _know_ the want of mental ease
    Springing from memory of time misspent,
    Of slighted blessings, deepest discontent
    And riotous rebellion 'gainst the laws
    Of health, truth, heaven, to win the world's applause!

    --Such was thy course, Eugenio; such thy hardened heart,
    Till mercy spoke, and death unsheathed the dart,
    Twanged his unerring bow, and drove the steel
    Too deep to be withdrawn, too wide the wound to heal,
    Yet left of life a feebly glimmering ray,
    Slowly to sink and gently ebb away.

    --And yet, how blest am I!
    While myriad others lie
    In agony of fever or of pain,
    With parching tongue and burning eye,
    Or fiercely throbbing brain;
    My feeble frame, though spoiled of rest,
    Is not of comfort dispossest.
    My mind awake, looks up to Thee,
    Father of mercy! whose blest hand I see
    In all things acting for our good,
    Howe'er thy mercies be misunderstood.

    --See where the waning moon
    Slowly surmounts yon dark tree-tops,
    Her light increases steadily, and soon
    The solemn night her stole of darkness drops:
    Thus to my sinking soul, in hours of gloom,
    The cheering beams of hope resplendent come,
    Thus the thick clouds which sin and sorrow rear
    Are changed to brightness, or swift disappear.

    Hark! that shrill note proclaims approaching day;
    The distant east is streaked with lines of gray;
    Faint warblings from the neighbouring groves arise,
    The tuneful tribes salute the brightening skies,
    Peace breathes around; dim visions o'er me creep,
    The weary night outwatched, thank God! I too may sleep.


    The damps of death are on my brow,
    The chill is in my heart,
    My blood has almost ceased to flow,
    My hopes of life depart;
    The valley and the shadow before me open wide,
    But thou, O Lord! even there wilt be my guardian and my guide,
    For what is pain, if Thou art nigh its bitterness to quell?
    And where death's boasted victory, his last triumphant spell?
    O Saviour! in that hour when mortal strength is nought,
    When nature's agony comes on, and every anguished thought
    Springs in the breaking heart a source of darkest woe,
    Be nigh unto my soul, nor permit the floods o'erflow.
    To Thee, to Thee alone! dare I raise my dying eyes;
    Thou didst for all atone, by Thy wondrous sacrifice;
    Oh! in Thy mercy's richness, extend Thy smiles on me,
    And let my soul outspeak Thy praise, throughout eternity!"

Beneath the above stanzas, in the manuscript alluded to, is the
following note: "Rather more than a year has elapsed since the above was
first written. Death is now certainly nearer at hand; but my sentiments
remain unchanged, except that my reliance on the Saviour is stronger."

It was a melancholy sight to witness the premature extinction of such a
spirit; yet the dying couch on which genius, and virtue, and learning
thus lay prostrated, beamed with more hallowed lustre, and taught a more
salutary lesson, than could have been imparted by the proudest triumphs
of intellect. The memory of Dr. Godman, his blighted promise and his
unfinished labours, will long continue to call forth the vain regrets of
men of science and learning. There are those who treasure, up in their
hearts, as a more precious recollection, his humble faith and his
triumphant death, and who can meet with an eye of pity the scornful
glance of the scoffer and the infidel, at being told that if Dr. Godman
was a philosopher, he was also a Christian.



No. I.

From early youth devoted to the study of nature, it has always been my
habit to embrace every opportunity of increasing my knowledge and
pleasures by actual observation, and have ever found ample means of
gratifying this disposition, wherever my place has been allotted by
Providence. When an inhabitant of the country, it was sufficient to go a
few steps from the door, to be in the midst of numerous interesting
objects; when a resident of the crowded city, a healthful walk of half
an hour placed me where my favourite enjoyment was offered in abundance;
and now, when no longer able to seek in fields and woods and running
streams for that knowledge which cannot readily be elsewhere obtained,
the recollection of my former rambles is productive of a satisfaction
which past pleasures but seldom bestow. Perhaps a statement of the
manner in which my studies were pursued, may prove interesting to those
who love the works of nature, and may not be aware how great a field
for original observation is within their reach, or how vast a variety of
instructive objects are easily accessible, even to the occupants of a
bustling metropolis. To me it will be a source of great delight to
spread these resources before the reader, and enable him so cheaply to
participate in the pleasures I have enjoyed, as well as place him in the
way of enlarging the general stock of knowledge, by communicating the
results of his original observations.

One of my favourite walks was through Turner's Lane, which is about a
quarter of a mile long, and not much wider than an ordinary street,
being closely fenced in on both sides; yet my reader may feel surprised
when informed that I found ample employment for all my leisure, during
six weeks, within and about its precincts. On entering the lane from the
Ridge road, I observed a gentle elevation of the turf beneath the lower
rails of the fence, which appeared to be uninterruptedly continuous; and
when I had cut through the verdant roof with my knife, it proved to be a
regularly arched gallery or subterranean road, along which the
inhabitants could securely travel at all hours, without fear of
discovery. The sides and bottom of this arched way were smooth and
clean, as if much used; and the raised superior portion had long been
firmly consolidated by the grass roots, intermixed with tenacious clay.
At irregular and frequently distant intervals, a side path diverged into
the neighbouring fields, and, by its superficial situation,
irregularity, and frequent openings, showed that its purpose was
temporary, or had been only opened for the sake of procuring food.
Occasionally I found a little gallery diverging from the main route
beneath the fence, towards the road, and finally opening on the grass,
as if the inmate had come out in the morning to breathe the early air,
or to drink of the crystal dew which daily gemmed the close-cropped
verdure. How I longed to detect the animal which tenanted these
galleries, in the performance of his labours! Farther on, upon the top
of a high bank, which prevented the pathway from continuing near the
fence, appeared another evidence of the industry of my yet unknown
miner. Half-a-dozen hillocks of loose, almost pulverised earth were
thrown up, at irregular distances, communicating with the main gallery
by side passages. Opening one of these carefully, it appeared to differ
little from the common gallery in size, but it was very difficult to
ascertain where the loose earth came from, nor have I ever been able to
tell, since I never witnessed the formation of these hillocks, and
conjectures are forbidden, where nothing but observation is requisite to
the decision. My farther progress was now interrupted by a delightful
brook which sparkled across the road, over a clear sandy bed; and here
my little galleries turned into the field, coursing along at a moderate
distance from the stream. I crept through the fence into the meadow on
the west side, intending to discover, if possible, the animal whose
works had first fixed my attention, but as I approached the bank of the
rivulet, something suddenly retreated towards the grass, seeming to
vanish almost unaccountably from sight. Very carefully examining the
point at which it disappeared, I found the entrance of another gallery
or burrow, but of very different construction from that first observed.
This new one was formed in the grass, near and among whose roots and
lower stems a small but regular covered way was practised. Endless,
however, would have been the attempt to follow this, as it opened in
various directions, and ran irregularly into the field, and towards the
brook, by a great variety of passages. It evidently belonged to an
animal totally different from the owner of the subterranean passage, as
I subsequently discovered, and may hereafter relate. Tired of my
unavailing pursuit, I now returned to the little brook, and seating
myself on a stone, remained for some time unconsciously gazing on the
fluid which gushed along in unsullied brightness over its pebbly bed.
Opposite to my seat was an irregular hole in the bed of the stream, into
which, in an idle mood, I pushed a small pebble with the end of my
stick. What was my surprise, in a few seconds afterwards, to observe the
water in this hole in motion, and the pebble I had pushed into it gently
approaching the surface. Such was the fact: the hole was the dwelling of
a stout little crayfish, or fresh-water lobster, who did not choose to
be incommoded by the pebble, though doubtless he attributed its sudden
arrival to the usual accidents of the stream, and not to my thoughtless
movements. He had thrust his broad lobster-like claws under the stone,
and then drawn them near to his mouth, thus making a kind of shelf; and,
as he reached the edge of the hole, he suddenly extended his claws, and
rejected the incumbrance from the lower side, or down stream. Delighted
to have found a living object with whose habits I was unacquainted, I
should have repeated my experiment, but the crayfish presently returned
with what might be called an armful of rubbish, and threw it over the
side of his cell, and down the stream, as before. Having watched him for
some time while thus engaged, my attention was caught by the
considerable number of similar holes along the margin and in the bed of
the stream. One of these I explored with a small rod, and found it to be
eight or ten inches deep, and widened below into a considerable chamber,
in which the little lobster found a comfortable abode. Like all of his
tribe, the crayfish makes considerable opposition to being removed from
his dwelling, and bit smartly at the stick with his claws: as my present
object was only to gain acquaintance with his dwelling, he was speedily
permitted to return to it in peace. Under the end of a stone lying in
the bed of the stream, something was floating in the pure current, which
at first seemed like the tail of a fish; and being desirous to obtain a
better view, I gently raised the stone on its edge, and was rewarded by
a very beautiful sight. The object first observed was the tail of a
beautiful salamander, whose sides were of a pale straw colour, flecked
with circlets of the richest crimson. Its long lizard-like body seemed
to be semi-transparent, and its slender limbs appeared like mere
productions of the skin. Not far distant, and near where the upper end
of the stone had been, lay crouched, as if asleep, one of the most
beautifully-coloured frogs I had ever beheld. Its body was slender
compared with most frogs, and its skin covered with stripes of bright
reddish-brown and grayish-green, in such a manner as to recall the
beautiful markings of the tiger's hide; and, since the time alluded to,
it has received the name of _Tigrina_ from Leconte, its first scientific
describer. How long I should have been content to gaze at these
beautiful animals, as they lay basking in the living water, I know not,
had not the intense heat made me feel the necessity of seeking a shade.
It was now past twelve o'clock: I began to retrace my steps towards the
city; and, without any particular object, moved along by the little
galleries examined in the morning. I had advanced but a short distance,
when I found the last place where I had broken open the gallery was
_repaired_. The earth was perfectly fresh, and I had lost the chance of
discovering the miner, while watching my new acquaintances in the
stream. Hurrying onward, the same circumstance uniformly presented; the
injuries were all efficiently repaired, and had evidently been very
recently completed. Here was one point gained: it was ascertained that
these galleries were still inhabited, and I hoped soon to become
acquainted with the inmates. But at this time it appeared fruitless to
delay longer, and I returned home, filled with anticipations of pleasure
from the success of my future researches. These I shall relate on
another occasion, if such narrations as the present be thought of
sufficient interest to justify their presentation to the reader.


No. II.

On the day following my first related excursion, I started early in the
morning, and was rewarded by one sight, which could not otherwise have
been obtained, well worth the sacrifice of an hour or two of sleep.
There may be persons who will smile contemptuously at the idea of a
_man's_ being delighted with such trifles; nevertheless, we are not
inclined to envy such as disesteem the pure gratification afforded by
these simple and easily accessible pleasures. As I crossed an open lot
on my way to the lane, a succession of gossamer spider-webs, lightly
suspended from various weeds and small shrubs, attracted my attention.
The dew which had formed during the night was condensed upon this
delicate lace, in globules of most resplendent brilliance, whose clear
lustre pleased while it dazzled the sight. In comparison with the
immaculate purity of these dew-drops, which reflected and refracted the
morning light in beautiful rays, as the gossamer webs trembled in the
breeze, how poor would appear the most invaluable diamonds that were
ever obtained from Golconda or Brazil! How rich would any monarch be
that could boast the possession of _one_ such, as here glittered in
thousands on every herb and spray! They are exhaled in an hour or two,
and lost; yet they are almost daily offered to the delighted
contemplation of the real lover of nature, who is ever happy to witness
the beneficence of the great Creator, not less displayed in trivial
circumstances, than in the most wonderful of His works.

No particular change was discoverable in the works of my little miners,
except that all the places which had been a second time broken down,
were again repaired, showing that the animal had passed between the
times of my visit; and it may not be uninteresting to observe how the
repair was effected. It appeared, when the animal arrived at the spot
broken open or exposed to the air, that it changed its direction
sufficiently downwards to raise enough of earth from the lower surface
to fill up the opening; this of course slightly altered the direction of
the gallery at this point, and though the earth thrown up was quite
pulverulent, it was so nicely arched as to retain its place, and soon
became consolidated. Having broken open a gallery where the turf was
very close, and the soil tenacious, I was pleased to find the direction
of the chamber somewhat changed: on digging farther with my clasp-knife,
I found a very beautiful cell excavated in very tough clay, deeper than
the common level of the gallery, and towards one side. This little
lodging-room would probably have held a small melon, and was nicely
arched all round. It was perfectly clear, and quite smooth, as if much
used: to examine it fully, I was obliged to open it completely. (The
next day, it was replaced by another, made a little farther to one side,
exactly of the same kind: it was replaced a second time, but when
broken up a third time, it was left in ruins.) As twelve o'clock
approached, my solicitude to discover the little miner increased to a
considerable degree: previous observation led me to believe that about
that time his presence was to be expected. I had trodden down the
gallery for some inches in a convenient place, and stood close by, in
vigilant expectation. My wishes were speedily gratified: in a short time
the flattened gallery began at one end to be raised to its former
convexity, and the animal rapidly advanced. With a beating heart, I
thrust the knife-blade down by the side of the rising earth, and quickly
turned it over to one side, throwing my prize fairly into the sunshine.
For an instant, he seemed motionless from surprise, when I caught and
imprisoned him in my hat. It would be vain for me to attempt a
description of my pleasure in having thus succeeded, small as was my
conquest. I was delighted with the beauty of my captive's fur; with the
admirable adaptation of his diggers, or broad rose-tinted hands; the
wonderful strength of his fore-limbs, and the peculiar suitableness of
his head and neck to the kind of life the Author of nature had designed
him for. It was the shrew-mole, or _scalops canadensis_, whose history
and peculiarities of structure are minutely related in the first volume
of Godman's American Natural History. All my researches never enabled me
to discover a nest, female, or young one of this species. All I ever
caught were males, though this most probably was a mere accident. The
breeding of the scalops is nearly all that is wanting to render our
knowledge of it complete.

This little animal has eyes, though they are not discoverable during its
living condition, nor are they of any use to it above ground. In running
round a room (until it had perfectly learned where all the obstacles
stood), it would uniformly strike hard against them with its snout, and
then turn. It appeared to me as singular, that a creature which fed upon
living earth-worms with all the greediness of a pig, would not destroy
the larvæ or maggots of the flesh-fly. A shrew-mole lived for many weeks
in my study, and made use of a gun-case, into which he squeezed himself,
as a burrow. Frequently he would carry the meat he was fed with into his
retreat; and, as it was warm weather, the flies deposited their eggs in
the same place. An offensive odour led me to discover this circumstance,
and I found a number of large larvæ, over which the shrew-mole passed
without paying them any attention; nor would he, when hungry, accept of
such food, though nothing could exceed the eager haste with which he
seized and munched earth-worms. Often, when engaged in observing him
thus employed, have I thought of the stories told me, when a boy, of the
manner in which snakes were destroyed by swine: his voracity readily
exciting a recollection of one of these animals, and the poor worms
writhing and twining about his jaws answering for the snakes. It would
be tedious were I to relate all my rambles undertaken with a view to
gain a proper acquaintance with this creature, at all hours of the day,
and late in the evening, before day-light, etc. etc.

Among other objects which served as an unfailing source of amusement,
when resting from the fatigue of my walks, was the little inhabitant of
the brook which is spoken of in the extract made from the "Journal of a
Naturalist," in last week's Friend. These merry swimmers occupied every
little sunny pool in the stream, apparently altogether engaged in sport.
A circumstance (not adverted to in that extract) connected with these
insects, gives them additional interest to a close observer--they are
allied by their structure and nature to those nauseous vermin, the
cimices, or _bed-bugs_; all of which, whether found infesting fruits or
our dormitories, are distinguished by their disgusting odour. But their
distant relatives, called by the boys the _water-witches_ and
_apple-smellers_, the gyrinus natator above alluded to, has a delightful
smell, exactly similar to that of the richest, mellowest apple. This
peculiarly pleasant smell frequently causes the idler many unavailing
efforts to secure some of these creatures, whose activity in water
renders their pursuit very difficult, though by no means so much so as
that of some of the long-legged water-spiders, which walk the waters
dry-shod, and evade the grasp with surprising ease and celerity. What
purposes either of these races serve in the great economy of nature, has
not yet been ascertained, and will scarcely be determined until our
store of _facts_ is far more extensive than at present. Other and still
more remarkable inhabitants of the brook, at the same time, came within
my notice, and afforded much gratification in the observation of their
habits. The description of these we are obliged to defer for the
present, as we have already occupied as much space as can be allowed to
our humble sketches.


No. III.

In moving along the borders of the stream, we may observe, where the
sand or mud is fine and settled, a sort of mark or cutting, as if an
edged instrument had been drawn along, so as to leave behind it a track
or groove. At one end of this line, by digging a little into the mud
with the hand, you will generally discover a shell of considerable size,
which is tenanted by a molluscous animal of singular construction. On
some occasions, when the mud is washed off from the shell, you will be
delighted to observe the beautifully regular dark lines with which its
greenish smooth surface is marked. Other species are found in the same
situations, which, externally, are rough and inelegant, but within are
ornamented to a most admirable degree, presenting a smooth surface of
the richest pink, crimson, or purple, to which we have nothing of equal
elegance to compare it. If the mere shells of these creatures be thus
splendid, what shall we say of their internal structure, which, when
examined by the microscope, offers a succession of wonders? The
beautiful apparatus for respiration, formed of a network regularly
arranged, of the most exquisitely delicate texture; the foot, or organ
by which the shell is moved forward through the mud or water, composed
of an expanded spongy extremity, capable of assuming various figures to
suit particular purposes, and governed by several strong muscles, that
move it in different directions; the ovaries, filled with myriads, not
of eggs, but of perfect shells, or complete little animals, which,
though not larger than the point of a fine needle, yet, when examined by
the microscope, exhibit all the peculiarities of conformation that
belong to the parent; the mouth, embraced by the nervous ganglion, which
may be considered as the animal's brain; the stomach, surrounded by the
various processes of the liver, and the strongly acting but transparent
heart, all excite admiration and gratify our curiosity. The puzzling
question often presents itself to the inquirer: Why so much
elaborateness of construction and such exquisite ornament as are common
to most of these creatures, should be bestowed? Destined to pass their
lives in and under the mud, possessed of no sense that we are acquainted
with, except that of touch, what purpose can ornament serve in them?
However much of vanity there may be in asking the question, there is no
answer to be offered. We cannot suppose that the individuals have any
power of admiring each other, and we know that the foot is the only part
they protrude from their shell, and that the inside of the shell is
covered by the membrane called the mantle. Similar remarks may be made
relative to conchology at large: the most exquisitely beautiful forms,
colours, and ornaments are lavished upon genera and species which exist
only at immense depths in the ocean, or buried in the mud; nor can any
one form a satisfactory idea of the object the great Author of nature
had in view, in thus profusely beautifying creatures occupying so low a
place in the scale of creation.

European naturalists have hitherto fallen into the strangest absurdities
concerning the motion of the bivalved shells, which five minutes'
observation of nature would have served them to correct. Thus, they
describe the upper part of the shell as the _lower_, and the _hind_ part
as the front, and speak of them as moving along on their rounded convex
surface, like a boat on its keel, instead of advancing with the edges or
open part of the shell towards the earth. All these mistakes have been
corrected, and the true mode of progression indicated from actual
observation, by our fellow-citizen, Isaac Lea, whose recently published
communications to the American Philosophical Society reflect the highest
credit upon their author, who is a naturalist in the best sense of the

As I wandered slowly along the borders of the run, towards a little
wood, my attention was caught by a considerable collection of shells
lying near an old stump. Many of these appeared to have been recently
emptied of their contents, and others seemed to have long remained
exposed to the weather. On most of them, at the thinnest part of the
edge, a peculiar kind of fracture was obvious, and this seemed to be the
work of an animal. A closer examination of the locality showed the
footsteps of a quadruped, which I readily believed to be the muskrat,
more especially as, upon examining the adjacent banks, numerous traces
of burrows were discoverable. It is not a little singular that this
animal, unlike all others of the larger gnawers, as the beaver, etc.
appears to increase instead of diminishing with the increase of
population. Whether it is that the dams and other works thrown up by men
afford more favourable situations for their multiplication, or their
favourite food is found in greater abundance, they certainly are quite
as numerous now, if not more so, than when the country was first
discovered, and are to be found at this time almost within the limits of
the city. By the construction of their teeth, as well as all the parts
of the body, they are closely allied to the rat kind; though in size,
and some peculiarities of habit, they more closely approximate the
beaver. They resemble the rat, especially, in not being exclusively
herbivorous, as is shown by their feeding on the uniones or muscles
above mentioned. To obtain this food requires no small exertion of their
strength; and they accomplish it by introducing the claws of their
fore-paws between the two edges of the shell, and tearing it open by
main force. Whoever has tried to force open one of these shells,
containing a living animal, may form an idea of the effort made by the
muskrat: the strength of a strong man would be requisite to produce the
same result in the same way.

The burrows of muskrats are very extensive, and consequently injurious
to dykes and dams, meadow banks, etc. The entrance is always under
water, and thence sloping upwards above the level of the water, so that
the muskrat has to dive in going in and out. These creatures are
excellent divers and swimmers, and, being nocturnal, are rarely seen
unless by those who watch for them at night. Sometimes we alarm one near
the mouth of the den, and he darts away across the water, near the
bottom, marking his course by a turbid streak in the stream:
occasionally we are made aware of the passage of one to some distance
down the current, in the same way; but in both cases the action is so
rapidly performed, that we should scarcely imagine what was the cause,
if not previously informed. Except by burrowing into and spoiling the
banks, they are not productive of much evil, their food consisting
principally of the roots of aquatic plants, in addition to the
shell-fish. The musky odour which gives rise to their common name is
caused by glandular organs placed near the tail, filled with a viscid
and powerfully musky fluid, whose uses we know but little of, though it
is thought to be intended as a guide by which these creatures may
discover each other. This inference is strengthened by finding some such
contrivance in different races of animals, in various modifications. A
great number carry it in pouches similar to those just mentioned. Some,
as the musk animal, have the pouch under the belly; the shrew has the
glands on the side; the camel on the back of the neck; the crocodile
under the throat, etc. At least no other use has ever been assigned for
this apparatus, and in all creatures possessing it the arrangement seems
to be adapted peculiarly to the habits of the animals. The crocodile,
for instance, generally approaches the shore in such a manner as to
apply the neck and throat to the soil, while the hinder part of the body
is under water. The glands under the throat leave the traces of his
presence, therefore, with ease, as they come into contact with the
shore. The glandular apparatus on the back of the neck of the male
camel, seems to have reference to the general elevation of the olfactory
organs of the female; and the dorsal gland of the peccary, no doubt, has
some similar relation to the peculiarities of the race.

The value of the fur of the muskrat causes many of them to be destroyed,
which is easily enough effected by means of a trap. This is a simple
box, formed of rough boards nailed together, about three feet long,
having an iron door, made of pointed bars, opening _inwards_, at both
ends of the box. This trap is placed with the end opposite to the
entrance of a burrow observed during the day-time. In the night, when
the muskrat sallies forth, he enters the box, instead of passing into
the open air, and is drowned, as the box is quite filled with water. If
the traps be visited and emptied during the night, two may be caught in
each trap, as muskrats from other burrows may come to visit those where
the traps are placed, and thus one be taken going in as well as one
coming out. These animals are frequently very fat, and their flesh has a
very wholesome appearance, and would probably prove good food. The musky
odour, however, prejudices strongly against its use; and it is probable
that the flesh is rank, as the muscles it feeds on are nauseous and
bitter, and the roots which supply the rest of its food are generally
unpleasant and acrid. Still, we should not hesitate to partake of its
flesh, in case of necessity, especially if of a young animal, from which
the musk-bag had been removed immediately after it was killed.

In this vicinity the muskrat does not build himself a house for the
winter, as our fields and dykes are too often visited. But in other
parts of the country, where extensive marshes exist, and muskrats are
abundant, they build very snug and substantial houses, quite as
serviceable and ingenious as those of the beaver. They do not dam the
water as the beaver, nor cut branches of trees to serve for the walls of
their dwellings. They make it of mud and rushes, raising a cone two or
three feet high, having the entrance on the south side, under water.
About the year 1804, I saw several of them in Worrell's marsh, near
Chestertown, Maryland, which were pointed out to me by an old black man
who made his living principally by trapping these animals for the sake
of their skins. A few years since I visited the marshes near the mouth
of Magerthy river, in Maryland, where I was informed, by a resident,
that the muskrats still built regularly every winter. Perhaps these
quadrupeds are as numerous in the vicinity of Philadelphia as elsewhere,
as I have never examined a stream of fresh water, dyked meadow, or
mill-dam, hereabout, without seeing traces of vast numbers. Along all
the water-courses and meadows in Jersey, opposite Philadelphia, and in
the meadows of the Neck, below the Navy-Yard, there must be large
numbers of muskrats. Considering the value of the fur, and the ease and
trifling expense at which they might be caught, we have often felt
surprised that more of them are not taken, especially as we have so many
poor men complaining of wanting something to do. By thinning the number
of muskrats, a positive benefit would be conferred on the farmers and
furriers, to say nothing of the profits to the individual.


No. IV.

My next visit to my old hunting-ground, the lane and brook, happened on
a day in the first hay-harvest, when the verdant sward of the meadows
was rapidly sinking before the keen-edged scythes swung by vigorous
mowers. This unexpected circumstance afforded me considerable pleasure,
for it promised me a freer scope to my wanderings, and might also enable
me to ascertain various particulars concerning which my curiosity had
long been awakened. Nor was this promise unattended by fruition of my
wishes. The reader may recollect that, in my first walk, a neat burrow
in the grass, above ground, was observed, without my knowing its author.
The advance of the mowers explained this satisfactorily, for in cutting
the long grass, they exposed several nests of field-mice, which, by
means of these grass-covered alleys, passed to the stream in search of
food or drink, unseen by their enemies, the hawks and owls. The numbers
of these little creatures were truly surprising: their fecundity is so
great, and their food so abundant, that, were they not preyed upon by
many other animals, and destroyed in great numbers by man, they would
become exceedingly troublesome. There are various species of them, all
bearing a very considerable resemblance to each other, and having, to an
incidental observer, much of the appearance of the domestic mouse.
Slight attention, however, is requisite to perceive very striking
differences, and the discrimination of these will prove a source of
considerable gratification to the inquirer. The nests are very nicely
made, and look much like a bird's nest, being lined with soft materials,
and usually placed in some snug little hollow, or at the root of a
strong tuft of grass. Upon the grass roots and seeds these nibblers
principally feed; and, where very abundant, the effects of their hunger
may be seen in the brown and withered aspect of the grass they have
injured at the root. But, under ordinary circumstances, the hawks, owls,
domestic cat, weasels, crows, etc. keep them in such limits, as prevent
them from doing essential damage.

I had just observed another and a smaller grassy covered way, where the
mowers had passed along, when my attention was called towards a wagon at
a short distance, which was receiving its load. Shouts and laughter,
accompanied by a general running and scrambling of the people, indicated
that some rare sport was going forward. When I approached, I found that
the object of chase was a jumping mouse, whose actions it was truly
delightful to witness. When not closely pressed by its pursuers, it ran
with some rapidity, in the usual manner, as if seeking concealment. But
in a moment it would vault into the air, and skim along for ten or
twelve feet, looking more like a bird than a little quadruped. After
continuing this for some time, and nearly exhausting its pursuers with
running and falling over each other, the frightened creature was
accidentally struck down by one of the workmen, during one of its
beautiful leaps, and killed. As the hunters saw nothing worthy of
attention in the dead body of the animal, they very willingly resigned
it to me; and with great satisfaction I retreated to a willow shade, to
read what nature had written in its form for my instruction. The general
appearance was mouse-like; but the length and slenderness of the body,
the shortness of its fore-limbs, and the disproportionate length of its
hind-limbs, together with the peculiarity of its tail, all indicated its
adaptation to the peculiar kind of action I had just witnessed. A sight
of this little creature vaulting or bounding through the air, strongly
reminded me of what I had read of the great kangaroo of New Holland; and
I could not help regarding our little jumper as in some respects a sort
of miniature resemblance of that curious animal. It was not evident,
however, that the jumping mouse derived the aid from its tail, which so
powerfully assists the kangaroo. Though long, and sufficiently stout in
proportion, it had none of the robust muscularity which, in the New
Holland animal, impels the lower part of the body immediately upward. In
this mouse, the leap is principally, if not entirely, effected by a
sudden and violent extension of the long hind-limbs, the muscles of
which are strong, and admirably suited to their object. We have heard
that these little animals feed on the roots, etc. of the green herbage,
and that they are every season to be found in the meadows. It may
perhaps puzzle some to imagine how they subsist through the severities
of winter, when vegetation is at rest, and the earth generally frozen.
Here we find another occasion to admire the all-perfect designs of the
awful Author of nature, who has endowed a great number of animals with
the faculty of retiring into the earth, and passing whole months in a
state of repose so complete, as to allow all the functions of the body
to be suspended, until the returning warmth of the spring calls them
forth to renewed activity and enjoyment. The jumping mouse, when the
chill weather begins to draw nigh, digs down about six or eight inches
into the soil, and there forms a little globular cell, as much larger
than his own body as will allow a sufficient covering of fine grass to
be introduced. This being obtained, he contrives to coil up his body and
limbs in the centre of the soft dry grass, so as to form a complete
ball; and so compact is this, that, when taken out with the torpid
animal, it may be rolled across a floor without injury. In this snug
cell, which is soon filled up and closed externally, the jumping mouse
securely abides through all the frosts and storms of winter, needing
neither food nor fuel, being utterly quiescent, and apparently dead,
though susceptible at any time of reanimation, by being very gradually
stimulated by light and heat.

The little burrow under examination, when called to observe the jumping
mouse, proved to be made by the merry musicians of the meadows, the
field-crickets, _acheta campestris_. These lively black crickets are
very numerous, and contribute very largely to that general song which is
so delightful to the ear of the true lover of nature, as it rises on the
air from myriads of happy creatures rejoicing amid the bounties
conferred on them by Providence. It is not _a voice_ that the crickets
utter, but a regular vibration of musical chords, produced by nibbing
the nervures of the elytra against a sort of network intended to produce
the vibrations. The reader will find an excellent description of the
apparatus in Kirby and Spence's book, but he may enjoy a much more
satisfactory comprehension of the whole, by visiting the field-cricket
in his summer residence, see him tuning his viol, and awakening the
echoes with his music. By such an examination as may be there obtained,
he may derive more knowledge than by frequent perusal of the most
eloquent writings, and perhaps observe circumstances which the learned
authors are utterly ignorant of.

Among the great variety of burrows formed in the grass, or under the
surface of the soil, by various animals and insects, there is one that I
have often anxiously and, as yet, fruitlessly explored. This burrow is
formed by the smallest quadruped animal known to man, the minute
_shrew_, which, when full grown, rarely exceeds the weight of
_thirty-six grains_. I had seen specimens of this very interesting
creature in the museum, and had been taught, by a more experienced
friend, to distinguish its burrow, which I have often perseveringly
traced, with the hope of finding the living animal, but in vain. On one
occasion, I patiently pursued a burrow nearly round a large barn,
opening it all the way. I followed it under the barn floor, which was
sufficiently high to allow me to crawl beneath. There I traced it about
to a tiresome extent, and was at length rewarded by discovering where it
terminated, under a foundation-stone, perfectly safe from my attempts.
Most probably a whole family of them were then present, and I had my
labour for my pains. As these little creatures are nocturnal, and are
rarely seen, from the nature of the places they frequent, the most
probable mode of taking them alive would be, by placing a small
mouse-trap in their way, baited with a little tainted or slightly
spoiled meat. If a common mouse-trap be used, it is necessary to work it
over with additional wire, as this shrew could pass between the bars
even of a close mouse-trap. They are sometimes killed by cats, and thus
obtained, as the cat never eats them, perhaps on account of their rank
smell, owing to a peculiar glandular apparatus on each side, that pours
out a powerfully odorous greasy substance. The species of the shrew
genus are not all so exceedingly diminutive, as some of them are even
larger than a common mouse. They have their teeth coloured at the tips
in a remarkable manner; it is generally of a pitchy brown, or dark
chestnut hue, and, like the colouring of the teeth in the beaver and
other animals, is owing to the enamel being thus formed, and not to any
mere accident of diet. The shrews are most common about stables and
cow-houses; and there, should I ever take the field again, my traps
shall be set, as my desire to have one of these little quadrupeds is
still as great as ever.


No. V.

Hitherto my rambles have been confined to the neighbourhood of a single
spot, with a view of showing how perfectly accessible to all, are
numerous and various interesting natural objects. This habit of
observing in the manner indicated, began many years anterior to my visit
to the spots heretofore mentioned, and have extended through many parts
of our own and another country. Henceforward my observations shall be
presented without reference to particular places, or even of one place
exclusively, but with a view to illustrate whatever may be the subject
of description, by giving all I have observed of it under various

A certain time of my life was spent in that part of Anne Arundel county,
Md. which is washed by the river Patapsco on the north, the great
Chesapeake bay on the west, and the Severn river on the south. It is in
every direction cut up by creeks, or arms of the rivers and bay, into
long, flat strips of land, called necks, the greater part of which is
covered by dense pine-forests, or thickets of small shrubs and saplings,
rendered impervious to human footsteps by the growth of vines, whose
inextricable mazes nothing but a fox, wild-cat, or weasel could thread.
The soil cleared for cultivation is very generally poor, light, and
sandy, though readily susceptible of improvement, and yielding a
considerable produce in Indian corn and most of the early garden
vegetables, by the raising of which for the Baltimore market the
inhabitants obtain all their ready money. The blight of slavery has long
extended its influence over this region, where all its usual effects are
but too obviously visible. The white inhabitants are few in number,
widely distant from each other; and manifest, in their mismanagement and
half-indigent circumstances, how trifling an advantage they derive from
the thraldom of their dozen or more of sturdy blacks, of different sexes
and ages. The number of marshes formed at the heads of the creeks,
render this country frightfully unhealthy in autumn, at which time the
life of a resident physician is one of incessant toil and severe
privation. Riding from morning till night, to get round to visit a few
patients, his road leads generally through pine-forests, whose aged and
lofty trees, encircled by a dense undergrowth, impart an air of sombre
and unbroken solitude. Rarely or never does he encounter a white person
on his way, and only once in a while will he see a miserably tattered
negro, seated on a sack of corn, carried by a starveling horse or mule,
which seems poorly able to bear the weight to the nearest mill. The
red-head wood-pecker and the flicker, or yellow-hammer, a kindred
species, occasionally glance across his path; sometimes, when he turns
his horse to drink at the dark-coloured branch (as such streams are
locally called), he disturbs a solitary rufous-thrush engaged in
washing its plumes; or, as he moves steadily along, he is slightly
startled by a sudden appearance of the towhé bunting close to the side
of the path. Except these creatures, and these by no means frequently
seen, he rarely meets with animated objects: at a distance the harsh
voice of the crow is often heard, or flocks of them are observed in the
cleared fields, while now and then the buzzard, or turkey-vulture, may
be seen wheeling in graceful circles in the higher regions of the air,
sustained by his broadly-expanded wings, which apparently remain in a
state of permanent and motionless extension. At other seasons of the
year, the physician must be content to live in the most positive
seclusion: the white people are all busily employed in going to and from
market, and even were they at home, they are poorly suited for
companionship. I here spent month after month, and, except the patients
I visited, saw no one but the blacks: the house in which I boarded was
kept by a widower, who, with myself, was the only white man within the
distance of a mile or two. My only compensation was this--the house was
pleasantly situated on the bank of Curtis's creek, a considerable arm of
the Patapsco, which extended for a mile or two beyond us, and
immediately in front of the door expanded so as to form a beautiful
little bay. Of books I possessed very few, and those exclusively
professional; but in this beautiful expanse of sparkling water, I had a
book opened before me which a life-time would scarcely suffice me to
read through. With the advantage of a small but neatly made and easily
manageable skiff, I was always independent of the service of the blacks,
which was ever repugnant to my feelings and principles. I could convey
myself in whatever direction objects of inquiry might present, and as my
little bark was visible for a mile in either direction from the house, a
handkerchief waved, or the loud shout of a negro, was sufficient to
recall me, in case my services were required.

During the spring months, and while the garden vegetables are yet too
young to need a great deal of attention, the proprietors frequently
employ their blacks in hauling the seine; and this in these creeks is
productive of an ample supply of yellow perch, which affords a very
valuable addition to the diet of all. The blacks in an especial manner
profit by this period of plenty, since they are permitted to eat of them
without restraint, which cannot be said of any other sort of provision
allowed them. Even the pigs and crows obtain their share of the
abundance, as the fishermen, after picking out the best fish, throw the
smaller ones on the beach. But as the summer months approach, the
aquatic grass begins to grow, and this fishing can no longer be
continued, because the grass rolls the seine up in a wisp, so that it
can contain nothing. At this time the spawning season of the different
species of sun-fish begins, and to me this was a time of much
gratification. Along the edge of the river, where the depth of water was
not greater than from four feet to as shallow as twelve inches, an
observer would discover a succession of circular spots cleared of the
surrounding grass, and showing a clear sandy bed. These spots, or
cleared spaces, we may regard as the nest of this beautiful fish. There,
balanced in the transparent wave, at the distance of six or eight inches
from the bottom, the sun-fish is suspended in the glittering sunshine,
gently swaying its beautiful tail and fins; or, wheeling around in the
limits of its little circle, appears to be engaged in keeping it clear
of all incumbrances. Here the mother deposits her eggs or spawn, and
never did hen guard her callow brood with more eager vigilance, than the
sun-fish the little circle within which her promised offspring are
deposited. If another individual approach too closely to her borders,
with a fierce and angry air she darts against it, and forces it to
retreat. Should any small and not too heavy object be dropped in the
nest, it is examined with jealous attention, and displaced if the owner
be not satisfied of its harmlessness. At the approach of man she flies
with great velocity into deep water, as if willing to conceal that her
presence was more than accidental where first seen. She may, after a few
minutes, be seen cautiously venturing to return, which is at length done
with volocity; then she would take a hurried turn or two around, and
scud back again to the shady bowers formed by the river grass, which
grows up from the bottom to within a few feet of the surface, and
attains to twelve, fifteen, or more feet in length. Again she ventures
forth from the depths; and, if no farther cause of fear presented, would
gently sail into the placid circle of her home, and with obvious
satisfaction explore it in every part.

Besides the absolute pleasure I derived from visiting the habitations of
these glittering tenants of the river, hanging over them from my little
skiff, and watching their every action, they frequently furnished me
with a very acceptable addition to my frugal table. Situated as my
boarding-house was, and all the inmates of the house busily occupied in
raising vegetables to be sent to market, our bill of fare offered little
other change than could be produced by varying the mode of cookery. It
was either broiled bacon and potatoes, or fried bacon and potatoes, or
cold bacon and potatoes, and so on at least six days out of seven. But,
as soon as I became acquainted with the habits of the sun-fish, I
procured a neat circular iron hoop for a net, secured to it a piece of
an old seine, and whenever I desired to dine on _fresh_ fish, it was
only necessary to take my skiff, and push her gently along from one
sun-fish nest to another, myriads of which might be seen along all the
shore. The fish, of course, darted off as soon as the boat first drew
near, and during this absence the net was placed so as to cover the
nest, of the bottom of which the meshes but slightly intercepted the
view. Finding all things quiet, and not being disturbed by the net, the
fish would resume its central station, the net was suddenly raised, and
the captive placed in the boat. In a quarter of an hour, I could
generally take as many in this way as would serve two men for dinner;
and when an acquaintance accidentally called to see me, during the
season of sun-fish, it was always in my power to lessen our dependence
on the endless bacon. I could also always select the finest and largest
of these fish, as, while standing up in the boat, one could see a
considerable number at once, and thus choose the best. Such was their
abundance, that the next day would find all the nests reoccupied.
Another circumstance connected with this matter gave me no small
satisfaction: the poor blacks, who could rarely get time for angling,
soon learned how to use my net with dexterity; and thus, in the ordinary
time allowed them for dinner, would borrow it, run down to the shore,
and catch some fish to add to their very moderate allowance.


No. VI.

After the sun-fish, as regular annual visitants of the small rivers
and creeks containing salt or brackish water, came the crabs,
in vast abundance, though for a very different purpose. These
singularly-constructed and interesting beings furnished me with another
excellent subject for observation; and, during the period of their
visitation, my skiff was in daily requisition. Floating along with an
almost imperceptible motion, a person looking from the shore might have
supposed her entirely adrift; for, as I was stretched at full length
across the seats, in order to bring my sight as close to the water as
possible without inconvenience, no one would have observed my presence
from a little distance. The crabs belong to a very extensive tribe of
beings which carry their _skeletons_ on the _outside_ of their bodies,
instead of within; and, of necessity, the fleshy, muscular, or moving
power of the body is placed in a situation the reverse of what occurs in
animals of a higher order, which have internal skeletons or solid frames
to their systems. This peculiarity of the crustaceous animals, and
various other beings, is attended with one apparent inconvenience--when
they have grown large enough to fill their shell or skeleton completely,
they cannot grow farther, because the skeleton, being external, is
incapable of enlargement. To obviate this difficulty, the Author of
nature has endowed them with the power of casting off the entire shell,
increasing in size, and forming another equally hard and perfect, for
several seasons successively, until the greatest or maximum size is
attained, when the change or sloughing ceases to be necessary, though it
is not always discontinued on that account. To undergo this change with
greater ease and security, the crabs seek retired and peaceful waters,
such as the beautiful creek I have been speaking of, whose clear, sandy
shores are rarely disturbed by waves causing more than a pleasing
murmur, and where the number of enemies must be far less, in proportion,
than in the boisterous waters of the Chesapeake, their great place of
concourse. From the first day of their arrival, in the latter part of
June, until the time of their departure, which in this creek occurred
towards the first of August, it was astonishing to witness the vast
multitudes which flocked towards the head of the stream.

It is not until they have been for some time in the creek, that the
moult or sloughing generally commences. They may be then observed
gradually coming closer in shore, to where the sand is fine, fairly
exposed to the sun, and a short distance farther out than the lowest
water-mark, as they must always have at least a depth of three or four
inches water upon them.

The individual having selected his place, becomes perfectly quiescent,
and no change is observed, during some hours, but a sort of swelling
along the edges of the great upper shell at its back part. After a time,
this posterior edge of the shell becomes fairly disengaged, like the lid
of a chest, and now the more difficult work of withdrawing the great
claws from their cases, which every one recollects to be vastly larger
at their extremities and between the joints than the joints themselves.
A still greater apparent difficulty presents in the shedding of the sort
of tendon which is placed within the muscles. Nevertheless, the Author
of nature has adapted them to the accomplishment of all this. The
disproportionate sized claws undergo a peculiar softening, which enables
the crab, by a very steadily continued, scarcely perceptible effort, to
pull them out of their shells, and the business is completed by the
separation of the complex parts about the mouth and eyes. The crab now
slips out from the slough, settling near it on the sand. It is now
covered by a soft, perfectly flexible skin; and, though possessing
precisely the same form as before, seems incapable of the slightest
exertion. Notwithstanding that such is its condition, while you are
gazing on this helpless creature, it is sinking in the fine loose sand,
and in a short time is covered up sufficiently to escape the observation
of careless or inexperienced observers. Neither can one say how this is
effected, although it occurs under their immediate observation; the
motions employed to produce the displacement of the sand are too slight
to be appreciated, though it is most probably owing to a gradual lateral
motion of the body, by which the sand is displaced in the centre
beneath, and thus gradually forced up at the sides until it falls over
and covers the crab. Examine him within twelve hours, and you will find
the skin becoming about as hard as fine writing-paper, producing a
similar crackling if compressed; twelve hours later, the shell is
sufficiently stiffened to require some slight force to bend it, and the
crab is said to be in _buckram_, as in the first stage it was in
_paper_. It is still helpless, and offers no resistance; but, at the end
of thirty-six hours, it shows that its natural instincts are in action,
and, by the time forty-eight hours have elapsed, the crab is restored to
the exercise of all his functions. I have stated the above as the
periods in which the stages of the moult are accomplished, but I have
often observed that the rapidity of this process is very much dependent
upon the temperature, and especially upon sunshine. A cold, cloudy, raw,
and disagreeable spell happening at this period, though by no means
common, will retard the operation considerably, protracting the period
of helplessness. This is the harvest season of the white fisherman and
of the poor slave. The laziest of the former are now in full activity,
wading along the shore from morning till night, dragging a small boat
after them, and holding in the other hand a forked stick, with which
they raise the crabs from the sand. The period during which the crabs
remain in the paper state is so short, that great activity is required
to gather a sufficient number to take to market, but the price at which
they are sold is sufficient to awaken all the cupidity of the crabbers.
Two dollars a dozen is by no means an uncommon price for them, when the
season first comes on: they subsequently come down to a dollar, and even
to fifty cents, at any of which rates the trouble of collecting them is
well paid. The slaves search for them at night, and then are obliged to
kindle a fire of pine-knots on the bow of the boat, which strongly
illuminates the surrounding water, and enables them to discover the
crabs. Soft crabs are, with great propriety, regarded as an exquisite
treat by those who are fond of such eating; and though many persons are
unable to use crabs or lobsters in any form, there are few who taste of
the soft crabs without being willing to recur to them. As an article of
luxury, they are scarcely known north of the Chesapeake, though there is
nothing to prevent them from being used to a considerable extent in
Philadelphia, especially since the opening of the Chesapeake and
Delaware canal. During the last summer, I had the finest soft crabs from
Baltimore. They arrived at the market in the afternoon, were fried
according to rule, and placed in a tin butter-kettle, then covered for
an inch or two with melted lard, and put on board the steam-boat which
left Baltimore at five o'clock the same afternoon. The next morning
before ten o'clock they were in Philadelphia, and at one they were
served up at dinner in Germantown. The only difficulty in the way is
that of having persons to attend to their procuring and transmission,
as, when cooked directly after they arrive at market, and forwarded with
as little delay as above mentioned, there is no danger of their being
the least injured.

At other seasons, when the crabs did not come close to the shore, I
derived much amusement by taking them in the deep water. This is always
easily effected by the aid of proper bait: a leg of chicken, piece of
any raw meat, or a salted or spoiled herring, tied to a twine string of
sufficient length, and a hand net of convenient size, is all that is
necessary. You throw out your line and bait, or you fix as many lines to
your boat as you please, and in a short time you see, by the
straightening of the line, that the bait has been seized by a crab, who
is trying to make off with it. You then place your net where it can
conveniently be picked up, and commence steadily but gently to draw in
your line, until you have brought the crab sufficiently near the surface
to distinguish him: if you draw him nearer, he will see you, and
immediately let go; otherwise, his greediness and voracity will make him
cling to his prey to the last. Holding the line in the left hand, you
now dip your net edge foremost into the water at some distance from the
line, carry it down perpendicularly until it is five or six inches lower
than the crab, and then with a sudden turn bring it directly before him,
and lift up at the same time. Your prize is generally secured, if your
net be at all properly placed; for, as soon as he is alarmed, he pushes
directly downwards, and is received in the bag of the net. It is better
to have a little water in the bottom of the boat, to throw them into, as
they are easier emptied out of the net, always letting go when held
over the water. This a good crabber never forgets, and should he
unluckily be seized by a large crab, he holds him over the water, and is
freed at once, though he loses his game. When not held over the water,
they bite sometimes with dreadful obstinacy; and I have seen it
necessary to crush the forceps or claws before one could be induced to
let go the fingers of a boy. A poor black fellow also placed himself in
an awkward situation--the crab seized him by a finger of his right hand,
but he was unwilling to lose his captive by holding him over the water;
instead of which, he attempted to secure the other claw with his left
hand, while he tried to crush the biting claw between his teeth. In
doing this, he somehow relaxed his left hand, and with the other claw
the crab seized poor Jem by his under lip, which was by no means a thin
one, and forced him to roar with pain. With some difficulty he was freed
from his tormentor, but it was several days before he ceased to excite
laughter, as the severe bite was followed by a swelling of the lip,
which imparted a most ludicrous expression to a naturally comical


No. VII.

On the first arrival of the crabs, when they throng the shoals of the
creeks in vast crowds, as heretofore mentioned, a very summary way of
taking them is resorted to by the country people, and for a purpose that
few would suspect, without having witnessed it. They use a three-pronged
fork or gig, made for this sport, attached to a long handle; the
crabber, standing up in the skiff, pushes it along until he is over a
large collection of crabs, and then strikes his spear among them. By
this several are transfixed at once, and lifted into the boat, and the
operation is repeated until enough have been taken. The purpose to which
they are to be applied is to feed the hogs, which very soon learn to
collect in waiting upon the beach, when the crab spearing is going on.
Although these bristly gentry appear to devour almost all sorts of food
with great relish, it seemed to me that they regarded the crabs as a
most luxurious banquet; and it was truly amusing to see the grunters,
when the crabs were thrown on shore for them, and were scampering off in
various directions, seizing them in spite of their threatening claws,
holding them down with one foot, and speedily reducing them to a state
of helplessness by breaking off their forceps. Such a crunching and
cracking of the unfortunate crabs I never have witnessed since; and I
might have commiserated them more, had not I known that death in some
form or other was continually awaiting them, and that their devourers
were all destined to meet their fate in a few months in the stye, and
thence through the smoke-house to be placed upon our table. On the
shores of the Chesapeake I have caught crabs in a way commonly employed
by all those who are unprovided with boats and nets. This is to have a
forked stick and a baited line, with which the crabber wades out as far
as he thinks fit, and then throws out his line. As soon as he finds he
has a bite, he draws the line in, cautiously lifting but a very little
from the bottom. As soon as it is near enough to be fairly in reach, he
quickly, yet with as little movement as possible, secures the crab by
placing the forked stick across his body, and pressing him against the
sand. He must then stoop down and take hold of the crab by the two
posterior swimming legs, so as to avoid being seized by the claws.
Should he not wish to carry each crab ashore as he catches it, he
pinions or _spansels_ (as the fishermen call it) them. This is a very
effectual mode of disabling them from using their biting claws, yet it
is certainly not the most humane operation: it is done by taking the
first of the sharp-pointed feet of each side, and forcing it in for the
length of the joint behind the moveable joint or thumb of the opposite
biting claw. The crabs are then strung upon a string or wythe, and
allowed to hang in the water until the crabber desists from his
occupations. In the previous article, crabs were spoken of as curious
and interesting, and the reader may not consider the particulars thus
far given as being particularly so. Perhaps, when he takes them
altogether, he will agree that they have as much that is curious about
their construction as almost any animal we have mentioned, and in the
interesting details we have as yet made but a single step.

The circumstance of the external skeleton has been mentioned; but who
would expect an animal as low in the scale as a crab, to be furnished
with ten or twelve pair of jaws to its mouth? Yet such is the fact; and
all these variously-constructed pieces are provided with appropriate
muscles, and move in a manner which can scarcely be explained, though it
may be very readily comprehended when once observed in living nature.
But, after all the complexity of the jaws, where would an inexperienced
person look for their teeth?--surely not in the stomach?--nevertheless,
such is their situation; and these are not mere appendages, that are
called teeth by courtesy, but stout, regular grinding teeth, with a
light brown surface. They are not only within the stomach, but fixed to
a cartilage nearest to its lower extremity, so that the food, unlike
that of other creatures, is submitted to the action of the teeth as it
is passing _from_ the stomach, instead of being chewed before it is
swallowed. In some species the teeth are five in number; but throughout
this class of animals the same general principle of construction may be
observed. Crabs and their kindred have no brain, because they are not
required to reason upon what they observe: they have a nervous system
excellently suited to their mode of life, and its knots or ganglia send
out nerves to the organs of sense, digestion, motion, etc. The senses of
these beings are very acute, especially their sight, hearing, and smell.
Most of my readers have heard of crabs' eyes, or have seen these organs
in the animal on the end of two little projecting knobs, above and on
each side of the mouth: few of them, however, have seen the crab's ear;
yet it is very easily found, and is a little triangular bump placed near
the base of the feelers. This bump has a membrane stretched over it, and
communicates with a small cavity, which is the internal ear. The _organ_
of smell is not so easily demonstrated as that of hearing, though the
evidence of their possessing the sense to an acute degree is readily
attainable. A German naturalist inferred, from the fact of the nerve
corresponding to the olfactory nerve in man being distributed to the
antennæ, in insects, that the antennæ were the organs of smell in them.
Cuvier and others suggest that a similar arrangement may exist in the
crustacea. To satisfy myself whether it was so or not, I lately
dissected a small lobster, and was delighted to find that the first pair
of nerves actually went to the antennæ, and gave positive support to the
opinion mentioned. I state this, not to claim credit for ascertaining
the truth or inaccuracies of a suggestion, but with a view of inviting
the reader to do the same in all cases of doubt. Where it is possible
to refer to _nature_ for the actual condition of facts, learned
_authorities_ give me no uneasiness. If I find that the structure bears
out their opinions, it is more satisfactory; when it convicts them of
absurdity, it saves much fruitless reading, as well as the trouble of
shaking off prejudices.

The first time my attention was called to the extreme acuteness of sight
possessed by these animals, was during a walk along the flats of Long
Island, reaching towards Governor's Island, in New York, A vast number
of the small land-crabs, called fiddlers by the boys (_gecarcinus_),
occupy burrows or caves dug in the marshy soil, whence they come out and
go for some distance, either in search of food or to sun themselves.
Long before I approached close enough to see their forms with
distinctness, they were scampering towards their holes, into which they
plunged with a tolerable certainty of escape--these retreats being of
considerable depth, and often communicating with each other, as well as
nearly filled with water. On endeavouring cautiously to approach some
others, it was quite amusing to observe their vigilance--to see them
slowly change position, and, from lying extended in the sun, beginning
to gather themselves up for a start, should it prove necessary: at
length standing up, as it were, on tiptoe, and raising their
pedunculated eyes as high as possible. One quick step on the part of the
individual approaching was enough--away they would go, with a celerity
which must appear surprising to any one who had not previously
witnessed it. What is more remarkable, they possess the power of moving
equally well with any part of the body foremost; so that, when
endeavouring to escape, they will suddenly dart off to one side or the
other, without turning round, and thus elude pursuit. My observations
upon the crustaceous animals have extended through many years, and in
very various situations; and for the sake of making the general view of
their qualities more satisfactory, I will go on to state what I remarked
of some of the genera and species in the West Indies, where they are
exceedingly numerous and various. The greater proportion of the genera
feed on animal matter, especially after decomposition has begun: a large
number are exclusively confined to the deep waters, and approach the
shoals and lands only during the spawning season. Many live in the sea,
but daily pass many hours upon the rocky shores for the pleasure of
basking in the sun; others live in marshy or moist ground, at a
considerable distance from the water, and feed principally on vegetable
food, especially the sugar-cane, of which they are extremely
destructive. Others, again, reside habitually on the hills or mountains,
and visit the sea only once a year, for the purpose of depositing their
eggs in the sand. All those which reside in burrows made in moist
ground, and those coming daily on the rocks to bask in the sun,
participate in about an equal degree in the qualities of vigilance and
swiftness. Many a breathless race have I run in vain, attempting to
intercept them, and prevent their escaping into the sea. Many an hour of
cautious and solicitous endeavour to steal upon them unobserved, has
been frustrated by their long-sighted watchfulness; and several times,
when, by extreme care and cunning approaches, I have actually succeeded
in getting between a fine specimen and the sea, and had full hope of
driving him farther inland, have all my anticipations been ruined by the
wonderful swiftness of their flight, or the surprising facility with
which they would dart off in the very opposite direction, at the very
moment I felt almost sure of my prize. One day, in particular, I saw on
a flat rock, which afforded a fine sunning place, the most beautiful
crab I had ever beheld. It was of the largest size, and would have
covered a large dinner-plate, most beautifully coloured with bright
crimson below, and a variety of tints of blue, purple, and green above:
it was just such a specimen as could not fail to excite all the
solicitude of a collector to obtain. But it was not in the least
deficient in the art of self-preservation: my most careful manoeuvres
proved ineffectual, and all my efforts only enabled me to see enough of
it to augment my regrets to a high degree. Subsequently, I saw a similar
individual in the collection of a resident: this had been killed against
the rocks during a violent hurricane, with very slight injury to its
shell. I offered high rewards to the black people if they would bring me
such a one, but the most expert among them seemed to think it an
unpromising search, as they knew of no way of capturing them. If I had
been supplied with some powder of nux vomica, with which to poison some
meat, I _might_ have succeeded.



The fleet running crab (_cypoda pugilator_), mentioned as living in
burrows dug in a moist soil, and preying chiefly on the sugar-cane, is
justly regarded as one of the most noxious pests that can infest a
plantation. Their burrows extend to a great depth, and run in various
directions; they are also, like those of our fiddlers, nearly full of
muddy water, so that, when these marauders once plump into their dens,
they may be considered as entirely beyond pursuit. Their numbers are so
great, and they multiply in such numbers, as in some seasons to destroy
a large proportion of a sugar crop; and sometimes their ravages,
combined with those of the rats and other plunderers, are absolutely
ruinous to the sea-side planters. I was shown, by the superintendant of
a place thus infested, a great quantity of cane utterly killed by these
creatures, which cut it off in a peculiar manner, in order to suck the
juice; and he assured me that, during that season, the crop would be
two-thirds less than its average, solely owing to the inroads of the
crabs and rats, which, if possible, are still more numerous. It was to
me an irresistible source of amusement to observe the air of spite and
vexation with which he spoke of the crabs: the rats he could shoot,
poison, or drive off for a time with dogs. But the crabs would not eat
his poison, while sugar-cane was growing; the dogs could only chase them
into their holes; and if, in helpless irritation, he sometimes fired his
gun at a cluster of them, the shot only rattled over their shells like
hail against a window. It is truly desirable that some summary mode of
lessening their number could be devised, and it is probable that this
will be best effected by poison, as it may be possible to obtain a bait
sufficiently attractive to ensnare them. Species of this genus are found
in various parts of our country, more especially towards the south.
About Cape May, our friends may have excellent opportunities of testing
the truth of what is said of their swiftness and vigilance.

The land-crab, which is common to many of the West India Islands, is
more generally known as the Jamaica crab, because it has been most
frequently described from observation in that island. Wherever found,
they have all the habit of living, during great part of the year, in the
highlands, where they pass the day-time concealed in huts, cavities, and
under stones, and come out at night for their food. They are remarkable
for collecting in vast bodies, and marching annually to the sea-side, in
order to deposit their eggs in the sand; and this accomplished, they
return to their former abodes, if undisturbed. They commence their march
in the night, and move in the most direct line towards the destined
point. So obstinately do they pursue this route, that they will not turn
out of it for any obstacle that can possibly be surmounted. During the
day-time they skulk and lie hid as closely as possible, but thousands
upon thousands of them are taken for the use of the table, by whites and
blacks, as on their seaward march they are very fat, and of fine
flavour. On the homeward journey, those that have escaped capture are
weak, exhausted, and unfit for use. Before dismissing the crabs, I must
mention one which was a source of much annoyance to me at first, and of
considerable interest afterwards, from the observation of its habits. At
that time I resided in a house delightfully situated about two hundred
yards from the sea, fronting the setting sun, having in clear weather
the lofty mountains of Porto Rico, distant about eighty miles, in view.
Like most of the houses in the island, ours had seen better days, as was
evident from various breaks in the floors, angles rotted off the doors,
sunken sills, and other indications of decay. Our sleeping room, which
was on the lower floor, was especially in this condition; but as the
weather was delightfully warm, a few cracks and openings, though rather
large, did not threaten much inconvenience. Our bed was provided with
that indispensable accompaniment, a musquito bar or curtain, to which we
were indebted for escape from various annoyances. Scarcely had we
extinguished the light, and composed ourselves to rest, when we heard,
in various parts of the room, the most startling noises. It appeared as
if numerous hard and heavy bodies were trailed along the floor; then
they sounded as if climbing up by the chairs and other furniture, and
frequently something like a large stone would tumble down from such
elevations, with a loud noise, followed by a peculiar chirping noise.
What an effect this produced upon entirely inexperienced strangers, may
well be imagined by those who have been suddenly waked up in the dark,
by some unaccountable noise in the room. Finally, these invaders began
to ascend the bed; but happily the musquito bar was securely tucked
under the bed all around, and they were denied access, though their
efforts and tumbles to the floor produced no very comfortable
reflections. Towards day-light they began to retire, and in the morning
no trace of any such visitants could be perceived. On mentioning our
troubles, we were told that this nocturnal disturber was only Bernard
the Hermit, called generally the soldier-crab, perhaps from the peculiar
habit he has of protecting his body by thrusting it into any empty
shell, which he afterwards carries about until he outgrows it, when it
is relinquished for a larger. Not choosing to pass another night quite
so noisily, due care was taken to exclude Monsieur Bernard, whose
knockings were thenceforward confined to the outside of the house. I
baited a large wire rat-trap with some corn-meal, and placed it outside
of the back door, and in the morning found it literally half filled with
these crabs, from the largest-sized shell that could enter the trap,
down to such as were not larger than a hickory-nut. Here was a fine
collection made at once, affording a very considerable variety in the
size and age of the specimens, and the different shells into which they
had introduced themselves.

The soldier or hermit-crab, when withdrawn from his adopted shell,
presents, about the head and claws, a considerable family resemblance to
the lobster. The claws, however, are very short and broad, and the body
covered with hard shell only in that part which is liable to be exposed
or protruded. The posterior or abdominal part of the body is covered
only by a tough skin, and tapers towards a small extremity, furnished
with a sort of hook-like apparatus, enabling it to hold on to its
factitious dwelling. Along the surface of its abdomen, as well as on the
back, there are small projections, apparently intended for the same
purpose. When once fairly in possession of a shell, it would be quite a
difficult matter to pull the crab out, though a very little heat applied
to the shell will quickly induce him to leave it. The shells they select
are taken solely with reference to their suitableness, and hence you may
catch a considerable number of the same species, each of which is in a
different species or genus of shell. The shells commonly used by them,
when of larger size, are those of the whilk, which are much used as an
article of food by the islanders, or the smaller conch [strombus]
shells. The very young hermit-crabs are found in almost every variety of
small shell found on the shores of the Antilles. I have frequently been
amused by ladies eagerly engaged in making collections of these
beautiful little shells, and not dreaming of their being tenanted by a
living animal, suddenly startled, on displaying their acquisitions, by
observing them to be actively endeavouring to escape; or, on introducing
the hand into the reticule to produce a particularly fine specimen, to
receive a smart pinch from the claws of the little hermit. The instant
the shell is closely approached or touched, they withdraw as deeply into
the shell as possible, and the small ones readily escape observation,
but they soon become impatient of captivity, and try to make off. The
species of this genus (_pagurus_) are very numerous, and during the
first part of their lives are all aquatic; that is, they are hatched in
the little pools about the margin of the sea, and remain there until
those that are destined to live on land are stout enough to commence
their travels. The hermit-crabs, which are altogether aquatic, are by no
means so careful to choose the lightest and thinnest shells, as the land
troops. The aquatic soldiers may be seen towing along shells of the most
disproportionate size; but their relatives, who travel over the hills by
moonlight, know that all unnecessary incumbrance of weight should be
avoided. They are as pugnacious and spiteful as any of the crustaceous
class; and when taken, or when they fall and jar themselves
considerably, utter a chirping noise, which is evidently an angry
expression. They are ever ready to bite with their claws, and the pinch
of the larger individuals is quite painful. It is said that, when they
are changing their shells, for the sake of obtaining more commodious
coverings, they frequently fight for possession, which may be true where
two that have forsaken their old shells meet, or happen to make choice
of the same vacant one. It is also said, that one crab is sometimes
forced to give up the shell he is in, should a stronger chance to desire
it. This, as I never saw it, I must continue to doubt; for I cannot
imagine how the stronger could possibly accomplish his purpose, seeing
that the occupant has nothing to do but keep close quarters. The invader
would have no chance of seizing him to pull him out, nor could he do him
any injury by biting upon the surface of his hard claws, the only part
that would be exposed. If it be true that one can dispossess the other,
it must be by some contrivance of which we are still ignorant. These
soldier-crabs feed on a great variety of substances, scarcely refusing
anything that is edible: like the family they belong to, they have a
decided partiality for putrid meats, and the planters accuse them also
of too great a fondness for the sugar-cane. Their excursions are
altogether nocturnal: in the day-time they lie concealed very
effectually in small holes, among stones, or any kind of rubbish, and
are rarely taken notice of, even where hundreds are within a short
distance of each other. The larger soldier-crabs are sometimes eaten by
the blacks, but they are not much sought after even by them, as they are
generally regarded with aversion and prejudice. There is no reason, that
we are aware of, why they should not be as good as many other crabs, but
they certainly are not equally esteemed.


No. IX.

Those who have only lived in forest countries, where vast tracts are
shaded by a dense growth of oak, ash, chestnut, hickory, and other trees
of deciduous foliage, which present the most pleasing varieties of
verdure and freshness, can have but little idea of the effect produced
on the feelings by aged forests of pine, composed in a great degree of a
single species, whose towering summits are crowned with one dark green
canopy, which successive seasons find unchanged, and nothing but death
causes to vary. Their robust and gigantic trunks rise an hundred or more
feet high, in purely proportioned columns, before the limbs begin to
diverge; and their tops, densely clothed with long, bristling foliage,
intermingle so closely as to allow of but slight entrance to the sun.
Hence, the undergrowth of such forests is comparatively slight and thin,
since none but shrubs, and plants that love the shade, can flourish
under this perpetual exclusion of the animating and invigorating rays of
the great exciter of the vegetable world. Through such forests, and by
the merest foot-paths, in great part, it was my lot to pass many miles
almost every day; and had I not endeavoured to derive some amusement and
instruction from the study of the forest itself, my time would have been
as fatiguing to me, as it was certainly quiet and solemn. But wherever
nature is, and under whatever form she may present herself, enough is
always proffered to fix attention and produce pleasure, if we will
condescend to observe with carefulness. I soon found that even a
pine-forest was far from being devoid of interest, and shall endeavour
to prove this by stating the result of various observations made during
the time I lived in this situation.

The common pitch, or, as it is generally called, Norway pine, grows from
a seed, which is matured in vast abundance in the large cones peculiar
to the pines. This seed is of a rather triangular shape, thick and heavy
at the part by which it grows from the cone, and terminating in a broad
membranous fan or sail, which, when the seeds are shaken out by the
wind, enables them to sail obliquely through the air to great distances.
Should an old corn-field, or other piece of ground, be thrown out of
cultivation for more than one season, it is sown with pine-seeds by the
winds, and the young pines shoot up as closely and compactly as hemp.
They continue to grow in this manner until they become twelve or fifteen
feet high, until their roots begin to encroach on each other, or until
the stoutest and best rooted begin to overtop so as entirely to shade
the smaller. These gradually begin to fail, and finally dry up and
perish, and a similar process is continued until the best trees acquire
room enough to grow without impediment. Even when the young pines have
attained to thirty or forty feet in height, and are as thick as a man's
thigh, they stand so closely together that their lower branches, which
are all dry and dead, are intermingled sufficiently to prevent any one
from passing between the trees, without first breaking these
obstructions away. I have seen such a wood as that just mentioned,
covering an old corn-field, whose ridges were still distinctly to be
traced, and which an old resident informed me he had seen growing in
corn. In a part of this wood, which was not far from my dwelling, I had
a delightful retreat, that served me as a private study or closet,
though enjoying all the advantages of the open air. A road that had once
passed through the field, and was of course more compacted than any
other part, had denied access to the pine-seeds for a certain distance,
while on each side of it they grew with their usual density. The ground
was covered with the soft layer or carpet of dried pine leaves which
gradually and imperceptibly fall throughout the year, making a most
pleasant surface to tread on, and rendering the step perfectly
noiseless. By beating off with a stick all the dried branches that
projected towards the vacant space, I formed a sort of chamber, fifteen
or twenty feet long, which above was canopied by the densely-mingled
branches of the adjacent trees, which altogether excluded or scattered
the rays of the sun, and on all sides was so shut in by the trunks of
the young trees, as to prevent all observation. Hither, during the hot
season, I was accustomed to retire for the purpose of reading or
meditation; and within this deeper solitude, where all was solitary,
very many of the subsequent movements of my life were suggested or

From all I could observe, and all the inquiries I could get answered, it
appeared that this rapidly-growing tree does not attain its full growth
until it is eighty or ninety years old, nor does its time of full health
and vigour much exceed an hundred. Before this time it is liable to the
attacks of insects, but these are of a kind that bore the tender spring
shoots to deposit their eggs therein, and their larvæ appear to live
principally on the sap, which is very abundant, so that the tree is but
slightly injured. But after the pine has attained its acmé, it is
attacked by an insect which deposits its egg in the body of the tree,
and the larva devours its way through the solid substance of the timber;
so that, after a pine has been for one or two seasons subjected to these
depredators, it will be fairly riddled, and, if cut down, is unfit for
any other purpose than burning. Indeed, if delayed too long, it is
poorly fit for firewood, so thoroughly do these insects destroy its
substance. At the same time that one set of insects is engaged in
destroying the body, myriads of others are at work under the bark,
destroying the sap vessels, and the foliage wears a more and more pale
and sickly appearance as the tree declines in vigour. If not cut down,
it eventually dies, becomes leafless, stripped of its bark, and, as the
decay advances, all the smaller branches are broken off; and it stands
with its naked trunk and a few ragged limbs, as if bidding defiance to
the tempest which howls around its head. Under favourable circumstances,
a large trunk will stand in this condition for nearly a century, so
extensive and powerful are its roots, so firm and stubborn the original
knitting of its giant frame. At length some storm, more furious than all
its predecessors, wrenches those ponderous roots from the soil, and
hurls the helpless carcass to the earth, crushing all before it in its
fall. Without the aid of fire, or some peculiarity of situation
favourable to rapid decomposition, full another hundred years will be
requisite to reduce it to its elements, and obliterate the traces of its
existence. Indeed, long after the lapse of more than that period, we
find the heart of the pitch-pine still preserving its original form,
and, from being thoroughly imbued with turpentine, become utterly
indestructible except by fire.

If the proprietor attend to the warnings afforded by the wood-pecker, he
may always cut his pines in time to prevent them from being injured by
insects. The wood-peckers run up and around the trunks, tapping from
time to time with their powerful bill. The bird knows at once by the
sound whether there be insects below or not. If the tree is sound, the
wood-pecker soon forsakes it for another; should he begin to break into
the bark, it is to catch the worm; and such trees are at once to be
marked for the axe. In felling such pines, I found the woodmen always
anxious to avoid letting them strike against neighbouring sound trees,
as they said that the insects more readily attacked an injured tree than
one whose bark was unbroken. The observation is most probably correct;
at least the experience of country folks in such matters is rarely
wrong, though they sometimes give very odd reasons for the processes
they adopt.

A full-grown pine-forest is at all times a grand and majestic object to
one accustomed to moving through it. Those vast and towering columns,
sustaining a waving crown of deepest verdure; those robust and rugged
limbs standing forth at a vast height overhead, loaded with the cones of
various seasons; and the diminutiveness of all surrounding objects
compared with these gigantic children of nature, cannot but inspire
ideas of seriousness, and even of melancholy. But how awful and even
tremendous does such a situation become, when we hear the first wailings
of the gathering storm, as it stoops upon the lofty summits of the pine,
and soon increases to a deep hoarse roaring, as the boughs begin to wave
in the blast, and the whole tree is forced to sway before its power. In
a short time the fury of the wind is at its height, the loftiest trees
bend suddenly before it, and scarce regain their upright position ere
they are again obliged to cower beneath its violence. Then the tempest
literally howls, and amid the tremendous reverberations of thunder, and
the blazing glare of the lightning, the unfortunate wanderer hears
around him the crash of numerous trees hurled down by the storm, and
knows not but the next may be precipitated upon him. More than once have
I witnessed all the grandeur, dread, and desolation of such a scene, and
have always found safety either by seeking as quickly as possible a spot
where there were none but young trees, or, if on a main road, choosing
the most open and exposed situation out of the reach of the large trees.
There, seated on my horse, who seemed to understand the propriety of
such patience, I would quietly remain, however thoroughly drenched,
until the fury of the wind was completely over. To say nothing of the
danger from falling trees, the peril of being struck by the lightning,
which so frequently shivers the loftiest of them, is so great as to
render any attempt to advance at such time highly imprudent.

Like the ox among animals, the pine-tree may be looked upon as one of
the most universally useful of the sons of the forest. For all sorts of
building, for firewood, tar, turpentine, rosin, lamp-black, and a vast
variety of other useful products, this tree is invaluable to man. Nor is
it a pleasing contemplation, to one who knows its usefulness, to observe
to how vast an amount it is annually destroyed in this country, beyond
the proportion that nature can possibly supply. However, we are not
disposed to believe that this evil will ever be productive of very great
injury, especially as coal fuel is becoming annually more extensively
used. Nevertheless, were I the owner of a pine-forest, I should exercise
a considerable degree of care in the selection of the wood for the axe.


No. X.

Among the enemies with which the farmers of a poor or light soil have to
contend, I know of none so truly formidable and injurious as the crows,
whose numbers, cunning, and audacity can scarcely be appreciated, except
by those who have had long-continued and numerous opportunities of
observation. Possessed of the most acute senses, and endowed by nature
with a considerable share of reasoning power, these birds bid defiance
to almost all the contrivances resorted to for their destruction; and
when their numbers have accumulated to vast multitudes, which annually
occurs, it is scarcely possible to estimate the destruction they are
capable of effecting. Placed in a situation where every object was
subjected to close observation, as a source of amusement, it is not
surprising that my attention should be drawn to so conspicuous an object
as the crow; and having once commenced remarking the peculiarities of
this bird, I continued to bestow attention upon it during many years, in
whatever situation it was met with. The thickly-wooded and well-watered
parts of the State of Maryland, as affording them a great abundance of
food, and almost entire security during their breeding season, are
especially infested by these troublesome creatures, so that at some
times of the year they are collected in numbers which would appear
incredible to any one unaccustomed to witness their accumulations.

Individually, the common crow (_corvus corona_) may be compared in
character with the brown or Norway rat, being, like that quadruped,
addicted to all sorts of mischief, destroying the lives of any small
creatures that may fall in its way, plundering with audacity wherever
anything is exposed to its rapaciousness, and triumphing by its cunning
over the usual artifices employed for the destruction of ordinary
noxious animals. Where food is at any time scarce, or the opportunity
for such marauding inviting, there is scarcely a young animal about the
farm-yards safe from the attacks of the crow. Young chickens, ducks,
goslings, and even little pigs, when quite young and feeble, are carried
off by them. They are not less eager to discover the nests of domestic
fowls; and will sit very quietly in sight, at a convenient distance,
until the hen leaves the nest, and then fly down and suck her eggs at
leisure. But none of their tricks excited in me a greater interest, than
the observation of their attempts to rob a hen of her chicks. The crow,
alighting at a little distance from the hen, would advance in an
apparently careless way towards the brood, when the vigilant parent
would bristle up her feathers, and rush at the black rogue to drive him
off. After several such approaches, the hen would become very angry, and
would chase the crow to a greater distance from the brood. This is the
very object the robber has in view, for, as long as the parent keeps
near her young, the crow has very slight chance of success; but as soon
as he can induce her to follow him to a little distance from the brood,
he takes advantage of his wings, and, before she can regain her place,
has flown over her, and seized one of her chickens. When the cock is
present, there is still less danger from such an attack, for chanticleer
shows all his vigilance and gallantry in protecting his tender
offspring, though it frequently happens that the number of hens with
broods renders it impossible for him to extend his care to all. When the
crow tries to carry off a gosling from the mother, it requires more
daring and skill, and is far less frequently successful than in the
former instance. If the gander be in company, which he almost uniformly
is, the crow has his labour in vain. Notwithstanding the advantages of
flight and superior cunning, the honest vigilance and determined bravery
of the former are too much for him. His attempts to approach, however
cautiously conducted, are promptly met, and all his tricks rendered
unavailing, by the fierce movements of the gander, whose powerful blows
the crow seems to be well aware might effectually disable him. The first
time I witnessed such a scene, I was at the side of the creek, and saw
on the opposite shore a goose with her goslings, beset by a crow: from
the apparent alarm of the mother and brood, it seemed to me they must be
in great danger, and I called to the owner of the place, who happened to
be in sight, to inform him of their situation. Instead of going to their
relief, he shouted back to me, to ask if the gander was not there too;
and as soon as he was answered in the affirmative, he bid me be under no
uneasiness, as the crow would find his match. Nothing could exceed the
cool impudence and pertinacity of the crow, who, perfectly regardless of
my shouting, continued to worry the poor gander for an hour, by his
efforts to obtain a nice gosling for his next meal. At length, convinced
of the fruitlessness of his efforts, he flew off to seek some more
easily procurable food. Several crows sometimes unite to plunder the
goose of her young, and are then generally successful, because they are
able to distract the attention of the parents, and lure them farther
from their young.

In the summer the crows disperse in pairs, for the purpose of raising
their young, and then they select lofty trees in the remotest parts of
the forest, upon which, with dry sticks and twigs, they build a large
strong nest, and line it with softer materials. They lay four or five
eggs, and, when they are hatched, feed, attend, and watch over their
young with the most zealous devotion. Should any one by chance pass near
the nest while the eggs are still unhatched, or the brood are very
young, the parents keep close, and neither by the slightest movement nor
noise betray their presence. But if the young are fledged, and beginning
to take their first lessons in flying, the approach of a man, especially
if armed with a gun, calls forth all their cunning and solicitude. The
young are immediately placed in the securest place at hand, where the
foliage is thickest, and remain perfectly motionless and quiet. Not so
the alarmed parents, both of which fly nearer and nearer to the hunter,
uttering the most discordant screams, with an occasional peculiar note,
which seems intended to direct or warn their young. So close do they
approach, and so clamorous are they as the hunter endeavours to get a
good view of them on the tree, that he is almost uniformly persuaded the
young crows are also concealed there; but he does not perceive, as he is
cautiously trying to get within gun-shot, that they are moving from tree
to tree, and at each remove are farther and farther from the place where
the young are hid. After continuing this trick until it is impossible
that the hunter can retain any idea of the situation of the young ones,
the parents cease their distressing outcries, fly quietly to the most
convenient lofty tree, and calmly watch the movements of their
disturber. Now and then they utter a loud quick cry, which seems
intended to bid their offspring lie close and keep quiet, and it is very
generally the case that they escape all danger by their obedience. An
experienced crow-killer watches eagerly for the tree where the crows
first start from; and if this can be observed, he pays no attention to
their clamours, nor pretence of throwing themselves in his way, as he is
satisfied they are too vigilant to let him get a shot at them; and if he
can see the young, he is tolerably sure of them all, because of their
inability to fly or change place readily.

The time of the year in which the farmers suffer most from them, is in
the spring, before their enormous congregations disperse, and when they
are rendered voracious by the scantiness of their winter fare. Woe
betide the corn-field which is not closely watched, when the young grain
begins to shoot above the soil! If not well guarded, a host of these
marauders will settle upon it at the first light of the dawn, and before
the sun has risen far above the horizon, will have plundered every shoot
of the germinating seed, by first drawing it skilfully from the moist
earth by the young stalk, and then swallowing the grain. The negligent
or careless planter, who does not visit his fields before breakfast,
finds, on his arrival, that he must either replant his corn, or
relinquish hopes of a crop; and, without the exertion of due vigilance,
he may be obliged to repeat this process twice or thrice the same
season. Where the crows go to rob a field in this way, they place one or
more sentinels, according to circumstances, in convenient places; and
these are exceedingly vigilant, uttering a single warning call, which
puts the whole to flight the instant there is the least appearance of
danger or interruption. Having fixed their sentinels, they begin
regularly at one part of the field, and pursuing the rows along, pulling
up each shoot in succession, and biting off the corn at the root. The
green shoots thus left along the rows, as if they had been arranged with
care, offer a melancholy memorial of the work which has been effected by
these cunning and destructive plunderers.

Numerous experiments have been made, where the crows are thus
injurious, to avert their ravages; and the method I shall now relate I
have seen tried with the most gratifying success. In a large tub a
portion of tar and grease were mixed, so as to render the tar
sufficiently thin and soft, and to this was added a portion of slacked
lime in powder, and the whole stirred until thoroughly incorporated. The
seed-corn was then thrown in, and stirred with the mixture until each
grain received a uniform coating. The corn was then dropped in the
hills, and covered as usual. This treatment was found to retard the
germination about three days, as the mixture greatly excludes moisture
from the grain. But the crows did no injury to the field: they pulled up
a small quantity in different parts of the planting, to satisfy
themselves it was all alike; upon becoming convinced of which, they
quietly left it for some less carefully managed grounds, where pains had
not been taken to make all the corn so nauseous and bitter.


No. XI.

It rarely happens that any of the works of nature are wholly productive
of evil; and even the crows, troublesome as they are, contribute in a
small degree to the good of the district they frequent. Thus, though
they destroy eggs and young poultry, plunder the corn-fields, and carry
off whatever may serve for food, they also rid the surface of the earth
of a considerable quantity of carrion, and a vast multitude of insects
and their destructive larvæ. The crows are very usefully employed when
they alight upon newly-ploughed fields, and pick up great numbers of
those large and long-lived worms which are so destructive to the roots
of all growing vegetables; and they are scarcely less so when they
follow the seine-haulers along the shores, and pick up the small fishes,
which would otherwise be left to putrefy, and load the air with
unpleasant vapours. Nevertheless, they become far more numerous in some
parts of the country than is at all necessary to the good of the
inhabitants, and whoever would devise a method of lessening their
numbers suddenly, would certainly be doing a service to the community.

About a quarter of a mile above the house I lived in, on Curtis's creek,
the shore was a sand-bank or bluff, twenty or thirty feet high, crowned
with a dense young pine-forest to its very edge. Almost directly
opposite, the shore was flat, and formed a point, extending, in the form
of a broad sand-bar, for a considerable distance into the water; and,
when the tide was low, this flat afforded a fine level space, to which
nothing could approach in either direction without being easily seen. At
a short distance from the water, a young swamp-wood of maple, gum, oaks,
etc. extended back towards some higher ground. As the sun descended, and
threw his last rays in one broad sheet of golden effulgence over the
crystal mirror of the waters, innumerable companies of crows arrived
daily, and settled on this point, for the purpose of drinking, picking
up gravel, and uniting in one body prior to retiring for the night to
their accustomed dormitory. The trees adjacent and all the shore would
be literally blackened by these plumed marauders, while their increasing
outcries, chattering, and screams, were almost deafening. It certainly
seems that they derive great pleasure from their social habits; and I
often amused myself by thinking the uninterrupted clatter which was kept
up, as the different gangs united with the main body, was produced by
the recital of the adventures they had encountered during their last
marauding excursions. As the sun became entirely sunk below the horizon,
the grand flock crossed to the sand-bluff on the opposite side, where
they generally spent a few moments in picking up a farther supply of
gravel, and then, arising in dense and ample column, they sought their
habitual roost in the deep entanglements of the distant pines. This
daily visit to the point, so near to my dwelling, and so accessible by
means of the skiff, led me to hope that I should have considerable
success in destroying them. Full of such anticipations, I loaded two
guns, and proceeded in my boat to the expected place of action, previous
to the arrival of the crows. My view was to have my boat somewhere about
half-way between the two shores, and (as they never manifested much fear
of boats) to take my chance of firing upon the main body as they were
flying over my head to the opposite side of the river. Shortly after I
had gained my station, the companies began to arrive, and everything
went on as usual. But whether they suspected some mischief from seeing a
boat so long stationary in their vicinity, or could see and distinguish
the guns in the boat, I am unable to say: the fact was, however, that
when they set out to fly over, they passed at an elevation which secured
them from my artillery effectually, although, on ordinary occasions,
they were in the habit of flying over me at a height of not more than
twenty or thirty feet. I returned home without having had a shot, but
resolved to try if I could not succeed better the next day. The same
result followed the experiment, and when I fired at one gang, which it
appeared possible to attain, the instant the gun was discharged the
crows made a sort of halt, descended considerably, flying in circles,
and screaming most vociferously, as if in contempt or derision. Had I
been prepared for this, a few of them might have suffered for their
bravado. But my second gun was in the bow of the boat, and before I
could get to it the black gentry had risen to their former security.
While we were sitting at tea that evening, a black came to inform me
that a considerable flock of crows, which had arrived too late to join
the great flock, had pitched in the young pines, not a great way from
the house, and at a short distance from the road-side. We quickly had
the guns in readiness, and I scarcely could restrain my impatience until
it should be late enough and dark enough to give us a chance of success.
Without thinking of anything but the great number of the crows, and
their inability to fly to advantage in the night, my notions of the
numbers we should bring home were extravagant enough, and I only
regretted that we might be obliged to leave some behind. At length, led
by the black boy, we sallied forth, and soon arrived in the vicinity of
this temporary and unusual roost; and now the true character of the
enterprise began to appear. We were to leave the road, and penetrate
several hundred yards among the pines, whose proximity to each other,
and the difficulty of moving between which, on account of the dead
branches, has been heretofore stated. Next, we had to be careful not to
alarm the crows before we were ready to act, and at the same time were
to advance with cocked guns in our hands. The only way of moving
forwards at all, I found to be that of turning my shoulders as much as
possible to the dead branches, and breaking my way as gently as I could.
At last we reached the trees upon which the crows were roosting; but as
the foliage of the young pines was extremely dense, and the birds were
full forty feet above the ground, it was out of the question to
distinguish where the greatest number were situated. Selecting the trees
which appeared by the greater darkness of their summits to be most
heavily laden with our game, my companion and I pulled our triggers at
the same moment. The report was followed by considerable outcries from
the crows, by a heavy shower of pine twigs and leaves upon which the
shot had taken effect, and a deafening roar, caused by the sudden rising
on the wing of the alarmed sleepers. _One_ crow at length fell near me,
which was wounded too badly to fly or retain his perch, and as the flock
had gone entirely off, with this one crow did I return, rather
crest-fallen, from my grand nocturnal expedition. This crow, however,
afforded me instructive employment and amusement, during the next day,
in the dissection of its nerves and organs of sense; and I know not that
I ever derived more pleasure from any anatomical examination, than I did
from the dissection of its internal ear. The extent and convolutions of
its semi-circular canals show how highly the sense of hearing is
perfected in these creatures; and those who wish to be convinced of the
truth of what we have stated in relation to them, may still see this
identical crow skull in the Baltimore Museum, to which I presented it
after finishing the dissection. At least, I saw it there a year or two
since; though I little thought, when employed in examining, or even when
I last saw it, that it would ever be the subject of such a reference,
"in a printed book."

Not easily disheartened by preceding failures, I next resolved to try to
outwit the crows, and for this purpose prepared a long line, to which a
very considerable number of lateral lines were tied, having each a very
small fish-hook at the end. Each of these hooks was baited with a single
grain of corn, so cunningly put on, that it seemed impossible that the
grain could be taken up without the hook being swallowed with it. About
four o'clock, in order to be in full time, I rowed up to the sandy
point, made fast my main line to a bush, and extending it toward the
water, pegged it down at the other end securely in the sand. I next
arranged all my baited lines, and then, covering them all nicely with
sand, left nothing exposed but the bait. This done, I scattered a
quantity of corn all around, to render the baits as little liable to
suspicion as possible. After taking a final view of the arrangement,
which seemed a very hopeful one, I pulled my boat gently homeward, to
wait the event of my solicitude for the capture of the crows. As usual,
they arrived in thousands, blackened the sand beach, chattered,
screamed, and fluttered about in great glee, and finally sailed over the
creek and away to their roost, without having left a solitary
unfortunate to pay for having meddled with my baited hooks. I jumped
into the skiff, and soon paid a visit to my unsuccessful snare. The
corn was all gone; the very hooks were all bare; and it was evident that
some other expedient must be adopted before I could hope to succeed. Had
I caught but one or two _alive_, it was my intention to have employed
them to procure the destruction of others, in a manner I shall hereafter


No. XII.

Had I succeeded in obtaining some living crows, they were to be employed
in the following manner: After having made a sort of concealment of
brushwood within good gun-shot distance, the crows were to be fastened
by their wings on their backs between two pegs, yet not so closely as to
prevent them from fluttering or struggling. The other crows, who are
always very inquisitive where their species is in any trouble, were
expected to light down near the captives, and the latter would certainly
seize the first that came near enough with their claws, and hold on
pertinaciously. This would have produced fighting and screaming in
abundance, and the whole flock might gradually be so drawn into the
fray, as to allow many opportunities of discharging the guns upon them
with full effect. This I have often observed--that when a quarrel or
fight took place in a large flock or gang of crows (a circumstance by no
means infrequent), it seemed soon to extend to the whole; and during the
continuance of their anger all the usual caution of their nature
appeared to be forgotten, allowing themselves at such times to be
approached closely; and, regardless of men, fire-arms, or the fall of
their companions, continuing their wrangling with rancorous obstinacy. A
similar disposition may be produced among them by catching a large owl,
and tying it with a cord of moderate length to the limb of a naked tree
in a neighbourhood frequented by the crows. The owl is one of the few
enemies which the crow has much reason to dread, as it robs the nests of
their young, whenever they are left for the shortest time. Hence,
whenever crows discover an owl in the day-time, like many other birds,
they commence an attack upon it, screaming most vociferously, and
bringing together all of their species within hearing. Once this clamour
has fairly begun, and their passions are fully aroused, there is little
danger of their being scared away, and the chance of destroying them by
shooting is continued as long as the owl remains uninjured. But one such
opportunity presented during my residence where crows were abundant, and
this was unfortunately spoiled by the eagerness of one of the gunners,
who, in his eagerness to demolish one of the crows, fixed upon some that
were most busy with the owl, and killed it instead of its disturbers,
which at once ended the sport. When the crows leave the roost, at early
dawn, they generally fly to a naked or leafless tree in the nearest
field, and there plume themselves and chatter until the day-light is
sufficiently clear to show all objects with distinctness. Of this
circumstance I have taken advantage several times, to get good shots at
them in this way. During the day-time, having selected a spot within
proper distance of the tree frequented by them in the morning, I have
built with brushwood and pine-bushes a thick, close screen, behind which
one or two persons might move securely without being observed. Proper
openings through which to level the guns were also made, as the
slightest stir or noise could not be made, at the time of action,
without a risk of rendering all the preparations fruitless. The guns
were all in order and loaded before going to bed, and at an hour or two
before day-light we repaired quietly to the field, and stationed
ourselves behind the screen, where, having mounted our guns at the
loop-holes, to be in perfect readiness, we waited patiently for the
day-break. Soon after the gray twilight of the dawn began to displace
the darkness, the voice of one of our expected visitants would be heard
from the distant forest, and shortly after a single crow would slowly
sail towards the solitary tree, and settle on its very summit. Presently
a few more would arrive singly, and in a little while small flocks
followed. Conversation among them is at first rather limited to
occasional salutations, but as the flock begins to grow numerous, it
becomes general and very animated, and by this time all that may be
expected on this occasion have arrived. This may be known, also, by
observing one or more of them descend to the ground, and if the gunners
do not now make the best of the occasion, it will soon be lost, as the
whole gang will presently sail off, scattering as they go. However, we
rarely waited till there was a danger of their departure, but as soon as
the flock had fairly arrived, and were still crowded upon the upper
parts of the tree, we pulled triggers together, aiming at the thickest
of the throng. In this way, by killing and wounding them, with two or
three guns, a dozen or more would be destroyed. It was of course
needless to expect to find a similar opportunity in the same place for a
long time afterwards, as those which escaped had too good memories to
return to so disastrous a spot. By ascertaining other situations at
considerable distances, we could every now and then obtain similar
advantages over them.

About the years 1800-1-2-3-4, the crows were so vastly accumulated and
destructive in the State of Maryland, that the government, to hasten
their diminution, received their heads in payment of taxes, at the price
of three cents each. The store-keepers bought them of the boys and
shooters, who had no taxes to pay, at a rather lower rate, or exchanged
powder and shot for them. This measure caused a great havoc to be kept
up among them, and in a few years so much diminished the grievance, that
the price was withdrawn. Two modes of shooting them in considerable
numbers were followed, and with great success: the one, that of killing
them while on the wing towards the roost; and the other, attacking them
in the night, when they have been for some hours asleep. I have already
mentioned the regularity with which vast flocks move from various
quarters of the country to their roosting-places every afternoon, and
the uniformity of the route they pursue. In cold weather, when all the
small bodies of water are frozen, and they are obliged to protract their
flight towards the bays or sea, their return is a work of considerable
labour, especially should a strong wind blow against them: at this
season, also, being rather poorly fed, they are of necessity less
vigorous. Should the wind be adverse, they fly as near the earth as
possible, and of this the shooters, at the time I allude to, took
advantage. A large number would collect on such an afternoon, and
station themselves close along the foot-way of a high bank, over which
the crows were in the habit of flying; and as they were in a great
degree screened from sight as the flock flew over, keeping as low as
possible, because of the wind, their shots were generally very
effectual. The stronger was the wind, the greater was their success. The
crows that were not injured found it very difficult to rise, and those
that diverged laterally only came nearer to gunners stationed in
expectation of such movements. The flocks were several hours in passing
over; and as there was generally a considerable interval between each
company of considerable size, the last arrived, unsuspicious of what had
been going on, and the shooters had time to recharge their arms. But the
grand harvest of crow heads was derived from the invasion of their
dormitories, which are well worthy a particular description, and should
be visited by every one who wishes to form a proper idea of the number
of these birds that may be accumulated in a single district. The roost
is most commonly the densest pine-thicket that can be found, generally
at no great distance from some river, bay, or other sheet of water,
which is the last to freeze, or rarely is altogether frozen. To such a
roost the crows, which are, during the day-time, scattered over perhaps
more than a hundred miles of circumference, wing their way every
afternoon, and arrive shortly after sunset. Endless columns pour in from
various quarters, and as they arrive pitch upon their accustomed
perches, crowding closely together for the benefit of the warmth and the
shelter afforded by the thick foliage of the pine. The trees are
literally bent by their weight, and the ground is covered for many feet
in depth by their dung, which, by its gradual fermentation, must also
tend to increase the warmth of the roost. Such roosts are known to be
thus occupied for years, beyond the memory of individuals; and I know of
one or two which the oldest residents in the quarter state to have been
known to their grandfathers, and probably had been resorted to by the
crows during several ages previous. There is one of great age and
magnificent extent in the vicinity of Rock Creek, an arm of the
Patapsco. They are sufficiently numerous on the rivers opening into the
Chesapeake, and are everywhere similar in their general aspect. Wilson
has signalised such a roost at no great distance from Bristol, Pa.; and
I know by observation that not less than a million of crows sleep there
nightly during the winter season.

To gather crow heads from the roost, a very large party was made up,
proportioned to the extent of surface occupied by the dormitory. Armed
with double-barrelled and duck guns, which threw a large charge of shot,
the company was divided into small parties, and these took stations,
selected during the day-time, so as to surround the roost as nearly as
possible. A dark night was always preferred, as the crows could not,
when alarmed, fly far, and the attack was delayed until full midnight.
All being at their posts, the firing was commenced by those who were
most advantageously posted, and followed up successively by the others,
as the affrighted crows sought refuge in their vicinity. On every side
the carnage then raged fiercely, and there can scarcely be conceived a
more forcible idea of the horrors of a battle, than such a scene
afforded. The crows screaming with fright and the pain of wounds; the
loud deep roar produced by the raising of their whole number in the air;
the incessant flashing and thundering of the guns; and the shouts of
their eager destroyers, all produced an effect which can never be
forgotten by any one who has witnessed it, nor can it well be adequately
comprehended by those who have not. Blinded by the blaze of the powder,
and bewildered by the thicker darkness that ensues, the crows rise and
settle again at a short distance, without being able to withdraw from
the field of danger, and the sanguinary work is continued until the
shooters are fatigued, or the approach of day-light gives the survivors
a chance of escape. Then the work of collecting the heads from the dead
and wounded began, and this was a task of considerable difficulty, as
the wounded used their utmost efforts to conceal and defend themselves.
The bill and half the front of the skull were cut off together, and
strung in sums for the tax-gatherer, and the product of the night
divided according to the nature of the party formed. Sometimes the
great mass of shooters were hired for the night, and received no share
of scalps, having their ammunition provided by the employers: other
parties were formed of friends and neighbours, who clubbed for the
ammunition, and shared equally in the result.

During hard winters the crows suffer greatly, and perish in considerable
numbers from hunger. When starved severely, the poor wretches will
swallow bits of leather, rope, rags, in short, anything that appears to
promise the slightest relief. Multitudes belonging to the Bristol roost
perished during the winter of 1828-9 from this cause. All the
water-courses were solidly frozen, and it was distressing to observe
these starvelings every morning winging their weary way towards the
shores of the sea, in hopes of food, and again toiling homewards in the
afternoon, apparently scarce able to fly.

In speaking of destroying crows, we have never adverted to the use of
poison, which in their case is wholly inadmissible, on this
account--where crows are common, hogs generally run at large, and to
poison the crows would equally poison them: the crows would die, and
fall to the ground, where they would certainly be eaten by the hogs.

Crows, when caught young, learn to talk plainly, if pains be taken to
repeat certain phrases to them, and they become exceedingly impudent and
troublesome. Like all of their tribe, they will steal and hide silver or
other bright objects, of which they can make no possible use.


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