Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 9, No. 54, April, 1862
Part 2 out of 5
German words undergo, with the multitude of terms in common use derived
from the Gothic, Greek, Latin, and Italian, give it almost the character
of a different language. It was Hebel's mother-tongue, and his poetic
faculty always returned to its use with a fresh delight which insured
success. His _German_ poems are inferior in all respects.
Let us first glance at the poet's life,--a life uneventful, perhaps, yet
interesting from the course of its development. He was born in Basle,
in May, 1760, in the house of Major Iselin, where both his father and
mother were at service. The former, a weaver by trade, afterwards became
a soldier, and accompanied the Major to Flanders, France, and Corsica.
He had picked up a good deal of stray knowledge on his campaigns, and
had a strong natural taste for poetry. The qualities of the son were
inherited from him rather than from the mother, of whom we know nothing
more than that she was a steady, industrious person. The parents lived
during the winter in the little village of Hausen, in the Black Forest,
but with the approach of spring returned to Basle for their summer
service in Major Iselin's house.
The boy was but a year old when his father died, and the discipline of
such a restless spirit as he exhibited in early childhood seems to have
been a task almost beyond the poor widow's powers. An incorrigible
spirit of mischief possessed him. He was an arrant scape-grace,
plundering cupboards, gardens, and orchards, lifting the gates of
mill-races by night, and playing a thousand other practical and not
always innocent jokes. Neither counsel nor punishment availed, and
the entire weight of his good qualities, as a counterbalance, barely
sufficed to prevent him from losing the patrons whom his bright,
eager, inquisitive mind attracted. Something of this was undoubtedly
congenital, and there are indications that the strong natural impulse,
held in check only by a powerful will and a watchful conscience, was the
torment of his life. In his later years, when he filled the posts of
Ecclesiastical Counsellor and Professor in the Gymnasium at Carlsruhe,
the phrenologist Gall, in a scientific _seance_, made an examination of
his head. "A most remarkable development of"----, said Gall, abruptly
breaking off, nor could he be induced to complete the sentence.
Hebel, however, frankly exclaimed,--"You certainly mean the thievish
propensity. I know I have it by nature, for I continually feel its
suggestions." What a picture is presented by this confession! A pure,
honest, and honorable life, won by a battle with evil desires, which,
commencing with birth, ceased their assaults only at the brink of the
grave! A daily struggle, and a daily victory!
Hebel lost his mother in his thirteenth year, but was fortunate in
possessing generous patrons, who contributed enough to the slender means
he inherited to enable him to enter the Gymnasium at Carlsruhe. Leaving
this institution with the reputation of a good classical scholar, he
entered the University of Erlangen as a student of theology. Here his
jovial, reckless temperament, finding a congenial atmosphere, so got the
upperhand that he barely succeeded in passing the necessary examination,
in 1780. At the end of two years, during which time he supported himself
as a private tutor, he was ordained, and received a meagre situation
as teacher in the Academy at Loerrach, with a salary of one hundred and
forty dollars a year! Laboring patiently in this humble position for
eight years, he was at last rewarded by being transferred to the
Gymnasium at Carlsruhe, with the rank of Sub-Deacon. Hither, the
Markgraf Frederick of Baden, attracted by the warmth, simplicity, and
genial humor of the man, came habitually to listen to his sermons. He
found himself, without seeking it, in the path of promotion, and his
life thenceforth was a series of sure and moderate successes. His
expectations, indeed, were so humble that they were always exceeded by
his rewards. When Baden became a Grand Duchy, with a constitutional form
of government, it required much persuasion to induce him to accept
the rank of Prelate, with a seat in the Upper House. His friends were
disappointed, that, with his readiness and fluent power of speech,
he took so little part in the legislative proceedings. To one who
reproached him for this timidity he naively wrote,--"Oh, you have a
right to talk: you are the son of Pastor N. in X. Before you were twelve
years old, you heard yourself called _Mr._ Gottlieb; and when you went
with your father down the street, and the judge or a notary met you,
they took off their hats, you waiting for your father to return the
greeting, before you even lifted your cap. But I, as you well know,
grew up as the son of a poor widow in Hausen; and when I accompanied my
mother to Schopfheim or Basle, and we happened to meet a notary, she
commanded, 'Peter, jerk your cap off, there's a gentleman!'--but when
the judge or the counsellor appeared, she called out to me, when they
were twenty paces off, 'Peter, stand still where you are, and off with
your cap quick, the Lord Judge is comin'!' Now you can easily
imagine how I feel, when I recall those times,--and I recall them
often,--sitting in the Chamber among Barons, Counsellors of State,
Ministers, and Generals, with Counts and Princes of the reigning House
before me." Hebel may have felt that rank is but the guinea-stamp, but
he never would have dared to speak it out with the defiant independence
of Burns. Socially, however, he was thoroughly democratic in his tastes;
and his chief objection to accepting the dignity of Prelate was the fear
that it might restrict his intercourse with humbler friends.
His ambition appears to have been mainly confined to his theological
labors, and he never could have dreamed that his after-fame was to rest
upon a few poems in a rough mountain-dialect, written to beguile his
intense longing for the wild scenery of his early home. After his
transfer to Carlsruhe, he remained several years absent from the Black
Forest; and the pictures of its dark hills, its secluded valleys, and
their rude, warm-hearted, and unsophisticated inhabitants, became more
and more fresh and lively in his memory. Distance and absence turned the
quaint dialect to music, and out of this mild home-sickness grew the
Alemannic poems. A healthy oyster never produces a pearl.
These poems, written in the years 1801 and 1802, were at first
circulated in manuscript among the author's friends. He resisted the
proposal to collect and publish them, until the prospect of pecuniary
advantage decided him to issue an anonymous edition. The success of
the experiment was so positive that in the course of five years four
editions appeared,--a great deal for those days. Not only among his
native Alemanni, and in Baden and Wuertemberg, where the dialect was
more easily understood, but from all parts of Germany, from poets and
scholars, came messages of praise and appreciation. Jean Paul (Richter)
was one of Hebel's first and warmest admirers. "Our Alemannic poet," he
wrote, "has life and feeling for everything,--the open heart, the open
arms of love; and every star and every flower are human in his sight....
In other, better words,--the evening-glow of a lovely, peaceful soul
slumbers upon all the hills he bids arise; for the flowers of poetry he
substitutes the flower-goddess Poetry herself; he sets to his lips the
Swiss Alp-horn of youthful longing and joy, while pointing with the
other hand to the sunset-gleam of the lofty glaciers, and dissolved
in prayer, as the sound of the chapel-bells is flung down from the
Contrast this somewhat confused rhapsody with the clear, precise, yet
genial words wherewith Goethe welcomed the new poet. He instantly
seized, weighed in the fine balance of his ordered mind, and valued with
nice discrimination, those qualities of Hebel's genius which had but
stirred the splendid chaos of Richter with an emotion of vague delight.
"The author of these poems," says he, in the Jena "Literaturzeitung,"
(1804,) "is about to achieve a place of his own on the German Parnassus.
His talent manifests itself in two opposite directions. On the one hand,
he observes with a fresh, cheerful glance those objects of Nature which
express their life in positive existence, in growth and in motion,
(objects which we are accustomed to call _lifeless_,) and thereby
approaches the field of descriptive poetry; yet he succeeds, by his
happy personifications, in lifting his pictures to a loftier plane of
Art. On the other hand, he inclines to the didactic and the allegorical;
but here, also, the same power of personification comes to his aid, and
as, in the one case, he finds a soul for his bodies, so, in the other,
he finds a body for his souls. As the ancient poets, and others who have
been developed through a plastic sentiment for Art, introduce
loftier spirits, related to the gods,--such as nymphs, dryads, and
hamadryads,--in the place of rocks, fountains, and trees: so the author
transforms these objects into peasants, and countrifies [_verbauert_]
the universe in the most _naive_, quaint, and genial manner, until the
landscape, in which we nevertheless always recognize the human figure,
seems to become one with man in the cheerful enchantment exercised upon
This is entirely correct, as a poetic characterization. Hebel, however,
possesses the additional merit--no slight one, either--of giving
faithful expression to the thoughts, emotions, and passions of the
simple people among whom his childhood was passed. The hearty native
kindness, the tenderness, hidden under a rough exterior, the lively,
droll, unformed fancy, the timidity and the boldness of love, the
tendency to yield to temptation, and the unfeigned piety of the
inhabitants of the Black Forest, are all reproduced in his poems. To say
that they teach, more or less directly, a wholesome morality, is but
indifferent praise; for morality is the cheap veneering wherewith
would-be poets attempt to conceal the lack of the true faculty. We
prefer to let our readers judge for themselves concerning this feature
of Hebel's poetry.
The Alemannic dialect, we have said, is at first harsh to the ear.
It requires, indeed, not a little practice, to perceive its especial
beauties; since these consist in certain quaint, playful inflections and
elisions, which, like the speech of children, have a fresh, natural,
simple charm of their own. The changes of pronunciation, in German
words, are curious. _K_ becomes a light guttural _ch_, and a great
number of monosyllabic words--especially those ending in _ut_ and
_ueh_--receive a peculiar twist from the introduction of _e_ or _ei_:
as _gut, frueh_, which become _guet, frueeih_. This seems to be a
characteristic feature of the South-German dialects, though in none is
it so pronounced as in the Alemannic. The change of _ist_ into _isch,
hast_ into _hesch, ich_ into _i, dich_ into _de_, etc., is much more
widely spread, among the peasantry, and is readily learned, even by the
foreign reader. But a good German scholar would be somewhat puzzled by
the consolidation of several abbreviated words into a single one, which
occurs in almost every Alemannic sentence: for instance, in _woni_ he
would have some difficulty in recognizing _wo ich; sagene_ does not
suggest _sage ihnen_, nor _uffeme, auf einem_.
These singularities of the dialect render the translation of Hebel's
poems into a foreign language a work of great difficulty. In the absence
of any English dialect which possesses corresponding features, the
peculiar quaintness and raciness which they confer must inevitably be
lost. Fresh, wild, and lovely as the Schwarzwald heather, they are
equally apt to die in transplanting. How much they lose by being
converted into classical German was so evident to us (fancy, "Scots who
have with Wallace bled"!) that we at first shrank from the experiment of
reproducing them in a language still farther removed from the original.
Certainly, classical English would not answer; the individual soul of
the poems could never be recognized in such a garb. The tongue of Burns
can be spoken only by a born Scot; and our Yankee, which is rather a
grotesque English than a dialect, is unfortunately so associated
with the coarse and the farcical--Lowell's little poem of "'Zekel's
Courtship" being the single exception--that it seems hardly adapted to
the simple and tender fancies of Hebel. Like the comedian whose one
serious attempt at tragic acting was greeted with roars of laughter, as
an admirable burlesque, the reader might, in such a case, persist in
seeing fun where sentiment was intended.
In this dilemma, it occurred to us that the common, rude form of the
English language, as it is spoken by the uneducated everywhere, without
reference to provincial idioms, might possibly be the best medium.
It offers, at least, the advantage of simplicity, of a directness
of expression which overlooks grammatical rules, of natural pathos,
even,--and therefore, so far as these traits go, may reproduce them
without detracting seriously from the original. Those other qualities of
the poems which spring from the character of the people of whom and
for whom they were written must depend, for their recognition, on the
sympathetic insight of the reader. We can only promise him the utmost
fidelity in the translation, having taken no other liberty than the
substitution of common idiomatic phrases, peculiar to our language,
for corresponding phrases in the other. The original metre, in every
instance, has been strictly adhered to.
The poems, only fifty-nine in number, consist principally of short songs
or pastorals, and narratives. The latter are written in hexameter, but
by no means classic in form. It is a rough, irregular metre, in which
the trochees preponderate over the dactyls: many of the lines, in fact,
would not bear a critical scansion. We have not scrupled to imitate this
irregularity, as not inconsistent with the plain, ungrammatical speech
of the characters introduced, and the homely air of even the most
imaginative passages. The opening poem is a charmingly wayward idyl,
called "The Meadow," (_Die Wiese_,) the name of a mountain-stream,
which, rising in the Feldberg, the highest peak of the Black Forest,
flows past Hausen, Hebel's early home, on its way to the Rhine. An
extract from it will illustrate what Jean Paul calls the "hazardous
boldness" of Hebel's personifications:--
Beautiful "Meadow," daughter o' Feldberg, I
welcome and greet you.
Listen: I'm goin' to sing a song, and all in
Makin' a music beside ye, follerin' wherever
Born unbeknown in the rocky, hidden heart
o' the mountain,
Suckled o' clouds and fogs, and weaned by
the waters o' heaven,
There you slep' like a babblin' baby, a-kep'
in the bed-room,
Secret, and tenderly cared-for: and eye o'
man never saw you,--
Never peeked through a key-hole and saw
my little girl sleepin'
Sound in her chamber o' crystal, rocked in
her cradle o' silver.
Neither an ear o' man ever listened to hear
No, nor her voice all alone to herself
a-laughin' or cryin'.
Only the close little spirits that know every
passage and entrance,
In and out dodgin', they brought ye up and
teached ye to toddle,
Gev' you a cheerful natur', and larnt you
how to be useful:
Yes, and their words didn't go into one ear
and out at the t'other.
Stand on your slippery feet as soon as may
be, and use 'em,
That you do, as you slyly creep from your
chamber o' crystal
Out o' doors, barefoot, and squint up to
heaven, mischievously smilin'.
Oh, but you're pretty, my darlin', y'r eyes
have a beautiful sparkle!
Isn't it nice, out o' doors? you didn't guess
't was so pleasant?
Listen, the leaves is rustlin', and listen, the
"Yes," says you, "but I'm goin' furder, and
can't stay to hear 'm:
Pleasant, truly, 's my way, and more so the
furder I travel."
Only see how spry my little one is at her
"Ketch me!" she shouts, in her fun,--"if
you want me, foller and ketch me!"
Every minute she turns and jumps in another
There, you'll fall from the bank! You see,
she's done it: I said so.
Didn't I say it? And now she wobbles
furder and furder,
Creepin' along on all-fours, then off on her
legs she's a-toddlin',--
Slips in the bushes,--"Hunt me!"--and
there, on a sudden, she peeks out.
Wait, I'm a-comin'! Back o' the trees I
hear her a-callin':
"Guess where I am!"--she's whims of her
own, a plenty, and keeps 'em.
But, as you go, you're growin' han'somer,
bigger, and stronger.
Where the breath o' y'r breathin' falls, the
meadows is greener,
Fresher o' color, right and left, and the
weeds and the grasses
Sprout up as juicy as _can_ be, and posies o'
Blossom as brightly as wink, and bees come
and suck 'em.
Water-wagtails come tiltin',--and, look!
there's the geese o' the village!
All are a-comin' to see you, and all want to
give you a welcome;
Yes, and you're kind o' heart, and you
prattle to all of 'em kindly;
"Come, you well-behaved creeturs, eat and
drink what I bring you,--
I must be off and away: God bless you,
[Footnote A: As the reader of German may be curious to see a specimen
of the original, we give this last passage, which contains, in a brief
compass, many distinctive features of the Alemannic dialect:--
"Nei so lucg me doch, wie cha mi Meiddeli springe!
'Chunnsch mi ueber,' seits und lacht, 'und witt
mi, se hol mi!'
All' wil en andere Weg, und alliwil anderi
Fall mer nit sel Reiuli ab!--Do hemmer's, i sags io--
Hani's denn nit gseit? Doch gauckelet's witers
Groblet uf alle Vieren, und stellt si wieder uf
Schlieft in d' Huerst--iez such mer's eisl--doert
Wart, i chumm! Druf rueefts mer wieder hinter
'Roth wo bin i iez!'--und het si urige Phatest.
Aber wie de gosch, wirsch sichtli groesser und
Wo di liebligen Othern weiht, so faerbt si der Rase
Grueener rechts und links, es stoehn in saftige
Gras und Chrueter uf, es stoehn in frischere Gstalte
Farbigi Blueemli do, und d' Immli choemmen und
'S Wasserstelzli chunnt, und lueg doch,'s Wuli
Alles will di bschauen, und Alles will di bigruesse,
Und di fruendlig Herz git alle fruendligi Rede:
'Choemmet ihr ordlige Thierli, do hender, esset
Witers goht mi Weg, Gsegott, ihr ordlige Thierli!'"
The poet follows the stream through her whole course, never dropping the
figure, which is adapted, with infinite adroitness, and with the play
of a fancy as wayward and unrestrained as her own waters, to all her
changing aspects. Beside the Catholic chapel of Fair-Beeches she pauses
to listen to the mass; but farther down the valley becomes an apostate,
and attends the Lutheran service in the Husemer church. Stronger and
statelier grown, she trips along with the step of a maiden conscious of
her own beauty, and the poet clothes her in the costume of an Alemannic
bride, with a green kirtle of a hundred folds, and a stomacher of Milan
gauze, "like a loose cloud on a morning sky in spring-time." Thus
equipped, she wanders at will over the broader meadows, around the feet
of vineyard-hills, visits villages and churches, or stops to gossip with
the lusty young millers. But the woman's destiny is before her; she
cannot escape it; and the time is drawing near when her wild, singing,
pastoral being shall be absorbed in that of the strong male stream, the
bright-eyed son of the Alps, who has come so far to woo and win her.
Daughter o' Feldberg, half-and-half I've got
How as you've virtues and faults enough now
to choose ye a husband.
Castin' y'r eyes down, are you? Pickin' and
plattin' y'r ribbons?
Don't be so foolish, wench!--She thinks I
know nothin' about it,
How she's already engaged, and each is
a-waitin' for t'other.
Don't I know him, my darlin', the lusty
young fellow, y'r sweetheart?
Over powerful rocks, and through the hedges
Right away from the snowy Swiss mountains
he plunges at Rheineck
Down to the lake, and straight ahead swims
through it to Constance,
Sayin': "'T's no use o' talkin', I'll have
the gal I'm engaged to!"
But, as he reaches Stein, he goes a little more slowly,
Leavin' the lake where he's decently washed his feet and his body.
Diessenhofen don't please him,--no, nor the convent beside it.
For'ard he goes to Schaffhausen, onto the rocks at the corner;
There he says: "It's no use o' talkin', I'll git to my sweetheart:
Body and life I'll stake, cravat and embroidered suspenders."
Woop! but he jumps! And now he talks to hisself, goin' furder,
Giddy, belike, in his head, but pushes for'ard to Rheinau,
Eglisau, and Kaiserstuhl, and Zurzach, and Waldshut,--
All are behind him, passin' one village after another
Down to Grenzach, and out on the broad and beautiful bottoms
Nigh unto Basle; and there he must stop and look after his license.
* * * * *
Look! isn't that y'r bridegroom a-comin' down yonder to meet you?--
Yes, it's him, it's him, I hear't, for his voice is so jolly!
Yes, it's him, it's him,--with his eyes as blue as the heavens,
With his Swiss knee-breeches o' green, and suspenders o' velvet,
With his shirt o' the color o' pearl, and buttons o' crystal,
With his powerful loins, and his sturdy back and his shoulders,
Grand in his gait, commandin', beautiful, free in his motions,
Proud as a Basle Councilman,--yes, it's the big boy o' Gothard![B]
[Footnote B: The Rhine.]
The daring with which Hebel _countrifies_ (or, rather, _farmerizes_, to
translate Goethe's--word more literally) the spirit of natural objects,
carrying his personifications to that point where the imaginative
borders on the grotesque, is perhaps his strongest characteristic. His
poetic faculty, putting on its Alemannic costume, seems to abdicate all
ambition of moving in a higher sphere of society, but within the bounds
it has chosen allows itself the utmost range of capricious enjoyment.
In another pastoral, called "The Oatmeal Porridge," he takes the grain
which the peasant has sown, makes it a sentient creature, and carries it
through the processes of germination, growth, and bloom, without once
dropping the figure or introducing an incongruous epithet. It is not
only a child, but a child of the Black Forest, uttering its hopes, its
anxieties, and its joys in the familiar dialect. The beetle, in
his eyes, becomes a gross, hard-headed boor, carrying his sacks of
blossom-meal, and drinking his mug of XX morning-dew; the stork parades
about to show his red stockings; the spider is at once machinist and
civil engineer; and even the sun, moon, and morning-star are not secure
from the poet's familiarities. In his pastoral of "The Field-Watchmen,"
he ventures to say,--
Mister Schoolmaster Moon, with y'r forehead wrinkled with teachin',
With y'r face full o' larnin', a plaster stuck on y'r cheek-bone,
Say, do y'r children mind ye, and larn their psalm and their texes?
We much fear that this over-quaintness of fancy, to which the Alemannic
dialect gives such a racy flavor, and which belongs, in a lesser
degree, to the minds of the people who speak that dialect, cannot be
successfully clothed in an English dress. Let us try, therefore, a
little poem, the sentiment whereof is of universal application:--
THE CONTENTED FARMER.
I guess I'll take my pouch, and fill
My pipe just once,--yes, that I will!
Turn out my plough and home'ards go:
_Buck_ thinks, enough's been done, I know.
Why, when the Emperor's council's done,
And he can hunt, and have his fun,
He stops, I guess, at any tree,
And fills his pipe as well as me.
But smokin' does him little good:
He can't have all things as he would.
His crown's a precious weight, at that:
It isn't like my old straw hat.
He gits a deal o' tin, no doubt,
But all the more he pays it out;
And everywheres they beg and cry
Heaps more than he can satisfy.
And when, to see that nothin' 's wrong,
He plagues hisself the whole day long,
And thinks, "I guess I've fixed it now,"
Nobody thanks him, anyhow.
And so, when in his bloody clo'es
The Gineral out o' battle goes,
He takes his pouch, too, I'll agree,
And fills his pipe as well as me.
But in the wild and dreadfle fight,
His pipe don't taste ezackly right:
He's galloped here and galloped there,
And things a'n't pleasant, anywhere.
And sich a cursin': "Thunder!" "Hell!"
And "Devil!" (worse nor I can tell:)
His grannydiers in blood lay down,
And yonder smokes a burnin' town.
And when, a-travellin' to the Fairs,
The merchant goes with all his wares,
He takes a pouch o' th' best, I guess,
And fills and smokes his pipe, no less.
Poor devil, 't isn't good for you!
With all y'r gold, you've trouble, too.
Twice two is four, if stocks'll rise:
I see the figgers in your eyes.
It's hurry, worry, tare and tret;
Ye ha'n't enough, the more ye get,--
And couldn't use it, if ye had:
No wonder that y'r pipe tastes bad!
But good, thank God! and wholesome's mine:
The bottom-wheat is growin' fine,
And God, o' mornin's, sends the dew,
And sends his breath o' blessin', too.
And, home, there's Nancy bustlin' round:
The supper's ready, I'll be bound,
And youngsters waitin'. Lord! I vow
I dunno which is smartest, now.
My pipe tastes good; the reason's plain:
(I guess I'll fill it once again:)
With cheerful heart, and jolly mood,
And goin' home, all things is good.
Hebel's narrative poems abound with the wayward pranks of a fancy which
seems a little too restive to be entirely controlled by his artistic
sense; but they possess much dramatic truth and power. He delights in
the supernatural element, but approaches it from the gentler human side.
In "The Carbuncle," only, we find something of that weird, uncanny
atmosphere which casts its glamour around the "Tam O'Shanter" of Burns.
A more satisfactory illustration of his peculiar qualities is "The
Ghost's Visit on the Feldberg,"--a story told by a loafer of Basle to a
group of beer-drinkers in the tavern at Todtnau, a little village at
the foot of the mountain. This is, perhaps, the most popular of Hebel's
poems, and we therefore translate it entire. The superstition that a
child born on Sunday has the power of seeing spirits is universal among
the German peasantry.
THE GHOST'S VISIT ON THE FELDBERG.
Hark ye, fellows o' Todtnau, if ever I told
you the Scythe-Ghost[C]
Was a spirit of Evil, I've now got a different
Out of the town am I,--yes, that I'll honestly
Related to merchants, at seven tables free to
But I'm a Sunday's child; and wherever the ghosts
at the cross-roads
Stand in the air, in vaults, and cellars, and
Guardin' hidden money with eyes like fiery
Washin' with bitter tears the spot where
Shovellin' the dirt, and scratchin' it over
with nails all so bloody,--
Clear as day I can see, when it lightens.
Ugh! how they whimper!
Also, whenever with beautiful blue eyes the
Deep in the night, in silent, sleepin'
Peekin' in at the windows, and talkin'
together so pleasant,
Smilin' one at the t'other, and settin'
outside o' the house-doors,
So that the pious folks shall take no harm
while they're sleepin':
Then ag'in, when in couples or threes they
walk in the grave-yard,
Talkin' in this like: "There a faithful
mother is layin';
And here's a man that was poor, but took no
advantage o' no one:
Take your rest, for you're tired,--we'll waken
ye up when the time comes!"
Clearly I see by the light o' the stars, and I
hear them a-talkin'.
Many I know by their names, and speak to,
whenever I meet 'em,
Give 'em the time o' day, and ask 'em, and
answer their questions.
"How do ye do?" "How's y'r watch?"
"Praise God, it's tolerable, thank you!"
Believe it, or not! Well, once on a time my
cousin, he sent me
Over to Todtnau, on business with all sorts o'
Where you've coffee to drink, and biscuit
they give you to soak in 't.
"Don't you stop on the road, nor gabble
whatever comes foremost,"
Hooted my cousin at startin', "nor don't you
let go o' your snuff-box,
Leavin' it round in the tavern, as gentlemen
do, for the next time."
Up and away I went, and all that my cousin
Fairly and squarely I fixed. At the sign o'
the Eagle in Todtnau
Set for a while; then, sure o' my way, tramped
off ag'in, home'ards,
Nigh by the village, I reckoned,--but found
myself climbin' the Feldberg,
Lured by the birdies, and down by the brooks
the beautiful posies:
That's a weakness o' mine,--I ran like a fool
after such things.
Now it was dusk, and the birdies hushed up,
settin' still on the branches.
Hither and yonder a starlie stuck its head
through the darkness,
Peekin' out, as oncertain whether the sun was
in bed yet,--
Whether it mightn't come, and called to the
other ones: "Come now!"
Then I knowed I was lost, and laid myself
down,--I was weary:
There, you know, there's a hut, and I found
an armful o' straw in 't.
"Here's a go!" I thinks to myself, "and I
wish I was safely
Cuddled in bed to home,--or 't was midnight,
and some little spirit
Somewhere popped out, as o' nights when it's
twelve they're accustomed,
Passin' the time with me, friendly, till winds
that blow early o' mornin's
Blow out the heavenly lights, and I see the
way back to the village."
Now, as thinkin' in this like, I felt all over my
Dark as pitch all around,--and felt with my
finger the hour-hand,
Found it was nigh onto 'leven, and hauled my
pipe from my pocket,
Thinkin': "Maybe a bit of a smoke'll keep
me from snoozin'":
Thunder! all of a sudden beside me was two
of 'em talkin',
Like as they'd business together! You'd
better believe that I listened.
"Say, a'n't I late a-comin'? Because there
was, over in Mambach,
Dyin', a girl with pains in the bones and terrible
Now, but she's easy! I held to her mouth the
drink o' departure,
So that the sufferin' ceased, and softly lowered
Sayin': 'Sleep, and in peace,--I'll waken
thee up when the time comes!'
Do me the favor, brother: fetch in the basin o'
Water, ever so little: my scythe, as you see,
must be whetted."
"Whetted?" says I to myself, "and a spirit?"
and peeked from the window.
Lo and behold, there sat a youngster with
wings that was golden;
White was his mantle, white, and his girdle
the color o' roses,
Fair and lovely to see, and beside him two
lights all a-burnin'.
"All the good spirits," says I, "Mr. Angel,
God have you in keepin'!"
"Praise their Master, the Lord," said the angel;
"God thank you, as I do!"
"Take no offence, Mr. Ghost, and by y'r good
leave and permission,
Tell me, what have you got for to mow?"
"Why, the scythe!" was his answer.
"Yes," says I, "for I see it; and that is my
What you're goin' to do with the scythe."
"Why, to mow!" was his answer.
Then I ventur'd to say: "And that is my question
What you're goin' to mow, supposin' you're
willin' to tell me."
"Grass! And what is your business so late up
here in the night-time?"
"Nothin' special," I answered; "I'm burnin'
a little tobacco.
Lost my way, or most likely I'd be at the
Eagle, in Todtnau.
But to come to the subject, supposin' it isn't
Tell me, what do you make o' the grass?"
And he answered me: "Fodder!"
"Don't understand it," says I; "for the Lord
has no cows up in heaven."
"Not precisely a cow," he remarked, "but
heifers and asses.
Seest, up yonder, the star?" and he pointed
one out with his finger.
"There's the ass o' the Christmas-Child, and
Breathin' the starry air, and waitin' for grass
that I bring 'em:
Grass doesn't grow there,--nothin' grows but
the heavenly raisins,
Milk and honey a-runnin' in rivers, plenty as
But they're particular cattle,--grass they
must have every mornin',
Mouthfuls o' hay, and drink from earthly
fountains they're used to.
So for them I'm a-whettin' my scythe, and
soon must be mowin':
Wouldn't it be worth while, if politely you'd
offer to help me?"
So the angel he talked, and this way I answered
"Hark ye, this it is, just: and I'll go wi' the
greatest o' pleasure.
Folks from the town know nothin' about it:
we write and we cipher,
Reckon up money,--that we can do!--and
measure and weigh out,
Unload, and on-load, and eat and drink without
All that we want for the belly, in kitchen,
pantry, and cellar,
Comes in lots through every gate, in baskets
Runs in every street, and cries at every
'Buy my cherries!' and 'Buy my butter!'
and 'Look at my salad!'
'Buy my onions!' and 'Here's your carrots!'
and 'Spinage and parsley!'
'Lucifer matches! Lucifer matches!' 'Cabbage
'Here's your umbrellas!' 'Caraway-seed and
Cheap for cash, and all to be traded for sugar
Say, Mr. Angel, didst ever drink coffee?
how do you like it?"
"Stop with y'r nonsense!" then he said, but
he couldn't help laughin';
"No, we drink but the heavenly air, and eat
nothin' but raisins,
Four on a day o' the week, and afterwards five
on a Sunday.
Come, if you want to go with me, now, for
I'm off to my mowin',
Back o' Todtnau, there on the grassy holt by
"Yes, Mr. Angel, that will I truly, seein'
Seems to me that it's cooler: give me y'r
scythe for to carry:
Here's a pipe and a pouch,--you're welcome
to smoke, if you want to."
While I was talkin', "Poohoo!" cried the
angel. A fiery man stood,
Quicker than lightnin', beside me. "Light us
the way to the village!"
Said he. And truly before us marched, a-burnin',
Over stock and rock, through the bushes, a
"Handy, isn't it?" laughin', the angel said.
--"What are ye doin'?
Why do you nick at y'r flint? You can light
y'r pipe at the Poohoo.
Use him whenever you like: but it seems to
me you're a-frightened,--
You, and a Sunday's-child, as you are: do you
think he will bite you?"
"No, he ha'n't bit me; but this you'll allow
me to say, Mr. Angel,--
Half-and-half I mistrust him: besides, my tobacco's
That's a weakness o' mine,--I'm afeard o'
them fiery creeturs:
Give me seventy angels, instead o' this big
"Really, it's dreadfle," the angel says he,
"that men is so silly,
Fearful o' ghosts and spectres, and skeery
without any reason.
Two of 'em only is dangerous, two of 'em hurtful
One of 'em's known by the name o' Delusion,
and Worry the t'other.
Him, Delusion, 's a dweller in wine: from
cans and decanters
Up to the head he rises, and turns your sense
This is the ghost that leads you astray in forest
Undermost, uppermost, hither and yon the
ground is a-rollin',
Bridges bendin', and mountains movin', and
Hark ye, keep out of his way!" "Aha!"
I says to the angel,
"There you prick me, but not to the blood: I
see what you're after.
Sober am I, as a judge. To be sure, I emptied
Once, at the Eagle,--_once_,--and the landlord
'll tell you the same thing,
S'posin' you doubt me. And now, pray, tell
me who is the t'other?"
"Who is the t'other? Don't know without
askin'?" answered the angel.
"He's a terrible ghost: the Lord forbid you
should meet him!
When you waken early, at four or five in the
There he stands a-waitin' with burnin eyes
at y'r bed-side,
Gives you the time o' day with blazin switches
Even prayin' don't help, nor helps all your
When you begin 'em, he takes your jaws and
claps 'em together;
Look to heaven, he comes and blinds y'r eyes
with his ashes;
Be you hungry, and eat, he pizons y'r soup
with his wormwood;
Take you a drink o' nights, he squeezes gall
in the tankard;
Run like a stag, he follows as close on y'r trail
as a blood-hound;
Creep like a shadow, be whispers: 'Good! we
had best take it easy';
Kneels at y'r side in the church, and sets at
y'r side in the tavern.
Go wherever you will, there's ghosts a-hoverin'
Shut your eyes in y'r bed, they mutter:
'There 's no need o' hurry;
By-and-by you can sleep, but listen! we've
somethin' to tell you:
Have you forgot how you stoled? and how
you cheated the orphans?
Secretly sinned?'--and this, and t'other;
and when they have finished,
Say it over ag'in, and you get little good o'
So the angel he talked, and, like iron under
Sparked and spirited the Poohoo. "Surely,"
I says to the angel,
"Born on a Sunday was I, and friendly with
many a preacher,
Yet the Father protect me from these!" Says
he to me, smilin':
"Keep y'r conscience pure; it is better than
crossin' and blessin'.
Here we must part, for y'r way turns off and
down to the village.
Take the Poohoo along, but mind! put him
out, in the meadow,
Lest he should run in the village, settin' fire
to the stables.
God be with you and keep you!" And then
says I: "Mr. Angel,
God, the Father, protect you! Be sure, when
you come to the city,
Christmas evenin', call, and I'll hold it an
honor to see you:
Raisins I'll have at your service, and hippocras,
if you like it.
Chilly 's the air, o' evenin's, especially down
by the river."
Day was breakin' by this, and right there was
Todtnau before me!
Past, and onward to Basle I wandered, i' the
shade and the coolness.
When into Mambach I came, they bore a dead
girl to the grave-yard,
After the Holy Cross, and the faded banner o'
With the funeral garlands upon her, with sobbin'
Ah, but she 'd heard what he said! he'll
waken her up when the time comes.
Afterwards, Tuesday it was, I got safely back
to my cousin;
But it turned out as he said,--I'd somewhere
forgotten my snuff-box!
[Footnote C: _Dengle-Geist_, literally, "Whetting-Spirit." The exact
meaning of _dengeln_ is to sharpen a scythe by hammering the edge of the
blade, which was practised before whetstones came in use.]
[Footnote D: According to an old legend, Fridolin (a favorite saint with
the Catholic population of the Black Forest) harnessed two young heifers
to a mighty fir-tree, and hauled it into the Rhine near Saeckingen,
thereby damming the river and forcing it to take a new course, on the
other side of the town.]
In this poem the hero of the story unconsciously describes himself by
his manner of telling it,--a reflective action of the dramatic faculty,
which Browning, among living poets, possesses in a marked degree. The
"moral" is so skilfully inwoven into the substance of the narrative as
to conceal the appearance of design, and the reader has swallowed the
pill before its sugar-coating of fancy has dissolved in his mouth. There
are few of Hebel's poems which were not written for the purpose of
inculcating some wholesome lesson, but in none does this object
prominently appear. Even where it is not merely implied, but directly
expressed, he contrives to give it the air of having been accidentally
suggested by the theme. In the following, which is the most pointedly
didactic of all his productions, the characteristic fancy still betrays
D' ye know the road to th' bar'l o' flour?
At break o' day let down the bars,
And plough y'r wheat-field, hour by hour,
Till sundown,--yes, till shine o' stars.
You peg away, the livelong day,
Nor loaf about, nor gape around;
And that's the road to the thrashin'-floor,
And into the kitchen, I'll be bound!
D' ye know the road where dollars lays?
Follow the red cents, here and there:
For if a man leaves them, I guess,
He won't find dollars anywhere.
D' ye know the road to Sunday's rest?
Jist don't o' week-days be afeard;
In field and workshop do y'r best,
And Sunday comes itself, I've heerd.
On Saturdays it's not fur off,
And brings a basketful o' cheer,--
A roast, and lots o' garden-stuff,
And, like as not, a jug o' beer!
D' ye know the road to poverty?
Turn in at any tavern-sign:
Turn in,--it's temptin' as can be:
There's bran'-new cards and liquor fine.
In the last tavern there's a sack,
And, when the cash y'r pocket quits,
Jist hang the wallet on y'r back,--
You vagabond! see how it fits!
D' ye know what road to honor leads,
And good old age?--a lovely sight!
By way o' temperance, honest deeds,
And tryin' to do y'r dooty right.
And when the road forks, ary side,
And you're in doubt which one it is,
Stand still, and let y'r conscience guide:
Thank God, it can't lead much amiss!
And now, the road to church-yard gate
You needn't ask! Go anywhere!
For, whether roundabout or straight,
All roads, at last, 'll bring you there.
Go, fearin' God, but lovin' more!--
I've tried to be an honest guide,--
You'll find the grave has got a door,
And somethin' for you t'other side.
We could linger much longer over our simple, brave old poet, were we
sure of the ability of the reader approximately to distinguish his
features through the veil of translation. In turning the leaves of the
smoky book, with its coarse paper and rude type,--which suggests to us,
by-the-by, the fact that Hebel was accustomed to hang a book, which he
wished especially to enjoy, in the chimney, for a few days,--we are
tempted by "The Market-Women in Town," by "The Mother on Christmas-Eve,"
"The Morning-Star," and the charming fairy-story of "Riedliger's
Daughter," but must be content to close our specimens, for the present,
with a song of love,--"_Hans und Verene_,"--under the equivalent title
JACK AND MAGGIE.
There's only one I'm after,
And she's the one, I vow!
If she was here, and standin' by,
She is a gal so neat and spry,
So neat and spry,
I'd be in glory now!
It's so,--I'm hankerin' for her,
And want to have her, too.
Her temper's always gay, and bright,
Her face like posies red and white,
Both red and white,
And eyes like posies blue.
And when I see her comin',
My face gits red at once;
My heart feels chokin'-like, and weak,
And drops o' sweat run down my cheek,
Yes, down my cheek,--
Confound me for a dunce!
She spoke so kind, last Tuesday,
When at the well we met:
"Jack, give a lift! What ails you? Say!
I see that somethin' 's wrong to-day:
What's wrong to-day?"
No, that I can't forget!
I know I'd ought to tell her,
And wish I'd told her then;
And if I wasn't poor and low,
And sayin' it didn't choke me so,
(It chokes me so,)
I'd find a chance again.
Well, up and off I'm goin':
She's in the field below:
I'll try and let her know my mind;
And if her answer isn't kind,
If 't isn't kind,
I'll jine the ranks, and go!
I'm but a poor young fellow,
Yes, poor enough, no doubt:
But ha'n't, thank God, done nothin' wrong,
And be a man as stout and strong,
As stout and strong,
As any roundabout.
What's rustlin' in the bushes?
I see a movin' stalk:
The leaves is openin': there's a dress!
O Lord, forbid it! but I guess--
I guess--I guess
Somebody's heard me talk!
"Ha! here I am! you've got me!
So keep me, if you can!
I've guessed it ever since last Fall,
And Tuesday morn I saw it all,
_I_ saw it all!
Speak out, then, like a man!
"Though rich you a'n't in money,
Nor rich in goods to sell,
An honest heart is more than gold,
And hands you've got for field and fold,
For house and fold,
And--Jack--I love you well!"
"O Maggie, say it over!
O Maggie, is it so?
I couldn't longer bear the doubt:
'Twas hell,--but now you've drawed me out,
You've drawed me out!
And will I? _Won't_ I, though!"
The later years of Hebel's life quietly passed away in the circle of his
friends at Carlsruhe. After the peculiar mood which called forth the
Alemannic poems had passed away, he seems to have felt no further
temptation to pursue his literary success. His labors, thenceforth, were
chiefly confined to the preparation of a Biblical History, for schools,
and the editing of the "Rhenish House-Friend," an illustrated calendar
for the people, to which he gave a character somewhat similar to that of
Franklin's "Poor Richard." His short, pithy narratives, each with its
inevitable, though unobtrusive moral, are models of style. The calendar
became so popular, under his management, that forty thousand copies were
annually printed. He finally discontinued his connection with it, in
1819, in consequence of an interference with his articles on the part of
In society Hebel was a universal favorite. Possessing, in his personal
appearance, no less than in his intellect, a marked individuality, he
carried a fresh, vital, inspiring element into every company which he
visited. His cheerfulness was inexhaustible, his wit keen and lambent
without being acrid, his speech clear, fluent, and genial, and his fund
of anecdote commensurate with his remarkable narrative power. He was
exceedingly frank, joyous, and unconstrained in his demeanor; fond of
the pipe and the beer-glass; and as one of his maxims was, "Not to close
any door through which Fortune might enter," he not only occasionally
bought a lottery-ticket, but was sometimes to be seen, during the
season, at the roulette-tables of Baden-Baden. One of his friends
declares, however, that he never obtruded "the clergyman" at
In person he was of medium height, with a body of massive Teutonic
build, a large, broad head, inclined a little towards one shoulder, the
eyes small, brown, and mischievously sparkling, the hair short, crisp,
and brown, the nose aquiline, and the mouth compressed, with the
commencement of a smile stamped in the corners. He was careless in
his gait, and negligent in his dress. Warm-hearted and tender, and
especially attracted towards women and children, the cause of his
celibacy always remained a mystery to his friends.
The manner of his death, finally, illustrated the genuine humanity of
his nature. In September, 1826, although an invalid at the time, he made
a journey to Mannheim for the sake of procuring a mitigation of the
sentence of a condemned poacher, whose case appealed strongly to his
sympathy. His exertions on behalf of the poor man so aggravated his
disease that he was soon beyond medical aid. Only his corpse, crowned
with laurel, returned to Carlsruhe. Nine years afterwards a monument was
erected to his memory in the park attached to the Ducal palace. Nor have
the inhabitants of the Black Forest failed in worthy commemoration of
their poet's name. A prominent peak among the mountains which inclose
the valley of his favorite "Meadow" has been solemnly christened
"Hebel's Mount"; and a flower of the Forest--the _Anthericum_ of
Linnaeus--now figures in German botanies as the _Hebelia Alemannica_.
Then bless thy secret growth, nor catch
At noise, but thrive unseen and dumb,
Keep clean, bear fruit, earn life, and watch
Till the white-winged reapers come.--Henry Vaughan
I had never thought of knowing a man so thoroughly of the country as
this friend of mine, and so purely a son of Nature. Perhaps he has
the profoundest passion for it of any one living; and had the human
sentiment been as tender from the first, and as pervading, we might have
had pastorals of which Virgil and Theocritus would have envied him the
authorship, had they chanced to be his contemporaries. As it is, he has
come nearer the antique spirit than any of our native poets, and touched
the fields and groves and streams of his native town with a classic
interest that shall not fade. Some of his verses are suffused with an
elegiac tenderness, as if the woods and fields bewailed the absence
of their forester, and murmured their griefs meanwhile to one
another,--responsive like idyls. Living in close companionship with
Nature, his Muse breathes the spirit and voice of poetry; his excellence
lying herein: for when the heart is once divorced from the senses and
all sympathy with common things, then poetry has fled, and the love that
The most welcome of companions, this plain countryman. One shall not
meet with thoughts invigorating like his often; coming so scented of
mountain and field breezes and rippling springs, so like a luxuriant
clod from under forest-leaves, moist and mossy with earth-spirits. His
presence is tonic, like ice-water in dog-days to the parched citizen
pent in chambers and under brazen ceilings. Welcome as the gurgle of
brooks, the dripping of pitchers,--then drink and be cool! He seems one
with things, of Nature's essence and core, knit of strong timbers, most
like a wood and its inhabitants. There are in him sod and shade, woods
and waters manifold, the mould and mist of earth and sky. Self-poised
and sagacious as any denizen of the elements, he has the key to every
animal's brain, every plant, every shrub; and were an Indian to flower
forth, and reveal the secrets hidden in his cranium, it would not be
more surprising than the speech of our Sylvanus. He must belong to the
Homeric age,--is older than pastures and gardens, as if he were of the
race of heroes, and one with the elements. He, of all men, seems to be
the native New-Englander, as much so as the oak, the granite ledge, our
best sample of an indigenous American, untouched by the Old Country,
unless he came down from Thor, the Northman; as yet unfathered by any,
and a nondescript in the books of natural history.
A peripatetic philosopher, and out of doors for the best parts of his
days and nights, he has manifold weather and seasons in him, and the
manners of an animal of probity and virtues unstained. Of our moralists
he seems the wholesomest; and the best republican citizen in the
world,--always at home, and minding his own affairs. Perhaps a little
over-confident sometimes, and stiffly individual, dropping society clean
out of his theories, while standing friendly in his strict sense of
friendship, there is in him an integrity and sense of justice that make
possible and actual the virtues of Sparta and the Stoics, and all the
more welcome to us in these times of shuffling and of pusillanimity.
Plutarch would have made him immortal in his pages, had he lived before
his day. Nor have we any so modern as be,--his own and ours; too purely
so to be appreciated at once. A scholar by birthright, and an author,
his fame has not yet travelled far from the banks of the rivers he has
described in his books; but I hazard only the truth in affirming of his
prose, that in substance and sense it surpasses that of any naturalist
of his time, and that he is sure of a reading in the future. There are
fairer fishes in his pages than any now swimming in our streams, and
some sleep of his on the banks of the Merrimack by moonlight that Egypt
never rivalled; a morning of which Memnon might have envied the music,
and a greyhound that was meant for Adonis; some frogs, too, better than
any of Aristophanes. Perhaps we have had no eyes like his since Pliny's
time. His senses seem double, giving him access to secrets not easily
read by other men: his sagacity resembling that of the beaver and the
bee, the dog and the deer; an instinct for seeing and judging, as by
some other or seventh sense, dealing with objects as if they were
shooting forth from his own mind mythologically, thus completing Nature
all round to his senses, and a creation of his at the moment. I am sure
he knows the animals, one by one, and everything else knowable in our
town, and has named them rightly as Adam did in Paradise, if he be
not that ancestor himself. His works are pieces of exquisite sense,
celebrations of Nature's virginity, exemplified by rare learning and
original observations. Persistently independent and manly, he criticizes
men and times largely, urging and defending his opinions with the spirit
and pertinacity befitting a descendant of him of the Hammer. A head
of mixed genealogy like his, Franco-Norman crossed by Scottish and
New-England descent, may be forgiven a few characteristic peculiarities
and trenchant traits of thinking, amidst his great common sense and
fidelity to the core of natural things. Seldom has a head circumscribed
so much of the sense of Cosmos as this footed intelligence,--nothing
less than all out-of-doors sufficing his genius and scopes, and, day by
day, through all weeks and seasons, the year round.
If one would find the wealth of wit there is in this plain man, the
information, the sagacity, the poetry, the piety, let him take a walk
with him, say of a winter's afternoon, to the Blue Water, or anywhere
about the outskirts of his village-residence. Pagan as he shall
outwardly appear, yet he soon shall be seen to be the hearty worshipper
of whatsoever is sound and wholesome in Nature,--a piece of russet
probity and sound sense that she delights to own and honor. His talk
shall be suggestive, subtile, and sincere, under as many masks and
mimicries as the shows he passes, and as significant,--Nature choosing
to speak through her chosen mouth-piece,--cynically, perhaps, sometimes,
and searching into the marrows of men and times he chances to speak of,
to his discomfort mostly, and avoidance. Nature, poetry, life,--not
politics, not strict science, not society as it is,--are his preferred
themes: the new Pantheon, probably, before he gets far, to the naming of
the gods some coming Angelo, some Pliny, is to paint and describe. The
world is holy, the things seen symbolizing the Unseen, and worthy of
worship so, the Zoroastrian rites most becoming a nature so fine as ours
in this thin newness, this worship being so sensible, so promotive of
possible pieties,--calling us out of doors and under the firmament,
where health and wholesomeness are finely insinuated into our
souls,--not as idolaters, but as idealists, the seekers of the Unseen
through images of the Invisible.
I think his religion of the most primitive type, and inclusive of all
natural creatures and things, even to "the sparrow that falls to the
ground,"--though never by shot of his,--and, for whatsoever is manly
in man, his worship may compare with that of the priests and heroes
of pagan times. Nor is he false to these traits under any
guise,--worshipping at unbloody altars, a favorite of the Unseen,
Wisest, and Best. Certainly he is better poised and more nearly
self-reliant than other men.
Perhaps he deals best with matter, properly, though very adroitly with
mind, with persons, as he knows them best, and sees them from Nature's
circle, wherein he dwells habitually. I should say he inspired the
sentiment of love, if, indeed, the sentiment he awakens did not seem to
partake of a yet purer sentiment, were that possible,--but nameless from
its excellency. Friendly he is, and holds his friends by bearings as
strict in their tenderness and consideration as are the laws of his
thinking,--as prompt and kindly equitable,--neighborly always, and as
apt for occasions as he is strenuous against meddling with others in
things not his.
I know of nothing more creditable to his greatness than the thoughtful
regard, approaching to reverence, by which he has held for many years
some of the best persons of his time, living at a distance, and wont
to make their annual pilgrimage, usually on foot, to the master,--a
devotion very rare in these times of personal indifference, if not of
confessed unbelief in persons and ideas.
He has been less of a housekeeper than most, has harvested more wind and
storm, sun and sky; abroad night and day with his leash of keen scents,
bounding any game stirring, and running it down, for certain, to be
spread on the dresser of his page, and served as a feast to the sound
intelligences, before he has done with it. We have been accustomed to
consider him the salt of things so long that they must lose their savor
without his to season them. And when he goes hence, then Pan is dead,
and Nature ailing throughout.
His friend sings him thus, with the advantages of his Walden to show him
"It is not far beyond the Village church,
After we pass the wood that skirts the road,
A Lake,--the blue-eyed Walden, that doth smile
Most tenderly upon its neighbor Pines;
And they, as if to recompense this love,
In double beauty spread their branches forth.
This Lake has tranquil loveliness and breadth,
And, of late years, has added to its charms;
For one attracted to its pleasant edge
Has built himself a little Hermitage,
Where with much piety he passes life.
"More fitting place I cannot fancy now,
For such a man to let the line run off
The mortal reel,--such patience hath the Lake,
Such gratitude and cheer is in the Pines.
But more than either lake or forest's depths
This man has in himself: a tranquil man,
With sunny sides where well the fruit is ripe,
Good front and resolute bearing to this life,
And some serener virtues, which control
This rich exterior prudence,--virtues high,
That in the principles of Things are set,
Great by their nature, and consigned to him,
Who, like a faithful Merchant, does account
To God for what he spends, and in what way.
Thrice happy art thou, Walden, in thyself!
Such purity is in thy limpid springs,--
In those green shores which do reflect in thee,
And in this man who dwells upon thy edge,
A holy man within a Hermitage.
May all good showers fall gently into thee,
May thy surrounding forests long be spared,
And may the Dweller on thy tranquil marge
There lead a life of deep tranquillity,
Pure as thy Waters, handsome as thy Shores,
And with those virtues which are like the Stars!"
METHODS OF STUDY IN NATURAL HISTORY.
I come now to an obscure part of my subject, very difficult to present
in a popular form, and yet so important in the scientific investigations
of our day that I cannot omit it entirely. I allude to what are called
by naturalists Collateral Series or Parallel Types. These are by
no means difficult to trace, because they are connected by seeming
resemblances, which, though very likely to mislead and perplex the
observer, yet naturally suggest the association of such groups. Let me
introduce the subject with the statement of some facts.
There are in Australia numerous Mammalia, occupying the same relation
and answering the same purposes as the Mammalia of other countries. Some
of them are domesticated by the natives, and serve them with meat, milk,
wool, as our domesticated animals serve us. Representatives of almost
all types, Wolves, Foxes, Sloths, Bears, Weasels, Martens, Squirrels,
Rats, etc., are found there; and yet, though all these animals resemble
ours so closely that the English settlers have called many of them by
the same names, there are no genuine Wolves, Foxes, Sloths, Bears,
Weasels, Martens, Squirrels, or Rats in Australia. The Australian
Mammalia are peculiar to the region where they are found, and are all
linked together by two remarkable structural features which distinguish
them from all other Mammalia and unite them under one head as the
so-called Marsupials. They bring forth their young in an imperfect
condition, and transfer them to a pouch, where they remain attached to
the teats of the mother till their development is as far advanced as
that of other Mammalia at the time of their birth; and they are further
characterized by an absence of that combination of transverse fibres
forming the large bridge which unites the two hemispheres of the brain
in all the other members of their class. Here, then, is a series of
animals parallel with ours, separated from them by anatomical features,
but so united with them by form and external features that many among
them have been at first associated together.
This is what Cuvier has called subordination of characters,
distinguishing between characters that control the organization and
those that are not essentially connected with it. The skill of the
naturalist consists in detecting the difference between the two, so
that he may not take the more superficial features as the basis of his
classification, instead of those important ones which, though often less
easily recognized, are more deeply rooted in the organization. It is a
difference of the same nature as that between affinity and analogy, to
which I have alluded before, when speaking of the ingrafting of certain
features of one type upon animals of another type, thus producing a
superficial resemblance, not truly characteristic. In the Reptiles, for
instance, there are two groups,--those devoid of scales, with naked
skin, laying numerous eggs, but hatching their young in an imperfect
state, and the Scaly Reptiles, which lay comparatively few eggs, but
whose young, when hatched, are completely developed, and undergo no
subsequent metamorphosis. Yet, notwithstanding this difference in
essential features of structure, and in the mode of reproduction and
development, there is such an external resemblance between certain
animals belonging to the two groups that they were associated together
even by so eminent a naturalist as Linnaeus. Compare, for instance, the
Serpents among the Scaly Reptiles with the Caecilians among the Naked
Reptiles. They have the same elongated form, and are both destitute
of limbs; the head in both is on a level with the body, without any
contraction behind it, such as marks the neck in the higher Reptiles,
and moves only by the action of the back-bone; they are singularly alike
in their external features, but the young of the Serpent are hatched in
a mature condition, while the young of the type to which the Caecilians
belong undergo a succession of metamorphoses before attaining to a
resemblance to the parent. Or compare the Lizard and the Salamander, in
which the likeness is perhaps even more striking; for any inexperienced
observer would mistake one for the other. Both are superior to the
Serpents and Caecilians, for in them the head moves freely on the neck
and they creep on short imperfect legs. But the Lizard is clothed with
scales, while the body of the Salamander is naked, and the young of
the former is complete when hatched, while the Tadpole born from the
Salamander has a life of its own to live, with certain changes to pass
through before it assumes its mature condition; during the early part of
its life it is even destitute of legs, and has gills like the Fishes.
Above the Lizards and Salamanders, highest in the class of Reptiles,
stand two other collateral types,--the Turtles at the head of the Scaly
Reptiles, the Toads and Frogs at the Lead of the Naked Reptiles. The
external likeness between these two groups is perhaps less striking than
between those mentioned above, on account of the large shield of the
Turtle. But there are Turtles with a soft covering, and there are some
Toads with a hard shield over the head and neck at least, and both
groups are alike distinguished by the shortness and breadth of the body
and by the greater development of the limbs as compared with the lower
Reptiles. But here again there is the same essential difference in the
mode of development of their young as distinguishes all the rest. The
two series may thus be contrasted:--
_Naked Reptiles_. Toads and Frogs, Salamanders, Caecilians.
_Scaly Reptiles._ Turtles, Lizards, Serpents.
Such corresponding groups or parallel types, united only by external
resemblance, and distinguished from each other by essential elements of
structure, exist among all animals, though they are less striking among
Birds on account of the uniformity of that class. Yet even there we may
trace such analogies,--as between the Palmate or Aquatic Birds, for
instance, and the Birds of Prey, or between the Frigate Bird and the
Kites. Among Fishes such analogies are very common, often suggesting a
comparison even with land animals, though on account of the scales and
spines of the former the likeness may not be easily traced. But the
common names used by the fishermen often indicate these resemblances,
--as, for instance, Sea-Vulture, Sea-Eagle, Cat-Fish, Flying-Fish,
Sea-Porcupine, Sea-Cow, Sea-Horse, and the like. In the branch of
Mollusks, also, the same superficial analogies are found. In the lowest
class of this division of the Animal Kingdom there is a group so similar
to the Polyps, that, until recently, they have been associated with
them,--the Bryozoa. They are very small animals, allied to the Clams by
the plan of their structure, but they have a resemblance to the Polyps
on account of a radiating wreath of feelers around the upper part of
their body: yet, when examined closely, this wreath is found to be
incomplete; it does not, form a circle, but leaves an open space between
the two ends, where they approach each other, so that it has a horseshoe
outline, and partakes of the bilateral symmetry characteristic of its
type and on which its own structure is based. These series have not yet
been very carefully traced, and young naturalists should turn their
attention to them, and be prepared to draw the nicest distinction
between analogies and true affinities among animals.
After this digression, let us proceed to a careful examination of the
natural groups of animals called Families by naturalists,--a subject
already briefly alluded to in a previous chapter. Families are natural
assemblages of animals of less extent than Orders, but, like Orders,
Classes, and Branches, founded upon certain categories of structure,
which are as distinct for this kind of group as for all the other
divisions in the classification of the Animal Kingdom.
That we may understand the true meaning of these divisions, we must not
be misled by the name given by naturalists to this kind of group. Here,
as in so many other instances, a word already familiar, and that had
become, as it were, identified with the special sense in which it
had been used, has been adopted by science and has received a new
signification. When naturalists speak of Families among animals, they do
not allude to the progeny of a known stock, as we designate, in common
parlance, the children or the descendants of known parents by the word
family; they understand by Families natural groups of different kinds
of animals, having no genetic relations so far as we know, but agreeing
with one another closely enough to leave the impression of a more
or less remote common parentage. The difficulty here consists in
determining the natural limits of such groups, and in tracing the
characteristic features by which they may be defined; for individual
investigators differ greatly as to the degree of resemblance existing
between the members of many Families, and there is no kind of
group which presents greater diversity of circumscription in the
classifications of animals proposed by different naturalists than these
It should be remembered, however, that, unless a sound criterion be
applied to the limitation of Families, they, like all other groups
introduced into zooelogical systems, must forever remain arbitrary
divisions, as they have been hitherto. A retrospective glance at the
progress of our science during the past century, in this connection,
may perhaps help us to solve the difficulty. Linnaeus, in his System
of Nature, does not admit Families; he has only four kinds of
groups,--Classes, Orders, Genera, and Species. It was among plants that
naturalists first perceived those general traits of resemblance which
exist everywhere among the members of natural families, and added this
kind of group to the framework of their system. In France, particularly,
this method was pursued with success; and the improvements thus
introduced by the French botanists were so great, and rendered their
classification so superior to that of Linnaeus, that the botanical
systems in which Families were introduced were called natural systems,
in contradistinction especially to the botanical classification of
Linnaeus, which was founded upon the organs of reproduction, and which
received thenceforth the name of the sexual system of plants. The same
method so successfully used by botanists was soon introduced
into Zooelogy by the French naturalists of the beginning of this
century,--Lamarck, Latreille, and Cuvier. But, to this day, the
limitation of Families among animals has not yet reached the precision
which it has among plants, and I see no other reason for the difference
than the absence of a leading principle to guide us in Zooelogy.
Families, as they exist in Nature, are based upon peculiarities of form
as related to structure; but though a very large number of them have
been named and recorded, very few are characterized with anything like
scientific accuracy. It has been a very simple matter to establish such
groups according to the superficial method that has been pursued, for
the fact that they are determined by external outline renders the
recognition of them easy and in many instances almost instinctive; but
it is very difficult to characterize them, or, in other words, to trace
the connection between form and structure. Indeed, many naturalists do
not admit that Families are based upon form; and it was in trying to
account for the facility with which they detect these groups, while they
find it so difficult to characterize them, that I perceived that they
are always associated with peculiarities of form. Naturalists have
established Families simply by bringing together a number of animals
resembling each other more or less closely, and, taking usually the name
of the Genus to which the best known among them belongs, they have given
it a patronymic termination to designate the Family, and allowed the
matter to rest there, sometimes without even attempting any description
corresponding to those by which Genus and Species are commonly defined.
For instance, from _Canis_, the Dog, _Canidae_ has been formed, to
designate the whole Family of Dogs, Wolves, Foxes, etc. Nothing can be
more superficial than such a mode of classification; and if these
groups actually exist in Nature, they must be based, like all the other
divisions, upon some combination of structural characters peculiar to
them. We have seen that Branches are founded upon the general plan of
structure, Classes on the mode of executing the plan, Orders upon the
greater or less complication of a given mode of execution, and we shall
find that form, as _determined by structure_, characterizes Families. I
would call attention to this qualification of my definition; since, of
course, when speaking of form in this connection, I do not mean those
superficial resemblances in external features already alluded to in
my remarks upon Parallel or Collateral Types. I speak now of form as
controlled by structural elements; and unless we analyze Families in
this way, the mere distinguishing and naming them does not advance our
science at all. Compare, for instance, the Dogs, the Seals, and the
Bears. These are all members of one Order,--that of the Carnivorous
Mammalia. Their dentition is peculiar and alike in all, (cutting teeth,
canine teeth, and grinders,) adapted for tearing and chewing their
food; and their internal structure bears a definite relation to their
dentition. But look at these animals with reference to form. The Dog is
comparatively slender, with legs adapted for running and hunting his
prey; the Bear is heavier, with shorter limbs; while the Seal has a
continuous uniform outline adapted for swimming. They form separate
Families, and are easily recognized as such by the difference in their
external outline; but what is the anatomical difference which produces
the peculiarity of form in each, by which they have been thus
distinguished? It lies in the structure of the limbs, and especially in
that of the wrist and fingers. In the Seal the limbs are short, and the
wrists are on one continuous line with them, so that it has no power of
bending the wrist or the fingers, and the limbs, therefore, act like
flappers or oars. The Bear has a well-developed paw with a flexible
wrist, but it steps on the whole sole of the foot, from the wrist to the
tip of the toe, giving it the heavy tread so characteristic of all the
Bears. The Dogs, on the contrary, walk on tip-toe, and their step,
though firm, is light, while the greater slenderness and flexibility of
their legs add to their nimbleness and swiftness. By a more extensive
investigation of the anatomical structure of the limbs in their
connection with the whole body, it could easily be shown that the
peculiarity of form in these animals is essentially determined by, or at
least stands in the closest relation to, the peculiar structure of the
wrist and fingers.
Take the Family of Owls as distinguished from the Falcons, Kites, etc.
Here the difference of form is in the position of the eyes. In the
Owl, the sides of the head are prominent and the eye-socket is brought
forward. In the Falcons and Kites, on the contrary, the sides of the
head are flattened and the eyes are set back. The difference in the
appearance of the birds is evident to the most superficial observer; but
to call the one Strigidae and the other Falconidae tells us nothing of
the anatomical peculiarities on which this difference is founded.
These few examples, selected purposely among closely allied and
universally known animals, may be sufficient to show, that, beyond the
general complication of the structure which characterizes the Orders,
there is a more limited element in the organization of animals, bearing
chiefly upon their form, which, if it have any general application as
a principle of classification, may well be considered as essentially
characteristic of the Families. There are certainly closely allied
natural groups of animals, belonging to the same Order, but including
many Genera, which differ from each other chiefly in their form, while
that form is determined by peculiarities of structure which do not
influence the general structural complication upon which Orders are
based, or relate to the minor details of structure on which Genera are
founded. I am therefore convinced that form is the criterion by which
Families may be determined. The great facility with which animals may
be combined together in natural groups of this kind without any special
investigation of their structure, a superficial method of classification
in which zooelogists have lately indulged to a most unjustifiable degree,
convinces me that it is the similarity of form which has unconsciously
led such shallow investigators to correct results, since upon close
examination it is found that a large number of the Families so
determined, and to which no characters at all are assigned, nevertheless
bear the severest criticism founded upon anatomical investigation.
The questions proposed to themselves by all students who would
characterize Families should be these: What are, throughout the
Animal Kingdom, the peculiar patterns of form by which Families are
distinguished? and on what structural features are these patterns based?
Only the most patient investigations can give us the answer, and it will
be very long before we can write out the formulae of these patterns with
mathematical precision, as I believe we shall be able to do in a more
advanced stage of our science. But while the work is in progress, it
ought to be remembered that a mere general similarity of outline is not
yet in itself evidence of identity of form or pattern, and that, while
seemingly very different forms may be derived from the same formula, the
most similar forms may belong to entirely different systems, when their
derivation is properly traced. Our great mathematician, in a lecture
delivered at the Lowell Institute last winter, showed that in his
science, also, similarity of outline does not always indicate identity
of character. Compare the different circles,--the perfect circle, in
which every point of the periphery is at the same distance from the
centre, with an ellipse in which the variation from the true circle is
so slight as to be almost imperceptible to the eye; yet the latter, like
all ellipses, has its two _foci_ by which it differs from a circle,
and to refer it to the family of circles instead of the family of
ellipses would be overlooking its true character on account of its
external appearance; and yet ellipses may be so elongated, that, far
from resembling a circle, they make the impression of parallel lines
linked at their extremities. Or we may have an elastic curve in which
the appearance of a circle is produced by the meeting of the two ends;
nevertheless it belongs to the family of elastic curves, in which may
even be included a line actually straight, and is formed by a process
entirely different from that which produces the circle or the ellipse.
But it is sometimes exceedingly difficult to find the relation between
structure and form in Families, and I remember a case which I had taken
as a test of the accuracy of the views I entertained upon this subject,
and which perplexed and baffled me for years. It was that of our
fresh-water Mussels, the Family of Unios. There is a great variety of
outline among them,--some being oblong and very slender, others broad
with seemingly square outlines, others having a nearly triangular form,
while others again are almost circular; and I could not detect among
them all any feature of form that was connected with any essential
element of their structure. At last, however, I found this
test-character, and since that time I have had no doubt left in my mind
that form, determined by structure, is the true criterion of Families.
In the Unios it consists of the rounded outline of the anterior end of
the body reflected in a more or less open curve of the shell, bending
more abruptly along the lower side with an inflection followed by a
bulging, corresponding to the most prominent part of the gills, to which
alone, in a large number of American Species of this Family, the eggs
are transferred, giving to this part of the shell a prominence which it
has not in any of the European Species. At the posterior end of the body
this curve then bends upwards and backwards again, the outline meeting
the side occupied by the hinge and ligament, which, when very short, may
determine a triangular form of the whole shell, or, when equal to the
lower side and connected with a great height of the body, gives it a
quadrangular form, or, if the height is reduced, produces an elongated
form, or, finally, a rounded form, if the passage from one side to the
other is gradual. A comparison of the position of the internal organs of
different Species of Unios with the outlines of their shells will leave
no doubt that their form is determined by the structure of the animal.
A few other and more familiar examples may complete this discussion.
Among Climbing Birds, for instance, which are held together as a
more comprehensive group by the structure of their feet and by other
anatomical features, there are two Families so widely different in
their form that they may well serve as examples of this principle. The
Woodpeckers (_Picidae_) and the Parrots (_Psittacidae_), once considered
as two Genera only, have both been subdivided, in consequence of a more
intimate knowledge of their generic characters, into a large number of
Genera; but all the Genera of Woodpeckers and all the Genera of the
Parrots are still held together by their form as Families, corresponding
as such to the two old Genera of _Picus_ and _Psittacus_. They are now
known as the Families of Woodpeckers and Parrots; and though each group
includes a number of Genera combined upon a variety of details in the
finish of special parts of the structure, such as the number of toes,
the peculiarities of the bill, etc., it is impossible to overlook the
peculiar form which is characteristic of each. No one who is familiar
with the outline of the Parrot will fail to recognize any member of
that Family by a general form which is equally common to the diminutive
Nonpareil, the gorgeous Ara, and the high-crested Cockatoo. Neither will
any one, who has ever observed the small head, the straight bill, the
flat back, and stiff tail of the Woodpecker, hesitate to identify the
family form in any of the numerous Genera into which this group is now
divided. The family characters are even more invariable than the generic
ones; for there are Woodpeckers which, instead of the four toes, two
turning forward and two backward, which form an essential generic
character, have three toes only, while the family form is always
maintained, whatever variations there may be in the characters of the
more limited groups it includes.
The Turtles and Terrapins form another good illustration of family
characters. They constitute together a natural Order, but are
distinguished from each other as two Families very distinct in general
form and outline. Among Fishes I may mention the Family of Pickerels,
with their flat, long snout, and slender, almost cylindrical body, as
contrasted with the plump, compressed body and tapering tail of the
Trout Family. Or compare, among Insects, the Hawk-Moths with the Diurnal
Butterfly, or with the so-called Miller,--or, among Crustacea, the
common Crab with the Sea-Spider, or the Lobsters with the Shrimps,--or,
among Worms, the Leeches with the Earth-Worms,--or, among Mollusks,
the Squids with the Cuttle-Fishes, or the Snails with the Slugs, or the
Periwinkles with the Limpets and Conchs, or the Clam with the so-called
Venus, or the Oyster with the Mother-of-Pearl shell,--everywhere,
throughout the Animal Kingdom, difference of form points at difference
There is a chapter in the Natural History of Animals that has hardly
been touched upon as yet, and that will be especially interesting with
reference to Families. The voices of animals have a family character not
to be mistaken. All the Canidae bark and howl: the Fox, the Wolf, the
Dog have the same kind of utterance, though on a somewhat different
pitch. All the Bears growl, from the White Bear of the Arctic snows to
the small Black Bear of the Andes. All the Cats _miau_, from our quiet
fireside companion to the Lions and Tigers and Panthers of the forest
and jungle. This last may seem a strange assertion; but to any one who
has listened critically to their sounds and analyzed their voices,
the roar of the Lion is but a gigantic _miau_, bearing about the same
proportion to that of a Cat as its stately and majestic form does to the
smaller, softer, more peaceful aspect of the Cat. Yet, notwithstanding
the difference in their size, who can look at the Lion, whether in his
more sleepy mood as he lies curled up in the corner of his cage, or in
his fiercer moments of hunger or of rage, without being reminded of a
Cat? And this is not merely the resemblance of one carnivorous animal to
another; for no one was ever reminded of a Dog or Wolf by a Lion. Again,
all the Horses and Donkeys neigh; for the bray of the Donkey is only a
harsher neigh, pitched on a different key, it is true, but a sound of
the same character,--as the Donkey himself is but a clumsy and dwarfish
Horse. All the Cows low, from the Buffalo roaming the prairie, the
Musk-Ox of the Arctic ice-fields, or the Jack of Asia, to the Cattle
feeding in our pastures. Among the Birds, this similarity of voice in
Families is still more marked. We need only recall the harsh and noisy
Parrots, so similar in their peculiar utterance. Or take as an example
the web-footed Family,--do not all the Geese and the innumerable host
of Ducks quack? Does not every member of the Crow Family caw, whether it
be the Jackdaw, the Jay, the Magpie, the Rook in some green rookery of
the Old World, or the Crow of our woods, with its long, melancholy caw
that seems to make the silence and solitude deeper? Compare all the
sweet warblers of the Songster Family,--the Nightingales, the Thrushes,
the Mocking-Birds, the Robins; they differ in the greater or less
perfection of their note, but the same kind of voice runs through the
whole group. These affinities of the vocal systems among animals form a
subject well worthy of the deepest study, not only as another character
by which to classify the Animal Kingdom correctly, but as bearing
indirectly also on the question of the origin of animals. Can we suppose
that characteristics like these have been communicated from one animal
to another? When we find that all the members of one zoological Family,
however widely scattered over the surface of the earth, inhabiting
different continents and even different hemispheres, speak with one
voice, must we not believe that they have originated in the places where
they now occur with all their distinctive peculiarities? Who taught the
American Thrush to sing like his European relative? He surely did not
learn it from his cousin over the waters. Those who would have us
believe that all animals have originated from common centres and single
pairs, and have been distributed from such common centres over the
world, will find it difficult to explain the tenacity of such characters
and their recurrence and repetition under circumstances that seem to
preclude the possibility of any communication, on any other supposition
than that of their creation in the different regions where they are now
found. We have much yet to learn in this kind of investigation, with
reference not only to Families among animals, but to nationalities among
men also. I trust that the nature of languages will teach us as much
about the origin of the races as the vocal systems of the animals may
one day teach us about the origin of the different groups of animals.
At all events, similarity of vocal utterance among animals is not
indicative of identity of Species; I doubt, therefore, whether
similarity of speech proves community of origin among men.
The similarity of motion in Families is another subject well worth the
consideration of the naturalist: the soaring of the Birds of Prey,--the
heavy flapping of the wings in the Gallinaceous Birds,--the floating of
the Swallows, with their short cuts and angular turns,--the hopping
of the Sparrows,--the deliberate walk of the Hens and the strut of the
Cocks,--the waddle of the Ducks and Geese,--the slow, heavy creeping
of the Land-Turtle,--the graceful flight of the Sea-Turtle under the
water,--the leaping and swimming of the Frog,--the swift run of the
Lizard, like a flash of green or red light in the sunshine,--the
lateral undulation of the Serpent,--the dart of the Pickerel,--the
leap of the Trout,--the rush of the Hawk-Moth through the air,--the
fluttering flight of the Butterfly,--the quivering poise of the
Humming-Bird,--the arrow-like shooting of the Squid through the water,
--the slow crawling of the Snail on the land,--the sideway movement
of the Sand-Crab,--the backward walk of the Crawfish,--the almost
imperceptible gliding of the Sea-Anemone over the rock,--the graceful,
rapid motion of the Pleurobrachia, with its endless change of curve and
spiral. In short, every Family of animals has its characteristic action
and its peculiar voice; and yet so little is this endless variety
of rhythm and cadence both of motion and sound in the organic world
understood, that we lack words to express one-half its richness and
The well-known meaning of the words _generic_ and _specific_ may serve,
in the absence of a more precise definition, to express the relative
importance of those groups of animals called Genera and Species in our
scientific systems. The Genus is the more comprehensive of the two kinds
of groups, while the Species is the most precisely defined, or at least
the most easily recognized, of all the divisions of the Animal Kingdom.
But neither the term Genus nor Species has always been taken in the same
sense. Genus especially has varied in its acceptation, from the time
when Aristotle applied it indiscriminately to any kind of comprehensive
group, from the Classes down to what we commonly call Genera, till the
present day. But we have already seen, that, instead of calling all the
various kinds of more comprehensive divisions by the name of Genera,
modern science has applied special names to each of them, and we have
now Families, Orders, Classes, and Branches above Genera proper. If
the foregoing discussion upon the nature of these groups is based upon
trustworthy principles, we must admit that they are all founded upon
distinct categories of characters,--the primary divisions, or the
Branches, on plan of structure, the Classes upon the manner of its
execution, the Orders upon the greater or less complication of a given
mode of execution, the Families upon form; and it now remains to be
ascertained whether Genera also exist in Nature, and by what kind of
characteristics they may be distinguished. Taking the practice of the
ablest naturalists in discriminating Genera as a guide in our estimation
of their true nature, we must, nevertheless, remember that even now,
while their classifications of the more comprehensive groups usually
agree, they differ greatly in their limitation of Genera, so that the
Genera of some authors correspond to the Families of others, and vice
versa. This undoubtedly arises from the absence of a definite standard
for the estimation of these divisions. But the different categories of
structure which form the distinctive criteria of the more comprehensive
divisions once established, the question is narrowed down to an inquiry
into the special category upon which Genera may be determined; and if
this can be accurately defined, no difference of opinion need interfere
hereafter with their uniform limitation. Considering all these divisions
of the Animal Kingdom from this point of view, it is evident that the
more comprehensive ones must be those which are based on the broadest
characters,--Branches, as united upon plan of structure, standing of
course at the head; next to these the Classes, since the general mode
of executing the plan presents a wider category of characters than
the complication of structure on which Orders rest; after Orders come
Families, or the patterns of form in which these greater or less
complications of structure are clothed; and proceeding in the same way
from more general to more special considerations, we can have no other
category of structure as characteristic of Genera than the details of
structure by which members of the same Family may differ from each
other, and this I consider as the only true basis on which to limit
Genera, while it is at the same time in perfect accordance with the
practice of the most eminent modern zoologists. It is in this way that
Cuvier has distinguished the large number of Genera he has characterized
in his great Natural History of the Fishes, in connection with
Valenciennes. Latreille has done the same for the Crustacea and Insects;
and Milne Edwards, with the cooeperation of Haime, has recently proceeded
upon the same principle in characterizing a great number of Genera among
the Corals. Many others have followed this example, but few have kept
in view the necessity of a uniform mode of proceeding, or, if they have
done their researches have covered too limited a ground, to be taken
into consideration in a discussion of principles. It is, in fact, only
when extending over a whole Class that the study of Genera acquires a
truly scientific importance, as it then shows in a connected manner, in
what way, by what features, and to what extent a large number of animals
are closely linked together in Nature. Considering the Animal Kingdom as
a single complete work of one Creative Intellect, consistent throughout,
such keen analysis and close criticism of all its parts have the same
kind of interest, in a higher degree, as that which attaches to other
studies undertaken in the spirit of careful comparative research.
These different categories of characters are, as it were, different
peculiarities of style in the author, different modes of treating the
same material, new combinations of evidence bearing on the same general
principles. The study of Genera is a department of Natural History which
thus far has received too little attention even at the hands of our best
zoologists, and has been treated in the most arbitrary manner; it
should henceforth be made a philosophical investigation into the closer
affinities which naturally bind in minor groups all the representatives
of a natural Family.
Genera, then, are groups of a more restricted character than any of
those we have examined thus far. Some of them include only one Species,
while others comprise hundreds; since certain definite combinations of
characters may be limited to a single Species, while other combinations
may be repeated in many. We have striking examples of this among Birds:
the Ostrich stands alone in its Genus, while the number of Species among
the Warblers is very great. Among Mammalia the Giraffe also stands
alone, while Mice and Squirrels include many Species. Genera are
founded, not, as we have seen, on general structural characters, but on
the finish of special parts, as, for instance, on the dentition. The
Cats have only four grinders in the upper jaw and three in the lower,
while the Hyenas have one more above and below, and the Dogs and Wolves
have two more above and two more below. In the last, some of the teeth
have also flat surfaces for crushing the food, adapted especially to
their habits, since they live on vegetable as well as animal substances.
The formation of the claws is another generic feature. There is a
curious example with reference to this in the Cheetah, which is again
a Genus containing only one Species. It belongs to the Cat Family,
but differs from ordinary Lions and Tigers in having its claws so
constructed that it cannot draw them back under the paws, though in
every other respect they are like the claws of all the Cats. But while
it has the Cat-like claw, its paws are like those of the Dog, and this
singular combination of features is in direct relation to its habits,
for it does not lie in wait and spring upon its prey like the Cat, but
hunts it like the Dog.
While Genera themselves are, like Families, easily distinguished, the
characters on which they are founded, like those of Families, are
difficult to trace. There are often features belonging to these groups
which attract the attention and suggest their association, though they
are not those which may be truly considered generic characters. It is
easy to distinguish the Genus Fox, for instance, by its bushy tail, and
yet that is no true generic character; the collar of feathers round the
neck of the Vultures leads us at once to separate them from the Eagles,
but it is not the collar that truly marks the Genus, but rather the
peculiar structure of the feathers which form it. No Bird has a more
striking plumage than the Peacock, but it is not the appearance merely
of its crest and spreading fan that constitutes a Genus, but the
peculiar structure of the feathers. Thousands of examples might be
quoted to show how easily Genera may be singled out, named, and entered
in our systems, without being duly characterized, and it is much to be
lamented that there is no possibility of checking the loose work of this
kind with which the annals of our science are daily flooded.
It would, of course, be quite inappropriate to present here any
general revision of these groups; but I may present a few instances to
illustrate the principle of their classification, and to show on what
characters they are properly based. Among Reptiles, we find, for
instance, that the Genera of our fresh-water Turtles differ from each
other in the cut of their bill, in the arrangement of their scales,
in the form of their claws, etc. Among Fishes, the different Genera
included under the Family of Perches are distinguished by the
arrangement of their teeth, by the serratures of their gill-covers, and
of the arch to which the pectoral fins are attached, by the nature and
combination of the rays of their fins, by the structure of their scales,
etc. Among Insects, the various Genera of the Butterflies differ in the
combination of the little rods which sustain their wings, in the form
and structure of their antennae, of their feet, of the minute scales
which cover their wings, etc. Among Crustacea, the Genera of Shrimps
vary in the form of the claws, in the structure of the parts of the
mouth, in the articulations of their feelers, etc. Among Worms, the
different Genera of the Leech Family are combined upon the form of the
disks by which they attach themselves, upon the number and arrangement
of their eyes, upon the structure of the hard parts with which the mouth
is armed, etc. Among Cephalopods, the Family of Squids contains several
Genera distinguished by the structure of the solid shield within the
skin of the back, by the form and connection of their fins, by the
structure of the suckers with which their arms are provided, by the
form of their beak, etc. In every Class, we find throughout the Animal
Kingdom that there is no sound basis for the discrimination of Genera
except the details of their structure; but in order to define them
accurately an extensive comparison of them is indispensable, and in
characterizing them only such features should be enumerated as are truly
generic; whereas in the present superficial method of describing them,
features are frequently introduced which belong not only to the whole
Family, but even to the whole Class which includes them.
There remains but one more division of the Animal Kingdom for our
consideration, the most limited of all in its circumscription,--that
of Species. It is with the study of this kind of group that naturalists
generally begin their investigations. I believe, however, that the study
of Species as the basis of a scientific education is a great mistake.
It leads us to overrate the value of Species, and to believe that they
exist in Nature in some different sense from other groups; as if there
were something more real and tangible in Species than in Genera,
Families, Orders, Classes, or Branches. The truth is, that to study a
vast number of Species without tracing the principles that combine
them under more comprehensive groups is only to burden the mind with
disconnected facts, and more may be learned by a faithful and careful
comparison of a few Species than by a more cursory examination of a
greater number. When one considers the immense number of Species already
known, naturalists might well despair of becoming acquainted with them
all, were they not constructed on a few fundamental patterns, so that
the study of one Species teaches us a great deal for all the rest. De
Candolle, who was at the same time a great botanist and a great teacher,
told me once that he could undertake to illustrate the fundamental
principles of his science with the aid of a dozen plants judiciously
selected, and that it was his unvarying practice to induce students to
make a thorough study of a few minor groups of plants, in all their
relations to one another, rather than to attempt to gain a superficial
acquaintance with a large number of species. The powerful influence he
has had upon the progress of Botany vouches for the correctness of his
views. Indeed, every profound scholar knows that sound learning can be
attained only by this method, and the study of Nature makes no exception
to the rule. I would therefore advise every student to select a few
representatives from all the Classes, and to study these not only with
reference to their specific characters, but as members also of a Genus,
of a Family, of an Order, of a Class, and of a Branch. He will soon
convince himself that Species have no more definite and real existence
in Nature than all the other divisions of the Animal Kingdom, and that
every animal is the representative of its Branch, Class, Order, Family,
and Genus as much as of its Species, Specific characters are only
those determining size, proportion, color, habits, and relations to
surrounding circumstances and external objects. How superficial, then,
must be any one's knowledge of an animal who studies it only with
relation to its specific characters! He will know nothing of the finish
of special parts of the body,--nothing of the relations between its
form and its structure,--nothing of the relative complication of its
organization as compared with other allied animals,--nothing of the
general mode of execution,--nothing of the plan expressed in that mode
of execution. Yet, with the exception of the ordinal characters, which,
since they imply relative superiority and inferiority, require, of
course, a number of specimens for comparison, his one animal would tell
him all this as well as the specific characters.
All the more comprehensive groups, equally with Species, have a
positive, permanent, specific principle, maintained generation after
generation with all its essential characteristics. Individuals are
the transient representatives of all these organic principles, which
certainly have an independent, immaterial existence, since they outlive
the individuals that embody them, and are no less real after the
generation that has represented them for a time has passed away than
they were before.
From a comparison of a number of well-known Species belonging to a
natural Genus, it is not difficult to ascertain what are essentially
specific characters. There is hardly among Mammalia a more natural Genus
than that which includes the Rabbits and Hares, or that to which the
Rats and Mice are referred. Let us see how the different Species differ
from one another. Though we give two names in the vernacular to
the Genus Hare, both Hares and Rabbits agree in all the structural
peculiarities which constitute a Genus; but the different Species are
distinguished by their absolute size when full-grown,--by the nature and
color of their fur,--by the size and form of the ear,--by the relative
length of their legs and tail,--by the more or less slender build of
their whole body,--by their habits, some living in open grounds,
others among the bushes, others in swamps, others burrowing under the
earth,--by the number of young they bring forth,--by their different
seasons of breeding,--and by still minor differences, such as the
permanent color of the hair throughout the year in some, while in others
it turns white in winter. The Rats and Mice differ in a similar way:
there being large and small Species,--some gray, some brown, others
rust-colored,--some with soft, others with coarse hair; they differ also
in the length of the tail, and in having it more or less covered with
hair,--in the cut of the ears, and their size,--in the length of
their limbs, which are slender and long in some, short and thick in
others,--in their various ways of living,--in the different substances
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