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PREFACE

THE aim of this volume is to supply information on the topics indicated in the title-page, in such a form as may interest and instruct youth, and' which may not be unworthy the notice of those of riper years.

As the kind of sky which the artist hangs over his landscapes is held to give the tone to the whole picture, so endeavour has been made to bring out some questions in Science, in Literature, and the Arts, under (if we may so put it) a Christian atmosphere. This has been done, either by regarding these in the light of the Papers of a purely religious kind, or by giving greater prominence to the thoughts of God in them than is generally done.

While most of the papers have been drawn up by the Editor, he is indebted for several of them to friends of some note in the Church, in Science, or in Literature.

Some of the woodcuts have appeared before, but, as they seemed suitable as illustrations for two or three of the subjects in this book, they are, at the suggestion of the Editor, again used. Quotations have the names of authors affixed, when these were known.

The title may to some seem ambitious, but it is the only one which could be thought of as descriptive of this volume, in which, however, there is no attempt to do more than to supply pleasant and useful reading on a few of those subjects suggested by it. In commending the following pages to the reader, the Editor can use sincerely the words of an old author_“I wish the argument had had a better workman, but let what is defective in the discourse be made up by the author's good intentions and the reader's indulgence.”

THE HERON.

THE
very name calls

up

memories of rambles in solitary places ; and the green bank studded with daisies and primroses, the laughing rivulet hastening, to the music of its own sweet murmur, over its pebbled bed, to lose its pure waters in the deep dark river, and the trees clothing themselves in verdure all rise in happy vision before our eyes. The last time we looked upon the Ardea Cinerea, as our naturalists love to name the heron, it was in such a spot. We had traced the course of a stream for miles, through a wild, waste, moorland district, when suddenly, on rounding a hill, we came upon a number of alders, and broom-bushes, and tall ferns. It was a striking change of scene- - from the wasted heath, and faded rush, and drooping stalks of cotton grass, over which we had been wandering for several hours. Resting on a great trap boulder, which some glacier had been carrying in its bosom when it was arrested by a power greater than its own, and made to deposit it on the spot from which we were to get a peep beyond these gnarled alders and browned braken, we saw a nook of quiet beauty, bounded by natural birch and oak and alder, and, in the middle of this, the moorland stream flowed gently, as if loving to

A

linger amidst the loveliness into which it had been ushered. But what tall, upright watchman is that which seems to keep guard over the minnows which now leap into the sunshine, as if wishing to realise the dreams of all development devotees, by an attempt at flying, in order that their fins might become wings, and they themselves, in pride, soar aloft as birds ? That ashy-coloured guard is none other than the common heron, le Héron Huppé, the tufted heron of Buffon. Exalted on a stone, in the middle of the stream, he is not inattentive to what is going on in the water around him, as that sudden dart of his long bill testifies. There, an ambitious minnow is fairly bagged, and with evident satisfaction M. Héron Huppé resumes his rest-posture again. He is not a gun-shot away from us,

and now that we have admired the wooded banks and the deep green grass at the streamlet's edge, giving such bold relief to the yellow primroses, and have acknowledged the picturesque attitude of the feathered grenadier, we may as well get a closer look at him. Crack! goes the gun, and “le Héron Huppé” rises slowly. He seems too heavy for the air now, and falters a little, as if he were about to return to the stream. Then, crack goes the other barrel, and he reluctantly has to wait till we wade through the long grass and the withered coltsfoot. Stooping cautiously down to look at him, he makes a last effort to be soldier-like, and, aiming his long spear bill at our eyes, he falls back dead. Now we may examine him with safety. Thus we describe him :-“Bill much longer than the head, as large as it is high, or larger at the base ; upper mandible nearly straight; a great portion of the tibia, or leg, naked.” A tuft of long loose black feathers hangs from the back of the head, and tapers gracefully to a point; and as that arched neck needs something to hide the projecting breast, another bunch of showy white feathers hangs down from the edge of the arch. The front of the neck is adorned with longitudinal black and ash coloured spots. He is, on the whole, a presentable bird, this M. le Héron Huppé, with his light blue coat, yellow bill, and brown feet; and now that we have examined him, the love of the picturesque comes back on us, and we half regret that he will never, never more stand sentinel at that lovely spot where our gun found him out.

And our sympathy with life and the living comes back too, and we wish he were alive again.

We took refuge, however, from the sentimental reveries into which we had fallen by letting the thoughts turn to certain matters of a pleasant and useful kind, into which we had as well lead our readers as keep all the enjoyment to ourselves. The first matter, then, to which we gave serious heed, was one touching the savoury character of the bird when cooked, in plain English style, and put on the table. It is, indeed, not very fastidious as to diet. A minnow, a mouse, a frog, a newt, or a huge black snail, never comes wrong to the heron. Neill tells us of a tame one which he had “felling a rat by one blow on the back of the head, when it was munching at his dish of fish.” The young of the water-rat forms a pleasing meal for it. But, though the heron dines on such dainties, he used to be prized in olden times for the table, and they will not be disappointed with their meal who have the courage to venture upon one well roasted. In the bill of fare of the feast given at the introduction of a certain prelate to the

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