Page images
PDF
EPUB

« Forth from the dark recesses of the cave

12.

“On a blue throne, with four huge silver snakes,
As if the keepers of the sanctuary,
Circled with stretching neck and langs display'd,
Mexitli sat: another graven snake

Belted with scales of gold his monster bulk." 10. Even among our British ancestors the priests are said to have had tame serpents of great size, which they suffered to twine around their bodies, thereby inspiring the people with wonder, fear, and servile obedience. Southey, in his poem of Madoc, has vividly depicted such an exhibition and its effects. Neolin, the priest of the snake-god, is a prisoner in the hands of Madoc and his party, when 11.

The serpent came: the Hoamen at the sight
Shouted; and they who held the priest, appalld,
Relax'd their hold. On came the mighty snake,
And twined in many a wreath round Neolin,
Darting aright, aloft, his sinuous neck,
With searching eye and lifted jaw, and tongus
Quivering; and hiss as of a heavy shower
Upon the summer woods.

" The Britons stood
Astounded at the powerful reptile's bulk,
And that strange sight. His girth was as of man,
But easily could he have overtopped
Goliath's helmed head; or that hnge king
Of Basan, hugest of the Anakim.
What then was human strength if once involved
Within those dreadful coils! The multitude

Fell prone, and worship'd."--SOUTHEY. 13. Thus much for the fable and poetry of our subject, which assuredly it is well to be acquainted with. A few words now as to the more tangible realities of serpent life. Serpents may be divided into the two large sections, the venomous and the non-venomous, of which about sixty species of the former have been enumerated, and more than three hundred of the latter.* They are numerous, and some of them of great size in the jungles, marshes, savannas,12 and other desolate places of the tropics, but are rare and diminutive in cold regions. Only three species are found in Britain; none in Ireland ; sixteen species are found in New York and the New England States, of which only two are venomous, the copperhead and the rattlesnake. All serpents are carnivorous, of slow growth, and long lived. Like all slow breathers, they can exist a long time without food.

14. Many thrilling accounts might be given of the serpentcharmers of the East; of deadly contests between serpents of different species, and between serpents and other animals,

* More correctly, the division is into VIPERINE and COLUBRINE serpents. In the former division are embraced the Viper family and the Rattlesnake family; in the latter, the Coluber serpents (our common harmless snakes), the Boas and Pythons, and the ma- . rine serpents. A few of the Colubrine serpents are believed to be venomous.

their natural enemies, and of the slaying of enormous boas and pythons of South America and Southern Asia, which have been known to envelop and crush in their folds a goat, deer, or ox, and even a man. Some of these accounts, which may be regarded as authentic, I will send for your perusal, and pass on in my next letter to a brief notice of the amphibians, the last of the four orders of the reptile race. 1 DE-VOID', destitute of.

6 SÝM'-BOL, an emblem or sign of something. 2 MĚM'-BERS, limbs of animal bodies. 7 AL'-LE-GO-Ry, a story in which the literal 3 Ev-O-LŪ'-TIONS, motions.

meaning is not the direct or simple one. ? ÉM-BLEM, that which represents one thing 8 WẠND, a staff or rod of authority.

to the eye and another to the understand- 9 LA-00-0-ÒN. ing.

10 FİL'-LET, a head-band. 5 MYTH-O-LÕU'-I€-AL, pertaining to the fa- 11 VĚN'-OM. bles of the heathen gods.

| 12 SA-VĂN'-NA, an open meadow or plain.

LESSON VII.-A LETTER ABOUT THE AMPHIBIANS.

[graphic]

Scale of Inches. THE AMPHIBIANS, OR BATRACHIANA.-1. The Proteus, or “Big Water Lizard," Menooranchus lateralis (common in the waters of Western New York). 2. European Edible Frog, Rana esculenta. 3. Common American Frog, Rana silvatica. 4. Surinam Toad, Pipa Americana. 5. Southern Squirrel Tree-Toad, Hyla Squirella. 6. Crimson-spotted Triton, Evet, or Salamander, Triton millepunctatus. 7. Common European Water Newt, Triton cristatus. 8. Mexican Siren, or Axolot.

Dellwild, July 19th, 18—. 1. MY YOUNG FRIEND, -In beginning this promised letter, I must premise that the amphibians, called also, by some writers, batrachians (from a Greek word meaning a frog), have been thought by some naturalists to possess peculiarities sufficiently important to entitle them to rank as a group distinct from the reptiles. Their arrangement, however, whether among the reptiles or as a distinct class, is unimportant, so long as we understand that, in descending from the higher to the lower forms of life, they hold a rank intermediate between the true reptiles and the fishes.

2. The chief interest connected with the amphibians, which comprise the frogs, toads, salamanders, and sirens, lies in the curious transformations' or metamorphoses' which they undergo, from the character of fishes in their infancy, breathing by means of gills, to the nature and habits of true reptiles, rising to the dignity of four legs, and breathing by means of lungs. Thus the common frog begins life as a tadpole or pol liwog, hatched from an egg in a pond or in some marshy place. In its fish-like state it continues for several weeks, breathes by means of gills, and feeds upon the vegetable food of fishes; at length the hinder legs bud, and are gradually developed; ere long the fore legs are produced in a similar manner; then gradually the tail shortens, dwindles away, and finally disappears; the gills are changed, lungs are formed, and the tadpole becomes a land animal. It has now risen to a higher life. Whereas it before swam by means of a tail', it now leaps by means of legs'; and as before it ate only roots and grass', it now becomes a hunter of insects and worms'.

3. Similar changes occur in all the amphibians, except that in a few of them, as in the sirens, the branchial organs? which project from the sides of the neck are permanent through life, and the animal breathes equally well in the water and on the land. In their full-grown state the habits of the amphibians are various. Thus the frogs, newts, many of the salamanders, and sirens pass most of their time in the slime of ponds, rivers, and ditches; others, like the toads, are essentially land animals. Some of the green frogs, which inhabit clear running streams, are extensively eaten in France, and considered a great delicacy.

4. The toads, although a harmless and inoffensive race, have had the misfortune to encounter the violent prejudice of mankind in all ages. A modern naturalist, writing upon this subject, says: " Yet if, with these prejudices to contend against, an observer of nature will have the courage to place one of these poor creatures in such a position as to examine its eye, his disgust or repugnance will be turned into pity and compassion; and he will wonder how such an expression

D

of mildness and patient endurance could beam from the eye of a being to which nature has given a form so repulsive, and which ignorance has invested with venomous malignancy. There is not, in fact, the least shadow of truth in these fabulous accounts of the venom of the 'toad, notwithstanding the authority of Shakspeare, and the day-dreams of the old naturalists.”

5. Equally destitute of foundation' is the notion that the salamander is the most venomous of animals. The Romans, who looked upon it with horror, had a proverb, that he who was bitten by a salamander had need of as many physicians as the animal had spots; and another more hopeless, “If a salamander bites you, put on a shroud.”

But the greatest absurdity was the belief that the salamander was incombustible—that it not only resisted the action of fire, but extin. guished it: an idea which had no other foundation than the fact that its body is covered with warty glands, from which it emits, in time of danger, a milky fluid. Thus a very small fire might be extinguished by it.

6. The sirens, which are found only in North America, are the most singular of all the reptiles, as they have permanent branchial organs, which project from the sides of the neck, and can breathe equally well in the water and out of it. They may therefore be considered the only true amphibians. The siren of the Carolinas, found in the muddy water of the rice-swamps, is nearly two feet long, and has only two legs. The Mexican siren, or axolot, has four legs. It is cooked like eels, and is regarded as a great delicacy. It was so plentiful when Cortez invaded Mexico that he is said to have subsisted his army upon it.

7. But I must bid adieu to my subject, and close this series of letters. If I have interested you, dispelled some prejudices, disposed you to look with more complacency upon this part of God's creation, and prepared you the better to appreciate the great whole of animated nature, the little time which both of us have given to this subject will not have been spent in vain. Had you passed this subject by, it would not only have been to you a link broken in the chain of animal life, but your future acquisitions in other allied sciences would thereby have been rendered incomplete and unsatisfactory. 1 TRANS-FOR-MA'-TION, à met-a-mõrph'-0-13 VĚN'-OM-Ous, spiteful, poisonous. sis, a ch nge of form.

4 MA-LĪG'-NAN-CY, extreme malice or hose BRĂNCH'-L-AL, pertaining to the branchiæ, tility. or gills.

[merged small][graphic][ocr errors]

LESSON 1.—TO A GIRL IN HER THIRTEENTH YEAR.

1. The smiles, thy talk, thy aimless plays,

So beautiful approve thee,
So winning light are all thy ways,

I can not choose but love thee.
Thy balmy breath upon my brow

Is like the summer air,
As o'er my cheek thou leanest now,

To plant a soft kiss there.
2. Thy steps are dancing toward the bound

Between the child and woman,
And thoughts and feelings more profound,

And other years are coming :

« PreviousContinue »