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How to See the British Museum in Four Visits online

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air, but serve to steady their bodies when leaping from branch to
branch of a tree. From these lilliputian representatives of the
monster of fable, the visitor's attention will most probably be called
by an important-looking lizard, of which Mr. Allan Cunningham brought
the first specimens to this country, from Port Nelson, Australia. We
allude to the lizard with a frill round its neck, which has been
universally likened to that worn by Queen Elizabeth: it is called the
frilled agama. It is supposed that this harmless sauroid extends this
frill to frighten away its enemies; as old ladies, who can preserve
their presence of mind in the neighbourhood of a bull, open their
umbrella to frighten it into an opposite direction. Under these
interesting sub-families are grouped the varieties of a species of
agama that has won for itself an imperishable reputation - having
furnished imaginative minds with matter for the most extravagant
speculations - and yielded to the political writer abundant sarcastic
images. No politician who has thought proper in the course of a long
career, to change his old principles for new ones (as housewives
exchange worn-out apparel for new gilded pottery); no philosopher who
has by turns embraced conflicting principles of human action; no man
of science who has published two opposite theories of the formation of
our universe, can pause without emotion before this case of classed
Chameleons; for the politician, the philosopher, and the man of
science have inevitably figured in hostile reviews under the head of
colour-changing sauroids. The popular notion respecting the
colour-changing powers of these lizards is, that at will the chameleon
can habit itself in any colour of the rainbow; that by turns it is a
red chameleon, a blue chameleon, a green chameleon, and a yellow
chameleon. The fact of the case is very far-from this notion.
Chameleons are found chiefly in Africa and India, but also in some of
the tropical islands. In their habits they are sluggards, lounging
generally about trees, and distending their long tongues covered with
a glutinous secretion, to secure passing insects, upon which they
subsist. They have eyes of wonderful power, and can look backwards and
forwards at the same moment; but as regards their colour, it is well
to assure the visitor, that their usual tint when resting in the shade
is a blue-grey, which sometimes pales to a lighter grey, turns green,
assumes a brown-grey tint, or darkens to a decided brown. These are
the sober observations of observant naturalists on the subject.

The class of reptiles to which the visitor should next direct his
attention are those classed by Cuvier and others under the head of
Ophidia, or


The particulars in which, the serpent differs from the lizard are,
that the former have no feet, cast their bright coats annually (like
our metropolitan postmen), and swallow their food without masticating
it. They occupy seven cases. The upper part of the first case contains
many of the most poisonous serpents. Among these are the well-known
and formidable Rattlesnakes of America, with specimens of their
rattles lying near them, which, as the visitor-will see, are a
succession of osseous joints. Here too are the terrible cobra di
capello, and other poisonous serpents of India; the South American fer
de lance; the vipers of Europe; the North African crested viper; and
the Cape of Good Hope and Western African puff adder; the Guinea
nosehorn viper, and the common viper found in England - our only
dangerous serpent. These serpents all inflict their poisonous wounds
by means of two fangs, which they protrude from the mouth, and from
the points of which they inject the poisonous matter into the wounds
they inflict. On the lower shelves of this case the visitor will find
some specimens of the Sea-Serpents, which frequent the East Indian
seas, and the coast of New Holland. They are dangerous reptiles,
having small fangs amid their teeth, with which they attack bathing
animals or men. Some of them have been found sleeping on the warm
bosom of a tropical ocean; and upon the warm sands of the shore they
are often found, coiled up in a torpid state. They vary greatly in
size: but the visitor will perceive none approaching in length to that
remarkable reptile which artists, despairing in their attempts to give
it the proper dimensions, lately coiled about the wide pages of
pictorial papers.

The visitor will next have his attention drawn to that family of
serpents of which the Boa is the great representative. These are all
grouped together in cases (12-15). This family has what naturalists
call "the rudiments of legs." They are a nobler family than that which
the rattlesnake represents, inasmuch as they do not depend upon poison
to master their enemy; but fight legitimately, with their muscular
strength. The terrible pictures which adorn the pages of eastern
travels for children, of poor Indians with just their heads appearing
above the folds of a gigantic boa, will probably recur to the visitor,
as he surveys the tortuous folds of the placid specimens of the family
that lie before him. It is therefore hardly necessary to inform him
that the boa family destroy their prey by coiling round it, and having
secured their tail to a tree to give themselves additional strength,
by crushing every bone in its body. Having thus taken the life out of
the victim, the destroyer, with some trouble, if the animal be large,
swallows it, and lies down for weeks to allow the process of digestion
to go on. Some of these boas are from Africa, some from India, and
some from America. The last two cases of serpents (16, 17) include
many varieties. Here are the common water and ring snakes of England;
the coach whip snakes, that live coiled about trees; the black and red
ringed snakes, known as the coral snakes; and the varieties of
serpents with which the famed serpent charmers of India exhibit their
skill. The juggler snakes have the peculiar power of inflating the
skin of the neck till it bulges over the head, and so forms a kind of
hood. The Indian varieties of these hooded snakes are poisonous, and
are distinguishable from the others by a yellow spot on the back of
the neck.

From the serpents the visitor should turn to the families of the
Testudinata, or


Tortoises are broadly divided into three species, namely, land
tortoises; fresh water tortoises, of which there are no less than
forty-six varieties; and marine tortoises, well known to the citizens
of London, in the shape of turtle-soup. The land tortoises subsist on
vegetables, and are said to live occasionally more than two hundred
years. The two first cases devoted to Testudinata (18, 19) contain the
American, Indian, and African varieties of the land tortoise. Here is
the gigantic tortoise from Galapagos, for the flesh of which many a
sailor has been grateful. The visitor will remark that the shells of
some of the sub-families are handsomely marked. The fresh water
tortoises, having the greatest number of sub-families, occupy three
cases (20-22). This species is found in the marshes or rivers of warm
climates, where they prey upon small fishes and frogs. The thurgi
tortoise of India, and the American snapping-tortoise, grow to a great
size. In the lower part of case 22 are specimens of those tortoises
which sleep with their heads bent under the margin of their shell. In
the last case devoted to tortoises, are those hard tortoises known as
the three-clawed terrapins of Asia, Africa, and America. These are the
strictly carnivorous family that feed in the water; and may be seen
preying upon the human remains that float down the Ganges. Under these
terrible epicures are the marine tortoises or turtles; and among them
the green turtle of the tropics. Shellfish and sea-weed are its chief
food; of its flesh, all Londoners who have not tasted it, can speak
pretty confidently from hearsay. It grows occasionally to a great
size; those smaller ones which the citizens prize weighing generally
about 600 lb. Here too are the turtle of the Mediterranean, and the
hawksbill turtle of Arabia, to which ladies are indebted for the
choicest of their tortoise-shell combs. Having sufficiently dwelt upon
the interesting histories of the tortoises, the visitor's way lies
forward in the direction of the two cases next in order of succession,
which are devoted to the Loricata, or


The varieties of this family are not many; they are grouped in three
cases (24-26). Here are the terrible common crocodiles which have long
been the terror of the people whose native land they inhabit; the
alligators, which patronise America exclusively; and the gavials of
India. They are said to act as orderlies, in the rivers they frequent,
devouring all the putrid matter that would else infect the atmosphere.
Here too are those curious snakes which are equally thick at either
end - a peculiarity which has earned for them the appellation of
double-headed, and the supposed power of walking indifferently
forwards or backwards. The visitor now approaches the


called by zoologists after the Greek name, Batrachia. The author of
the Vestiges of Creation remarks, that the frog is the only animal
that, like man, has a calf on the hinder part of its legs. The
batrachian animals are here all grouped in one case (26). They have
many peculiarities. They are in the first place almost ribless; their
feet are in no way armed; many of the toads have no teeth, and those
of the frog are insignificant for its size; they have no tails;
neither the frogs nor the toads are venomous; the fiery expectorations
of the poor toads are matters of household fable only; and their
croaking choruses have startled many a poor traveller. One variety, in
the case with which the visitor is now engaged, is remarkable. Here
are specimens of the tree frogs that can walk with their backs
downwards on the most polished surfaces, and can slightly change their
colour; the paradoxical frog from Surinam, which is larger as a
tadpole than in its condition of maturity; the Brazilian horned toads;
the American bull frogs; and the Brazilian pipa, the female of which
deposits its eggs upon the back of the male, who carries them about
till they burst from their shells; the repulsive siren of Carolina,
which Mr. J.E. Gray likens to an eel with fore-legs; and lastly, here
is the blushing proteus, which in its native subterranean caverns is
of a pale pink, but when brought to the light of day, deepens into a
crimson blush; this is represented by a waxen model. It is strange
that political and controversial literature, so rich in chameleons,
asses in lions' skins, and other figures for human fallibility and
stupidity, should not contain a few, just a few, varieties of the
blushing proteus.

The visitor has now examined all the wall cases of the second room;
and his way again lies to the west. The third or central room of the
gallery, which he is now about to enter, is to a large class of
country visitors, perhaps the most interesting apartment of the
museum. Herein is deposited a complete museum of the animal life of
Britain, comprehending the beasts and birds native to its soil, and
the fishes that swim in its waters.


In this room, as in the previous rooms, the vertebrated animals are
grouped in the wall cases or on the top of the cases. It is hardly
necessary to guide the visitor systematically through the intricacies
of a collection, every beast, bird, fish, and shell of which is native
to his own land. In the wall cases devoted to British vertebrate
animals he will notice, first the Carnivorous Beasts, which include
the foxes; stoats; cats; &c.: - the Glirine Beasts, including rabbits;
squirrels; hares; rats; and mice: - the Hoofed Beasts, as the fallow
deer; the stag; and the roebuck: - and the Insectivorous Beasts,
including moles; hedgehogs; &c.

The collection of British birds includes the Birds of Prey, as the
hawks; the eagles; and the owls: - the Perching Birds, as the swallows;
kingfishers; thrushes; butcher birds; rollers; and wagtails: - the
Scraping Birds, as pheasants; pigeons; quails; partridges; and
guinea-fowls: - the Wading Birds, including the woodcock; snipes;
herons; sandpipers; storks; &c.: - and the Web-footed Birds, including
swans; ducks, and sea ducks; grebes; divers; auks; petrels; gulls;
gannets; cormorants; &c. The eggs of the birds are in a table case (1)
and arranged like the birds.

The British reptiles are all collected in the upper part of one case,
including toads; frogs; and lizards.

The British fish occupy the remainder of the wall cases. These include
perch; bream; the john-dory; carp; barbel; salmon; pike; trout;
sturgeon; the shark; thornback; lamprey; turbot; plaice; sole;
flounder; cod; haddock; &c.


Three tables (2-4) are devoted to insects with jaws; the insects that
are furnished with a proboscis; and a collection of British Crustacea,
including lobsters; crabs; woodlice; shrimps; &c. On the table upon
which the Insects with Jaws are spread, the visitor will notice many
household torments, including beetles; crickets; earwigs, bees; and
wasps: and in the general collection, ants; grasshoppers; cockroaches;
dragon-flies; &c. The Insects with a proboscis include some beautiful
butterflies with their painted wings; gnats; and, to the horror of
many female visitors, bugs.

The three next tables are covered with specimens of the shells of
British mollusca, or soft-bodied animals. Here are the shells of
snails, cockles, mussels, oysters, &c.

The collection closes with a table case (8) which is covered with
specimens of those animals called by Cuvier radiated creatures, or
creatures whose nervous force is concentrated in a central point
whence it radiates, as in the starfish; sea eggs, &c; corals; sea
pens; corallines, &c.

Having made this rapid survey of the animal life of Great Britain from
its highest to its lowest developments, the visitor should again
resume his journey westward, to the fourth room of the gallery, in
which the collection of


begins. Here the Osseous or bony fishes are distributed in and on the
top of the wall cases. While taking a general glance at the
arrangement of the room, the visitor will at once be struck by the
specimens of Sword fish - especially by the Indian flying sword fish,
which are placed on the top of the wall cases on account of their
length - and some of the pikes or swords of these fish, one of which,
it is asserted, was driven, by the fish to which it belonged, into the
hull of a stout oak ship. On the top of one of the cases the visitor
should notice also the remarkable large head, from Mexico, with a long
dorsal ray.

There are six orders or families of osseous or bony fish; and
specimens of all these will be found in the wall cases of this room.
First there is the family of


This family occupies the first thirteen wall cases. Among the fishes
in the first four cases, the visitor should notice the flying
gurnards; the sea scorpions, and flying sea scorpions; the paradise
fish; and the perches, including the fingered variety. The next cases
(4-9) include, amid other varieties, the chaetodons, or
bristle-toothed fish; mackarel, and horse mackarel; tunny; scombers,
&c.; john-dories; and pilot fish. Then follow, next in succession, two
cases (10, 11) containing the lively dolphins, which are remarkable
for the rapidity with which they change colour when they are withdrawn
from the water; the sturgeons, with their lancet spine; and the sea
garters. The next two cases include the remaining specimens of the
spiny-finned fish. Among these are the wolf fish; the curiously formed
tobacco-pipe fish; the big-headed dolphins or anglers; the hand fish,
with its long fins; and the rook fish.


are deposited in nine cases. In the first two cases (14, 15) of the
series, are the fresh water fish of different countries, including the
voracious and long-lived pike: these form an interesting group for the
contemplation of anglers. The next case is devoted to hard-coated
fish, as the Callichthes, which are cased with a thick scale armour;
and the hard-coated Loricaria. The fish grouped in the other cases of
the series, are mostly familiar to the general visitor. Here are the
varieties of the salmon and the herring; cod; ling; turbot; flounders;
eels of various kinds; whiting; and the lump fish. The remaining four
cases of this room are devoted to a series of fishes including, in
cases 23, 24, the globe fish with a parrot's beak; and the ungainly
sea horses. The two last cases (25, 26) include the file fish; the
coffin fishes with their hard case of octagonal plates; and the
European and American sturgeons. Having examined the varieties of
osseous fishes, the visitor should continue his westerly course into
the fifth and last room, a compartment of the northern zoological
gallery. In this room he will find the wall cases devoted to


Many of the specimens of this division are placed on the top of the
wall cases, being too large to be placed inside the cases. The
Cartilaginous fishes here brought together include the varieties of
the ray; torpedos; and sharks. At the western extremity of this room
the visitor should terminate the onward course of his first visit,
and, remembering that the table cases of the northern and eastern
galleries through which he has passed, remain to be examined on his
way back to the grand staircase, should begin to retrace his steps,
confining his attention, as he returns, to the table cases placed in
the central space of the rooms through which his way lies. He should
now therefore face the east, and return, in the northern zoological
gallery towards its eastern extremity. The table cases deposited in
the room with the cartilaginous fish are covered with


of different kinds. It will be interesting to the visitor to know
something of the natural history of the sponge. It has been
ascertained, beyond a doubt, that the sponge is an animal that sucks
in its food and excretes its superfluities; that certain of its pores
imbibe, while others exude; and that according to the relative
positions of the two distinct sets of pores, is the shape of the
sponge determined. In a natural state, as it is found in the
Mediterranean, the sponge is surrounded with a thick glutinous matter,
which is its vital part; like coral, it is a zoophyte: it propagates
in the same manner, and its life is indestructible till it is removed
from its proper element, and the glutinous matter which makes its
vitality has been boiled out of its pores, leaving the soft and
beautiful skeletons, of which these cases contain many specimens. Here
also are some old sponges preserved in flint. Having noticed these
beautiful zoophytes, the visitor should proceed in an easterly
direction into the room he recently quitted, to examine the table
cases it contains. The first tables to which he should direct his
attention here, are those in which a series of Crustacea or
hard-coated animals are deposited. They are of Cuvier's order of
animal life, known as the articulata, or animals whose bodies consist
of a series of moveable joints. These are mostly inhabitants of the
sea, and rank in the animal kingdom as the highest class of the
Articulata, except the insects, who head the order. The tables upon
which the Crustacea or


are deposited, are numbered from 13 to 24. The four first cases
(13-16) are covered with Crabs of various kinds, including the
long-legged spider-crabs, common crabs with oysters growing upon their
backs, and fin-footed swimming crabs. The next case (17) contains in
addition to the long-eyed or telescope crab, varieties of the
land-crab, which is found in various parts of India; one kind, that
swarms in the Deccan, commits great ravages in the rice-fields. The
two next tables are covered with Chinese crabs, square-bodied crabs;
those crabs with fine shells known as porcelain crabs, and the curious
death's head crab, which seems to build a kind of nest of sponge or
shells. But upon the next table (20) the visitor will find the most
remarkable of the crabs, together with an astonishing lobster. This
crab is known as the hermit crab. The visitor will perceive, that it
has a long naked tail; and he should know that the one all-absorbing
care of its life seems to be to find a place of safety in which this
unprotected part may be screened from the dire mischances of war.
Accordingly, at an early age, it sets out in search of a deserted
shell into which it backs its tail; or if an unoccupied shell be not
at hand, without much ceremony, the hermit contrives a summary
ejectment of the lawful tenant, that it may shield its tail and be at
rest. Upon the same table with this unceremonious hermit, lies the
tree-lobster, which is believed to climb cocoa-trees in search of the
nuts. Upon the next table (21) are the sea craw-fish and sea locusts;
and upon the succeeding table (22) the visitor will remark the
destructive scorpion-lobster of India, the excavations of which
seriously damage the roads of that part of the world; Shrimps in all
their varieties; the delicate alima, with its pale thin shell; and the
long king crab. Upon the last two tables devoted to shell fish, or
crustacea, are spread the goose shells or barnacles, whale lice, and I
the sea acorn.

Having examined these crustacea, the visitor should turn his attention
to the twelve tables (1-12) upon which a fine collection of


is spread. The first eight tables are covered with varieties of


These include some beautiful insects. The care with which the many
thousand varieties have been classified by zoologists, and the
minuteness with which the habits of each variety have been traced,
have raised these insects to a conspicuous position in the great
Animal Kingdom. Their beauty, as they lie here in vast numbers before
the spectator, is dazzling. Every colour and every combination and
shade of colour can be traced upon them; and in these varieties of
tint there appears to be a wise provision of nature, the blue coloured
beetle being the frequenter of the bark of trees, the green beetle
revelling among the leaves; and the gay red and light beetles being
the _habitées_ of flower cups. Upon the first table of the series (1)
are some curious varieties. Here are the remarkable burying-beetle,
that deposits its eggs in the rotting flesh of small dead animals, and
then, with the assistance of some kindred beetles buries the body,
leaving its progeny to enjoy the carrion when they quicken; the sacred
scarabaeus of the Egyptians, and the British variety of the same
beetle, that bury their eggs in their dung. Upon the next table (2)
are the golden tropical beetles, whose wings are used by the natives
as ornaments; the celebrated glow worms, the females of which emit a
phosphorescent light, in order to attract the attention of the
males - thus these lights are love signals; the Brazilian
diamond-beetle, a splendid insect, and the harlequin beetle. The third
table (3) is covered with varieties of the kangaroo beetles, a
brilliant collection of ladybirds, the varieties of earwigs,
cockroaches, originally tropical insects only; the praying insects,
called so from their habit of erecting their fore legs and assuming a
prayerful attitude, when, in fact, they are preparing for an attack
upon their prey: and the insects which the uninitiated visitor has
already mistaken for pieces of stick, but which are the walking
leaf-insects; some with wings like dead leaves, and others wingless.
The fourth table (4) is covered with the varieties of the Cricket,
including the great Chinese cricket, dragon-flies, scorpion-flies, the
terrible tropical white ants, caddis flies, wasps, saw-flies, bees,
hornets, and sand wasps.


Then follow three tables (5-7) of splendid butterflies, with their
brilliant tints. The two tables (8, 9) ranged next in order to those
upon which the butterflies are distributed, are covered with varieties
of the moth. Here are the silkworm moth and its cocoon as kept in
Siberia; the ghost moth of our hop grounds; the hawk moth, the death's
head moth, and the large Brazilian owl moth.

The next table (10) is covered with a great variety of flies and bugs,
including the Chinese lantern flies.

The eleventh table is given up to Spiders in all their varieties,
including the tarantula, a formidable insect with a power of severe

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Online LibraryW. Blanchard JerroldHow to See the British Museum in Four Visits → online text (page 4 of 17)