Copyright
Charles Waterton.

Essays on natural history, chiefly ornithology online

. (page 5 of 28)
Online LibraryCharles WatertonEssays on natural history, chiefly ornithology → online text (page 5 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


mortal complaint ; whereas, internal inflammation
was not to be trifled with for one moment. Under
this impression, I would fearlessly open a vein, and
would trust to the Peruvian bark, at a later period,
to counteract the additional encouragement which I
had been forced to give to the ague, through the
medium of the lancet. I am now, I think, in as
perfect health as man can be. But let me finish the
account of my accident. On reaching home, I applied
a very large poultice, which was renewed twice every
day. The inflammation never extended beyond the
knuckles ; and I recovered the full use of the finger
in due course of time.

Early in the year 1817, an expedition was formed

to explore the river Congo, in Africa. I went to

London, and requested Sir Joseph Banks to allow

me to accompany it as a volunteer. He acceded to

d 3



1XX AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF

my wishes. One day, whilst I was in his room,
there came a letter to inform him that the steam-
vessel appointed for the expedition did not answer
expectations; for its powers were not considered
adequate to make way against the downward stream
of the Congo. " Then," exclaimed Sir Joseph, with
great emphasis, " the intended expedition will be a
total failure ;" and, putting his hand upon my shoul-
der, " My friend," said he, " you shall not go to
Africa. There will be nothing but disappointment
and misfortune, now that the plan of proceeding by
steam cannot be put in execution to the extent which
I deem absolutely necessary for the success of the
enterprise." He then requested me to prolong my
stay in London, and to meet the scientific gentlemen
who formed the expedition for a day or two at his
house, in order to impart certain instructions to
them. I did so ; and showed them many things which,
I think, could not fail to prove useful* to them in
their preparation of specimens for the benefit of
natural history. Above all things, I tried to impress
upon their minds the absolute necessity of temper-
ance ; and I warned them particularly never to sleep
in their wet clothes.

I left London for Yorkshire, and from thence went
to Liverpool, where I embarked on board the Indian,
Captain Balberney, for Pernambuco, in Brazil



* "Soho Square, Saturday evening.
" My dear Sir,

" I return your manuscript, with abundant thanks for the Tery instruc-
tive lesson you favoured us with this morning, which far excelled in real
utility every thing I have hitherto seen.

" Your obliged and faithful

"JOSEPH BANKS."



CHARLES WATERTON, ESQ. Ixxi

Whilst I was on the other side of the Atlantic, I
read an account in one of the English papers, which
stated that the Congo expedition had entirely failed,
and that several of the gentlemen whom I had met
at the house of Sir Joseph Banks had perished in it.

In the winter of 1817-18, I was in Italy with
my friend Captain Alexander of the Navy. During
our stay in the eternal city, I fell in with my old
friend and schoolfellow, Captain Jones. Many a
tree we had climbed together in the last century ;
and, as our nerves were in excellent trim, we mounted
to the top of St. Peter's, ascended the cross, and
then climbed thirteen feet higher, where we reached
the point of the conductor, and left our gloves on it.
After this, we visited the castle of St. Angelo, and
contrived to get on to the head of the guardian
angel, where we stood on one leg.

As Captain Alexander and myself were returning
over Mount Cenis, I fancied that the baggage had
broken loose on the top of the carriage ; so I imme-
diately mounted on the wheel to see what was the
matter. As bad luck would have it, I came in con-
tact with the window, and smashed the glass : two
pieces of the pane, an inch long, penetrated a little
above the cap of the left knee, on the inner side, and
broke short off. This was at ten o'clock of the
night. I put my thumb firmly on the wound, until
the captain had brought one of the lamps to bear
on it. On seeing the blood flow in a continued
stream, and not by jerks, I knew that the artery
was safe. Having succeeded in getting out the
two pieces of glass with my finger and thumb, I



AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF

bound the wound up with my cravat Then, cutting
off my coat pocket, I gave it to the captain, and
directed him to get it filled with poultice, in a house
where we saw a light at a distance. The next day
a strong fever came on ; so we stopped until it had
abated, and then we went on again; and stopped
again on account of the fever ; and again proceeded,
until at last we reached Paris ; the wound being in
a deplorable state. Here Doctor Marshall, a friend
from Demerara, took me under his care until I was
in a state to proceed to England. He showed
exquisite skill in his treatment of the wound, and
would have done wonders for it had I staid a suffi-
cient length of time with him.

On my arrival in London, Father Scott, of the
Society of Jesus, came immediately to my assist-
ance. Having inspected the wound, he took his
departure without loss of time, and he brought back
with him the celebrated Mr. Carpue ; to whose con-
summate knowledge and incessant attention I owe
the preservation of the limb, and probably of life
too. The knee continued stiff for nearly two years ;
but, by constant exercise, and by refusing the aid of
a walkingstick, it lost at last all rigidity, and is now
as sound as though it had never been injured. I
have often thought since, that I should have laid
my bones in France, but for the unwearied exertions
of my friend Captain Alexander.

In 1824, I caught so severe a cold, by having in-
cautiously taken a hot bath in the city of New
York, that all the skill of Doctor Hossack could not
have saved me from consumption, had I not, at his



CHARLES WATERTON, ESQ. Ixxiti

-urgent entreaty, taken myself off to a warmer cli-
mate. I was bled eight times, and I lived for six
weeks on little more than white bread and tea. It
was during my stay in the United States that I was
fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Mr.
Ord of Philadelphia, that excellent naturalist, and
elegant biographer of poor Wilson the ornithologist.

In 1825, the dismally bleak and cold weather
which we experienced in the Channel was much
against me; and my old foe, an affection of the
lungs, made its appearance, and seemed determined
to have its own way. The late much lamented
Doctor Gilby of Wakefield grappled with it for six
months, and at last succeeded in restoring me to
perfect health, which I have enjoyed ever since.

In 1829, 1 became the happiest man in the world ;
but it pleased Heaven to convince me that all feli-
city here below is no more than a mere illusive
transitory dream; and I bow submissive to its
adorable decrees. I am left with one fine little boy,
who "looks up to me for light;" and I trust that I
shall succeed in imparting it to him ; for my sister,
Mrs. Carr, and her invaluable husband, together
with his aunts, Miss Edmonstone, and Miss Helen
Edmonstone, know no bounds in their affection for
him, and in their good offices to myself, who stand
so much in need of them.

Since the year 1825, 1 have not been in the Trans-
atlantic forests, but have merely sauntered from
time to time in Belgium, in Holland, and in Ger-
many, with my above-mentioned . sisters-in-law. I
was in Belgium during the revolution for real liberty



AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF

in religious matters ; and I wrote a paper for the
Examiner, in which I predicted that the game
would shortly be up for ever with the Dutch flag. I
went into the large square at Bruges to see the
Belgians engage their enemies. As the balls whistled
on all sides, I thought I might as well live to see
the row another day; so, observing a door half open,
I felt much inclined to get under cover : but, just
as I arrived at the threshold, a fat old dame shut
the door full in my face. Thank you, old lady, said I :
" Felix quam faciunt aliena pericula cautam." The
reader, I fear, is now pretty well tired with these
Memoirs. They will soon be concluded. He can-
not fail to have discovered what has been my ruling
propensity through life. I crave a little more in-
dulgence, as I am anxious to say a few words
relative to the Wanderings.

Wouralia, the ass mentioned in that work, is still
alive, and in good health. Supposing that she was
in her third year at the time that she was sent to
me from London, by the present Duke of Northum-
berland, then Lord Percy, she must now be seven
and twenty years old. She was inoculated with the
wourali poison, and restored to health by artificial
respiration. Mr. Sewell is satisfied that this Indian
poison is capable of curing the dreadful malady
caused by the bite of a mad dog. Would it not be
well to make the experiment on some person who
is just about to sink under the virulence of that
disease, and when the case has been declared utterly
hopeless by the faculty who surround the bed of the
dying man ? I have a good supply of the real ori-



CHARLES WATERTON, ESQ. IxXV

ginal. Not long ago, a gentleman was here, and
begged a small portion oC it, as he said that the
savans of Paris had lately tried some Indian poison,
but without effect. I complied with his request;
and, on opening the wax in which the poison is
enclosed, I found it quite soft, and ready for use ;
although it had not been looked at for above twenty
years. If any farmer should have one of his herd
bitten by a mad dog, I would willingly repair to the
spot, and try the effect of the poison on the animal.

I am fully aware that certain statements in the
Wanderings have procured me the honour of being
thought nearly connected with the Munchausen
family. Unenviable is the lot of him whose narra-
tives are disbelieved merely for want of sufficient
faith in him who reads them. If those who have
called my veracity in question would only have the
manliness to meet me, and point out any passage
in the book which they consider contradictory or
false, I would no longer complain of unfair treatment.

If they can show that I have deviated from the line
of truth in one single solitary instance, I will con-
sent to be called an impostor ; and then may the
Wanderings be trodden under foot, and be forgotten
for ever.

Some people imagine that I have been guilty
of a deception in placing the nondescript as a
frontispiece to the book. Let me assure these
worthies that they laboui under a gross mistake.
I never had the slightest intention to act so dis-
honourable a part. I purposely involved the frontis-
piece in mystery, on account of the illiberality



Ixxvi AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF

which I experienced from the Treasury* on my
return from Guiana.

I had spent many years in trying to improve the
very defective process universally followed in pre-
paring specimens for museums. The reader will
see by the letter signed Lushington that I was sen-
tenced to pay pretty handsomely for my exertions.

Stung with vexation at the unexpected contents
of that peremptory letter, and annoyed at the de-
tention of my collection, I determined not to com-
municate to the public the discovery which I had
made of preparing specimens upon scientific prin-
ciples ; but, in order to show what I had done, I
placed the nondescript in the Wanderings; hoping
that its appearance would stimulate to investigation
those who are interested in museums. Should there
be any expression in the Wanderings, by which the
reader may be led to imagine that I wish to pass
off this extraordinary thing either for the head and
shoulders of a man, " os homini sublime;" or for



* " Treasury Chambers, May 18th.
;" ' " Gentlemen,

" The Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury, having had
under their consideration your report of the 10th, on the application of Mr.
Charles Waterloo, for the delivery, duty free, of some birds, quadrupeds,
reptiles, and insects, collected by him in Guiana, and recently imported
from Demerara, I have it in command to acquaint you that my Lords
have informed Mr. Waterton that, if he will specify the articles which he
intends to give to public institutions, my Lords will not object to their
being delivered duty free ; but that, with regard to the specimens intended
for his own or any private collection, they can only be delivered on pay.
ment of the ad valorem duty of 20 per cent. ; and I am to desire you will
give the necessary directions to your officers at Liverpool, in conformity
thereto.

"lam, &c.

" (Signed) J. R. LusHWGTO!*.

" Commissioners of Customs."



CHARLES WATERTON, ESQ. Ixxvii

those of an ape, " Simla, quam similis, turpissima
bestia nobis ; " it is my earnest desire that the said
expression may be considered null and void. I have
no wish whatever that the nondescript should pass
for any other thing than that which the reader
himself should wish it to pass for. Not considering
myself pledged to tell its story, I leave it to the
reader to say what it is, or what it is not.

Some of my encounters with wild beasts may
appear hair-breadth escapes, and very alarming
things, to readers at their own fireside ; but to me,
in the forest, they appeared not so.

We are told that death itself is not heeded
when the battle rages. This I believe ; for when
honour, fame, or duty, urge a determined man
forwards, I apprehend that he knows not what it is
to fear. Thus, the soldier marches boldly on, even
to the cannon's mouth ; the fox-hunter, in conscious
pride, flies over the five-barred gate ; and half way
down Dover's cliff " hangs one that gathers sam-
phire." But, I ask, would a " pampered menial "
storm the deadly breach? would a gouty alderman
descend the rock of Ailsa, based by the roaring
ocean in quest of sea-fowls' eggs? No. Their
habits, and their ailments, would disable or prevent
them; and, probably, nothing could induce them to
face the apparent danger. Now, as for myself, I
was well fitted out for adventures. I went expressly
to look for wild beasts ; and, having found them, it
would have been impossible for me to have refrained
from coming in actual contact with them.

I have only to repeat, that I particularly request



AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF

those readers of the Wanderings who may still
doubt my word to meet me in person, and then
show me any passage in the book which they may
suspect to deviate from the truth. It will give me
pleasure to enter fully into the point in question ;
and I shall not have the slightest doubt of being
able to convince them that they are wrong in their
surmises. If they should refuse to comply with this
my reasonable and just request, and still determine
to consider me a disciple of the celebrated baron,
then to them I say, " Gentlemen, fare ye well. In
my conscience, I have laboured hard to please you,
and to consult your taste ; but I find that I have
lost my time, and, I may add, my patience too. I
humbly crave your forgiveness for having offered
you food, which has proved so very unpalatable to
your stomachs. I will learn wisdom for the time to
come ; and I promise you that I will not throw my
jewels to the sty a second time."

So far for the Wanderings. Most part of the
work was written in the depth of the forest, with-
out the help of books, or the aid of any naturalist.
I could not refrain from making a few observations
on it ere I concluded these Memoirs, Memoirs,
by the way, from the pen of a private rover. Had
our religion not interfered with our politics, my
early days would probably have been spent in the
service of my country. Then, no doubt, there would
have been matter in these Memoirs much more
interesting to the reader than that which is now
submitted to his perusal.

I could never comprehend how a government,



CHARLES WATERTON, ESQ.

which professes to be the most tolerant of all go-
vernments in things appertaining to religion, should
have visited millions of its subjects with the severest
penalties, for two long centuries and a half, merely
becaue they refused to abandon the creed of their
ancestors. Neither can I comprehend how a go-
vernment can have the consummate assurance to
enforce payment to the church by law established,
when it is a well-known fact in history (see the act
of parliament 1st and 2d of Mary, chap. 8.) that the
very founders of this law-church did confess, in full
and open parliament, that they had declined from the
unity of Christ's church, and had a long while wan-
dered and strayed abroad ; and that they acknow-
ledged their own errors, and declared themselves
very sorry and repentant of the schism and disobe-
dience committed by them in this realm against
the See Apostolic. Again, can any thing be more
unjust and despicable than the custom of preaching
an annual sermon against us on the 5th of No-
vember? This year it fell on a Sunday; and, upon
that sacred day, many were the persons who put
charity behind the pulpit, and then, in front of it,
held up the bugbear popery, in so terrific a point of
view, that numbers of old women were nearly fright-
ened into hysterics. However, I think I may ven-
ture to assure their reverences that I, for one, will
never use gunpowder in an unlawful way. I had
much rather see them walk soberly along, and keep
possession of their usurped pulpits for a little while
longer, than hear of them being blown up sky-high
by the unjustifiable application of prepared charcoal
and saltpetre.



]XXX AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF

I beg to draw the attention of their reverences
to the following ode, which I composed some few
years ago, expressly for the 5th of November ;
most appropriately termed Cecil's Holyday. In it
their reverences cannot fail to observe that my
mode of dealing with our adversaries differs very
widely from that adopted by their old friend Guy
the detonator.

ODE.

Pro his oro, qui elegerunt
Falsam fidem, et fregerunt
Quam Majores docuerunt.

Et qui, fracto Dei altari,

Ausi loco ejus dare

* Mensam, qua; non potest stare.

Qui, et oves occidebant,
Atque collo suspendebant
Duces gregis qui manebant.

Caput fidei qui fecerunt
Regem ; opes et dederunt
Illis, qui nil meruerunt.

Animabus, qui suorum
Preces negant defunctorum ;
Neque coetus Angelorum

Colunt. Pro his oro quoque,
Qui Calvino, Lutheroque
Credunt, Joan-Southcotoque.

Habeant hi claram lucem,
Ut amissam cernant crucem,
Et agnoscant Papam ducem.

The creed.reformers had hot disputes amongst themselves, for many
years, concerning the altar. At last they determined that it should be
called a table, and not an altar.



CHARLES WATERTON, ESQ.

Turn pax undiquc florebit,
Neque erit qui lugebit,
Aut Guy-fauxi vim timebit.



TRANSLATION.

I PRAY for those who now have got
A creed infected with the rot,
And wickedly have set at nought
That which our ancestors had taught.

I pray for those who, having thrust
Our holy altars in the dust,
Denied the places where they stood
With crazy tables formed of wood.

I pray for those who, having slain
Our flocks that grazed the peaceful plain,
Did force their pastoral defenders
Into Jack Ketch's hemp suspenders.

I also pray for those who made
A tyrant king the Church's head ;
And let him waste our sacred treasures,
'Mid rogues and knaves, in filthy pleasures.

I pray for those who have a dread
Of supplications for the dead,
And never offer up a prayer
For their good Angel-guardian's care.

Again, for those I often pray,
Who tread in Luther's crooked way ;
Or Calvin trust, or seek salvation
In Mrs* Southcote's proclamation.

May these a steady light obtain,
To find the long-lost cross again ;
And place their faith, and future hope,
Under the guidance of the Pope.
e



Ixxxii AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF

Then peace will flourish all around,
And none in sorrow shall be found ;
Nor need we fear a repetition
Of Guy's unlucky expedition.

When I reflect that the faith of my ancestors has
been most cruelly assailed for centuries, by every
man in power, from the Prime Minister of England
down to the county magistrate ; when I see it
rising again triumphant in every part of the empire ;
and when I observe multitudes, in every rank of
life, returning to its consoling communion, I call to
mind, with infinite delight, those beautiful verses of
Dryden :

" A milk-white hind, immortal and unchanged,
Fed on the lawns, and in the forests ranged.
Without unspotted, innocent within,
She fear'd no danger, for she knew no sin.
Yet had she oft been chased with horns and hounds,
And Scythian shafts, and many-winged wounds
Aim'd at her heart ; was often forced to fly,
And doom'd to death, though fated not to die."

I have made no mention of my political feel-
ings in these Memoirs. My politics, indeed, claim
little notice. Being disabled by Sir Robert Peel's
Bill from holding even a commission of the peace, I
am like a stricken deer, walking apart from the rest
of the herd. Still I cannot help casting a compas-
sionate eye on poor Britannia, as she lies on her
bed of sickness. A debt of eight hundred millions
of pounds sterling (commenced by Dutch William
of glorious memory) is evidently the real cause of
her distressing malady. It is a fever of the worst



CHARLES WATERTON, ESQ. Ixxxiii

kind: it is a disorder of terrible aspect. It is a
cancer, so virulent, so fetid, and so deeply rooted
withal, that neither Doctor Whig, nor Doctor Tory,
nor even the scientific hand of Mr. Surgeon Radi-
cal, can give any permanent relief to the suffering
patient. Alas, poor Britannia! it grieves my heart,
to see so fine a personage reduced to such a state.
Thank Heaven ! we Catholics have had no hand in
thy misfortunes. They have come from another
quarter, where thy real enemies have had all their
own way, and have played the game so sadly to thy
cost.

Here I terminate these Memoirs ; and I put
away the pen, not to be used again, except in
self-defence. Thus a musician of old (tired, no
doubt, with scraping) hung his fiddle on the wall,
and said,

" Barbiton, hie paries habebit."

CHARLES WATERTON



Walton Hall, December 30. 1837.



ESSAYS, &c.



NATURAL HISTORY.



REMARKS ON PROFESSOR RENNIE'S EDI-
TION OF MONTAGU'S ORNITHOLOGICAL
DICTIONARY.

" IT is admitted by all the naturalists already quoted, that
the nest in question (grebe's) is built on moist ground, if not
actually touching the water, and that part at least of the mate-
rials consist of moist water plants. Now, it is indispensable to
hatching, that the eggs be kept at a high temperature, and not
be suffered to cool for a moment. The natural heat of the
bird itself is sufficient for this purpose, without the heat of fer-
mentation, erroneously supposed by Pennant ; but if she quits
them for a moment, to go in pursuit of food, or to withdraw
the attention of an intruding water-spaniel, or a prying natural-
ist, their near vicinity to moist plants, or to water, would cer-
tainly prove fatal to the embryo chicks. In order, then, to
prevent the brood from being destroyed by cold, the careful
bird covers the eggs with a quantity of dry hay, to keep them
warm till her return."

When the worthy professor wrote the above-
quoted passage, I am sure that he had not the least
doubt but that it was correct. Nine tenths of his
readers would be of the same opinion with him.



8 REXNIE'S MOHTAGC.

Tfcc errors it contains caa only be accounted for on
the score that oar professor, like many other natu-
ralists of nigh note and consideration, has spent
more of his time in books than in bogs. His de-
ficiency in bog-education is to be lamented; for
such an education would have been a great help to
him in his ornithological writings. For my own
part, I must own, that I have been more in bogs
than amongst books ; and hare for years wandered
" per loca senta situ," where, it is easy for the
reader to imagine, that I must have had many cor-
poral misadventures, and at the same time acquired
some mental improvement.

After this statement, I trust that the professor
will not take it amiss if I do not agree with him
in all his notions on waterfowl incubation. Many
writers on natural history, on account of their situ-
ation in Me, can only attempt to clear up doubts by
mama of theory. Others, again, who have had
practice, have it in their power to adduce facts.
Truth is the great object which all strive to reach.
' Omnes eodem cogimur.^

Let us now go to the marsh, and find a water-
fowl's nest, with the old bird sitting on eggs con-
taining embryo chicks. We will drive the bird
gently off the nest, and we will stay full two hours
near the place, to prevent the return of the bird.
At the end of the two hours we will go away, and
I will engage that the old bird will come back to



Online LibraryCharles WatertonEssays on natural history, chiefly ornithology → online text (page 5 of 28)