Fox Collection: Natural History

The Miscellanies popular early in the nineteenth century don't contain much factual information about animals. They treat exotic animals as wonders and domestic animals as moral exemplars. They are full of cryptic pronouncements. Children's History of Beasts (1.3.16), 1835, says about the monkey, "The name of this animal is taken from the sound of its voice." Knowledge for Every Child (1.4.21), 1845, says of the Hog that it "is a disgusting and a clumsy animal. He is filthy, greedy, and stubborn; but he is very useful at his death." Natural history books at mid-century begin to have more accurate portrayals (e.g., Book of Quadrupeds for Youth, 5.1.5) and to leave the moralist's point of view behind (e.g., Harrison Weir's Alphabet and Stories of Birds, 7.3.4). This apparently irritates the dyed-in-the-wool anthropocentrics, viz: What Grandma Grundy Told Her Little Grandchildren About Pet Birds (12.1.6): "And though wise men and women who write books on Natural History tell us long stories of Robins that fight, and of Robins that peck worms to pieces, and say that Bobby is a very cruel little fellow, we will not listen to their tales, will we? But we will go on thinking, as long as we live, that the Robin-redbreast is one of the dearest little birds and sweetest singers, sent by God to cheer the cottage of those who dwell in 'solitary places'."

Perhaps the new information stimulates the Victorian craze for collecting insects. In A Week Spent in a Glass Pond by the Great Water Beetle (3.2.14), by Juliana Horatia Ewing, even little kids know their genus species. Molly says, "Oh, Francis! Francis! The water-soldier, Stratiotes Aloides is in flower." She also says, "What makes me so very sorry is, that I don't think we ought to have 'collected' things unless we had really attended to them, and knew how to keep them alive."

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