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FASCINATING POWER OF SERPENTS.
windings. After a smart pursuit, the dog found himself left considerably behind, in consequence of the water deepening, by which he had been reduced to the necessity of swimming. But instead of following this desperate game any longer, he readily gave it over, and ran with all his speed directly down the river, till he was sure of being again to seaward of the salmon, where he took post as before in his pointer's attitude. Here the fish a second time met him, and a fresh pursuit ensued; in which, after various attempts, the salmon at last made its way out to sea, notwithstanding all the ingenious and vigorous exertions of its pursuer.
"Though the dog did not succeed at this time, yet I was informed that it was no unusual thing for him to run down his game; and the fishermen assured me that he was of very great advantage to them, by turning the salmon toward the net."-Hamilton's Letters on the Coast of Antrim, 1790.
ON THE FASCINATING POWER OF SERPENTS.
THE folllowing is an abstract of a paper by Dr. Barton, which appeared in the American Philosophical Transactions.
Every one is acquainted with the power ascribed to the rattle-snakes and other American serpents, of fascinating birds and small animals, such as the squirrel, and of depriving them of the power of escaping their magic influence; and which thus enables them to capture animals that otherwise would seem to have been placed entirely out of their reach. The unhappy animal is described as running up and down the tree, always going down more than it goes up, till at length it is drawn nearer to the snake, whose mouth is open to receive its victim. The poor little animal runs into the snake's jaws, uttering a piteous cry, and is immediately swallowed. This is the manner in which this fascinating power is exerted, as related by different authors. And this story has been repeated by naturalists in their histories of serpents. They seem credulously to have believed the accounts they received, and to have taken them for granted without sufficient examination. Linnæus says that this power was given to the rattle-snake as a compensation to it for the slowness of its motion. He seems to have received this tale from some of his pupils, and does not assert that he was ever the eye-witness of the fact. The existence of this power would be readily believed in by the uninformed, who always give credence to any tale of wonder.
Where this belief originated, is unknown. Perhaps some
FASCINATING POWER OF SERPENTS.
traces of it may be discovered in the mythology of Asia and Africa. Some have referred it to the American Indians; while others, who have travelled amongst them, never heard any mention of the circumstance, although they heard them praise the ingenuity of these reptiles in catching birds, squirrels, &c.
M. de la Cepede, in his Histoire Naturelle des Serpens, has paid great attention to this subject; and he offers two suppositions for the explanation of this miraculous power. One is, that the pestiferous breath of the snake agitates the animal which it means to devour, and prevents its escape. Many persons assert that they never knew any disagreeable smell to proceed from these animals, even after they had been some time shut up in a box; while others say that a very offensive stench is continually arising from the body of the rattle-snake. Some have ascribed the motions of the birds that are introduced into the cages of these animals to the effect of their breath; but they were probably caused by fear. The rattle-snake has been known to continue for days coiled round a tree, in which the thrush or cat-bird were rearing their young, which, upon this supposition, must have perished. The other supposition is that these animals have been slightly bitten. But their actions are totally different from those observed in animals bitten by a rattle-snake; besides that the agitation of the bird has ceased on the death of the snake. Nor is this power of fascination ascribed exclusively to the venomous serpents; for almost every species is supposed to be endued with it. Blumenbach ascribes it to the rattle on the tail of the rattle-snake; but this has been observed to be perfectly quiet at the time when the supposed charm is working and this explanation cannot apply to the other snakes.
Hence it appears that none of these explanations are satisfactory. If we examine the species of birds that are generally observed to be enchanted, and the season when it takes place, we may perhaps arrive at a more probable solution of the problem.
Those birds that are led by instinct to build their nests on the ground, or on trees near the ground, have most frequently been observed to be under the enchanting influence of the rattle-snake; for it is well known that each kind of bird builds its nest in the same situation, at least in any one particular country. Upon inquiry concerning the time of the year when any bird had been seen under this influence, it was found, in almost every instance, to be that at which it was either laying its eggs or rearing its young. From these considerations it appeared probable that the cries and fears of
FASCINATING POWER OF SERPENTS.
birds, supposed to be fascinated, originated in an endeavour to protect their nest or young.
The rattle-snake does not climb trees; but many other species do. When a bird sees its well-known enemy gliding up the tree to attack its nest and devour its young, it naturally endeavours to defend them; and she attacks the snake with her wing, her beak, or her claws, and frequently drives it away, although sometimes she approaches so near as to fall a prey to her enemy. This contest is by no means so unequal as might be supposed. The bone on the top of the head of the rattle-snake is thin and brittle; so much so that it is thought that a stroke from the wing of a thrush or robin would be sufficient to break it. A thrush was observed seated on the back of a large black snake, which it was pecking with its beak. The snake was in the act of swallowing a young bird; and as soon as the snake was killed, the old bird flew away. The cries and actions of this bird exactly resembled those ascribed to fascination. The rattle-snake lives chiefly on the great frog (Rana ocellata), and birds are very rarely found in its stomach. Birds and squirrels are by no means the principal food of serpents; and yet this influence is chiefly exerted upon them: so it can hardly be considered. as designed to secure food for these reptiles. The black snake is often obliged to use great ingenuity to get at his food, which consists chiefly of eggs and young birds. If it possessed the power of fascination, it might secure for itself abundance of food, when the woods are swarming with birds, without having recourse to the artifice of suspending itself by its tail from a bough over a nest, the contents of which could not be reached by it in any other way.
[It seems strange that this extraordinary faculty should have been ascribed solely to these already formidable reptiles, when the cries of distress and the signs of alarm, which gave rise to the story, are really to be referred to the love of the mother for her young, and to the fear of death; feelings which must be continually operating in every animal at the sight of another, whose appetite is to be satisfied only by her own destruction.
Fear sometimes entirely deprives an animal of the power of escape. I have seen a Spanish greyhound so overwhelmed with dread at the sight of a terrier, which was flying at it, that it appeared as if under the influence of fascination, stood perfectly still, neglecting its swiftness of foot, which would soon have placed it out of danger, and would have fallen a victim to its antagonist, had not the latter been arrested by the blow of a heavy stick.]-From a Correspondent.
MEMOIR OF SIR JOSEPH BANKS.
We have inserted the foregoing abstract of Dr. Barton's paper, in the hope that some of our readers will favour us with their observations on this interesting subject. We cannot agree in all the conclusions drawn by the Doctor, and have reason to question the accuracy of some of his facts.-We are inclined to think that he has not dissected the head of a rattle-snake, or he would have discovered that the bone on the top of the head is not "so thin and brittle that it is thought that a stroke from the wing of a thrush or robin would be sufficient to break it." At the same time we must admit that there is considerable weight in the reasons he gives it. support of his explanation of this singular supposed faculty. EDITOR.
MEMOIR OF SIR JOSEPH BANKS..
We propose occasionally to present our readers with short memoirs of the most distinguished naturalists, and of persons who have, either by their discoveries or their scientific attainments, made valuable additions to our knowledge of zoology, or have contributed to the advancement of any branch of natural history.
Foremost in the rank of such persons, we must place the subject of the present memoir, who may claim our attention not on any one of these grounds singly, but on all of them. He united a love of science with an earnest zeal and steady perseverance in its pursuit; an energetic and courageous disposition, combined with ample pecuniary resources, and the friendship and patronage of those in power, and thus possessed qualifications seldom met with in one individual.
These numerous advantages were well bestowed on Sir Joseph Banks. In all his undertakings the chief object he had in view was the general advancement of science, and particularly his favourite study, natural history. Totally free from all selfish feelings he seems ever to have considered his acquisitions and discoveries as public property; and his splendid library and magnificent collection of specimens and drawings were always at the service of scientific men. Indeed the unbounded generosity with which he communicated his treasures to those whom he considered would duly appreciate them, may be considered as a remarkable trait in his character. -But we feel that we are anticipating, and that we ought to state shortly, the history of this enterprising individual, before we offer any further remarks.
Sir Joseph Banks was born 13th December, 1743. Some doubt appears to exist as to the period at which his ancestors
MEMOIR OF SIR JOSEPH BANKS.
(who are stated to have come originally from Sweden,) had been settled in this country. It seems, however, agreed, that his grandfather was a medical practitioner of some celebrity in Lincolnshire, and that he acquired a considerable fortune by his practice, and represented the city of Peterborough in one or two parliaments.
The subject of our present memoir was sent at an early age to Harrow, and from thence to Christ's College Oxford. His father dying in or before 1761, he was left at the age of, eighteen, without restraint, with a handsome fortune at his own disposal. His principal estates were situated in Lincolnshire, and he devoted himself with great zeal to the improvement of this property, particularly in draining and embanking it.
Sir Joseph appears at an early age to have imbibed a taste for natural history. At first botany was his favourite pursuit, and he seems to have cultivated this study with a considerable degree of ardour. It is related that in the course of one of his botanical expeditions, when much fatigued he fell asleep, and was seized by police officers as a suspected person, and taken before a magistrate, who was not a little amused at the adventure.
In 1768 the scientific expedition under the command of Captain Cook was planned; and although the chief object which the promoters (of whom George III. was the chief,) had in view was the advancement of geographical and astronomical knowledge, Sir Joseph Banks was anxious to avail himself of the opportunity of adding to the stores of natural history; and, influenced by this motive, he resolved to accompany the expedition. Accordingly he made the most ample preparations, at his own expense, for the undertaking, and engaged Dr. Solander and other scientific persons to accompany him.
Most of our readers are no doubt acquainted with the interesting discoveries and amusing adventures which resulted from this expedition. Many will remember with what delight they first read the history of Captain Cook's voyages; and throughout this history they will no doubt recollect the frequent and honourable mention of the subject of our present memoir, and the justly earned tribute paid to the great zeal and activity displayed by him throughout the progress of the voyage.
As might be expected, they met with many interesting adventures in the course of their travels. On the coast of Terra del Fuego Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Solander narrowly escaped perishing in a storm of snow in which they were