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lightness of his covering to the temperature of his habitation. Had he been born with a fleece
his back, although he might have been comforted by its warmth in high latitudes, it would have oppressed him by its weight and heat, as the species spread towards the equator.
What art, however, does for men, nature has, in many instances, done for those animals which are incapable of art. Their clothing, of its own accord, changes with their necessities. This is particularly the case with that large tribe of quadrupeds which are covered with furs. Every dealer in hare-skins and rabbit-skins, knows how much the fur is thickened by the approach of winter. It seems to be a part of the same constitution and the same design, that wool, in hot countries, degenerates, as it is called, but in truth (most happily for the animals ease) passes into hair; whilst, on the contrary, that hair, in the dogs of the polar regions, is turned into wool, or something very like it. To which may be referred, what naturalists have remarked, that bears, wolves, foxes, hares, which do not take the water, have the fur much thicker on the back than the belly : whereas in the beaver it is the thickest upon the belly; as are the feathers in water-fowl.
We know the final cause of all this; and we know no other.
The covering of birds cannot escape the most vulgar observation. Its lightness, its smoothness, its warmth ;—the disposition of the feathers all inclined backward, the down about their stem, the overlapping of their tips, their different configuration in different parts, not to mention the variety of their colours, constitute a vestment for the body, so beautiful, and so appropriate to the life which the animal is to lead, as that, I think, we should have had no conception of any thing equally perfect, if we had never seen it, or can now imagine any thing more so. Let us suppose (what is possible only in supposition) a person who had never seen a bird, to be
presented with a plucked pheasant, and bid to set his wits to work, how to contrive for it a covering which shall unite the qualities of warmth, levity, and least resistance to the air, and the highest degree of each : giving it also as much of beauty and ornament as he could afford. He is the person to behold the work of the Deity, in this
this part of his creation, with the sentiments which are due to it.
The commendation, which the general aspect of the feathered world seldom fails of exciting, will be increased by further ex
amination. It is one of those cases in which the philosopher has more to admire, than the common observer. Every feather is a mechanical wonder. If we look at the quill, we find properties not easily brought together,-strength and lightness. I know few things more remarkable than the strength and lightness of the very pen with which I am writing. If we cast our eye to the upper part of the stem, we see a material, made for the purpose, used in no other class of animals, and in no other part of birds; tough, light, pliant, elastic. The pith, also, which feeds the feathers, is amongst animal substances, sui generis ; neither bone, flesh, membrane, nor tendon*.
But the artificial part of a feather is the beard, or, as it is sometimes, I believe, called, the vane. ' By the beards are meant, what are fastened on each side of the stem, and what constitute the breadth of the feather ; what we usually strip off from one side' or both, when we make a pen.
separate pieces or laminæ, of which the beard is composed, are called threads, sometimes fila
* The quill-part of a feather is composed of circular and longitudinal fibres. In making a pen, you must scrape off the coat of circular fibres, or the quill will split in a ragged, jagged manner, making what boys call cat's teeth.
ments, or rays. Now the first thing which
tween them; that, therefore, by some me-
which have been separated by accident or
you restore all things to their former state. This is no common contrivance : and now for the mechanism by which it is effected. The threads or laminæ above mentioned are interlaced with one another: and the interlacing is performed by means of a vast number of fibres, or teeth, which the laminæ shoot forth on each side, and which hook and grapple together. A friend of mine counted fifty of these fibres in one twentieth of an inch. These fibres are crooked; but curved after a different manner: for those, which proceed from the thread on the side towards the extremity of the feather, are longer, more flexible, and bent