lightness of his covering to the temperature of his habitation. Had he been born with a fleece upon 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 to

wards the equator.
What art, however, does for men, nature
has, in many instances, done for those ani-
mals 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 animal's 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.

[ocr errors]

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 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 me-
chanical 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 light-
ness of the very pen with which I am writ-
ing. 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. The separate

pieces or laminae, of which the beard is com

posed, 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.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

ments, or rays. Now the first thing which an attentive observer will remark is, how much stronger the beard of the feather shows itself to be, when pressed in a direction perpendicular to its plane, than when rubbed, either up or down, in the line of the stem; and he will soon discover the structure which occasions this difference, viz. that the laminae whereof these beards are composed, are flat, and placed with their flat sides towards each other; by which means, whilst they easily bend for the approaching of each other, as any one may perceive by drawing his finger ever so lightly upwards, they are much harder to bend out of their plane, which is the direction in which they have to encounter the impulse and pressure of the air, and in which their strength is wanted, and put to the trial. This is one particularity in the structure of a feather; a second is still more extraordinary. Whoever examines a feather, cannot help taking notice, that the threads or . laminae of which we have been speaking, in their natural state unite; that their union is something more than the mere apposition of loose surfaces; that they are not parted asunder without some degree of force; that nevertheless there is no glutinous cohesion be

tween them; that, therefore, by some mechanical means or other, they catch or clasp among themselves, thereby giving to the beard or vane its closeness and compactness of texture. Nor is this all : when two laminae, which have been separated by accident or force, are brought together again, they immediately reclasp : the connexion, whatever it was, is perfectly recovered, and the beard of the feather becomes as smooth and firm as if nothing had happened to it. Draw your finger down the feather, which is against the grain, and you break, probably, the junction of some of the contiguous threads; draw your finger up the feather, and 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 laminae above mentioned are interlaced with one another: and the interlacing is performed by means of a vast number of fibres, or teeth, which the laminae 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 f crooked; but curved after a different manner: for those, which proceed from the thread

on the side towards the extremity of the fea

ther, are longer, more flexible, and bent

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »