The use

their action mechanical, their positica, and the muscles by which they are moved, in the highest degree convenient. The following short account of some experiments upon fish, made for the purpose of ascertaining the use of their fins, will be the best confirmation of what we assert. In most fish, beside the great fin, the tail, we find two pair of fins upon the sides, two single fins upon the back, and one upon the belly, or rather between the belly and the tail. The balancing use of these organs is proved in this manner. Of the large-headed fish, if you cut off the pectoral fins, i. e. the pair which lies close behind the gills, the head falls prone to the bottom; if the right pectoral fin only be cut off, the fish leans to that side; if the ventral fin on the same side be cut away, then it loses its equilibrium entirely; if the dorsal and ventral fins be cut off, the fish reels to the right and left. When the fish dies, that is, when the fins cease to play, the belly turns upwards. of the same parts for motion is seen in the following observation upon them when put in action. The pectoral, and particularly the ventral fins, serve to raise and depress the fish: when the fish desires to have a retrograde motion, a stroke forward with the pectoral fin effectually produces it; if the fish desire to turn either way, a single blow with the tail the opposite way, sends it round at once: if the tail strike both ways, the motion produced by the double lash is progressive, and enables the fish to dart forwards with an astonishing velocity.* The result is not only in some cases the most rapid, but in all cases the most gertle, pliant, easy animal motion with which we are acquain. ed. However, when the tail is cut off, the fish loses a motion, and gives itself up to where the water impels it The rest of the fins, therefore, so far as respects motion seem to be merely subsidiary to this. In their mechanical use, the anal fin may be reckoned the keel; the yentral fins, out-riggers; the pectoral muscles, the oars: and if there be any similitude between these parts of a boat and a fish, observe, that it is not the resemblance of imitation, but the likeness which arises from applying similar mechanical means to the same purpose.

We have seen that the tail in the fish is the great instrument of motion. Now, in cetaceous or warm-blooded

* Goldsmith's History of Animated Nature, vol. iv. p. 154. The velocity with which fish swim from one part of the globe to another is astonishing; when a ship is sailing at the rate of fourteen miles an hour, the porpoises will pass it with as much ease as when at anchor.


The only

fish, which are obliged to rise every two or three minutes to the surface to take breath, the tail, unlike what it is in other fish, is horizontal; its stroke consequently perpen dicular to the horizon, which is the right direction fos sending the fish to the top, or carrying it down to the bottom.

Regarding animals in their instruments of motion we have only followed the comparison through the first great division of animals into beasts, birds, and fish.

If it were our intention to pursue the consideration farther, I should take in that generic distinction amongst birds, the webfoot of water-fowl. It is an instance which may be pointed out to a child. The utility of the web to water-fowl, the inutility to land-fowl, are so obvious, that it seems impossible to notice the difference without acknowledging the design. I am at a loss to know, how those who deny the agency of an intelligent Creator, dispose of this example. There is nothing in the action of swimming, as carried on by a bird upon the surface of the water, that should generate a membrane between the toes. As to that membrane, it is an exercise of constant resistance. supposition I can think of is, shat all birds have been originally water-fowl, and web-footed; that sparrows, hawks, linnets, &c. which frequent the land, have, in process of time, and in the course of many generations, had this part worn away by treading upon hard ground. To such evasive assumptions must atheism always have recourse! and, after all, it confesses that the structure of the feet of birds, in their original form, was critically adapted to their original destination! The web-feet of amphibious quadrupeds, seals, otters, &c. fall under the same observation.

IX. The five senses common to most large animals: nor have we much difference to remark in their constitution; or much, however, which is referable to mechanisrn.

The superior sagacity of animals which hunt their prey, and which, consequently, depend for their livelihood upon their nose, is well known in its use; but not at all known in the organization which produces it.

The external ears of beasts of prey, of lions, tigers, wolves, have their trumpet part, or concavity, standing forwards, to seize the sounds which are before them, viz. the sounds of the animals which they pursue or watch. The ears of animals of flight are turned backward, to give notice of the approach of their enemy from behind, whence


he may

them unseen.

This is a critical distincsion; and is mechanical: but it may be suggested, and I think not without probability, that it is the effect of con tinued habit.

The eyes of animals which follow their prey by night, as cats, owls, &c. possess a faculty not given to those of other species, namely, of closing the pupil entirely. The final cause of which seems to be this:-It was necessary for such animals to be able to descry objects with very small degrees of light. This capacity depended upon the superior sensibility of the retina; that is, upon its being affected by the most feeble impulses. But that tenderness of structure, which rendered the membrane thus exquisitely sensible, rendered it also liable to be offended by the access of stronger degrees of light. The contractile

range, therefore, of the pupil is increased in these animals, so as to enable them to close the aperture entirely: which includes the power of diminishing it in every degree; whereby at all times such portions, and only such portions of light are admitted, as may be received without injury to he sense.

There appears to be also in the figure, and in some properties of the pupil of the eye, an appropriate relation to the wants of different animals. In horses, oxen, goats, sheep, the pupil of the eye is elliptical; the transverse axis being horizontal; by which structure, although the eye be placed on the side of the head, the anterior elongation of the pupil catches the forward rays, or those which come from objects immediately in front of the animal's face



I BELIEVE that all the instances which I shall collect under this title, might, consistently enough with technical language, have been placed under the head of Comparative Anatomy. But there appears to me an impropriety in the use which that term hath obtained: it being, in some sort, absurd to call that a case of Comparative Anatomy, in which there is othing to “compare;” in which a confor matior is found in one animal, which hath nothing proper.



ly answering to it in another.* Of this kind are the examples which I have to propose in the present chapter: and the reader will see that, though some of them be the strongest, perhaps, he will meet with under any division of our subject, they must necessarily be of an unconnected and miscellaneous nature. To dispose them, however, into some sort of order, we will notice first, particularities of structure which belong to quadrupeds, birds, and fish, as such, or to many of the kinds included in these classes of animals; and then, such particularities as are confined to one or two species. I. Along each side of the neck of large quadrupeds,

a stiff, robust ligament, which butchers call the pax wax. No person can carve the upper end of a crop of beef without driving his knife against it. It is a tough, strong, tendinous substance, braced from the 'head to the middle of the back; its office is to assist in supporting the weight of the head. It is a mechanical provision, of which this is the undisputed use; and it is sufficient, and not more than sufficient, for the purpose which it has to execute. The head of an ox or a horse is a heavy weight, acting at the end of a long lever, (consequently with a great purchase,) and in a direction nearly perpendicular to the joints of the supporting neck. From such a force, so advantageously applied, the bones of the neck would be in constant danger of dislocation, if they were not fortified by this strong tape. No such organ is found in the human subject, because, from the erect position of the head, (the pressure of it acting nearly in the direction of the spine,) the junction of the vertebræ appears to be sufficiently secure without it. This cautionary expedient, therefore, is limited to quadrupeds: the care of the Creator is seen where it is wanted.

* The objection here made to the use of the term, Comparative Anatomy, does not seem well founded. As commonly employed, it is intended to designate the anatomy of animals compared with that of men and of one another. It is only by comparison that the use of parts can be discovered. Generally, conformations found in one animal have something corresponding to them in other animals; but even where this is not the case, a comparison is not the less necessary to discover the use of the conformation. Thus, particularly, in the first instance mentioned by the author, he points out the function of the pax wax by the very process which he affirms cannot have place. It is by comparing the neck of large quadrupeds in which this provision is found, with that of man in which it is not found, and by comparing the position maintained by man with that maintained by quadrupeds, that he illustrates the object for which this provisio 1 is made.--Ed.

II. The oil with which birds prune their feathers, and the organ which supplies it, is a specific provision for the winged creation. On each side of the rump of birds is observed a small nipple, yielding upon pressure a butter-like substance, which the bird extracts by pinching the pap

with its bill. With this oil, or ointment, thus procured, the bird dresses its coat; and repeats the action as often as its own sensations teach it that it is in any part wanted, or as the excretion may be sufficient for the expense. The gland, the pap, the nature and quality of the excreted substance, the manner of obtaining it from its lodgment in the body, the application of it when obtained, form, collectively, an evidence of intention which it is not easy to withstand. Nothing similar to it is found in unfeathered animals. What blind conatus of nature should produce it in birds? should not produce it in beasts?

III. The air-bladder also of a fish, [Pl. XXIII. fig. 3,] affords a plain and direct instance, not only of contrivance, but strictly of that species of contrivance which we denom-, inate mechanical. It is a philosophical apparatus in the body of an animal. The principle of the contrivance is clear; the application of the principle is also clear. The use of the organ to sustain, and, at will, also to elevate the body of the fish in the water, is proved by observing, what has been tried, that, when the bladder is burst, the fish grovels at the bottom; and also, that flounders, soles, skates, which are without the air-bladder, seldom rise in the water, and that, with effort. The manner in which the purpose is attained, and the suitableness of the means to the end, are not dificult to be apprehended. The rising and sinking of a fish in water, so far as it is independent of the stroke of the fins and tail, can only be regulated by the specific gravity of the body. When the bladder contained in the body of the fish, is contracted, which the fish probably possesses a muscular power of doing, the bulk of the fish is contracted along with it; whereby, since the absolute weight remains the same, the specific gravity, which is the sinking force, is increased, and the fish descends; on the contrary, when, in consequence of the relaxation of the muscles, the elasticity of the enclosed and now compressed air restores the dimensions of the bladder, the tendency downwards becomes proportionably less than it was before, or is turned into a contrary tendency. These are known properties of bodies immersed in a fuid. The enamelled figures, or little glass bubbles, in a jar of water, are made to rise and fall by the same artifice. A diving machine might be

« VorigeDoorgaan »