« ZurückWeiter »
air in all directions, but perfect flakes or rags; some near an inch broad, and five or six long, which fell with a degree of velocity that showed they were considerably heavier than the atmosphere.
On every side, as the observer turned his eyes, might he behold a continual succession of fresh flakes falling into his sight, and twinkling like stars as they turned their sides towards the sun.
How far this wonderful shower extended it would be difficult to say ; but we know that it reached Bradley, Selborne, and Alresford, three places which lie in a sort of triangle, the shortest of whose sides is about eight miles in extent.
At the second of those places there was a gentleman (for whose veracity and intelligent turn we have the greatest veneration) who observed it the moment he got abroad; but concluded that, as soon as he came upon the hill above his house, where he took his morning rides, he should be higher than this meteor, which he imagined might have been blown, like thistledown, from the common above; but, to his great astonishment, when he rode to the most elevated part of the down, 300 feet above his fields, he found the webs in appearance still as much above him as before ; still descending into sight in a constant succession, and twinkling in the sun, so as to draw the attention of the most incurious.
Neither before nor after was any such fall observed ; but on this day the flakes hung in the trees
and hedges so thick, that a diligent person sent out might have gathered baskets full.
The remark that I shall make on these cobweblike appearances, called gossamer, is, that, strange and superstitious as the notions about them were formerly, nobody in these days doubts but that they are the real production of small spiders, which swarm in the fields in fine weather in autumn, and have a power of shooting out webs from their tails so as to render themselves buoyant, and lighter than air. But why these apterous insects should that day take such a wonderful aërial excursion, and why their webs should at once become so gross and material as to be considerably more weighty than air, and to descend with precipitation, is a matter beyond my skill. If I might be allowed to hazard a supposition, I should imagine that those filmy threads, when first shot, might be entangled in the rising dew, and so drawn up, spiders and all, by a brisk evaporation, into the regions where clouds are formed : and if the spiders have a power of coiling and thickening their webs in the air, as Dr. Lister says they have, then, when they were become heavier than the air, they must fall.*
* One day when the air was full of such gossamers, Dr. Listers relates that he mounted to the highest part of York Cathedral and found the gossamer webs still far above him.
Its sone some wonder at the cuuse of thunder,
Every day in fine weather, in autumn chiefly, do I see those spiders shooting out their webs and mounting aloft: they will go off from your finger if you will take them into your hand. Last summer one alighted on my book as I was reading in the parlour; and, running to the top of the page, and shooting out a web, took its departure from thence. But what I most wondered at was, that it went off with considerable velocity in a place where no air was stirring; and I am sure that I did not assist it with
So that these little crawlers seem to have, while mounting, some locomotive power with. out the use of wings, and so move in the air faster than the air itself.
SELBORNE, June 8, 1775.
TO THE HONOURABLE DAINES BARRINGTON.
There is a wonderful spirit of sociality in the brute creation, independent of sexual attachment. Of this the congregation of gregarious birds in the winter is a remarkable instance.
Many horses, though quiet with company, will not stay one minute in a field by themselves: the strongest fences cannot restrain them. My neighbour's horse will not only not stay by himself abroad, but he will not bear to be left alone in a strange stable without discovering the utmost impatience, and endeavouring to break the rack and manger with his fore-feet. He has been known to leap out at a stable-window, through which dung was thrown, after company; and yet in other respects is remarkably quiet. Oxen and cows will not satten by themselves: but will neglect the finest pasture that is not recommended by society. It would be needless to add instances in sheep, which constantly flock together.
But this propensity seems not to be confined to animals of the same species; for we know a doe, still alive, that was brought up from a little fawn with a dairy of cows; with them it goes a-field, and with them it returns to the yard. The dogs of the house take no notice of this deer, being used to her; but, if strange dogs come by, a chase ensues ; while the master smiles to see his favourite securely leading her pursuers over hedge, or gate, or stile, till she returns to the cows, who, with fierce lowings and menacing horns, drive the assailants quite out of the pasture.
Even great disparity of kind and size does not always prevent social advances and mutual fellowship. For a very intelligent and observant person has assured me that, in the former part of his life,
, keeping but one horse, he happened also on a time to have but one solitary hen. These twd incongruous animals spent much of their time together in a lonely orchard, where they saw no creature but each other. By degrees an apparent regard began to take place between these two sequestered individuals. The fowl would approach the quadruped with notes of complacency, rubbing herself gently against his legs: while the horse would look down with satisfaction, and move with the greatest caution and circumspection, lest he should trample on his diminutive companion. Thus by mutual good offices, each seemed to console the vacant hours of the other : so that Milton, when he puts the following sentiment in the mouth of Adam, seems to be somewhat mistaken :-
“Much less can bird with beast, or fish with fowl,
SELBORNE, Aug. 15, 1775.
TO THE HONOURABLE DAINES BARRINGTON.
We have two gangs or hordes of gypsies which infest the south and west of England, and come round in their circuit two or three times in the year. One of these tribes calls itself by the noble name of Stanley, of which I have nothing particular to say ; but the other is distinguished by an appellative