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myriads upon myriads round the villages on the Thames, darkening the face of the sky as they frequent the aits of that river, where they roost. They retire, the bulk of them I mean, in vast flocks together about the beginning of October; but have appeared of late years in a considerable flight in this neighbourhood, for one day or two, as late as November the third and sixth, after they were supposed to have been gone for more than a fortnight. They therefore withdraw with us the latest of any species. Unless these birds are very short-lived indeed, or unless they do not return to the district where they are bred, they must undergo vast devastations somehow, and somewhere; for the birds that return yearly bear no manner of proportion to the birds that retire.
House-martins are distinguished from their congeners by having their legs covered with soft, downy feathers down to their toes. They are no songsters; but twitter in a pretty inward soft manner in their nests. During the time of breeding they are often greatly molested with fleas.
SELBORNE, Nov. 20, 1773.
* These numbers must have diminished immensely, since they are never observed now in such numbers in these localities. Boy sportsmen, and improved agriculture together, have greatly reduced the number of birds which formerly enlivened our rivers, groves, and green lanes.-Ed.
RECEIVED your last favour just as I was setting out for this place; and am pleased to find that my monograph met
with your approbation. My remarks are the result of many years observation; and are, I trust, true in the whole : though I do not pretend to say that they are perfectly void of mistake, or that a more nice observer might not make many additions, since subjects of this kind are inexhaustible.
If you think my letter worthy the notice of your respectable society, you are at liberty to lay it before them; and they will consider it, I hope, as it was intended, as an humble attempt to promote a more minute inquiry into natural history; into the life and conversation of animals. Perhaps hereafter I may be induced to take the house-swallow under consideration; and from that proceed to the rest of the British hirundines.
Though I have now travelled the Sussex-downs upwards of thirty years, I still investigate that chain of majestic mountains with fresh admiration year by year; and think I see new beauties every time I tra
verse it. This range, which runs from Chichester eastward as far as East-Bourn, is about sixty miles in length, and is called the South Downs, properly speaking, only round Lewes. As you pass along, it commands a noble view of the wild, or weald, on one hand, and the broad downs and sea on the other. Mr. Ray used to visit a family at Danny, just at the foot of these hills; he was so ravished with the prospect from Plumpton-plain near Lewes, that he mentions those landscapes in his “Wisdom of God in the Works of the Creation" with the utmost satisfaction, and thinks them equal to anything he had seen in the finest parts of Europe.
For my own part, I think there is something peculiarly sweet and pleasing in the shapely figured aspect of chalk-hills in preference to those of stone, which are rugged, broken, abrupt, and shapeless.*
Perhaps I may be singular in my opinion, and not so happy as to convey to you the same idea; but I never contemplate these mountains without thinking I perceive somewhat analogous to growth in their gentle swellings and smooth fungus-like protuberances, theirfluted sides, and regular hollows and slopes, that carry at once the air of vegetative dilatation and expansion. Or was there ever a time when these immense masses of calcarious matter were thrown into fermentation by some adventitious moisture;t
* Lovers of the picturesque would probably dissent from Mr. White's views on this subject; nevertheless there is something very graceful in the long coast-like lines of hills with their rounded heads heaped summit behind summit, at the foot of which undulating and richly wooded plains or verdant meadows stretch away into distant space. village spires, cottages, mansions, and woodlands fill up the picture.-Ed.
† Chalk is lime and carbonic acid in the proportion of 44
were raised and leavened into such shapes by some plastic power; and so made to swell and heave their broad backs into the sky so much above the less animated clay of the wild below ?
By what I can guess from the admeasurements of the hills that have been taken round my house, I should suppose that these hills surmount the wild at an average of about the rate of five hundred feet.
One thing is very remarkable as to the sheep; from the westward until you get to the river Adur all the flocks have horns, and smooth white faces, and white legs; and a hornless sheep is rarely to be seen: but as soon as you pass that river eastward, and mount Beeding-hill, all the flocks at once become hornless, or, as they call them, poll-sheep; and have moreover black faces with a white tuft of wool on their foreheads, and speckled and spotted legs : so that you would think that the flocks of Laban were pasturing on one side of the stream, and the variegated breed of his son-in-law Jacob were cantoned along on the other. And this diversity parts of the latter to 56 parts of the former, and is insoluble in water. But how would our author's wonder have increased, if he had known, as we may now be said to know, that this girdle of chalk mountains which intersects so large a portion of Kent, Sussex, Surrey, and Hampshire, is the bed of an ancient sea from which the waters have retired: still greater would have been his wonder if it had been demonstrated to him, as it may be said to have been to us, that the chalk owes its origin to organic life; every atom of these chalky masses have circulated in the veins of animals or in the organs of plants which lived and died in the bosom of & cretaceous sea; there are assembled, microscopic shells so minute that ten millions are required, to form a cubic inch of chalk; these mingled with polypiers and other testaceous creatures now crumbling into dust, have, in decomposing, formed mountain masses of chalk beds of organic life, which by the wisdom of God now enrich the crust of the earth, and form the sources of organized life.-ED.
holds good respectively on each side from the valley of Brambler and Beeding to the eastward, and westward all the whole length of the downs.* If you talk with the shepherds on this subject, they tell you that the case has been so from time immemorial; and smile at your simplicity if you ask them whether the situation of these two different breeds might not be reversed ? however, an intelligent friend of mine near Chichester is determined to try the experiment, and has this autumn, at the hazard of being laughed at, introduced a parcel of black-faced hornless rams among his horned western ewes. The black-faced poll-sheep have the shortest legs and the finest wool.
[The sheep on the downs in the winter of 1769 were very ragged, and their coats much torn; the shepherds say they tear their fleeces with their own mouths and horns, and they are always in that way in mild wet winters, being teased and tickled with a kind of lice.
After ewes and lambs are shorn, there is great confusion and bleating, neither the dams nor the young being able to distinguish one another as before. This embarrassment seems not so much to arise from the loss of the fleece, which may occasion an alteration in their appearance, as from the defect
* Whatever may have been the fact at the date of this letter, the Southdown, or hornless race of sheep, are now found not only existing west of the Adur, but in all the upland parts of England ; and it was calculated a few years ago that 864,000 ranged on the South-downs alone, having almost superseded the Dorsets or horned sheep, chiefly in consequence of the improvement both in the wool and as mutton. The great improver of the breed, Mr. Ellman, commenced his operations in 1780, and in eight years the market price of sheep had increased rather more than one-third. They are smaller in the bone, equally heavy with the Dorsets, apter to fatten, and heavier when fat. -ED.