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TO THE SAME.
SELBORNE, May 9, 1776.
Admôrunt ubera tigres.” DEAR SIR,—We have remarked in a former letter how much incongruous animals, in a lonely state, may be attached to each other from a spirit of sociality ; in this, it may not be 'amiss to recount a different motive, which has been known to create as strange a fondness.
My friend had a little helpless leveret brought to him, which the servants fed with milk in a spoon, and about the same time, his cat kittened, and the young were dispatched and buried. The hare was soon lost, and supposed to be gone
way of most foundlings, to be killed by some dog or cat. However, in about a fortnight, as the master was sitting in his garden, in the dusk of the evening, he observed his cat, with tail erect, trotting towards him, and calling with little short inward notes of complacency, such as they use towards their kittens, and something gamboling after, which proved to be the leveret that the cat had supported with her milk, and continued to support with great affection.*
* About two years since, at a cottar's house in Annandale, Dumfries-shire, a litter of pigs by some accident lost their mother; at the same time a pointer bitch happened to pup, and the puppies suffering the lot common to most such, their place was supplied by the pigs, which were well and affectionately nursed by their foster-parent.-W.J., 1829.
It has been most beautifully and providentially ordered that the process of suckling their young is as pleasurable to the parent animal, as it is essential to the support of the infant progeny. The mammæ of animals become painful when over distended with milk. Drawing off that fluid renoves positive uneasiness, and affords positive pleasure. The nipple, previously soft and flaccid, becomes, on the young beginning to suck, enlarged, firm, and erect, and the flowing of the milk is accompanied by an exquisitely pleasing sensation. The nipple is highly organised, and becomes enlarged on application of slight friction, and by a kind of spasmodic action will sometimes throw out the
Thus was a graminivorous animal nurtured by a carnivorous and predaceous one!
Why so cruel and sanguinary a beast as a cat, of the ferocious
genus of felis, the murium leo, “the lion of mice,” as Linnæus calls it, should be affected with any tenderness towards an animal which is its natural prey, is not so easy to determine.
This strange affection probably was occasioned by that desiderium, those tender maternal feelings, which the loss of her kittens had awakened in her breast; and by the complacency and ease she derived to herself from procuring her teats to be drawn, which were too much distended with milk; till, from habit, she became as much delighted with this foundling, as if it had been her real offspring.
This incident is no bad solution of that strange circumstance which grave historians, well as the poets, assert, of exposed children being sometimes nurtured by female wild beasts that probably had lost their young. For it is not one whit more marvellous that Romulus and Remus, in their infant state, should be nursed by a she-wolf, than that a poor little sucking leveret should be fostered and cherished by a bloody grimalkin.
TO THE SAME.
SELBORNE, May 20, 1777. DEAR SIR, -Lands that are subject to frequent inundations are always poor; and, probably, the reason may be, because the worms are drowned. The most insignificant insects and reptiles are of much more consequence, and have much more influence in the economy of Nature, than the incurious are aware of; and are mighty in their effect, from their minuteness, which renders them less an object of attention; and
milk in jets. I once saw a young panther suckled by a bitch, and last year I had a kitten who was often to be seen sucking å spaniel bitch. Many other instances might be brought forward.—ED.
from their numbers and fecundity. Earth-worms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of Nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm.* For to say nothing of half the birds, and some quadrupeds, which are almost entirely supported by them, worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, which would proceed but lamely without them, by boring, perforating, and loosening the soil, and rendering it pervious to rains and the fibres of plants, by drawing straws and stalks of leaves into it; and, most of all, by throwing up such infinite numbers of lumps of earth, called worm-casts, which being their excrement, is a fine manure for grain and grass. Worms pro-'
* The following interesting account of the earth-worm was communicated to me by an intelligent correspondent:~"On Tuesday night, February 3rd, 1836, we had the deepest snow which has fallen for the winter; though not to be compared with what fell in the west, and in other parts of England. As on other occasions we observed the blackbirds and thrushes drawing up to the house, and cowering as if to give notice of a coming storm. On the following morning, on looking out of window we noticed an unusual appear
At first sight it seemed as if the unsullied snow had many little twigs or sticks scattered all over its surface. On closer inspection it proved that numbers of large earth-worms were writhing on the face of the snow, and they furnished a rich repast for the birds to breakfast on, so that some of our usual visitors forsook their crumbs under the verandah. What circumstances can have induced these earth-worms to leave their holes and to be found in such an uncongenial station, we cannot imagine. Perhaps, as the evening was mild and moist they may have sallied forth, and the snow, coming suddenly, may have prevented their finding their way to their homes. But why mount to the surface and expose themselves to certain death! The recollection of this phenomenon is still fresh in our memories, and when I recalled it to a sister who was with us, she spoke of it with disgust, as like a layer of flesh upon the snow. But I have never had the causes clearly explained, nor am I sufficiently acquainted with the habits of earth-worms to do so. As far as I have observed they never leave their holes, unless something is the matter. You have probably observed on a mild moist evening, when they bask on the turf, and dart into their holes with infinite vivacity, that they always retain possession at one extremity. I have found that if I have snatched one from his hold, I could not restore it again. The poor creature was quite lost, and could neither find his way home himself or be replaced in it by me. Am I right in supposing that they never voluntarily leave their holes? Or do they wander forth in the depth of the night, and in the case described above, were they excluded by the sudden fall of snow and change of temperature ? ”—ED.
+ The runs, also, made by worms in the earth, enables the water 10 percolate to the roots of wheat and other grain. Worm-casts, when collected are an excelleut soil for many flowers, such as carnations, pinks, &c.-Ed.