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TO THE SAME.
SELBORNE, May 13, 1770. DEAR SIR, -Among the many singularities attending those amusing birds, the swifts, I am now confirmed in the opinion that we have every year the same number of pairs invariably; at least the result of my inquiry has been exactly the same for a long time past. The swallows and martins are so numerous, and so widely distributed over the village, that it is hardly possible to recount them; while the swifts, though they do not all build in the church, yet so frequently haunt it, and play and rendezvous round it, that they are easily enumerated. The number that I constantly find are eight pairs, about half of which reside in the church, and the rest in some of the lowest and meanest thatched cottages. Now, as these eight pairs—allowance being made for accidents breed yearly eight pairs more, what becomes annually of this increase ? and what determines, every spring, which pairs shall visit us, and re-occupy their ancient haunts ? *
Ever since I have attended to the subject of ornithology, I have always supposed that the sudden reverse of affection, that strange årtiotópyn, which immediately succeeds in the feathered kind to the most passionate fondness, is the occasion of an equal dispersion of birds over the face of the earth. Without this provision, one favourite district would be crowded with inbabitants, while others would be destitute and forsaken. But the parent birds seem to maintain a jealous superiority, and to oblige the young to seek for new abodes; and the rivalry of the males in many kinds prevents their crowding the one on the other. Whether the swallows and house-martins return in the same exact number annually is not easy to say, for reasons given
Swifts, swallows, and martins are perhaps, from their rapid flight, less preyed upon than any other small birds. Numbers of them undoubtedly perish during the progress of their two annual migrations.-Ed.
above; but it is apparent, as I have remarked before in my Monographies, that the numbers returning bear no manner of proportion to the numbers retiring.
TO THE SAME.
SELBORNE, June 2, 1778. DEAR SIR,—The standing objection to botany has always been, that it is a pursuit that amuses the fancy and exercises the memory, without improving the mind, or advancing any real knowledge; and, where the science is carried no farther than a mere systematic classification, the charge is but too true. But the botanist that is desirous of wiping off this aspersion, should be by no means content with a list of names; he should study plants philosophically, should investigate the laws of vegetation, should examine the powers and virtues of efficacious herbs, should promote their cultivation, and graft the gardener, the planter, and the husbandman on the phytologist. Not that system is by any means to be thrown aside—without system the field of Nature would be a pathless wilderness—but system should be subservient to, not the main object of, pursuit.
Vegetation is highly worthy of our attention, and in itself is of the utmost consequence to mankind, and productive of many of the greatest comforts and elegancies of life. To plants we owe timber, bread, beer, honey, wine, oil, linen, cotton, &c.—what not only strengthens our hearts, and exhilarates our spirits, but what secures us from inclemencies of weather, and adorns our persons. Man, in his true state of nature, seems to be subsisted by spontaneous vegetation ; in middle climes, where grasses prevail, he mixes some animal food with the produce of the field and garden: and it is towards the polar extremes only, that, like his kindred bears and wolves, he gorges himself with flesh alone, and is driven to what hunger has never been known to compel the very beasts—to prey upon his own species.*
* See the late voyages to the South Seas.
The productions of vegetation have had a vast influence on the commerce of nations, and have been the great promoters of navigation, as may be seen in the articles of sugar, tea, tobacco, opium, ginseng, betel, pepper, &c. As every climate has its peculiar produce, our natural wants bring a mutual intercourse : so that by means of trade, each distant part is supplied with the growth of every latitude. But, without the knowledge of plants and their culture, we must have been content with our hips and haws, without enjoying the delicate fruits of India, and the salutiferous drugs of Peru.
Instead of examining the minute distinctions of every various species of each obscure genus, the botanist should endeavour to make himself acquainted with those that are useful. You shall see a man readily ascertain every herb of the field, yet hardly know wheat from barley, or at least one sort of wheat or barley from another.
But of all sorts of vegetation the grasses seem to be most neglected; neither the farmer nor the grazier seem to distinguish the annual from the perennial, the hardy from the tender, nor the succulent and nutritive from the dry and juiceless.
The study of grasses would be of great consequence to a northerly and grazing kingdom. The botanist that could improve the sward of the district where he lived, would be an useful member of society : to raise a thick turf on a naked soil, would be worth volumes of systematic knowledge; and he would be the best commonwealth’s man that could occasion the growth of “two blades of grass where one alone was seen before."
TO THE SAME.
SELBORNE, July 3, 1778. DEAR SIR,—In a district so diversified with such a variety of hill and dale, aspects and soils, it is no wonder that great choice of plants should be found. Chalks, clays, sands, sheep-walks and downs, bogs, heaths, woodlands, and cham
paign fields, cannot but furnish an ample flora. The deep rocky lanes abound with filices, and the pastures and moist woods with fungi. If in any branch of botany we may seem to be wanting, it must be in the large aquatic plants, which are not to be expected on a spot far removed from rivers, and lying up amidst the hill-country at the spring-heads. To enumerate all the plants that have been discovered within our limits, would be a needless work; but a short list of the more rare, and the spots where they are to be found, may neither be unacceptable nor unentertaining.
Helleborus fætidus, stinking hellebore, bear's-foot, or setterwort all over the Highwood and Coneycroft-hanger; this continues a great branching plant the winter through, blossoming about January, and is very ornamental in shady walks and shrubberies. The good women give the leaves powdered to children troubled with worms; but it is a violent remedy, and ought to be administered with caution.
Helleborus viridis, green hellebore--in the deep stony lane, on the left hand just before the turning to Norton farm, and at the top of Middle Dorton under the edge; this plant dies down to the ground early in autumn, and springs again about February, flowering almost as soon as it appears above ground.
Vaccinium oxycoccus, creeping bilberries, or cranberriesin the bogs of Bin's pond;
Vaccinium myrtillus, whortle, or bilberries-on the dry hillocks of Wolmer Forest;
Drosera rotundifolia, round-leaved sundew-in the bogs of Bin's-pond;
Drosera longifolia, * long-leaved sundew-in the bogs of Bin’s-pond.
Comarum palustre, purple comarum, or marsh cinque-foil -in the bogs of Bin’s-pond.
Hypericum androsæmum, Tutsan, St. John's wort—in the stony, hollow lanes;
Vinca minor, less periwinkle—in Selborne-hanger and Shrub-wood;
Monatropa hypopithys, yellow monotropa, or bird's-nestin Selborne-hanger under the shady beeches, to whose roots it seems to be parasitical—at the north-west end of the Hanger;
* Should this not have been Drosera Anglica ?— W.J.
Chlora perfoliata, Blackstonia perfoliata, Hudsoni, perfoliated yellow-wort—on the banks in the King's Field;
Paris quadrifolia, herb Paris, true love, or one-berryin the Church-litten coppice;
Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, opposite golden saxifrage -in the dark and rocky hollow lanes ;
Gentiana amarella, autumnal gentian, or fellwort-on the Zig-zag and Hanger;
Lathræa squammaria, tooth-wort—in the Church-litten coppice, under some hazels near the foot-bridge, in Trimming's garden hedge, and on the dry wall opposite Grange-yard;
Dipsacus pilosus, small teasel—in the Short and Long Lith;
Lathyrus sylvestris, narrow-leaved, or wild lathyrus-in the bushes at the foot of the Short Lith, near the path;
Ophrys spiralis, ladies' traces—in the Long Lith, and towards the south corner of the common;
Ophrys nidus avis, bird's nest ophrys—in the Long Lith, under the shady beeches among the dead leaves, in Great Dorton among the bushes, and on the Hanger plentifully;
Serapias latifolia, helleborine—in the Highwood under the shady beeches;
Daphne laureola, spurge-laurel-in Selborne-hanger and the High-wood;
Daphne mezereum, the mezereon—in Selborne-hanger, among the shrubs at the south-east end, above the cottages ;
Lycoperdon tuber, truffles—in the Hanger and High-wood;
Sambucus ebulus, dwarf-elder, wal-wort, or dane-wortamong the rubbish and ruined foundations of the Priory.
Of all the propensities of plants, none seem more strange than their different periods of blossoming. Some produce their flowers in the winter, or very first dawnings of spring ; many when the spring is established; some at midsummer, and some not till autumn. When we see the helleborus fatidus and helleborus niger blowing at Christmas, the helleborus hyemalis in January, and the helleborus viridis as soon as ever it emerges out of the ground, we do not wonder, because they are kindred plants that we expect should keep pace the one with the other; but other congenerous vegetables differ so widely in their time of flowering, that we cannot but admire. I shall only instance at present in the