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ded telling in to veit landedly topless by much
happening to fall in with a storm of wind should be hurried out of its course, and carried to our shores, that one single occurrence suffices at the present day to place its name on our British list. I remark not now on the benefit or disadvantage to science of such a method; I only state that this is the method adopted by our British Ornithologists, and that by this means three or four new species are annually added to our list. And yet notwithstanding this modern method of swelling the list of British birds, and that with such additions to it from year to year, the last edition of our chief Ornithological work contains but 171 land birds, I have been enabled without difficulty and somewhat hurriedly to verify the existence of above 100 species in this county: doubtless by more extended inquiry this Wiltshire list might be still very much enlarged; but the fact of above 100 land birds being known to exist in the county is quite enough to prove the object of this paper —that Wiltshire presents a very good field for Ornithology.
Of the two orders composing the other class of birds, I mean the “water birds,” it cannot be expected, as I before said, that this, as an inland district, should present a very large supply. Still even of these, there are some families (as the Plovers) which affect our open downs to a great degree, and there are others of essentially sea birds (as the Gulls and Terns) which are very frequent visitors. Besides this we have an occasional visit from many other varieties of water birds continually occurring; so that, again, the diligent Ornithologist, though he confine his observations to his own county, will not unfrequently meet with specimens of birds whose more peculiar domain is the sea and the sea shore.
Another and a strong proof of the favourable retreat afforded by this district of England to certain species of birds, and one which by no means must be omitted in speaking of its Ornithology is, that for a great number of years our downs were the resort of that glorious bird, the Great Bustard, and though of late years it has most unhappily become extinct in Great Britain, in consequence of the draining, enclosing, and cultivating of our waste lands; yet the downs of Wilts deserve honourable mention as one of its last strongholds.
Now with all these facts before us, it is hardly necessary for me to remark again, that Wiltshire does offer a very large field to the inquiring Ornithologist. In great measure, too, it is an open and an untrodden field; for though in speaking of its Ornithology, one may not be silent of him, who, at the close of the last century, in an adjoining shire, was the great promoter and scientific observer of Natural History and Antiquities, and whose inquiries extended into Wiltshire; (I mean Gilbert White, the author of the charming Natural History of Selborne :) and though here we may recollect with pleasure that the zealous naturalist and talented author of the Ornithological dictionary published in the early part of the present century-Col. Montagu—was a native as well as an
inhabitant of Wiltshire ; yet since their time, in the rapid strides made of late in every branch of Natural History, and in none more than in the one of which I am speaking, partly owing to the exertions of these industrious and accurate observers, there have been but few in this county who have given much attention to this branch of science.
If, then, the county abounds in Ornithological riches, and the field of research for these riches has been of late but little trodden, I would earnestly hope that the Inauguration of this Society may prove the beginning of better things, and stir up some amongst us to more diligent inquiry. I am convinced that Ornithology is a most fascinating and interesting study, carrying its votaries along the most pleasant paths, and adding tenfold interest to every walk. The unobservant passer-by may think that all birds are alike, except in size and colour; the casual observer may imagine that in this pursuit there can be little to learn ; but the truth is, that in all pursuits of this kind, and certainly not the least so, in the one before us, the farther he advances, the more he sees to admire, the more he sees how little he knows. Let him examine the plumage of a bird, let him take a single feather, and see its wonderful growth, its mysterious colouring, its perfect adaptation to the end for which it was made; what an admirable defence against cold and heat, how light and buoyant! Let him examine the different methods of nidification adopted by the different species, how every species adopts a method peculiar to itself, yet one which is exactly followed by all the members comprising that species. What consummate skill and ingenuity are displayed in the construction of their nests; how beautiful and curious and varied are their eggs! Or to take a hurried glance at the five great orders or divisions, into which birds are commonly divided. Is the first order composed of those birds which live by prey ? Mark how powerful and compact their bodies, how strong and hooked their bill, how muscular their limbs, how curved their claws, how keen their vision, how rapid their flight! Is the second division that extensive one, comprising all the smaller birds which perch? See how their anatomical construction is in every point adapted to their habits; hard bills to the seed-eating, soft bills to the insect-eating tribes : how their feet are adapted to perching and grasping. Does the third order consist of ground birds ? Mark the shortness of the wing, for they need not extensive flight; their deficiency in the faculty of grasping with their feet, for they rarely perch; but see their swiftness and endurance in running, their strong powerful muscles, their short toes. Does the fourth order comprise the waders ? Mark the length of leg and bill, which usually characterizes this order, and is so adapted to their habits. And is the fifth order that which embraces all the swimmers ? See the structure of their feet, the shape of their bodies, and how well they are formed for swimming and diving!
These and a thousand other such things, unnoticed by many, but discovered at every turn by the student in Ornithology, point out how perfect are the works of God, how varied and beautiful, how suited to their several positions are the creatures of His hand. The contemplation of them not only fills the heart with pleasure, but lifts it up in praise and adoration to the great and bountiful Creator, whose least work so far surpasses the greatest triumph of the most scientific men.
In concluding this paper, I may perhaps be allowed to express a hope, that the Inauguration of this and other kindred Associations may be the dawn of a happier era of kindness towards the whole animal creation; that the system of wanton persecution of God's creatures, hitherto unhappily so much practised in this country, and especially among the uneducated classes, may now at length receive a timely check from the remonstrances of those who compose this Society. The persecution of which I complain is in many cases prompted by ignorance of the true habits of the animal persecuted; in more cases by superstitious fears, in most, by a sheer love of cruelty ; but I trust that this Society, as it advances, will kindle in its members so true an appreciation of the whole animal creation, that it may be a means of putting an effectual check to this barbarity, as well as of dispelling the many erroneous and absurd fictions respecting the furred and feathered tribes, now, alas for their safety, so generally rife.
ADDRESS BY JOHN BRITTON,
For the Inaugural Meeting of the Wiltshire Archæological and Natural
History Society, October 12th, 1853.
It is usually thought and asserted, that in old age all the physical and mental powers of man become torpid and insensible. Whatever may be the case in other instances, I can venture to assert that in my 83rd year, my nervous and bodily system are as susceptible of pain, whilst my mental sensibilities are as acute, as they were in days of youth. Hence all the beauties of nature—the countless wonders of the world—the finer works of art—the numerous but better productions of literary talent, are sources of never-tiring enjoyment; whilst the company and confidential intercourse with men of congenial minds and pursuits, continue to excite the tripartite pleasures of “imagination,” of “memory,” and of “friendship.” Hence time never seems to flag—days are too short for the duties and gratifications which every succeeding morning presents and
ennui is unknown in my personal vocabulary. I venture to say thus much of self, retrospectively, as a prelude to what I have to remark on the origin, prospects, and probable results of the Society we are now met to inaugurate.
Wiltshire is a fine, a remarkable, a truly interesting county. Its geographical, geological, and other branches of Natural History abound with matter and materials calculated to exercise and reward the lovers of those branches of science. Its Topography and Antiquities are replete with objects of moment, and therefore cannot fail to furnish endless food for the mental appetite. In Celtic Antiquities there is not a district of our island-or even in the world —which contains such an amount of the tangible records of the history and customs of the aboriginal and primæval inhabitants. Its castrametations and other earthworks are numerous, various, and remarkable; whilst the evidences of Roman population, with the customs of those invaders, are apparent in the military roads, castra, and stations of the county.
Of Architectural Antiquities, Wiltshire presents many important and interesting specimens; in the unique and beautiful Cathedral Church of Salisbury, in the fine fragment of Malmesbury Abbey Church, and in several parish churches. Though it cannot boast much of castellated architecture, we find some remains at Ludgershall and Wardour, and also in the lofty keep mounds at Marlborough and at Devizes.
In ancient Domestic Architecture, we recognize interesting and curious specimens in Lacock Abbey, Bradenstoke Priory, Longford Castle, Longleat, Wilton House, Charlton Park, Littlecote, South Wraxhall, Great Chaldfield, and Kingston House at Bradford.
It is true that John Aubrey, Bishop Tanner, Thomas Gore of Alderton, Henry Penruddocke Wyndham, Thomas Davies, and a few others, had made collections, and produced certain volumes on the county, generally; whilst the Rev. Mr. Cooke, Dr. Stukeley, Dr. Wm. Smith, Twining, Kennedy, Price, Richardson, Wood, &c., had written and published treatises on particular objects and places. Mr. Wyndham of Salisbury translated the Domesday survey, in the preface to which he strongly urged the nobility and gentry of the county to assist in, and promote a Topographical History. His appeal and advocacy were unheeded, and when I first visited Salisbury, in 1796, he received me with much courtesy and kindness. It should be borne in mind that he had previously manifested both partiality and qualifications for Archæology and Local History, by two volumes, on South Wales, and on the Isle of Wight. The advice and patronage of such a gentleman were of importance, and I profited by them for the first year of my topographical novitiate; but on a subsequent visit to Salisbury, having met with some officers stationed there with the Wiltshire Militia, who invited me to join them occasionally, at the mess-dinners, I was induced, at their instigation to perform in a farce with Mr. Stratford's theatrical company then in the city. I made my appearance on the stage, but was thenceforward estranged from Mr. Wyndham. It was some time before I was made conscious of the offence, and longer before I was favoured with his renewed correspondence and advice.
In the “Beauties of Wiltshire” I have related the history of that publication, which led to a general connection and intercourse with the county. That work gave origin to the “Architectural Antiquities,” “The Cathedral Antiquities,” and lastly, though not the least in my estimation, the “Wiltshire Archæological and Natural History Society.” This association, I do most ardently hope, may prosper, progressively advancing in popularity and usefulness, and thereby becoming an honour to the county, and also to its founders and patrons.
In the Auto-biography which I am now writing and printing, will be found other notices of this Society, and of my personal connection with many public persons, and of distinguished places in the county of my birth.
In July 1849, I printed copies of the following address to be circulated at the congress of the “Archæological Institute” at Salisbury, and now repeat it to show what was then said and done, though ineffectually, towards establishing a Society similar to that which we this day meet to inaugurate:
“The British Association for the Advancement of Science has long been, and continues to be, not only popular, but eminently interesting and useful in its working and results. Archæological Societies have followed in its wake, and imitated some of its principles and regulations; and they have given a new impulse and direction to that department of Topography which relates to local antiquities. It is only eight years since the British Archæological Association commenced its ambulatory course, by visiting the metropolitan city of Canterbury, where by exploring, lecturing, and conversing on the antiquities of the place and its vicinity, as well as by publishing subsequent accounts, it produced a powerful effect on many old inhabitants of the city, and on several old and young antiquaries, in the British metropolis, and different parts of the country. Other Societies, in imitation of the parent, have since been established; and though principally limited to a single county, some of them have enrolled numerous members, realised large subscriptions, and published several useful and valuable works.
“Following such examples, and profiting by experience, it is thought advisable to convert the Wiltshire Topographical Society, into a Wiltshire Archæological and Natural History Institute, with the hope of rendering it more popular, and consequently more useful than the former had been.
“The history of the Wiltshire Topographical Society and the nature of its publications, shew that there are few persons, either duly qualified or willing to write a comprehensive history of a