Page images
PDF
EPUB

Art. VIII. — United States Exploring Expedition. — 1. The Zoöphytes ; by James D. Dana, A. M., Geologist

of the Expedition. 1846. Large 4to. pp. 740. With

an Atlas of 61 plates in folio. 2. Ethnography and Philology; by HORATIO Hale,

A. M., Philologist of the Expedition. 1846. Large 4to. pp. 666. We duly noticed the Narrative of our national Exploring Expedition, published by its indefatigable commander. Those interesting, though diffuse, volumes comprise a full account of the details and incidents of the voyage, and afford the reader a general idea of the work performed and the results attained. But the permanently valuable results of this great undertaking, by which its success is ultimately to be measured, are embodied in the scientific reports now in course of publication. Foremost in importance among these, doubtless, is the hydrographical portion, of which, however, it is not our purpose now to speak, except to say that the charts and surveys which have already appeared are pronounced by competent judges to be of unrivalled excellence, and to reflect the highest credit on the commander and his subordinate officers, who have so faithfully executed the arduous duties of this department.

Besides these charts, the only volumes yet published are the two the titles of which stand at the head of this article. These are the first fruits of the rich scientific barvest which our zealous savans have gathered. Before we open them, we are bound to call public attention to a serious error in respect to the mode, or rather the amount, of publication, which, unless corrected in season, must render them forbidden fruit to nearly all the scientific world. We know something of the interest with which the appearance of these volumes is awaited, not only by the comparatively few laborers who represent the rising science of our own land, but especially by their numerous European brethren. Let our readers imagine their surprise and our mortification, when they learn that the edition ordered by the “ collective wisdom of the nation,” or the more concentrated intelligence of the library committee of Congress, which has charge of the subject, is restricted to one hundred copies! It would be hard to contrive a more effectual plan for defeating the very object of publication. When it is considered, that much the larger part of this five score of copies will probably be absorbed in presents to foreign cabinets and to the State governments, it will be evident that sew indeed are likely to be accessible to those who can really appreciate or profit by them. Such niggardly publication is only tantalizing the votaries of science. It is, moreover, particularly unjust to the authors of these works, who, after devoting four of the best years of their lives to severe labor, exposed to danger and every privation, and as many more, since their return, to the elaboration of their materials, confident that they have been able to make no meagre additions to the general stock of knowledge, and to lay a broad foundation for their own scientific fame, have surely a right to expect a fair hearing before the scientific world.

This infinitesimal edition can hardly have been ordered, one would think, on the score of economy. If so, the penny-wise system begins too late ; for all the principal expenditures have been lavishly made. We refer not so much to the Expedition itself, upon which hundreds of thousands have been cheerfully expended, nor to the preparation of the scientific reports, of the drawings, &c., upon which a full corps of savans and artists have been so long engaged, as to the actual cost of publication, the whole expense of type-setting and engraving having been equally incurred for this small number of copies. The additional charges of an ample impression would be merely the trifling cost of paper and presswork, an:l, in some cases, of the coloring of plates. This beggarly plan, therefore, has not even the poor merit of parsimony. Under these circumstances, if not an oversight, it is sheer extravagance, - an epithet strictly applicable to this “ withholding more than is meet," when it renders former liberality unavailing. We shall be among the last to find fault with these beautiful volumes, printed on fine paper, with the utmost luxury of type and amplitude of margin. Still, if it be a question between an edition of a hundred splendid but inaccessible copies, and an adequate one in a cheaper form, surely no reasonable person, not even Congress, “can long debate which of the two to choose.” But no change is necessary in this respect, except the ordering of an additional impression of three hundred or five hundred copies, to be placed on sale, — just as the charts of the Expedition are sold, — at a price which will barely reimburse the additional cost. We are confident that this number of copies, sufficient to give the work needful circulation, would be promptly bought, even in the present somewhat expensive dress.* Some such plan has, we believe, been recommended to the consideration of the library committee of Congress by the leading scientific societies of the country, - with what success we have not'yet learned. We can only add our protest against the present ill-advised scheme, which is preposterous on the score of economy, since nothing whatever is saved by it, and which, if persevered in, will be truly disgraceful to the country. +

It has occurred to us, as we turned the leaves of these sumptuous volumes, — though we like not to entertain the thought, — that a pitiful pride may have had something to do in limiting the number of copies, so as designedly to give them the adventitious value of great rarity ; that the library committee may have wished to imitate the equivocal patronage to science of some sovereigns, such as an emperor of Austria in the last century, for instance, who caused the works of Jacquin to be published in magnificent style, but in a very small number of copies, chiefly for distribution as presents, and then destroyed the plates, that imperial gifts might not subsequently be cheapened.

“These are imperial arts, and worthy kings," perhaps, in a former age, — though even royal patrons have now grown wiser ; but they are quite unworthy of republican imitation.

[graphic]

The volumes before us, to which, leaving this unpleasant topic, we gladly return, do not need the undesirable advantage of scarcity to give them value. They can well asford to stand upon their intrinsic merit; and if others of the series sustain the same high character, the whole will form by far the most important contribution which our country has yet made to natural science. We propose to give a cursory notice of both works, on this occasion ; although the two subjects, zoöphytes and men, stand at opposite extremities of the scale of being, and have little apparent connection. To begin with the zoophytes, or coral-animals, will be most in accordance with the natural order of things ; since, if they were not the remote progenitors of the human species, as the Lamarckian hypothesis maintains, they were doubtless its predecessors, and have borne no inconsiderable part in the construction of many of the islands upon which reside the races whose national characteristics and languages form the subject of the ethnographical and philological volume.

The systematical part of Mr. Dana's work, necessarily drawn up in strictly scientific form, is of course too technical for our present aim. But the copious introductory chapters on the structure and economy of the zoophytes, or plantanimals, abound in curious matter. Here our author shows us how the coral grove vegetates, and the tree of stone raises its rugged trunk and spreads its branches, covered with animate blossoms ; — how undoubted animals, adopting the laws of vegetable growth, imitate so perfectly not only the branching shrub, but the varied forms of land herbage, “as to have deceived even the philosopher until near a century since.” Not only the tiny moss, the humble lichen, and the graceful fern, but also the gay Powers of the parterre have their counterparts in the submarine garden. There is the SeaAnemone, one of those Actinias which are most appropriately called flower-animals, and which, in forin and size, and some of them in brilliant coloring also, rival the Asters, Carnations, and Anemones of the land. There are the Tubipores and Alcyonia, which resemble clumps of pinks, and Melitæas and Gorgonias, forming clusters of tinted twigs or rushes, sometimes spreading free in the still water, sometimes curi

too limited number, giving them the factitious value of rarity, no less than the risk which the printers assume, will probably cause these copies to be held at so high a price as to defeat, in a good degree, the prineipal object of publication.

ously entwined, as if by art, into fans and coral wicker-work. “ The Madrepores are crowded around in turfy clumps and miniature trees in bloom, or imitate spreading leaves and graceful vases filled with flowers ; while Astræas build up among the shrubbery large domes, embellished with green and purple blossoms, studding the surface like gems.” It is, in sbort, as if the shrubs and blossoms that overhang the shore were seen reflected from the wave in somewhat distorted, but only the more strangely beautiful, shapes; or as if, at the subsidence of the tropical islets, to which it has been supposed the coral reefs owe their existence, the diverse forms of land vegetation had merely to

" suffer a sea change Into something rich and strange,"

Howele name ce their heir p

to produce these singular representations of herb, tree, and flower.

The name of zoophytes, given to these ambiguous productions before their real nature was understood, is still most expressive of their peculiar character. They are animals which grow like a plant. This name, which our author retains, though it was discarded by Lamarck and many succeeding naturalists, has the convenience of being applicable to the whole compound structure, the coral-tree, seafan, or aggregate of whatever shape. When an individual animal is spoken of, it is termed a polyp. Striking as are these imitations of vegetable forms by zoophytes, yet this whole resemblance is entirely superficial. They vegetate, indeed, but they are not vegetables. Although the polyps of the coral fabric bud and sprout like a plant, they are veritable animals still, exhibiting all the essential characteristics of their race. For the genuine credentials of an animal are, not the faculty of locomotion, which is an incidental convenience rather than a necessity of animal life, nor the possession of a head or heart, one or both of which are frequently wanting, but (let the gourmand be thankful to science for the distinction) the possession of a mouth and a stomach. Now the coral-polyps not only have these all-important organs, the sole absolute marks of animality, but they have scarcely any thing else. They are animals par excellence, divested of all superfluities. The simple polyp consists of a cylindrical or oblong body, flattened at the end

ce for the dog, but (let in, one or bonal life, nor that

« PreviousContinue »