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December 18 , 2009

Natural History (Illustrated)


The author of the following book avails himself of the opportunity afforded by its publication, to address a word to those who sustain the delightful and responsible relation of parents.

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I thought still I was to be fooled, so I called upon my old schoolfellow, who used to say, "Snatch at her cunt, and show her your cucumber." He had been one at the frigging match, and had just been appointed assistant-surgeon at a hospital; he was a bachelor and baudy-minded as ever. "M...," said I, "have you ever seen a…

To such of that class as may honour by a perusal this humble attempt to interest and instruct their offspring, the author need not say that the subject of his book possesses for himself peculiar attractions: it will readily be perceived that he has found a charm in the pursuits of the naturalist. The votary of a favourite science would anticipate too much, should he expect every one to partake of the enthusiasm which is apt to stimulate him; it is wisely and kindly ordered that we shall not all be enthusiasts in the same direction. The author, however, still ventures to hope, that in his subject there is enough to attract, though it may fail to fascinate. He hopes, too, that it will be found not attractive merely, but profitable also to his young countrymen. There are many reasons on which to found such [Pg 8]a hope. If to entertain reverence for our Maker, to admire and adore his wisdom and goodness in the illustrations of nature, thankfully to acknowledge and duly to improve the superiority which mind confers, be exercises in which a wise parent would desire to train a child,—the study of natural science is admirably adapted to the attainment of these objects. Again, if it be desirable to encourage habits of patient observation, accuracy of investigation, and soundness of thought; let the volume of nature be opened before the youthful mind. If to learn things be better than to learn words, it is important to place things before the growing intellects of the young. Let it not be supposed that to present matters of science intelligibly to the minds of children is a hopeless task. It requires not learning or maturity of understanding to perceive a fact; it needs only the ordinary senses which God has bestowed alike upon children and their parents. Natural science is emphatically the science of facts; built upon any other foundation it becomes conjecture merely: and he knows but little of the mind of a child who is not aware of the facility with which a fact is impressed upon it. The secret of instructing the young will be found to consist more in the mode of communication than in the nature of the subject.

[Pg 9]

As to the style of this work a word may be said; not, of course, for the purpose of disarming criticism (for truly the writer has never supposed his trifle worth the critic's labour or notice), but simply to remark, that the object has been to write for the minds of children; if the book be intelligible to them, the utmost ambition of Uncle Philip will be attained. Truth and plainness were all he sought. The first he believes he has attained; and to determine his success in attempting the last, he turns from the parents, and looks for the decision of the question to the suffrages of the children. He would rather hear the expression of satisfaction from the lips of one intelligent little reader, than receive the words of approbation from many who are elders; the first is testimony derived from experience, the last is but opinion. Children always know better than any one else does what books they understand.

In conclusion, the author owes it to himself to say to the parents of his young countrymen, and to the patrons of the "Boy's and Girl's Library," that what he has written will be found on the side of religion and morals. So far as these important points are concerned, the writer is not ashamed to avow himself a Christian; nor yet does he mean to make it the subject of boasting. In his simple view, Christianity is a very quiet and gentle thing, [Pg 10]which eschews strife, and promotes practical goodness; and truly can he say, that he has indulged in some of his happiest and, as he trusts, his holiest musings when, in the solitary pursuit of his favourite science,—to use the language of good old Izaak Walton, that simple-hearted lover of God, and all his works,—"he has looked upon the wonders of nature with admiration, or found some harmless insect to content him, and pass away a little time, without offence to God, or injury to man."

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