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Official Handbook to the Collection of Animals of the Wurtemberg Stuffed Animals Company (Limited). 1873.
The best way of introducing this Handbook to the readers of the 'Zoologist' is by reprinting the author's account of his own labours and of the Collection on which those labours have been expended.
"The animals enumerated in the following Catalogue have been all prepared by Herr Ploucquet, of Stuttgart, whose skill in modelling and mounting preparations in Natural History will be remembered by every one who visited the International Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park. Since that time the Collection has been very largely increased, and many of the mora recently made groups give evidence of still further advance in the art which obtained for Herr Ploucquet so distinguished a fame in England, twenty years ago. His Collection has been packed and sent over under his own personal superintendence, and is being remounted and arranged by his brother naturalist, Herr Miiller (who was for several years Curator of the Museums at Teflis), and by his pupil Herr Tiedemann, both of Stuttgart. The great interest-manifested by the public in the exciting and comical groups exhibited in the old Crystal Palace justifies the assumption that the present extensive Collection could not have found a more appropriate home than under the reconstructed roof of the same building. The illustrations of animal life here displayed contain upwards of 1500 specimens; and it may confidently be asserted that there is no other Collection which will bear comparison with it. In the compilation of this Catalogue the most recent works on Zoology have been consulted, and the multiplication of generic names has been, as far as possible, avoided. It is hoped, therefore, that this interesting exhibition will afford, not only amusement, but also instruction in Natural History."
The Collection very properly and naturally resolves into two series, one consisting of the comical groups exhibited in 1851, the other of groups aiming to represent animals in natural attitudes and following their customary occupations. There is yet a third series suspended from the ceiling, and consisting of bird-skins, hanging over the spectator's head. The principal attraction of the comical groups is the fable of Reynard the Fox, a story immortalized by the poet Goethe and illustrated by the painter Kaulbach: the following argument is given by the compiler of the Handbook :—
"The Lion, the king of beasts, made a proclamation summoning all animals to his royal court, and all but Reynard the Fox duly obeyed the call. In his absence grievous accusations were laid against him, and particularly by one Chanticleer, whose children he had barbarously murdered after gaining admission into the farmyard under pretence of being a hermit. The King, determining to punish Reynard, sent first the Bear, and then the Cat after him, who bore a royal mandate to the gate of Reynard's castle, where he is shown waiting for him. The Cat, like the previous messenger, is artfully led into the trap and Reynard escapes. At length, on the Badger coming to fetch him, Reynard consents to appear in court, where he is condemned to execution. While on the scaffold, by a subtle speech, he dissuades the King (the Lion) from his purpose by telling him of a great concealed treasure. In testimony of his veracity he brings forward the Hare as a witness, which forms another of the groups. Reynard then, considering himself under excommunication, resolves on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and is shown in his pilgrim state with a rosary and a palmer's staff. A Hare, passing before Reynard's castle, sees him in a pilgrim's garb, and Reynard, flying upon the unsuspecting traveller, uses his palmer's staff with intent to murder him. This is the subject of another group. The Hare, fleeing to the King, informs him of the attempt, and the King resolves to destroy Reynard and his castle of Malepartus forthwith. The conclusion of this tale is a combat between Reynard and one of his accusers, in which the former by his art comes off victor, and returns loaded with courtly favours to his castle, where he is represented seated at ease."
With regard to details, I must claim a critic's privilege to make a few suggestions. The "comical creatures" should not have been placed between the spectator and the light; they are not transparent, and therefore the fun of the thing is in a great measure lost by this location: they must be viewed as opaque, but their opacity is now increased to a very unsatisfactory extent; they are so placed as regards the light that it is difficult to understand and appreciate them. In an educational point of view, it may be questioned which is preferable, the florid style of taxidermy, in which these " comical creatures" are presented to our notice, or the diagrammatic style adopted in our museums; the first supposes animals acting in an impossible manner; the second virtually represents them as lifeless, and therefore incapable of acting at all; both extremes arc objectionable.
In the principal series a middle course is observed; in this the animals are arranged in groups, without much attempt at scientific classification, but the animals are placed in attitudes which it is supposed they might assume when living and pursuing their ordinary avocations; more particularly the beasts of prey are represented as seizing sheep, antelopes, deer, elks, bisons, &c. Of course the attitudes are imaginary, since the taxidermist could not have witnessed the scenes he represents, yet they appear by no means constrained, unnatural, or even improbable. They seem without exception to have been grouped with the view of diffusing correct information, and, without being rigidly truthful, convey the artist's idea of what he supposes the truth. I think it will be at once admitted that the design is laudable and well worthy the support of all lovers of Natural History.
I would venture to suggest that in the course of a very few years, when the Collection must require dusting and cleansing, and when additional specimens may be acquired, and needs must be incorporated, a re-arrangement should be made, and something like a scientific system should be adopted. Cuvier's 'Regne Animal' should be taken as a guide, the specimens grouped in families in accordance with their natural affinities, and a brief definition—say ten or twelve lines—be devoted in the Catalogue to the essential characters of each family. A slight difficulty, a very slight one, may present itself to some in the fact that two very different animals frequently occur in the same group, and therefore a continuous series could not include them both; for instance, the first group of all, A 1, consists of two lynxes and a sheep: in all such cases it will be found sufficient to number the principal objects, the lynxes, and to leave the secondary object, the sheep, unnamed.
It is most desirable to associate words with objects; indeed,
as it seems to me, this ought to be the prominent feature of
juvenile education. I have no objection to a long technical
description of a lion; his mane, tail, teeth and claws may be
defined with precision for the instruction of the embryo man
of science, but the child, the school-boy, the mechanic, learns
more, and more quickly, from a glance at the object itself than
from all the descriptions in the world; and, what is still more to the
purpose, the memory clings with more pertinacity to an object than
to a description: there is also far greater facility in connecting a
name with an object than with a description. I therefore heartily
commend the Collection to the notice of parents, teachers, and all
who desire to infuse a love of Natural History into the minds of
those under their care. ^ x,
Notes on the Lido, Torcello and the Pineta.
One is naturally led to connect the Pineta, in the neighbourhood of Ravenna, with the islands in the lagoons off Venice, inasmuch as the Entomology of the respective localities is akin, their ecclesiastical history similar, and the districts in either case consist of iiriKT>\roi foi, land which has either been reclaimed from the Adriatic or thrown up by the receding of its waves, and accordingly, as may be supposed from the history of its formation, the Lido is flat, with a long stretch of sandy shore on the side facing the mare apertum, where Byron used to take his rides, and where he wished to be buried. I paid three visits to this island, which is about two miles in extent, and serves as a rendezvous for pleasure, recreation and refreshment, to such of the Venetian populace as may wish to escape from the close smells of their own canals and enjoy a sea-breeze occasionally, and are accordingly conveyed thither by an omnibus steam gondola, the said boat performing the voyage several times a day during the whole of the summer season, and bringing many customers to the excellent bathing establishment, which owns the greater part of the place. So that a ticket purchased on landing not only admits one to the baths, a long and ornamental wooden structure erected on piles driven into the sand, but to La Favorita as well, a restaurant beneath an acacia grove in the centre of the isle, containing a spacious dancing hall and ample accommodation for refreshment, and in fact enables one to traverse, without fear of trespassing or interruption, the whole spot. The only other objects worthy of notice are the Hebrew Cemetery, which wears a desolate and uncared-for aspect, with its moss-grown tombs and curious vase-shaped head-stones lying about, and the market gardens, where maize, fruit and vegetables are grown for Venice. Adriatic oysters are to be had close to the landing-place, very diminutive and surpassingly delicate in flavour.
List of Insects observed on the Lido.
Pieris Daplidice. Plentiful. CEdipoda Germanica (blue variety).
„ Rapae. Vanessa Atalanta.
Colias Edusa. Plentiful. Xylocopa violacea.
Acridium tatarioum. Satyrus Megaera.
Tryxalis uasuta. Deiopeia pulchella.
Torcello is indeed a peculiar spot, as regards its situation, and the unrivalled historical interest attaching to the little isle, whose old name of "the wine-press" is commemorated by the numerous ancient and dilapidated vintners' shops; many of these were shut up and others in ruins, skirting the sides of the canals, which were fringed with Michaelmas daisies in full bloom when our gondola was punted along these channels, of narrow width indeed, but by no means insignificant on that account, when we reflect how they contributed to the safety of the early Church of those regions, at a period when the inhabitants of Altinum and Aquileia fled for safety to the districts encircled by these marshes, from the desolating progress of Attila and the northern invaders; and in corroboration of this fact a massive stone chair is still pointed out on an open green outside the church, called the throne of Attila, but conjectured, with more probability, to have been the seat in which the chief magistrates of Torcello were inaugurated. For on entering the ecclesiastical edifices here, one is struck not only with their oldness, but their marvellous antiquity, containing monumental records of saints, arch-presbyters, bishops and metropolitans, several of whom passed away before the erection of the earliest Venetian church, and whose memory is only preserved by a half-effaced inscription, green with damp from the sea-mists arising from the lagoons all round this quarter; and one is led to observe how, not only through their geographical position, but also by the style of the architecture employed, the said buildings serve as a link between the Eastern and Western branches—they are basilicas rather than churches. Not far from our landing-place was a small orchard, of which half had been mown, while half was still covered with lucerne, and the field in question was intersected by a ditch filled with Michaelmas daisies from end to end, where Rapae and Edusa, as a natural consequence, swarmed.
My visit to the Pineta, so celebrated for having furnished the timber for the Roman fleet, and renowned in poelry from the days of Dante down to the time of Byron, took place on October 9,1872. It was, however, unattended with much success, as regards entomological captures: in spite of the bright autumnal sun glinting through the forest glades, which appeared such admirable collecting ground, I only noticed six species of Rhopalocera and three kinds of Orthoptera.