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Essays on Natural History - Introduction

Essays on Natural History, Chiefly Ornithology
was published in three series. The first volume was published in 1837, the second in 1844, and the third in 1857. Waterton included an account of such of his travels and adventures as are not mentioned in the Wanderings in South America. In 1871 a selection from the three volumes was produced by Norman Moore (1). This work also included a life of Charles Waterton.

Essays on Natural History by Charles Waterton

PREFACE by Norman Moore

WATERTON once remarked to me that the naturalist, as well as the poet, might be said to be born, not made. An examination of the works on Natural History, and of the proceedings of zoological societies, confirms this opinion. The number of writers is great, but the permanent value of the productions is small, and bears about the same proportion to their bulk that a phial of attar of roses does to the bushels of flowers from which it is extracted. Many pursue science as a means of accumulating wealth, more, perhaps, as a ladder to notoriety. The former class cannot stop to consider details and arguments which will not yield a pecuniary return. The latter live in fear of being forestalled, and publish half-made observations and crude theories, lest some other competitor in the race of vanity should snatch from them the applause.
They frequently attain the riches or the celebrity for which they strive. Their reputation is great for a time, but its decay is as rapid as its growth, and a few years after their death their works sleep like the authors - in dust.

This is so usual a result, that some persons have supposed this ephemeral quality to be an inherent disadvantage of scientific work. But the conclusion is mistaken. Science, pursued for its own sake, with patient research and prolonged thought, will always yield discoveries that will descend to succeeding generations. It is because Waterton belongs to that select body of men who have studied nature with no other object than to find out truth, that his works are valuable and will endure. His observations are so accurate that
they delight the profoundest philosopher, and so simply described, that the least learned can understand them. Most of these essays might be read with profit even in village schools. They would open the eyes of the children to the treasures of the fields, and would teach them humanity to bird, beast, and reptile.

Although the naturalist be born, not made, still the history of human knowledge shows that the more generally a subject is studied, the more abundantly will latent genius be drawn forth. When architecture was the pursuit of a vast number of cultivated minds throughout Europe, the Gothic cathedrals were the result. In our own century, a similar concentration of thought upon mechanics has been productive of no less astonishing effects. And probably when scientific education has spread through the land, Watertons and Whites will not be so scarce as they are now.

To walk with Waterton in his beautiful park was one of the greatest delights I have experienced. I hope that the reader may enjoy a kindred pleasure by walking in the fields with these essays in his mind, and watching the sights which Waterton describes.

Norman Moore, B.A.
November 1870.


Click here to read an article about Charles Waterton from The Illustrated London News dated 24th August 1844, following the publication of the second volume of Essays on Natural History.

1. Essays on Natural History by Charles Waterton. Edited, with a Life of the Author, by Norman Moore, B.A., Frederick Warne & Co., London, 1871.


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