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Dellwild, June 28th, 18—. 1. MY YOUNG FRIEND,—I am gratified to learn from you, in response to my last letter, that the brief description which I have given of the Saurian reptiles has not been devoid of interest to you. Let me say to you, then, in this place, by way of further encouragement, that when you come to the subject of Geology, and find that the fossil remains of the Saurians, some of them of monster size, throw much light upon the history of the earth’s formation, you will begin to realize something of the true importance of this and kindred portions of natural history, and see beauties in them which I can not expect you now to appreciate. But I must proceed to the subject set apart for this letter-the Ophidians, or Serpents, which comprise the third division or order of the reptile race.
2. In the little space which I can devote to this order in one letter, I can do little more than take a general view of the subject, and give you drawings of a few species. This you may not regret, as the very name of serpent, or snakeg almost makes some people shudder; and I am not surprised that you should ask, “What can' there be interesting about such creatures' p»* I shall not attempt here to combat prejudices which seem so natural, and which were perhaps designed by the Great Author of our being.
3. Although many of the serpents are of the most resplendent coloring, and although, deprived of feet, fins, or other obvious members2 for walking, they glide on the earth, ascend trees, and even direct their course through the waters with surprising agility and with graceful evolutions, yet the serpent was cursed "above every beast of the field;" and man, as if remembering this curse and the lamentable event which caused it, turns from the reptile with disgust and horror, or seeks to effect its instant destruction.
4. But, strange as it may appear, while in every country, ancient and modern, serpents have been viewed with aversion, no other class of animals has furnished man with so many varied emblems,4 mythological5 symbols, and allegories.? In Hindoo mythology the god Chrisna is sometimes represented entwined by a large cobra, which is fixing its poisoned fangs in the heel; and again the god is represented as crushing the head of the serpent, while he triumphantly tears the creature from his body-emblems which seem to spring from the great prophetic promise of Scripture, “It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."
* See Notes to Rules III. and IV.
5. In Grecian mythology snakes armed the hand of Discord; and both the Gorgons and the avenging Furies were represented with snakes wreathed around their heads instead of hair. As an emblem of prudence and circumspection, as well as from their reputed medicinal virtues, they were the attribute of Æsculapius, the father of medicine; entwined around the wandø of Mercury, they were the type of insinuating eloquence; and from the venomous powers of many, they were used as the symbol of torment. Among the Egyptians the serpent was the emblem of fertility; while the circle formed by a snake biting its own tail-without beginning or endwas the chosen symbol of eternity.
6. The renowned Pythian games of Greece were fabled to have been established in commemoration of the slaying of the monster serpent Python by the arrows of Apollo. The slaying of the nine-headed Lernean hydra was the second of the twelve labors imposed upon Hercules. One of the most remarkable groups in sculpture which time has spared to us is “the Laocoon," which represents the Apollonian priest, Laocoon, and his two sons, in the folds of two enormous serpents which had issued from the sea. The story is thus told by Virgil, as translated by Dryden:
" Then (dreadful to behold !) from sea we spied
And lick'd their hissing jaws that sputter'd flame. 8.
“ We fled amazed : their destined way they take,
And with loud bellowings breaks the yielding skies." 9. Among the Mexicans the serpent was the basis of their hideous and bloody religion. The supreme Mexican idol, Mexitli, was represented encircled and guarded by serpents, before which were offered human sacrifices.
"On a blue throne, with four huge silver snakes,
Belted with scales of gold his monster bulk." 10. Even among our British ancestors the priests are said to have had tame serpents of great size, which they suffered to twine around their bodies, thereby inspiring the people with wonder, fear, and servile obedience. Southey, in his poem of Madoc, has vividly depicted such an exhibition and its effects. Neolin, the priest of the snake-god, is a prisoner in the hands of Madoc and his party, when 11.
“Forth from the dark recesses of the cave
« The Britons stood
Fell prone, and worship'd.”--SOUTHEY. 13. Thus much for the fable and poetry of our subject, which assuredly it is well to be acquainted with. A few words now as to the more tangible realities of serpent life. Serpents may be divided into the two large sections, the venomous and the non-venomous, of which about sixty species of the former have been enumerated, and more than three hundred of the latter.* They are numerous, and some of them of great size in the jungles, marshes, savannas,12 and other desolate places of the tropics, but are rare and diminutive in cold regions. Only three species are found in Britain ; none in Ireland; sixteen species are found in New York and the New England States, of which only two are venomous,
the copperhead and the rattlesnake. All serpents are carnivorous, of slow growth, and long lived. Like all slow breathers, they can exist a long time without food.
14. Many thrilling accounts might be given of the serpentcharmers of the East; of deadly contests between serpents of different species, and between serpents and other animals,
* More correctly, the division is into VIPERINE and COLUBRINE serpents. In the former division are embraced the Viper family and the Rattlesnake family; in the latter, the Coluber serpents (our common harmless snakes), the Boas and Pythons, and the marine serpents. A few of the Colubrine serpents are believed to be venomous.
their natural enemies, and of the slaying of enormous boas
6 Sým'-BOL, an emblem or sign of something. 2 MĚM'-BERS, limbs of animal bodies. ? AL'-LE-GO-RY, a story in which the literal 3 Ev-0-LŪ'-TIONS, motions.
meaning is not the direct or simple one. 4 ĚM'-BLEM,
that which represents one thing 8 WẠND, a staff or rod of authority. to the eye and another to the understand- 9 LA-06'-0-ÕN. ing.
10 FỉL'-LET, a head-band. 5 MYTH-O-LÖĞ'-IC-AL, pertaining to the fa- 11 VĚN-OM. bles of the heathen gods.
12 SA-VĂN'-NA, an open meadow or plain.
-A LETTER ABOUT THE AMPHIBIANS.
Scale of Inches.
Dellwild, July 19th, 18.
thought by some naturalists to possess peculiarities sufficiently important to entitle them to rank as a group distinct from the reptiles. Their arrangement, however, whether among the reptiles or as a distinct class, is unimportant, so long as weunderstand that, in descending from the higher to the lower forms of life, they hold a rank intermediate between the true reptiles and the fishes.
2. The chief interest connected with the amphibians, which comprise the frogs, toads, salamanders, and sirens, lies in the curious transformations' or metamorphoses' which they undergo, from the character of fishes in their infancy, breathing by means of gills, to the nature and habits of true reptiles, rising to the dignity of four legs, and breathing by means of lungs. Thus the common frog begins life as a tadpole or polliwog, hatched from an egg in a pond or in some marshy place. In its fish-like state it continues for several weeks, breathes by means of gills, and feeds upon the vegetable food of fishes; at length the hinder legs bud, and are gradually developed; ere long the fore legs are produced in a similar manner; then gradually the tail shortens, dwindles away, and finally disappears; the gills are changed, lungs are formed, and the tadpole becomes a land animal. It has now risen to a higher life. Whereas it before swam by means of a tail', it now leaps by means of legs'; and as before it ate only roots and grass', it now becomes a hunter of insects and worms'.
3. Similar changes occur in all the amphibians, except that in a few of them, as in the sirens, the branchial organs which project from the sides of the neck are permanent through life, and the animal breathes equally well in the water and on the land. In their full-grown state the habits of the amphibians are various. Thus the frogs, newts, many of the salamanders, and sirens pass most of their time in the slime of ponds, rivers, and ditches; others, like the toads, are essentially land animals. Some of the green frogs, which inhabit clear running streams, are extensively eaten in France, and considered a great delicacy.
4. The toads, although a harmless and inoffensive race, have had the misfortune to encounter the violent prejudice of mankind in all ages. A modern naturalist, writing upon this subject, says: "Yet if, with these prejudices to contend against, an observer of nature will have the courage to place one of these poor creatures in such a position as to examine its eye, his disgust or repugnance will be turned into pity and compassion; and he will wonder how such an expression