Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
South American Flora and Fauna
By Sydney Smith (17711845)
From Waterton in South America
THE FIRST thing which strikes us in this extraordinary chronicle, is the genuine zeal and inexhaustible delight with which all the barbarous countries he visits are described. He seems to love the forests, the tigers, and the apes; to be rejoiced that he is the only man there; that he has left his species far away; and is at last in the midst of his blessed baboons! He writes with a considerable degree of force and vigour; and contrives to infuse into his reader that admiration of the great works and undisturbed scenes of nature, which animates his style, and has influenced his life and practice. There is something, too, to be highly respected and praised in the conduct of a country gentleman who, instead of exhausting life in the chase, has dedicated a considerable portion of it to the pursuit of knowledge. There are so many temptations to complete idleness in the life of a country gentleman, so many examples of it, and so much loss to the community from it, that every exception from the practice is deserving of great praise. Some country gentlemen must remain to do the business of their counties; but, in general, there are many more than are wanted; and, generally speaking also, they are a class who should be stimulated to greater exertion. Sir Joseph Banks, a squire of large fortune in Lincolnshire, might have given up his existence to double-barrelled guns and persecutions of poachersand all the benefits derived from his wealth, industry, and personal exertion in the cause of science, would have been lost to the community.
Mr. Waterton complains, that the trees of Guiana are not more than six yards in circumferencea magnitude in trees which it is not easy for a Scottish imagination to reach. Among these, pre-eminent in height rises the mora, upon whose top branches, when naked by age or dried by accident, is perched the toucan, too high for the gun of the fowler; around this are the greenheart, famous for hardness; the tough hacked; the ducalabaly, surpassing mahogany; the ebony and letter-wood, exceeding the most beautiful woods of the old world; the locust-tree, yielding copal; and the hayawa and olou-trees, furnishing sweet-smelling resin. Upon the top of the mora grows the fig-tree. The bush rope joins tree and tree, so as to render the forest impervious, as, descending from on high, it takes root as soon as its extremity touches the ground, and appears like shrouds and stays, supporting the mainmast of a line-of-battle ship.
Demerara yields to no country in the world in her birds. The mud is flaming with the scarlet curlew. At sunset the pelicans return from the sea to the courada trees. Among the flowers are the humming birds. The columbine, gallinaceous, and passerine tribes people the fruit trees. At the close of the day, the vampires, or winged bats, suck the blood of the traveller, and cool him by the flap of their wings. Nor has nature forgotten to amuse herself here in the composition of snakes, the camoudi has been killed from thirty to forty feet long; he does not act by venom, but by size and convolution. The Spaniards affirm that he grows to the length of eighty feet, and that he will swallow a bull; but Spaniards love the superlative. There is a whipsnake of a beautiful green. The labarri snake of a dirty brown, who kills you in a few minutes. Every lovely colour under heaven is lavished upon the counachouchi, the most venomous of reptiles, and known by the name of the bush master. Man and beast, says Mr. Waterton, fly before him, and allow him to pursue an undisputed path.