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would not have him prove it. If he is content to take his information from others, he may get through his book with little trouble, and without much endangering his reputation. But if he makes experiments for so comprehensive a book as his, there would be no end to them; his erroneous assertions would fall then upon himself; and he might be blamed for not having made experiments as to every particular."
Johnson's original prediction, however, with respect to this work, that Goldsmith would make it as entertaining as a Persian tale, was verified; and though much of it was borrowed from Buffon, and but little of it written from his own observation; though it was by no means profound, and was chargeable with many errors, yet the charms of his style and the play of his happy disposition throughout have continued to render it far more popular and readable than many works on the subject of much greater scope and science. Cumberland was mistaken, however, in his notion of Goldsmith's ignorance and lack of observation as to the characteristics of animals. On the contrary, he was a minute and shrewd observer of them; but he observed them with the eye of a poet and moralist as well as a naturalist. We quote two passages from his works illustrative of this fact, and we do so the more readily because they are in a manner a part of his history, and give us another peep into his private life in the Temple; of his mode of occupying himself in his lonely and apparently idle moments, and of another class of acquaintances which he made there.
Speaking in his “ Animated Nature” of the habitudes of Rooks, “I have often amused myself,” says he, “with observing their plans of policy from my window in the Temple, that looks upon a grove, where they have made a colony in the midst of a
ANECDOTES OF A SPIDER.
city. At the commencement of spring the rookery, which, during the continuance of winter, seemed to have been deserted, or only guarded by about five or six, like old soldiers in a garrison, now begins to be once more frequented; and in a short time, all the bustle and hurry of business will be fairly commenced.”
The other passage which we take the liberty to quote at some length, is from an admirable paper in the Bee, and relates to the House Spider.
“Of all the solitary insects I have ever remarked, the spider is the most sagacious, and its motions to me, who have attentively considered them, seem almost to exceed belief. I perceived, about four years ago, a large spider in one corner of my room making its web; and, though the maid frequently levelled her broom against the labors of the little animal, I had the good fortune then to prevent its destruction, and I may say
it more than paid me by the entertainment it afforded.
“In three days the web was, with incredible diligence, completed; nor could I avoid thinking that the insect seemed to exult in its new abode. It frequently traversed it round, examined the strength of every part of it, retired into its hole, and came out very frequently. The first enemy, however, it had to encounter was another and a much larger spider, which, having no web of its own, and having probably exhausted all its stock in former labors of this kind, came to invade the property of its neighbor. Soon, then, a terrible encounter ensued, in which the invader seemed to have the victory, and the laborious spider was obliged to take refuge in its hole. Upon this I perceived the victor using every art to draw the enemy from its stronghold. He seemed to go off, but quickly returned; and when he found all arts in vain, began to demolish the new web without mercy. This brought on another battle, and, contrary to my expectations, the laborious spider became conquerer, and fairly killed his antagonist.
“ Now, then, in peaceable possession of what was justly its own, it waited three days with the utmost impatience, repairing the breaches of its web, and taking no sustenance that I could perceive. At last, however, a large blue fly fell into the snare, and struggled hard to get loose. The spider gave it leave to entangle itself as much as possible, but it seemed to be too strong for the cobweb. I must own I was greatly surprised when I saw the spider immediately sally out, and in less than a minute weave a new net round its captive, by which the motion of its wings was stopped; and, when it was fairly hampered in this manner, it was seized and dragged into the hole.
“In this manner it lived, in a precarious state ; and nature seemed to have fitted it for such a life, for upon a single fly it subsisted for more than a week. I once put a wasp into the net; but when the spider came out in order to seize it as usual, upon perceiving what kind of an enemy it had to deal with, it instantly broke all the bands that held it fast, and contributed all that lay in its power to disengage so formidable an antagonist. When the wasp was set at liberty, I expected the spider would have set about repairing the breaches that were made in its net; but those, it seems, were irreparable: wherefore the cobweb was now entirely forsaken, and a new one begun, which was completed in the usual time.
“I had now a mind to try how many cobwebs a single spider could furnish ; wherefore I destroyed this, and the insect set about another. When I destroyed the other also, its whole stock seemed entirely exhausted, and it could spin no more.
The arts ANECDOTES OF A SPIDER.
it made use of to support itself, now deprived of its great means of subsistence, were indeed surprising. I have seen it roll up its legs like a ball, and lie motionless for hours together, but cautiously watching all the time: when a fly happened to approach sufficiently near, it would dart out all at once, and often seize its prey.
“ Of this life, however, it soon began to grow weary, solved to invade the possession of some other spider, since it could not make a web of its own. It formed an attack upon a neighboring fortification with great vigor, and at first was as vigorously repulsed. Not daunted, however, with one defeat, in this manner it continued to lay siege to another's web for three days, and at length, having killed the defendant, actually took possession. When smaller flies happen to fall into the snare, the spider does not sally out at once, but very patiently waits till it is sure of them; for, upon his immediately approaching, the terror of his appearance might give the captive strength sufficient to get loose; the manner, then, is to wait patiently, till, by ineffectual and impotent struggles, the captive has wasted all its strength, and then he becomes a certain and easy conquest.
“ The insect I am now describing lived three years; every year it changed its skin and got a new set of legs. I have sometimes plucked off a leg, which grew again in two or three days. At first it dreaded my approach to its web, but at last it became so familiar as to take a fly out of my hand; and, upon my touch ing any part of the web, would immediately leave its hole, prepared either for a defence or an attack."
Honors at the Royal Academy.-Letter to his brother Maurice.-Family for
tunes.—Jane Contarine and the miniature.—Portraits and engravings.School associations.-Johnson and Goldsmith in Westminster Abbey.
The latter part of the year 1768 had been made memorable in the world of taste by the institution of the Royal Academy of Arts, under the patronage of the King, and the direction of forty of the most distinguished artists. Reynolds, who had been mainly instrumental in founding it, had been unanimously elected president, and had thereupon received the honor of knighthood. * Johnson was so delighted with his friend's elevation, that he broke through a rule of total abstinence with respect to wine, which he had maintained for several years, and drank bumpers on the occasion. Sir Joshua eagerly sought to associate his old and valued friends with him in his new honors, and it is supposed to be through his suggestions that, on the first establishment of professorships, which took place in December, 1769, Johnson was nominated to that of Ancient Literature, and Gold
* We must apologize for the anachronism we have permitted ourselves in the course of this memoir, in speaking of Reynolds as Sir Joshua, when treating of circumstances which occurred prior to his being dubbed; but it is so customary to speak of him by that title, that we found it difficult to dispense with it.