Imagens da página
[ocr errors]

of its contents. His place of residence was changed several times, in hope that the fading spark of animation might be rekindled; but the hope was vain. He died in Dereham, in the county of Norfolk, April 25th, 1800, aged sixty-nine years. The gloom of his deathbed was appalling; but those who stood around him thought that the last moments were brightened by a gleam of joy. They read, as they imagined, calmness and composure in his countenance, “mingled with a holy surprise.” But we cannot attach much importance to such decipherings. There was anomaly in the case of William Cowper which no mortal can explain; and all we can say is, that, contrary to nearly all that we see elsewhere, and to all that the Christian is warranted to expect, he displayed the evidences of sincerity, and of piety too, yet without experiencing the joys of faith. He was, even at the best, partially insane.

An epitaph, written by Hayley, also a poet, was inscribed on a monument, raised at the expense of Lady Hesketh, cousin and executrix of the deceased :


“Ye, who with warmth the public triumph feel
Of talents dignified by sacred zeal,
Here to devotion's bard devoutly just,
Pay your fond tribute due to Cowper's dust!
England, exulting in his spotless fame,
Ranks with her dearest sons his favourite name.
Sense, fancy, wit, suflice not all to raise
So clear a title to affection's praise :
His highest honours to the heart belong;
His virtues form'd the magic of his song."






“Pray you tread softly that the blind mole may not
Hear a footfall."

SHAKSPEARE. EVEN among those to whom the goodly earth and free breath of heaven are enjoyments snatched at rare intervals, there can be few who would fail to recognise the little heaps of earth which mark the termination of the mole's subterranean galleries. So often, too, does the farmer gibbet him upon some tall thorn-bush, in retribution for the unsightly hillocks with which his labours have diversified the adjoining meadows, that despite his shyness and constant concealment, the general appearance of this “goodman delver” is better known than that of many a bolder and larger native quadruped.

The circumstances under which the mole lives are peculiar. Accustomed to feed upon earth-worms, and incapable of enduring even a very short fast, he must be able to pursue them underground to their deepest recesses with rapidity and ease. Accordingly, we find every portion of his frame adapted, as only Divine wisdom could adapt, to the exigencies of his condition. He is your only true Troglodyte, dwelling ever in caves and dark tunnels, and rising only “ to grass," as the Cornish miners express it, in the night, and even then but rarely. His body, cylindric, and somewhat smaller behind, is covered with soft velvety fur, the pile of which is set so perpendicularly that the hand may be passed over it in either direction with equal ease. The hinder legs are apparently buried in the fur; and the whole of the first joint is applied to the ground in walking, as in the bear, and other plantigrade animals. The anterior extremities, the tools by which his excavations are mainly completed, are well worthy a close and attentive examination. Stout and strongly articulated as are the shoulder and fore-arm, they are surpassed in solidity of structure and power by the hands, if we may so term them. The bones composing these are angular, and very short, with the exception of the terminal one, which is as long as the rest of the hand, and is furnished with a long sharp nail, grooved deeply on the under side. Incapable of being quite closed, the hand thus formed presents a close resemblance in its action to a gardener's hoe; and from the fore-arm being turned outwards and somewhat obliquely, the work of excavation proceeds by rapid diagonal strokes, from the centre to the sides, in precisely the same sloping direction in which a

[ocr errors]

labourer would most advantageously employ his pick-axe. Nor is this the only apparatus for excavating possessed by the mole. The long tapering muzzle projects considerably beyond the lower jaw, and, being strengthened by a small bone at the extremity, assists materially in boring and loosening the earth in advance of the fore-paws.

Compared with the organs of smell, those of sight are very imperfectly developed. The eyes, of comparatively little use to an animal whose life is almost exclusively spent in darkness, are small and inconspicuous. Geoffrey St. Hilaire, and Le Court, have definitively settled in the affirmative the vexed question which has been handed down to us from the days of Aristotle, as to whether moles possess true vision. In their experiment several moles were placed in a long wooden tube, and the two naturalists stationed themselves at the other end to watch their exit. When the first mole made his appearance, they both stood perfectly motionless and silent, and their prisoner proceeded fearlessly and made his escape; but the second had scarcely thrust out his head when the mere raising a finger by one of the watchers, unattended by the slightest sound, caused him to retreat precipitately within the tube. It is not, however, by sight, but by the exercise of its exquisite scent and equally acute hearing that the mole obtains a knowledge of the whereabouts of its prey, and the approach of an enemy. The lightest footfall within many yards of its excavations is distinctly heard ; and hence mole-catchers prefer boisterous, windy nights for laying down their traps, as in the confusion of the elements above, the object of their search is less likely to detect their

No animal, not even excepting the stoat and ferret, exhibits such fierce voracity as this little creature. After having fasted about four or five hours, its usual time of slumber, it exhibits a frenzy of hunger unknown in animals of larger growth. At such times no food comes amiss : its usual diet of earth-worms is by no means de rigueur. St. Hilaire states that in confinement it will, after a short fast, spring upon and devour a small bird with savage ferocity, tearing open the flank with its teeth, and appear




ing to luxuriate in maddened enjoyment of its bloody repast. On examining the character of its dentition, we shall find it well suited to its habits and usual food. In front appear numerous small and sharp incisors, six in the upper and eight in the lower jaw; the canine teeth, two above and two below, are long, triangular, and very sharp; a set of false molars follow, resembling the canine teeth, but smaller; and the full number, twenty two in each jaw, is completed by six pairs of broad molars, furnished with many sharp conical elevations upon their grinding surface."

Though every one is well aware of the peculiar conditions of the mole's existence, few perhaps have noticed that a regular and most artful plan is adopted by this prototype of all sappers and miners in his earth-works. He does not plod blindly on in his laborious excavations, without any settled, predetermined scheme, and trust to mere chance to direct him to the needful supply of food. No skilful engineer, beleaguered by hordes of hungry Russians, ever reconnoitred his ground and forecast his plans with more unerring sagacity and judgment, than does our acute little friend. The citadel, or donjon-keep, if we may so term it, the centre of his operations, is a hillock of considerable size under a bank, an old and deeply-rooted tree, or some other position not likely to be disturbed. Below this hillock, and excavated out of its substance, are two circular and concentric galleries, one above the other, like the stories of a house, and communicating with each other by five slanting passages. Passing these outworks, we find at some distance, within and below them, a spherical hollow, lined with fibrous roots, grass, and leaves. Here the mole sleeps secure. Let us suppose he wishes to proceed to his hunting-ground. He leaves his dark dormitory, ascending by one of the three tunnels which slope into it from the upper gallery. Arrived there, he has his choice of five

[ocr errors]

• This system of dentition is clearly shown in the following formula :Incisors, $; canines, f; false molars, 8; molars, g = 34.


descending passages leading into the lower gallery, whence eight or ten roads arise, all of which sweep round in the same direction, and terminate in a large and wide tunnel, which extends far into the meadows adjoining. The sides of this high-road are beaten hard and smooth by constant passing and repassing. Here and there alleys branch out to the right and left, leading to spacious, irregular excavations, in which the mole quarries, as it were, for the earth-worm. Many times in a day is the high road traversed, in proceeding to and from these hunting-grounds; and it is consequently here that the mole-catcher deposits the spring-trap which is to intercept its progress, and make it a prisoner. Le Court, the well-known student of the habits of the mole, attempted to discover the greatest speed with which it could pass along in its tunnels; and therefore accurately determined the direction of one of the high roads, and boring holes from above, placed in them straws projecting into the interior. He then retired to the extremity of the excavation, introduced a horn into one of the runs, and blew into it what St. Hilaire calls, un cri effroyable." The mole, panic-struck at a sound such as had never before echoed through its subterranean domain, fled away as fast as possible to its citadel, throwing down the straws in succession, as they impeded its path. The experimenter watching these tokens of its progress, concluded that the speed of the mole must have nearly equalled that of a horse at full trot.

Reasoning from the analogies presented by other animals, one would imagine that the female would have reared her young in the deepest recess of the citadel; but it is not so. Probably the cannibal propensities of the male cause her to select a more distant retreat: certain it is, however, that the young, four or five in number, are always found as far as may be from the intricate passages of the citadel, placed in a hollow formed by the meeting of several alleys. A lining of grass, roots, and leaves protects them from the dampness of the soil. They are, however, soon driven from the parental burrow to depend upon their own resources, and quarry for their subsistence. It sometimes

« AnteriorContinuar »