Stray Thoughts: Reading an Old Book

Popular Natural History by Rev. J. G. Wood

“I have been reading an old book.”

Coon, Burton. Trail’s End Farm Notes. p. 354.

My first observation was that Charles Hesselgrave of Ogdensburg, NY. stamped his name and address five times in the first three pages of Popular Natural History dated 1885. As I continued to read, I found many more such stamps. Who was Charles Hesselgrave? A quick search reveals that a man of this name and location attended Ogdensburg Free Academy, graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont and was the first college graduate in his family. Charles married Susie Frances Wilder, another Middlebury graduate.

Although I am fascinated with a total of five hundred vintage illustrations, I am including only a few from the chapter entitled “Mammalia”. After scanning the images and reading the vivid descriptions, I find myself desiring yet another visit to the Bronx Zoo.

Shall we dub him “Farmer With a Hoe”?

“When brought to a colder climate than that of its native land, the animal covets warmth, and is fond of wrapping itself in any woollen clothes or blankets that it can obtain. On board ship it has been known to rob the sailors or passengers of their bedding, and to resist with much energy any attempt to recover the stolen property” (Wood 14).

Group of Spider Monkeys– This sketch captures the liveliness and various facial gestures-

“The mode by which Spider Monkeys walk on level ground is rather singular and difficult to describe, being different from that which is employed by the large apes. They do not set the sole of either paw, or hand, flat upon the ground, but, turning the hinder feet inward, they walk upon their outersides. The reverse process takes place with the fore-paws, which are twisted outward, so that the weight of the animal is thrown upon their inner edges” (Wood 31).

The Lion– This stately lion possesses the ruler’s demeanor with the crossed paws of a gentle house cat.

“The color of the Lion is a tawny yellow, lighter on the under parts of the body, and darker above. The ears are blackish, and the top of the tail is decorated with a tuft of black hair. This tuft serves to distinguish the Lion from any other member of the Cat tribe. The male Lion, when fully grown, is furnished with a thick and shaggy mane of very long hair, which falls from the neck, shoulders, and part of the throat and chin, varying in tint according to the age of the animal, and possibly according to the locality which it inhabits” (Wood 51).

After reading parts of the chapter entitled “Mammalia”, I recall the prose and vintage images included in the Thornton Burgess books. Although fictional, Burgess inspired my love of the animal kingdom and the natural world.

What are your childhood memories of animals or nature?

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