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Natural History Sketches among the Carnivora, Wild and Domesticated; with Observations on their Habits and Mental Faculties

Nature volume 31, pages 240241 | Download Citation



THIS little volume of some 250 pages is full of interest: treating somewhat of lions and tigers, it has a pleasant portion of a chapter about cats, but the bulk of the volume is devoted to man's faithful friend, the dog. Of the several excellent illustrations we would especially mention the life-like one of a lioness watching its prey, from a drawing by Mr. J. T. Nettleship, which is very full of vigour and muscular force, one of the black-maned African lion, by Mr. C. E. Brittain, and one of Chang, Mr. G. B. Du Maurier's Grand St. Bernard, by Mr. T. W. Wood. As one of the interesting subjects touched on by Mr. Nicols, we may allude to that treating of the sense of smell in dogs. He alludes to this in connection with the habit possessed by some dogs of rolling in decaying animal, or even vegetable, substances, On one occasion Mr. Nicols noticed his retriever vigorously anointing himself by rolling about in a clump of living fungi which emitted a particularly evil smell. This is thought to be an inherited habit, or, as Mr. H. Dalziel writes, “Taste and smell being closely allied senses, this rolling causes pleasurable sensations from association with the glorious feasts enjoyed on battle-fields and on putrid carcases of animals,” and from this the author hints that possibly, and even probably, when grouse or venison come to our tables in a state of actual decomposition, this represents a taste acquired years ago by the conditions of a primitive life, and is not to be distinguished from a habit which brings upon our domestic dogs the severest reprobation and prompt chastisement. It seems a subject, however unsavoury, well worthy of being investigated, and doubtless many facts bearing on it in reference to uncivilised people are yet to be narrated. Once we call to mind a small knot of semi-civilised Africans captured in a slave dhow off Mosambique that we interrupted at a midnight feast; they were partly eating and partly smelling a mass of half-putrid fish, which seemed, to say the least, to make them uproarious. They had been under civilisation of a sort since their infant days, but seemed full of hereditary instincts. Mr. Nicols's work is full of his own careful observations, and forms a most pleasant addition to our knowledge of the habits and mental faculties of the Carnivora.

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