EXPECTATION was roused some years since when tidings came that the “North American Birds” of Prof. Baird, Dr. Brewer, and Mr. Ridgway, of which three volumes had been brought out in 1874, was in process of completion, and at last there appeared two quartos of goodly size under the title of “The Water-Birds of North America,” which are not only the sequel to the work just named, but are also issued in continuation of the publications of the Geological Survey of California, of which a single volume on the land-birds of that State, edited by Prof. Baird from the notes of Dr. J. G. Cooper, saw the light in 1870. But, to complicate the matter further, the two quartos now before us form vols. xii. and xiii. of the “Memoirs of the Museum of Comparative Zoology” at Harvard. How all this came about is explained in the introduction by Prof. Whitney, the Californian State Geologist; but the only part that need concern us is the not surprising but still much-to-be-regretted fact that the cost of bringing out the volumes treating of the land-birds of North America was so great as to deter the publishers from continuing the work at their own risk. Most fortunately, then, the combination just mentioned was effected with the result we now see; but it still remains a reproach and humiliation to those interested in birds—not only in North America alone but all the world over—that so excellent a performance was not more encouraged by them. The obstinacy of the public in preferring a bad book to a good one is perhaps observable in almost every science, but that this obstinacy is nowhere more marked than in the case of natural history, and of ornithology in particular may be because it is one of the most popular branches of science, and because nine-tenths of those who pursue it hardly realise the fact that it is capable of serious study. Howbeit we may be sure that the aid adage, “Populus vult decipi,” was not first uttered by a man without worldly knowledge, and to this day experience tells us that it is as true as ever. It will take a long time yet to persuade people that they had better be well informed by an author who writes a book because he knows his subject, than by a badly-informed one who gets up his subject in order to write a book about it—though even this is perhaps saying too much, for many an author, on ornithology at least, has never taken the trouble to learn the rudiments of what he pretends to teach, and if he have but enough self-assurance he will get his claim to instruct allowed by those who are more ignorant than he is.
The Water-Birds of North America.
By S. F. Baird T. M. Brewer R. Ridgway. Two Vols., 4to. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1884.)
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