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To point out the paths which lead to happiness, however remote they may lie from common observation, and at the same time to forewarn the inexperienced stranger against approaching those which terminate in vice and misery, is a task worthy of the most enlightened understanding. The learned in every age have laboured for these ends: they have set up their works, like beacons and guide-posts, to direct their fellow travellers in the journey of life. These are their marks, left behind them to witness their having lived; and although, like other more vain human monuments, they remain but for a while-since, in the great scale of time, every work of man, like an inscription on the sea-sand, is washed away by the return of the ceaseless wave-yet let not this reflection, so mortifying to human vanity, damp the ardour of doing good; for however temporary the efforts may be, they are not only valuable in themselves, (being records of usefulness laid up for the benefit of mankind) but are incitements also to the emulation of good example, whereby incalculable advantages may be derived to thousands yet unborn. The generality of men, indeed, are little affected by observations of this sort: regardless of the voice of reason, and lost to a sense of duty, they neither know nor enquire
why they were sent upon the stage of life; they stumble on still in darkness and error, and waste their days without a single effort to be useful to the community in which they live: they see not the wonders which the universe presents to stimulate them to reflect on the wisdom, the power, and the goodness, which planned and support the whole. Despairing of their improvement, whose minds have thus been suffered to grow up into maturity uncultivated, we should rather direct our attention to the sowing of the seeds of knowledge in the minds of youth.
The great work of forming the man cannot be begun too early; and, agreeably with this sentiment, how many writers are there who spend their lives in contributing, in various ways, to turn the streams of instruction through their proper channels, into this most improveable soil! Taking children by the hand, from their leading-strings and go-carts, they direct their steps, like guarding-angels, in the outset of life, to prevent their floundering on in ignorance to the end. In these undertakings the instructors of youth are often assisted by the fertile genius of the artist, who supplies their works with such embellishments as serve to relieve the lengthened sameness of the way. Among the many approved branches of instruction, the study of Natural History holds a distinguished rank. To enlarge upon the advantages which are derivable from a knowledge of the creation, is surely not necessary; to become initiated into this knowledge, is to become enamoured of its charms; to attain the object in view requires but little previous study or labour; the road which leads to it soon becomes strewed with flowers, and ceases to fatigue; a flow is given to the imagination, which banishes early prejudices and expands the ideas; and an endless fund of the most rational entertainment is spread out, which captivates the attention and exalts the mind. For the attainment of this science, in any of its various departments,
the foundation may be laid, insensibly, in youth, whereon a goodly superstructure of useful knowledge can easily be raised at a more advanced period. In whatever way, indeed, the varied objects of this beautiful world are viewed, they are readily understood by the contemplative mind, for they are found alike to be the visible words of God. "The Creator, doubtless, did not bestow so much curiosity and exquisite workmanship and skill upon his creatures, to be looked upon with a careless, incurious eye."* Could mankind be prevailed upon to read a few lessons from the great book of Nature, so amply spread out before them, they would clearly see the hand of Providence in every page; and would they consider the faculty of reason as the distinguishing gift to the human race, and use it as the guide of their lives, they would find their reward in a chearful resignation of mind, in peace and happiness, under the conscious persuasion, that a good naturalist cannot be a bad man.
In ideas congenial with these, originated the first incitements, which drew forth the Histories of Quadrupeds and British Birds. From these humble attempts-for every attempt to depicture nature must fall short of the original-it is hoped that some useful instruction may be gathered, and at the same time a stimulus excited to further enquiry. But however this may prove, " innocently to amuse the imagination in this dream of life, is wisdom; and nothing is useless which, by furnishing mental employment, keeps us for a while in oblivion of those stronger appetites that lead to evil." To the rising generation these efforts to instruct and please are principally directed, and are sent forth with an ardent wish, that they may be found to deserve the notice of youth, and contribute to amuse and to inform them. May the
* Derham's Physico-theology, Book xi. chap. 2.