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Wanderings in South America   By: (1782-1865)

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Plutarch, the most famous biographer of ancient times, is of opinion that the uses of telling the history of the men of past ages are to teach wisdom, and to show us by their example how best to spend life. His method is to relate the history of a Greek statesman or soldier, then the history of a Roman whose opportunities of fame resembled those of the Greek, and finally to compare the two. He points out how in the same straits the one hero had shown wisdom, the other imprudence; and that he who had on one occasion fallen short of greatness had on another displayed the highest degree of manly virtue or of genius. If Plutarch’s method of teaching should ever be followed by an English biographer, he will surely place side by side and compare two English naturalists, Gilbert White and Charles Waterton. White was a clergyman of the Church of England, educated at Oxford. Waterton was a Roman Catholic country gentleman, who received his education in a Jesuit college. White spent his life in the south of England, and never travelled. Waterton lived in the north of England, and spent more than ten years in the Forests of Guiana. With all these points of difference, the two naturalists were men of the same kind, and whose lives both teach the same lesson. They are examples to show that if a man will but look carefully round him in the country his every day walk may supply him with an enjoyment costing nothing, but surpassed by none which wealth can procure; with food for reflection however long he may live; with problems of which it will be an endless pleasure to attempt the solution; with a spectacle of Infinite Wisdom which will fill his mind with awe and with a constantly increasing assurance of Infinite Goodness, which will do much to help him in all the trials of life. He who lives in the country and has the love of outdoor natural history in his heart, will never be lonely and never dull. Waterton himself thought that this love of natural history must be inborn and could not be acquired. If this be so, they ought indeed to be thankful who possess so happy a gift. Even if Waterton’s opinion be not absolutely true, it is at least certain that the taste for outdoor observation can only be acquired in the field, and that this acquisition is rarely made after the period of boyhood. How important, then, to excite the attention of children in the country to the sights around them. A few will remain apathetic, the tastes of some will lie in other directions, but the time will not be lost, for some will certainly take to natural history, and will have happiness from it throughout life. No study is more likely to confirm them in that content of which a favourite poet of Waterton’s truly says:—

“Content is wealth, the riches of the mind, And happy he who can that treasure find.”

Gilbert White and Charles Waterton are pre eminent among English naturalists for their complete devotion to the study; both excelled as observers, and the writings of both combine the interest of exact outdoor observation with the charm of good literature. Waterton was born on June 3rd, 1782, at Walton Hall, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, a place which had for several centuries been the seat of his family... Continue reading book >>

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