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  ― 269 ―

[On Collecting and Classifying]

The Non-descript Animals of New South Wales occupied a great deal of Mr. White's attention, and he preserved several specimens of them in spirits, which arrived in England in a very perfect state. There was no person to whom these could be given with so much propriety as Mr. Hunter, he, perhaps, being most capable of examining accurately their structure, and making out their place in the scale of animals; and it is to him that we are indebted for the following observations upon them, in which the anatomical structure is purposely avoided, as being little calculated for the generality of readers of a work of this kind.

It is much to be wished that those gentlemen who are desirous of obliging their friends, and promoting the study of Natural History, by sending home specimens, would endeavour to procure all the information they can relating to such specimens as they may collect, more especially animals. The subjects themselves may be valuable, and may partly explain their connection with those related to them, so as, in some measure, to establish their place in nature, but they cannot do it entirely; they


  ― 270 ―
only give us the form and construction, but leave us in other respects to conjecture, many of them requiring further observations relative to their œconomy. A neglect in procuring this information has left us, almost to this day, very ignorant of that part of the Natural History of animals which is the most interesting. The Opossum is a remarkable instance of this. There is something in the mode of propagation in this animal that deviates from all others; and although known in some degree to be extraordinary, yet it has never been attempted, where opportunity offered, to complete the investigation. I have often endeavoured to breed them in England; I have bought a great many, and my friends have assisted me by bringing them or sending them alive, yet never could get them to breed; and although possessed of a great many facts respecting them, I do not believe my information is sufficient to complete the system of propagation in this class. In collecting animals, even the name given by the natives, if possible, should be known; for a name, to a Naturalist, should mean nothing but that to which it is annexed, having no allusion to any thing else; for when it has, it divides the idea. This observation applies particularly to the animals


  ― 271 ―
which have come from New Holland; they are, upon the whole, like no other that we yet know of; but as they have parts in some respect similar to others, names will naturally be given to them expressive of those similarities; which has already taken place: for instance, one is called the Kangaroo Rat, but which should not be called either Kangaroo or Rat; I have therefore adopted such names as can only be appropriated to each particular animal, conveying no other idea.

Animals admit of being divided into great classes, but will not so distinctly admit of subdivision without interfering with each other. Thus the class called Quadruped is so well marked that even the whole is justly placed in the same class. Birds the same; Amphibia (as they are called) the same; and so of fish, &c.; but when we are subdividing these great classes into their different tribes, genera, and species, then we find a mixture of properties, some species of one tribe partaking of similar properties with a species of another tribe.

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