The Baldwin Library
THE FIRST BUILDERS?
But learn we might, if not too proud to stoop
To quadruped instructors, manl) i good
And useful quality.'
T. NELSON AND SONS, PATERNOSTER ROW;
EDINBURGH; AND NEW YORK.
WHO WERE TIIE FIRST BUILDERS?
A Son's Curiosity-The Manuscript Book-Reading from a Book of Travel-
"Who were the First Builders?-The Inquiry Answered-The Beaver
Described-His Natural History-His Patience-Construction of a
Beaver's Lodge-How he sets to work to Build a Dam-Why he is
Hunted-His Fur, his Flesh, and his Castor-Curious Customs-The
Trappers, and their Devices-Les Paresseux-The Beaver's Enemy, the
Wolverene-A Digression-Ingenuity of the Wolverene-How he
Foils the Hunters -Anecdotes illustrative of his Intelligence.
t APA, I saw some sheets of paper,
coveredd with writing, on your table
i his morning."
I daresay you did, Frederick;
and what of it "
"Why, I noticed that they were stitched
together, like a book."
"Yes; and so they are a book, or are
intended to be one."
G THE FIRST BUILDERS.
"But then they had such a curious
Indeed; do you remember it ? "
"Oh yes; I could not easily forget it.
The title was, Who were the First
"And what is there curious in a title
like that ?"
"Why, papa, how can you, or anybody,
tell who was the first builder? Unless,
indeed, it was Adam; who, I suppose,
erected a hut for himself and his family."
"But Adam may have lived in a tent, as
most Asiatic people do even at the present
"Well, at all events, papa, we read of
men building the Tower of Babel, and there
were cities then in existence; and we read
of Sodom and Gomorrah; and we know
that, thousands of years ago, men must
have begun to build, though we don't know
WHO WERE THEY 7
"Then why put such a title to your book,
Simply because man was not the first
"Not man Who was, then-the mon-
key ? 0 papa, I think you are joking."
"Indeed I am not. Please hand me
the blue-bound volume from yonder table.
Thank you. Now, listen, while I read to
you a short extract :-
"'We entered '-I am reading, remember, from a
book of American travel-' we entered a most glorious
country-not, indeed, grandly picturesque, but rich and
beautiful; a country of rolling hills and fertile valleys,
of lakes and streams, groves of birch and aspen, and
miniature prairies; a land of a kindly soil, and full of
promise to the settler to come in future years, when an
enlightened policy shall open out the wealth now un-
cared-for or unknown.
On the way we frequently met with marks of the
labours of the beaver in days long gone by, when they
were a numerous and a powerful race; and at one
place we found a long chain of marshes, formed by
the damming up of a stream which had now ceased
to exist. Their dwelling had been abandoned ages
8 A BEAVER-IIOUSE.
ago; for the house had become a grassy mound on the
dry land, and the dam in front a green and solid bank.
On Dog River, a small tributary of the Saskatche-
wan, a colony of these animals still survived. We
found fresh tracks along the bank, and a few small
trees cut down; and following these indications up the
stream, we came upon the dam. This was a weir of
trunks and branches, over which the water poured
gently, to resume a more rapid course below. In the
quiet pool above, and close to the opposite bank, stood
the beaver-house, a conical structure of six or seven feet
in height, formed of poles and branches plastered over
with mud. We watched long and silently, hid amongst
the bushes which fringed the stream, hoping for a sight
of some of the tenants; but in vain. This settlement
must have been in existence a very long time ; for we
saw stumps of trees which had been cut down by them
now moss-grown and rotten. Some of these were of
large size, one measuring more than two feet in diameter.
The beavers had fallen off wofully from the glory of their
ancestors; not only in the number and size of the com.
munities, but in the magnitude of their undertakings.
The trees cut down more lately were all compara-
tively small; and it would seem as if a number of
beavers worked at the same tree, and a weak colony
felt unequal to attempt one of the giants which their
forefathers would not have hesitated to attack. Nor
IN AN AMERICAN FOREST. 9
AN AMERICAN FOI2EST.
did we ever discover any considerable stream dammed
up by beavers of this present time-a work requiring
10 INDUSTRIOUS BUILDERS.
large timber and numerous workmen; yet we frequently
met with the grass-grown banks described, works of the
golden age gone by, stretched across what had been
streams of thirty or forty yards in width.'
Father. There, Fred, what do you think
of builders who, long before men were
settled in the forests of America, erected
huge dams, nearly a hundred feet wide,
across great rolling rivers ?
Frederick. Oh yes; I see now, papa:
your first builders are beavers.
Father. Ay; and not only beavers, but
moles, termites, and the like, were building
long before man was created; and it may
be that man took some hints from their
work. But now seat yourself by my side,
Frederick, and I will read to you the little
book I have written expressly for your bene-
fit. I hope, when you have heard it, you
will think the title not unsuitable.
Frederick. Oh, that will be jolly, papa!
It will be good fun to learn something of
these old original builders of yours.
ANIMAL INSTINCT. 11
Father. What you learn, I hope you will
remember; and I trust that when you have
discovered how great is the ingenuity of
animals, how marvellous their instinct, and
how beautiful their organization, you will
treat them with more gentleness. They are
God's creatures; and wonderful proofs of
God's power, wisdom, and goodness. Let
us behave towards them with humanity, as
inferior members of the great scheme of
Creation to which we ourselves belong.
But fetch me my manuscript, Fred, and we
will at once examine the work of the first
Among the cleverest builders in the
animal kingdom is the Beaver-the Castor
fiber of zoologists-a rodent animal; that is,
a gnawing animal-so called because it uses
its teeth, which are very large and hard,
something in the same way as a man uses a
saw. You can distinguish the beaver from
other quadrupeds by his broad tail, which is
12 TIlE BEAVER DESCRIBED.
considerably flattened towards the extremity,
and when the animal swims acts as a rudder,
enabling him to steer his way with easy dex-
terity. His hind feet are webbed; he has
a small head, and his countenance is dis-
tinguished by a singular air of shrewdness.
At the first glance you say to yourself,
"That's a clever fellow."
This capital architect and skilful engineer
is about three feet in length; but then his
tail adds twelve inches more to his dignity.
He wears a coat of fine, smooth, thick, and
glossy hair, generally of a dark chestnut,
but sometimes of a jet black colour. His
mate is smaller, and her garment is scarcely
so handsome. They live together on very
A SOCIAL RACE. 13
good terms, and the female generally pre-
sents her lord and master with three or four
little beavers at a birth; these are born with
their eyes open, as if they were intended to
make acquaintance with the world at the
earliest possible date !
The beavers are a social race, and live
together in communities; which, however,
vary considerably in number. They would
seem to possess an extraordinary instinct as
to the value of co-operation; and by work-
ing together in perfect harmony and with a
wise division, of labour, they accomplish
tasks of remarkable magnitude, which you
would suppose to be far beyond the powers
of such little creatures.
Their favourite localities for building-
the sites which they best love to select-
are the banks of clear rivers and fresh
streams, where the supply of water is good
and abundant, and where it flows in the
shadow of the leafy grove. During the
summer months they feed upon the fishes,
14 THE BEAVER'S HAUNT.
THE BEAVER'S HAUNT.
fruits, and plants which they find in the
neighbourhood; in the winter they are con-
FOND OF WATER. 15
tent with the wood of the plane, the birch,
and other trees, which they soak and soften
in water from time to time.
The beaver is almost as fond of water as
a hydropathic doctor. He swims in the
water, and works in the water, and frolics in
the water; and that he was intended by the
Creator for these aquatic habits we know
from his close furry coat, his paddle-like tail,
and his webbed feet. Such being the case,
you will understand why he makes his abode
on the banks of streams; and it is of great
importance to him, let me tell you, that these
streams should never run dry, or the beaver's
occupation would be gone.
And now we come to the secret purpose
of the beaver's engineering. His great
object is to maintain unchanged the level of
his bath or swimming-basin, to keep it as
nearly as possible always up to the same
Let us now see how he accomplishes so
difficult a task ; a task which is just that of
16 BUILDING THE DAM.
the miller, who has to provide a continuous
and regular supply of water in the canal or
least that feeds his mill-wheel.
In the first place, the beavers look out
a convenient locality: wood close at hand;
stream narrow but swift; and depth of
water sufficient to prevent it, in winter,
from freezing to the bottom. They then
begin to build a dam across the stream,
which shall raise it to the requisite level, and
allow the superfluous water to flow away.
The plan of this dam is determined by the
nature of its site. If the river flows very
slowly, the dam is nearly straight; but
when the current is swift, the dam is
curved, with its hollow or crescent side to-
wards the stream. The materials employed
are all kinds of drift-wood, and birch, poplar,
alder, and green willow, together with mud
and stone, so intermixed as to build up a
very solid embankment. This is always
kept in substantial repair; and in places
where the beaver-colonies have been long
TIE BEAVER-HOUSES. 17
undisturbed, the dams literally grow into
a massive wall, capable of resisting an im-
mense stress both of water and ice; and as
the willow trees employed, and the poplar,
and the birch, generally root themselves,
and bloom into lively growth, they gradu-
ally form a pretty miniature plantation,
which frequently affords a shelter for the
The beaver-houses-as we are told by the
American traveller Hearne-are constructed
of the same materials as their dams, and are
invariably built just large enough for the
number of their inhabitants, which seldom
exceeds four old and six or eight young
ones, but sometimes mounts to eight or ten
seniors and sixteen to twenty juniors. Ac-
cording to Hearne, these houses are not
nearly so well built as the dams; and, not-
withstanding the sagacity of their builders,
it has never been observed that they seek
any other convenience than a dry place
to lie on while they enjoy their victuals
18 THE BEAVER'S SAGACITY.
or take a rest. It frequently happens
that some of the large houses are found to
have one or more partitions-if we may use
the term-but which are in reality nothing
more than portions of the main building
which the sagacious beaver has left to sup-
port the roof.
IN THE INTERIOR. 19
Frederick. Oh yes, papa, that is exactly
what the miners do in digging for coal.
They leave large pillars of black shining
coal to prop up the vaults of their vast
Father. Very good, Fred; your illustra-
tion is most appropriate. But do you not
wonder at the instinct which teaches an
animal to take such a precaution ? But to
The different apartments formed by these
partitions or walls communicate with each
other by water only; so that you may fancy
them to resemble a row of cellars on the
bank of the Thames at London, to which
access is obtained by boats or barges floated
in on the river-tide.
So far are the beavers, it appears, from
driving stakes into the ground when build-
ing their houses, that they lay most of them
cross-wise, and nearly horizontal, and with-
out any other order than that of leaving a
hollow or cavity in the middle. If any
20 EXPEDITIOUS WORKERS.
needless branches project themselves out-
wards, they saw them off with their teeth,
and throw them in among the rest. To pre-
vent the mud from falling through the roof,
some writers have represented that the
beavers first complete the wood-work, and
then plaster it. But this is a mistake ; the
whole of their houses, as well as their dams,
are, from the foundation upwards, one mass
of mud and wood, strengthened with stones,
where stones can be procured.
Our industrious builders invariably take
the mud from the edge of the bank, or the
bottom of the creek or pond near the door
of the house, holding it between their small
fore-paws close up to their throat, and taking
good care not to drop a pellet. The wood
they drag to and fro with their teeth. They
work at night, and with so much expedition,
that in the course of a dozen hours five or six
beavers will collect some thousands of their
little handfuls. They seem to take a great
interest in their undertaking, and show an
LAYING IN THEIR STORES. 21
eagerness and an energy which men and boys
would profit by imitating. As another in
stance of their remarkable sagacity, I may
mention that they cover the outside of their
houses with mud every autumn, generally
just as the frost sets in. Hence it freezes
into a substance as solid as stone, which
defies the attacks of their great enemy, the
wolverene. They begin to lay in their stores
as soon as the interior of their house is fin-
ished-that is, about the end of August or
beginning of September ; and thus they are
able to enjoy a well-deserved period of re-
laxation during the inclemencies of winter.
Frederick. So far so good, papa; you
have told me many interesting facts about
the houses of the beavers, but I should like
to learn something more particular about
their dams. How do they manage to erect
these across a swift stream? When the
men were building a dam down at Cayston
Brook last spring, they first dug out a
trench to divert the waters, and then they
22 NEVER IN A HURRY.
were able to work in the dry bed of the
brook. Do the beavers adopt the same
Father. If you had thought for a moment
before asking such a question, you would
have answered it yourself in the negative.
God gives to every animal the proper tools
or implements for its own peculiar kind of
work, and to the beaver he has not given
long and strong claws suitable for dig-
When the beaver wishes' to build a dam
he first looks out for a tree likely to suit
his purpose; and in his selection he never
makes a mistake. Then, sitting upright, he
begins with his sharp-edged teeth to chisel
out a groove completely round the trunk,
just as boys cut a notch all round a thick
pole which they want to divide into two
parts. The groove is then widened and
deepened by patient labour-for our little
friend is never in a hurry, and seems to
know the value of the maxim, More haste,
ONCE DONE, WELL DONE. 23
BEAVERS AT WORK.
worse speed "-and always widened in pro-
portion to the depth; so that when the tree
24 BUILDING UP THE PILE.
is cut nearly through, it resembles to some
extent the narrowed portion of an hour-
Sglass. Having succeeded so
'I .. far, the beaver anxiously ex-
amines the tree, going round
Si' and round it, until he makes
'-.'up his mind in which direc-
tion it is best for it to fall. Then he goes
to the opposite side, and with a few sharp
bites severs the remainder of the trunk,
when down to the ground, with a crash,
comes the lord of the forest."
The next task is, to cut up the prostrate
trunk into lengths of about a yard; and
when this is accomplished, the engineers
carry them into the water, piling them up
horizontally on one another, and loading
them with stones and earth to prevent them
fiom being swept away. It is almost im-
possible to give an accurate notion of the
zeal and activity of the beaver at this part
of his work. In conjunction with his fellow-
labourers, he swims to and fro, pushing a log
EVERYBODY AT WORK. 25
"' '' .
BEAVERS COLLECTING LOGS FOR TIlL DAM.
before him, or fetching one rom the neigh-
bouring bank, or carrying= branches in his
I -) ,,
26 FULLER DETAILS.
teeth, or stones in his fore-paws; and inces-
santly continuing his task until the dam is
sufficiently strong to resist the force of the
current. When the rains come, and the
water rises, he builds his dam higher and
yet higher; and its solidity is increased by
the accumulation of broken boughs and
fragments of timber brought down by the
current, and the mud and clay constantly
intermingling in the mass.
The bark stripped off the logs is partly
eaten at the time, and partly stored away for
winter provision. An additional supply is
obtained by taking the smaller branches,
diving with them to the foundations of the
dam, and carefully fastening them among
the logs. When a beaver feels the pinching
of appetite, he dives to the concealed maga-
zine, extracts a few branches, carries them
ashore, nibbles away at the bark, and then
lets them drop into the water, where they
float away to the dam, and are soon ab-
sorbed in it.
THE BEAVER'S ENEMIES. 27
In reference to these ingenious animals,
a recent writer makes some interesting re-
marks. He describes their lodges as nearly
circular in form, and closely resembling the
well-known snow-houses of the Eskimos,
being domed, and about half as high as they
are wide; the average height being three
feet, and the diameter six or seven feet.
These are the interior dimensions; but the
outer measurement is much greater, on ac-
count of the immense thickness of the
walls, which, like the dam, are continually
strengthened with mud and branches; so
that, during the severe frosts, they are
nearly as hard as solid stone. Each lodge
is capable of containing several inhabit-
ants, whose beds are arranged round the
The beavers, industrious and ingenious
as they are, have their enemies; the two
principal being man and the wolverene. As
the former is the more important, we will
deal with him in the first place, and see how
"28 THE KING OF THE BEAVERS.
he carries on his operations against our little
Frederick. But why does man pursue the
beaver ? Oh, I recollect, on account of his
fur ; like the Indian in the poem, who
was called-was he not ?-the King of the
Father. Yes; you are thinking of a char-
acter in Longfellow's "Hiawatha." But
the beaver is also hunted on account of his
flesh, which, when cooked, is said to re-
semble roasted pork; and, more particularly,
for the sake of a certain odorous or odori-
ferous secretion, termed castor, or castoreum,
which is contained in two little bags, each
about the size of a hen's egg. This said
castor is a brownish oily substance, with a
disagreeable smell and a bitter taste : it is
much employed by perfumers. Beavers' fur
is not so largely used as was once the case
in the manufacture of hats, owing to the
substitution of silk and other materials.-
We are told that to this castoreum the
LONGFELLOW'S HIAWATHA." 29
Brought the beaver, dead and dripping,
Brought the King of all the Beavers."
From LONGFELLOW'S Hiawatha.
30 A TRAP FOR A BEAVER.
beaver hunter, or trapper, owes most of his
success in hunting. The beavers are as
strangely fond of it as cats of valerian, and
if their nostrils recognize its peculiar scent,
the animals sit upright, sniff about in all
directions, and absolutely squeal with ex-
citement. Taking advantage of this curious
partiality, the hunter carries a supply of
castoreum with him in a closed vessel, and
having found a suitable spot for his trap, he
sets it, and then proceeds to manufacture
the bait; that is, he takes a twig of wood
about nine inches long, chews one end of it,
and dips it in the castoreum. The trap is
so laid as to lie about six inches deep in
water, with the odoriferous tip of the bait
just projecting above the surface.
If a beaver scents this bait he will im-
mediately hasten towards it; and should he
be a young animal, he will assuredly be
caught; but if he be a wary and experienced
beaver, he not only avoids capture, but
renders the trap useless until it has been re-
A SINGULAR CIRCUMSTANCE. 31
set. For, instead of endeavouring to get at
the bait, he collects a quantity of mud and
stones, and piles upon the trap until he has
raised a small mound, on whose summit he
deposits his own superfluous castoreum.
In connection with this subject, Audubon,
the great American naturalist, mentions a
If two beaver lodges are tolerably near
each other, the denizens of the one depart
to a short distance from their settlement,
to rid themselves of the superabundant
castoreum. The beavers of the second
lodge, scenting the deposit, repair to the
same locality, and heap over the perfumed
substance a thick layer of leaves and soil.
On this heap they place their own castoreum,
and return home. The inhabitants of the
former lodge, in their turn, repeat the same
operation, until a mound is reared of from
four to five feet in height.
To return to the beaver trappers. They
pursue their avocation even in winter time.
32 THE TRAPPERS' SUPERSTITION.
They strike the frozen surface of the stream
with a stick, in order to ascertain if they
are near the underground openings of a
beavers' lodge. When satisfied on this
point, they cut away the ice and close up
the aperture, in order that the beavers may
not, in their alarm, escape into the water.
Proceeding to the shore, they track the
course of the subterranean gallery by re-
peated soundings, and discovering its various
openings, are sure, after a careful watch, to
capture the inhabitants.
While they are thus employed, it is in-
dispensable they should spill no blood. If
they do, the rest of the beavers at once take
alarm, retreat to the water, and by swim-
ming and diving are soon out of danger.
The trappers have a remarkably super-
stitious custom. They remove a knee-cap
from each of the slaughtered beavers, and
throw it into the fire; apparently as a sort
of offering to the goddess of Ill Luck !
A certain class of beavers are called Les
CATCHING AN IDLER. 33
Paresseux, or "the Idlers." These do not
dwell in lodges, and they erect no dam, but
-- __ : : --- t -
BEAVER ABOUT TO DIVE.
content themselves with a sluggish existence
in a sort of burrow, like that of the common
water-rat. They are always males, and
several of them generally inhabit the same
gallery. We are told that "the trapper is
always pleased when he discovers the habi-
tation of 'an idler,' as its capture is a com-
paratively easy task."
Just observe what appropriate and im-
pressive lessons we may learn from the
34 ABOUT THE WOLVERENE.
animal world. You see that to ensnare an
idle beaver is considered an easy task. And
so it is always easy for idleness to be en-
trapped into misery and ruin. Our old
poet, Chaucer, says,-
An idle man is like a house that hath no walls;
The devils may enter in on every side;"
and rest assured that devils will take pos-
session of the idle mind; the devils of
luxury, and greed, and falsehood, and ignor-
ance. There is nothing like Work, to keep
the brain healthy; to ward off the inces-
sant attacks of evil thoughts, evil ideas, evil
But I have now to speak of the second
enemy of the beaver, the wolverene.
Frederick. What is a wolverene, papa ?
Father. I am about to describe him to
you. He is very commonly known as the
Frederick. Oh yes, the glutton I have
heard of that voracious old fellow; he is
about the size of a large badger, is he not?
A FEROCIOUS ANIMAL. 35
I think I have read that he is very fierce
and very strong; that he will even steal
he pounces on hares, and marmots, and
,' -- ",I
'- 'u '^ *,'l \
their prey from the wolf and bear; and that
he pounces on hares, and marmots, and
even on larger animals, tearing open their
neck and throat, and hiding underground
what he cannot eat at a single meal.
Father. The wolverene seems to be re-
36 CAUTIOUS AND CUNNING.
garded as a link between the badger and
the polecat. He resembles the former in
his aspect and figure; the latter in the
structure and arrangement of his teeth.
His muzzle is covered with a hard, shining,
blackish-brown hair; the top of the head
and back are of the same colour, but the
sides are chestnut. He is a determined
enemy of the beaver, which he pursues with
extraordinary courage, obstinacy, and cun-
I only refer to him here from his hostility
to our clever little builder, but he is himself
so clever, in a very different way, that I
think you will not be disinclined to hear a
few words about him. I know it is a digres-
sion ; but digressions may be pardoned when
they relate to subjects of peculiar interest.
He is one of the most troublesome animals
the fur-hunters, or trappers, are called upon
to contend with. For he diligently follows
them in their expeditions, watches where
"they set their traps, which he renders use-
DESCRIPTION OF THE WOLVERENE. 37
less by stealing the bait; or, if any animal
is caught in one, he coolly "extracts" it,
and walks away with his booty. But more
than this: being endowed with a remark-
ably acute sense of smell, he traces out the
caches, or concealed stores of the hunters-
which they lay by in case of failure in the
chase, and a consequent want of provisions
-tears them open, and devours their con-
In illustration of his extraordinary skill
in these marauding expeditions, let me re-
late a few short anecdotes.
In a very interesting account of American
travel, The North-West Passage by Land,"
Lord Milton and Dr. Cheadle remark, that
the fur-hunter's greatest enemy is this same
North American glutton, or, as he is com-
monly called, the wolverene or carcajou.
They describe him as rather larger than an
English fox, with a long body, stoutly and
compactly made, mounted on exceedingly
short legs of great strength. His broad
88 THE EVIL ONE."
feet are armed with powerful claws, and his
track in the snow is as large as the print of
a man's fist. The shape of his head, and
his hairy coat, give him very much the
appearance of a shaggy brown dog.
During the winter months he secures "a
living by turning to his own account the
labours of the trappers; and this he does to
so serious an extent that the Indians have
actually named him Kekwaharkess, or "the
Evil One." Day and night, like a sleuth-
hound, and with a watchfulness that never
relaxes, he hunts for the trail of man ; and
once it is found he follows it up unerringly.
On coming to a frozen lake, where the snow
has generally drifted over the track, he
continues his untiring gallop round its banks
until he discovers the point at which it again
enters the woods, and follows it up to one
of the hunter's wooden traps.
Skilfully avoiding the door, he forces open
an entrance at the back, and seizes the bait
without injury to himself; or, if the trap
STRANGE STORIES. 39
contain an animal, he drags it out, and,
with wanton malevolence, mauls and rends
it, and finally hides it at some distance in
the underwood, or among the branches of a
lofty pine. Occasionally, if he be hard
pressed by hunger, he devours it. In this
manner the wolverene will despoil and
demolish a whole series of traps; and when
once he has established himself on a trap-
ping-walk, the hunter's only chance is to
change his ground, and build a fresh lot of
traps, in the hope of securing a few furs
before his industrious enemy discovers his
The trappers, round their evening fire,
are wont to relate strange stories of the
wonderful cunning of this animal, which they
believe to be gifted with an almost human
intelligence. He is never caught, they say,
in any ordinary snare. Sometimes one is
poisoned, or captured in a steel trap; but
so great is his strength, that he will
often release himself from traps which are
40 THE WOLVERENE'S ARTIFICE.
HUNTERSl IN THE AMIEICAN FOREST.
sufficiently massive to hold securely a
large wolf. When caught in this way, he
AN EXAMPLE OF ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE. 41
does not, like the fox and the mink, proceed
to amputate the imprisoned limb ; but partly
dragging the trap, and partly carrying it
with his mouth, he hurries away to some
lake or river, until he thinks himself safe
from pursuit, and then devotes himself to
the extrication of his leg or legs-a task
in which he often succeeds.
So much for the wolverene, which, in its
way, does not exhibit an inferior degree of
intelligence to the beaver, its frequent
victim. Such anecdotes as these with
which I have enriched my pages cannot fail,
I think, to inspire the reader with a deeper
interest in, and a greater regard for, the
various members of the animal kingdom.
None are without their remarkable charac-
teristics; and their study is well calculated
to fill the mind with sentiments of awe, love,
An African Scene-Columns, or Monuments ?--Who were the Builders ?-
The Termites, or White Ants-General Description of a Termite
Mound-Fuller Particulars-The Interior-The Exterior-King and
Queen-Their Immense Numbers-Their Enemies-The Termites
Eaten as a Dainty.
4 0 far, then, I have answered satisfac-
Storily-at least I would hope so-
the question, Who were the First
SBuilders?" I have proved the
claim of the Beavers to be regarded
as among the very earliest constructors of
houses and embankments, and that their
labours began long before man himself
made his appearance on the surface of our
planet. But there were other labourers at
work in quite as remote a period of terres-
ON A DESERT PLAIN. 48
trial history, whose descendants like our
modern beavers, are still engaged in. the
erection of wondrous structures
For instance: let us suppose ourselves to
be resting in a South African plain, under
the shadow of some sheltering rock, or lofty
palm. The sun burns like an orb of fire in
the heavens, whose glowing sapphire blue is
undimmed by a single cloud or flake of
fleecy vapour. The herbage is withered
and stunted-in many places has disappeared
beneath the ever-shifting sand; and scarcely
a shrub or flower relieves the bare and
tedious expanse. You look around in
weariness of spirit ; when suddenly your
attention is attracted by a row of columns
standing clear and distinct against the
horizon, like the dwarf pillars of a pigmy
temple. You say to yourself, "Even here,
then, in the centre of a sandy waste, a tribe
of men have lived in some long-past day.
To what race they can have belonged I
know not, but from the remains of their
44 A LILLIPUTIAN PALACE.
dwellings which I see yonder, it is evident
they must have been of stunted form-in
truth, a people of Lilliputians! But their
existence is beyond all doubt; do I not
recognize the memorials of their handiwork
scattered over the surrounding plain? "
But approach these apparent columns,
these seeming relics of a Lilliputian palace,
and to your surprise you discover that
"they are not what they seem;" that
neither axe nor chisel has ever wrought
upon them; that never were they designed
or executed by man To your astonishment,
you find them to have been reared under
the hot African sun by a nation of insects-
a nation well entitled to share with the
beavers and other claimants the honour of
having been among the first builders. Yes;
you are standing in wonder before the work
of the so-called WIhite Ants, the terrible
It is surprising what Titanic, what colossal
erections are raised by these tiny insects.
BUILDINGS OF THE TERMITES. 45
There are numerous species of them, and
while all are miners, most of them are
builders and masons. A few build their
nests round the arm of a tree; building it
of bits of wood firmly fastened together with
gum. But the majority excavate a labyrinth
of subterranean galleries, and then raise
above them a huge edifice-huge, I mean,
in proportion to the size of the builders-to
contain the nurseries and store-rooms. Some
of these structures, as I have already hinted,
look like columns or pillars of the earliest
Egyptian style-that is, with great project-
ing capitals; and these are about two feet
high and six inches wide, and constructed of
"a black clay which the insects work up into
"a substance nearly as hard as stone.
Still more remarkable, however, are the
structures raised by the combined ingenuity
and industry of the species of termites called
Termes bellicosus, and consisting of irregular
conical hills or mounds, flanked by a certain
number of spiral turrets decreasing in height.
46 PIGMY PROPORTIONS OF THE BUILDERS.
L 4 -I -. -' I
THE MOUNDS OF THE TERMITES.
According to Smeathman, the average
height is from ten to twelve feet; according
to Jobson, it actually attains to twenty feet.
Yet the builders are only a fifth of an inch
long! If men could rear memorials so
vastly disproportionate to their size, the
A TERMITE MOUND. 47
Great Pyramid of Gizeh would tower to the
amazing elevation of 5200 feet!
The Termite mound is not less remark-
able for its solidity than for its height. Not
only can several men mount upon it without
disturbing its firmness, but even the buffaloes
will plant themselves on the summit in
security, to look out over the billowy sea of
half-burned grass to discern the approach of
the lion or the panther! It is hollow; but
that matters little, inasmuch as its sides
are hard as rock, and about twenty inches
thick. The galleries in the interior connect
it with the subterranean dwelling-place. The
upper gallery, or story, immediately beneath
the dome, occupies about one-third of the
total elevation. The lowermost story consists
of the royal apartment, inhabited by the
Queen of the Termites: it has a flat floor,
a vaulted ceiling, and is pierced with
circular windows. In the middle, supported
on the roof of the royal hall, are pillars of
about two feet in height, which prop up the
48 KINGS AND QUEENS.
egg rooms; that is, certain little cells with
partitions of sawdust rendered consistent by
gum. All around the royal chamber are
placed the offices, which are also rooms
with rounded and vaulted ceilings, com-
municating with each other by corridors.
On the sides, with their backs placed
against the walls of the house, are the
magazines, which are filled with gums,
and with vegetable juices solidified or in
Such is a general outline of the structure
raised by the prodigious labours of the
Termites. But to obtain a clearer concep-
tion of its admirable design and remarkable
execution, I must enter somewhat more into
I must first explain, however, that there
are various orders or ranks among these
interesting insects. Thus, those with wings
are the fully developed males and females,
properly called kings and queens. The
undeveloped males are the soldiers of the
SOLDIERS AND WORKERS. 49
community, and the undeveloped females the
As soon as a king and queen have reached
their full growth, and taken flight from their
native hive to some new locality, they are
pounced upon by workers larvaee) which
are on the watch for royal leaders, and
immediately enclosed in a small tenement of
clay. Here they become the parents of a
new community, the female attaining to an
immense size, and laying eggs at the rate of
80,000 a-day, for a whole twelvemonth!
Instinct, says Rennie, directs the atten-
tion of these labouring insects to the preser-
vation of their race, in the protection of
this pair and their offspring. The chamber
that forms the nucleus of a new nest is con-
trived for their safety, but its entrances are
too small to permit them to leave it; conse-
quently, the charge of the eggs devolves
upon the workers, who construct nurseries
for their reception. These are small and
irregularly-shaped chambers, if chambers we
50 HOW THE CELLS ARE BUILT.
can call them when they are no larger than
the inside of a hazel-nut! Just fit, you know,
for the dressing-rooms of Queen Mab and
her fairies In older nests, however, they
are somewhat larger, and instead of being
set all around the royal apartment, are dis-
tributed at a greater distance. They are all
built alike-that is, of bits of wood fastened
together by gum, and cased with Glay. The
chamber that contains the two treasures of
the community, the king and queqn, lieS
nearly on a level with the surface of th-
ground; and as the other apartments are
constructed around it, it is generally situated
at an equal distance from the sides of the
nest, and immediately beneath its conical
point. The cells employed as nurseries and
magazines of provisions compose a regular
labyrinth, being separated from one another
by small empty chambers and galleries,
which surround them, or afford a communi-
cation between them. This maze extends
on all sides to the outer shell, and reaches
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE. 51
up within to two-thirds or more of its
elevation, leaving an open area (as already
described) beneath the dome, which reminds
the spectator of the choir of an ancient cathe-
dral on a miniature scale. And around
this choir three or four arches are erected;
sometimes three feet in height next to the
front of what we have called the choir, but
diminishing in elevation as they recede
fuit.her back, until they are lost amidst the
uneirable chambers and nurseries in their
"Whatever building you survey, whether
built by a Sir Christopher Wren or a tiny
white ant, it must have two parts, the out-
side and the inside. Well, then, the inside
of the nest or hive of the termites we have
explored with some minuteness, shall we
now direct our attention to the outside ?
Frederick. Oh, go on, dearest papa; I am
so interested that I cannot talk or criticise.
I never heard before of such wonderful
52 TURRET UPON TURRET.
Father. The wonderful works of God, as,
indeed, we may exclaim, in all reverence and
truth Well, the outside is one large coni-
cal shell, shaped like a dome, and both large
enough and strong enough to defend the in-
terior from the changes of the weather, and
its inhabitants from the attacks of natural
or accidental enemies. As might be sup-
posed, the outside is, therefore, always much
stronger than the inner building, which I
have already shown to be the inhabited
part. The hills first make their appearance
above ground by a little turret or two, not
at all unlike the sugar-loaves which are so
conspicuous in our grocers' shops, and much
about the same height. Soon afterwards,
at some little distance, while the former are
increasing in magnitude and elevation, the
industrious termites raise a fresh series; and
so they continue their work, increasing the
number of their domes, and enlarging them
at their base, till all the subterranean por-
tions are covered with these sugar-loaf tur-
1, Male; 3, Female 2, 4, 5, Young Termites in different stages of growth,
54 TERMITES NIL WHITE ANTS.
rets, of which they always erect the largest
and highest in the centre; and finally, by
filling up the intermediate spaces, they unite
the whole into one extensive structure. The
workmanship is neither very fanciful nor very
exact, the objects aimed at being evidently
solidity and strength. When, by the con-
solidation of the different turrets, the dome
is at length completed, for which purpose
the turrets answer as scaffolds, they remove
the middle ones entirely, except the tops,-
which, being joined together, form the crown
of the dome,-and apply the clay to the
erection of the interior works, or to the ele-
vation of fresh turrets intended to raise the
nest still higher; so that some part of the
clay is probably used several times, like the
boards and posts of a mason's scaffold.*
The Termites are often called White Ants,
but this is an error. It is true they resemble
ants in their mode of work, but they belong
The foregoing details are selected from the works of Smeathman and
A LOYAL COMMUNITY. I5
to an entirely different family of insects.
They are endowed with wings, says Mr.
Bates, simply for the purpose of flying away
from the colony peopled by their wingless
companions, to pair with individuals of the
same or other colonies, and reproduce their
kind. They make no other use of their
wings; and on meeting with their mates,
immediately shed them, or throw them off:
The devotion which the Termites show to
their queen is very remarkable; they seem,
literally, to adore her. The larger she is,
says Michelet, the more fruitful, the more
inexhaustible, the more does this terrible
insect-mother appear to be worshipped by
the fanatical rabble. If a portion of their
hillock be carried away, it is interesting to
see with what zeal they hasten to repair the
breach, to raise a protecting arch above the
head of their adored queen, and to rebuild
her royal cell, which will again become the
centre of a new community. "Yet I am
not astonished," continues Michelet, at the
56 ENEMIES OF THE TERMITES.
excessive love which the tiny populace dis-
play for this instrument of fecundity. If all
other species did not combine to destroy
them, their truly prodigious mother would
make them, by sheer numbers, the lords of
the world. The fish might escape, but insects
would perish. It is sufficient to remember
that the mother bee does not produce in a
year what the female terms can produce in
a day. So through her multiplying agency
they would be enabled to devour everything;
but they are feeble, and they are savoury,
and so everything devours them."
Birds pursue them greedily; poultry con-
sume them by thousands and tens of thou-
sands; ants hunt and exterminate whole
legions; the Indians and the South African
negroes pounce upon them as a dainty: they
roast them, as we roast coffee, and eat them
by handfuls; or knead them up with flour
into a cake, which.they consider delicious.
And thus the great law of Nature is ful-
filled, and no one species of animal is allowed
MAN'S HOSTILITY. 67
.- -- -- --- -_ -- -
DEMOLISHING A TERMITE MOUND.
by its numbers to threaten the existence of
The Wonderfulness of Creation-The Bird World-The House-Martin-
How he Builds his Nest-An Anecdote illustrative of his Reasoning
Powers-The Swallow-Sir Humphry Davy's favourite Bird-Song of
the Children of Rhodes-The Swallow and his Nest-A Flight to Aus-
tralia-The Tallegalla, or Brush Turkey-A Portrait of him-His
Singularly Constructed Nest-Conclusion.
P-.i^t VD now, Freddy, let me tell you I
4'3'4 have nearly reached the end of the
',- manuscript book which so excited
U, your curiosity. I see by your
pleased attention that its contents
have interested you; and I do not doubt
but that henceforth you will look at all kinds
of animals with different eyes, since you will
have gained some idea of the intelligence
and sagacity bestowed upon them by their
PROOFS OF THE DIVINE POWER. 59
Frederick. I am sorry, papa, you are
bringing your pretty stories to an end. I
can assure you I am not the least weary of
Father. Well, I will finish what I have to
say about the First Builders; and at some
future time, perhaps, I will ask you to join
me in considering, Who were the First Car-
penters ? But remember, that from all
these details I want you to gain one im-
portant lesson: namely, That in all God's
creation there is nothing unworthy of man's
attention; and that, wherever we fix our
gaze in this beautiful and wonderful world,
we are confronted by abundant evidence of
the Divine wisdom and power. Who en-
dowed the Beaver with so much sagacity
and forethought ? Who conferred upon the
Termites such powers of work, such per-
severance, such strength beyond their size,
such devotion to the parents of their race ?
For these and similar marvels we can ac-
count by no philosophical scheme whatso-
60 TE DEUM LAUDAMUS.
ever; we must and can only refer them to
one Supreme Creator-the Lord and Giver
of Life and Light-God the eternal, the in-
finite, and the almighty! Oh, never can I
look forth upon the face of Nature, upon
the insect, the bird, or the flower; the val-
ley, the mountain, or the forest; the rolling
river or the sounding sea, without a deep
emotion at the heart, which seems to force
from my inner self the song of thanksgiving,
Te Deum Laudamus "We praise Thee, 0
God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord!"
We have found our First Builders"
among the quadrupeds and the insects; let
us now look for some among the birds,
which, as everybody knows, are among the
wisest and wariest of all the members of the
great Animal Kingdom.
And, at the outset, I shall not go far
from home. Let us see whether the House-
Martin, for instance, does not deserve, from
his constructive skill, to be included in our
record of honour.
ABOUT THE HOUSE-MARTIN. 61
About the middle of May, says dear old
Gilbert White, in that most delightful of
books, "The Natural History of Selbourne,"
about the middle of May, if the weather be
fine, the Martin begins to think of providing
a mansion for his family. The crust or
shell of this nest seems to be formed of any
dirt or loam that comes readily to hand, and
is skilfully tempered and kneaded with bits
of broken straw to render it tough and
tenacious. As this bird often builds against
a perpendicular wall, without any projecting
ledge under, he requires to use his most
strenuous efforts to secure a firm foundation,
so that it may safely carry the superstructure.
On this occasion the martin not only clings
with his claws, but partly supports himself
by strongly inclining his tail against the
wall; and, thus steadied, he works and
plasters the materials into the face of the
brick or stone. But then, that his work
may not, while it is soft and green, pull it-
self down by its own weight, the provident
62 A DAY'S WORK.
builder has prudence and forbearance enough
not to push on his work too rapidly; but by
MARTINS BUILDING THEIR NEST.
building only in the morning, and by giving
up the rest of the day to recreation and
food-seeking, he gives it time to dry and
harden properly. A day's work seems to
be about half an inch layer of earth. In
like manner the careful human labourer,
INDUSTRIOUS BUILDERS. 63
when building a mud wall (taught first, per-
haps, by the example of our little bird),
raises but a moderate layer at a time, and
then desists, lest the work should become
top-heavy, and so be ruined by its own
weight. By this cautious proceeding, in
about ten or twelve days our industrious
builder constructs a hemispherical nest-
that is, of the shape of half a globe-with a
small opening towards the top, but strong,
compact, and warm, and properly fitted for
the accommodation of a feathered family.
The shell or crust of the nest may be com-
pared to what is called "rustic work," and,
on the outside, is full of little knobs and
protuberances; nor is it smoothed and
polished off on the inside, but rendered soft
and warm, and fit for incubation, by a lining
of grasses, small straws, and feathers, and
sometimes by a bedding of moss interwoven
with wool. In deciding on a nesting-place
they often show a good deal of caprice, or
what seems to us caprice; for, most pro-
64 MORE THAN INSTINCT.
bably, they have excellent reasons for their
future changes; but when once a nest is
completed in a sheltered locality, it serves
for several seasons. Those which breed in
a ready-finished house get the start in hatch-
ing of those that build new ones by ten days
or a fortnight. They are early risers, these
feathered builders, beginning their work
before four in the morning. When they fix
their materials they plaster them on with
their chins, moving their heads about with
a quick rotatory motion.
Frederick. I have seen a martin's nest,
papa. Don't you remember that one was
built under the eaves of uncle's old barn, on
his farm at Somerton?
Father. Yes; and a very ingenious one it
was too. But the fact is that the martin
possesses something more than instinct; its
operations are guided by reason, as the
anecdote I am about to tell will prove to
Under the eaves of a house, not so high
A LITTLE LESS THAN REASON. 65
as to be beyond the reach of any urchin who
could procure a rod or fling a stone, a mar-
tin had built its nest, which had more than
once been destroyed. There is no doubt
that, under ordinary circumstances, these
birds would have gone on building their
habitation in the same place and manner if
left to themselves and their own resources;
although, even in such cases, some impor-
tant variation in the structure has been
known to have occurred. But in the pre-
sent instance, the inhabitants of the cottage
were not satisfied to see the labours of their
favourites perpetually rendered void; and
they set their wits to work, in what manner
to secure them from harm.
The method they eventually adopted was
to place a small round basket under the
eaves, at the place where the nest had been,
as a protection from injury below; but it
was attended with the inconvenience that
the handle prevented it from being pressed
into contact with the stone, while the
66 CURIOUS INSTANCE OF INGENUITY.
breadth of the basket was so great as to
cause the wet dripping from the eaves to
fall within the cavity. It was to obviate
this latter annoyance that a flat piece of
board was laid as a cover to the basket,
with the precaution of leaving an opening-
not in front, but at the side-for the birds
to enter, if they should choose to adopt this
new contrivance for their advantage. And
they did justice to the kind intentions of
their friends by adopting it, and that, too,
in a way which evinced much ingenuity.
They began by placing a rim of their usual
mortar round the basket, at the border
where the covering-board rested on it; but
in thus rendering it safe and close on every
side, they observed the precaution of leaving
a small hole at the side by which to enter.
In this convenient piece of wicker-work
they formed a cradle, in which they were
able successfully to rear their brood.
But this was not all. Another pair of
birds had seen the good fortune of their
ABOUT THE SWALLOWS. 67
fellows, and they resolved to be sharers in
the advantage they were enjoying. The
space above the board, and within the
arched handle of the basket, was only
inferior to the basket itself as a situation
for a nest, and there, accordingly, they pro-
ceeded to place it. It was formed of clay,
in the usual manner; and here, immediately
above their neighbours, they successfully
hatched their young.
Frederick. Oh, what clever little fellows,
papa But do tell me something about the
swallows; I think they are such beautiful
birds, and I love to see them skimming
through the air with their shining wings.
Father. You remind me of Sir Humphry
Davy, Freddy, in your fondness for the
swallow. He used to speak of it as one of
his favourite birds; in fact, as a rival of the
nightingale: the one, he said, delighted his
sense of seeing as much as the other did his
sense of hearing. He described him as the
prophet of the year, the harbinger or fore-
68 SIR HUMPHRY DAVY.
runner of its best season; as living a life of
enjoyment among the loveliest forms of
p -- i ---; -""~~^
MARTINS CATCHING THEIR INSECT PREY.
nature. Winter, he said, was unknown to
him; for he left the green meadows of
England in autumn, to frequent, during
our dreary winter, the warm myrtle woods
THE SWALLOW'S NEST. 69
of Italy and the fair palm groves of Africa.
But I am diverging from my subject. Let
us hear what can be said about the swallow
as a builder.
In the construction of her nest the swallow
exhibits a considerable degree of skill and
prudence; but, on the whole, in appearance
...... ; -.,,
it is not much'unlike that of her relative,
the martin. She prefers a warm, sheltered,
and quiet locality, such as the thatched
eaves of an old farm-house, the cornice of a
70 A RAPID FLIGHT.
ruined temple, or an antique chimney, the
shaft of a disused coal-pit, or a belfry.
You will always find her erections among
the ruins of venerable castles, and frequently
an old church tower will contain a regular
colony of swallows.
The nest is shaped like a cup, with a
wide opening on the top; differing in this
respect from the nest of the martin, which
has only a narrow aperture at the side.
And why is there this difference? Pro-
bably because the long forked tail of the
swallow could not be crushed into the same
compass as the much shorter and simpler
tail of the martin.
But, quicker than the swallow flies I
must hurry you off to Australia, where lives
one of the most curious of the builders of
the bird-world-the Brush Turkey, or Talle-
The Tallegalla belongs to a family known
as the Megapodidce, or large-footed birds.
He was originally called the New Holland
THE AUSTRALIAN TALLEGALLA. 71
Vulture, on account of the bareness of his
head and neck; but he has nothing in
common with birds of prey.
The plumage of the upper parts of his
body, of his wings, and his tail, is of a
blackish-brown colour; of the same colour
are the feathers of the under parts at the
base, but they are silvery gray at the tip;
the skin of the head and neck is of a deep
pink-red, thinly sprinkled with short feathers
very much like hairs; the wattle is of a
bright yellow, tinged with red where it joins
the red of the neck; the bill black, the feet
brown. He is about the size of a turkey,
and moves in small companies. When dis-
turbed, he easily escapes pursuit by the quick-
ness with which he can make his way through
the underwood of theAustralian "bush."
The nest, or rather mound, of the talle-
galla is certainly one of the most curious
erections raised by any of the First Builders.
Here is Mr. Gould's description of it:-
"The birds first trace out a considerable circle, and
72 WE COME TO AN END.
then begin to move regularly round it, continually grasp-
ing with their large feet the leaves, twigs, and dead
grass lying about, and flinging them all in towards the
centre. Each time that they complete their round they
narrow the circle, until, in a very short time, they
have cleared out a large circular belt, with an irregularly
shaped mound in the middle of it, which continually
increases in height.
The nest being thus formed, the birds scrape away in
the centre a cavity of about two feet in depth; and in
this cavity they deposit their eggs, not side by side, as
is generally the case, but planted at intervals of nine to
twelve inches, and buried at nearly an arm's depth,
perfectly upright, with the large end upwards; these
are then covered up, and allowed to remain until hatched
by the joint influence of fermentation and the sunbeams."
Here, Freddy, my manuscript ends. And
now let us praise Him, the LORD, who made
both bird and insect, fish and quadruped,
and all the wonders of this visible creation;
acknowledging in everything His greatness,
His wisdom, and His boundless love;-
"Praise we the LORD !"
,j -t -