A First Lesson in Natural History

By ACTÆA. Boston : Little, Brown, & Co. 1859. pp. 82.

THIS is an altogether charming little book. Simple, clear, and methodical, the style leaves nothing to be desired, and suggests no wish that anything were away. An aunt called upon for more stories — and no wonder, when she tells them so well—resolves to play the Nereïd, and takes her little ones in fancy down among the slopes and dells of Ocean to watch the lovely growths and the strange creatures in which, through plant and mineral, or What seem such, Life is yearning upward toward the higher individuality of Volition. She tells us (for we seemed among her hearers as we read, and drew our stool nearer) all about the sea-anemones and corals, the coral-reefs, the jelly-fishes, starfishes, and sea-urchins, — which last are not to be confounded with the buoys so frequently to be met with in our harbors. That the stories have the sanction of Agassiz is warrant of their scientific accuracy, while the feminine grace with which they are told is a science to be learned of no professor.

Since the fairies are all dead, it is pleasant to know that Pan can be brought to life again for children by the study of Nature. Now that the wonders of the invisible world are closed, the little ones can have no better set-off than in the beauty and marvel of God's visible creation. Here also are food for the imagination and material for poetry. Whatever teaches a child to observe teaches him to think, and strengthens memory, a faculty which in fitting conjunction is cumulative genius. We dislike the science that is sometimes forced down youthful throats by the Mrs. Squeerses of polite learning, a vile compound of treacle and brimstone; but there is a vast difference between science as dead fact and science as living poetry,— the harvest of the child's own eyes, gathered on seashores and hillsides, in fields and lanes. We like the aim and tendency of this little book, because it is likely to draw children away from books, and to entice them into that admirably ventilated schoolroom of out-doors which will give them sound lungs and stomachs and muscular limbs. It teaches them, too, without their knowing it; which is the only true way ; for they contrive to make their minds duck's-backs, under the assiduous watering-pot of instruction. The knowledge it gives them is real, and not merely a thing of terms and phrases. Moreover, the kind of it is suitable ; a great thing; for we hold a Pascal in a pinafore to be as great an outrage as a learned pig.

We have found the generality of books written for children of late so thoroughly bad, as void of invention as they are full of vulgarisms in thought and language, that it is a downright pleasure to meet with one so fresh and graceful as this of Actæa's. We hope she will follow it with a series, for she has shown herself qualified to do for science what Hawthorne has done for mythology.