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Moore, Norman / Wanderings in South America
This ebook was transcribed by Les Bowler.

CASSELL’S NATIONAL LIBRARY.

* * * * *





WANDERINGS
IN
SOUTH AMERICA.


BY
CHARLES WATERTON.

_WITH AN INTRODUCTION_
_BY_
_NORMAN MOORE_, _M.D._

[Picture: Medallion]

CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED:
_LONDON, PARIS & MELBOURNE_.
1891.




INTRODUCTION.


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. His father,
Thomas Waterton, was a squire, fond of fox-hunting, but with other
tastes, well read in literature, and delighting in the observation of the
ways of birds and beasts. His grandfather, whose grave is beneath the
most northern of a row of old elm trees in the park, was imprisoned in
York on account of his known attachment to the cause of the Young
Pretender. As he meant to join the rebel forces, the imprisonment
probably saved his own life and prevented the ruin of the family. In his
grandson’s old age, when another white-haired Yorkshire squire was dining
at Walton Hall, I remember that Waterton and he reminded one another that
their grandfathers had planned to march together to Prince Charley, and
that they themselves, so differently are the rights of kings regarded at
different ages, when schoolboys together, had gone a-bird’s-nesting on a
day, in 1793, set apart for mourning for the decapitation of Louis XVI.
Waterton has himself told the history of his earlier ancestors in an
autobiography which he wrote in 1837:—

“The poet tells us, that the good qualities of man and of cattle descend
to their offspring. ‘_Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis_.’ If this
holds good, I ought to be pretty well off, as far as breeding goes; for,
on the father’s side, I come in a direct line from Sir Thomas More,
through my grandmother; whilst by the mother’s side I am akin to the
Bedingfelds of Oxburgh, to the Charltons of Hazelside, and to the
Swinburnes of Capheaton. My family has been at Walton Hall for some
centuries. It emigrated into Yorkshire from Waterton, in the island of
Axeholme in Lincolnshire, where it had been for a very long time.
Indeed, I dare say I could trace it up to Father Adam, if my progenitors
had only been as careful in preserving family records as the Arabs are in
recording the pedigree of their horses; for I do most firmly believe that
we are all descended from Adam and his wife Eve, notwithstanding what
certain self-sufficient philosophers may have advanced to the contrary.
Old Matt Prior had probably an opportunity of laying his hands on family
papers of the same purport as those which I have not been able to find;
for he positively informs us that Adam and Eve were his ancestors:—

‘Gentlemen, here, by your leave,
Lie the bones of Matthew Prior,
A son of Adam and of Eve:
Can Bourbon or Nassau go higher?’

Depend upon it, the man under Afric’s burning zone, and he from the
frozen regions of the North, have both come from the same stem. Their
difference in colour and in feature may be traced to this: viz., that the
first has had too much, and the second too little, sun.

“In remote times, some of my ancestors were sufficiently notorious to
have had their names handed down to posterity. They fought at Cressy,
and at Agincourt, and at Marston Moor. Sir Robert Waterton was Governor
of Pontefract Castle, and had charge of King Richard II. Sir Hugh
Waterton was executor to his Sovereign’s will, and guardian to his
daughters. Another ancestor was sent into France by the King, with
orders to contract a royal marriage. He was allowed thirteen shillings a
day for his trouble and travelling expenses. Another was Lord Chancellor
of England, and preferred to lose his head rather than sacrifice his
conscience.”

Waterton’s childhood was spent at Walton Hall, and in his old age he used
sometimes to recall the songs of his nurses. “One of them,” he said, “is
the only poem in which the owl is pitied. She sang it to the tune of
‘Cease, rude Boreas, blustering railer,’ and the words are affecting:—

‘Once I was a monarch’s daughter,
And sat on a lady’s knee;
But am now a nightly rover,
Banished to the ivy tree.

‘Crying, Hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo,
Hoo, hoo, my feet are cold!
Pity me, for here you see me
Persecuted, poor, and old.’”

He was already proficient in bird’s-nesting when, in 1792, he was sent to
a school kept by a Roman Catholic priest, the Reverend Arthur Storey, at
Tudhoe, then a small village, five miles from Durham. Three years before
his death he wrote an account of his schooldays, which is printed in the
Life prefixed to Messrs. Warne’s edition of his “Natural History Essays.”
The honourable character of the schoolmaster, and the simple, adventurous
disposition of his pupil, are vividly depicted in this account. The
following quotations from it show that preparatory schools were less
luxurious in the last century than they commonly are at the present day:—

“But now let me enter into the minutiæ of Tudhoe School. Mr. Storey had
two wigs, one of which was of a flaxen colour, without powder, and had
only one lower row of curls. The other had two rows, and was exceedingly
well powdered. When he appeared in the schoolroom with this last wig on,
I know that I was safe from the birch, as he invariably went to Durham
and spent the day there. But when I saw that he had his flaxen wig on,
my countenance fell. He was in the schoolroom all day, and I was too
often placed in a very uncomfortable position at nightfall. But
sometimes I had to come in contact with the birch-rod for various frolics
independent of school erudition. I once smarted severely for an act of
kindness. We had a boy named Bryan Salvin, from Croxdale Hall. He was a
dull, sluggish, and unwieldy lad, quite incapable of climbing exertions.
Being dissatisfied with the regulations of the establishment, he came to
me one Palm Sunday, and entreated me to get into the schoolroom through
the window, and write a letter of complaint to his sister Eliza in York.
I did so, having insinuated myself with vast exertion through the iron
stanchions which secured the window; ‘_sed revocare gradum_.’ Whilst I
was thrusting might and main through the stanchions, on my way
out—suddenly, oh, horrible! the schoolroom door flew open, and on the
threshold stood the Reverend Mr. Storey—a fiery, frightful, formidable
spectre! To my horror and confusion I drove my foot quite through a pane
of glass, and there I stuck, impaled and imprisoned, but luckily not
injured by the broken glass. Whilst I was thus in unexpected captivity,
he cried out, in an angry voice, ‘So you are there, Master Charles, are
you?’ He got assistance, and they pulled me back by main force. But as
this was Palm Sunday my execution was obligingly deferred until Monday
morning.

“But let us return to Tudhoe. In my time it was a peaceful, healthy
farming village, and abounded in local curiosities. Just on the king’s
highway, betwixt Durham and Bishop-Auckland, and one field from the
school, there stood a public-house called the ‘White Horse,’ and kept by
a man of the name of Charlton. He had a real gaunt English mastiff,
half-starved for want of food, and so ferocious that nobody but himself
dared to approach it. This publican had also a mare, surprising in her
progeny; she had three foals, in three successive years, not one of which
had the least appearance of a tail.

“One of Mr. Storey’s powdered wigs was of so tempting an aspect, on the
shelf where it was laid up in ordinary, that the cat actually kittened in
it. I saw her and her little ones all together in the warm wig. He also
kept a little white and black bitch, apparently of King Charles’s breed.
One evening, as we scholars were returning from a walk, Chloe started a
hare, which we surrounded and captured, and carried in triumph to oily
Mrs. Atkinson, who begged us a play-day for our success.

“On Easter Sunday Mr. Storey always treated us to ‘Pasche eggs.’ They
were boiled hard in a concoction of whin-flowers, which rendered them
beautifully purple. We used them for warlike purposes, by holding them
betwixt our forefinger and thumb with the sharp end upwards, and as
little exposed as possible. An antagonist then approached, and with the
sharp end of his own egg struck this egg. If he succeeded in cracking
it, the vanquished egg was his; and he either sold it for a halfpenny in
the market, or reserved it for his own eating. When all the sharp ends
had been crushed, then the blunt ends entered into battle. Thus nearly
every Pasche egg in the school had its career of combat. The possessor
of a strong egg with a thick shell would sometimes vanquish a dozen of
his opponents, all of which the conqueror ultimately transferred into his
own stomach, when no more eggs with unbroken ends remained to carry on
the war of Easter Week.

“The little black and white bitch once began to snarl, and then to bark
at me, when I was on a roving expedition in quest of hens’ nests. I took
up half a brick and knocked it head over heels. Mr. Storey was watching
at the time from one of the upper windows; but I had not seen him, until
I heard the sound of his magisterial voice. He beckoned me to his room
there and then, and whipped me soundly for my pains.

“Four of us scholars stayed at Tudhoe during the summer vacation, when
all the rest had gone home. Two of these had dispositions as malicious
as those of two old apes. One fine summer’s morning they decoyed me into
a field (I was just then from my mother’s nursery) where there was a
flock of geese. They assured me that the geese had no right to be there;
and that it was necessary we should kill them, as they were trespassing
on our master’s grass. The scamps then furnished me with a hedge-stake.
On approaching the flock, behold the gander came out to meet me; and
whilst he was hissing defiance at us, I struck him on the neck, and
killed him outright. My comrades immediately took to flight, and on
reaching the house informed our master of what I had done. But when he
heard my unvarnished account of the gander’s death, he did not say one
single unkind word to me, but scolded most severely the two boys who had
led me into the scrape. The geese belonged to a farmer named John Hey,
whose son Ralph used to provide me with birds’ eggs. Ever after when I
passed by his house, some of the children would point to me and say, ‘Yaw
killed aur guise.’

“At Bishop-Auckland there lived a man by the name of Charles the Painter.
He played extremely well on the Northumberland bagpipe, and his neighbour
was a good performer on the flageolet. When we had pleased our master by
continued good conduct, he would send for these two musicians, who gave
us a delightful evening concert in the general play-room, Mr. Storey
himself supplying an extra treat of fruit, cakes, and tea.

“Tudhoe had her own ghosts and spectres, just as the neighbouring
villages had theirs. One was the Tudhoe mouse, well known and often seen
in every house in the village; but I cannot affirm that I myself ever saw
it. It was an enormous mouse, of a dark brown colour, and did an
immensity of mischief. No cat could face it; and as it wandered through
the village, all the dogs would take off, frightened out of their wits,
and howling as they ran away. William Wilkinson, Mr. Storey’s farming
man, told me he had often seen it, but that it terrified him to such a
degree that he could not move from the place where he was standing.

“Our master kept a large tom-cat in the house. A fine young man, in the
neighbouring village of Ferry-hill, had been severely bitten by a cat,
and he died raving mad. On the day that we got this information from
Timothy Pickering, the carpenter at Tudhoe, I was on the prowl for
adventures, and in passing through Mr. Storey’s back kitchen, his big
black cat came up to me. Whilst I was tickling its bushy tail, it turned
round upon me, and gave me a severe bite in the calf of the leg. This I
kept a profound secret, but I was quite sure I should go mad every day,
for many months afterwards.

“There was a blacksmith’s shop leading down the village to Tudhoe Old
Hall. Just opposite this shop was a pond, on the other side of the
road. When any sudden death was to take place, or any sudden ill to
befall the village, a large black horse used to emerge from it, and walk
slowly up and down the village, carrying a rider without a head. The
blacksmith’s grandfather, his father, himself, his three sons, and two
daughters, had seen this midnight apparition rise out of the pond, and
return to it before the break of day. John Hickson and Neddy Hunt, two
hangers-on at the blacksmith’s shop, had seen this phantom more than
once, but they never durst approach it. Indeed, every man and woman and
child believed in this centaur-spectre, and I am not quite sure if our
old master himself did not partly believe that such a thing had
occasionally been seen on very dark nights.

“Tudhoe has no river, a misfortune ‘_valde deflendus_.’ In other
respects the vicinity was charming; and it afforded an ample supply of
woods and hedgerow trees to insure a sufficient stock of carrion crows,
jackdaws, jays, magpies, brown owls, kestrels, merlins, and
sparrow-hawks, for the benefit of natural history and my own instruction
and amusement.”

In 1796 Waterton left Tudhoe school and went to Stonyhurst College in
Lancashire. It was a country house of the picturesque style of King
James I., which had just been made over by Mr. Weld of Lulworth to the
Jesuits expelled from Liége. The country round Stonyhurst is varied by
hills and streams, and there are mountains at no great distance.

“Whernside, Pendle Hill, and Ingleboro’,
Three higher hills you’ll not find England thoro’,”

as they are described, with equal disregard of exact mensuration and of
rhythm, in a local rhyme which Waterton learned. Curlew used to fly by
in flocks, and the country people had also a rhyme about the curlew:—

“Be she white or be she black,
She carries sixpence on her back,”

which Waterton used to say showed how our ancestors valued the bird at
table.

At Stonyhurst he read a good deal of Latin and of English literature, and
acquired a taste for writing Latin verse. He always looked back on his
education there with satisfaction, and in after-life often went to visit
the college. Throughout life he never drank wine, and this fortunate
habit was the result of the good advice of one of his teachers:—

“My master was Father Clifford, a first cousin of the noble lord of that
name. He had left the world, and all its alluring follies, that he might
serve Almighty God more perfectly, and work his way with more security up
to the regions of eternal bliss. After educating those entrusted to his
charge with a care and affection truly paternal, he burst a blood-vessel,
and retired to Palermo for the benefit of a warmer climate. There he
died the death of the just, in the habit of St. Ignatius.

“One day, when I was in the class of poetry, and which was about two
years before I left the college for good and all, he called me up to his
room. ‘Charles,’ said he to me, in a tone of voice perfectly
irresistible, ‘I have long been studying your disposition, and I clearly
foresee that nothing will keep you at home. You will journey into
far-distant countries, where you will be exposed to many dangers. There
is only one way for you to escape them. Promise me that, from this day
forward, you will never put your lips to wine, or to spirituous liquors.’
‘The sacrifice is nothing,’ added he; ‘but, in the end, it will prove of
incalculable advantage to you.’ I agreed to his enlightened proposal;
and from that hour to this, which is now about nine-and-thirty years, I
have never swallowed one glass of any kind of wine or of ardent spirits.”

After leaving college Waterton stayed at home with his father, and
enjoyed fox-hunting for a while. To the end of his days he liked to hear
of a good run, and he would now and then look with pleasure on an
engraving which hung in the usual dining-room at Walton Hall,
representing Lord Darlington, the first master of hounds he had known,
well seated on a powerful horse and surrounded by very muscular hounds.
In 1802 he went to visit two uncles in Spain, and stayed for more than a
year, and there had a terrible experience of pestilence and of
earthquake:—

“There began to be reports spread up and down the city that the black
vomit had made its appearance; and every succeeding day brought testimony
that things were not as they ought to be. I myself, in an alley near my
uncles’ house, saw a mattress of most suspicious appearance hung out to
dry. A Maltese captain, who had dined with us in good health at one
o’clock, lay dead in his cabin before sunrise the next morning. A few
days after this I was seized with vomiting and fever during the night. I
had the most dreadful spasms, and it was supposed that I could not last
out till noon the next day. However, strength of constitution got me
through it. In three weeks more, multitudes were seen to leave the city,
which shortly after was declared to be in a state of pestilence. Some
affirmed that the disorder had come from the Levant; others said that it
had been imported from the Havanna; but I think it probable that nobody
could tell in what quarter it had originated.

“We had now all retired to the country-house—my eldest uncle returning to
Malaga from time to time, according as the pressure of business demanded
his presence in the city. He left us one Sunday evening, and said he
would be back again some time on Monday; but that was my poor uncle’s
last day’s ride. On arriving at his house in Malaga, there was a
messenger waiting to inform him that Father Bustamante had fallen sick,
and wished to see him. Father Bustamante was an aged priest, who had
been particularly kind to my uncle on his first arrival in Malaga. My
uncle went immediately to Father Bustamante, gave him every consolation
in his power, and then returned to his own house very unwell, there to
die a martyr to his charity. Father Bustamante breathed his last before
daylight; my uncle took to his bed, and never rose more. As soon as we
had received information of his sickness, I immediately set out on foot
for the city. His friend, Mr. Power, now of Gibraltar, was already in
his room, doing everything that friendship could suggest or prudence
dictate. My uncle’s athletic constitution bore up against the disease
much longer than we thought it possible. He struggled with it for five
days, and sank at last about the hour of sunset. He stood six feet four
inches high; and was of so kind and generous a disposition, that he was
beloved by all who knew him. Many a Spanish tear flowed when it was
known that he had ceased to be. We got him a kind of coffin made, in
which he was conveyed at midnight to the outskirts of the town, there to
be put into one of the pits which the galley-slaves had dug during the
day for the reception of the dead. But they could not spare room for the
coffin; so the body was taken out of it, and thrown upon the heap which
already occupied the pit. A Spanish marquis lay just below him.

“Thousands died as though they had been seized with cholera, others with
black vomit, and others of decided yellow fever. There were a few
instances of some who departed this life with very little pain or bad
symptoms: they felt unwell, they went to bed, they had an idea that they
would not get better, and they expired in a kind of slumber. It was sad
in the extreme to see the bodies placed in the streets at the close of
day, to be ready for the dead-carts as they passed along. The dogs
howled fearfully during the night. All was gloom and horror in every
street; and you might see the vultures on the strand tugging at the
bodies which were washed ashore by the eastern wind. It was always said
that 50,000 people left the city at the commencement of the pestilence;
and that 14,000 of those who remained in it fell victims to the disease.

“There was an intrigue going on at court, for the interest of certain
powerful people, to keep the port of Malaga closed long after the city
had been declared free from the disorder; so that none of the vessels in
the mole could obtain permission to depart for their destination.

“In the meantime the city was shaken with earthquakes; shock succeeding
shock, till we all imagined that a catastrophe awaited us similar to that
which had taken place at Lisbon. The pestilence killed you by degrees,
and its approaches were sufficiently slow, in general, to enable you to
submit to it with firmness and resignation; but the idea of being
swallowed up alive by the yawning earth at a moment’s notice, made you
sick at heart, and rendered you almost fearful of your own shadow. The
first shock took place at six in the evening, with a noise as though a
thousand carriages had dashed against each other. This terrified many
people to such a degree that they paced all night long up and down the
Alameda, or public walk, rather than retire to their homes. I went to
bed a little after midnight, but was roused by another shock about five
o’clock in the morning. It gave the bed a motion which made me fancy
that it moved under me from side to side. I sprang up, and having put on
my unmentionables (we wore no trousers in those days), I ran out, in all
haste, to the Alameda. There the scene was most distressing: multitudes
of both sexes, some nearly in a state of nudity, and others sick at
stomach, were huddled together, not knowing which way to turn or what to
do.

—‘Omnes eodem cogimur.’

However, it pleased Heaven, in its mercy, to spare us. The succeeding
shocks became weaker and weaker, till at last we felt no more of them.”

A courageous sea-captain at last sailed away in safety, though chased by
the Spanish brigs of war, and after thirty days at sea Waterton landed in
England.

Another uncle had estates in Demerara, and in the autumn Waterton sailed
thither from Portsmouth. He landed at Georgetown, Demerara, in November,
1804, and was soon delighted by the natural history of the tropical
forest. In 1806 his father died, and he returned to England. He made
four more journeys to Guiana, and, in 1825, published an account of them,
entitled “Wanderings in South America, the North-West of the United
States, and the Antilles, in the years 1812, 1816, 1820, and 1824; with
original instructions for the perfect preservation of birds, &c., for
cabinets of natural history.” The two first journeys are now reprinted
from the original text. The book at once attracted general attention,
became popular, and has taken a place among permanent English literature.
Unlike most travellers, Waterton tells nothing of his personal
difficulties and discomforts, and encumbers his pages with neither
statistics nor information of the guidebook kind. His observation of
birds and beasts, written down in the forests, and the description of the
forests themselves, fill all his pages. The great ant-eater and the
sloth were for the first time accurately described by him. He showed
that the sloth, instead of being a deformed, unhappy creature, was
admirably adapted to its habitat. He explained the use of the great
claws of the ant-eater, and the curious gait which they necessitated.
The habits of the toucan, of the houtou, of the campanero, and of many
other birds, were first correctly described by him. He determined to
catch a cayman or alligator, and at last hooked one with a curious wooden
hook of four barbs made for him by an Indian.

The adventure which followed is perhaps one of the most famous exploits
of an English naturalist.

“We found a cayman, ten feet and a half long, fast to the end of the
rope. Nothing now remained to do, but to get him out of the water
without injuring his scales, ‘hoc opus, hic labor.’ We mustered strong:
there were three Indians from the creek, there was my own Indian, Yan;
Daddy Quashi, {24} the negro from Mrs. Peterson’s; James, Mr. R.
Edmonstone’s man, whom I was instructing to preserve birds; and, lastly,
myself.

“I informed the Indians that it was my intention to draw him quietly out
of the water, and then secure him. They looked and stared at each other,
and said I might do it myself, but they would have no hand in it; the
cayman would worry some of us. On saying this, ‘consedere duces,’ they
squatted on their hams with the most perfect indifference.

“The Indians of those wilds have never been subject to the least
restraint; and I knew enough of them to be aware, that if I tried to
force them against their will, they would take off, and leave me and my
presents unheeded, and never return.

“Daddy Quashi was for applying to our guns, as usual, considering them
our best and safest friends. I immediately offered to knock him down for
his cowardice, and he shrank back, begging that I would be cautious, and
not get myself worried; and apologising for his own want of resolution.
My Indian was now in conversation with the others, and they asked me if I
would allow them to shoot a dozen arrows into him, and thus disable him.
This would have ruined all. I had come above three hundred miles on
purpose to get a cayman uninjured, and not to carry back a mutilated
specimen. I rejected their proposition with firmness, and darted a
disdainful eye upon the Indians.

“Daddy Quashi was again beginning to remonstrate, and I chased him on the
sand-bank for a quarter of a mile. He told me afterwards, he thought he
should have dropped down dead with fright, for he was firmly persuaded,
if I had caught him, I should have bundled him into the cayman’s jaws.
Here then we stood, in silence, like a calm before a thunder-storm. ‘Hoc
res summa loco. Scinditur in contraria valgus.’ They wanted to kill
him, and I wanted to take him alive.

“I now walked up and down the sand, revolving a dozen projects in my
head. The canoe was at a considerable distance, and I ordered the people
to bring it round to the place where we were. The mast was eight feet
long, and not much thicker than my wrist. I took it out of the canoe,
and wrapped the sail round the end of it. Now it appeared clear to me,
that if I went down upon one knee, and held the mast in the same position
as the soldier holds his bayonet when rushing to the charge, I could
force it down the cayman’s throat, should he come open-mouthed at me.
When this was told to the Indians, they brightened up, and said they
would help me to pull him out of the river.

“‘Brave squad!’ said I to myself, ‘“Audax omnia perpeti,” now that you
have got me betwixt yourselves and danger.’ I then mustered all hands
for the last time before the battle. We were, four South American
savages, two negroes from Africa, a creole from Trinidad, and myself, a
white man from Yorkshire. In fact, a little Tower of Babel group, in
dress, no dress, address, and language.

“Daddy Quashi hung in the rear; I showed him a large Spanish knife, which
I always carried in the waistband of my trousers: it spoke volumes to
him, and he shrugged up his shoulders in absolute despair. The sun was
just peeping over the high forests on the eastern hills, as if coming to
look on, and bid us act with becoming fortitude. I placed all the people
at the end of the rope, and ordered them to pull till the cayman appeared
on the surface of the water and then, should he plunge, to slacken the
rope and let him go again into the deep.

“I now took the mast of the canoe in my hand (the sail being tied round
the end of the mast) and sank down upon one knee, about four yards from
the water’s edge, determining to thrust it down his throat, in case he
gave me an opportunity. I certainly felt somewhat uncomfortable in this
situation, and I thought of Cerberus on the other side of the Styx ferry.
The people pulled the cayman to the surface; he plunged furiously as soon
as he arrived in these upper regions, and immediately went below again on
their slackening the rope. I saw enough not to fall in love at first
sight. I now told them we would run all risks, and have him on land
immediately. They pulled again, and out he came—‘monstrum horrendum,
informe.’ This was an interesting moment. I kept my position firmly,
with my eye fixed steadfast on him.

“By the time the cayman was within two yards of me, I saw he was in a
state of fear and perturbation: I instantly dropped the mast, sprang up,
and jumped on his back, turning half round as I vaulted, so that I gained
my seat with my face in a right position. I immediately seized his
fore-legs, and by main force twisted them on his back; thus they served
me for a bridle.

“He now seemed to have recovered from his surprise, and probably fancying
himself in hostile company, be began to plunge furiously, and lashed the
sand with his long and powerful tail. I was out of reach of the strokes
of it, by being near his head. He continued to plunge and strike, and
made my seat very uncomfortable. It must have been a fine sight for an
unoccupied spectator.

“The people roared out in triumph, and were so vociferous, that it was
some time before they heard me tell them to pull me and my beast of
burthen farther in. I was apprehensive the rope might break, and then
there would have been every chance of going down to the regions under
water with the cayman. That would have been more perilous than Arion’s
marine morning ride:—

‘Delphini insidens vada cærula sulcat Arion.’

“The people now dragged us about forty yards on the sand; it was the
first and last time I was ever on a cayman’s back. Should it be asked,
how I managed to keep my seat, I would answer—I hunted some years with
Lord Darlington’s fox-hounds.

“After repeated attempts to regain his liberty, the cayman gave in, and
became tranquil through exhaustion. I now managed to do up his jaws, and
firmly secured his fore-feet in the position I had held them. We had now
another severe struggle for superiority, but he was soon overcome, and
again remained quiet. While some of the people were pressing upon his
head and shoulders, I threw myself on his tail, and by keeping it down to
the sand, prevented him from kicking up another dust. He was finally
conveyed to the canoe, and then to the place where we had suspended our
hammocks. There I cut his throat; and after breakfast was over,
commenced the dissection.”

After his fourth journey Waterton occasionally travelled on the
Continent, but for the most part resided at Walton Hall. In the park he
made the observations afterwards published as “Essays on Natural
History,” in three series, and since reprinted, with his Life and
Letters, by Messrs. Warne and Co.

Walton Hall is situated on an island surrounded by its ancient moat, a
lake of about five-and-twenty acres in extent. From the shores of the
lake the land rises; parts of the slope, and nearly all the highest part,
being covered with wood.

In one wood there was a large heronry, in another a rookery. Several
hollow trees were haunted by owls, in the summer goat-suckers were always
to be seen in the evening flying about two oaks on the hill. At one end
of the lake in summer the kingfisher might be watched fishing, and
throughout the year herons waded round its shores picking up fresh-water
mussels, or stood motionless for hours, watching for fish. In winter,
when the lake was frozen, three or four hundred wild duck, with teal and
pochards, rested on it all day, and flew away at night to feed; while
widgeons fed by day on its shores. Coots and water-hens used to come
close to the windows and pick up food put out for them. The Squire built
a wall nine feet high all round his park, and he used laughingly to say
that he paid for it with the cost of the wine which he did not drink
after dinner.

A more delightful home for a naturalist could not have been. No shot was
ever fired within the park wall, and every year more birds came.
Waterton used often to quote the lines:—

“No bird that haunts my valley free
To slaughter I condemn;
Taught by the Power that pities me,
I learn to pity them;”

and each new-comer added to his happiness. In his latter days the
household usually consisted of the Squire, as he was always called, and
of his two sisters-in-law, for he had lost his wife soon after his
marriage in 1829. He breakfasted at eight, dined in the middle of the
day, and drank tea in the evening. He went to bed early, and slept upon
the bare floor, with a block of wood for his pillow. He rose for the day
at half-past three, and spent the hour from four to five at prayer in his
chapel. He then read every morning a chapter in a Spanish Life of St.
Francis Xavier, followed by a chapter of “Don Quixote” in the original,
after which he used to stuff birds or write letters till breakfast. Most
of the day he spent in the open air, and when the weather was cold would
light a fire of sticks and warm himself by it. So active did he continue
to the end of his days, that on his eightieth birthday he climbed an oak
in my company. He was very kind to the poor, and threw open a beautiful
part of his park to excursionists all through the summer. He had a very
tender heart for beasts and birds, as well as for men. If a cat looked
hungry he would see that she had a meal, and sometimes when he had
forgotten to put a crust of bread in his pocket before starting on his
afternoon walk, he would say to his companion, “How shall we ever get
past that goose?” for there was a goose which used to wait for him in the
evening at the end of the bridge over the moat, and he could not bear to
disappoint it. If he could not find a bit of food for it, he would wait
at a distance till the bird went away, rather than give it nothing when
it raised its bill.

Towards the end of his life I enjoyed his friendship, and can never
forget his kindly welcome, his pithy conversation, the happy humour with
which he expressed the conclusions of his long experience of men, birds
and beasts, and the goodness which shone from his face. I was staying at
Walton when he died, and have thus described his last hours in the
biography which is prefixed to the latest edition of his Essays. {31} I
was reading for an examination, and used, on the Squire’s invitation, to
go and chat with him just after midnight, for at that hour be always
awoke, and paid a short visit to his chapel. A little before midnight on
May 24th I visited him in his room. He was sitting asleep by his fire
wrapped up in a large Italian cloak.

His head rested upon his wooden pillow, which was placed on a table, and
his thick silvery hair formed a beautiful contrast with the dark colour
of the oak. He soon woke up, and withdrew to the chapel, and on his
return we talked together for three-quarters of an hour about the brown
owl, the nightjar, and other birds. The next morning, May 25, he was
unusually cheerful, and said to me, “That was a very pleasant little
confab we had last night: I do not suppose there was such another going
on in England at the same time.” After breakfast we went with a
carpenter to finish some bridges at the far end of the park. The work
was completed, and we were proceeding homewards when, in crossing a small
bridge, a bramble caught the Squire’s foot, and he fell heavily upon a
log. He was greatly shaken, and said he thought he was dying. He
walked, notwithstanding, a little way, and was then compelled to lie
down. He would not permit his sufferings to distract his mind, and he
pointed out to the carpenter some trees which were to be felled. He
presently continued his route, and managed to reach the spot where the
boat was moored. Hitherto he had refused all assistance, but he could
not step from the bank into the boat, and he said, “I am afraid I must
ask you to help me in.” He walked from the landing-place into the house,
changed his clothes, and came and sat in the large room below. The pain
increasing, he rose from his seat after he had seen his doctor, and
though he had been bent double with anguish, he persisted in walking
up-stairs without help, and would have gone to his own room in the top
storey, if, for the sake of saving trouble to others, he had not been
induced to stop half-way in Miss Edmonstone’s sitting-room.



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