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HAPPY the man, say the Spaniards, who has written no more than one book. Important remark! when we consider the frailty of the pen, the toil of composition, the clashing of interests, and the sting of criticism.
Having been long ago impressed with the truth of the remark above quoted, I had awful fears within me, when the late Mr. Loudon requested me to write a few papers which might enable him to make up a little book of Essays; for I saw the danger of disregarding the wholesome remark of my Spanish monitors, and I felt apprehensive, lest the tiny reputation which I had formerly gained by the Wanderings might be lost for ever by the publication of his intended undertaking.
Great then indeed must be my anxiety on the present occasion, when I am rash enough to deviate another time from the Spanish line of certitude, into the mazes of chance and danger; where the track which I am to pursue is ill defined and flinty, and may possibly lead me and my new little book into some quagmire or other; there to perish without assistance; the scorn of the critics, and the pity of disappointed friends. However, be this as it may, my die is cast, my steam is on, and I am already at the opposite bank of the Rubicon.
The volume which I now present to an indulgent public, is an unsolicited donation to the widow of my poor departed friend Mr. Loudon, whose vast labours in the cause of Science have insured to him an imperishable reputation. If this trifling present on my part shall be the medium of conveying one single drop of balm to the wound, which it has pleased Heaven lately to inflict on the heart of that excellent lady, my time will have been well employed, and my endeavours amply requited.
A part of its contents relates to the habits of birds; and I wish to draw the attention of the young naturalist to it, because I have taken great pains in selecting the materials from actual observation in woods, and in swamps, and on plains, where the theories of the closet are unnecessary, and some of our new systems incompatible with the simplicity of Nature.
To those gentlemen who reviewed the volume of Essays in Natural History with a favourable eye, I return my grateful thanks Although I have not the honour of their acquaintance, still their meed of approbation will not be lost upon me. To those critics who have thought fit to attack my puny offspring with their puny bodkins, I am happy to say, that their confederate thrusts have barely effected a slight puncture on its skin. I have it now again in my power to offer them half a day of occupation. They ought to be thankful for it, at a season when work is not always to be obtained.
Having been informed that Mr. (now I believe Professor) Macgillivray, in the first volume of his Ornithology, has compared me to the carrion crow, a bird acknowledged by the world at large, to be of bad character and filthy habits; I take this opportunity (as I have not the command of a press) to observe that I am not aware how I have procured the honour of such a distinguished attention; and at the same time to thank him for the store of tainted food which he has helped to place in the Biography of Birds, for the benefit of us needy ones of rapine and ill omen.
A word also of Mr. Swainson. He has accused me in the Cabinet Cyclopædia, edited by the unfortunate Doctor Lardner, of a “constant propensity to dress truth in the garb of fiction!" I need say no more if the reader will do me the favour to peruse a former letter of mine to Mr. Swainson. In justice to myself I have appended it to the present work.
Having begun the " Autobiography" in the first volume, there seems a kind of necessity to continue it in the second; although I have not yet made up my mind whether I did right or wrong to take the subject in hand at all. If I have erred in one instance, I equally err in another, and I must make up my mind to receive additional reproof. Cervantes says, "A nuevo pecado, penitencia nueva," For new sins, there must be a new penance.
Although I cannot expect that the description of what I saw in the cathedral at Naples will suit the taste of every English reader, I beg to state, that my account of the miracle which took place is most scrupulously true. I went thither with my sisters-in-law expressly from Rome to witness that, which has been the talk of the world for many centuries; and I took the journey, not so much to gratify my own curiosity as to have an opportunity of giving a faithful description of all that I should see