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The origin and purpose of the work upon which the present one is founded are explained in the following extracts from the Preface of its author.
“ About fifteen years ago, in a conversation with the late worthy, respectable, and ingenious Lord Kames, upon the too general neglect of natural knowledge, his Lordship suggested the idea of composing a book on the PhilosophY OF NATURAL HISTORY. In a work of this kind, he proposed that the productions of Nature, which to us are almost infinite, should, instead of being treated of individually, be arranged under general heads; that, in each of these divisions, the known facts, as well as reasonings, should be collected and methodized in the form of regular discourses; that as few technical terms as possible should be employed; and that all useful and amusing views arising from the different subjects should be exhibited in such a manner as to convey both pleasure and information.
“ This task his Lordship was pleased to think me not altogether unqualified to attempt. The idea struck me. I thought that a work of this kind, if executed even with moderate abilities, might excite 4 taste for examining the various objects which everywhere solicit our attention. A habit of observation refines our feelings. It is a source of interesting amusement, prevents idle or vicious propensities, and exalts the mind to a love of virtue and of rational entertainment. I likewise reflected, that men of learning often betray an ignorance on the most common subjects of Natural History, which it is painful to remark”
“Upon the whole, the general design of this publication is to convey to the minds of youth, and of such as may have paid little attention to the study of Nature, a species of knowledge which it is not difficult to acquire. The knowledge will be a perpetual and inexhaustible source of many pleasures; it will afford innocent and virtuous amusement, and will occupy agreeably the leisure or vacant hours of life.”
The book of Mr. Smellie, prepared in accordance with these views, was first published about seventy years since, and continued in use during the early part of the present century. In the year 1824, at the suggestion of my friend Mr. George B. Emerson, it underwent a variety of alterations, intended to adapt it for use in the school of which he was then the teacher. An Introduction was substituted for the first two chapters,"containing some very general views of animal and vegetable life, and a brief sketch of the structure and classification of the whole animal kingdom.” Of the remainder of the work some chapters were omitted, some portions were re-written, and many passages were added; but it remained essentially the same.
Since its preparation, especially during the last fifteen years, the work has been extensively used in the schools of the United States, and has been re-published in Great Britain. At the request of the publishers a new revision was undertaken, in order to adapt it more perfectly to the present wants of education.
In the present edition the subjects of the Introduction have been much more fully treated. In the body of the work, the original plan has been still adhered to, but extensive alterations have been made, and most of the chapters have been prepared anew. These alterations consist chiefly in a more full consideration of those parts of the animal economy which relate to the external life of animals, and which are consequently closely connected with the study of their characters, manners, habits, and mental characteristics. Complete statements of physiological details were not consistent with the plan or the limits of the work, and a full scientific view of Physiology was therefore not attempted. The object of the book is not to teach Natural History, technically speaking, --- a task the author would not have ventured to undertake but to present such views of it as would be intelligible to the young student and to the general reader, and prepare them for, and lead them to engage in, a more extended study of the subject as it is presented in treatises more strictly scientific and in the works of Nature.