Annals and Magazine of Natural History 12: 77-79 (1843)

On the appropriation of certain Birds to their proper Classes in Ornithology.
[MS. Sloan. Brit. Mus. 4056. fol. 148. Orig.]

SIR,— I received yours of the 17th and am very glad that the Box with the Papers is come safe to your hands, though I did not much fear the losse of it. You need not be solicitous about the charge, for there was nothing extraordinary, and yet if there had, I ought in all reason to have born it.

Two things there are I cannot yet fully agree with you in.

1. The referring of the Old-men, or Rain-fowls, to the Cuckow. For the Cuckow is so strange, anomalous, and singular a Bird, and so remarkable, and taken notice of even by the vulgar, for his voice, manner of breeding, and absconding all winter, that I think no Bird that agreeth not with him in these particulars ought to be joyned with him. Neither is the length of the tail a suflicient argument; for the Yunx, a genuine Woodpecker, hath a tail as long in proportion to his body, and marked with crosse-bars too.

2. In referring the Savanna-bird to the Lark-kind. For that distinction of Small Birds into slender and thick-bill’d, or as our Fowlers phrase it, into soft and hard-beak’t, dividing the numerous genera of them almost equally, is of such eminent use for the clear understanding and ranking of them, that I think it ought by no means to be rejected, or the Birds of those kinds confounded, though the places they frequent and their shape and manner of living may agree; and that characteristick note of the Lark-kind may be common to some of them, I mean having a very long back-claw or spurre. I have taken notice of some that agree with Larks in these particulars, as the Bunting and a sort of Mountain Finch. Yet I believe that there is a difference in the diet of those Birds. For the slender-bill’d, though they feed upon the pulp and grains of fruits, yet they seldome meddle with dry seeds unlesse driven by hunger. But the hard-bill’d touch not pulpy fruits, but feed upon dry seeds, as all sorts of grain and thistles, &c. To feed upon Insects is common to them both.

Your opinion or conjecture upon the Rabihorcado’s being a kind of fork-tail’d Larus or Sea-swallow, I very much approve, and agree with you in. I fancied that they were no palmiped Bird, because those that write of them wonder that they should be found so far out at Sea. Which is no wonder in a Larus.

My Wife salutes you with the tender of her very humble service. The ulcers upon my leg, which I thought had been perfectly healed and dried up, continuing well all Winter, are this Spring broken out again and become very troublesome and painfull. They puzzle my Philosophy, and I am at some losse how to order them.

I am, Sir, your very affectionate friend and humble servant,  
B. N. April 23, —94. JOHN RAY.

The difficulty which a Botanist has to encounter who has not seen the Plants he has to describe, growing in their natural places.
[Ibid. fol. 155. Orig.]

SIR,— I received your very kind letter of June 6t, and long after the acceptable present of your Book: for which I return you many thanks. I cannot but admire your industry and patience in reading and comparing such a multitude of Relations and Accounts of Voyages, and referring to its proper place what you found therein relating to your subject, and that with so much circumspection and judgement. You have done Botanists great service in distributing and reducing the confused heap of names, and contracting the number of Species. But who is able to doo the like? No man but who is alike qualified, and hath seen the things growing in their natural places. For my own part I doe freely acknowledge myself altogether insufficient for such a task, having not seen the plants themselves, nor of many of them so much as dried Specimens, and of the rest having had but a transient view. I shall therefore put down what I find in late writeres, viz. Plukenet’s Phytography; the remaining six volumes of Hortus Malabaricus; Father Plumier; Schola Botanica; Paradisi Batavi prodrom.; Florae Batavae Flores; Tournefort’s Elem. Botan.; Breynius his two Prodromi; and, above all, your Catalogue andHistory of the Plants of Jamaica and the neighbour Islands, which you are pleased so frankly to offer me the use of, without interposing my own judgement. Did I live about London, and had I opportunity frequently to visit the Physick Gardens thereabouts, and to observe and describe the new species, I might make a better Supplement to my History than now I shall doe, my circumstances not admitting so long an absence from this place. I have been lately very ill and indisposed with a hoarsenesse and violent cough, attended with a feverish heat, of which I am not yet fully recovered. I hope you are well, and pray for your health. My wife sends her very humble service. I must owne myself to be much obliged to you, and am, Sir,

Your very affectionate friend and humble servant,  
Black Notley, June 23, —96. JOHN RAY.

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