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Parables from Nature by  Mrs. Alfred Gatty


 

 

Front Matter



[Book Cover]



[Book Cover]



[Frontispiece]

"The book of Nature—that universal and public manuscript that lies expanded unto the eyes of all."—Sir Thomas Browne.



[Title Page]




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PREFACE

[5] "THERE are two books," says Sir Thomas Browne, in his Religio Medici, "from whence I collect my divinity; besides that written one of God, another of his servant, Nature—that universal and public manuscript that lies expanded unto the eyes of all: those that never saw Him in the one have discovered Him in the other." And afterwards, as if giving a particular direction to the above general statement, he adds: "Those strange and mystical transmigrations that I have observed in silkworms turned my philosophy into divinity. There is in these works of Nature, which seem to puzzle reason, something divine, and hath more in it than the eye of a common spectator doth discover."

Surely these two passages, from the works of the celebrated physician and philosopher, may justify an effort to gather moral lessons from some of the wonderful facts in God's creation: the more especially as St. Paul himself led the way to such a mode of instruction, in arguing the possibility of the resurrection of the body from the resurrection of vegetable life out of a decayed seed: "Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die!" Thou fool—fool! not to be able, in thy disputatious wisdom, to read that book of "God's servant, [6] Nature," out of which there are indeed far more actual lessons of analogy to be learned than we are apt to suppose, or can at once detect. Assuredly, the changes of the silkworm, and the renewal of life from vegetable seed, are not more remarkable than the soaring butterfly rising from the earth grub—a change which, were the caterpillar a reasonable being, capable of contemplating its own existence, it would reject as an impossible fiction.

It was not, however, Sir Thomas Browne's remarks which gave rise to these parables; for the first was written in an outburst of excessive admiration of Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales, coupled with a regret that, although he had, in several cases, shown his power of drawing admirable morals from his exquisite peeps into Nature, he had so often left his charming stories without an object or moral at all. Surely, was the thought, there either is, or may be devised, a moral in many more of the incidents of Nature than Hans Andersen has tried for; and on this view the "Lesson of Faith" was written—an old story; for the ancients, with deep meaning, made the butterfly an emblem of immortality—yet, to familiarise the young with so beautiful an idea seemed no unworthy aim.

"The Sedge Warbler" is open to the naturalist's objection, that female birds do not sing. But it suited the moralist that they should do so in this particular case; and who would not err in such company as Spenser, Milton, Thomson, Beattie, and the immortal Isaak Walton?

"And in the violet-embroider'd vale,

Where the love-lorn nightingale

Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well."

Song of Comus—MILTON

[7]

"And Philomele her song with teares doth steepe."

The Shepherd's Calendar, Nov.

SPENSER.

"But the nightingale, another of my airy creatures, breathes such sweet loud music out of her instrumental throat, that it might make mankind to think that miracles had not ceased."

—WALTON'S Angler.

"All abandoned to despair, she sings

Her sorrows through the night; and on the bough

Sole sitting, still at every dying fall

Takes up again her lamentable strain."

THOMSON'S Seasons—Spring.

"And shrill lark carols clear from her a๋rial tour."

BEATTIE'S Minstrel.

An interesting account of the first discovery of the Sedge Warbler, of its habit of singing by night as well as by day, of its mocking notes, and of its distinctive differences from the Reed Warbler, may be found in White's History of Selborne.

Nothing but the present growing taste for the use of the microscope, and the study of zoophytes, among other minute wonders of sea, earth, and sky, could justify the selection of so little popular a subject for a parable as will be found in "Knowledge not the Limit of Belief."

"The moon that shone in Paradise," was the exclamation of a very melancholy mind, which failed to recognise in the thought the hope it was calculated to convey, and which it has now been attempted to teach.

May the "Lesson of Faith" and the "Lesson of Hope" each work its appointed end, and may they combine to enforce on the mind of youth the value of that "still more excellent gift of charity," which "hopeth all things, believeth all thing, endureth all things!"




[List of Plates]



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[Contents Page 2 of 2]



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A BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

[11] MARGARET SCOTT had a most unusual education, as is shown in the wide scope of her knowledge, and the depth of character and reflection in her writings. Her father was the Rev. A. J. Scott, D.D., who was a chaplain on board the Victory  when Nelson was shot. He did not believe in school life, for girls at any rate, and educated his daughter himself at home. In Margaret's case the plan resulted in her acquiring a liking for many things that were not then usual for a girl to know, and led directly to the writing of this book of wisdom.

She also had considerable artistic ability, which showed itself in some beautiful illuminated handwritings. She was also skilled at etching, with which she illustrated some of her own writings. Though her literary ability began to show itself at an early age (at seventeen she was translating Dante) she was forty-one before she began to publish. This first book was Joachim the Mimic.

Other books of short tales with morals followed, and in 1831 appeared the first series of Parables from [12] Nature. These stories were written after a long and careful study of natural history, both at first-hand and from books. Her collection of interesting natural objects was a continual inspiration. She had another inspiration too, and this arose from a wish that Hans Andersen had "pointed the moral" more often. She therefore determined to do what she could in this way herself. The outcome was the Parables from Nature, issued in five short series.

Margaret Scott married the Rev. Alfred Gatty, D.D., in 1839, who had his living at Ecclesfield, in Yorkshire. There Mrs. Gatty remained until her death. Her breadth of view and liberal-mindedness enabled her to help in the betterment of her husband's parish. When the use of chloroform to alleviate pain began, Mrs. Gutty became an enthusiastic disciple. She overcame the prejudices of the local doctor; she taught him how to use it; and then to encourage the ignorant and timid villagers, she took the first dose of the drug herself.

Incessantly writing, Mrs. Gatty published many books, among others A Book of Emblems, her last printed effort. Among the most popular of her works were Aunt Judy's Tales  for children.

The Human Face Divine  was published in 1859, and from then her pen was never still, and her name became a household word. In 1862 she finished British Seaweeds, with eighty-six coloured plates. As editor of Aunt Judy's Magazine  she was able to exert her wise influence over a wider area.

But she had worked too hard, and on October 4, [13] 1873, she died of paralysis, which as "writer's cramp" and in other forms had been gradually bringing her to helplessness. She was a writer for all time, and will be revered for her moral qualities as well as for her delightful parabolic teachings. Her biography will probably never be written, for before her death Mrs. Gatty specially begged her friends not to attempt such a thing. Yet her beautiful nature is clearly revealed in her works, and he who reads her "Parables" soon perceives the warmly glowing soul of the writer as clearly as any biography could show him.


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