| Parables from Nature|
|by Margaret S. Gatty|
|Parables for children inspired by nature. This collection includes all 29 stories from the first, second, third, and fourth series, originally published in separate volumes. Ages 6-12 |
"The book of Nature—that universal and public manuscript that lies expanded unto the eyes of all."—Sir Thomas Browne.
 "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
 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
"And in the violet-embroider'd vale,
Where the love-lorn nightingale
Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well."
Song of Comus—MILTON
"And Philomele her song with teares doth steepe."
The Shepherd's Calendar, Nov.
"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."
"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."
"And shrill lark carols clear from her a๋rial tour."
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
"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!"
A BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE
 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
 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,
 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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