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Excerpt from The Cabinet of Natural History and American Rural Sports, Vol. 3
There is no animal, native of North America, so interesting and valuable as the Beaver; and it is equally certain, that few animals of the world have been so much admired and extolled, and, at the same time, have had so large a share of intelligence imputed to them more unjustly. But, with all the importance attached to the animal, how much ignorance exists of its true character.
If we examine the opinions of men on this subject, we see at once how deeply wrong impressions have become rooted by pondering over the fictitious histories of the Beaver, - or more particularly being influenced, in early youth, by the fabulous stories of the animal, framed as truth, and admitted into the various seminaries of learning. Here we find the Beaver placed at the head of all inferior creatures for sagacity and intelligence, and endowed with intellectual qualities superior to many nations or tribes of human beings.
This undoubtedly is error, and to overturn it must be the work of time and truth, by the introduction, into schools and families, of authentic histories of the animal.
It is, however, no trifling undertaking, to establish truth on prejudicial error, or attack the writings of the learned and eloquent, which have filled the world with theories or false statements, wrought up by ingenuity to almost sublimity.
Among the modern writers on Natural History, none seems to have exerted so general an influence as the A "Count Buffon," who appears to have been regarded, by most of his successors, as authority substantial and indubitable. Under these impressions, many writers have quoted his history of the Beaver, and transmitted it through successive years to the present time, with little contradiction. Among those who followed Buffon's track, may be named Pennant, author of the British and Arctic Zoology, who, in the "history of his quadrupeds has transcribed the whole of his observations on the habits of the Beaver, from Buffon." Smellie, also, in his Philosophy of Natural History, (a work now used in many schools both in England and America, ) has quoted the same author verbatim. Among the opponents of the foregoing author, and indeed of most other writers on the subject of the Beaver, the most formidable is Hearne, whose testimony will be adduced in the sequel of this treatise, and Capt. G. Cartwright, in his journal of transactions, &c. on the Labrador coast, published in 1792. Dr. Godman, also, attacks the same with the following severe remarks: - "Who has not heard of the wonderful sagacity of the Beaver, or listened to i laboured accounts of its social and rational nature. Who that has read the impassioned eloquence of Buffon, to which nothing is wanting but truth in order to render it sublime, can forget the impression which his views of the economy and character of this species produced? The enchanter waves his wand, and converts animals, congregated by instinct alone, and guided by no moral influence, into social, rational, intelligent beings, superior to creatures high above them in organization, and even far more advanced than vast tribes of that race which has been justly and emphatically termed 'lords of creation.' Alas, for all these air-drawn prospects! while we endeavour to gaze upon their beauties, they fleet away, and leave no trace behind."
Many living witnesses can also be produced, whose evidence is derived from actual observation, against the falsity of those statements of the habits of the Beaver, which heretofore have only been regarded in the light of authenticity.
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