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The Study Of Natural History For Soldiers
by [?]

As for the practical utility of such studies to a soldier, I only need, I trust, to hint at it to such an assembly as this. All must see of what advantage a rough knowledge of the botany of a district would be to an officer leading an exploring party, or engaged in bush warfare. To know what plants are poisonous; what plants, too, are eatable–and many more are eatable than is usually supposed; what plants yield oleaginous substances, whether for food or for other uses; what plants yield vegetable acids, as preventives of scurvy; what timbers are available for each of many different purposes; what will resist wet, salt-water, and the attacks of insects; what, again, can be used, at a pinch, for medicine or for styptics–and be sure, as a wise West Indian doctor once said to me, that there is more good medicine wild in the bush than there is in all the druggists’ shops–surely all this is a knowledge not beneath the notice of any enterprising officer, above all of an officer of engineers. I only ask any one who thinks that I may be in the right, to glance through the lists of useful vegetable products given in Lindley’s “Vegetable Kingdom”–a miracle of learning–and see the vast field open still to a thoughtful and observant man, even while on service; and not to forget that such knowledge, if he should hereafter leave the service and settle, as many do, in a distant land, may be a solid help to his future prosperity. So strongly do I feel on this matter, that I should like to see some knowledge at least of Dr. Oliver’s excellent little “First Book of Indian Botany” required of all officers going to our Indian Empire: but as that will not be, at least for many a year to come, I recommend any gentlemen going to India to get that book, and while away the hours of the outward voyage by acquiring knowledge which will be a continual source of interest, and it may be now and then of profit, to them during their stay abroad.

And for geology, again. As I do not expect you all, or perhaps any of you, to become such botanists as General Monro, whose recent “Monograph of the Bamboos” is an honour to British botanists, and a proof of the scientific power which is to be found here and there among British officers: so I do not expect you to become such geologists as Sir Roderick Murchison, or even to add such a grand chapter to the history of extinct animals as Major Cautley did by his discoveries in the Sewalik Hills. Nevertheless, you can learn– and I should earnestly advise you to learn–geology and mineralogy enough to be of great use to you in your profession, and of use, too, should you relinquish your profession hereafter. It must be profitable for any man, and specially for you, to know how and where to find good limestone, building stone, road metal; it must be good to be able to distinguish ores and mineral products; it must be good to know–as a geologist will usually know, even in a country which he sees for the first time–where water is likely to be found, and at what probable depth; it must be good to know whether the water is fit for drinking or not, whether it is unwholesome or merely muddy; it must be good to know what spots are likely to be healthy, and what unhealthy, for encamping. The two last questions depend, doubtless, on meteorological as well as geological accidents: but the answers to them will be most surely found out by the scientific man, because the facts connected with them are, like all other facts, determined by natural laws. After what one has heard, in past years, of barracks built in spots plainly pestilential; of soldiers encamped in ruined cities, reeking with the dirt and poison of centuries; of–but it is not my place to find fault; all I will say is, that the wise and humane officer, when once his eyes are opened to the practical value of physical science, will surely try to acquaint himself somewhat with those laws of drainage and of climate, geological, meteorological, chemical, which influence, often with terrible suddenness and fury, the health of whole armies. He will not find it beyond his province to ascertain the amount and period of rainfalls, the maxima of heat and of cold which his troops may have to endure, and many another point on which their health and efficiency–nay, their very life may depend, but which are now too exclusively delegated to the doctor, to whose province they do not really belong. For cure, I take the liberty of believing, is the duty of the medical officer; prevention, that of the military.