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The Study Of Natural History For Soldiers
by [?]

Thus much I can say just now–and there is much more to be said–on the practical uses of the study of Natural History. But let me remind you, on the other side, if Natural History will help you, you in return can help her; and would, I doubt not, help her and help scientific men at home, if once you looked fairly and steadily at the immense importance of Natural History–of the knowledge of the “face of the earth.” I believe that all will one day feel, more or less, that to know the earth ON which we live, and the laws of it BY which we live, is a sacred duty to ourselves, to our children after us, and to all whom we may have to command and to influence; ay, and a duty to God likewise. For is it not a duty of common reverence and faith towards Him, if He has put us into a beautiful and wonderful place, and given us faculties by which we can see, and enjoy, and use that place–is it not a duty of reverence and faith towards Him to use these faculties, and to learn the lessons which He has laid open for us? If you feel that, as I think you all will some day feel, then you will surely feel likewise that it will be a good deed–I do not say a necessary duty, but still a good deed and praiseworthy–to help physical science forward; and to add your contributions, however small, to our general knowledge of the earth. And how much may be done for science by British officers, especially on foreign stations, I need not point out. I know that much has been done, chivalrously and well, by officers; and that men of science owe them and give them hearty thanks for their labours. But I should like, I confess, to see more done still. I should like to see every foreign station what one or two highly-educated officers might easily make it, an advanced post of physical science, in regular communication with our scientific societies at home, sending to them accurate and methodic details of the natural history of each district–details ninety-nine hundredths of which might seem worthless in the eyes of the public, but which would all be precious in the eyes of scientific men, who know that no fact is really unimportant; and more, that while plodding patiently through seemingly unimportant facts, you may stumble on one of infinite importance, both scientific and practical. For the student of nature, gentlemen, if he will be but patient, diligent, methodical, is liable at any moment to the same good fortune as befell Saul of old, when he went out to seek his father’s asses, and found a kingdom.

There are those, lastly, who have neither time nor taste for the technicalities and nice distinctions of formal Natural History; who enjoy Nature, but as artists or as sportsmen, and not as men of science. Let them follow their bent freely: but let them not suppose that in following it they can do nothing towards enlarging our knowledge of Nature, especially when on foreign stations. So far from it, drawings ought always to be valuable, whether of plants, animals, or scenery, provided only they are accurate; and the more spirited and full of genius they are, the more accurate they are certain to be; for Nature being alive, a lifeless copy of her is necessarily an untrue copy. Most thankful to any officer for a mere sight of sketches will be the closest botanist, who, to his own sorrow, knows three-fourths of his plants only from dried specimens; or the closest zoologist, who knows his animals from skins and bones. And if any one answers–But I cannot draw. I rejoin. You can at least photograph. If a young officer, going out to foreign parts, and knowing nothing at all about physical science, did me the honour to ask me what he could do for science, I should tell him–Learn to photograph; take photographs of every strange bit of rock-formation which strikes your fancy, and of every widely- extended view which may give a notion of the general lie of the country. Append, if you can, a note or two, saying whether a plain is rich or barren; whether the rock is sandstone, limestone, granitic, metamorphic, or volcanic lava; and if there be more rocks than one, which of them lies on the other; and send them to be exhibited at a meeting of the Geological Society. I doubt not that the learned gentlemen there will find in your photographs a valuable hint or two, for which they will be much obliged. I learnt, for instance, what seemed to me most valuable geological lessons from mere glances at drawings–I believe from photographs–of the Abyssinian ranges about Magdala.