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Presenting Thebes, or Pelops' line,
Or what (though rare) of later age,
But, O sad virgin! that thy pow'r
That own'd the virtuous ring and glass,
Nor trick'd and flounced as she was wont
But kerchief'd in a comely cloud,
While rocking winds are piping loud,
Where the rude axe with heaved stroke
* Representing. The following were favourite subjects with the Greek tragedians and the medieval romancists.
With such concert as they keep,
And as I wake sweet music breathe
And bring all heav'n before mine eyes.
AN enthusiastic naturalist, still living, in Yorkshire. The following is an extract from his "Wanderings in South America," between the years 1812 and 1824.
Let us now turn our attention to the Sloth, whose native haunts have hitherto been so little known, and probably little looked into. Those who have written on this singular animal have remarked that he is in a perpetual state of pain; that he is proverbially slow in his movements; that he is a prisoner in space; and that, as soon as he has consumed all the leaves of the tree upon which he has
mounted, he rolls himself up in the form of a ball, and then falls to the ground. This is not the case.
If the naturalists who have written the history of the Sloth had gone into the wilds, in order to examine his haunts and economy, they would not have drawn the foregoing conclusions; they would have learned, that though all other quadrupeds may be described while resting upon the ground, the Sloth is an exception to this rule, and that his history must be written while he is in the tree. This singular animal is destined by nature to be produced, to live, and to die in the trees; and, to do justice to him, naturalists must examine him in this upper element. He is a scarce and solitary animal, and being good food he is never allowed to escape. He inhabits remote and gloomy forests, where snakes take up
their abode, and where cruelly stinging ants and scorpions, and swamps, and innumerable thorny shrubs and bushes, obstruct the steps of civilized man. Were you to draw your own conclusions from the descriptions which have been given of the Sloth, you would probably suspect that no naturalist has actually gone into the wilds with the fixed determination to find him out, and examine his haunts, and see whether nature has committed any blunder in the formation of this extraordinary creature, which appears to us so forlorn and miserable, so ill put together, and so totally unfit to enjoy the blessings which have been so bountifully given to the rest of animated nature; for he has no soles to his feet, and he is evidently ill at ease when he tries to move on the ground, and it is then that he looks up in your face with a countenance that says, Have pity on me, for I am in pain and sorrow.".
It mostly happens that Indians and Negroes are the people who catch the Sloth, and bring it to the white man: hence it may be conjectured that the erroneous accounts we have hitherto had of the Sloth have not been penned down with the slightest intention to mislead the reader, or give him an exaggerated history, but that these errors have naturally arisen by examining the Sloth in those places where nature never intended that he should be exhibited.
However, we are now in his own domain. Man but little frequents these thick and noble forests, which extend far and wide on every side of us. This, then, is the proper place to go in quest of the Sloth. We will first take a near view of him. By obtaining a knowledge of his anatomy, we shall be enabled to account for his movements hereafter, when we see him in his proper haunts. His fore-legs, or, more correctly speaking, his arms, are apparently much too long, while his hind-legs are very short, and look as if they could be bent almost to the shape of a corkscrew. Both the fore and hind-legs, by their form, and by the manner in which they are joined to the body, are quite incapacitated from acting in a perpendicular direction, or in supporting it on the earth, as the bodies of other quadrupeds are supported by their legs. Hence, when you place him on the floor, his belly touches the ground. Now, granted that he supported himself on his legs like other animals, nevertheless he would be in pain, for he has no soles to his feet, and his claws are very sharp, and long, and curved; so that, were his body supported by his feet, it would be by their extremities, just as your body would be, were you to throw yourself on all fours, and try to support it on the ends of your toes and fingers-a trying position. Were the floor of glass, or of a polished surface, the Sloth would actually be quite stationary; but as the ground is generally rough, with little protuberances upon it, such as stones, or roots of grass, &c., this just suits the Sloth, and he moves his fore-legs in all directions, in order to find something to lay hold of; and when he has succeeded he pulls himself forward, and is thus enabled to travel onwards, but at the same time in so tardy and awkward a manner as to acquire him the name of Sloth. Indeed his looks and his gestures evidently betray his uncomfortable situation; and, as a sigh every now and then escapes him, we may be entitled to conclude that he is actually in pain.
Some years ago I kept a Sloth in my room for several months. I often took him out of the house and placed him upon the ground, in order to have an opportunity of observing his motions. If the ground were rough, he would pull himself forwards, by means of his fore-legs, at a pretty good pace; and he invariably immediately shaped his course towards the nearest tree. But, if I put him upon a smooth and well-trodden part of the road, he appeared to be in trouble and distress: his favourite abode was the back of a chair; and, after getting all his legs in a line upon the topmost part of it, he would hang there for hours together, and often with a low and inward cry, would seem to invite me to take notice of him.
The Sloth, in its wild state, spends its whole life in trees, and never leaves them but through force, or by accident. An allruling Providence has ordered man to tread on the surface of the earth, the eagle to soar in the expanse of the skies, and the monkey and squirrel to inhabit the trees; still these may change their relative situations without feeling much inconvenience: but the Sloth is doomed to spend his whole life in the trees; and what is more extraordinary, not upon the branches, like the squirrel and the monkey, but under them. He moves suspended from the branch, he rests suspended from it, and he sleeps suspended from it. To enable him to do this, he must have a very different formation from that of any other known quadruped.
Hence his seemingly bungled conformation is at once accounted for; and in lieu of the Sloth leading a painful life, and entailing a melancholy and miserable existence on its progeny, it is but fair to surmise that it just enjoys life as much as any other animal, and that its extraordinary formation and singular habits are but further proofs to engage us to admire the wonderful works of Omnipotence.
It must be observed that the Sloth does not hang head downwards like the vampire. When asleep, he supports himself from a branch parallel to the earth. He first seizes the branch with one arm, and then with the other; and after that brings up both his legs, one by one, to the same branch; so that all four are in a line; he seems perfectly at rest in this position. Now, had he a tail, he would be at a loss to know what to do with it in this position; were he to draw it up within his legs, it would interfere with them; and were he to let it hang down, it would become the sport of the winds. Thus his deficiency of tail is a benefit to him; it is merely an apology for a tail, scarcely exceeding an inch and a half in length.
I observed, when he was climbing, he never used his arms both together, but first one, and then the other, and so on alternately. There is a singularity in his hair, different from that of all other animals, and, I believe, hitherto unnoticed by naturalists; his hair is thick and coarse at the extremity, and gradually tapers to the root, where it becomes fine as a spider's web. His fur has so much the hue of the moss which grows on the branches of the trees, that it is very difficult to make him out when he is at rest.
The male of the three-toed Sloth has a longitudinal bar of very fine black hair on his back, rather lower than the shoulder blades; on each side of this black bar there is a space of yellow hair, equally fine; it has the appearance of being pressed into the body, and looks exactly as if it had been singed. If we examine the anatomy of his fore-legs, we shall immediately perceive, by their firm and muscular texture, how very capable they are of supporting the pendant weight of his body, both in climbing and at rest; and, instead of pronouncing them a bungled composition, as a celebrated naturalist has done, we shall consider them as remarkably well calculated to perform their extraordinary functions.