The Egyptian records bear testimony to a familiarity not only with the forms of a multitude of wild animals, but with their habits and geographical distribution."
The collections of living animals, now popularly known as Zoological Gardens, are of considerable antiquity. We read of such gardens in China as far back as 2,000 years; but they consisted chiefly of some favourite animals, such as stags, fish, and tortoises.
The Greeks, under Pericles, introduced peacocks in large numbers from India. The Romans had their elephants; and the first giraffe in Rome, under Cæsar, was as great an event in the history of zoological gardens at its time as the arrival in 1849 of the Hippopotamus was in London. The first zoological garden of which we have any detailed account is that in the reign of the Chinese Emperor, Wen Wang, founded by him about 1150 A.D., and named by him "The Park of Intelligence;" it contained mammalia, birds, fish, and amphibia. The zoological gardens of former times served their masters occasionally as hunting-grounds. This was constantly the case in Persia; and in
Germany, so late as 1576, the Emperor Maximilian II. kept such a park for different animals near his castle, Neugebah, in which he frequently chased.
Alexander the Great possessed his zoological gardens. We find from Pliny that Alexander had given orders to the keepers to send all the rare and curious animals which died in the gardens to Aristotle.
Splendid must have been the zoological gardens which the Spaniards found connected with the Palace of Montezuma. The letters of Ferdinand Cortez and other writings of the time, as well as more recently "The History of the Indians," by Antonio Herrera, give most interesting and detailed accounts of the menagerie in Montezuma's park.
The collections of animals exhibited at fairs have added little to Zoological information; but we may mention that Wombwell, one of the most noted of the showfolk, bought a pair of the first Boa Constrictors imported into England: for these he paid 75l., and in three weeks realised considerably more than that sum by their exhibition.
At the time of his death, in 1850, Wombwell was possessed of three huge menageries, the cost of maintaining which averaged at least 35l. per day; and he used to estimate that, from mortality and disease, he had lost, from first to last, from 12,000l. to 15,000l.
Our object in the following succession of sketches of the habits and eccentricities of the more striking animals, and their principal claims upon our attention, is to present, in narrative, their leading characteristics, and thus to secure a willing audience from old and young.
Unless, therefore, we understand these writings as those understood them for whom they were written, it is evident that we shall misinterpret instead of rightly comprehending them.
The field which is laid open to us is so large that only one department of Natural History—namely, Zoology—can be treated in this work, although it is illustrated by many references to other branches of Natural History, to the physical geography of Palestine, Egypt, and Syria, the race-character of the inhabitants, and historical parallels.
The importance of understanding the nature, habits, and uses of the animals which are constantly mentioned in the Bible, cannot be overrated as a means of elucidating the Scriptures, and without this knowledge we shall not only miss the point of innumerable passages of the Old and New Testaments, but the words of our Lord Himself will often be totally misinterpreted, or at least lose part of their significance.
The object of the present work is therefore, to take in its proper succession, every creature whose name is given in the Scriptures, and to supply so much of its history as will enable the reader to understand all the passages in which it is mentioned.
Life and works:
Early life and ordination
Wood was born in London, son of surgeon John Freeman Wood and Juliana Lisetta, and educated at home, at Ashbourne grammar school and Merton College, Oxford (B.A., 1848, M.A., 1851); also at Christ Church, where he worked for some time in the anatomical museum under Sir Henry Acland. In 1852 he became curate of the parish of St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford, and in 1854 was ordained priest; he also took up the post of chaplain to the Boatmen's Floating Chapel at Oxford. Among other benefices which he held was for a time chaplain to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1878 Wood settled in Upper Norwood, where he lived until his death.
In 1854, Wood gave up his curacy to devote himself to writing on natural history, becoming a well-known parson-naturalist of the Victorian era. However, he continued to take on priestly work, as in 1858 he accepted a readership at Christ Church, Newgate Street, and was assistant-chaplain to St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, from 1856 until 1862. Between 1868 and 1876 he was precentor to the Canterbury Diocesan Choral Union.
After 1876 he devoted himself to the production of books and lecturing on zoology, which he illustrated by drawing on a black-board or on large sheets of white paper with coloured crayons. These "sketch lectures," as he called them, were very popular, and made his name widely known both in Great Britain and in the United States.
Wood gave occasional lectures from 1856. In 1879, however, he began lecturing as a second profession, and continued to lecture steadily until 1888 in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. He delivered the Lowell Lectures in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1883-4.
Wood was a prolific and successful natural history writer, though rather as a populariser than as a scientist.
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