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Extinct Monsters

A Popular Account of Some of the Larger Forms of Ancient Animal Life

121 pages
Library of Alexandria
Natural history is deservedly a popular subject. The manifestations of life in all its varied forms is a theme that has never failed to attract all who are not destitute of intelligence. From the days of the primitive cave-dwellers of Europe, who lived with mammoths and other animals now lost to the world; of the ancient Egyptians, who drew and painted on the walls of their magnificent tombs the creatures inhabiting the delta of the Nile; of the Greeks, looking out on the world with their bright and child-like curiosity, down to our own times, this old, yet ever new, theme has never failed. Never before was there such a profusion of books describing the various forms of life inhabiting the different countries of the globe, or the rivers, lakes, and seas that diversify its scenery. Popular writers have done good service in making the way plain for those who wish to acquaint themselves with the structures, habits, and histories of living animals; while for students a still greater supply of excellent manuals and text-books has been, and still continues to be, forthcoming. But in our admiration for the present we forget the great past. How seldom do we think of that innumerable host of creatures that once trod this earth! How little in comparison has been done for them! Our natural-history books deal only with those that are alive now. Few popular writers have attempted to depict, as on a canvas, the great earth-drama that has, from age to age, been enacted on the terrestrial stage, of which we behold the latest, but probably not the closing scenes. When our poet wrote “All the world's a stage,” he thought only of “men and women,” whom he called “merely players,” but the geologist sees a wider application of these words, as he reviews the drama of past life on the globe, and finds that animals, too, have had “their exits and their entrances;” nay more, “the strange eventful history” of a human life, sketched by the master-hand, might well be chosen to illustrate the birth and growth of the tree of life, the development of which we shall briefly trace from time to time, as we proceed on our survey of the larger and more wonderful animals of life that flourished in bygone times. We might even make out a “seven ages” of the world, in each of which some peculiar form of life stood out prominently, but such a scheme would be artificial.