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Johnson's conglobulating swallows.

Swallows certainly sleep all the winter. A

number of them conglobulate together, by

flying round and round, and then all in a heap

throw themselves under water, and lye in the

bed of a river.

THUS Johnson to Boswell (Life, ed. Hill-Powell (Oxford, 1934), ii.55) in the Spring of 1768. In a later (7 May 1773) discussion (Life, ii.248), although rejecting Daines Barrington's claim that woodcocks and suchlike birds do not migrate (a topic that had preceded the mention of conglobulating swallows), he makes no reply to Goldsmith's assertion (which closes the subject) that |there is a partial migration of the swallows; the stronger ones migrate, the others do not.'

R. D. Spector(1) attributes a modification of Johnson's opinion to the appearance on 19 April 1768, of the second edition of British Zoology by Thomas Pennant in which the latter first ridicules the notion of swallow's submersion. In Spector's words, |To argue against Pennant's scientific theorizing would have made Johnson seem a fool.' But this does not give a completely accurate picture of the scientific and personal standing of Pennant, whose Welsh origins, Whiggish views, and published accounts of London and Scotland earned him some censure from (e.g.) Boswell and Thomas Percy; details and references are abundant in Hill-Powell's index.(2) Spector simply alludes to Life, ii.347, for assurance that Johnson was |certainly familiar with Pennant's work'. However, in the conversational hubbub here recorded (from 7 April 1775), all that the biographer actually heard Johnson say was |Pennant tells of bears. ..'. The rest was drowned out by an animated discussion of another topic by Reynolds and Langton, also by general laughter engendered in large part by the common awareness that Johnson himself was often compared to a bear. The item certainly shows that Johnson was able and willing to adduce Pennant, but it does not prove that he inevitably approved the latter's zoology.

As Spector observes, the notes of Hill-Powell illustrate both passages on migration with quotations from the same letter3 written to Pennant by the naturalist Gilbert White on 4 November 1767. In the first sentence adduced, the sight of swallows roosting by a river in osier-beds persuades White that he must give some |countenance to the northern opinion (strange as it is) of their retiring under water'. In the second, we get what Spector presents as White's own opinion; |most of the swallow kind may migrate, yet some do stay behind, and hide with us during the winter'. It should be added that White is here politely agreeing with Pennant; the sentence quoted actually begins, |T acquiesce entirely in your opinion'. It is also worth making the point, since Spector does not, that although the possibility of Johnson and White being acquainted has been advanced,(4) there is no proof of this;(5) furthermore, White's letters were not published until 1789. There are, of course, bound to be concordances of language when different people on different occasions discuss the same things. Thus, the point Johnson makes (Life, ii.248) about migrating birds being found on the rigging of ships is pretty well identical with White's expression of it in a letter (no. XIII to Pennant, 22 Jan. 1768, 38).

Spector also brings up White's letter (no. XII, 9 March 1772) to Daines Barrington on the same subject, emphasizing that White here |omits any mention of the submersion of swallows', from which he draws the conclusion that |By this time White had evidently been convinced by his friend Thomas Pennant.' However, Barrington remained a notorious advocate of the submersion theory well after the publication of Pennant's book, and White had to tread carefully on the subject with him, although he was admittedly not afraid of polite disagreement. The opening to letter no. IX (12 Feb. 1771, 138) is a model of tact: |You are, I know, no great friend of migration; and the well attested accounts from various parts of the kingdom seem to justify you in your suspicions, that at least many of the swallow kind do not leave us in the winter.... But then we must not, I think, deny migration in general...'. Spector might have done better to quote letter no. LVII to Barrington (137-8, unfortunately undated): |Repeated accounts induce us greatly to suspect that house-swallows have some strong attachment to water, independent of the matter of food; and, though they may not retire into that element, yet they may conceal themselves in the banks of pools and rivers during the uncomfortable months of winter.'

It is interesting that White's letters to Pennant only start to comport dates after the publication of the latter's British Zoology. In the first of these (no. X, 4 Aug. 1767, 27), he weighs the value of local autopsy in the matter of torpid swallows. As earlier seen, he was willing (no. XII, 4 Nov. 1767,35) to give some countenance to the submersion theory because of swallows' obvious love of being near water, a point he makes on innumerable occasions. Most strikingly, in a letter (no. XX-XVIII, 15 March 1773, 96) that Spector overlooked, White can still say to Pennant that the hybernacula (his word) of swallows may include |sandbank, lake or pool (as a more northern naturalist would say)'.

Clearly, then, White had not been convinced by 1772 that Pennant was right, as Spector claims. Regarding Johnson, Spector maintained that he had been converted by Pennant who had concluded his ridicule of the submersion theory by saying that |those that are fond of this opinion must provoke a smile'; Johnson, Spector subjoins, was not the one to be laughed at'.

Spector is here attributing to Pennant's British Zoology an impact that it simply did not have;(6) he also very misleadingly constricts what was in fact a long and widely debated issue. Pennant himself, it may be said at once, did not flatter himself that his British Zoology had settled the matter. In the notice of swallows in his Arctic Zoology(7) some twenty years later, he still felt obliged to write as follows: |They appear the beginning of April, wet, says Mr Kalm, from the sea or lakes, at the bottom of which they had passed torpid the whole winter -- I should rather imagine, from the casual showers they had met with in their long flight from their winter quarters.'

Given the role of Goldsmith in the second of Johnson's discussions of migration, it is worth observing that he never prefaced, reviewed, or mentioned Pennant. It is true, of course, that the multi-volumed New and Accurate System of Natural History by R. Brookes, to which Goldsmith contributed extensive introductions,(8) was published between 1 August 1763 and 1 January 1 764, some two years before the first edition of Pennant. But there was ample opportunity over the next decade for Goldsmith to take Pennant into consideration: he did not.(9)

Introducing Brookes' second volume, which dealt with birds, Goldsmith wrote:(10) |From some accounts published in the Philosophical Transactions it would seem, that swallows do not migrate in the same manner [sc. of other birds just discussed], but continue torpid all the winter, but I think the testimonies in favour of their migration are more cogent than those against it.' He goes on to adduce accounts of swallows seen in tropical climes. There is no mention of submersion. This particular introduction is much indebted to the writings of Derham and Pluche.(11)

Since he took no account of this text, Spector did not see that Goldsmith, when he allowed to Johnson that the migration of swallows was only partial, had actually moved closer to the view of White, if not the extreme one of Barrington. Also unobserved is the close similarity between Johnson's point about migrating woodcocks being seen on the rigging of ships and Goldsmith's mention (in his aforementioned introduction to Brooks, ibid.) of wearied quails flopping down on to decks.

Johnson did not reply to Goldsmith's assertion about swallow migration, a silence of which Spector makes much. But it should be added that Goldsmith for his part indulged in no mockery of the submersion theory, a perhaps equally suggestive silence. At the very least, it tempers Spector's claim that Goldsmith |unwittingly struck a verbal blow at Johnson'; the latter was too well versed in the subject to speak unwittingly on it.

The rest of Spector's presentation of this conversation is a travesty: |The Great Cham recoiled a moment later to make poor Goldy moderate his thoughts on the nidification of birds.... Only afterwards did he strike back at Goldsmith who had maintained that birds show intelligence in their nest-building.' In point of fact, Johnson began this exchange with a brief rehearsal of his view that birds build by instinct, their first nest is their best, and they never improve. Goldsmith replied that, if a nest is removed with the eggs, the bird will make a smaller nest and lay again. Johnson countered that this was caused by the bird's haste. Goldsmith closed the matter with a mild and neutral comment: |The nidification of birds is what is least known in natural history, though one of the most curious things in it.' They then turned to social and political topics.

Spector further fails to observe that in the conclusion to his preface to Brookes on birds Goldsmith actually agrees with Johnson: |Upon the whole, however, they (sc. birds] are inferior to quadrupedes in their sagacity; they are possessed of fewer of those powers which look like reason, and seem, in all their actions, rather impelled by instinct than guided by choice.'(12) When Johnson insists to Goldsmith that |birds build by instinct', he is pretty well quoting the latter's own words.(13)

This question of intelligence v. instinct in birds reached back to antiquity as Goldsmith, Johnson, and the other savants of their age will have known. The view expressed above contradicts that of Aristotle and the elder Pliny, both of whom maintained that birds constructed their nests with great intelligence and showed this also in all their dealings with eggs and chicks.(14)

Likewise, the migration of birds, especially swallows, was debated in Greece and Rome, although the prevailing literary image of the swallow itself was that of the returning harbinger of spring.(15) Perhaps surprisingly, antiquity does not appear to have come up with any submersion theory, pace an obscure seabird called katarraktes which was supposed to be able to stay under water during the time it takes a man to cover a furlong.(16)

Herodotus (II.xxii) observed that Egyptian kites and swallows did not migrate. Aristotle (Hist. An. VIII.600a12-16) maintained that swallows denuded of their feathers were often found in holes, also that kites remained torpid in hiding-places. Pliny (Hist. Nat. X.70; cf. X.28) believed that swallows did not migrate beyond the nearest sunny gulleys in the mountains, adding that denuded specimens are found there.

The idea that swallows spent the winter under water appears to originate in the Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus et Natura published in 1555 by Olaus Magnus, Archbishop of Upsala in Sweden.(17) His account (xix.29) restricts this phenomenon to northern waters, conceding that |memorable writers' of natural history relate that swallows migrate. A fair number of distinguished naturalists, including Linnaeus and Kalm, accepted the notion of subaqueous wintering. One notable dissentient was Francis Willughby(18) who, acknowledging the division of opinion between naturalists, weighs the various views and himself plumps for migration. The entertaining notion of an anonymous pamphleteer that migratory birds retreat to the moon in winter appears to have found no takers.(19)

Coming to Johnson's own time, William Derham(20) quotes Olaus Magnus with approval, adding an account of a meeting of the Royal Society in February 1713, at which a paper given by one Dr Colas (|a person very curious in these matters') provided |a farther confirmation of swallows retiring under water in winter'. John Reinhold Forster, the editor of Kalm's Travels into North America, claimed to have seen swallows taken out of the Vistula in 1735. In 1750, Klein, secretary to the city of Danzig, reaffirmed the submersion theory in De A vibus Erraticis et Migratoriis, an essay attached to his Historiae Avium Prodromus, published at Leipzig.

In the light of Spector's ideas, it is important to emphasize that Pennant was not the first to (dare we say it?) throw cold water on the submersion theory. Iklein's book was reviewed at some length in the Gentleman's Magazine,(21) with sharp criticism and the conclusion that |we have still some excuse for doubting whether swallows can remain alive during the whole winter under water'. George Edwards,(22) whose History of Birds came out piecemeal between 1743-51, supplemented by his Gleanings of Natural History (1758-64), declared of the submersion theory that |it is enough to raise one's indignation, to see so many vouchers from so many assertors of this foolish and erroneous conjecture, which is not only repugnant to reason, but to all the known laws of nature'.

From France, the powerful voice of Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-88), thundered against the submersion theory, whilst acknowledging that Linnaeus and at least a dozen other big names were in thrall to it.(23) It is worth recalling that in 1765, a year before the first edition of his British Zoology, Pennant during his tour of France several times dined with Buffon; no ornithological conversations are reported, but at their first meeting Buffon |made me a present of 24 prints of birds well illuminated'.(24) Gilbert White, in a letter (no. XXVI, 8 Dec. 1769, 75) to Pennant, adduces Buffon, although not on the subject of migration. The poet Thomas Gray, himself a keen amateur fancier of birds and an assiduous recorder of their habits, mentions Buffon more than once as an authority on science, and in a series of letters to Thomas Wharton over the period 1760-6 regularly alerts him to the arrival in England of new volumes of the Frenchman's Natural History.(25) Gray also read and annotated Linnaeus, and was on friendly terms with Daines Barrington. Never mentioning the submersion theory, he twice talks in other letters (nos. 331 and 373) to Wharton about the annual return of the swallow in spring.(26)

Daines Barrington tirelessly pursued the notions of hibernation and submersion in a series of papers and communications to the Royal Society.(27) His views are also, of course, on constant display in the letters to him from Gilbert White. It says a good deal about White that he was able to keep up a simultaneous polite and good natured correspondence on these topics with both Barrington and Pennant. Barrington was famously credulous in many things, being thereby ridiculed by such as Peter Pindar, though not for the submersion theory.(28)

The issue remained alive and lively throughout the balance of Johnson's life and beyond. The anatomist John Hunter (1728-93) tested the theory in various experiments, concluding that it was nonsense.(29) On the other hand, Cuvier (1769-1832), no less an anatomist than Hunter, declared that |the martin becomes torpid during winter; and that it passes the cold season under water at the bottom of marshes appears to be certain'.(30) On 3 April 1794, Mrs Thrale noted that |The swallows came very early this year; I saw a large flight yesterday pass my window here, while the maid was dressing my head; and I made her notice how tired they seemed -- as if fatigued with a long journey -- I do think they are birds of passage, yet whither do they go? every discovering party who make such matters an object of their attention, fail to find 'em wherever they may rove, and at whatever season.'(31) As late as 1892, in fact, some ornithological writers were still expressing doubts about migration.(32)

In his time, Johnson will have kept up with much of this. He was personally acquainted with Barrington. Both he and Boswell were well versed in Buffon. Out of all the books in Sir Allan Maclean's library, Johnson chose(33) for privileged Sunday reading Derham's Physico-Theology, in its thirteenth edition by 1768. He is not likely to have missed the serial publication of Edwards' History of Birds with its piquant dedication |to God'.

Above all, there is his own cautious definition of the swallow in his Dictionary: |A small bird of passage, or, as some say, a bird that lies hid and sleeps in the winter.' He was clearly aware of the controversy. It is of particular interest that he should choose for one of his illustrative quotations a couple of lines from Thomson's Spring (|The swallow sweeps / The slimy pool, to build his hanging house / Intent'), for that poet took care to introduce the migration-hibernation issue into his Seasons:

While Autumn scatters his departing gleams,

Warn'd of approaching winter, gather'd, play

The swallow-people; and tost wide around,

O'er the calm sky, in convolution swift,

The feather'd eddy floats. Rejoycing once,

Ere to their wintery slumbers they retire;

In clusters clung, beneath the mouldering bank,

And where the cavern sweats, as sages dream.

Or rather into warmer climes convey'd,

With other kindred birds of season, there

They twitter chearful, till the vernant months

Invite them welcome back: for, thronging, now

Innumerous wings are in commotion all.

(|Autumn', vv. 780-92)(34)

We may now migrate back to Johnson's first pronouncement on the matter. It furnishes the only example of |conglobulate' given in the latest edition (1989) of the Oxford English Dictionary. A cognate noun, |conglobulation', is here cited from a description by J. Middleton Murry (Pencillings (London, 1923), 172) of |swallows flying round and round'; the phraseology is clearly modelled upon Johnson's. As Hill-Powell note, |conglobulate' does not occur in Johnson's own Dictionary, although |conglobe' and |conglobate' do. The first of these verbs (it may be added) is there illustrated by two quotations from Milton and one (referring to bees) from Pope, whilst the second is exemplified only by a sentence about testicular formation from the botanist Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712).(35)

I think we need not be much disturbed by Hill-Powell's remark, |If he used the word it is not likely that he said "conglobulate together".' Johnson in his Dictionary (s.v. |confer') was quite willing to cite a passage that includes the phrase |comparing together'. Gilbert White, a careful, elegant, and often Latinate stylist, could in a letter (no. XX) to Barrington write (of swallows), |never with us congregating with their congeners' (four |withs' in seven words, in one form or another).

As always with Johnson, his choice of words tells, or should hint at, something. |Conglobulate' looks like a Latinism, and has been so treated.(36) There is, however, no verb |conglobulare' in the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae or other major Latin dictionaries. It is always possible that Johnson had run across it in some neo-Latin text. In the present connection, it might have occurred in one of the various scientific treatises written on natural history. I particularly wonder about the Latin poem Hirundo by Heerkens, blamed by Buffon as a prime propagator of the submersion theory, as |Conglobulare' would be perfect for hexameters; but despite my best efforts, Heerkens remains a mystery to me.(37)

A friendly reader of my first draft suggests that |the diminutive element producing "conglobulate" may be Johnson's humorous contribution'. I am here torn. If Johnson was not being serious, some might think this answers a question Spector does not even raise, let alone answer: how could Johnson ever believe that swallows could live under water? On the other hand, in the balance of the paragraph, as well as in the ones that precede and follow, he seems entirely serious. It has to be kept in mind that his statement is preserved in a Boswellian miscellany for the Spring of 1768, unlike the precise context of his conversation with Goldsmith provided for his second discussion of migration.

There could be semantic parody. Neo-Latin writers cited for the submersion theory by Derham(38) use the verbs |coacervare' and |conglomerare' of the huddled birds, whilst Gilbert White almost invariably(39) has |congregate' of swallows massing together before vanishing for the winter. In the lines quoted above from Thomson, we had |convolution' and |convey'd', whilst in his very next stanza (describing the migration of storks) both |congregation' and |consulting' are employed.

|Conglobulate, is Latinate in appearance and sound, if not in actual pedigree. The utterance may owe something to a Virgilian simile contained within a description of Charon:

... ad terram gurgite ab alto

quam multae glomerantur aves, ubi frigidus annus

trans pontum fugat et terris immittit apricis.

(Aen. VI.310-12) |Glomerantur' has some of the sound and much of the sense of |conglobulate'. The notion of the birds arising from the depths of the sea is also requisite. In his previous sentence, Johnson had confirmed the migration of woodcocks. White in a letter (no. XIX, 173) to Barrington quotes in extenso a Virgilian simile involving swallows. Furthermore (whilst making due allowance for the Boswellian stringing together of the various conversational items here, as earlier noted), classical matters do seem to be uppermost in Johnson's mind at this moment, since in the very next sentence, |He told us, one of his first essays was a Latin poem upon the glow-worm."(40)

To sum up, in so far as one can. The idea that birds hibernated under water may seem absurd to us. But many intelligent(41) people believed it over several centuries. We tend to think of Johnson's age as the Age of Reason. But it was also a time when (for easy instance) Addison believed in ghosts and John Wesley in witches.(42) Johnson was well aware of the controversy over submersion and migration years before he made his remark about conglobulation. Both of Spector's major contentions are wrong; the conversation with Goldsmith does not prove that Johnson changed his mind, nor was Pennant's book the bombshell that would change it for him. (1) Dr Johnson's Swallows', N&Q, cxcvi (Dec. 1951), 564-5. (2) In his Historical Memoirs of My Own Time (London, 1815; repr. 1904), 88, Sir N. William Wraxall recalled with disapproval the vehemence of Johnson's abuse of Pennant for his Whig views. (3) No.XII,35-6, in the 1972 (Menston) reprint of White's Natural History of Selborne; at the time of writing, the new Everyman edition by Richard Mabey announced for 1993 was not available. (4) By R. Markland in a work which I have not been able to see entitled Links Between Dr Samuel Johnson and Gilbert White (1925); I owe this reference to W. Johnson, Gilbert White: Pioneer, Poet, and Stylist (London, 1928), 20-1, who leaves the matter open. (5) Boswell never mentions White in the Life. There is probably nothing to be inferred from the line (iii.509) |For Johnson, Percy, White, escape mine eyes' in James Grainger's Sugar Cane. (6) As he admits, the first edition of 1766 had flopped. Incidentally, there are several discrepancies of dates between those given by modern writers and those in |Additions to, and Corrections in, former Obituaries', in a supplementary volume to Gentleman's Magazine, lxviii (1798), 1144-6, where the first (folio) edition of British Zoology is said to have been published in 1761, and where Pennant's Literary Life is ascribed to both 1793 and 1795 without any distinction of edition. (7) Arctic Zoology (London, 1784-5; repr. New York, 1974), 429. (8) Text in A. Friedman (ed. , Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith, v (Oxford, 1966), 229-76. (9) See Friedman, 230 n., on whether or not Goldsmith played any part in revising the text of the introductions in the second edition of Brookes in 1772. (10) Friedman, 257. (11) For particulars see, apart from Friedman's notes, W. Lynskey, Goldsmith's Interest in Natural History, 1759-1774 (unpubl. doct. diss., Univ. of Chicago, 1940), also |Pluche and Derham, New Sources of Goldsmith', Publications of the Modern Language Association, Ivii (1942), 435-45. (12) Friedman, 259-60. (13) Likewise, William Derham, Physico-Theology (1st edn London, 1713; repr. Hildesheim and New York, 1976), 227 f., 394, harps on instinct when writing about nidification. (14) Aristotle, Hist. An. VIII.612b18-32; Pliny, Hist. Nat. X.92-5. In the words of Goldsmith (Friedman, 234), |It has long been obvious that Aristotle was incomplete, and Pliny credulous.' (15) A cornucopian inventory of texts (with discussion) is provided by D'Arcy W. Thompson, A Glossary of Greek Birds (Oxford, 1936;repr. Hildesheim, 1966), 314-25. For a more general treatment, cf. J. Pollard, Birds in Greek Life and Myth (London, 1977). (16) Aristotle, Hist. An. VIII.615A28-31. (17) For what follows, especially the more obscure and (to me, thanks to local library limitations) inaccessible writers, I am a good deal indebted to the lucid and witty survey by W. E. Clarke, Studies in Bird Migration, i (London and Edinburgh, 1912),1-13. (18) The Ornithology of Francis Willughby (London, 1678), 212. (19) Clarke, 10- 11, provides an account of this pamphlet, with copious extracts; it was apparently published in 1703 by |A Petson of Learning and Piety' under the title |An Essay Towards the Probable Solution of this Question -- Whence Come the Crane and the Swallow, when they Know and Observe the Appointed Time of their coming?' (20) p. 389 n. 4. (21) GM, xxix (Aug. 1759), 357-61. (22) See Clarke, 12, also the notice of Edwards in the Dictionary of National Biography. In his introduction to Brookes (Friedman, 233), Goldsmith wrote, |Mr Edwards and Mr Buffon, one is the history of Birds, the other of Quadrupedes, have undoubtedly deserved highly of the public as far as their labours have extended.' (23) His Histoire naturelle subsumed nine volumes on birds, brought out in the period 1770-83. In vol. vi. 471 (quoting the English tr., London, 1793), he ironically observes, |The Submersion of swallows appears by no means ascertained.' (24) See Pennant, Tour on the Continent 1765, ed. G. R. De Beer (London, 1948),9, 11, 12,17, 23, 30, 36, 38, 39. (25) The relevant letters are nos. 154, 156, 213, 311, 353, 390, 420, and 423, cited according to the edition (Oxford, 1935) of P. Toynbee and L. Whibley. In letters to Wharton and Ashby (nos. 508*, 541*), Gray mentions looking up Pennant for information on particular birds. His observations of birds and flowers, contained in his diary for 1755, were published in the Gentleman's Magazine, N.S. xxiv (Sept. 1845), 229-33; cf. C. E. Norton, The Poet Gray as a Naturalist (Boston, 1903). (26) Gray's only poetic utterance on this bird is in Elegy 18: |The swallow twitt'ring from the straw-built shed'; cf. Thomson (quoted at length below), |They twitter chearful ...'. (27) E.g., |On the torpidity of the Swallow Tribe, When They Disappear', Miscellanies (London, 1781), esp. 228-31 where a plethora of anecdotes and individuals from different countries are adduced in support of the submersion theory; a letter from White in 1777 is also mentioned. (28) For agreeable example, the following lines from Peter's Prophecy, a dialogue between the author and Sir Joseph Banks concerning the impending election of a Royal Society President:

Pray then, what think ye of our famous Daines?

Think, of a man denied by Nature brains!

Whose trash so oft the Royal leaves disgraces;

Who knows not jordens brown from Roman vases! (29) Hunter is not mentioned in Boswell, but Levett attended his lectures; cf. Life, i.243 n. 2. (30) Cf. Clarke 9 for Cuvier and submersion. (31) Thraliana II, ed. K. C. Balderston (Oxford, 1951), 875-6;at 876 n. 1 is appended her (as Mrs Piozzi) remark, |If you mark a swallow one year, the same bird will return next spring, as if they did not leave the kingdom.' (32) See the aforementioned book on White by Johnson, 99-100, mentioning (with extracts) specialist manuals of ornithology by Dr Elliott Coues (1878) and Charles Dixon (1892). (33) Life, v. 323. (34) Text from the 1730 folio edn (repr. Mension, 1970), 164; for Thomson's own interest in the rival theories, see A. D. McKillop, The Background of Thomson's Seasons (Hamden. 1961), 131. (35) Varro, Rev Rustic, III.xvi.29 uses |conglobare' of bees. (36) See O. F. Christie, Johnson the Essayist (London, 1924), 27-8; W. K. Wimsatt Jr, The Prose Style of Samuel Johnson (New Haven and London, 1963), 51 n. 9. (37) I can find him in no pertinent work, and a neo-Latinist colleague in my own department has never heard of him. (38) p. 389 n. 4, citing Etmuller and Olaus Magnus. (39) Letters to Pennant nos. XII, XIII, XX, XXI, XXXIX (pp. 35, 37, 57, 58, 99); nos. VIII, XI, XX, XXIV (pp. 136, 145, 146, 178. 185, 193) to Barrington. (40) Not to be unduly hypothetical, but Johnson might also have been imperfectly recollecting (e.g.) an epigram (X.16) in the Greek Anthology which describes swallows sleeping in |muddy chambers'; this actually refers to nests, but he could easily have misremembered [upsilon][[pi][omicron] [gamma][epsilon][iota][epsilon][alpha]under the eaves) as [upsilon][pi][omicron][gamma][epsilon][iota][alpha] underground). (41) Even if one excepts Barrington as being something of a tease, or tending towards the nutty. (42) In a letter (no. XXVIII, 202-4,8 Jan. 1776) to Barrington, White recalls the drowning of suspected witches at Tring, Hertfordshire, in 1751, and develops this into an essay on current superstitions of all kinds: was White trying to tell Barrington something? White himself was not immune from error, e.g. he accepted that long-billed birds grew fat in frosty weather, another notion of Barrington; but he was severe on such nonsenses as young frogs dropping from the clouds in showers of rain, or that goldfish never eat; cf. the excellent survey of errors and superstitions in Walter Johnson's book on White, 258-70. In his essay on credulity (Idler x, 17 June 1758), Johnson includes philosophical foolishnesses, but not scientific ones.
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Title Annotation:Samuel Johnson ideas about the migration and hibernation of swallows
Author:Baldwin, Barry
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Jun 1, 1994
Words:4981
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