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Big Green Animal Book

1871 George Hartwig book, titled The Polar and Tropical Worlds: A Description of Man and Nature.

In Little House in the Big Woods, Ma reads Laura stories about the lion, tiger, and white bear (polar bear) from Pa’s big green animal book (see Chapter 5, “Sundays”).

In The Long Winter (see Chapters 5, “After the Storm” and 6, “Indian Summer”), Pa finds a stranded water-bird in a haystack after the October blizzard. The Ingallses had never seen a bird like it; it looked just like the picture of the great auk in Pa’s big green book.

Also in The Long Winter (Chapter 22, “Cold and Dark”), Carrie brings Pa his big green book and asks him to read about the lions. “We can play the wind is the lions roaring,” she says. The Polar and Tropical Worlds contains seven pages about lions.

big greenPa’s “big green animal book” was written by Dr. George Hartwick and first published in 1871. It combined two earlier works in one, the title being The Polar and Tropical Worlds: A Description of Man and Nature (Springfield, Massachusetts: Bill, Nichols & Company). There were several editions printed, and it was sold with various colored covers, including brown, blue, and green. The book contains over 750 pages and nearly 200 illustrations. Selected paragraphs from the big green animal book are transcribed below:

polar bearThe Polar Bear.
As the Polar bear is frequently found above a hundred miles from the nearest land, upon loose ice steadily drifting into the sea, it seems but fair to assign him a place among the marine animals of the Arctic zone. He hunts by scent, and is constantly running across and against the wind, which prevails from the northward, so that the same instinct which directs his search for prey also serves the important purpose of guiding him in the direction of the land and more solid ice. His favorite food is the seal, which he surprises crouching down with his fore paws doubled underneath, and pushing himself noiselessly forward with his hind legs until within a few yards, when he springs upon his victim, whether in the water or upon the ice. He can swim at the rate of three miles an hour, and can dive to a considerable distance. Though he attacks man when hungry, wounded, or provoked, he will not injure him when food more to his liking is at hand. Sir Francis McClintock relates an anecdote of a native of Upernavik who was out one dark winter’s day visiting his seal-nets. He found a seal entangled, and whilst kneeling down over it upon the ice to get it clear, he received a slap on the back – from his companion as he supposed; but a second and heavier blow made him look smartly round. He was horror-stricken to see a particularly grim old bear instead of his comrade. Without taking further notice of the man, Bruin tore the seal out of the net, and began his supper. He was not interrupted, nor did the man wait to see the meal finished, fearing, no doubt, that his uninvited and unceremonious guest might keep a corner for him…

giant aukThe Giant Auk.
The rarest bird of Iceland, if not entirely extinct, is the Giant-auk, or Geirfugel. The last pair was caught about seventeen years ago [note: seventeen years prior to 1871] near the Geirfuglaskers, a group of solitary rocks to the south of the Westman Isles, its only known habitat besides some similar cliffs on the north-eastern coast. Since that time it his said to have been seen by some fishermen; but this testimony is extremely doubtful, and the question of its existence can only be solved by a visit to the Geirfuglaskers themselves– an undertaking which, if practicable at all, is attended with extreme difficulty and danger, as these rocks are completely isolated in the sea, which even in calm weather breaks with such violence against their abrupt declivities that for years it must be absolutely impossible to approach them.

In 1858 two English naturalists determined at least to make the attempt, and settled for a season in a small hamlet on the neighboring coast, eager to seize the first opportunity for storming the Geirfugl’s stronghold. They waited for several months, but in vain, the stormy summer being more than usually unfavorable for their undertaking; and they were equally unsuccessful in the north, whither they had sent an Icelandic student specially instructed for the purpose. The giant-auk is three feet high, and has a black bill four inches and a quarter long, both mandibles being crossed obliquely with several ridges and furrows. Its wings are mere stumps, like those of the Antarctic penguins. Thirty pounds have been paid for its egg, which is larger than that of any other European bird; and there is no knowing the price the Zoological Society would pay for a live bird, if this truly “rara avis” could still be found…

The great auk (Alca impennis) or garefowl has been extinct for over one hundred years. There is a specimen in the Smithsonian Institution and a number of old drawings exist. The bird found by Charles Ingalls was almost certainly the little auk, also called a dovekie (Alle alle). The dovekie is a small arctic seabird about the size of a starling. It would have been unusual – although not impossible – for a dovekie to have been carried as far inland as eastern Dakota Territory during a blizzard. An adult dovekie is small enough to have fit in Pa’s pocket. Although they have short wings in proportion to their body, the dovekie is an excellent flier. Adult birds are black on the head, neck, and wings, with white underparts. The bill is short, and they have a small rounded black tail. They forage for food by swimming under water, eating mainly fish and small invertebrates.

lionThe Lion.
The majestic form, the noble bearing, the stately stride, the fine proportions, the piercing eye, and the dreadful roar of the Lion, striking terror into the heart of every other animal, all combine to mark him with the stamp of royalty. All nerve, all muscle, his enormous strength shows itself in the tremendous bound with which he rushes upon his prey, in the rapid motions of his tail, one stroke of which is able to fell the strongest man to the ground, and in the expressive wrinkling of his brow. No wonder that, ever inclined to judge from outward appearances, and to attribute to eternal beauty analogous qualities of mind, man has endowed the lion with a nobility of character which he in reality does not possess. For modern travelers, who have had occasion to observe him in his native wilds, far from awarding him the praise of chivalrous generosity and noble daring, rather describe him as a mean spirited robber, prowling about at night time in order to surprise a weaker prey.

The lion is distinguished from all other members of the feline tribe by the uniform color of his tawny skin, by the black tuft at the end of his tail, and particularly by the long and sometimes blackish mane, which he is able to bristle when under the influence of passion, and which contributes so much to the beauty of the male, while it is wanting in the lioness, who is very inferior in size and comeliness to her stately mate. His chief food consists of the flesh of the larger herbivorous animals, very few of which he is unable to master, and the swift-footed antelope has no greater enemy than he. Concealed in the high rushes on the river’s bank, he lies in ambush for the timorous herd, which at night-fall approaches the water to quench its thirst. Slowly and cautiously the children of the waste advance; they listen with ears erect, they strain their eyes to penetrate the thicket’s gloom, but nothing suspicious appears or moves along the bank. Long and deeply they quaff the delicious draught; but suddenly with a giant spring, like lightening bursting from a cloud, the lion bounds upon the unsuspecting revelers, and the leader of the herd lies prostrate at his feet, while his companions fly into the desert.

Anderson is one of the very few who have ever had an opportunity of seeing the lion seizing his prey in broad daylight. Late one evening he had badly wounded a lion; and on the following morning set out with his attendants, following the bloody tracks of the animal. “Presently,” he writes, “we came upon the ‘spoor’ of a whole troupe of lions, and also that of a solitary giraffe. So many tracks confused us, and while endeavoring to pick out from the rest those of the wounded lion, I observed my native attendants suddenly rush forward, and the next instant the jungle re-echoed with the shouts of triumph. Thinking they had discovered the lion we were in pursuit of, I also hurried forward; but imagine my surprise when emerging into an opening in the jungle I saw, not a dead lion, as I expected, but five living lions – two males and three females – two of whom were in the act of pulling down a splendid giraffe, the other three watching close at hand, and with devouring looks, the strife. The scene was so imposing a nature that for the moment I forgot I carried a gun. The natives, however, in anticipation of a glorious gorge, dashed madly forward, and with the most piercing shrieks and yells compelled the lions to a hasty retreat. When I reached the giraffe, now stretched at full length on the sand, it made a few ineffectual attempts to raise its neck; its body heaved and quivered for a moment, and the next instant the animal was dead. It had received several deep gashes about the flanks and chest, caused by the claws and teeth of its fierce assailants. The strong and tough muscles of the neck were almost bitten through. All thought of pursuing the wounded lion was now out of the question. The natives remained gorging on the carcass of the giraffe until it was devoured. A day or two afterward, however, I had the good fortune to fall in with my royal antagonist, and finished him without difficulty.”

The Tiger.
The lion reigns in Africa, but the Tiger is lord and master of the Indian jungles. A splendid animal – elegantly striped with black on a white and golden ground; graceful in every movement, but of a most sanguinary and cruel nature. The lengthened body resting on short legs wants the proud bearing of the lion, while the naked head, the wildly rolling eye, the scarlet tongue constantly lolling from the jaws, and the whole expression of the tiger’s physiognomy indicate an insatiable thirst of blood, a pitiless ferocity, which he wreaks indiscriminately on every living thing that comes within his grasp. In the bamboo jungle on the banks of pools and rivers, he waits for the approaching herd; there he seeks his prey, or rather multiples his murders, for he often leaves the carcass of the axis or the nylghau still writhing in the agony of death to throw himself upon new victims, whose bodies he rends with his claws, and then plunges his head into the gaping wound to absorb with deep and luxurious draughts the blood whose fountains he had just laid open…

CLICK HERE to read Hartwig’s The Polar and Tropical Worlds in its entirety.


Pa’s big green animal book (BW 4, 5; BPC 17; TLW 2, 5, 22; THGY 4; PG), see also lion, auk, tiger