Desertosque videre locos, littusque relictum.
Gentle reader, after staying a few months in England, I strayed across the Alps and the Apennines, and returned home, but could not tarry. Guiana still whispered in my ear, and seemed to invite me once more to wander through her distant forests.
Shouldst thou have a leisure hour to read what follows, I pray thee pardon the frequent use of that unwelcome monosyllable I. It could not well be avoided, as will be seen in the sequel. In February 1820 I sailed from the Clyde, on board the Glenbervie, a fine West-Indiaman. She was driven to the north-west of Ireland, and had to contend with a foul and wintry wind for above a fortnight. At last it changed, and we had a pleasant passage across the Atlantic.
Sad and mournful was the story we heard on entering the River Demerara. The yellow fever had swept off numbers of the old inhabitants, and the mortal remains of many a new-comer were daily passing down the streets in slow and mute procession to their last resting-place.
After staying a few days in the town, I went up the Demerara to the former habitation of my worthy friend Mr. Edmonstone, in Mibiri Creek.
The house had been abandoned for some years. On arriving at the hill, the remembrance of scenes long past and gone naturally broke in upon the mind. All was changed: the house was in ruins and gradually sinking under the influence of the sun and rain; the roof had nearly fallen in; and the room, where once governors and generals had caroused, was now dismantled and tenanted by the vampire. You would have said:
'Tis now the vampire's bleak abode,
'Tis now the apartment of the toad:
'Tis here the painful chegoe feeds,
'Tis here the dire labarri breeds
Conceal'd in ruins, moss, and weeds.
On the outside of the house Nature had nearly reassumed her ancient right: a few straggling fruit-trees were still discernible amid the varied hue of the near-approaching forest; they seemed like strangers lost and bewildered and unpitied in a foreign land, destined to linger a little longer, and then sink down for ever.
I hired some negroes from a woodcutter in another creek to repair the roof; and then the house, or at least what remained of it, became headquarters for natural history. The frogs, and here and there a snake, received that attention which the weak in this world generally experience from the strong, and which the law commonly denominates an ejectment. But here neither the frogs nor serpents were ill-treated: they sallied forth, without buffet or rebuke, to choose their place of residence - the world was all before them. The owls went away of their own accord, preferring to retire to a hollow tree rather than to associate with their new landlord. The bats and vampires stayed with me, and went in and out as usual.
It was upon this hill in former days that I first tried to teach John, the black slave of my friend Mr. Edmonstone, the proper way to do birds. But John had poor abilities, and it required much time and patience to drive anything into him. Some years after this his master took him to Scotland, where, becoming free, John left him, and got employed in the Glasgow, and then the Edinburgh, Museum. Mr. Robert Edmonstone, nephew to the above gentleman, had a fine mulatto capable of learning anything. He requested me to teach him the art. I did so. He was docile and active, and was with me all the time in the forest. I left him there to keep up this new art of preserving birds and to communicate it to others. Here, then, I fixed my headquarters, in the ruins of this once gay and hospitable house. Close by, in a little hut which, in times long past, had served for a store to keep provisions in, there lived a coloured man and his wife, by name Backer. Many a kind turn they did to me; and I was more than once a service to them and their children, by bringing to their relief in time of sickness what little knowledge I had acquired of medicine.
I would here, gentle reader, wish to draw thy attention, for a few minutes, to physic, raiment and diet. Shouldst thou ever wander through these remote and dreary wilds, forget not to carry with thee bark, laudanum, calomel and jalap, and the lancet. There are no druggist-shops here, nor sons of Galen to apply to in time of need. I never go encumbered with many clothes. A thin flannel waistcoat under a check shirt, a pair of trousers and a hat were all my wardrobe: shoes and stockings I seldom had on. In dry weather they would have irritated the feet and retarded me in the chase of wild beasts; and in the rainy season they would have kept me in a perpetual state of damp and moisture. I eat moderately, and never drink wine, spirits or fermented liquors in any climate. This abstemiousness has ever proved a faithful friend; it carried me triumphant through the epidemia at Malaga, where death made such havoc about the beginning of the present century; and it has since befriended me in many a fit of sickness brought on by exposure to the noon-day sun, to the dews of night, to the pelting shower and unwholesome food.