« ForrigeFortsæt »
implanted by the hand of his Maker, that are neither to be extinguished nor modified by length of time, nor change of circumstances. To this wild and untameable temper, Jehovah himself condescends to direct the attention of Job, when he answered him out of the whirlwind, and said: "Who hath sent out the wild ass free? or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass? whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land his dwellings. He scorneth the multitude of the city; neither regardeth he the crying of the driver. The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searcheth after every green thing."
The proper name of this animal in the Hebrew language, is 5, Phæræ, a term which, according to some writers, is expressive of its extreme suspicion. It is em ployed by Moses, to denote the wild and untractable disposition of Ishmael, and his descendants; and by Zophar, to characterise a vain, self-righteous, and obstinate person. In accordance with this idea, the noun furnishes a verb in the Hiphil form, which signifies to act as wildly as the
Others derive the noun from a Chaldee verb, which signifies to run with great swiftness; and every writer, ancient and modern, who has treated of this animal, has attested the wonderful celerity with which it flies over the desert. According to Leo Africanus, the wild ass yields only to the horses of Barbary; and Xenophon avers in his Anabasis, that it out-runs the fleetest horses. It has feet like the whirlwind, says Oppian; Ælian asserts, that it seems as if it were carried forward by wings like a bird.o
b Job xxxix, 5.
Anab. lib. i, cap. 5, sec. 2, Hutchison's edition, Glasgow. Ælian de Nat. Animal. lib. xiv, cap. 10, and lib. xvi, cap. 9.
These testimonies are confirmed by Professor Gmelin, who saw numerous troops of them in the deserts of Great Tartary, and says, The onagers are animals adapted to running, and of such swiftness, that the best horses cannot equal them. Relying on its extraordinary powers, it fre quently mocks the pursuit of the hunter; and in the striking description of its Creator, "Scorneth the mul titude of the city," that invade its retreats, and seek its destruction. It laughs (as the original term properly signifies) at their numbers and their speed, and seems to take a malicious pleasure in disappointing their hopes. Xenophon states, that the onagers in Mesopotamia, when pursued on horseback, will stop suddenly in the midst of their career, till the hunters approach, and then dart away with surprising velocity; and again stop, as if inviting them to make another effort to overtake them, but immediatly dart away again like an arrow shot from a bow: indeed it would be impossible for men to take them, without the assistance of art. "We gave chase," says Mr. Morier, "to two wild asses, but which had so much the speed of our horses, that when they had got at some distance, they stood still and looked behind at us, snorting with their noses in the air as if in contempt of our endeavours to catch them." The hunters, however, often lie in wait for them at the ponds of brackish water, to which they resort to drink; or take them alive by means of concealed pits, half filled with plants and branches of trees, to lessen the creature's fall. At other times the chase is continued by relays of fresh horses, which the hunters mount as the others are exhausted, till the strength of the animal is so completely worn out, that it can be easily overtaken.
d Trav. vol. i, p. 201.
The wild ass, unsocial in his temper, and impatient of restraint, frequents the solitary wilderness, and the vast inhospitable desert, the salt marsh, and the mountain range. This is the scene adapted to his nature and instincts, and his proper domain allotted to him by the author of his being. We are not left to infer this fact from the manners and habits of the animal; Jehovah himself has attested it in these terms: "Whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren lands his dwellings." He who made the wild ass free, and loosed his bands, provides a habitation for him in the desert, where the voice of man is not heard, nor a human dwelling meets his eye. But every desert is not equally to his liking; it is the barren or salt land in which he delights. So grateful is salt to his taste, that he uniformly prefers brackish water to fresh, and selects for his food those plants that are impregnated with saline particles, or that have bitter juices. He, therefore, retires from the cultivated or fertile regions, not merely to be free from the domination of man, but to enjoy the pasture which is agreeable to his instincts. "The multitude," or the abundance of the city, "he despises for the salt or bitter leaf on the sandy waste."
Into such a state of desolation and sterility was the inheritance of God's ancient people reduced, by the arms of Nebuchadnezzar: "Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers, yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city: because the palaces shall be forsaken, the multitude of the city shall be left, the forts and towers shall be dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a
c Varro de Re Rust. lib. ii, cap. 6. Plin. Hist. Nat. lib. viii, cap. 30. f Bochart. Hieroz. lib. iii, cap. 16, p. 872. Plin. Hist. Nat. lib. xxxi, cap. 7. Vir. Geor. lib. ii, 1. 288.
pasture of flocks." A more affecting picture can scarcely be conceived; the depopulated fields, and ruined cities, of a country once flowing with milk and honey, were to become the favourite haunts of those shy creatures "for ever," or during the long period of seventy years. "Until the Spirit" should be poured upon them from on high, from the beginning to the end of the captivity, a tedious and irksome period to the unhappy captives, were the wild asses to stray through their barren fields, and repose in their deserted houses, undisturbed by the presence of man. But the pride and barbarity of their oppressor, were soon visited with a corresponding punishment. He was deprived of reason, which he had so greatly abused, and by the violence of his disorder, "driven from the sons of men, and his heart was made like the beasts; and his dwelling was with the wild asses,” in the salt land, and frightful desert. He seems to have been divested of every thing human but the form; irrational and sensual, he was guided solely by his animal propensities. Nor was he longer able to distinguish what was becoming or agreeable, even to the animal nature of man; every desire and appetite was become so brutish, that he felt no wish to associate with beings of his own kind, but lived with the beasts, and fed in their pastures.h
Some respectable writers have considered the onager as a solitary creature, refusing to associate even with those of his own species, because he shuns the presence of man, and frequents the most frightful solitudes. But this hasty opinion is completely refuted by the testimony of modern travellers, the nomadic hordes of Tartary, and the trading companies of Bukharia. From their accounts
Isa. xxxii, 13, 14.
h Dan. v, 21.
we learn, that the wild asses are still very numerous in the deserts of Great Tartary, and come annually in great herds, which spread themselves in the mountainous deserts to the north and east of lake Aral. Here they pass the
summer, and assemble in the autumn by hundreds, and even by thousands, in order to return in company to their former retreats in the mountains of northern Asia. The gregarious character of the wild ass is not in reality contradicted by the prophet in these words: "For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers." In this passage he describes the perverse and untractable dispositions of Ephraim, and the certain destruction to which their obstinacy exposed them. A wild ass alone, they were by their foolish conduct ready to become a prey to the destroyer. But it is rather the king of Assyria, than the ten tribes, whom he compares to that animal. Instead of trusting in the Lord their God, they courted the favour, and solicited the protection of that ambitious and artful monarch, who, like "a wild ass alone," consulted only his own selfish inclinations, and aimed at his own aggrandisement. This ill advised measure, from which they promised themselves so much advantage, he declares, would certainly hasten the catastrophe which they sought to avoid. They should find when too late, that they had been the dupes of his deceitful policy, and the victims of his unprincipled ambition.
The wild ass, like almost every creature that inhabits the barren wilderness, is reduced to subsist on coarse and
¿ Hos. viii, 9.
The gregarious temper of the wild ass is also mentioned by Varro and Pliny in the passages just quoted, and by other ancient writers, cited by Bochart, lib. iii, cap. 16, p. 870.