We cannot help expressing the pleasure it has given us to see so much, true poetry coming from Oxford. It is delightful to see that classical literature, which sometimes, we know not how, certainly has a chilling effect on poetical feeling, there warming it as it ought to do, and causing it to produce itself in song. Oxford has produced many true poets; Collins, Warton, Bowles, Heber, Milman, and now Keble—are all her own—her inspired sons. Their strains are not steeped in "port and prejudice;" but in the—Isis. Heaven bless Iffley and Godstow—and many another sweet old ruined place—secluded, but not far apart from her own inspiring Sanctities! And those who love her not, never may the Muses love!
In his Poem, entitled, "The Omnipresence of the Deity," Mr Robert Montgomery writes thus,—
"Lo! there, in yonder fancy-haunted room, What mutter'd curses trembled through the gloom, When pale, and shiv'ring, and bedew'd with fear, The dying sceptic felt his hour drew near! From his parch'd tongue no sainted murmurs fell, No bright hopes kindled at his faint farewell; As the last throes of death convulsed his cheek, He gnash'd, and scowl'd, and raised a hideous shriek, Rounded his eyes into a ghastly glare, Lock'd his white lips—and all was mute despair! Go, child of darkness, see a Christian die; No horror pales his lip, or rolls his eye; No dreadful doubts, or dreamy terrors, start The hope Religion pillows on his heart, When with a dying hand he waves adieu To all who love so well, and weep so true: Meek as an infant to the mother's breast Turns fondly longing for its wonted rest, He pants for where congenial spirits stray, Turns to his God, and sighs his soul away."
First, as to the execution of this passage. "Fancy-haunted" may do, but it is not a sufficiently strong expression for the occasion. In every such picture as this, we demand appropriate vigour in every word intended to be vigorous, and which is important to the effect of the whole.
"From his parch'd tongue no sainted murmurs fell, No bright hopes kindled at his faint farewell."
How could they?—The line but one before is,
"What mutter'd curses trembled through the gloom."
This, then, is purely ridiculous, and we cannot doubt that Mr Montgomery will confess that it is so; but independently of that, he is describing the deathbed of a person who, ex hypothesi, could have no bright hopes, could breathe no sainted murmurs. He might as well, in a description of a negress, have told us that she had no long, smooth, shining, yellow locks—no light-blue eyes—no ruddy and rosy cheeks—nor yet a bosom white as snow. The execution of the picture of the Christian is not much better—it is too much to use, in the sense here given to them, no fewer than three verbs—"pales"—"rolls"—"starts," in four lines.
"The hope Religion pillows on his heart,"
is not a good line, and it is a borrowed one.
"When with a dying hand he waves adieu,"
conveys an unnatural image. Dying men do not act so. Not thus are taken eternal farewells. The motion in the sea-song was more natural—
"She waved adieu, and kiss'd her lily hand."
"Weeps so true," means nothing, nor is it English. The grammar is not good of,
"He pants for where congenial spirits"—
Neither is the word pants by any means the right one; and in such an awful crisis, admire who may the simile of the infant longing for its mother's breast, we never can in its present shape; while there is the line,
"Turns to his God, and sighs his soul away;"
a prettiness we very much dislike—alter one word, and it would be voluptuous—nor do we hesitate to call the passage a puling one altogether, and such as ought to be expunged from all paper.
But that is not all we have to say against it—it is radically and essentially bad, because it either proves nothing of what it is meant to prove—or what no human being on earth ever disputed. Be fair—be just in all that concerns religion. Take the best—the most moral, if the word can be used—the most enlightened Sceptic, and the true Christian, and compare their deathbeds. That of the Sceptic will be disturbed or disconsolate—that of the Christian confiding or blessed. But to contrast the deathbed of an absolute maniac, muttering curses, gnashing and scowling, and "raising a hideous shriek," and "rounding his eyes with a ghastly glare," and convulsed, too, with severe bodily throes—with that of a convinced, confiding, and conscientious Christian, a calm, meek, undoubting believer, happy in the "hope religion pillows on his heart," and enduring no fleshly agonies, can serve no purpose under the sun. Men who have the misery of being unbelievers, are at all times to be pitied—most of all in their last hours; but though theirs be then dim melancholy, or dark despair, they express neither the one state nor the other by mutterings, curses, and hideous shrieks. Such a wretch there may sometimes be—like him "who died and made no sign;" but there is no more sense in seeking to brighten the character of the Christian by its contrast with that of such an Atheist, than by contrast with a fiend to brighten the beauty of an angel.
Finally, are the deathbeds of all good Christians so calm as this—and do they all thus meekly
"Pant for where congenial spirits stray,"
a line, besides its other vice, most unscriptural? Congenial spirit is not the language of the New Testament. Alas! for poor weak human nature at the dying hour! Not even can the Christian always then retain unquaking trust in his Saviour! "This is the blood that was shed for thee," are words whose mystery quells not always nature's terror. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is renewed in vain—and he remembers, in doubt and dismay, words that, if misunderstood, would appal all the Christian world—"My God—my God—why hast thou forsaken me?" Perhaps, before the Faith, that has waxed dim and died in his brain distracted by pain, and disease, and long sleeplessness, and a weight of woe—for he is a father who strove in vain to burst those silken ties, that winding all round and about his very soul and his very body, bound him to those dear little ones, who are of the same spirit and the same flesh,—we say, before that Faith could, by the prayers of holy men, be restored and revivified, and the Christian once more comforted by thinking on Him, who for all human beings did take upon him the rueful burden and agonies of the Cross—Death may have come for his prey, and left the chamber, of late so hushed and silent, at full liberty to weep! Enough to know, that though Christianity be divine, we are human,—that the vessel is weak in which that glorious light may be enshrined—weak as the potter's clay—and that though Christ died to save sinners, sinners who believe in Him, and therefore shall not perish, may yet lose hold of the belief when their understandings are darkened by the shadow of death, and, like Peter losing faith and sinking in the sea, feel themselves descending into some fearful void, and cease here to be, ere they find voice to call on the name of the Lord—"Help, or I perish!"
What may be the nature of the thoughts and feelings of an Atheist, either when in great joy or great sorrow, full of life and the spirit of life, or in mortal malady and environed with the toils of death, it passes the power of our imagination even dimly to conceive; nor are we convinced that there ever was an utter Atheist. The thought of a God will enter in, barred though the doors be both of the understanding and the heart, and all the windows supposed to be blocked up against the light. The soul, blind and deaf as it may often be, cannot always resist the intimations all life long, day and night, forced upon it from the outer world; its very necessities, nobler far than those of the body, even when most degraded, importunate when denied their manna, are to it oftentimes a silent or a loud revelation. Then, not to feel and think as other beings do with "discourse of reason," is most hard and difficult indeed, even for a short time, and on occasions of very inferior moment. Being men, we are carried away, willing or unwilling, and often unconsciously, by the great common instinct; we keep sailing with the tide of humanity, whether in flow or ebb—fierce as demons and the sons of perdition, if that be the temper of the congregating hour—mild and meek as Pity, or the new-born babe, when the afflatus of some divine sympathy has breathed through the multitude, nor one creature escaped its influence, like a spring day that steals through a murmuring forest, till not a single tree, even in the darkest nook, is without some touch of the season's sunshine. Think, then, of one who would fain be an Atheist, conversing with the "sound, healthy children of the God of heaven!" To his reason, which is his solitary pride, arguments might in vain be addressed, for he exults in being "an Intellectual All in All," and is a bold-browed sophist to daunt even the eyes of Truth—eyes which can indeed "outstare the eagle" when their ken is directed to heaven, but which are turned away in aversion from the human countenance that would dare to deny God. Appeal not to the intellect of such a man, but to his heart; and let not even that appeal be conveyed in any fixed form of words—but let it be an appeal of the smiles and tears of affectionate and loving lips and eyes—of common joys and common griefs, whose contagion is often felt, beyond prevention or cure, where two or three are gathered together—among families thinly sprinkled over the wilderness, where, on God's own day, they repair to God's own house, a lowly building on the brae, which the Creator of suns and systems despiseth not, nor yet the beatings of the few contrite hearts therein assembled to worship Him—in the cathedral's "long-drawn aisles and fretted vaults"—in mighty multitudes all crowded in silence, as beneath the shadow of a thunder-cloud, to see some one single human being die—or swaying and swinging backwards and forwards, and to and fro, to hail a victorious armament returning from the war of Liberty, with him who hath "taken the start of this majestic world" conspicuous from afar in front, encircled with music, and with the standard of his unconquered country afloat above his head. Thus, and by many thousand other potent influences for ever at work, and from which the human heart can never make its safe escape, let it flee to the uttermost parts of the earth, to the loneliest of the multitude of the isles of the sea, are men, who vainly dream that they are Atheists, forced to feel God. Nor happens this but rarely—nor are such "angel-visits few and far between." As the most cruel have often, very often, thoughts tender as dew, so have the most dark often, very often, thoughts bright as day. The sun's golden finger writes the name of God on the clouds, rising or setting, and the Atheist, falsely so called, starts in wonder and in delight, which his soul, because it is immortal, cannot resist, to behold that Bible suddenly opened before his eyes on the sky. Or some old, decrepit, greyhaired crone, holds out her shrivelled hand, with dim eyes patiently fixed on his, silently asking charity—silently, but in the holy name of God; and the Atheist, taken unawares, at the very core of his heart bids "God bless her," as he relieves her uncomplaining miseries.
If then Atheists do exist, and if their deathbeds may be described for the awful or melancholy instruction of their fellow-men, let them be such Atheists as those whom, let us not hesitate to say, we may blamelessly love with a troubled affection; for our Faith may not have preserved us from sins from which they are free—and we may give even to many of the qualities of their most imperfect and unhappy characters almost the name of virtues. No curses on their deathbeds will they be heard to utter. No black scowlings—no horrid gnashing of teeth—no hideous shriekings will there appal the loving ones who watch and weep by the side of him who is dying disconsolate. He will hope, and he will fear, now that there is a God indeed everywhere present—visible now in the tears that fall, audible now in the sighs that breathe for his sake—in the still small voice. That Being forgets not those by whom he has been forgotten; least of all, the poor "Fool who has said in his heart there is no God," and who knows at last that a God there is, not always in terror and trembling, but as often perhaps in the assurance of forgiveness, which, undeserved by the best of the good, may not be withheld even from the worst of the bad, if the thought of a God and a Saviour pass but for a moment through the darkness of the departing spirit—like a dove shooting swiftly, with its fair plumage, through the deep but calm darkness that follows the subsided storm.
So, too, with respect to Deists. Of unbelievers in Christianity there are many kinds—the reckless, the ignorant, the callous, the confirmed, the melancholy, the doubting, the despairing—the good. At their deathbeds, too, may the Christian poet, in imagination, take his stand—and there may he even hear
"The still sad music of humanity, Not harsh nor grating, but of amplest power To soften and subdue!"
Oftener all the sounds and sights there will be full of most rueful anguish; and that anguish will groan in the poet's lays when his human heart, relieved from its load of painful sympathies, shall long afterwards be inspired with the pity of poetry, and sing in elegies, sublime in their pathos, the sore sufferings and the dim distress that clouded and tore the dying spirit, longing, but all unable—profound though its longings be—as life's daylight is about to close upon that awful gloaming, and the night of death to descend in oblivion—to believe in the Redeemer.
Why then turn but to such deathbed, if indeed religion, and not superstition, described that scene—as that of Voltaire? Or even of Rousseau, whose dying eyes sought, in the last passion, the sight of the green earth, and the blue skies, and the sun shining so brightly, when all within the brain of his worshipper was fast growing dimmer and more dim—when all the unsatisfied spirit, that scarcely hoped a future life, knew not how it could ever take farewell of the present with tenderness enough, and enough of yearning and craving after its disappearing beauty, and when as if the whole earth were at that moment beloved even as his small peculiar birthplace—
"Et dulces moriens reminiscitur Argos."
The Christian poet, in his humane wisdom, will, for instruction's sake of his fellow-men, and for the discovery and the revealment of ever-sacred truth, keep aloof from such death-beds as these, or take his awful stand beside them to drop the perplexed and pensive tear. For we know not what it is that we either hear or see; and holy Conscience, hearing through a confused sound, and seeing through an obscure light, fears to condemn, when perhaps she ought only to pity—to judge another, when perhaps it is her duty but to use that inward eye for her own delinquencies. He, then, who designs to benefit his kind by strains of high instruction, will turn from the deathbed of the famous Wit, whose brilliant fancy hath waxed dim as that of the clown—whose malignant heart is quaking beneath the Power it had so long derided, with terrors over which his hated Christian triumphs—and whose intellect, once so perspicacious that it could see but too well the motes that are in the sun, the specks and stains that are in the flowing robe of nature herself—prone, in miserable contradiction to its better being, to turn them as proofs against the power and goodness of the Holy One who inhabiteth eternity—is now palsy-stricken as that of an idiot, and knows not even the sound of the name of its once vain and proud possessor—when crowded theatres had risen up with one rustle to honour, and then, with deafening acclamations,
"Raised a mortal to the skies!"
There he is—it matters not now whether on down or straw—stretched, already a skeleton, and gnashing—may it be in senselessness, for otherwise what pangs are these!—gnashing his teeth, within lips once so eloquent, now white with foam and slaver; and the whole mouth, of yore so musical, grinning ghastly like the fleshless face of fear-painted death! Is that Voltaire? He who, with wit, thought to shear the Son of God of all His beams?—with wit, to loosen the dreadful fastenings of the Cross?—with wit, to scoff at Him who hung thereon, while the blood and water came from the wound in His blessed side?—with wit, to drive away those Shadows of Angels, that were said to have rolled off the stone from the mouth of the sepulchre of the resurrection?—with wit, to deride the ineffable glory of transfigured Godhead on the Mount, and the sweet and solemn semblance of the Man Jesus in the garden?—with wit, to darken all the decrees of Providence?—and with wit,
"To shut the gates of Mercy on mankind?"
Nor yet will the Christian poet long dwell in his religious strains, though awhile he may linger there, "and from his eyelids wipe the tears that sacred pity hath engendered," beside the dying couch of Jean Jaques Rousseau—a couch of turf beneath trees—for he was ever a lover of Nature, though he loved all things living or dead as madmen love. His soul, while most spiritual, was sensual still, and with tendrils of flesh and blood embraced—even as it did embrace the balm-breathing form of voluptuous woman—the very phantoms of his most etherealised imagination. Vice stained all his virtues—as roses are seen, in some certain soils, and beneath some certain skies, always to be blighted, and their fairest petals to bear on them something like blots of blood. Over the surface of the mirror of his mind, which reflected so much of the imagery of man and nature, there was still, here and there, on the centre or round the edges, rust-spots, that gave back no image, and marred the proportions of the beauty and the grandeur that yet shone over the rest of the circle set in the rich carved gold. His disturbed, and distracted, and defeated friendships, that all vanished in insane suspicions, and seemed to leave his soul as well satisfied in its fierce or gloomy void, as when it was filled with airy and glittering visions, are all gone for ever now. Those many thoughts and feelings—so melancholy, yet still fair, and lovely, and beautiful—which, like bright birds encaged, with ruffled and drooping wings, once so apt to soar, and their music mute, that used to make the wide woods to wring, were confined within the wires of his jealous heart—have now all flown away, and are at rest! Who sits beside the wild and wondrous genius, whose ravings entrance the world? Who wipes the death-sweat from that capacious forehead, once filled with such a multitude of disordered but aspiring fancies? Who, that his beloved air of heaven may kiss and cool it for the last time, lays open the covering that hides the marble sallowness of Rousseau's sin-and-sorrow-haunted breast? One of Nature's least-gifted children—to whose eyes nor earth nor heaven ever beamed with beauty—to whose heart were known but the meanest charities of nature; yet mean as they were, how much better in such an hour than all his imaginings most magnificent! For had he not suffered his own offspring to pass away from his eyes, even like the wood-shadows, only less beloved and less regretted? And in the very midst of the prodigality of love and passion, which he had poured out over the creations of his ever-distempered fancy, let his living children, his own flesh and blood, disappear as paupers in a chance-governed world? A world in which neither parental nor filial love were more than the names of nonentities—Father, Son, Daughter, Child, but empty syllables, which philosophy heeded not—or rather loved them in their emptiness, but despised, hated, or feared them, when for a moment they seemed pregnant with a meaning from heaven, and each in its holy utterance signifying God!
No great moral or religious lesson can well be drawn, or say rather so well, from such anomalous deathbeds, as from those of common unbelievers. To show, in all its divine power, the blessedness of the Christian's faith, it must be compared, rather than contrasted, with the faith of the best and wisest of Deists. The ascendancy of the heavenly over the earthly will then be apparent—as apparent as the superior lustre of a star to that of a lighted-up window in the night. For above all other things in which the Christian is happier than the Deist—with the latter, the life beyond the grave is but a dark hope—to the former, "immortality has been brought to light by the Gospel." That difference embraces the whole spirit. It may be less felt—less seen when life is quick and strong; for this earth alone has much and many things to embrace and enchain our being—but in death the difference is as between night and day.
* * * * *
NOTE.—In the later editions of "The Omnipresence of the Deity," the passage animadverted on in the preceding chapter has been altered as follows:—
"Lo! there, in yonder spectre-haunted room, What sightless demons horrified the gloom, When pale and shivering, and bedew'd with fear, The dying Sceptic felt his hour draw near! Ere the last throes with anguish lined his cheek, He yell'd for mercy with a hollow shriek, Mutter'd some accents of unmeaning prayer, Lock'd his white lips—let God the rest declare. Go, child of Darkness! see a Christian die; No horror pales his lip, or dims his eye; No fiend-shaped phantoms of destruction start The hope Religion pillows on his heart, When with a falt'ring hand he waves adieu To hearts as tender as their tears are true; Meek as an infant to the mother's breast Turns, fondly longing for its wonted rest, So to our God the yielding soul retires, And in one sigh of sainted peace expires."
CHRISTOPHER IN HIS AVIARY.
The present Age, which, after all, is a very pretty and pleasant one, is feelingly alive and widely awake to the manifold delights and advantages with which the study of Natural History swarms, and especially that branch of it which unfolds the character and habits, physical, moral, and intellectual, of those most interesting and admirable creatures—Birds. It is familiar not only with the shape and colour of beak, bill, claw, talon, and plume, but with the purposes for which they are designed, and with the instincts which guide their use in the beautiful economy of all-gracious Nature. We remember the time when the very word Ornithology would have required interpretation in mixed company; when a naturalist was looked on as a sort of out-of-the-way but amiable monster. Now, one seldom meets with man, woman, or child, who does not know a hawk from a handsaw, or even, to adopt the more learned reading, from a heron-shew; a black swan is no longer erroneously considered a rara avis any more than a black sheep; while the Glasgow Gander himself, no longer apocryphal, has taken his place in the national creed, belief in his existence being merely blended with wonder at his magnitude, and some surprise perhaps among the scientific that he should be as yet the sole specimen of that enormous Anser.
The chief cause of this advancement of knowledge in one of its most delightful departments, has been the gradual extension of its study from stale books written by men, to that book ever fresh from the hand of God. And the second—another yet the same—has been the gradual change wrought by a philosophical spirit in the observation, delineation, and arrangement of the facts and laws with which the science is conversant, and which it exhibits in the most perfect harmony and order. Neophytes now range for themselves, according to their capacities and opportunities, the fields, woods, rivers, lakes, and seas; and proficients, no longer confining themselves to mere nomenclature, enrich their works with anecdotes and traits of character, which, without departure from truth, have imbued bird-biography with the double charm of reality and romance.
Compare the intensity and truth of any natural knowledge insensibly acquired by observation in very early youth, with that corresponding to it picked up in later life from books! In fact, the habit of distinguishing between things as different, or of similar forms, colours, and characters, formed in infancy, and childhood, and boyhood, in a free intercourse and communion with Nature, while we are merely seeking and finding the divine joy of novelty and beauty, perpetually occurring before our eyes in all her haunts, may be made the foundation of an accuracy of judgment of inappreciable value as an intellectual endowment. So entirely is this true, that we know many observant persons—that is, observant in all things intimately related with their own pursuits, and with the experience of their own early education—who, with all the pains they could take in after life, have never been able to distinguish by name, when they saw them, above half-a-dozen, if so many, of our British singing-birds; while as to knowing them by their song, that is wholly beyond the reach of their uninstructed ear, and a shilfa chants to them like a yellow yoldrin. On seeing a small bird peeping out of a hole in the eaves, and especially on hearing him chatter, they shrewdly suspect him to be a sparrow, though it does not by any means follow that their suspicions are always verified; and though, when sitting with her white breast so lovely out of the "auld clay bigging" in the window-corner, he cannot mistake Mistress Swallow, yet when flitting in fly-search over the stream, and ever and anon dipping her wing-tips in the lucid coolness, 'tis an equal chance that he misnames her Miss Marten.
What constant caution is necessary during the naturalist's perusal even of the very best books! From the very best we can only obtain knowledge at second-hand, and this, like a story circulated among village gossips, is more apt to gain in falsehood than in truth, as it passes from one to another; but in field-study we go at once to the fountain-head, and obtain our facts pure and unalloyed by the theories and opinions of previous observers. Hence it is that the utility of books becomes obvious. You witness with your own eyes some puzzling, perplexing, strange, and unaccountable—fact; twenty different statements of it have been given by twenty different ornithologists; you consult them all, and getting a hint from one, and a hint from another, here a glimmer of light to be followed, and there a gloom of darkness to be avoided—why, who knows but that in the end you do yourself solve the mystery, and absolutely become not only happy but illustrious? People sitting in their own parlour with their feet on the fender, or in the sanctum of some museum, staring at stuffed specimens, imagine themselves naturalists; and in their presumptuous and insolent ignorance, which is often total, scorn the wisdom of the wanderers of the woods, who have for many studious and solitary years been making themselves familiar with all the beautiful mysteries of instinctive life. Take two boys, and set them respectively to pursue the two plans of study. How puzzled and perplexed will be the one who pores over the "interminable terms" of a system in books, having meanwhile no access to, or communion with nature! The poor wretch is to be pitied—nor is he anything else than a slave. But the young naturalist who takes his first lessons in the fields, observing the unrivalled scene which creation everywhere displays, is perpetually studying in the power of delight and wonder, and laying up knowledge which can be derived from no other source. The rich boy is to be envied, nor is he anything else than a king. The one sits bewildered among words, the other walks enlightened among things; the one has not even the shadow, the other more than the substance—the very essence and life of knowledge; and at twelve years old he may be a better naturalist than ever the mere bookworm will be, were he to outlive old Tommy Balmer.
In education—late or early—for heaven's sake let us never separate things and words! They are married in nature; and what God hath put together let no man put asunder—'tis a fatal divorce. Without things, words accumulated by misery in the memory, had far better die than drag out an useless existence in the dark; without words, their stay and support, things unaccountably disappear out of the store-house, and may be for ever lost. But bind a thing with a word, a strange link, stronger than any steel, and softer than any silk, and the captive remains for ever happy in its bright prison-house. On this principle, it is indeed surprising at how early an age children can be instructed in the most interesting parts of natural history—ay, even a babe in arms. Remember Coleridge's beautiful lines to the Nightingale:—
"That strain again! Full fain it would delay me! My dear babe, Who, capable of no articulate sound, Mars all things with his imitative lisp, How he would place his hand beside his ear, His little hand, the small forefinger up, And bid us listen! and I deem it wise To make him Nature's child."
How we come to love the Birds of Bewick, and White, and the two Wilsons, and Montague, and Mudie, and Knapp, and Selby, and Swainson, and Audubon, and many others familiar with their haunts and habits, their affections and their passions, till we feel that they are indeed our fellow-creatures, and part of one wise and wonderful system! If there be sermons in stones, what think ye of the hymns and psalms, matin and vesper, of the lark, who at heaven's gate sings—of the wren, who pipes her thanksgivings as the slant sunbeam shoots athwart the mossy portal of the cave, in whose fretted roof she builds her nest above the waterfall! In cave-roof? Yea—we have seen it so—just beneath the cornice. But most frequently we have detected her procreant cradle on old mossy stump, mouldering walls or living rock—sometimes in cleft of yew-tree or hawthorn—for hang the globe with its imperceptible orifice in the sunshine or the storm, and St. Catharine sits within heedless of the outer world, counting her beads with her sensitive breast that broods in bliss over the priceless pearls.
Ay, the men we have named, and many other blameless idolaters of Nature, have worshipped her in a truly religious spirit, and have taught us their religion. All our great poets have loved the Minnesingers of the woods—Thomson, and Cowper, and Wordsworth, as dearly as Spenser, and Shakespeare, and Milton. From the inarticulate language of the groves, they have inhaled the enthusiasm that inspired some of the finest of their own immortal strains. "Lonely wanderer of Nature" must every poet be—and though often self-wrapt his wanderings through a spiritual world of his own, yet as some fair flower silently asks his eye to look on it, some glad bird his ear solicits with a song, how intense is then his perception—his emotion how profound—while his spirit is thus appealed to, through all its human sensibilities, by the beauty and the joy perpetual even in the most solitary places!
Our moral being owes deep obligation to all who assist us to study nature aright; for believe us, it is high and rare knowledge to know and to have the true and full use of our eyes. Millions go to the grave in old age without ever having learned it; they were just beginning, perhaps, to acquire it when they sighed to think that "they who look out of the windows were darkened;" and that, while they had been instructed how to look, sad shadows had fallen on the whole face of Nature, and that the time for those intuitions was gone for ever. But the science of seeing has now found favour in our eyes; and blessings be with them who can discover, discern, and describe the least as the greatest of Nature's works—who can see as distinctly the finger of God in the lustre of the humming-bird murmuring round a rose-bush, as in that of the star of Jove shining sole in heaven.
Take up now almost any book you may on any branch of Natural History, and instead of the endless, dry details of imaginary systems and classifications, in which the ludicrous littlenesses of man's vain ingenuity used to be set up as a sort of symbolical scheme of revelation of the sublime varieties of the inferior—as we choose to call it—creation of God, you find high attempts in an humble spirit rather to illustrate tendencies, and uses, and harmonies, and order, and design. With some glorious exceptions, indeed, the naturalists of the day gone by showed us a science that was but a skeleton—little but dry bones; with some inglorious exceptions, indeed, the naturalists of the day that is now, have been desirous to show us a living, breathing, and moving body—to explain, as far as they might, its mechanism and its spirit. Ere another century elapse, how familiar may men be with all the families of the flowers of the field, and the birds of the air, with all the interdependencies of their characters and their kindreds, perhaps even with the mystery of that instinct which now is seen working wonders, not only beyond the power of reason to comprehend, but of imagination to conceive!
How deeply enshrouded are felt to be the mysteries of Nature, when, thousands of years after Aristotle, we hear Audubon confess his utter ignorance of what migrations and non-migrations mean—that 'tis hard to understand why such general laws as these should be—though their benign operation is beautifully seen in the happiness provided alike for all—whether they reside in their own comparatively small localities, nor ever wish to leave them—or at stated seasons instinctively fly away over thousands of miles, to drop down and settle for a while on some spot adapted to their necessities, of which they had prescience afar off, though seemingly wafted thither like leaves upon the wind! Verily, as great a mystery is that Natural Religion by the theist studied in woods and on mountains and by sea-shores, as that Revelation which philosophers will not believe because they do not understand—"the blinded bigot's scorn" deriding man's highest and holiest happiness—Faith!
We must not now go a bird-nesting, but first time we do we shall put Bishop Mant's "Months" in our pocket. The good Bishop—who must have been an indefatigable bird-nester in his boyhood—though we answer for him that he never stole but one egg out of four, and left undisturbed the callow young—treats of those beauteous and wondrous structures in a style that might make Professor Rennie jealous, who has written like a Vitruvius on the architecture of birds. He expatiates with uncontrolled delight on the unwearied activity of the architects, who, without any apprenticeship to the trade, are journeymen, nay, master-builders, the first spring of their full-fledged lives; with no other tools but a bill, unless we count their claws, which however seem, and that only in some kinds, to be used but in carrying materials. With their breasts and whole bodies, indeed, most of them round off the soft insides of their procreant cradles, till they fit each brooding bunch of feathers to a hairbreadth, as it sits close and low on eggs or eyeless young, a leetle higher raised up above their gaping babies, as they wax from downy infancy into plumier childhood, which they do how swiftly! and how soon have they flown! You look some sunny morning into the bush, and the abode in which they seemed so cosy the day before is utterly forsaken by the joyous ingrates—now feebly fluttering in the narrow grove, to them a wide world teeming with delight and wonder—to be thought of never more. With all the various materials used by them in building their different domiciles, the Bishop is as familiar as with the sole material of his own wig—though, by the by, last time we had the pleasure of seeing and sitting by him, he wore his own hair—"but that not much;" for, like our own, his sconce was bald, and, like it, showed the organ of constructiveness as fully developed as Christopher or a Chaffinch. He is perfectly well acquainted, too, with all the diversities of their modes of building—their orders of architecture—and eke with all those of situation chosen by the kinds—whether seemingly simple, in cunning that deceives by a show of carelessness and heedlessness of notice, or with craft of concealment that baffles the most searching eye—hanging their beloved secret in gloom not impervious to sun and air—or, trustful in man's love of his own home, affixing the nest beneath the eaves, or in the flowers of the lattice, kept shut for their sakes, or half-opened by fair hands of virgins whose eyes gladden with heart-born brightness as each morning they mark the growing beauty of the brood, till they smile to see one almost as large as its parent sitting on the rim of the nest, when all at once it hops over, and, as it flutters away like a leaf, seems surprised that it can fly!
Yet there are still a few wretched quacks among us whom we may some day perhaps drive down into the dirt. There are idiots who will not even suffer sheep, cows, horses, and dogs, to escape the disgusting perversions of their anile anecdotage—who, by all manner of drivelling lies, libel even the common domestic fowl, and impair the reputation of the bantam. Newspapers are sometimes so infested by the trivial trash, that in the nostrils of a naturalist they smell on the breakfast-table like rotten eggs; and there are absolutely volumes of the slaver bound in linen, and lettered with the names of the expectorators on the outside, resembling annuals—we almost fear with prints. In such hands, the ass loses his natural attributes, and takes the character of his owner; and as the anecdote-monger is seen astride on his cuddy, you wonder what may be the meaning of the apparition, for we defy you to distinguish the one donk from the other, the rider from the ridden, except by the more inexpressive countenance of the one, and the ears of the other in uncomputed longitude dangling or erect.
We can bear this libellous gossip least patiently of all with birds. If a ninny have some stories about a wonderful goose, let him out with them, and then waddle away with his fat friend into the stackyard—where they may take sweet counsel together in the "fause-house." Let him, with open mouth and grozet eyes, say what he chooses of "Pretty Poll," as she clings in her cage, by beak or claws, to stick or wire, and in her naughty vocabulary let him hear the impassioned eloquence of an Aspasia inspiring a Pericles. But, unless his crown itch for the Crutch, let him spare the linnet on the briery bush among the broom—the laverock on the dewy braird or in the rosy cloud—the swan on her shadow—the eagle in his eyrie, in the sun, or at sea.
The great ornithologists and the true are the authorities that are constantly correcting those errors of popular opinion about the fowls of the air, which in every country, contrary to the evidence of the senses, and in spite of observations that may be familiar to all, gain credence with the weak and ignorant, and in process of time compose even a sort of system of the vilest superstition. It would be a very curious inquiry to trace the operation of the causes that, in different lands, have produced with respect to birds national prejudices of admiration or contempt, love or even hatred; and in doing so, we should have to open up some strange views of the influence of imagination on the head and heart. It may be remarked that an excuse will be generally found for such fallacies in the very sources from which they spring; but no excuse can be found—on the contrary, in every sentence the fool scribbles, a glaring argument is shown in favour of his being put to a lingering and cruel death—the fool who keeps gossiping every week in the year, penny-a-line-wise, with a gawky face and a mawkish mind, about God's creatures to whom reason has been denied, but instinct given, in order that they may be happy on moor and mountain, in the hedge-roots and on the tops of heaven-kissing trees—by the side of rills whose sweet low voice gives no echo in the wild, and on the hollow thunder of seas on which they sit in safety around the sinking ship, or from all her shrieks flee away to some island and are at rest.
Turn to the true Ornithologist, and how beautiful, each in the adaptation of its own structure to its own life, every bird that walks the land, wades the water, or skims the air! In his pages, pictured by pen or pencil, all is wondrous—as nature ever is to
"The quiet eye That broods and sleeps on its own heart,"
even while gazing on the inferior creatures of that creation to which we belong, and are linked in being's mysterious chain—till our breath, like theirs, expire. All is wondrous—but nothing monstrous in his delineations—for the more we know of nature in her infinite varieties, her laws reveal themselves to us in more majestic simplicity, and we are inspired with awe, solemn but sweet, by the incomprehensible, yet in part comprehended, magnificence of Truth. The writings of such men are the gospel of nature—and if the apocrypha be bound up along with it—'tis well; for in it, too, there is felt to be inspiration—and when, in good time, purified from error, the leaves all make but one Bible.
Hark to the loud, clear, mellow, bold song of the BLACKBIRD. There he flits along upon a strong wing, with his yellow bill visible in distance, and disappears in the silent wood. Not long silent. It is a spring-day in our imagination—his clay-wall nest holds his mate at the foot of the Silver-fir, and he is now perched on its pinnacle. That thrilling hymn will go vibrating down the stem till it reaches her brooding breast. The whole vernal air is filled with the murmur and the glitter of insects; but the blackbird's song is over all other symptoms of love and life, and seems to call upon the leaves to unfold into happiness. It is on that one Tree-top, conspicuous among many thousands on the fine breast of wood—here and there, a pine mingling not unmeetly with the prevailing oak—that the forest-minstrel sits in his inspirations. The rock above is one which we have often climbed. There lies the glorious Loch and all its islands—one dearer than the rest to eye and imagination, with its old Religious House—year after year crumbling away unheeded into more entire ruin. Far away, a sea of mountains, with all their billowing summits distinct in the sky, and now uncertain and changeful as the clouds. Yonder Castle stands well on the peninsula among the trees which the herons inhabit. Those coppice-woods on the other shore, stealing up to the heathery rocks and sprinkled birches, are the haunts of the roe. That great glen, that stretches sullenly away into the distant darkness, has been for ages the birth and the death-place of the red-deer. The cry of an Eagle! There he hangs poised in the sunlight, and now he flies off towards the sea. But again the song of our BLACKBIRD rises like "a steam of rich distilled perfumes," and our heart comes back to him upon the pinnacle of his own Home-tree. The source of song is yet in the happy creature's heart—but the song itself has subsided, like a rivulet that has been rejoicing in a sudden shower among the hills; the bird drops down among the balmy branches, and the other faint songs which that bold anthem had drowned, are heard at a distance, and seem to encroach every moment on the silence.
You say you greatly prefer the song of the THRUSH. Pray, why set such delightful singers by the ears? We dislike the habit that very many people have of trying everything by a scale. Nothing seems to them to be good positively—only relatively. Now, it is true wisdom to be charmed with what is charming, to live in it for the time being, and compare the emotion with no former emotion whatever—unless it be unconsciously in the working of an imagination set agoing by delight. Although, therefore, we cannot say that we prefer the Thrush to the Blackbird, yet we agree with you in thinking him a most delightful bird. Where a Thrush is, we defy you to anticipate his song in the morning. He is indeed an early riser. By the way, Chanticleer is far from being so. You hear him crowing away from shortly after midnight, and, in your simplicity, may suppose him to be up and strutting about the premises. Far from it;—he is at that very moment perched in his polygamy, between two of his fattest wives. The sultan will perhaps not stir a foot for several hours to come; while all the time the Thrush, having long ago rubbed his eyes, is on his topmost twig, broad awake, and charming the ear of dawn with his beautiful vociferation. During mid-day he disappears, and is mute; but again, at dewy even, as at dewy morn, he pours his pipe like a prodigal, nor ceases sometimes when night has brought the moon and stars.
Best beloved, and most beautiful of all Thrushes that ever broke from the blue-spotted shell!—thou who, for five springs, hast "hung thy procreant cradle" among the roses, and honeysuckles, and ivy, and clematis that embower in bloom the lattice of our Cottage-study—how farest thou now in the snow? Consider the whole place as your own, my dear bird; and remember, that when the gardener's children sprinkle food for you and yours all along your favourite haunts, that it is done by our orders. And when all the earth is green again, and all the sky blue, you will welcome us to our rural domicile, with light feet running before us among the winter leaves, and then skim away to your new nest in the old spot, then about to be somewhat more cheerful in the undisturbing din of the human life within the flowery walls.
Nay—how can we forget what is for ever before our eyes! Blessed be Thou—on thy shadowy bed, belonging equally to earth and heaven—O Isle! who art called the Beautiful! and who of thyself canst make all the Lake one floating Paradise—even were her shore-hills sylvan no more—groveless the bases of all her remoter mountains—effaced that loveliest splendour, sun-painted on their sky-piercing cliffs. And can it be that we have forsaken Thee! Fairy-land and Love-land of our youth! Hath imagination left our brain, and passion our heart, so that we can bear banishment from Thee and yet endure life! Such loss not yet is ours—witness these gushing tears. But Duty, "stern daughter of the voice of God," dooms us to breathe our morning and evening orisons far from hearing and sight of Thee, whose music and whose light continue gladdening other ears and other eyes—as if ours had there never listened—and never gazed. As if thy worshipper—and sun! moon! and stars! he asks ye if he loved not you and your images—as if thy worshipper—O Windermere! were—dead! And does duty dispense no reward to them who sacrifice at her bidding what was once the very soul of life? Yes! an exceeding great reward—ample as the heart's desire—for contentment is borne of obedience—where no repinings are, the wings of thought are imped beyond the power of the eagle's plumes; and happy are we now—with the human smiles and voices we love even more than thine, thou fairest region of nature! happier than when we rippled in our pinnace through the billowy moonlight—than when we sat alone on the mountain within the thunder-cloud.
Why do the songs of the Blackbird and Thrush make us think of the songless STARLING? It matters not. We do think of him, and see him too—a lovable bird, and his abode is majestic. What an object of wonder and awe is an old Castle to a boyish imagination! Its height how dreadful! up to whose mouldering edges his fear carries him, and hangs him over the battlements! What beauty in those unapproachable wall flowers, that cast a brightness on the old brown stones of the edifice, and make the horror pleasing! That sound so far below, is the sound of a stream the eye cannot reach—of a waterfall echoing for ever among the black rocks and pools. The schoolboy knows but little of the history of the old Castle—but that little is of war, and witchcraft, and imprisonment, and bloodshed. The ghostly glimmer of antiquity appals him—he visits the ruin only with a companion, and at midday. There and then it was that we first saw a Starling. We heard something wild and wonderful in their harsh scream, as they sat upon the edge of the battlements, or flew out of the chinks and crannies. There were Martens too, so different in their looks from the pretty House-Swallows—Jack-daws clamouring afresh at every time we waved our caps, or vainly slung a pebble towards their nests—and one grove of elms, to whose top, much lower than the castle, came, ever and anon, some noiseless Heron from the Muirs.
Ruins! Among all the external objects of imagination, surely they are most affecting! Some sumptuous edifice of a former age, still standing in its undecayed strength, has undoubtedly a great command over us, from the ages that have flowed over it; but the mouldering edifice which Nature has begun to win to herself, and to dissolve into her own bosom, is far more touching to the heart, and more awakening to the spirit. It is beautiful in its decay—not merely because green leaves, and wild flowers, and creeping mosses soften its rugged frowns, but because they have sown themselves on the decay of greatness; they are monitors to our fancy, like the flowers on a grave, of the untroubled rest of the dead. Battlements riven by the hand of time, and cloistered arches reft and rent, speak to us of the warfare and of the piety of our ancestors, of the pride of their might, and the consolations of their sorrow: they revive dim shadows of departed life, evoked from the land of forgetfulness; but they touch us more deeply when the brightness which the sun flings on the broken arches, and the warbling of birds that are nestled in the chambers of princes, and the moaning of winds through the crevices of towers, round which the surges of war were shattered and driven back, lay those phantoms again to rest in their silent bed, and show us, in the monuments of human life and power, the visible footsteps of Time and Oblivion coming on in their everlasting and irresistible career, to sweep down our perishable race, and to reduce all the forms of our momentary being into the undistinguishable elements of their original nothing.
What is there below the skies like the place of mighty and departed cities? the vanishing or vanished capitals of renowned empires? There is no other such desolation. The solitudes of nature may be wild and drear, but they are not like the solitude from which human glory is swept away. The overthrow or decay of mighty human power is, of all thoughts that can enter the mind, the most overwhelming. The whole imagination is at once stirred by the prostration of that, round which so many high associations have been collected for so many ages. Beauty seems born but to perish, and its fragility is seen and felt to be inherent in it by a law of its being. But power gives stability, as it were, to human thought, and we forget our own perishable nature in the spectacle of some abiding and enduring greatness. Our own little span of years—our own confined region of space—are lost in the endurance and far-spread dominion of some mighty state, and we feel as if we partook of its deep-set and triumphant strength. When, therefore, a great and ancient empire falls into pieces, or when fragments of its power are heard rent asunder, like column after column disparting from some noble edifice, in sad conviction, we feel as if all the cities of men were built on foundations beneath which the earthquake sleeps. The same doom seems to be imminent over all the other kingdoms that still stand; and in the midst of such changes, and decays, and overthrows—or as we read of them of old—we look, under such emotions, on all power as foundationless, and in our wide imagination embrace empires covered only with the ruins of their desolation. Yet such is the pride of the human spirit, that it often unconsciously, under the influence of such imagination, strives to hide from itself the utter nothingness of its mightiest works. And when all its glories are visibly crumbling into dust, it creates some imaginary power to overthrow the fabrics of human greatness—and thus attempts to derive a kind of mournful triumph even in its very fall. Thus, when nations have faded away in their sins and vices, rotten at the heart and palsied in all their limbs, we strive not to think of that sad internal decay, but imagine some mighty power smiting empires and cutting short the records of mortal magnificence. Thus Fate and Destiny are said in our imagination to lay our glories low. Thus, even, the calm and silent air of Oblivion has been thought of as an unsparing Power. Time, too, though in moral sadness wisely called a shadow, has been clothed with terrific attributes, and the sweep of his scythe has shorn the towery diadem of cities. Thus the mere sigh in which we expire, has been changed into active power—and all the nations have with one voice called out "Death!" And while mankind have sunk, and fallen, and disappeared in the helplessness of their own mortal being, we have still spoken of powers arrayed against them—powers that are in good truth only another name for their own weaknesses. Thus imagination is for ever fighting against truth—and even when humbled, her visions are sublime—conscious even amongst saddest ruin of her own immortality.
Higher and higher than ever rose the tower of Belus, uplifted by ecstasy, soars the LARK, the lyrical poet of the sky. Listen, listen! and the more remote the bird the louder seems his hymn in heaven. He seems, in such altitude, to have left the earth for ever, and to have forgotten his lowly nest. The primroses and the daisies, and all the sweet hill-flowers, must be unremembered in that lofty region of light. But just as the Lark is lost—he and his song together—as if his orisons had been accepted—both are seen and heard fondly wavering earthwards, and in a little while he is walking with his graceful crest contented along the furrows of the brairded corn, or on the clover lea that in man's memory has not felt the ploughshare; or after a pause, in which he seems dallying with a home-sick passion, drooping down like one dead, beside his mate in her shallow nest.
Of all birds to whom is given dominion over the air, the Lark alone lets loose the power that is in his wings only for the expression of love and gratitude. The eagle sweeps in passion of hunger—poised in the sky his ken is searching for prey on sea or sward—his flight is ever animated by destruction. The dove seems still to be escaping from something that pursues—afraid of enemies even in the dangerless solitudes where the old forests repose in primeval peace. The heron, high over houseless moors, seems at dusk fearful in her laborious flight, and weariedly gathers her long wings on the tree-top, as if thankful that day is done, and night again ready with its rest. "The blackening trains o' craws to their repose" is an image that affects the heart of "mortal man who liveth here by toil," through sympathy with creatures partaking with him a common lot. The swallow, for ever on the wing, and wheeling fitfully before fancy's eyes in element adapted for perpetual pastime, is flying but to feed—for lack of insects prepares to forsake the land of its nativity, and yearns for the blast to bear it across the sea. Thou alone, O Lark! hast wings given thee that thou mayest be perfectly happy—none other bird but thou can at once soar and sing—and heavenward thou seemest to be borne, not more by those twinkling pinions than by the ever-varying, ever-deepening melody effusing from thy heart.
How imagination unifies! then most intensive when working with and in the heart. Who thinks, when profoundly listening with his eyes shut to the warbling air, that there is another lark in creation? The lark—sole as the season—or the rainbow. We can fancy he sings to charm our own particular ear—to please us descends into silence—for our sakes erects his crest as he walks confidingly near our feet. Not till the dream-circle, of which ourselves are the centre, dissolves or subsides, do the fairest sights and sweetest sounds in nature lose their relationship to us the beholder and hearer, and relapse into the common property of all our kind. To self appertains the whole sensuous as well as the whole spiritual world. Egoism is the creator of all beauty and all bliss, of all hope and of all faith. Even thus doth imagination unify Sabbath worship. All our beloved Scotland is to the devout breast on that day one House of God. Each congregation—however far apart—hears but one hymn—sympathy with all is an all-comprehensive self—and Christian love of our brethren is evolved from the conviction that we have ourselves a soul to be saved or lost.
Yet, methinks, imagination loveth just as well to pursue an opposite process, and to furnish food to the heart in separate picture after separate picture, one and all imbued not with the same but congenial sentiment, and therefore succeeding one another at her will, be her will intimated by mild bidding or imperial command. In such mood imagination, in still series, visions a thousand parish-kirks, each with its own characteristic localities, Sabbath-sanctified; distributes the beauty of that hallowed day in allotments all over the happy land—so that in one Sabbath there are a thousand Sabbaths.
Keep carolling, then, all together, ye countless Larks, till heaven is one hymn! Imagination thinks she sees each particular field that sends up its own singer to the sky—the spot of each particular nest. And of the many hearts all over loveliest Scotland in the sweet vernal season a-listening your lays, she is with the quiet beatings of the happy, with the tumult in them that would wish to break! The little maiden by the well in the brae-side above the cottage, with the Bible on her knees, left in tendance of an infant—the palsied crone placed safely in the sunshine till after service—the sickly student meditating in the shade, and somewhat sadly thinking that these spring flowers are the last his eyes may see—lovers walking together on the Sabbath before their marriage to the house of God—life-wearied wanderers without a home—remorseful men touched by the innocent happiness they cannot help hearing in heaven—the sceptic—the unbeliever—the atheist to whom "hope comes not that comes to all." What different meanings to such different auditors hath the same music at the same moment filling the same sky!
Does the Lark ever sing in winter? Ay, sometimes January is visited with a May-day hour; and in the genial glimpse, though the earth be yet barer than the sky, the Lark, mute for months, feels called on by the sun to sing, not so near to heaven's gate, and a shorter than vernal lyric, or during that sweetest season when neither he nor you can say whether it is summer or but spring. Unmated yet, nor of mate solicitous, in pure joy of heart he cannot refrain from ascent and song; but the snow-clouds look cold, and ere he has mounted as high again as the church-spire, the aimless impulse dies, and he comes wavering down silently to the yet unprimrosed brae.
In our boyish days, we never felt that the Spring had really come till the clear-singing Lark went careering before our gladdened eyes away up to heaven. Then all the earth wore a vernal look, and the ringing sky said, "Winter is over and gone." As we roamed, on a holiday, over the wide pastoral moors, to angle in the lochs and pools, unless the day were very cloudy the song of some lark or other was still warbling aloft, and made a part of our happiness. The creature could not have been more joyful in the skies than we were on the greensward. We, too, had our wings, and flew through our holiday. Thou soul of glee! who still leddest our flight in all our pastimes—representative child of Erin!—wildest of the wild—brightest of the bright—boldest of the bold!—the lark-loved vales in their stillness were no home for thee. The green glens of ocean, created by swelling and subsiding storms, or by calms around thy ship transformed into immeasurable plains, they filled thy fancy with images dominant over the memories of the steadfast earth. The petterel and the halcyon were the birds the sailor loved, and he forgot the songs of the inland woods in the moanings that haunt the very heart of the tumultuous sea. Of that ship nothing was ever known but that she perished. He, too, the grave and thoughtful English boy, whose exquisite scholarship we all so enthusiastically admired, without one single particle of hopeless envy—and who accompanied us on all our wildest expeditions, rather from affection to his playmates than any love of their sports—he who, timid and unadventurous as he seemed to be, yet rescued little Marian of the Brae from a drowning death when so many grown-up men stood aloof in selfish fear—gone, too, for ever art thou, our beloved Edward Harrington! and, after a few brilliant years in the Oriental clime,
——"on Hoogley's banks afar, Looks down on thy lone tomb the Evening Star."
How genius shone o'er thy fine features, yet how pale thou ever wast; thou who sat'st then by the Sailor's side, and listened to his sallies with a mournful smile—friend! dearest to our soul! loving us far better than we deserved; for though faultless thou, yet tolerant of all our frailties—and in those days of hope from thy lips how elevating was praise! Yet how seldom do we think of thee! For months—years—not at all—not once—sometimes not even when by some chance we hear your name! It meets our eyes written on books that once belonged to you and that you gave us—and yet of yourself it recalls no image. Yet we sank down to the floor on hearing thou wast dead—ungrateful to thy memory for many years we were not—but it faded away till we forgot thee utterly, except when sleep showed thy grave!
Methinks we hear the song of the GREY LINTIE, the darling bird of Scotland. None other is more tenderly sung of in our old ballads. When the simple and fervent love-poets of our pastoral times first applied to the maiden the words, "my bonnie burdie," they must have been thinking of the Grey Lintie—its plumage ungaudy and soberly pure—its shape elegant yet unobtrusive—and its song various without any effort—now rich, gay, sprightly, but never rude nor riotous—now tender, almost mournful, but never gloomy or desponding. So, too, are all its habits, endearing and delightful. It is social, yet not averse to solitude, singing often in groups, and as often by itself in the furze brake, or on the briery knoll. You often find the lintie's nest in the most solitary places—in some small self-sown clump of trees by the brink of a wild hill-stream, or on the tangled edge of a forest; and just as often you find it in the hedgerow of the cottage garden, or in a bower within, or even in an old gooseberry bush that has grown into a sort of tree.
One wild and beautiful place we well remember—ay, the very bush, in which we first found a grey lintie's nest—for in our parish, from some cause or other, it was rather a rarish bird. That far-away day is as distinct as the present NOW. Imagine, friend, first, a little well surrounded with wild cresses on the moor; something like a rivulet flows from it, or rather you see a deep tinge of verdure, the line of which, you believe, must be produced by the oozing moisture—you follow it, and by-and-by there is a descent palpable to your feet—then you find yourself between low broomy knolls, that, heightening every step, become ere long banks, and braes, and hills. You are surprised now to see a stream, and look round for its source—and there seem now to be a hundred small sources in fissures and springs on every side—you hear the murmurs of its course over beds of sand and gravel—and hark, a waterfall! A tree or two begins to shake its tresses on the horizon—a birch or a rowan. You get ready your angle—and by the time you have panniered three dozen, you are at a wooden bridge—you fish the pool above it with the delicate dexterity of a Boaz, capture the monarch of the flood, and on lifting your eyes from his starry side as he gasps his last on the silvery shore, you behold a Cottage, at one gable-end an ash, at the other a sycamore, and standing perhaps at the lonely door, a maiden like a fairy or an angel.
This is the Age of Confessions; and why, therefore, may we not make a confession of first-love? We had finished our sixteenth year—and we were almost as tall as we are now; for our figure was then straight as an arrow, and almost like an arrow in its flight. We had given over bird-nesting—but we had not ceased to visit the dell where first we found the Grey Lintie's brood. Tale-writers are told by critics to remember that the young shepherdesses of Scotland are not beautiful as the fictions of a poet's dream. But SHE was beautiful beyond poetry. She was so then, when passion and imagination were young—and her image, her undying, unfading image, is so now, when passion and imagination are old, and when from eye and soul have disappeared much of the beauty and glory both of nature and life. We loved her from the first moment that our eyes met—and we see their light at this moment—the same soft, burning light, that set body and soul on fire. She was but a poor shepherd's daughter; but what was that to us, when we heard her voice singing one of her old plaintive ballads among the braes?—When we sat down beside her—when the same plaid was drawn over our shoulders in the rain-storm—when we asked her for a kiss, and was not refused—for what had she to fear in her beauty, and her innocence, and her filial piety?—and were we not a mere boy, in the bliss of passion, ignorant of deceit or dishonour, and with a heart open to the eyes of all as to the gates of heaven? What music was in that stream! Could "Sabean odours from the spicy shores of Araby the Blest" so penetrate our soul, as that breath, balmier than the broom on which we sat, forgetful of all other human life! Father, mother, brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts, and cousins, and all the tribe of friends that would throw us off—if we should be so base and mad as to marry a low-born, low-bred, ignorant, uneducated, crafty, ay, crafty and designing beggar—were all forgotten in our delirium—if indeed it were delirium—and not an everlastingly-sacred devotion to nature and to truth. For in what were we deluded? A voice—a faint and dewy voice—deadened by the earth that fills up her grave, and by the turf that, at this very hour, is expanding its primroses to the dew of heaven—answers, "In nothing!"
"Ha! ha! ha!" exclaims some reader in derision. "Here's an attempt at the pathetic!—a miserable attempt indeed; for who cares about the death of a mean hut girl?—we are sick of low life." Why, as to that matter, who cares for the death of any one mortal being? Who weeps for the death of the late Emperor of all the Russias? Who wept over Napoleon the Great? When Chatham or Burke, Pitt or Fox died—don't pretend to tell lies about a nation's tears. And if yourself, who, perhaps, are not in low life, were to die in half an hour (don't be alarmed), all who knew you—except two or three of your bosom friends, who, partly from being somewhat dull, and partly from wishing to be decent, might whine—would walk along George Street, at the fashionable hour of three, the very day after your funeral. Nor would it ever enter their heads to abstain from a dinner at the Club, ordered perhaps by yourself a fortnight ago, at which time you were in rude health, merely because you had foolishly allowed a cold to fasten upon your lungs, and carry you off in the prime and promise of your professional life. In spite of all your critical slang, therefore, Mr Editor, or Master Contributor to some Literary Journal, SHE, though a poor Scottish Herd, was most beautiful; and when, but a week after taking farewell of her, we went, according to our tryst, to fold her in our arms, and was told by her father that she was dead,—ay, dead—that she had no existence—that she was in a coffin,—when we awoke from the dead-fit in which we had lain on the floor of that cottage, and saw her in her grave-clothes within an hour to be buried—when we stood at her burial—and knew that never more were we or the day to behold her presence—we learned then how immeasurably misery can surpass happiness—that the soul is ignorant of its own being, till all at once a thunder-stone plunges down its depths, and groans gurgle upwards upbraiding heaven.
How easily can the heart change its mood from the awful to the solemn—from the solemn to the sweet—and from the sweet to the gay—while the mirth of this careless moment is unconsciously tempered by the influence of that holy hour that has subsided but not died, and continues to colour the most ordinary emotion, as the common things of earth look all lovelier in imbibed light, even after the serene moon that had yielded it is no more visible in her place! Most gentle are such transitions in the calm of nature and of the heart; all true poetry is full of them; and in music how pleasant are they, or how affecting! Those alternations of tears and smiles, of fervent aspirations and of quiet thoughts! The organ and the AEolian harp! As the one has ceased pealing praise, we can list the other whispering it—nor feels the soul any loss of emotion in the change—still true to itself and its wondrous nature—just as it is so when from the sunset clouds it turns its eyes to admire the beauty of a dewdrop or an insect's wing.
Now, we hear many of our readers crying out against the barbarity of confining the free denizens of the air in wire or wicker Cages. Gentle readers, do, we pray, keep your compassion for other objects. Or, if you are disposed to be argumentative with us, let us just walk down stairs to the larder, and tell the public truly what we there behold—three brace of partridges, two ditto of moorfowl, a cock pheasant, poor fellow,—a man and his wife of the aquatic or duck kind, and a woodcock, vainly presenting his long Christmas bill,—
"Some sleeping kill'd— All murder'd."
Why, you are indeed a most logical reasoner, and a most considerate Christian, when you launch out into an invective against the cruelty exhibited in our Cages. Let us leave this den of murder, and have a glass of our home-made frontignac in our own Sanctum. Come, come, sir,—look on this newly-married couple of CANARIES.—The architecture of their nest is certainly not of the florid order, but my Lady Yellowlees sits on it a well-satisfied bride. Come back in a day or two, and you will see her nursing triplets. Meanwhile, hear the ear-piercing fife of the bridegroom!—Where will you find a set of happier people, unless perhaps it be in our parlour, or our library, or our nursery? For, to tell you the truth, there is a cage or two in almost every room of the house. Where is the cruelty—here, or in your blood-stained larder? But you must eat, you reply. We answer—not necessarily birds. The question is about birds—cruelty to birds; and were that sagacious old wild-goose, whom one single moment of heedlessness brought last Wednesday to your hospitable board, at this moment alive, to bear a part in our conversation, can you dream that, with all your ingenuity and eloquence, you could persuade him—the now defunct and disjected—that you had been under the painful necessity of eating him with stuffing and apple-sauce?
It is not in nature that an ornithologist should be cruel—he is most humane. Mere skin-stuffers are not ornithologists—and we have known more than one of that tribe who would have had no scruple in strangling their own mothers, or reputed fathers. Yet if your true ornithologist cannot catch a poor dear bird alive, he must kill it—and leave you to weep for its death. There must be a few victims out of myriads of millions—and thousands and tens of thousands are few; but the ornithologist knows the seasons when death is least afflictive—he is merciful in his wisdom—for the spirit of knowledge is gentle—and "thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears," reconcile him to the fluttering and ruffled plumage blood-stained by death. 'Tis hard, for example, to be obliged to shoot a Zenaida dove! Yet a Zenaida dove must die for Audubon's Illustrations. How many has he loved in life, and tenderly preserved! And how many more pigeons of all sorts, cooked in all styles, have you devoured—ay, twenty for his one—you being a glutton and epicure in the same inhuman form, and he being contented at all times with the plainest fare—a salad perhaps of water-cresses plucked from a spring in the forest glade, or a bit of pemmican, or a wafer of portable soup melted in the pot of some squatter—and shared with the admiring children before a drop has been permitted to touch his own abstemious lips.
The intelligent author of the "Treatise on British Birds" does not condescend to justify the right we claim to encage them; but he shows his genuine humanity in instructing us how to render happy and healthful their imprisonment. He says very prettily, "What are town gardens and shrubberies in squares, but an attempt to ruralise the city? So strong is the desire in man to participate in country pleasures, that he tries to bring some of them even to his room. Plants and birds are sought after with avidity, and cherished with delight. With flowers he endeavours to make his apartments resemble a garden; and thinks of groves and fields, as he listens to the wild sweet melody of his little captives. Those who keep and take an interest in song-birds, are often at a loss how to treat their little warblers during illness, or to prepare the proper food best suited to their various constitutions; but that knowledge is absolutely necessary to preserve these little creatures in health: for want of it, young amateurs and bird-fanciers have often seen, with regret, many of their favourite birds perish."
Now, here we confess is a good physician. In Edinburgh we understand there are about five hundred medical practitioners on the human race—and we have dog-doctors, and horse-doctors, who come out in numbers—but we have no bird-doctors. Yet often, too often, when the whole house rings, from garret to cellar, with the cries of children teething, or in the hooping-cough, the little linnet sits silent on his perch, a moping bunch of feathers, and then falls down dead, when his lilting life might have been saved by the simplest medicinal food skilfully administered. Surely if we have physicians to attend our treadmills, and regulate the diet and day's work of merciless ruffians, we should not suffer our innocent and useful prisoners thus to die unattended. Why do not the ladies of Edinburgh form themselves into a Society for this purpose?
Not one of all the philosophers in the world has been able to tell us what is happiness. Sterne's Starling is weakly supposed to have been miserable. Probably he was one of the most contented birds in the universe. Does confinement—the closest, most uncompanioned confinement—make one of ourselves unhappy? Is the shoemaker, sitting with his head on his knees, in a hole in the wall from morning to night, in any respect to be pitied? Is the solitary orphan, that sits all day sewing in a garret, while the old woman for whom she works is out washing, an object of compassion? or the widow of fourscore, hurkling over the embers, with the stump of a pipe in her toothless mouth? Is it so sad a thing indeed to be alone? or to have one's motions circumscribed within the narrowest imaginable limits? Nonsense all!
Then, gentle reader, were you ever in a Highland shieling? Often since you read our Recreations. It is built of turf, and is literally alive; for the beautiful heather is blooming, wildflowers and walls and roof are one sound of bees. The industrious little creatures must have come several long miles for their balmy spoil. There is but one human creature in that shieling, but he is not at all solitary. He no more wearies of that lonesome place than do the sunbeams or the shadows. To himself alone he chants his old Gaelic songs, or frames wild ditties of his own to the raven or red-deer. Months thus pass on; and he descends again to the lower country. Perhaps he goes to the wars—fights—bleeds—and returns to Badenoch or Lochaber; and once more, blending in his imagination the battles of his own regiment, in Egypt, Spain, or Flanders, with the deeds done of yore by Ossian sung, sits contented by the door of the same shieling, restored and beautified, in which he had dreamt away the summers of his youth.
What has become—we wonder—of Dartmoor Prison? During that long war its huge and hideous bulk was filled with Frenchmen—ay,
"Men of all climes—attach'd to none—were there;"
—a desperate race—robbers and reavers, and ruffians and rapers, and pirates and murderers—mingled with the heroes who, fired by freedom, had fought for the land of lilies, with its vine-vales and "hills of sweet myrtle"—doomed to die in captivity, immured in that doleful mansion on the sullen moor. There thousands pined and wore away and wasted—and when not another groan remained within the bones of their breasts, they gave up the ghost. Young heroes prematurely old in baffled passions—life's best and strongest passions, that scorned to go to sleep but in the sleep of death. These died in their golden prime. With them went down into unpitied and unhonoured graves—for pity and honour dwell not in houses so haunted—veterans in their iron age—some self-smitten with ghastly wounds that let life finally bubble out of sinewy neck or shaggy bosom—or the poison-bowl convulsed their giant limbs unto unquivering rest. Yet there you saw a wild strange tumult of troubled happiness—which, as you looked into its heart, was transfigured into misery. There volatile spirits fluttered in their cage, like birds that seem not to hate nor to be unhappy in confinement, but, hanging by beak or claws, to be often playing with the glittering wires—to be amusing themselves, so it seems, with drawing up, by small enginery, their food and drink, which soon sickens, however, on their stomachs, till, with ruffled plumage, they are often found in the morning lying on their backs, with clenched feet, and neck bent as if twisted, on the scribbled sand, stone-dead. There you saw pale youths—boys almost like girls, so delicate looked they in that hot infected air which, ventilate it as you will, is never felt to breathe on the face like the fresh air of liberty—once bold and bright midshipmen in frigate or first-rater, and saved by being picked up by the boats of the ship that had sunk her by one double-shotted broadside, or sent her in one explosion splintering into the sky, and splashing into the sea, in less than a minute the thunder silent, and the fiery shower over and gone—there you saw such lads as these, who used almost to weep if they got not duly the dear-desired letter from sister or sweetheart, and when they did duly get it, opened it with trembling fingers, and even then let drop some natural tears—there we saw them leaping and dancing, with gross gesticulations and horrid oaths obscene, with grim outcasts from nature, whose mustached mouths were rank with sin and pollution—monsters for whom hell was yawning—their mortal mire already possessed with a demon. There, wretched, woe-begone, and wearied out with recklessness and desperation, many wooed Chance and Fortune, who they hoped might yet listen to their prayers—and kept rattling the dice—cursing them that gave the indulgence—even in their cells of punishment for disobedience or mutiny. There you saw some, who in the crowded courts "sat apart retired,"—bringing the practised skill that once supported, or the native genius that once adorned life, to bear on beautiful contrivances and fancies elaborately executed with meanest instruments, till they rivalled or outdid the work of art assisted by all the ministries of science. And thus won they a poor pittance wherewithal to purchase some little comfort or luxury, or ornament to their persons; for vanity had not forsaken some in their rusty squalor, and they sought to please her, their mistress or their bride. There you saw accomplished men conjuring before their eyes, on the paper or the canvass, to feed the longings of their souls, the lights and the shadows of the dear days that far away were beautifying some sacred spot of "la belle France"—perhaps some festal scene, for love in sorrow is still true to remembered joy, where once with youths and maidens
"They led the dance beside the murmuring Loire."
There you heard—and hushed then was all the hubbub—some clear silver voice, sweet almost as woman's, yet full of manhood in its depths, singing to the gay guitar, touched, though the musician was of the best and noblest blood of France, with a master's hand, "La belle Gabrielle!" And there might be seen, in the solitude of their own abstractions, men with minds that had sounded the profounds of science, and, seemingly undisturbed by all that clamour, pursuing the mysteries of lines and numbers—conversing with the harmonies and lofty stars of heaven, deaf to all the discord and despair of earth. Or religious still even more than they—for those were mental, these spiritual—you beheld there men, whose heads before their time were becoming grey, meditating on their own souls, and in holy hope and humble trust in their Redeemer, if not yet prepared, perpetually preparing themselves for the world to come!
To return to Birds in Cages;—they are, when well, uniformly as happy as the day is long. What else could oblige them, whether they will or no, to burst out into song—to hop about so pleased and pert—to play such fantastic tricks, like so many whirligigs—to sleep so soundly, and to awake into a small, shrill, compressed twitter of joy at the dawn of light? So utterly mistaken was Sterne, and all the other sentimentalists, that his Starling, who he absurdly opined was wishing to get out, would not have stirred a peg had the door of his cage been flung wide open, but would have pecked like a very game-cock at the hand inserted to give him his liberty. Depend upon it, that Starling had not the slightest idea of what he was saying; and had he been up to the meaning of his words, would have been shocked at his ungrateful folly. Look at Canaries, and Chaffinches, and Bullfinches, and "the rest," how they amuse themselves for a while flitting about the room, and then, finding how dull a thing it is to be citizens of the world, bounce up to their cages, and shut the door from the inside, glad to be once more at home. Begin to whistle or sing yourself, and forthwith you have a duet or a trio. We can imagine no more perfectly tranquil and cheerful life than that of a Goldfinch in a cage in spring, with his wife and his children. All his social affections are cultivated to the utmost. He possesses many accomplishments unknown to his brethren among the trees;—he has never known what it is to want a meal in times of the greatest scarcity; and he admires the beautiful frostwork on the windows, when thousands of his feathered friends are buried in the snow, or, what is almost as bad, baked up into pies, and devoured by a large supper-party of both sexes, who fortify their flummery and flirtation by such viands, and, remorseless, swallow dozens upon dozens of the warblers of the woods.
Ay, ay, Mr Goldy! you are wondering what we are now doing, and speculating upon the scribbler with arch eyes and elevated crest, as if you would know the subject of his lucubrations. What the wiser or better wouldst thou be of human knowledge? Sometimes that little heart of thine goes pit-a-pat, when a great, ugly, staring contributor thrusts his inquisitive nose within the wires—or when a strange cat glides round and round the room, fascinating thee with the glare of his fierce fixed eyes;—but what is all that to the woes of an Editor?—Yes, sweet simpleton! do you not know that we are the editor of Blackwood's Magazine—Christopher North! Yes, indeed, we are that very man—that self-same much-calumniated man-monster and Ogre. There, there!—perch on our shoulder, and let us laugh together at the whole world.
CHRISTOPHER IN HIS AVIARY.
The golden eagle leads the van of our Birds of Prey—and there she sits in her usual carriage when in a state of rest. Her hunger and her thirst have been appeased—her wings are folded up in a dignified tranquillity—her talons, grasping a leafless branch, are almost hidden by the feathers of her breast—her sleepless eye has lost something of its ferocity—and the Royal Bird is almost serene in her solitary state in the cliff. The gorcock unalarmed crows among the moors and mosses—the blackbird whistles in the birken shaw—and the cony erects his ears at the mouth of his burrow, and whisks away frolicsome among the whins or heather.
There is no index to the hour—neither light nor shadow—no cloud. But from the composed aspect of the Bird, we may suppose it to be the hush of evening after a day of successful foray. The imps in the eyrie have been fed, and their hungry cry will not be heard till the dawn. The mother has there taken up her watchful rest, till in darkness she may glide up to her brood—the sire is somewhere sitting within her view among the rocks—a sentinel whose eye, and ear, and nostril are true, in exquisite fineness of sense, to their trust, and on whom rarely, and as if by a miracle, can steal the adventurous shepherd or huntsman, to wreak vengeance with his rifle on the spoiler of sheep-walk and forest-chase.
Yet sometimes it chanceth that the yellow lustre of her keen, wild, fierce eye is veiled, even in daylight, by the film of sleep. Perhaps sickness has been at the heart of the dejected bird, or fever wasted her wing. The sun may have smitten her, or the storm driven her against a rock. Then hunger and thirst—which in pride of plumage she scorned, and which only made her fiercer on the edge of her unfed eyrie, as she whetted her beak on the flint-stone, and clutched the strong heather-stalks in her talons, as if she were anticipating prey—quell her courage, and in famine she eyes afar off the fowls she is unable to pursue, and with one stroke strike to earth. Her flight is heavier and heavier each succeeding day—she ventures not to cross the great glens with or without lochs—but flaps her way from rock to rock, lower and lower down along the same mountain-side—and finally, drawn by her weakness into dangerous descent, she is discovered at grey dawn far below the region of snow, assailed and insulted by the meanest carrion; till a bullet whizzing through her heart, down she topples, and soon is despatched by blows from the rifle-butt, the shepherd stretching out his foe's carcass on the sward, eight feet from wing-tip to wing-tip, with leg thick as his own wrist, and foot broad as his own hand.
But behold the Golden Eagle, as she has pounced, and is exulting over her prey! With her head drawn back between the crescent of her uplifted wings, which she will not fold till that prey be devoured, eye glaring cruel joy, neck-plumage bristling, tail-feathers fan-spread, and talons driven through the victim's entrails and heart—there she is new lighted on the ledge of a precipice, and fancy hears her yell and its echo. Beak and talons, all her life long, have had a stain of blood, for the murderess observes no Sabbath, and seldom dips them in loch or sea, except when dashing down suddenly among the terrified water-fowl from her watch-tower in the sky. The week-old fawn had left the doe's side but for a momentary race along the edge of the coppice; a rustle and a shadow—and the burden is borne off to the cliffs of Benevis. In an instant the small animal is dead—after a short exultation torn into pieces, and by eagles and eaglets devoured, its unswallowed or undigested bones mingle with those of many other creatures, encumbering the eyrie, and strewed around it over the bloody platform on which the young demons crawl forth to enjoy the sunshine.
Oh for the life of an eagle written by himself! It would outsell the Confessions even of the English Opium-Eater. Proudly would he, or she, write of birth and parentage. On the rock of ages he first opened his eyes to the sun, in noble instinct affronting and outstaring the light. The Great Glen of Scotland—hath it not been the inheritance of his ancestors for many thousand years? No polluting mixture of ignoble blood, from intermarriages of necessity or convenience with kite, buzzard, hawk, or falcon. No, the Golden Eagles of Glen-Falloch, surnamed the Sun-starers, have formed alliances with the Golden Eagles of Cruachan, Benlawers, Shehallion, and Lochnagair—the Lightning-Glints, the Flood-fallers, the Storm-wheelers, the Cloud-cleavers, ever since the deluge. The education of the autobiographer had not been intrusted to a private tutor. Parental eyes, beaks, and talons, provided sustenance for his infant frame; and in that capacious eyrie, year after year repaired by dry branches from the desert, parental advice was yelled into him, meet for the expansion of his instinct, as wide and wonderful as the reason of earth-crawling man. What a noble naturalist did he, in a single session at the College of the Cliff, become! Of the customs, and habits, and haunts of all inferior creatures, he speedily made himself master—ours included. Nor was his knowledge confined to theory, but reduced to daily practice. He kept himself in constant training—taking a flight of a couple of hundred miles before breakfast—paying a forenoon visit to the farthest of the Hebride Isles, and returning to dinner in Glenco. In one day he has flown to Norway on a visit to his uncle by the mother's side, and returned the next to comfort his paternal uncle, lying sick at the Head of the Cambrian Dee. He soon learned to despise himself for having once yelled for food, when food was none; and to sit or sail, on rock or through ether, athirst and an hungered, but mute. The virtues of patience, endurance, and fortitude, have become with him, in strict accordance with the Aristotelian Moral Philosophy—habits. A Peripatetic Philosopher he could hardly be called—properly speaking, he belongs to the Solar School—an airy sect, who take very high ground, indulge in lofty flights, and are often lost in the clouds. Now and then a light chapter might be introduced, setting forth how he and other youngsters of the Blood Royal were wont to take an occasional game at High-Jinks, or tourney in air lists, the champions on opposite sides flying from the Perthshire and from the Argyllshire mountains, and encountering with a clash in the azure common, six thousand feet high. But the fever of love burned in his blood, and flying to the mountains of another continent, in obedience to the yell of an old oral tradition, he wooed and won his virgin bride—a monstrous beauty, wider-winged than himself, to kill or caress, and bearing the proof of her noble nativity in the radiant Iris that belongs in perfection of fierceness but to the Sun-starers, and in them is found, unimpaired by cloudiest clime, over the uttermost parts of the earth. The bridegroom and his bride, during the honey-moon, slept on the naked rock—till they had built their eyrie beneath its cliff-canopy on the mountain-brow. When the bride was "as Eagles wish to be who love their lords"—devoted unto her was the bridegroom, even as the cushat murmuring to his brooding mate in the central pine-grove of a forest. Tenderly did he drop from his talons, close beside her beak, the delicate spring lamb, or the too early leveret, owing to the hurried and imprudent marriage of its parents before March, buried in a living tomb on April's closing day. Through all thy glens, Albyn! hadst thou reason to mourn, at the bursting of the shells that Queen-bird had been cherishing beneath her bosom. Aloft in heaven wheeled the Royal Pair, from rising to setting sun. Among the bright-blooming heather they espied the tartan'd shepherd, or hunter creeping like a lizard, and from behind the vain shadow of a rock watching with his rifle the flight he would fain see shorn of its beams. The flocks were thinned—and the bleating of desolate dams among the woolly people heard from many a brae. Poison was strewn over the glens for their destruction, but the Eagle, like the lion, preys not on carcasses; and the shepherd dogs howled in agony over the carrion in which they devoured death. Ha! was not that a day of triumph to the Sun-starers of Cruachan, when sky-hunting in couples, far down on the greensward before the ruined gateway of Kilchurn Castle, they saw, left all to himself in the sunshine, the infant heir of the Campbell of Breadalbane, the child of the Lord of Glenorchy and all its streams! Four talons in an instant were in his heart. Too late were the outcries from all the turrets; for ere the castle-gates were flung open, the golden head of the royal babe was lying in gore, in the Eyrie on the iron ramparts of Ben-Slarive—his blue eyes dug out—his rosy cheeks torn—and his brains dropping from beaks that revelled yelling within the skull!—Such are a few hints for "Some Passages in the Life of the Golden Eagle, written by Himself,"—in one volume crown octavo—Blackwoods, Edinburgh and London.