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A NEW-YEAR'S-DAY EPISTLE ON THE speculations of mine may prove to a SINGING OF BIRDS. P, &
thorough-bred terminologist, should
any such leave his delicious repast on MR EDITOR,
Dr Leach's Annulosa, to fret over a With a few distinguished excep- scrap of Natural History in plain Engtions, the Naturalists of the day are
lish. mere word-makers, spending the hours
But plain English, you say, will which their illustrious predecessors never go down, if it be not seasoned would have devoted to patient obser- with a suuce piquante of Greek, withvation, in scraping together “ odds out which no confidence can, in these and ends” of barbarized Greek and days, be placed in a writer's learning. mongrelized Latin from the dog-eared Besides, Greek eye-traps have the ad. and worm-eaten ruins of their school vantage of setting agog the fancies of lexicons. A marked and alarming in- such as understand them not, and also of dication of the depraved taste of the keeping alive among your northern age in which encouragement is held clergy the knowledge of Alpha Beta, 02t to such conceited language-mon- which, with other heathenish learngers who deal in lengthy catalogues ing acquired at college, they might be of terms fresh from the word-inanu- in danger of forgetting, were a short factory, and laboriously dove-tailed by spelling exercise not occasionally the first artisans in that line of work. thrown in their way, to remind them I confess, Sir, that I never look into that there is such a book as the Greek books which are stuffed with these lo- Testament. With this view, I have cust-clouls of pieced and patch-work selected two short lessons, which, you terminology, without thinking of the may perceive, are as highly applicable similar productions of those ingenious to the singing of birds as the remarks poets who squared their verses into I have already hazarded. the forms of acizes, hearts, and trian
The first is from the
historian gles, and left the consideration of sen- Polybius, who, in his first book and timent and imagery to bards of minor fifth chapter, hath these memorable note.
words : “Αμα και το χρησιμον και It is somewhat strange that our cri- TO TESTiON à desrv.” The next is from tical philosophers, who have hunted the great Aristotle, and is an admire down so many of the intellectual able enforcement of what has been aa pleasures of man, should never have bove inculcated. The passage is in unbushed this singular species. It his Politics, book eight, chapter third, might, indeed, afford matter for a long where he saith wisely, “ To ồe Entein chapter to Mr Alison or the learned πανταχά το χρησιμον ήκιστα αρμoττει Mr David Prentice, in which they τους μεγαλοψυχους και τους ελευθερους. could luxuriate in a rich and varied 'Επει δε φανερον ποτερον τους εθεσιν, ή το feld of illustration, as yet fresh and untouched by the inquirers after taste λογω παιδευτεον ειναι και περι το δώμα and beauty, and I hope it will not be porsgov, s mnv õiavolov, dsjhov
, &z TYTUJU overlooked in their next editions. The οι παραδοτέον τ8τον παιδας γυμναστικη, relish for the manufactured jargon of και παιδοτριβική τετον γας ή μεν ποιαν the modern naturalist, however, seems, τινα παιδί την έξιν τα σoματος, η δε τα like that for opium and tobacco, to be wholly acquired, -an opinion which
Under the shelter of these great auany of the uncontaminated may readily verify, by looking into the article thorities, (for you can never suppose duzulosu of the Supplement to the En- I would have recourse to them merecyclopædia Britannic, or the articlely for “Greek invocations to call fools Entomology in the Edinburgh Ency- that the opinion which is generally
into a circle,") * I proceed to remark, clopedia, by Dr W. Elford Leach, held, that the singing of birds is rewho ranks as the supreme dictator of the illuminati. Thither I refer such ferable to imitation as much as human of your readers as love to dwell on the language is, seems to be very doubta beauties of unintelligible names for ful, if not groundless. It is not true, ants, and spiders, and every other
which Kircher asserts, that nestlings thing that moveth on the earth or in fed by the hand, and kept at a disthe waters. To me they are a forbida tance from other birds, will never atding and nauseous drug, as these crude * As You Like It, Act II.
of their own,
tempt to sing, no more than that a at all, can, by instruction, be made human infant in similar circumstances superior to most other cage birds. It would speak Hebrew or High Dutch. does not, however, seem to be good Several marked instances of the con- logic to say, that, because a man is catrary have fallen under my observa. pable of learning French or English, tion. A sky-lark was taken from the he cannot cry, por smile, nor groan, nest before it was fledged, and reared without having heard his nurse do so. by the hand in town, where it could The artificial notes, also, which birds not hear any of its own species; yet, in this manner acquire are so far as when it was grown, its song was not my observation reaches-seldom altodistinguishable from those in the wild gether perfect, and may, in most cases, state. Could it have acquired these be recognized as imitations. This renotes, while in the nest, from the pa- mark is confirmed by the fact, that rent bird, in a similar way to what mock-birds, which may be considered Darwin supposed infants to acquire a as having no natural song taste for Hogarth’s line of beauty by cannot go through with any set of fondling on their mothers’ bosom? notes without introducing tones foand could it have retained this mu- reign to the notes they are imitating. sique de berceau in its memory for The mock-bird of this country, whose more than six months without ever retired habits cause it to be but little attempting--as the birdsmen express attended to, may be heard hurrying it-even to record ?
over in succession the song of the There is only one fact known to me wren, wagtail, and sky-lark, the twitwhich could sanction the affirınative, ter of the swallow, and the chirp of and it is so anomalous, that little can the sparrow and chaffinch, but it ofbe rested on it; but, as it is curious, ten introduces a deep harsh note I may state it for your amusement, which belongs to no other native bird, The celebrated Dr Rush of Philadel. though it has a distant resemblance to phia was called to visit the Countess the chirr of the white-throat, Inof L-L-L-, who was in a high deed, the mock-bird, both in its size fever. In her delirium she uttered and colour, and even in its habits, is a number of outlandish speeches, so like the white-throat, as to be often which one of the attendants recogniz- confounded with it. ed to be pure Welch. The Doctor Those who maintain that the songs was struck with the singularity of the of birds are acquired by individual circumstance, as the Countess, he was imitation, find no little difficulty in told, did not understand a single word accounting for the uniformity which of Welch. On making inquiry, he prevails among the notes of the sevefound that she had been nursed by a ral species. They tell us that the Welch woman, but had been removed young birds learn the song of the pabefore she could articulate a word, rent birds by associating exclusively and had not heard Welch spoken from with them before they can provide for that time till she had been seized with themselves, and that, afterwards, they fever. * But a solitary and anoma. frequent the same places as the rest of lous fact like this will not authorize their kind; but, unfortunately for us to conclude that the young sky- this explanation, it happens that song lark retained, in like manner, the song birds become silent after their young of its field-nurse.
are hatched.—(Pennant, Brit. Zool. I. But I shall be told that birds may 138.). The same accurate observer is be taught the notes of different spe- of opinion, that it is chiefly the young cies, and that bulfinches f and star- red-breasts which entertain us so a lings, I which possess no natural notes greeably with their songs in autumn
and winter. -Neither is it true that American Museum, July 1787.
song birds associate exclusively with
their own species, and, although they + The poets are mistaken in giving the bullinch a song. Thomson says the « Mel. did, will they never hear other birds? low bulfinch answers from the grove."- And, if so, how does it happen, since Spring: The error may have arisen from they are by the theory so prone to the melancholy chirp of the bird, associated with the sequestered and romantic places ring-ousel a starling, but that bird has not which it loves to frequent.
the faculty of imitating human speech, as * Your, peasants in Scotland call the, the starling has.
imitation that they never, except in the Johnson's remark, however, I think case of mock-birds, intermingle the it right to state, that I have frequentnotes of others with those peculiar to ly imagined I observed something like themselves? In one instance only I a different dialect among the same speobserved a wild linnet repeat, in a cies of song-birds in different counties, very confused manner, some of the and even in places a few miles distant notes of the woodlark; but I am con- from each other. This difference, I vinced such an occurrence is very un- think, is more remarkable in the chafusual, though, upon the principles finch, hedge-sparrow, and yellowcombated, every bird should be a po- hammer, then in the more melodious lyglot.
species. But the aspect of strangeness That this uniformity prevails a. in the places where they are heard mong the same species in the most may often suggest this when there is distant countries, we may infer from no real difference of note or tone. Asthe remark of Bruce, that the sky. sociation, we know, is all powerful. larks in Abyssinia have the same notes The uniformity of the notes which, as those of Scotland; and Mr Salt, in the same species, is so little varied, who bristles up most erinaceously a. may, to a certain extent, arise from a gainst the Scottish traveller as to most peculiar conformation of the parts aother things, agrees with him in this. bout the larynx; but it appears probaDr Johnson tells us, indeed, that the ble, when we consider the case of nightingales which accidentally visit mock-birds, and the songless starlings Caledonia have not the same sweet- and bulfinches taught to speak and ness of song as those in the south ; sing, that there must be some other bat the Doctor's prejudices were als cause which is to us unknown. Much ways jaundicing his observations. might be done to ascertain the prinNay, it is likely that this was only an ciple upon which this proceeds and ill-natured conjecture, for the visits of the inquiry is assuredly curious ;-but the nightingale to the northern parts it is of the utmost moment towards of the island are rare indeed. I only success, that all hypothesis be rigore know of one instance; it was in 1808, ously discarded. Want of attention when a single pair were discovered to this led the Honourable Daines preparing a nest in Eglinton woods. Barrington to advance many unfoundThe Scottish poets have, indeed, some. ed opinions about song-birds, in a times introduced the nightingale. very ingenious and interesting paper Gavin Douglas says,
published in the Philosophical Trans- To bete thare amouris of thare nychtis
actions, (Vol. LXIII.)
How far anatomical research may bale The merle, the mauys, and the nychtingale, elucidate any part of this subject 1 With mirry notis myrthfully furth brist.”
know not, and I am ignorant whether VIRGIL, xii. Prolouge. it is even mentioned by Blumenbach,
or Cuvier, or Sir Everard Home, and And one of the Scottish pastoral songs I have not their works by me to rebegins,
fer to. One fact of this sort has come “ 'Twas simmer, and saftly the breezes to my knowledge, and it is a very cu. war blawin',
rious one. It was first stated in Clayde' srectly the nightingale sang from the ton's Letters from Virginia, (Miscell. tree."
Curiosa, III. 291.) Mr Clayton and
Dr Moulm discovered, that in birds, But poets are seldom good authority contrary to what takes place in man, in natural history. With respect to and in quadrupeds, there is almost a
direct passage from one ear to the OThe cavils of Mr Salt and Lord Va. ther, so that, if the drum of both ears leata against Bruce always put me in mind of a bird be pierced, water, when of the fly criticising the dome of St Paul's. Bruce was a man of honour, though, per. the other. There is no cochlea, but
poured in, will pass from the one to has given to the use of strong language and vivid description ; but it was not sure
a small passage which opens into a ly very honourable in those cavillers to im. cavity formed by two plates of bone, peach his veracity without producing any that constitute a double scull all round prods, on the contrary, affording them the head. The outer plate of bone is stres the strongest confirmation of his de. supported by many hundreds of small
thread-like columns, or rather &ibres.
Now, this cochlenus passage was ob- , foundation as the Loves of the Plants, served to be much larger in singing whieh have been placed in so fanciful birds, than in others that did not a light by Dr Darwin. sing; so very remarkably so, that any Those who maintain this poetical person who has been once shewn this, opinion, will find it no easy matter to may easily judge by the head what account for the singing of the blackbird is a singing bird, though he were bird, tit-lark, willow-wren, and sevebefore completely ignorant of the bird ral other song birds, which become or its habits.* Night not this curious silent at midsummer, but resume their fact be useful in ascertainico whether notes in September, (British Zoology, the antediluvian birds, whose bones I. 138.) And the red-breast continues are found imbedded in the rocks of to sing all winter. I have observed the Paris basin, and elsewhere, were several anomalous instances this seabirds of song, and hymned the infant son, (1818,) equally unaccountable on world with their music?
the combated supposition. On the Mr Barrington, I conceive, is only 26th of October, for instance, a very poetically right in his opinion concern- fine day, I heard a thrush in the ing the motive which induces birds to morning singing in an orchard as sing. All accounts, indeed, of mo- sprightly as if it had been in April, tives, and the actions arising from them, and again, in the evening of the same are necessarily obscure, and more dis- day, I heard another thrush singing putes, which it is impossible to decide, on the banks of a river at some miles have arisen on this, than any other distance from the orchard. Later still, subject connected with the phenome- namely, on the 8th December, I oba na of life. Actions, indeed, are some served a wren singing in the same ortimes very anomalous, even though chard at day-break, and it was anthe motives whence they arose are ap- swered by a hedge-sparrow. Now, parent. For example, sapling plants this late singing cannot surely be reof ash, or any other tree which pro- ferred to love-less so, if Pennant's duces winged seeds, frequently seen opinion be just, that it is chiefly the growing on the lofty corners of ruin- birds which have been hatched in the ous walls, have been known to send preceding summer which sing at this down suckers to the earth from a season. His notion is not exclusively height of many feet. (Lord Kames' true, for I know that it was not young Gent. Farmer, Part II.) Now, here thrushes I heard last October, since the presence of a motivé, namely, the they have a particular note, easily disdesire of procuring nourishment is tinguishable when they first attempt very apparent; but it is singular, that to sing, as I have repeatedly observed. a supernumerary shoot should have The passage oftenest repeated by young been dispatched so far in search of it. thrushes is,
. It is asked, then, what induces birds to sing? The poets, ever
on the scarch for embellishment at the expence of truth, tell us, that they are induced by love; and that their songs are intended either to win the affections of their mates, or to cheer them during the fatiguing period of incu
and occasionally, bation. Appearances, it must be confessed, are in favour of this opinion, and few poets attempt to go much farther; but it seems to have as little
Mr Clayton says, that, in extensive birds sing in autumn, froin association,
Perhaps it may be said that, the old researches into comparative anatomy, he never found any quadruped with an ear
because it resembles spring. For, like a bird except the mole, which is well though spring is all youth, all verknown to be quick of hearing.-- Voles are dure, and autumn wears the aspect of also supposed to have the peculiarity of a decline, and woods and fields, instead sixth sense. (See Ray, Hist. and Pennant's of lively green, display nothing but British Zoology.)
sombre shades of yellow and brown ;
yet, the temperature of the air is near- often mentioned. Not to over-mully the same, and food is equally, if tiply proofs, I shall merely mention not more abundant. In the case of two other instances. The summer the young birds singing in autumn, red-bird, or Tanager, which inhabits the poetical theorists will not surely the woods on the Mississippi, and is ascribe it to a premature and inane remarkable for laying up a large gra07097. If they do, they must accūse nary of maize for winter provision, is the Author of Nature of implanting a delightful song bird, and makes the desires whose gratification fails of their forests resound with its summer warbaim:
lings, ( Arctic Zoology, II. p. 369.) According to this account, also, we The American mock-bird, also, which should suppose, that those birds which resembles our thrushin size and colour, are the inost amorous, would have the is, perhaps, the first songster of the most pleasing song, which does not woods, having a variety,fulness, and meappear to be the case; for the spar- lody, in its own notes, while it has the row has nothing but an unmusical faculty of imitating the notes of all oyelp, though it is proverbial for sa ther birds, from the humming-bird to lacity, being the bird of Venus. the eagle. Mr Pennant ( Arctic Zoola
ogy, II. 331) heard a caged one imi-Πατρος δε δόμον λιπόισα
tate the mewing of a cat, and the Χρύσιον ήλθες, , creaking of a sign in a high wind. * Αρμ’ υποζεύξασα, καλοί δε σ' άγον
Its habits are similar to those of the 'Ωκές στρεθοι, πτέρυγας μελαίνας
red-breast, as it commonly sings from Iluzide Önsórss uz wgáv, èidegos òide houses. It is the nightingale of the
chimney-tops, and the trees near to மசால.
West Indies, for it makes no distincSAPPITο, Εις Αφροδιτην. tion between day and night in its
singing. What is still more singular, Of my darts and of my arrows,
it not only sings but dances, performOf my mother's doves and sparrows.
ing a great inany whimsical gesticula
tions, and throwing somersets like the The dove must be confessed to have a tumbler pigeon. With these instankind of amorous plaint; but from this ces before us, we will not again listen 710 general conclusion can well be to the unfounded calumny, that trodrawn.
pical birds, though guilty of having To confirm the position contended splendid plumage, are mute and songfor, I would here have also mentioned less. a remark which some naturalists have There is one case which seems to inade, namely, that in warm climates favour the view that birds sing from song-birds are rarely to be found, but love, namely, that the black-cock (pethat I entertain strong doubts of its culiar, if I mistake not, to the Scot. truth. Bruce, as has already been tish Ilighlands) repairs to an emimentioned, observed the song of the nence, and crowing aloud, gathers to sky-lark in Abyssinia ; Vaillant was him all the females in the neighbourcharmed with the music of birds in hood. The Canadian partridge is the wilds of southern Africa, and A- said to do the same. But this can danson tells us, that the swallows scarcely be said to be like the usual which he found in Senegal had not singing of birds, no more than the become silent in their passage from loud call of the black-bird during in. Europe. Nay, all the eastern poets cubation can be called so. introduce the music of the groves as It is singular that no large fowl is an indispensable accompaniment in known to sing, though the crowing of their finest descriptions. The pasto- the cock in the morning may, perhaps, ral poet of Israel says, “ The time of without impropriety, be called singthe singing of birds is come, and the ing. I have also observed, that the voice of the turtle is heard in our crow (Corvus cornix) is sometimes land,” (Cant. ii 12.) Ha also, the heard in a calm morning to utter a Persian Moore; the author of the Ra- peculiar plaintive note, very different, mayuna ; and the dramatist who wrote indeed, from its usual croaking; but Sacontala, are loud in their praises of I can give you no idea of it by any the music of birds. In the Koran description. also, and in the Arabian Tales, it is If this paper had not been already to