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Title: The Bird and Insects' Post Office
Author: Bloomfield, Robert, 1766-1823
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Bird and Insects' Post Office" ***

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[Illustration: _Frontispiece._





_Author of "The Farmer's Boy," "Rural Tales", &c. &c._





[_The Rights of Translation and Reproduction are Reserved._]


"THE BIRD AND INSECTS' POST-OFFICE" was projected and written by ROBERT
BLOOMFIELD, author of the "Farmer's Boy," &c., excepting Letters VIII.,
X., XI., and XVI. by his eldest son, Charles. It was the author's
intention to publish it uniformly with his other juvenile work, the
"HISTORY OF LITTLE DAVY'S NEW HAT," but he did not live to do so, and it
was therefore included in his literary _Remains_, published in 1824--a
year after the poet's death--in two volumes, price twelve shillings. Its
circulation, in consequence, has been extremely limited, its form of
publication preventing its introduction to children; for this reason,
and because I think it would be a pity for it to be shut up for ever in
a dusty old volume from the little ones, for whom it was written, I
have sent it forth in the form originally intended for it to assume.

The original manuscript, in the author's autograph, I recently presented
to the Trustees of the British Museum.


_March 1st, 1879._


LETTER                                                              PAGE

   I.--FROM THE MAGPIE TO THE SPARROW                                 19

  II.--THE SPARROW'S REPLY                                            22

 III.--FROM A YOUNG GARDEN-SPIDER TO HER MOTHER                       29

  IV.--FROM A YOUNG NIGHTINGALE TO A WREN                             33


  VI.--FROM THE WILD DUCK TO THE TAME DUCK                            42

 VII.--THE TAME DUCK'S REPLY                                          47

VIII.--FROM THE GANDER TO THE TURKEY-COCK. _By Charles Bloomfield_    53

  IX.--FROM THE DUNGHILL-COCK TO THE CHAFFINCH                        58

      _By Charles Bloomfield_                                         63

  XI.--FROM THE GLOW-WORM TO THE BUMBLE-BEE. _By Charles Bloomfield_  66

 XII.--FROM THE PIGEON TO THE PARTRIDGE                               71

XIII.--FROM THE WOOD-PIGEON TO THE OWL                                78

 XIV.--THE OWL IN REPLY TO THE WOOD-PIGEON                            85


       _By Charles Bloomfield_                                        95



MAGPIE                                              18

SPARROWS                                            23

SPIDERS                                             28

NIGHTINGALE                                         32

WRENS                                               35

WILD DUCKS                                          43

SPARROWS                                            49

GOOSE                                               55

COCK                                                59

PARTRIDGES                                      70, 74

PIGEONS                                         72, 76

OWLS                                            79, 83

SWALLOWS                                        89, 92



We all know that Æsop has made his birds and beasts talk, and reason
too; and that so well as still to make the volume bearing his name a
favourite with thousands. Perhaps, too, we all know that same French
author has objected to this method of teaching, alleging that children
should not be imposed upon (or something to that effect), and led to
believe in the _reality_ of talking birds and beasts. To me it appears
plainly that they do not, nor are they inclined to, believe in any such
reality. Observe two or three children at play with a favourite kitten.
When one of them, in mere wantonness, shall give the little animal a rap
on the nose, or a squeeze by the tail, the owner of the cat will
instantly exclaim, "Poor little pussy! she does not like that, _she
says_." Now, the child knows very well that the cat did not say a word
about the matter, but she looked and acted as if she had, and that was

In the following pages I have endeavoured to make my winged and creeping
correspondents talk in their own characters, according to their
well-known habits and pursuits.

I have added a few notes, sometimes of illustration, and sometimes of
inquiry; for, as natural history is almost a boundless field, I may
stand in need of correction myself. It will be obvious that I have taken
only some of the plainest and simplest subjects, for the purpose of
trying whether any interest can be awakened in young minds by such
means. And as I like to write for children, and think a great deal of
information might be blended with amusement in this way, I hold myself
acquitted of the charge of trifling and puerility, and am the young
reader's friend and well-wisher,



[Illustration: MAGPIE.]

[Illustration: Illustration]




I have many times thought of addressing to you a few words of advice, as
you seem to stand in need of such a friend.

You know that I do not stand much upon ceremony; I am always ready for
talking and for giving advice, and really wonder how other birds can
keep themselves so quiet. Then you will pardon my frankness, since you
know my character, when I inform you that I think you remarkably tame
and spiritless: you have no enterprise in you. In an old farmyard,
shuffling amongst the straw, there you may be found morning, noon and
night; and you are never seen in the woods and groves with me and my
companions, where we have the blessing of free liberty, and fly where we
please. You must often have heard me sing; that cannot be doubted,
because I am heard a great way. As to me, I never come down to your
farm, unless I think I can find a hen's egg or two amongst the nettles,
or a chicken or duck just hatched.

I earnestly advise you to change your manner of life and take a little
free air, as I do. Stop no longer in your dull yard, feeding upon pigs'
leavings, but come abroad with me. But I must have done till a better
opportunity; for the gamekeeper with his gun has just turned the
corner. Take my advice, and you may be as well off, and learn to sing as
well as I do.

Yours, in great haste,





OLD MAG (I won't say Neighbour),

I was hopping along the top ridge of the house when I received your
insolent and conceited epistle, which does you no credit, but is very
much in your usual style. "Little Jabberer" indeed! and pray, what is
your letter of advice? Nothing but jabber from beginning to end. You
_sing_, you say. I have heard you often enough; but if yours is singing,
then I must be allowed to be no judge of the matter. You say you are
afraid of the gamekeeper; this, perhaps, allows some sense in you, for
he is paid for killing all kinds of vermin.

[Illustration: SPARROWS.]

And so you come down to our farm when you think you can steal something!
Thus, if I did not hide my eggs and my young ones, in a hole too small
for you to enter, I can see pretty plainly how I should come off with
your thieving and your advice.

Be advised in _your_ turn; keep away from our yard, for my master has a
gun too; and your chattering, which I suppose you call singing, he
abominably hates. You will be in danger of catching what the gamekeeper
threatens, and then where is the great difference between your station
and mine?

From my lodging under the thatch of the stable, I am, as you may happen
to behave yourself,

Yours, at a convenient distance,

&c. &c.

[Illustration: SPIDERS.]




I cannot exactly tell what happened before I came out of the shell; but,
from circumstances, I can give you some information. When I came to
life, amongst some scores of other little merry yellow creatures, I
found myself, and all of us, enclosed in a thing, through which we, with
our eight eyes, could see very well, but could not instantly get out. I
soon perceived that we, in the egg state, wrapped in a white bag, as you
left us, had been put into a thing called a bottle, by one of those
great creatures whom we always call _striders_; but this was a
particular one of that tribe, who wanted to play tricks with us--one
whom they would perhaps call a philosopher.[1] Well, his own sense (if
he had any) told him that we could not live without air; so he left the
cork out, and went about his business; no doubt of much less consequence
than the lives of all us prisoners--but that they do not mind. But how
long were we prisoners? Why, as soon as ever we were out of the shell we
began to spin, and linked our webs so thick together that the
philosopher's bottle would hold us no longer. We climbed out in a crowd,
and spread our webs over the room, up to the very ceiling. I shall never
forget how the great booby stared when he saw us all climbing up our own
rope-ladders! I wonder if those great creatures are not sometimes caught
in webs spun by their fellow-creatures, and whether they are not
sometimes put by hundreds into a bottle without possessing any means of
escape? But I am but a child, and must live and learn before I talk more
freely. Long life to you, dear mother, and plenty of flies.

Yours ever, &c.

[Illustration: NIGHTINGALE.]



Dated "Home Wood."


When we last met you seemed very lively and agreeable, but you asked an
abundance of questions, and particularly wanted to know whether we
nightingales really do, as is said of us, cross the great water every
year, and return in the spring to sing in your English groves. Now, as I
am but young, I must be modest, and not prate about what I cannot as yet
understand. I must say, nevertheless, that I never heard my parents talk
of any particular long journey which they had performed to reach this
country, or that they should return, and take me and the rest of the
family with them, at this particular time or season. I know this, that I
never saw my parents fly further at one flight than from one side of a
field to another or from one grove to the next. Who are they who call
us "birds of passage"?[2] They certainly may know more of the extent of
the GREAT WATERS than we can, neighbour Wren; but have they considered
our powers, and the probability of what they assert? I am sure, if my
parents should call on me to go with them, I shall be flurried out of my
life. But it is my business to obey. I have so lately got my feathers,
that I cannot be a proper judge of the matter. As to the swallows and
many other birds going to a vast distance, there is no wonder in that,
if you look at their wings; but how would you, for instance, perform
such a journey--you who, even when you sing, put yourself into a violent
passion, as if you had not a minute to live? We nightingales are the
birds for song. This you will acknowledge, I dare say, though I have not
begun yet. I will give you a specimen when I come back (if I am really
to go), and you will hear me in "_Home Wood_" when it is dark, and you
have crept into your little nest in the hovel.

[Illustration: WRENS.]

Believe me, I have a great respect for you, and am your young friend,






You cannot think how distressed I have been, and still am; for, under
the bark of a large elm, which, I dare say, has stood there a great
while, I had placed my whole family, where they were dry, comfortable,
and, as I foolishly thought, secure. But only mark what calamities may
fall upon earwigs before they are aware of them! I had just got my
family about me, all white, clean, and promising children, when pounce
came down that bird they call a woodpecker; when, thrusting his huge
beak under the bark where we lay, down went our whole sheltering roof!
and my children, poor things, running, as they thought, from danger,
were devoured as fast as the destroyer could open his beak and shut it.
For my own part, I crept into a crack in the solid tree, where I have
thus far escaped; but as this bird can make large holes into solid
timber, I am by no means safe.

This calamity is the more heavy, as it carries with it a great
disappointment; for very near our habitation was a high wall, the sunny
side of which was covered with the most delicious fruits--peaches,
apricots, nectarines, &c.--all just then ripening; and I thought of
having such a feast with my children as I had never enjoyed in my life.

I am surrounded by woodpeckers, jackdaws, magpies, and other devouring
creatures, and think myself very unfortunate. Yet, perhaps, if I could
know the situation of some larger creatures--I mean particularly such as
would tread me to death if I crossed their path--they may have
complaints to make as well as I.

Take care of yourself, my good old aunt, and I shall keep in my
hiding-place as long as starvation will permit, And, after all, perhaps
the fruit was not so delicious as it looked--I am resolved to think so,
just to comfort myself.

Yours, with compliments, as usual.




Dated Lincoln and Ely Fens.


I suppose I must call you so, though I declare I know not how we are
related. But, though I am thought so very wild and shy, I have still a
kind of fellow-feeling for you; and, if you have not gone to the spit
before this comes to you, I should be glad of your reply in a friendly
way. You know very well that you are intended to be eaten, and so are
we--when they can catch us. I understand that you never fly and that you
seldom waddle above a meadow's length from your pond, where you keep
puddling and groping from daylight till dark. This, I assure you, is not
the life that I lead. We fly together in vast numbers in the night, for
many miles over this flat, wet country; so, as to water, we have an
inexhaustible store: we may swim ourselves tired. But, I dare say, every
station of our duck-lives is subject to some disadvantages and some
calamities. Thus, with all our wildness, we are not secure; for we are
taken sometimes by hundreds in a kind of trap which is called a

[Illustration: WILD DUCKS.]

Some of our tribe have been made tame like you (but I hope you are not
so false-hearted), and then their masters feed them plentifully, in a
place contrived on purpose, with a narrow entrance, with which these
_traitor ducks_ are well acquainted, so that they can pass in and out at
a place we strangers should never have thought of. They are sent out in
the dusk of the evening, when they soon join with large companies of us
strangers; and knowing, as they do, their way home, and that they shall
find food, they set off, close at each other's tails, along a ditch, or
watercourse, and we fools follow them.

The entrance, as far as I could see of it, is very narrow; for I have
been twice within a hair's breadth of being caught, and do not pretend
to know all about it; but I wish heartily that every duck and drake in
the country--ay, and every one of our allies, the geese, too, could say
as much--could say that "they had twice been on the verge of destruction
by keeping bad company, but had escaped."

What becomes of my companions, when taken, I think I have heard pretty
accurately; for there is somewhere a very large assemblage of
fellow-creatures to those who catch us, and whose demand seems never to
be satisfied. Well, never mind, cousin; I am determined to fly, and swim
too, as long as I can, and I advise you to do the same, and make the
most of your day.

Hoping to hear from you, I am, affectionately, your wild cousin.






I confess I did not at all expect to hear from you; for I always
believed you to be one of those thoughtless young creatures which are
to be found in other stations of life as well as in yours and mine, who,
as soon as they get fledged and able to get abroad, care no more for
their parents and those who brought them up than I care for a shower of
rain. However, you have escaped danger _twice_, and you have reason to
congratulate yourself. I have been sitting here upon ten eggs for three
weeks past, and of course have another week to be confined; but then the
thoughts of the pleasure I shall have in hatching and guiding my young
ones to the water, is ample payment for all my pains. They will look so
clean and so delighted, and will do as they are bid by the smallest
quack that I can utter, that I must be a bad mother indeed if I am not
proud of them. Perhaps you will wonder when I tell you that we have a
creature here--fledged indeed--which is called a hen; a strange,
cackling, flying, useless, noisy, silly creature, which is as much
afraid of water as you are of your decoy. I have often known one of
these birds to hatch nine or ten of my eggs; and then, if you wanted to
ridicule the lifted foot of conceit, and the dignity of assumed
importance, you should see her lead her young, or more properly, see the
young lead her to the nearest water they can find. In they go, and she
begins to call and scold, and run round the edge to save them from
drowning! Now, what fools these hens must be compared to us ducks! at
least, I, for one, am determined to think so. I have seen this same hen
with the brood about her scratching in our farmyard with all her might;
when, not considering who was behind her, or who under her feathers, she
has tricked away one little yellow duck with one of her claws, and
another with the other, till I wished I had her in a pond; I would have
given her a good sousing, depend upon it. But really, cousin, don't you
think that this way of contradicting our natures and propensities is
very wrong? Suppose, for instance, I should sit upon a dozen of that
silly creature's eggs which I mentioned above--for I will never consent
to have them matched with us--I should then, to be sure, have a week's
holiday, as they sit but three weeks; but what should I bring to light?
a parcel of little, useless, tip-toed, cowardly things, that would not
follow me into the pond--I cannot bear to think of it. I have written
you a long letter, and can think of no more but Quack! quack! quack! and

[Illustration: SPARROWS.]






    Old friend, you certainly have merit;
    You really are a bird of spirit.
    I'm quite surprised, I must confess;
    I did not think you did possess
    Such valour as you've lately shown--
    In fact, 'tis nearly like my own.
    You know I've always been renown'd
    For bravery, since first I found
    That I could hiss; and feel I'm bolder
    Each year that I am growing older.


[Illustration: GOOSE.]

    You must, I'm sure, have often seen,
    When in the pond, or on the green,
    With all my family about me
    (I can't think how they'd do without me),
    Some human thing come striding by,
    And how, without a scruple, I
    March after him, and bite his heel;
    And then, you know, the pride I feel
    To hear, as back I march again,
    The feat extoll'd by all my train.
    But if I were to tell you all
    The valiant actions, great and small,
    That ever were achieved by me,
    I never should have done, I see;
    For cows, and pigs, and horses know
    The consequence of such a foe.
    However, I am glad to find
    That you have such a noble mind,
    And think, my friend, that by and by
    You'll rise to be as great as I.

Your old friend,





I have often, during the spring and summer, heard you of a morning
piping away in the hedges, sometimes as soon as I was up myself, and
thought your singing pretty fair, and that you conducted yourself as you
ought to do. But this I cannot say lately; for it is quite overstepping
the bounds of decency and good manners when you and your brother
pilferers, now the winter is come, make it your daily practice to come
by scores, as you do, into our yard, and, without any ceremony, eat
up all the barley you can lay your beaks to. I suppose when the
spring comes again, and you find more to satisfy you outside a farmyard
than within, you will be off to the hedges again. I shall let you alone,
unless the barley runs short, which is to support my wives and
children; when if you still venture to continue your pilferings, you
must not be surprised should some of you feel the weight of my

[Illustration: COCK.]


I must go after my family, who are all out of my sight, since I have
been writing this.

Yours in haste, and a friend if possible,







      As I roamed t'other day,
      Neighbour Hop, in my way
    I discovered a nice rotten plum,
      Which you know is a treat;
      And, to taste of the sweet,
    A swarm of relations had come.


      So we all settled round,
      As it lay on the ground,
    And were feasting ourselves with delight;
       But, for want of more thought
       To have watched, as we ought,
    We were suddenly seized--and held tight.


       In a human clenched hand,
       Where, unable to stand,
    We were twisted and tumbled about;
       But, perceiving a chink,
       You will readily think
    I exerted myself--I got out.


       How the rest got away
       I really can't say;
    But I flew with such ardour and glee.
       That again, unawares,
       I got into the snares
    Of my foe Mr. Spider, you see;


       Who so fiercely came out
       Of his hole, that no doubt
    He expected that I was secure:
       But he found 'twould not do,
       For I forced my way through,
    Overjoyed on escaping, you're sure.



       But I'll now take my leave,
       For the clouds I perceive
    Are darkening over the sky;
       The sun has gone in,
       And I really begin
    To feel it grow colder.--Good bye!

I'm, as ever, yours,






    Excuse, Mr. Bee, this epistle, to one
    Whose time, from the earliest gleam of the sun
    Till he sinks in the west, is so busily spent,
    That I fear I intrude;--but I write with intent
    To save your whole city from pillage and ruin,
    And to warn you in time of a plot that is brewing.
    Last night, when, as usual, enjoying the hour
    When the gloaming had spread, and a trickling shower
    Was beading the grass as it silently fell,
    And day with reluctance was bidding farewell;
    When down by yon hedge, nearly opposite you,
    And your City of Honey, as proudly I threw
    The rays from my lamp in a magical round;
    I listened, alarmed upon hearing the sound
    Of human intruders approaching more near;
    But I presently found _I_ had nothing to fear,
    For the hedge was between us, and I and my gleam
    Lay hid from their view: when the following scheme
    I heard, as they sheltered beneath the old tree,
    And send you each creature's own words, Mr. Bee:--
    "See, Jack, there it is; now suppose you and I,
    With a spade and some brimstone, should each of us try
    Some night, when we're sure all the bees are at rest,
    To smother them all, and then dig out the nest."
    "I know we can do it," said Jack with delight;
    "I can't come to-morrow; but s'pose the next night
    We both set about it, if you are inclined;
    And then we will halve all the honey we find?"
    "Agreed," said the other, "but let us be gone."
    And they left me in thought until early this morn;
    When I certainly meant, if your worship had stay'd
    But a minute or two, till my speech I had made,
    To have saved you the reading, as well as the cost
    Of a letter by post--but my words were all lost;
    For though they were lavished each time you came near,
    Or was close overhead, and I thought you _should_ hear,
    Yet the buzz of importance, as onward you flew,
    Bobbing into each flower the whole meadow through,
    So baffled your brains that I let you alone,
    For I found that I might as well speak to a drone:
    Yet, rather than quietly leave you to fate
    (Such a villainous thought never entered my pate),
    I send you this letter, composed by the light
    Of my silvery lamp in the dead of the night,
    And about the same time, and the very same place,
    That a few nights ago, when the moon hid her face,
    I beheld, nearly hid in the grass as I lay,
    And my lamp in full splendour reflecting its ray
    In the eye of each dewdrop, the fairies unseen
    To all human vision, trip here with their Queen,
    To pay me a visit, to dance and to feast;
    And their revels continued, till full in the east
    The sun tinged the clouds for another bright day,
    When each took the warning and bounded away:
    'Tis the same at this moment. Farewell, Mr. Hum,
    I've extinguished my lamp, for the morning is come.


[Illustration: PARTRIDGES.]



What a long time it is since I received your kind letter about the
ripening corn, and the dangers you were presently to be subject to with
all your children!

[Illustration: PIGEONS.]

You will think me very idle, or very unfeeling, if I delay answering you
any longer; I will therefore tell you some of my own troubles, to
convince you that I have had causes of delay, which you can have no
notion of until I explain them. You must know, then, that we are subject
to more than the random gun-shot in the field, for we are sometimes
taken out of our house a hundred at a time, and put into a large
basket to be placed in a meadow or spare plat of ground suiting the
purpose, there to be murdered at leisure. This they call "shooting from
the trap,"[3] and is done in this way:

We being imprisoned, as I have said, as thick as we can stand in the
basket, a man is placed by us to take us out _singly_, and carry us to a
small box, at the distance of fifty or sixty yards; this box has a lid,
to which is attached a string, by means of which, he, the man (if he is
a man) can draw up the lid and let us fly at a signal given. Every
sensible pigeon of course flies for his life, for, ranged on each side,
stand from two to four or six men with guns, who fire as the bird gets
upon the wing; and the cleverest fellows are those who can kill
most;--and this they call _sport_!

[Illustration: PARTRIDGES.]

I have sad cause to know how this sport is conducted, for I have been in
the trap myself. Only one man, or perhaps a boy, fired at me as I rose;
but I received two wounds, for one shot passed through my crop, but I
was astonished to find how soon it got well; the other broke my leg just
below the feathers. Oh, what anguish I suffered for two months! at the
end of which time it withered and dropped off. So now, instead of
running about amongst my red-legged brethren, as a pigeon ought, I am
obliged to hop like a sparrow. But only consider what glory this
stripling must have acquired, to have actually fired a gun and broke a
pigeon's leg! Well, we both know, neighbour Partridge, what the Hawk is;
he stands for no law, nor no season, but eats us when he is hungry. He
is a perfect gentleman compared to these "Lords of the Creation," as I
am told they call themselves; and I declare to you upon the honour of a
pigeon, that I had much rather be torn to pieces by the Hawk than be
shut up in a box at a convenient distance to be shot at by a dastard.
You partridges are protected during great part of the year by severe
laws, but whether such laws are wise, merciful, or just, I cannot
determine, but I know that they are strictly kept and enforced by those
who make them. Take care of yourself, for the harvest is almost ripe.

I am, your faithful,






I write to you in the fulness of my heart, for I have been grossly
insulted by the Magpie, in a letter received this morning; in which I
am abused for what my forefathers did long before I was born. I know of
nothing more base, or more unjust, than thus raking up old quarrels[4]
and reproaching those who had nothing to do with them. The letter must
have come through your office, but I know you have not the authority to
break open and examine letters passing between those who should be
friends; I therefore do not accuse you; but sometimes the heart is
relieved by stating its troubles even when no redress can be expected. I
know that you cannot bring to punishment that slanderer, that babbler of
the woods, any more than I can; but I wish you would give me a word of
comfort, if it is ever so short.

[Illustration: OWL.]

From the plantation of firs,

Near the forest-side,






I am sorry for your trouble, but cheer up your spirits, and though you
are insulted, remember who it is that gives the affront, it is only the
magpie; and depend upon it that in general the best way to deal with
impudent fools is to be silent and take no notice of them. I should have
enough to do if I were to resent all her impertinences. She will come
sometimes round the ivy where I lodge in the old elm, or into the tower
on the top of the hill; and there she will pimp and pry into my private
concerns, and mob me, and call me "Old Wigsby" and "Doctor Winkum," and
such kind of names, and all for nothing. I assure you it is well for her
that she is not a mouse, or she should not long escape my talons; but
who ever heard of such a thing as eating a magpie? I live chiefly on
mice (when I am at liberty to catch them), but I have my complaints to
make as well as you, for you know I hold a high situation in the
Post-office, and I suppose you know, likewise, that the letters are
brought in so very late that it often takes me half the night to sort
them, and night is the very time when I ought to get my own food! At
this rate of going on, and if the cats are industrious as usual, there
will not be a mouse left for me, if I do not give up my place.

I have heard that my family are famed for wisdom; but for my part I will
not boast of any such thing: yet I am wise enough to know that other
people in high offices expect either a good salary or perquisites, as a
reward for their labour, or what is easier still, somebody to do all the
work for them. If I hold in my present mind until next quarter, I will
certainly send in my resignation. Thus you see what an important thing
it is to suit the person to the office, or the office to the person on
whom it is conferred; for had the magpie, for instance, been secretary,
every one of the letters would have been peeped into, for a certainty,
for nothing can escape her curiosity. I will try to bear with my
situation a little longer, and believe me to be

Your true friend,






I remember your peaceful singing on the top of your shed, near my late
dwelling, and I remember also that I promised to write you some
account of my journey. You may recollect that, at the close of your
summer, when flies became scarce, we all assembled on a sunny morning,
on the roof of the highest building in the village, and talked loudly of
the flight we intended to take. At last came the day appointed, and we
mounted up in a vast body and steered southward.

[Illustration: SWALLOWS.]

Being hatched in England, I had thought your valleys and streams
matchless in beauty; and for anything I know to the contrary they
certainly are; but I am now a traveller, and have a traveller's
privilege to say what I like. When we reached the great water I was
astonished at its width, but more still to see many travelling houses
going at a prodigious rate, and sending forth from iron chimneys columns
of black smoke over the face of the water, reaching further than you
ever flew in your life; they have a contrivance on each side which puts
the waves all in commotion, but they are not wings. My mother says that
in old times, when swallows came to England, there were no such things
to be seen. We crossed this water, and a fine sunny country beyond it,
until I was tired, and we now found flies more abundant, though the
oldest amongst us assure me that we must travel further still, over
another wide water, into a country where men's faces are of the same
colour as my feathers, black and tawny; but travellers see strange
things. When I come to England again I will endeavour to find out your
village.[5] I hope, for your sake, you may have a mild winter and good
lodgings. This is all the news worth sending, and I must catch flies for
myself now, you know.



So farewell,

For I am in haste.





    'Twas the blush of the spring, vegetation was young,
    And the birds with a maddening ecstasy sung
    To welcome a season so lovely and gay--
    But a scene the most sweet was the close of May-day.
    For the air was serene, and the moon was out bright,
    And Philomel boldly exerted her might
    In her swellings and trillings, to rival the sound
    Of the distant defiance of nightingales round.
    While the cuckoo as proudly was heard to prolong,
    Though daylight was over, her own mellow song,
    And appeared to exult; and at intervals, too,
    The owl in the distance joined in with "Too-whoo!"
    Unceasing, unwearied, each, proud of his power,
    Continued the contest from hour to hour;
    The nightingale vaunting--the owl in reply--
    With the cuckoo's response--till the moon from the sky
    Was hastening down to the west, and the dawn
    Was spreading the east; and the owl in the morn
    Sat silently winking his eyes at the sight;
    And the nightingale also had bidden "good-night."
    The cuckoo, left solus, continued with glee,
    His notes of defeat from his favourite tree;
    At length he departed; but still as he flew,
    Was heard his last notes of defiance, "Cuckoo!"


_London: R. Clay, Sons, and Taylor, Printers_

       *       *       *       *       *


[1] This part of the letter is very difficult of translation, as the
plain word, in spiders' language, means merely "a deep one."--R. B.

[2] Cowper, that excellent man and poet, and close observer of nature,
writes as follows to his friend, on the 11th of March, 1792:--


"You talk of primroses that you pulled on Candlemas Day, but what think
you of me, who heard a nightingale on New Year's Day? Perhaps I am the
only man in England who can boast of such good fortune. Good indeed! for
if was at all an omen, it could not be an unfavourable one. The winter,
however, is now making himself amends, and seems the more peevish for
having been encroached on at so undue a season. Nothing less than a
large slice out of the spring will satisfy him."

He adds the following lines on the occasion:--

                  NEW YEAR'S DAY, 1792._

    "Whence is it that amazed I hear
      From yonder wither'd spray,
    This foremost morn of all the year,
      The melody of May?

    "And why, since thousands would be proud
      Of such a favour shown,
    Am I selected from the crowd,
      To witness it alone?

    "Sing'st thou, sweet Philomel, to me,
      For that I also long
    Have practised in the groves like thee,
      Though not like thee in song?

    "Or, sing'st thou rather under force
      Of some divine command,
    Commissioned to presage a course
      Of happier days at hand?

    "Thrice welcome then! for many a long
      And joyless year have I,
    As thou to-day, put forth my song
      Beneath a wintry sky.

    "But thee no wintry skies can harm,
      Who only need'st to sing
    To make e'en January charm,
      And every season spring.


[3] I once witnessed this silly and barbarous sport, and saw at least a
score of maimed and wounded birds upon the barns, and stables, and
outhouses of the village. I was utterly disgusted, and it required a
strong effort of the mind to avoid wishing that one of the gunners at
least had hobbled off the ground with a dangling leg, which might for
one half-year have reminded him of the cowardly practice of "shooting
from the trap."--R. B.

[4] The poor pigeon, I think, must here allude to the old well-known
quarrel between the two families about building their nests. The magpie
once undertook to teach the pigeon how to build a more substantial and
commodious dwelling, and certainly it would have become the learner to
have observed her progress, and not interrupt the teacher; but the
pigeon kept on her usual cry, "Take two, Taffy, take two" (for thus it
is translated in Suffolk), but Mag insisted this was wrong, and that one
stick at a time was quite enough; still the pigeon kept on her cry,
"Take two, take two," until the teacher in a violent passion gave up the
undertaking, exclaiming, "I say that one at a time is plenty, and if you
think otherwise, you may act about the work yourself, for I will have no
more to do with it." Since that time the wood-pigeon has built a
wretched nest, sure enough, so thin that you may frequently see her two
eggs through it, and if not placed near the body of a tree, or on strong
branches, it is often thrown down by the wind, or the eggs rolled out;
yet the young of this bird, before they are half grown, will defend
themselves against any intruder, at which time the parent bird will dash
herself down amongst the standing corn or high grass, and behave as
though her wings were broken, and she was utterly disabled; and this she
does to draw off the enemy from her young; so that this bird is not so
foolish as Mag would make us believe.--R. B.

[5] It is much to be wished that the above letter had contained some
information on a very curious subject, for I would rather believe the
swallow himself than many tales told of them. It has been said that,
instead of flying to southern countries, where they can find food and a
congenial climate, they dive into the waters of a bog, and lie in a
torpid state, through the winter, round the roots of flags and
weeds.--R. B.

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