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Title: Birds and Poets : with Other Papers
Author: Burroughs, John, 1837-1921
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.

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By John Burroughs


I have deliberated a long time about coupling some of my sketches of
outdoor nature with a few chapters of a more purely literary character,
and thus confiding to my reader what absorbs and delights me inside my
four walls, as well as what pleases and engages me outside those walls;
especially since I have aimed to bring my outdoor spirit and method
within, and still to look upon my subject with the best naturalist's eye
I could command.

I hope, therefore, he will not be scared away when I boldly confront
him in the latter portions of my book with this name of strange portent,
Walt Whitman, for I assure him that in this misjudged man he may press
the strongest poetic pulse that has yet beaten in America, or perhaps
in modern times. Then, these chapters are a proper supplement or
continuation of my themes and their analogy in literature, because
in them we shall "follow out these lessons of the earth and air," and
behold their application to higher matters.

It is not an artificially graded path strewn with roses that invites us
in this part, but, let me hope, something better, a rugged trail through
the woods or along the beach where we shall now and then get a whiff of
natural air, or a glimpse of something to

         "Make the wild blood start
      In its mystic springs."

ESOPUS-ON-HUDSON, March, 1877.





       "In summer, when the shawes be shene,
           And leaves be large and long,
        It is full merry in fair forest
           To hear the fowlés' song.
        The wood-wele sang, and wolde not cease,
           Sitting upon the spray;
        So loud, it wakened Robin Hood
           In the greenwood where he lay."

It might almost be said that the birds are all birds of the poets and
of no one else, because it is only the poetical temperament that
fully responds to them. So true is this, that all the great
ornithologists--original namers and biographers of the birds--have been
poets in deed if not in word. Audubon is a notable case in point, who,
if he had not the tongue or the pen of the poet, certainly had the
eye and ear and heart--"the fluid and attaching character"--and the
singleness of purpose, the enthusiasm, the unworldliness, the love, that
characterize the true and divine race of bards.

So had Wilson, though perhaps not in as large a measure; yet he took
fire as only a poet can. While making a journey on foot to Philadelphia,
shortly after landing in this country, he caught sight of the red-headed
woodpecker flitting among the trees,--a bird that shows like a
tricolored scarf among the foliage,--and it so kindled his enthusiasm
that his life was devoted to the pursuit of the birds from that day. It
was a lucky hit. Wilson had already set up as a poet in Scotland, and
was still fermenting when the bird met his eye and suggested to his soul
a new outlet for its enthusiasm.

The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A
bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense is
his life,--large-brained, large-lunged, hot, ecstatic, his frame charged
with buoyancy and his heart with song. The beautiful vagabonds, endowed
with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds,--how
many human aspirations are realized in their free, holiday lives, and
how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!

Indeed, is not the bird the original type and teacher of the poet, and
do we not demand of the human lark or thrush that he "shake out his
carols" in the same free and spontaneous manner as his winged
prototype? Kingsley has shown how surely the old minnesingers and early
ballad-writers have learned of the birds, taking their key-note from the
blackbird, or the wood-lark, or the throstle, and giving utterance to a
melody as simple and unstudied. Such things as the following were surely
caught from the fields or the woods:--

       "She sat down below a thorn,
        Fine flowers in the valley,
        And there has she her sweet babe borne,
        And the green leaves they grow rarely."

Or the best lyric pieces, how like they are to certain
bird-songs!--clear, ringing, ecstatic, and suggesting that challenge
and triumph which the outpouring of the male bird contains. (Is not
the genuine singing, lyrical quality essentially masculine?) Keats and
Shelley, perhaps more notably than any other English poets, have the
bird organization and the piercing wild-bird cry. This, of course,
is not saying that they are the greatest poets, but that they have
preëminently the sharp semi-tones of the sparrows and the larks.

But when the general reader thinks of the birds of the poets, he
very naturally calls to mind the renowned birds, the lark and the
nightingale, Old World melodists, embalmed in Old World poetry, but
occasionally appearing on these shores, transported in the verse of some
callow singer.

The very oldest poets, the towering antique bards, seem to make little
mention of the song-birds. They loved better the soaring, swooping birds
of prey, the eagle, the ominous birds, the vultures, the storks and
cranes, or the clamorous sea-birds and the screaming hawks. These
suited better the rugged, warlike character of the times and the simple,
powerful souls of the singers themselves. Homer must have heard the
twittering of the swallows, the cry of the plover, the voice of the
turtle, and the warble of the nightingale; but they were not adequate
symbols to express what he felt or to adorn his theme. Aeschylus saw in
the eagle "the dog of Jove," and his verse cuts like a sword with such a

It is not because the old bards were less as poets, but that they were
more as men. To strong, susceptible characters, the music of nature is
not confined to sweet sounds. The defiant scream of the hawk circling
aloft, the wild whinny of the loon, the whooping of the crane, the
booming of the bittern, the vulpine bark of the eagle, the loud
trumpeting of the migratory geese sounding down out of the midnight sky;
or by the seashore, the coast of New Jersey or Long Island, the wild
crooning of the flocks of gulls, repeated, continued by the hour,
swirling sharp and shrill, rising and falling like the wind in a storm,
as they circle above the beach or dip to the dash of the waves,--are
much more welcome in certain moods than any and all mere bird-melodies,
in keeping as they are with the shaggy and untamed features of ocean
and woods, and suggesting something like the Richard Wagner music in the
ornithological orchestra.

                      "Nor these alone whose notes
       Nice-fingered art must emulate in vain,
       But cawing rooks, and kites that swim sublime
       In still repeated circles, screaming loud,
       The jay, the pie, and even the boding owl,
       That hails the rising moon, have charms for me,"

says Cowper. "I never hear," says Burns in one of his letters, "the
loud, solitary whistle of the curlew in a summer noon, or the wild
mixing cadence of a troop of gray plovers in an autumnal morning,
without feeling an elevation of soul like the enthusiasm of devotion or

Even the Greek minor poets, the swarm of them that are represented in
the Greek Anthology, rarely make affectionate mention of the birds,
except perhaps Sappho, whom Ben Jonson makes speak of the nightingale

       "The dear glad angel of the spring."

The cicada, the locust, and the grasshopper are often referred to, but
rarely by name any of the common birds. That Greek grasshopper must
have been a wonderful creature. He was a sacred object in Greece, and
is spoken of by the poets as a charming songster. What we would say of
birds the Greek said of this favorite insect. When Socrates and Phaedrus
came to the fountain shaded by the plane-tree, where they had their
famous discourse, Socrates said: "Observe the freshness of the spot, how
charming and very delightful it is, and how summer-like and shrill
it sounds from the choir of grasshoppers." One of the poets in the
Anthology finds a grasshopper struggling in a spider's web, which he
releases with the words:--

       "Go safe and free with your sweet voice of song."

Another one makes the insect say to a rustic who had captured him:--

       "Me, the Nymphs' wayside minstrel whose sweet note
        O'er sultry hill is heard, and shady grove to float."

Still another sings how a grasshopper took the place of a broken string
on his lyre, and "filled the cadence due."

       "For while six chords beneath my fingers cried,
        He with his tuneful voice the seventh supplied;
        The midday songster of the mountain set
        His pastoral ditty to my canzonet;
        And when he sang, his modulated throat
        Accorded with the lifeless string I smote."

While we are trying to introduce the lark in this country, why not try
this Pindaric grasshopper also?

It is to the literary poets and to the minstrels of a softer age that
we must look for special mention of the song-birds and for poetical
rhapsodies upon them. The nightingale is the most general favorite, and
nearly all the more noted English poets have sung her praises. To the
melancholy poet she is melancholy, and to the cheerful she is cheerful.
Shakespeare in one of his sonnets speaks of her song as mournful, while
Martial calls her the "most garrulous" of birds. Milton sang:--

       "Sweet bird, that shunn'st the noise of folly,
        Most musical, most melancholy,
        Thee, chantress, oft the woods among
        I woo, to hear thy evening song."

To Wordsworth she told another story:--

       "O nightingale! thou surely art
        A creature of ebullient heart;
        These notes of thine,--they pierce and pierce,--
        Tumultuous harmony and fierce!
        Thou sing'st as if the god of wine
        Had helped thee to a valentine;
        A song in mockery and despite
        Of shades, and dews, and silent night,
        And steady bliss, and all the loves
        Now sleeping in these peaceful groves."

In a like vein Coleridge sang:--

       "'T is the merry nightingale
        That crowds and hurries and precipitates
        With fast, thick warble his delicious notes."

Keats's poem on the nightingale is doubtless more in the spirit of the
bird's strain than any other. It is less a description of the song and
more the song itself. Hood called the nightingale

       "The sweet and plaintive Sappho of the dell."

I mention the nightingale only to point my remarks upon its American
rival, the famous mockingbird of the Southern States, which is also a
nightingale,--a night-singer,--and which no doubt excels the Old World
bird in the variety and compass of its powers. The two birds belong to
totally distinct families, there being no American species which answers
to the European nightingale, as there are that answer to the robin,
the cuckoo, the blackbird, and numerous others. Philomel has the color,
manners, and habits of a thrush,--our hermit thrush,--but it is not a
thrush at all, but a warbler. I gather from the books that its song is
protracted and full rather than melodious,--a capricious, long-continued
warble, doubling and redoubling, rising and falling, issuing from the
groves and the great gardens, and associated in the minds of the poets
with love and moonlight and the privacy of sequestered walks. All our
sympathies and attractions are with the bird, and we do not forget that
Arabia and Persia are there back of its song.

_Our_ nightingale has mainly the reputation of the caged bird, and
is famed mostly for its powers of mimicry, which are truly wonderful,
enabling the bird to exactly reproduce and even improve upon the notes
of almost any other songster. But in a state of freedom it has a song of
its own which is infinitely rich and various. It is a garrulous polyglot
when it chooses to be, and there is a dash of the clown and the buffoon
in its nature which too often flavors its whole performance, especially
in captivity; but in its native haunts, and when its love-passion is
upon it, the serious and even grand side of its character comes out. In
Alabama and Florida its song may be heard all through the sultry summer
night, at times low and plaintive, then full and strong. A friend of
Thoreau and a careful observer, who has resided in Florida, tells me
that this bird is a much more marvelous singer than it has the credit of
being. He describes a habit it has of singing on the wing on moonlight
nights, that would be worth going South to hear. Starting from a low
bush, it mounts in the air and continues its flight apparently to an
altitude of several hundred feet, remaining on the wing a number
of minutes, and pouring out its song with the utmost clearness and
abandon,--a slowly rising musical rocket that fills the night air with
harmonious sounds. Here are both the lark and nightingale in one; and if
poets were as plentiful down South as they are in New England, we should
have heard of this song long ago, and had it celebrated in appropriate
verse. But so far only one Southern poet, Wilde, has accredited the bird
this song. This he has done in the following admirable sonnet:--

                    TO THE MOCKINGBIRD

       Winged mimic of the woods! thou motley fool!
          Who shall thy gay buffoonery describe?
       Thine ever-ready notes of ridicule
          Pursue thy fellows still with jest and gibe.
       Wit--sophist--songster--Yorick of thy tribe,
          Thou sportive satirist of Nature's school,
       To thee the palm of scoffing we ascribe,
          Arch scoffer, and mad Abbot of Misrule!
       For such thou art by day--but all night long
          Thou pour'st a soft, sweet, pensive, solemn strain,
       As if thou didst in this, thy moonlight song,
          Like to the melancholy Jaques, complain,
       Musing on falsehood, violence, and wrong,
          And sighing for thy motley coat again.

Aside from this sonnet, the mockingbird has got into poetical
literature, so far as I know, in only one notable instance, and that in
the page of a poet where we would least expect to find him,--a bard who
habitually bends his ear only to the musical surge and rhythmus of total
nature, and is as little wont to turn aside for any special beauties
or points as the most austere of the ancient masters. I refer to
Walt Whitman's "Out of the cradle endlessly rocking," in which the
mockingbird plays a part. The poet's treatment of the bird is entirely
ideal and eminently characteristic. That is to say, it is altogether
poetical and not at all ornithological; yet it contains a rendering
or free translation of a bird-song--the nocturne of the mockingbird,
singing and calling through the night for its lost mate--that I consider
quite unmatched in our literature:--

 Once, Paumanok,
 When the snows had melted, and the Fifth-month grass was growing,
 Up this seashore, in some briers,
 Two guests from Alabama--two together,
 And their nest, and four light green eggs, spotted with brown,
 And every day the he-bird, to and fro, near at hand,
 And every day the she-bird, crouched on her nest, silent, with bright
 And every day I, a curious boy, never too close, never disturbing them,
 Cautiously peering, absorbing, translating.

 _Shine! Shine! Shine!
 Pour down your warmth, great Sun!
 While we bask--we two together._

 _Two together!
 Winds blow South, or winds blow North,
 Day come white, or night come black,
 Home, or rivers and mountains from home,
 Singing all time, minding no time,
 If we two but keep together._

 Till of a sudden,
 Maybe killed unknown to her mate,
 One forenoon the she-bird crouched not on the nest,
 Nor returned that afternoon, nor the next,
 Nor ever appeared again.

 And thenceforward all summer, in the sound of the sea,
 And at night, under the full of the moon, in calmer weather,
 Over the hoarse surging of the sea,
 Or flitting from brier to brier by day,
 I saw, I heard at intervals, the remaining one, the he-bird,
 The solitary guest from Alabama.

 _Blow! blow! blow!
 Blow up, sea-winds, along Paumanok's shore!
 I wait and I wait, till you blow my mate to me._

 Yes, when the stars glistened,
 All night long, on the prong of a moss-scalloped stake,
 Down, almost amid the slapping waves,
 Sat the lone singer, wonderful, causing tears.

 He called on his mate:
 He poured forth the meanings which I, of all men, know.

. . . . . . . . . . .

 _Soothe! soothe! soothe!
 Close on its wave soothes the wave behind,
 And again another behind, embracing and lapping, every one close,
 But my love soothes not me, not me._

 _Low hangs the moon--it rose late.
 Oh it is lagging--oh I think it is heavy with love, with love._

 _Oh madly the sea pushes, pushes upon the land,
 With love--with love._

 _O night! do I not see my love fluttering out there among the breakers!
 What is that little black thing I see there in the white?_

 _Loud! loud! loud!
 Loud I call to you, my love!
 High and clear I shoot my voice over the waves:
 Surely you must know who is here, is here;
 You must know who I am, my love._

 _Low-hanging moon!
 What is that dusky spot in your brown yellow?
 Oh it is the shape, the shape of my mate!
 O moon, do not keep her from me any longer._

 _Land! land! O land!
 Whichever way I turn, oh I think you could give my mate back again,
    if you only would;
 For I am almost sure I see her dimly whichever way I look._

 _O rising stars!
 Perhaps the one I want so much will rise, will rise with some of you._

 _O throat! O trembling throat!
 Sound clearer through the atmosphere!
 Pierce the woods, the earth;
 Somewhere listening to catch you, must be the one I want._

 _Shake out, carols!
 Solitary here--the night's carols!
 Carols of lonesome love! Death's carols!
 Carols under that lagging, yellow, waning moon!
 Oh, under that moon, where she droops almost down into the sea!
 O reckless, despairing carols._

 _But soft! sink low! Soft! let me just murmur;
 And do you wait a moment, you husky-noised sea;
 For somewhere I believe I heard my mate responding to me,
 So faint--I must be still, be still to listen!
 But not altogether still, for then she might not come immediately
   to me._

 _Hither, my love!
 Here I am! Here!
 With this just-sustained note I announce myself to you;
 This gentle call is for you, my love, for you._

 _Do not be decoyed elsewhere!
 That is the whistle of the wind--it is not my voice;
 That is the fluttering, the fluttering of the spray;
 Those are the shadows of leaves._

 _O darkness! Oh in vain!
 Oh I am very sick and sorrowful._

. . . . . . . . . . .

The bird that occupies the second place to the nightingale in British
poetical literature is the skylark, a pastoral bird as the Philomel is
an arboreal,--a creature of light and air and motion, the companion of
the plowman, the shepherd, the harvester,--whose nest is in the stubble
and whose tryst is in the clouds. Its life affords that kind of contrast
which the imagination loves,--one moment a plain pedestrian bird, hardly
distinguishable from the ground, the next a soaring, untiring songster,
reveling in the upper air, challenging the eye to follow him and the ear
to separate his notes.

The lark's song is not especially melodious, but is blithesome,
sibilant, and unceasing. Its type is the grass, where the bird makes its
home, abounding, multitudinous, the notes nearly all alike and all in
the same key, but rapid, swarming, prodigal, showering down as thick and
fast as drops of rain in a summer shower.

Many noted poets have sung the praises of the lark, or been kindled
by his example. Shelley's ode and Wordsworth's "To a Skylark" are well
known to all readers of poetry, while every schoolboy will recall Hogg's
poem, beginning:--

       "Bird of the wilderness,
        Blithesome and cumberless,
    Sweet be thy matin o'er moorland and lea!
        Emblem of happiness,
        Blest is thy dwelling-place--
    Oh to abide in the desert with thee!"

I heard of an enthusiastic American who went about English fields
hunting a lark with Shelley's poem in his hand, thinking no doubt to use
it as a kind of guide-book to the intricacies and harmonies of the song.
He reported not having heard any larks, though I have little doubt they
were soaring and singing about him all the time, though of course they
did not sing to his ear the song that Shelley heard. The poets are
the best natural historians, only you must know how to read them. They
translate the facts largely and freely. A celebrated lady once said to
Turner, "I confess I cannot see in nature what you do." "Ah, madam,"
said the complacent artist, "don't you wish you could!"

Shelley's poem is perhaps better known, and has a higher reputation
among literary folk, than Wordsworth's; it is more lyrical and
lark-like; but it is needlessly long, though no longer than the lark's
song itself, but the lark can't help it, and Shelley can. I quote only a
few stanzas:--

              "In the golden lightning
                  Of the sunken sun,
               O'er which clouds are bright'ning
                  Thou dost float and run,
       Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

              "The pale purple even
                  Melts around thy flight;
               Like a star of heaven,
                  In the broad daylight
       Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight,

              "Keen as are the arrows
                  Of that silver sphere,
               Whose intense lamp narrows
                  In the white dawn clear,
       Until we hardly see--we feel that it is there;

              "All the earth and air
                  With thy voice is loud,
               As, when Night is bare,
                  From one lonely cloud
       The moon rains out her beams, and Heaven is overflowed."

Wordsworth has written two poems upon the lark, in one of which he calls
the bird "pilgrim of the sky." This is the one quoted by Emerson in
"Parnassus." Here is the concluding stanza:--

       "Leave to the nightingale her shady wood;
        A privacy of glorious light is thine,
        Whence thou dost pour upon the world a flood
        Of harmony, with instinct more divine;
        Type of the wise, who soar, but never roam,
        True to the kindred points of heaven and home."

The other poem I give entire:--

       "Up with me! up with me into the clouds!
           For thy song, Lark, is strong;
        Up with me, up with me into the clouds!
              Singing, singing,
        With clouds and sky about thee ringing,
           Lift me, guide me till I find
        That spot which seems so to thy mind!

       "I have walked through wilderness dreary,
           And to-day my heart is weary;
        Had I now the wings of a Faery
           Up to thee would I fly.
        There is madness about thee, and joy divine
           In that song of thine;
        Lift me, guide me high and high
        To thy banqueting-place in the sky.

             "Joyous as morning
        Thou art laughing and scorning;
        Thou hast a nest for thy love and thy rest,
        And, though little troubled with sloth,
        Drunken Lark! thou wouldst be loth
        To be such a traveler as I.
           Happy, happy Liver!
        With a soul as strong as a mountain river,
        Pouring out praise to the Almighty Giver,
        Joy and jollity be with us both!

       "Alas! my journey, rugged and uneven,
        Through prickly moors or dusty ways must wind;
        But hearing thee, or others of thy kind,
        As full of gladness and as free of heaven,
        I, with my fate contented, will plod on,
        And hope for higher raptures, when life's day is done."

But better than either--better and more than a hundred pages--is
Shakespeare's simple line,--

       "Hark, hark, the lark at heaven's gate sings,"

or John Lyly's, his contemporary,--

             "Who is't now we hear?
        None but the lark so shrill and clear;
        Now at heaven's gate she claps her wings,
        The morn not waking till she sings."

We have no well-known pastoral bird in the Eastern States that answers
to the skylark. The American pipit or titlark and the shore lark, both
birds of the far north, and seen in the States only in fall and winter,
are said to sing on the wing in a similar strain. Common enough in our
woods are two birds that have many of the habits and manners of the
lark--the water-thrush and the golden-crowned thrush, or oven-bird. They
are both walkers, and the latter frequently sings on the wing up aloft
after the manner of the lark. Starting from its low perch, it rises in
a spiral flight far above the tallest trees, and breaks out in a clear,
ringing, ecstatic song, sweeter and more richly modulated than the
skylark's, but brief, ceasing almost before you have noticed it; whereas
the skylark goes singing away after you have forgotten him and returned
to him half a dozen times.

But on the Great Plains, of the West there; is a bird whose song
resembles the skylark's quite closely and is said to be not at all
inferior. This is Sprague's pipit, sometimes called the Missouri
skylark, an excelsior songster, which from far up in the transparent
blue rains down its notes for many minutes together. It is, no doubt,
destined to figure in the future poetical literature of the West.

Throughout the northern and eastern parts of the Union the lark would
find a dangerous rival in the bobolink, a bird that has no European
prototype, and no near relatives anywhere, standing quite alone, unique,
and, in the qualities of hilarity and musical tintinnabulation, with
a song unequaled. He has already a secure place in general literature,
having been laureated by no less a poet than Bryant, and invested with a
lasting human charm in the sunny page of Irving, and is the only one of
our songsters, I believe, that the mockingbird cannot parody or imitate.
He affords the most marked example of exuberant pride, and a glad,
rollicking, holiday spirit, that can be seen among our birds. Every note
expresses complacency and glee. He is a beau of the first pattern, and,
unlike any other bird of my acquaintance, pushes his gallantry to the
point of wheeling gayly into the train of every female that comes along,
even after the season of courtship is over and the matches are all
settled; and when she leads him on too wild a chase, he turns, lightly
about and breaks out with a song is precisely analogous to a burst of
gay and self-satisfied laughter, as much as to say, _"Ha! ha! ha! I
must have my fun, Miss Silverthimble, thimble, thimble, if I break every
heart in the meadow, see, see, see!"_

At the approach of the breeding season the bobolink undergoes a complete
change; his form changes, his color changes, his flight changes. From
mottled brown or brindle he becomes black and white, earning, in some
localities, the shocking name of "skunk bird;" his small, compact form
becomes broad and conspicuous, and his ordinary flight is laid aside for
a mincing, affected gait, in which he seems to use only the very tips of
his wings. It is very noticeable what a contrast he presents to his mate
at this season, not only in color but in manners, she being as shy and
retiring as he is forward and hilarious. Indeed, she seems disagreeably
serious and indisposed to any fun or jollity, scurrying away at his
approach, and apparently annoyed at every endearing word and look. It
is surprising that all this parade of plumage and tinkling of cymbals
should be gone through with and persisted in to please a creature so
coldly indifferent as she really seems to be. If Robert O'Lincoln has
been stimulated into acquiring this holiday uniform and this musical
gift by the approbation of Mrs. Robert, as Darwin, with his sexual
selection principle, would have us believe, then there must have been
a time when the females of this tribe were not quite so chary of their
favors as they are now. Indeed, I never knew a female bird of any kind
that did not appear utterly indifferent to the charms of voice and
plumage that the male birds are so fond of displaying. But I am inclined
to believe that the males think only of themselves and of outshining
each other, and not at all of the approbation of their mates, as, in an
analogous case in a higher species, it is well known whom the females
dress for, and whom they want to kill with envy!

I know of no other song-bird that expresses so much self-consciousness
and vanity, and comes so near being an ornithological coxcomb. The
red-bird, the yellowbird, the indigo-bird, the oriole, the cardinal
grosbeak, and others, all birds of brilliant plumage and musical
ability, seem quite unconscious of self, and neither by tone nor act
challenge the admiration of the beholder.

By the time the bobolink reaches the Potomac, in September, he has
degenerated into a game-bird that is slaughtered by tens of thousands in
the marshes. I think the prospects now are of his gradual extermination,
as gunners and sportsmen are clearly on the increase, while the limit of
the bird's productivity in the North has no doubt been reached long ago.
There are no more meadows to be added to his domain there, while he is
being waylaid and cut off more and more on his return to the South.
It is gourmand eat gourmand, until in half a century more I expect the
blithest and merriest of our meadow songsters will have disappeared
before the rapacity of human throats.

But the poets have had a shot at him in good time, and have preserved
some of his traits. Bryant's poem on this subject does not compare with
his lines "To a Water-Fowl,"--a subject so well suited to the peculiar,
simple, and deliberate motion of his mind; at the same time it is fit
that the poet who sings of "The Planting of the Apple-Tree" should
render into words the song of "Robert of Lincoln." I subjoin a few

                ROBERT OF LINCOLN

        Merrily swinging on brier and weed,
           Near to the nest of his little dame,
        Over the mountain-side or mead,
           Robert of Lincoln is telling his name:
                 Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
                 Spink, spank, spink:
        Snug and safe is that nest of ours,
        Hidden among the summer flowers.
                 Chee, chee, chee.

        Robert of Lincoln is gayly drest,
           Wearing a bright black wedding-coat,
        White are his shoulders and white his crest,
           Hear him call in his merry note:
                 Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
                 Spink, spank, spink:
        Look what a nice new coat is mine,
        Sure there was never a bird so fine.
                 Chee, chee, chee.

        Robert of Lincoln's Quaker wife,
           Pretty and quiet, with plain brown wings,
        Passing at home a patient life,
           Broods in the grass while her husband sings.
                 Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
                 Spink, spank, spink:
        Brood, kind creature; you need not fear
        Thieves and robbers while I am here.
                 Chee, chee, chee.

But it has been reserved for a practical ornithologist, Mr. Wilson
Flagg, to write by far the best poem on the bobolink that I have yet
seen. It is much more in the mood and spirit of the actual song than
Bryant's poem:--

                         THE O'LINCOLN FAMILY

       A flock of merry singing-birds were sporting in the grove;
       Some were warbling cheerily, and some were making love:
       There were Bobolincon, Wadolincon, Winterseeble, Conquedle,--
       A livelier set was never led by tabor, pipe, or fiddle,--
       Crying, "Phew, shew, Wadolincon, see, see, Bobolincon,
       Down among the tickletops, hiding in the buttercups!
       I know the saucy chap, I see his shining cap
       Bobbing in the clover there--see, see, see!"

       Up flies Bobolincon, perching on an apple-tree,
       Startled by his rival's song, quickened by his raillery.
       Soon he spies the rogue afloat, curveting in the air,
       And merrily he turns about, and warns him to beware!
       "'T is you that would a-wooing go, down among the rushes O!
       But wait a week, till flowers are cheery,--wait a week,and,
          ere you marry,
       Be sure of a house wherein to tarry!
       Wadolink, Whiskodink, Tom Denny, wait, wait, wait!"

       Every one's a funny fellow; every one's a little mellow;
       Follow, follow, follow, follow, o'er the hill and in the hollow!
       Merrily, merrily, there they hie; now they rise and now they fly;
       They cross and turn, and in and out, and down in the middle,
          and wheel about,--
       With a "Phew, shew, Wadolincon! listen to me, Bobolincon!--
       Happy's the wooing that's speedily doing, that's speedily doing,
       That's merry and over with the bloom of the clover!
       Bobolincon, Wadolincon, Winterseeble, follow, follow me!"

Many persons, I presume, have admired Wordsworth's poem on the cuckoo,
without recognizing its truthfulness, or how thoroughly, in the main,
the description applies to our own species. If the poem had been written
in New England or New York, it could not have suited our case better:--

       "O blithe New-comer! I have heard,
           I hear thee and rejoice,
        O Cuckoo! shall I call thee Bird,
           Or but a wandering Voice?

       "While I am lying on the grass,
           Thy twofold shout I hear,
        From hill to hill it seems to pass,
           At once far off, and near.

       "Though babbling only to the Vale,
           Of sunshine and of flowers,
        Thou bringest unto me a tale
           Of visionary hours.

       "Thrice welcome, darling of the Spring!
           Even yet thou art to me
        No bird, but an invisible thing,
           A voice, a mystery;

       "The same whom in my schoolboy days
           I listened to; that Cry
        Which made me look a thousand ways
           In bush, and tree, and sky.

       "To seek thee did I often rove
           Through woods and on the green;
       And thou wert still a hope, a love;
           Still longed for, never seen.

       "And I can listen to thee yet;
           Can lie upon the plain
        And listen, till I do beget
           That golden time again.

       "O blesséd Bird! the earth we pace
           Again appears to be
        An unsubstantial, faery place;
           That is fit home for thee!"

Logan's stanzas, "To the Cuckoo," have less merit both as poetry and
natural history, but they are older, and doubtless the latter poet
benefited by them. Burke admired them so much that, while on a visit to
Edinburgh, he sought the author out to compliment him:--

       "Hail, beauteous stranger of the grove!
           Thou messenger of spring!
        Now Heaven repairs thy rural seat,
           And woods thy welcome sing.

       "What time the daisy decks the green,
           Thy certain voice we hear;
        Hast thou a star to guide thy path,
           Or mark the rolling year?

     . . . . . . . .

       "The schoolboy, wandering through the wood
           To pull the primrose gay,
       Starts, the new voice of spring to hear,
          And imitates thy lay.

     . . . . . . . .

       "Sweet bird! thy bower is ever green,
           Thy sky is ever clear;
       Thou hast no sorrow in thy song,
           No winter in thy year."

The European cuckoo is evidently a much gayer bird than ours, and much
more noticeable.

       "Hark, how the jolly cuckoos sing
       'Cuckoo!' to welcome in the spring,"

says John Lyly three hundred years agone. Its note is easily imitated,
and boys will render it so perfectly as to deceive any but the shrewdest
ear. An English lady tells me its voice reminds one of children at play,
and is full of gayety and happiness. It is a persistent songster,
and keeps up its call from morning to night. Indeed, certain parts
of Wordsworth's poem--those that refer to the bird as a mystery, a
wandering, solitary voice--seem to fit our bird better than the European
species. Our cuckoo is in fact a solitary wanderer, repeating its loud,
guttural call in the depths of the forest, and well calculated to arrest
the attention of a poet like Wordsworth, who was himself a kind of
cuckoo, a solitary voice, syllabling the loneliness that broods over
streams and woods,--

       "And once far off, and near."

Our cuckoo is not a spring bird, being seldom seen or heard in the North
before late in May. He is a great devourer of canker-worms, and, when
these pests appear, he comes out of his forest seclusion and makes
excursions through the orchards stealthily and quietly, regaling himself
upon those pulpy, fuzzy titbits. His coat of deep cinnamon brown has a
silky gloss and is very beautiful. His note or call is not musical
but loud, and has in a remarkable degree the quality of remoteness and
introvertedness. It is like a vocal legend, and to the farmer bodes

It is worthy of note, and illustrates some things said farther back,
that birds not strictly denominated songsters, but criers like the
cuckoo, have been quite as great favorites with the poets, and
have received as affectionate treatment at their hands, as have the
song-birds. One readily recalls Emerson's "Titmouse," Trowbridge's
"Pewee," Celia Thaxter's "Sandpiper," and others of a like character.

It is also worthy of note that the owl appears to be a greater favorite
with the poets than the proud, soaring hawk. The owl is doubtless the
more human and picturesque bird; then he belongs to the night and its
weird effects. Bird of the silent wing and expansive eye, grimalkin in
feathers, feline, mousing, haunting ruins" and towers, and mocking the
midnight stillness with thy uncanny cry! The owl is the great bugaboo of
the feathered tribes. His appearance by day is hailed by shouts of
alarm and derision from nearly every bird that flies, from crows down
to sparrows. They swarm about him like flies, and literally mob him back
into his dusky retreat. Silence is as the breath of his nostrils to him,
and the uproar that greets him when he emerges into the open day seems
to alarm and confuse him as it does the pickpocket when everybody cries

But the poets, I say, have not despised him:--

       "The lark is but a bumpkin fowl;
           He sleeps in his nest till morn;
        But my blessing upon the jolly owl
           That all night blows his horn."

Both Shakespeare and Tennyson have made songs about him. This is
Shakespeare's, from "Love's Labor's Lost," and perhaps has reference to
the white or snowy owl:--

       "When icicles hang by the wall,
           And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
        And Tom bears logs into the hall,
           And milk comes frozen home in pail;
        When blood is nipped and ways be foul,
        Then nightly sings the staring owl,
        Tu-whit! tu-whoo! a merry note,
        While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

       "When all aloud the wind doth blow,
           And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
        And birds sit brooding in the snow,
           And Marian's nose looks red and raw;
       When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
       Then nightly sings the staring owl,
        Tu-whit! Tu-whoo! a merry note,
        While greasy Joan doth keel the pot."

There is, perhaps, a slight reminiscence of this song in Tennyson's

       "When cats run home and light is come,
           And dew is cold upon the ground,
        And the far-off stream is dumb,
          And the whirring sail goes round,
          And the whirring sail goes round;
             Alone and warming his five wits,
             The white owl in the belfry sits.

       "When merry milkmaids click the latch,
           And rarely smells the new-mown hay,
        And the cock hath sung beneath the thatch
           Twice or thrice his roundelay,
           Twice or thrice his roundelay;
              Alone and warming his five wits,
              The white owl in the belfry sits."

Tennyson has not directly celebrated any of the more famous birds, but
his poems contain frequent allusions to them. The

       "Wild bird, whose warble, liquid sweet,
           Rings Eden through the budded quicks,
           Oh, tell me where the senses mix,
        Oh, tell me where the passions meet,"

of "In Memoriam," is doubtless the nightingale. And here we have the

       "Now sings the woodland loud and long,
           And distance takes a lovelier hue,
           And drowned in yonder living blue
        The lark becomes a sightless song."

And again in this from "A Dream of Fair Women:"--

                   "Then I heard
        A noise of some one coming through the lawn,
        And singing clearer than the crested bird
              That claps his wings at dawn."

The swallow is a favorite bird with Tennyson, and is frequently
mentioned, beside being the principal figure in one of those charming
love-songs in "The Princess." His allusions to the birds, as to any
other natural feature, show him to be a careful observer, as when he
speaks of

       "The swamp, where hums the dropping snipe."

His single bird-poem, aside from the song I have quoted, is "The
Blackbird," the Old World prototype of our robin, as if our bird had
doffed the aristocratic black for a more democratic suit on reaching
these shores. In curious contrast to the color of its plumage is its
beak, which is as yellow as a kernel of Indian corn. The following are
the two middle stanzas of the poem:--

       "Yet, though I spared thee all the spring,
           Thy sole delight is, sitting still,
           With that gold dagger of thy bill
        To fret the summer jenneting.

       "A golden bill! the silver tongue
           Cold February loved is dry;
           Plenty corrupts the melody
        That made thee famous once, when young."

Shakespeare, in one of his songs, alludes to the blackbird as the
ouzel-cock; indeed, he puts quite a flock of birds in this song:--

       "The ouzel-cock so black of hue,
           With orange tawny bill;
        The throstle with his note so true,
           The wren with little quill;
        The finch, the sparrow, and the lark,
           The plain song cuckoo gray,
        Whose note full many a man doth mark,
           And dares not answer nay."

So far as external appearances are concerned,--form, plumage, grace of
manner,--no one ever had a less promising subject than had Trowbridge
in the "Pewee." This bird, if not the plainest dressed, is the most
unshapely in the woods. It is stiff and abrupt in its manners and
sedentary in its habits, sitting around all day, in the dark recesses
of the woods, on the dry twigs and branches, uttering now and then
its plaintive cry, and "with many a flirt and flutter" snapping up its
insect game.

The pewee belongs to quite a large family of birds, all of whom have
strong family traits, and who are not the most peaceable and harmonious
of the sylvan folk. They are pugnacious, harsh-voiced, angular in form
and movement, with flexible tails and broad, flat, bristling beaks that
stand to the face at the angle of a turn-up nose, and most of them wear
a black cap pulled well down over their eyes. Their heads are large,
neck and legs short, and elbows sharp. The wild Irishman of them all
is the great crested flycatcher, a large, leather-colored or
sandy-complexioned bird that prowls through the woods, uttering its
harsh, uncanny note and waging fierce warfare upon its fellows. The
exquisite of the family, and the braggart of the orchard, is the
kingbird, a bully that loves to strip the feathers off its more timid
neighbors such as the bluebird, that feeds on the stingless bees of the
hive, the drones, and earns the reputation of great boldness by teasing
large hawks, while it gives a wide berth to little ones.

The best beloved of them all is the phoebe-bird, one of the firstlings
of the spring, of whom so many of our poets have made affectionate

The wood pewee is the sweetest voiced, and, notwithstanding the
ungracious things I have said of it and of its relations, merits to
the full all Trowbridge's pleasant fancies. His poem is indeed a very
careful study of the bird and its haunts, and is good poetry as well as
good ornithology:--

       "The listening Dryads hushed the woods;
           The boughs were thick, and thin and few
           The golden ribbons fluttering through;
        Their sun-embroidered, leafy hoods
           The lindens lifted to the blue;
        Only a little forest-brook
        The farthest hem of silence shook;
        When in the hollow shades I heard--
        Was it a spirit or a bird?
        Or, strayed from Eden, desolate,
        Some Peri calling to her mate,
        Whom nevermore her mate would cheer?
           'Pe-ri! pe-ri! peer!'

     . . . . . . . .

       "To trace it in its green retreat
           I sought among the boughs in vain;
           And followed still the wandering strain,
        So melancholy and so sweet,
           The dim-eyed violets yearned with pain.
        'T was now a sorrow in the air,
        Some nymph's immortalized despair
        Haunting the woods and waterfalls;
        And now, at long, sad intervals,
        Sitting unseen in dusky shade,
        His plaintive pipe some fairy played,
       With long-drawn cadence thin and clear,--
          'Pe-wee! pe-wee! peer!'

       "Long-drawn and clear its closes were--
           As if the hand of Music through
           The sombre robe of Silence drew
        A thread of golden gossamer;
           So pure a flute the fairy blew.
        Like beggared princes of the wood,
        In silver rags the birches stood;
        The hemlocks, lordly counselors,
        Were dumb; the sturdy servitors,
        In beechen jackets patched and gray,
        Seemed waiting spellbound all the day
        That low, entrancing note to hear,--
           'Pe-wee! pe-wee! peer!'

       "I quit the search, and sat me down
           Beside the brook, irresolute,
           And watched a little bird in suit
        Of sober olive, soft and brown,
           Perched in the maple branches, mute;
        With greenish gold its vest was fringed,
        Its tiny cap was ebon-tinged,
        With ivory pale its wings were barred,
        And its dark eyes were tender-starred.
       "Dear bird," I said, "what is thy name?"
        And thrice the mournful answer came,
        So faint and far, and yet so near,--
           'Pe-wee! pe-wee! peer!'

       "For so I found my forest bird,--
           The pewee of the loneliest woods,
           Sole singer in these solitudes,
        Which never robin's whistle stirred,
           Where never bluebird's plume intrudes.
        Quick darting through the dewy morn,
        The redstart trilled his twittering horn
        And vanished in thick boughs; at even,
        Like liquid pearls fresh showered from heaven,
        The high notes of the lone wood thrush
        Fell on the forest's holy hush;
        But thou all day complainest here,--
           'Pe-wee! pe-wee! peer!'"

Emerson's best natural history poem is the "Humble-Bee,"--a poem as
good in its way as Burns's poem on the mouse; but his later poem,
"The Titmouse," has many of the same qualities, and cannot fail to be
acceptable to both poet and naturalist.

The chickadee is indeed a truly Emersonian bird, and the poet shows him
to be both a hero and a philosopher. Hardy, active, social, a winter
bird no less than a summer, a defier of both frost and heat, lover of
the pine-tree, and diligent searcher after truth in the shape of eggs
and larvae of insects, preëminently a New England bird, clad in black
and ashen gray, with a note the most cheering and reassuring to be
heard in our January woods,--I know of none other of our birds so well
calculated to captivate the Emersonian muse.

Emerson himself is a northern hyperborean genius,--a winter bird with
a clear, saucy, cheery call, and not a passionate summer songster.
His lines have little melody to the ear, but they have the vigor and
distinctness of all pure and compact things. They are like the needles
of the pine--"the snow loving pine"--more than the emotional foliage of
the deciduous trees, and the titmouse becomes them well:--

       "Up and away for life! be fleet!--
        The frost-king ties my fumbling feet,
        Sings in my ears, my hands are stones,
        Curdles the blood to the marble bones,
        Tugs at the heart-strings, numbs the sense,
        And hems in life with narrowing fence.
        Well, in this broad bed lie and sleep,--
        The punctual stars will vigil keep,--
        Embalmed by purifying cold;
        The wind shall sing their dead march old,
        The snow is no ignoble shroud,
        The moon thy mourner, and the cloud.

       "Softly,--but this way fate was pointing,
        'T was coming fast to such anointing,
        When piped a tiny voice hard by,
        Gay and polite, a cheerful cry,
        _Chick-chickadeedee!_ saucy note,
        Out of sound heart and merry throat,
        As if it said 'Good day, good sir!
        Fine afternoon, old passenger!
        Happy to meet you in these places,
        Where January brings few faces.'

       "This poet, though he lived apart,
        Moved by his hospitable heart,
        Sped, when I passed his sylvan fort,
        To do the honors of his court,
        As fits a feathered lord of land;
        Flew near, with soft wing grazed my hands
        Hopped on the bough, then darting low,
        Prints his small impress on the snow,
        Shows feats of his gymnastic play,
        Head downward, clinging to the spray.

       "Here was this atom in full breath,
        Hurling defiance at vast death;
        This scrap of valor just for play
        Fronts the north-wind in waistcoat gray,
        As if to shame my weak behavior;
        I greeted loud my little savior,
       'You pet! what dost here? and what for?
        In these woods, thy small Labrador,
        At this pinch, wee San Salvador!
        What fire burns in that little chest,
        So frolic, stout, and self-possest?
        Henceforth I wear no stripe but thine;
        Ashes and jet all hues outshine.
        Why are not diamonds black and gray,
        To ape thy dare-devil array?
        And I affirm, the spacious North
        Exists to draw thy virtue forth.
        I think no virtue goes with size;
        The reason of all cowardice
        Is, that men are overgrown,
        And, to be valiant, must come down
        To the titmouse dimension.'

     . . . . . . . .

       "I think old Caesar must have heard
        In northern Gaul my dauntless bird,
        And, echoed in some frosty wold,
        Borrowed thy battle-numbers bold.
        And I will write our annals new
        And thank thee for a better clew.
        I, who dreamed not when I came here
        To find the antidote of fear,
        Now hear thee say in Roman key,
        _Poean! Veni, vidi, vici."_

A late bird-poem, and a good one of its kind, is Celia Thaxter's
"Sandpiper," which recalls Bryant's "Water-Fowl" in its successful
rendering of the spirit and atmosphere of the scene, and the
distinctness with which the lone bird, flitting along the beach, is
brought before the mind. It is a woman's or a feminine poem, as Bryant's
is characteristically a man's.

The sentiment or feeling awakened by any of the aquatic fowls is
preëminently one of loneliness. The wood duck which your approach starts
from the pond or the marsh, the loon neighing down out of the April
sky, the wild goose, the curlew, the stork, the bittern, the sandpiper,
awaken quite a different train of emotions from those awakened by
the land-birds. They all have clinging to them some reminiscence and
suggestion of the sea. Their cries echo its wildness and desolation;
their wings are the shape of its billows.

Of the sandpipers there are many varieties, found upon the coast and
penetrating inland along the rivers and water-courses, one of the most
interesting of the family, commonly called the "tip-up," going up all
the mountain brooks and breeding in the sand along their banks; but
the characteristics are the same in all, and the eye detects little
difference except in size.

The walker on the beach sees it running or flitting before him,
following up the breakers and picking up the aquatic insects left on the
sands; and the trout-fisher along the farthest inland stream likewise
intrudes upon its privacy. Flitting along from stone to stone seeking
its food, the hind part of its body "teetering" up and down, its soft
gray color blending it with the pebbles and the rocks, or else skimming
up or down the stream on its long, convex wings, uttering its shrill
cry, the sandpiper is not a bird of the sea merely; and Mrs. Thaxter's
poem is as much for the dweller inland as for the dweller upon the

                     THE SANDPIPER

       Across the narrow beach we flit,
          One little sandpiper and I;
       And fast I gather, bit by bit,
          The scattered driftwood bleached and dry.
       The wild waves reach their hands for it,
          The wild wind raves, the tide runs high,
       As up and down the beach we flit,--
          One little sandpiper and I.

       Above our heads the sullen clouds
          Scud black and swift across the sky;
       Like silent ghosts in misty shrouds
          Stand out the white lighthouses high.
       Almost as far as eye can reach
          I see the close-reefed vessels fly,
       As fast we flit along the beach,--
          One little sandpiper and I.

       I watch him as he skims along,
          Uttering his sweet and mournful cry;
       He starts not at my fitful song,
          Or flash of fluttering drapery;
       He has no thought of any wrong;
          He scans me with a fearless eye.
       Stanch friends are we, well tried and strong,
          The little sandpiper and I.

       Comrade, where wilt thou be to-night
          When the loosed storm breaks furiously?
       My driftwood fire will burn so bright!
          To what warm shelter canst thou fly?
       I do not fear for thee, though wroth
          The tempest rushes through the sky;
       For are we not God's children both,
          Thou, little sandpiper, and I?

Others of our birds have been game for the poetic muse, but in most
cases the poets have had some moral or pretty conceit to convey, and
have not loved the bird first. Mr. Lathrop preaches a little in his
pleasant poem, "The Sparrow," but he must some time have looked upon the
bird with genuine emotion to have written the first two stanzas:--

       "Glimmers gay the leafless thicket
           Close beside my garden gate,
        Where, so light, from post to wicket,
           Hops the sparrow, blithe, sedate:
              Who, with meekly folded wing,
              Comes to sun himself and sing.

       "It was there, perhaps, last year,
           That his little house he built;
        For he seems to perk and peer,
           And to twitter, too, and tilt
              The bare branches in between,
              With a fond, familiar mien."

The bluebird has not been overlooked, and Halleek, Longfellow, and Mrs.
Sigourney have written poems upon him, but from none of them does there
fall that first note of his in early spring,--a note that may be called
the violet of sound, and as welcome to the ear, heard above the cold,
damp earth; as is its floral type to the eye a few weeks later Lowell's
two lines come nearer the mark:--

       "The bluebird, shifting his light load of song
       From post to post along the cheerless fence."

Or the first swallow that comes twittering up the southern valley,
laughing a gleeful, childish laugh, and awakening such memories in
the heart, who has put him in a poem? So the hummingbird, too, escapes
through the finest meshes of rhyme.

The most melodious of our songsters, the wood thrush and the hermit
thrush,--birds whose strains, more than any others, express harmony
and serenity,--have not yet, that I am aware, had reared to them their
merited poetic monument, unless, indeed, Whitman has done this service
for the hermit thrush in his "President Lincoln's Burial Hymn." Here
the threnody is blent of three chords, the blossoming lilac, the evening
star, and the hermit thrush, the latter playing the most prominent part
throughout the composition. It is the exalting and spiritual utterance
of the "solitary singer" that calms and consoles the poet when the
powerful shock of the President's assassination comes upon him, and he
flees from the stifling atmosphere and offensive lights and conversation
of the house,--

          "Forth to hiding, receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still."

Numerous others of our birds would seem to challenge attention by their
calls and notes. There is the Maryland yellowthroat, for instance,
standing in the door of his bushy tent, and calling out as you approach,
_"which way, sir! which way, sir!"_ If he says this to the ear of common
folk, what would he not say to the poet? One of the peewees says _"stay
there!"_ with great emphasis. The cardinal grosbeak calls out _"what
cheer" "what cheer;"_ " the bluebird says _"purity," "purity," "purity;"_
the brown thrasher, or ferruginous thrush, according to Thoreau, calls
out to the farmer planting his corn, _"drop it," "drop it," "cover it
up," "cover it up"_ The yellow-breasted chat says _"who," "who"_ and
_"tea-boy"_ What the robin says, caroling that simple strain from
the top of the tall maple, or the crow with his hardy haw-haw, or the
pedestrain meadowlark sounding his piercing and long-drawn note in the
spring meadows, the poets ought to be able to tell us. I only know the
birds all have a language which is very expressive, and which is easily
translatable into the human tongue.



WHEREVER Nature has commissioned one creature to prey upon another, she
has preserved the balance by forewarning that other creature of what she
has done. Nature says to the cat, "Catch the mouse," and she equips her
for that purpose; but on the selfsame day she says to the mouse, "Be
wary,--the cat is watching for you." Nature takes care that none of her
creatures have smooth sailing, the whole voyage at least. Why has she
not made the mosquito noiseless and its bite itchless? Simply because
in that case the odds would be too greatly in its favor. She has taken
especial pains to enable the owl to fly softly and silently, because the
creatures it preys upon are small and wary, and never venture far from
their holes. She has not shown the same caution in the case of the crow,
because the crow feeds on dead flesh, or on grubs and beetles, or fruit
and grain, that do not need to be approached stealthily. The big fish
love to cat up the little fish, and the little fish know it, and, on the
very day they are hatched, seek shallow water, and put little sandbars
between themselves and their too loving parents.

How easily a bird's tail, or that of any fowl, or in fact any part of
the plumage, comes out when the hold of its would-be capturer is upon
this alone; and how hard it yields in the dead bird! No doubt there is
relaxation in the former case. Nature says to the pursuer, "Hold on,"
and to the pursued, "Let your tail go." What is the tortuous, zigzag
course of those slow-flying moths for but to make it difficult for the
birds to snap them up? The skunk is a slow, witless creature, and the
fox and lynx love its meat; yet it carries a bloodless weapon that
neither likes to face.

I recently heard of an ingenious method a certain other simple and
slow-going creature has of baffling its enemy. A friend of mine was
walking in the fields when he saw a commotion in the grass a few
yards off. Approaching the spot, he found a snake--the common garter
snake--trying to swallow a lizard. And how do you suppose the lizard was
defeating the benevolent designs of the snake? By simply taking hold
of its own tail and making itself into a hoop. The snake went round and
round, and could find neither beginning nor end. Who was the old giant
that found himself wrestling with Time? This little snake had a tougher
customer the other day in the bit of eternity it was trying to swallow.

The snake itself has not the same wit, because I lately saw a black
snake in the woods trying to swallow the garter snake, and he had made
some headway, though the little snake was fighting every inch of the
ground, hooking his tail about sticks and bushes, and pulling back with
all his might, apparently not liking the look of things down there
at all. I thought it well to let him have a good taste of his own
doctrines, when I put my foot down against further proceedings.

This arming of one creature against another is often cited as an
evidence of the wisdom of Nature, but it is rather an evidence of her
impartiality. She does not care a fig more for one creature than for
another, and is equally on the side of both, or perhaps it would be
better to say she does not care a fig for either. Every creature must
take its chances, and man is no exception. We can ride if we know
how and are going her way, or we can be run over if we fall or make a
mistake. Nature does not care whether the hunter slay the beast or the
beast the hunter; she will make good compost of them both, and her ends
are prospered whichever succeeds.

       "If the red slayer think he slays,
           Or if the slain think he is slain,
        They know not well the subtle ways
           I keep, and pass, and turn again."

What is the end of Nature? Where is the end of a sphere? The sphere
balances at any and every point. So everything in Nature is at the top,
and yet no _one_ thing is at the top.

She works with reference to no measure of time, no limit of space, and
with an abundance of material, not expressed by exhaustless. Did you
think Niagara a great exhibition of power? What is that, then, that
withdraws noiseless and invisible in the ground about, and of which
Niagara is but the lifting of the finger?

Nature is thoroughly selfish, and looks only to her own ends. One
thing she is bent upon, and that is keeping up the supply, multiplying
endlessly and scattering as she multiplies. Did Nature have in view our
delectation when she made the apple, the peach, the plum, the cherry?
Undoubtedly; but only as a means to her own private ends. What a bribe
or a wage is the pulp of these delicacies to all creatures to come and
sow their seed! And Nature has taken care to make the seed indigestible,
so that, though the fruit be eaten, the germ is not, but only planted.

God made the crab, but man made the pippin; but the pippin cannot
propagate itself, and exists only by violence and usurpation. Bacon
says, "It is easier to deceive Nature than to force her," but it seems
to me the nurserymen really force her. They cut off the head of a savage
and clap on the head of a fine gentleman, and the crab becomes a Swaar
or a Baldwin. Or is it a kind of deception practiced upon Nature, which
succeeds only by being carefully concealed? If we could play the same
tricks upon her in the human species, how the great geniuses could be
preserved and propagated, and the world stocked with them! But what a
frightful condition of things that would be! No new men, but a tiresome
and endless repetition of the old ones,--a world perpetually stocked
with Newtons and Shakespeares!

We say Nature knows best, and has adapted this or that to our wants or
to our constitution,--sound to the ear, light and color to the eye; but
she has not done any such thing, but has adapted man to these things.
The physical cosmos is the mould, and man is the molten metal that is
poured into it. The light fashioned the eye, the laws of sound made
the ear; in fact, man is the outcome of Nature and not the reverse.
Creatures that live forever in the dark have no eyes; and would not any
one of our senses perish and be shed, as it were, in a world where it
could not be used?


It is well to let down our metropolitan pride a little. Man thinks
himself at the top, and that the immense display and prodigality of
Nature are for him. But they are no more for him than they are for
the birds and beasts, and he is no more at the top than they are. He
appeared upon the stage when the play had advanced to a certain point,
and he will disappear from the stage when the play has reached another
point, and the great drama will go on without him. The geological ages,
the convulsions and parturition throes of the globe, were to bring him
forth no more than the beetles. Is not all this wealth of the seasons,
these solar and sidereal influences, this depth and vitality and
internal fire, these seas, and rivers, and oceans, and atmospheric
currents, as necessary to the life of the ants and worms we tread under
foot as to our own? And does the sun shine for me any more than for yon
butterfly? What I mean to say is, we cannot put our finger upon this
or that and say, Here is the end of Nature. The Infinite cannot be
measured. The plan of Nature is so immense,--but she has no plan,
no scheme, but to go on and on forever. What is size, what is time,
distance, to the Infinite? Nothing. The Infinite knows no time, no
space, no great, no small, no beginning, no end.

I sometimes think that the earth and the worlds are a kind of nervous
ganglia in an organization of which we can form no conception, or less
even than that. If one of the globules of blood that circulate in our
veins were magnified enough million times, we might see a globe teeming
with life and power. Such is this earth of ours, coursing in the veins
of the Infinite. Size is only relative, and the imagination finds no end
to the series either way.


Looking out of the car window one day, I saw the pretty and unusual
sight of an eagle sitting upon the ice in the river, surrounded by half
a dozen or more crows. The crows appeared as if looking up to the
noble bird and attending his movements. "Are those its young?" asked a
gentleman by my side. How much did that man know--not about eagles,
but about Nature? If he had been familiar with geese or hens, or with
donkeys, he would not have asked that question. The ancients had an
axiom that he who knew one truth knew all truths; so much else becomes
knowable when one vital fact is thoroughly known. You have a key, a
standard, and cannot be deceived. Chemistry, geology, astronomy, natural
history, all admit one to the same measureless interiors.

I heard a great man say that he could see how much of the theology
of the day would fall before the standard of him who had got even the
insects. And let any one set about studying these creatures carefully,
and he will see the force of the remark. We learn the tremendous
doctrine of metamorphosis from the insect world; and have not the bee
and the ant taught man wisdom from the first? I was highly edified
the past summer by observing the ways and doings of a colony of black
hornets that established themselves under one of the projecting gables
of my house. This hornet has the reputation of being a very ugly
customer, but I found it no trouble to live on the most friendly terms
with her. She was as little disposed to quarrel as I was. She is indeed
the eagle among hornets, and very noble and dignified in her bearing.
She used to come freely into the house and prey upon the flies. You
would hear that deep, mellow hum, and see the black falcon poising on
wing, or striking here and there at the flies, that scattered on her
approach like chickens before a hawk. When she had caught one, she would
alight upon some object and proceed to dress and draw her game. The
wings were sheared off, the legs cut away, the bristles trimmed, then
the body thoroughly bruised and broken. When the work was completed,
the fly was rolled up into a small pellet, and with it under her arm
the hornet flew to her nest, where no doubt in due time it was properly
served up on the royal board. Every dinner inside these paper walls is a
state dinner, for the queen is always present.

I used to mount the ladder to within two or three feet of the nest
and observe the proceedings. I at first thought the workshop must be
inside,--a place where the pulp was mixed, and perhaps treated with
chemicals; for each hornet, when she came with her burden of materials,
passed into the nest, and then, after a few moments, emerged again and
crawled to the place of building. But I one day stopped up the entrance
with some cotton, when no one happened to be on guard, and then observed
that, when the loaded hornet could not get inside, she, after some
deliberation, proceeded to the unfinished part and went forward with her
work. Hence I inferred that maybe the hornet went inside to report and
to receive orders, or possibly to surrender her material into fresh
hands. Her career when away from the nest is beset with dangers; the
colony is never large, and the safe return of every hornet is no doubt a
matter of solicitude to the royal mother.

The hornet was the first paper-maker, and holds the original patent. The
paper it makes is about like that of the newspaper; nearly as firm, and
made of essentially the same material,--woody fibres scraped from old
rails and boards. And there is news on it, too, if one could make out
the characters.

When I stopped the entrance with cotton, there was no commotion or
excitement, as there would have been in the case of yellow-jackets.
Those outside went to pulling, and those inside went to pushing and
chewing. Only once did one of the outsiders come down and look me
suspiciously in the face, and inquire very plainly what my business
might be up there. I bowed my head, being at the top of a twenty-foot
ladder, and had nothing to say.

The cotton was chewed and moistened about the edges till every fibre
was loosened, when the mass dropped. But instantly the entrance was
made smaller, and changed so as to make the feat of stopping it more


There are those who look at Nature from the standpoint of
conventional and artificial life,--from parlor windows and through
gilt-edged poems,--the sentimentalists. At the other extreme are those
who do not look at Nature at all, but are a grown part of her, and look
away from her toward the other class,--the backwoodsmen and pioneers,
and all rude and simple persons. Then there are those in whom the
two are united or merged,--the great poets and artists. In them the
sentimentalist is corrected and cured, and the hairy and taciturn
frontiersman has had experience to some purpose. The true poet knows
more about Nature than the naturalist because he carries her open
secrets in his heart. Eckermann could instruct Goethe in ornithology,
but could not Goethe instruct Eckermann in the meaning and mystery of
the bird? It is my privilege to number among my friends a man who has
passed his life in cities amid the throngs of men, who never goes to
the woods or to the country, or hunts or fishes, and yet he is the true
naturalist. I think he studies the orbs. I think day and night and the
stars, and the faces of men and women, have taught him all there is
worth knowing.

We run to Nature because we are afraid of man. Our artists paint the
landscape because they cannot paint the human face. If we could look
into the eyes of a man as coolly as we can into the eyes of an animal,
the products of our pens and brushes would be quite different from what
they are.


But I suspect, after all, it makes but little difference to which school
you go, whether to the woods or to the city. A sincere man learns pretty
much the same things in both places. The differences are superficial,
the resemblances deep and many. The hermit is a hermit, and the poet
a poet, whether he grow up in the town or the country. I was forcibly
reminded of this fact recently on opening the works of Charles Lamb
after I had been reading those of our Henry Thoreau. Lamb cared nothing
for nature, Thoreau for little else. One was as attached to the city and
the life of the street and tavern as the other to the country and the
life of animals and plants. Yet they are close akin. They give out the
same tone and are pitched in about the same key. Their methods are the
same; so are their quaintness and scorn of rhetoric. Thoreau has the
drier humor, as might be expected, and is less stomachic. There is more
juice and unction in Lamb, but this he owes to his nationality. Both are
essayists who in a less reflective age would have been poets pure and
simple. Both were spare, high-nosed men, and I fancy a resemblance even
in their portraits. Thoreau is the Lamb of New England fields and
woods, and Lamb is the Thoreau of London streets and clubs. There was a
willfulness and perversity about Thoreau, behind which he concealed his
shyness and his thin skin, and there was a similar foil in Lamb, though
less marked, on account of his good-nature; that was a part of his
armor, too.


Speaking of Thoreau's dry humor reminds me how surely the old English
unctuous and sympathetic humor is dying out or has died out of our
literature. Our first notable crop of authors had it,--Paulding, Cooper,
Irving, and in a measure Hawthorne,--but our later humorists have it not
at all, but in its stead an intellectual quickness and perception of the
ludicrous that is not unmixed with scorn.

One of the marks of the great humorist, like Cervantes, or Sterne, or
Scott, is that he approaches his subject, not through his head merely,
but through his heart, his love, his humanity. His humor is full of
compassion, full of the milk of human kindness, and does not separate
him from his subject, but unites him to it by vital ties. How Sterne
loved Uncle Toby and sympathized with him, and Cervantes his luckless
knight! I fear our humorists would have made fun of them, would have
shown them up and stood aloof superior, and "laughed a laugh of merry
scorn." Whatever else the great humorist or poet, or any artist, may be
or do, there is no contempt in his laughter. And this point cannot
be too strongly insisted on in view of the fact that nearly all our
humorous writers seem impressed with the conviction that their own
dignity and self-respect require them to _look down_ upon what they
portray. But it is only little men who look down upon anything or speak
down to anybody. One sees every day how clear it is that specially fine,
delicate, intellectual persons cannot portray satisfactorily coarse,
common, uncultured characters. Their attitude is at once scornful and
supercilious. The great man, like Socrates, or Dr. Johnson, or Abraham
Lincoln, is just as surely coarse as he is fine, but the complaint I
make with our humorists is that they are fine and not coarse in any
healthful and manly sense. A great part of the best literature and the
best art is of the vital fluids, the bowels, the chest, the appetites,
and is to be read and judged only through love and compassion. Let us
pray for unction, which is the marrowfat of humor, and for humility,
which is the badge of manhood.

As the voice of the American has retreated from his chest to his
throat and nasal passages, so there is danger that his contribution to
literature will soon cease to imply any blood or viscera, or healthful
carnality, or depth of human and manly affection, and will be the fruit
entirely of our toploftical brilliancy and cleverness.

What I complain of is just as true of the essayists and the critics as
of the novelists. The prevailing tone here also is born of a feeling of
immense superiority. How our lofty young men, for instance, look down
upon Carlyle, and administer their masterly rebukes to him! But see how
Carlyle treats Burns, or Scott, or Johnson, or Novalis, or any of his
heroes. Ay, there's the rub; he makes heroes of them, which is not a
trick of small natures. He can say of Johnson that he was "moonstruck,"
but it is from no lofty height of fancied superiority, but he uses the
word as a naturalist uses a term to describe an object he loves.

What we want, and perhaps have got more of than I am ready to admit, is
a race of writers who affiliate with their subjects, and enter into them
through their blood, their sexuality and manliness, instead of
standing apart and criticising them and writing about them through mere
intellectual cleverness and "smartness."


There is a feeling in heroic poetry, or in a burst of eloquence, that I
sometimes catch in quite different fields. I caught it this morning,
for instance, when I saw the belated trains go by, and knew how they
had been battling with storm, darkness, and distance, and had triumphed.
They were due at my place in the night, but did not pass till after
eight o'clock in the morning. Two trains coupled together,--the fast
mail and the express,--making an immense line of coaches hauled by two
engines. They had come from the West, and were all covered with snow and
ice, like soldiers with the dust of battle upon them. They had massed
their forces, and were now moving with augmented speed, and with a
resolution that was epic and grand. Talk about the railroad dispelling
the romance from the landscape; if it does, it brings the heroic element
in. The moving train is a proud spectacle, especially on stormy and
tempestuous nights. When I look out and see its light, steady and
unflickering as the planets, and hear the roar of its advancing tread,
or its sound diminishing in the distance, I am comforted and made stout
of heart. O night, where is thy stay! O space, where is thy victory! Or
to see the fast mail pass in the morning is as good as a page of Homer.
It quickens one's pulse for all day. It is the Ajax of trains. I hear
its defiant, warning whistle, hear it thunder over the bridges, and its
sharp, rushing ring among the rocks, and in the winter mornings see its
glancing, meteoric lights, or in summer its white form bursting through
the silence and the shadows, its plume of smoke lying flat upon its
roofs and stretching far behind,--a sight better than a battle. It
is something of the same feeling one has in witnessing any wild, free
careering in storms, and in floods in nature; or in beholding the
charge of an army; or in listening to an eloquent man, or to a hundred
instruments of music in full blast,--it is triumph, victory. What is
eloquence but mass in motion,--a flood, a cataract, an express train, a
cavalry charge? We are literally carried away, swept from our feet, and
recover our senses again as best we can.

I experienced the same emotion when I saw them go by with the sunken
steamer. The procession moved slowly and solemnly. It was like a funeral
cortege,--a long line of grim floats and barges and boxes, with their
bowed and solemn derricks, the pall-bearers; and underneath in her
watery grave, where she had been for six months, the sunken steamer,
partially lifted and borne along. Next day the procession went back
again, and the spectacle was still more eloquent. The steamer had been
taken to the flats above and raised till her walking-beam was out of
water; her bell also was exposed and cleaned and rung, and the wreckers'
Herculean labor seemed nearly over. But that night the winds and the
storms held high carnival. It looked like preconcerted action on the
part of tide, tempest, and rain to defeat these wreckers, for the
elements all pulled together and pulled till cables and hawser snapped
like threads. Back the procession started, anchors were dragged or lost,
immense new cables were quickly taken ashore and fastened to trees; but
no use: trees were upturned, the cables stretched till they grew
small and sang like harp-strings, then parted; back, back against the
desperate efforts of the men, till within a few feet of her old
grave, when there was a great commotion among the craft, floats were
overturned, enormous chains parted, colossal timbers were snapped
like pipestems, and, with a sound that filled all the air, the steamer
plunged to the bottom again in seventy feet of water.


I am glad to observe that all the poetry of the midsummer harvesting has
not gone out with the scythe and the whetstone. The line of mowers was a
pretty sight, if one did not sympathize too deeply with the human backs
turned up there to the sun, and the sound of the whetstone, coming up
from the meadows in the dewy morning, was pleasant music. But I find the
sound of the mowing-machine and the patent reaper is even more in tune
with the voices of Nature at this season. The characteristic sounds of
midsummer are the sharp, whirring crescendo of the cicada or harvest
fly, and the rasping, stridulous notes of the nocturnal insects. The
mowing-machine repeats and imitates these sounds. 'T is like the hum of
a locust or the shuffling of a mighty grasshopper. More than that, the
grass and the grain at this season have become hard. The timothy stalk
is like a file; the rye straw is glazed with flint; the grasshoppers
snap sharply as they fly up in front of you; the bird-songs have ceased;
the ground crackles under foot; the eye of day is brassy and merciless;
and in harmony with all these things is the rattle of the mower and the


'T is an evidence of how directly we are related to Nature, that we more
or less sympathize with the weather, and take on the color of the day.
Goethe said he worked easiest on a high barometer. One is like a chimney
that draws well some days and won't draw at all on others, and the
secret is mainly in the condition of the atmosphere. Anything positive
and decided with the weather is a good omen. A pouring rain may be more
auspicious than a sleeping sunshine. When the stove draws well, the fogs
and fumes will leave your mind. I find there is great virtue in the bare
ground, and have been much put out at times by those white angelic
days we have in winter, such as Whittier has so well described in these

       "Around the glistening wonder bent
           The blue walls of the firmament;
        No cloud above, no earth below,
           A universe of sky and snow."

On such days my spirit gets snow-blind; all things take on the same
color, or no color; my thought loses its perspective; the inner world is
a blank like the outer, and all my great ideals are wrapped in the same
monotonous and expressionless commonplace. The blackest of black days
are better.

Why does snow so kill the landscape and blot out our interest in it? Not
merely because it is cold, and the symbol of death,--for I imagine as
many inches of apple blossoms would have about the same effect,--but
because it expresses nothing. White is a negative; a perfect blank. The
eye was made for color, and for the earthy tints, and, when these are
denied it, the mind is very apt to sympathize and to suffer also.

Then when the sap begins to mount in the trees, and the spring languor
comes, does not one grow restless indoors? The sun puts out the fire,
the people say, and the spring sun certainly makes one's intellectual
light grow dim. Why should not a man sympathize with the seasons and the
moods and phases of Nature? He is an apple upon this tree, or rather he
is a babe at this breast, and what his great mother feels affects him


I have frequently been surprised, in late fall and early winter, to
see how unequal or irregular was the encroachment of the frost upon the
earth. If there is suddenly a great fall in the mercury, the frost lays
siege to the soil and effects a lodgment here and there, and extends its
conquests gradually. At one place in the field you can easily run your
staff through into the soft ground, when a few rods farther on it will
be as hard as a rock. A little covering of dry grass or leaves is a
great protection. The moist places hold out long, and the spring runs
never freeze. You find the frost has gone several inches into the plowed
ground, but on going to the woods, and poking away the leaves and debris
under the hemlocks and cedars, you find there is no frost at all. The
Earth freezes her ears and toes and naked places first, and her body

If heat were visible, or if we should represent it say by smoke, then
the December landscape would present a curious spectacle. We should see
the smoke lying low over the meadows, thickest in the hollows and moist
places, and where the turf is oldest and densest. It would cling to the
fences and ravines. Under every evergreen tree we should see the vapor
rising and filling the branches, while the woods of pine and hemlock
would be blue with it long after it had disappeared from the open
country. It would rise from the tops of the trees, and be carried this
way and that with the wind. The valleys of the great rivers, like the
Hudson, would overflow with it. Large bodies of water become regular
magazines in which heat is stored during the summer, and they give it
out again during the fall and early winter. The early frosts keep well
back from the Hudson, skulking behind the ridges, and hardly come over
in sight at any point. But they grow bold as the season advances, till
the river's fires, too, I are put out and Winter covers it with his


One of the strong and original strokes of Nature was when she made the
loon. It is always refreshing to contemplate a creature so positive and
characteristic. He is the great diver and flyer under water. The loon
is the genius loci of the wild northern lakes, as solitary as they are.
Some birds represent the majesty of nature, like the eagles; others its
ferocity, like the hawks; others its cunning, like the crow; others
its sweetness and melody, like the song-birds. The loon represents
its wildness and solitariness. It is cousin to the beaver. It has the
feathers of a bird and the fur of an animal, and the heart of both. It
is as quick and cunning as it is bold and resolute. It dives with such
marvelous quickness that the shot of the gunner get there just in time
"to cut across a circle of descending tail feathers and a couple of
little jets of water flung upward by the web feet of the loon." When
disabled so that it can neither dive nor fly, it is said to face its
foe, look him in the face with its clear, piercing eye, and fight
resolutely till death. The gunners say there is something in its
wailing, piteous cry, when dying, almost human in its agony. The loon
is, in the strictest sense, an aquatic fowl. It can barely walk upon the
land, and one species at least cannot take flight from the shore. But in
the water its feet are more than feet, and its wings more than wings. It
plunges into this denser air and flies with incredible speed. Its head
and beak form a sharp point to its tapering neck. Its wings are far in
front and its legs equally far in the rear, and its course through the
crystal depths is like the speed of an arrow. In the northern lakes it
has been taken forty feet under water upon hooks baited for the great
lake trout. I had never seen one till last fall, when one appeared on
the river in front of my house. I knew instantly it was the loon. Who
could not tell a loon a half mile or more away, though he had never seen
one before? The river was like glass, and every movement of the bird as
it sported about broke the surface into ripples, that revealed it far
and wide. Presently a boat shot out from shore, and went ripping up
the surface toward the loon. The creature at once seemed to divine the
intentions of the boatman, and sidled off obliquely, keeping a sharp
lookout as if to make sure it was pursued. A steamer came down and
passed between them, and when the way was again clear, the loon was
still swimming on the surface. Presently it disappeared under the
water, and the boatman pulled sharp and hard. In a few moments the bird
reappeared some rods farther on, as if to make an observation. Seeing it
was being pursued, and no mistake, it dived quickly, and, when it came
up again, had gone many times as far as the boat had in the same space
of time. Then it dived again, and distanced its pursuer so easily that
he gave over the chase and rested upon his oars. But the bird made a
final plunge, and, when it emerged upon the surface again, it was over
a mile away. Its course must have been, and doubtless was, an actual
flight under water, and half as fast as the crow flies in the air.

The loon would have delighted the old poets. Its wild, demoniac laughter
awakens the echoes on the solitary lakes, and its ferity and hardiness
are kindred to those robust spirits.


One notable difference between man and the four-footed animals which
has often occurred to me is in the eye, and the greater perfection, or
rather supremacy, of the sense of sight in the human species. All
the animals--the dog, the fox, the wolf, the deer, the cow, the
horse--depend mainly upon the senses of hearing and smell. Almost their
entire powers of discrimination are confined to these two senses. The
dog picks his master out of the crowd by smell, and the cow her calf out
of the herd. Sight is only partial recognition. The question can only
be settled beyond all doubt by the aid of the nose. The fox, alert and
cunning as he is, will pass within a few yards of the hunter and not
know him from a stump. A squirrel will run across your lap, and a marmot
between your feet, if you are motionless. When a herd of cattle see a
strange object, they are not satisfied till each one has sniffed it; and
the horse is cured of his fright at the robe, or the meal-bag, or other
object, as soon as he can be induced to smell it. There is a great deal
of speculation in the eye of an animal, but very little science. Then
you cannot catch an animal's eye; he looks at you, but not into your
eye. The dog directs his gaze toward your face, but, for aught you can
tell, it centres upon your mouth or nose. The same with your horse or
cow. Their eye is vague and indefinite.

Not so with the birds. The bird has the human eye in its clearness, its
power, and its supremacy over the other senses. How acute their sense
of smell may be is uncertain; their hearing is sharp enough, but their
vision is the most remarkable. A crow or a hawk, or any of the larger
birds, will not mistake you for a stump or a rock, stand you never so
still amid the bushes. But they cannot separate you from your horse or
team. A hawk reads a man on horseback as one animal, and reads it as a
horse. None of the sharp-scented animals could be thus deceived.

The bird has man's brain also in its size. The brain of a song-bird is
even much larger in proportion than that of the greatest human monarch,
and its life is correspondingly intense and high-strung. But the bird's
eye is superficial. It is on the outside of his head. It is round, that
it may take in a full circle at a glance.

All the quadrupeds emphasize their direct forward gaze by a
corresponding movement of the ears, as if to supplement and aid one
sense with another. But man's eye seldom needs the confirmation of
his ear, while it is so set, and his head so poised, that his look is
forcible and pointed without being thus seconded.


I once saw a cow that had lost her cud. How forlorn and desolate and
sick at heart that cow looked! No more rumination, no more of that
second and finer mastication, no more of that sweet and juicy reverie
under the spreading trees, or in the stall. Then the farmer took an
elder and scraped the bark and put something with it, and made the cow a
cud, and, after due waiting, the experiment took, a response came back,
and the mysterious machinery was once more in motion, and the cow was
herself again.

Have you, O poet, or essayist, or story-writer, never lost your cud,
and wandered about days and weeks without being able to start a single
thought or an image that tasted good,--your literary appetite dull or
all gone, and the conviction daily growing that it was all over with you
in that direction? A little elder-bark, something fresh and bitter from
the woods, is about the best thing you can take.


Notwithstanding what I have elsewhere said about the desolation of snow,
when one looks closely it is little more than a thin veil after all, and
takes and repeats the form of whatever it covers. Every path through
the fields is just as plain as before. On every hand the ground sends
tokens, and the curves and slopes are not of the snow, but of the earth
beneath. In like manner the rankest vegetation hides the ground less
than we think. Looking across a wide valley in the month of July, I have
noted that the fields, except the meadows, had a ruddy tinge, and that
corn, which near at hand seemed to completely envelop the soil, at that
distance gave only a slight shade of green. The color of the ground
everywhere predominated, and I doubt not that, if we could see the earth
from a point sufficiently removed, as from the moon, its ruddy hue, like
that of Mars, would alone be visible.

What is a man but a miniature earth, with many disguises in the way of
manners, possessions, dissemblances? Yet through all--through all the
work of his hands and all the thoughts of his mind--how surely the
ground quality of him, the fundamental hue, whether it be this or that,
makes itself felt and is alone important!


Men follow their noses, it is said. I have wondered why the Greek did
not follow his nose in architecture,--did not copy those arches that
spring from it as from a pier, and support his brow,--but always and
everywhere used the post and the lintel. There was something in that
face that has never reappeared in the human countenance. I am thinking
especially of that straight, strong profile. Is it really godlike, or
is this impression the result of association? But any suggestion or
reminiscence of it in the modern face at once gives one the idea of
strength. It is a face strong in the loins, or it suggests a high,
elastic instep. It is the face of order and proportion. Those arches are
the symbols of law and self-control. The point of greatest interest is
the union of the nose with the brow,--that strong, high embankment;
it makes the bridge from the ideal to the real sure and easy. All the
Greek's ideas passed readily into form. In the modern face the arches
are more or less crushed, and the nose is severed from the brow,--hence
the abstract and the analytic; hence the preponderance of the
speculative intellect over creative power.


I have thought that the boy is the only true lover of Nature, and that
we, who make such a dead set at studying and admiring her, come very
wide of the mark. "The nonchalance of a boy who is sure of his dinner,"
says our Emerson, "is the healthy attitude of humanity." The boy is a
part of Nature; he is as indifferent, as careless, as vagrant as she. He
browses, he digs, he hunts, he climbs, he halloes, he feeds on roots
and greens and mast. He uses things roughly and without sentiment. The
coolness with which boys will drown dogs or cats, or hang them to trees,
or murder young birds, or torture frogs or squirrels, is like Nature's
own mercilessness.

Certain it is that we often get some of the best touches of nature from
children. Childhood is a world by itself, and we listen to children when
they frankly speak out of it with a strange interest. There is such a
freedom from responsibility and from worldly wisdom,--it is heavenly
wisdom. There is no sentiment in children, because there is no ruin;
nothing has gone to decay about them yet,--not a leaf or a twig. Until
he is well into his teens, and sometimes later, a boy is like a
bean-pod before the fruit has developed,--indefinite, succulent, rich in
possibilities which are only vaguely outlined. He is a pericarp merely.
How rudimental are all his ideas! I knew a boy who began his
school composition on swallows by saying there were two kinds of
swallows,--chimney swallows and swallows.

Girls come to themselves sooner; are indeed, from the first, more
definite and "translatable."


Who will write the natural history of the boy? One of the first points
to be taken account of is his clannishness. The boys of one neighborhood
are always pitted against those of an adjoining neighborhood, or of one
end of the town against those of the other end. A bridge, a river, a
railroad track, are always boundaries of hostile or semi-hostile tribes.
The boys that go up the road from the country school hoot derisively
at those that go down the road, and not infrequently add the insult of
stones; and the down-roaders return the hooting and the missiles with

Often there is open war, and the boys meet and have regular battles. A
few years since, the boys of two rival towns on opposite sides of the
Ohio River became so belligerent that the authorities had to interfere.
Whenever an Ohio boy was caught on the West Virginia side of the river,
he was unmercifully beaten; and when a West Virginia boy was discovered
on the Ohio side, he was pounced upon in the same manner. One day a
vast number of boys, about one hundred and fifty on a side, met
by appointment upon the ice and engaged in a pitched battle. Every
conceivable missile was used, including pistols. The battle, says the
local paper, raged with fury for about two hours. One boy received
a wound behind the ear, from the effects of which he died the next
morning. More recently the boys of a large manufacturing town of New
Jersey were divided into two hostile clans that came into frequent
collision. One Saturday both sides mustered their forces, and a regular
fight ensued, one boy here also losing his life from the encounter.

Every village and settlement is at times the scene of these youthful
collisions When a new boy appears in the village, or at the country
school, how the other boys crowd around him and take his measure, or
pick at him and insult him to try his mettle!

I knew a boy, twelve or thirteen years old, who was sent to help a
drover with some cattle as far as a certain village ten miles from his
home. After the place was reached, and while the boy was eating his
cracker and candies, he strolled about the village, and fell in with
some other boys playing upon a bridge. In a short time a large number of
children of all sizes had collected upon the bridge. The new-comer was
presently challenged by the boys of his own age to jump with them. This
he readily did, and cleared their farthest mark. Then he gave them a
sample of his stone-throwing, and at this pastime he also far surpassed
his competitors. Before long, the feeling of the crowd began to set
against him, showing itself first in the smaller fry, who began half
playfully to throw pebbles and lumps of dry earth at him. Then they
would run up slyly and strike him with sticks. Presently the large
ones began to tease him in like manner, till the contagion of hostility
spread, and the whole pack was arrayed against the strange boy. He kept
them at bay for a few moments with his stick, till, the feeling mounting
higher and higher, he broke through their ranks, and fled precipitately
toward home, with the throng of little and big at his heels. Gradually
the girls and smaller boys dropped behind, till at the end of the
first fifty rods only two boys of about his own size, with wrath and
determination in their faces, kept up the pursuit. But to these he added
the final insult of beating them at running also, and reached, much
blown, a point beyond which they refused to follow.

The world the boy lives in is separate and distinct from the world
the man lives in. It is a world inhabited only by boys. No events are
important or of any moment save those affecting boys. How they
ignore the presence of their elders on the street, shouting out their
invitations, their appointments, their pass-words from our midst, as
from the veriest solitude! They have peculiar calls, whistles, signals,
by which they communicate with each other at long distances, like birds
or wild creatures. And there is as genuine a wildness about these notes
and calls as about those of a fox or a coon.

The boy is a savage, a barbarian, in his taste,--devouring roots,
leaves, bark, unripe fruit; and in the kind of music or discord he
delights in,--of harmony he has no perception. He has his fashions that
spread from city to city. In one of our large cities the rage at one
time was an old tin can with a string attached, out of which they
tortured the most savage and ear-splitting discords. The police were
obliged to interfere and suppress the nuisance. On another occasion, at
Christmas, they all came forth with tin horns, and nearly drove the town
distracted with the hideous uproar.

Another savage trait of the boy is his untruthfulness. Corner him, and
the chances are ten to one he will lie his way out. Conscience is
a plant of slow growth in the boy. If caught in one lie, he invents
another. I know a boy who was in the habit of eating apples in school.
His teacher finally caught him in the act, and, without removing his eye
from him, called him to the middle of the floor.

"I saw you this time," said the teacher.

"Saw me what?" said the boy innocently.

"Bite that apple," replied the teacher.

"No, sir," said the rascal.

"Open your mouth;" and from its depths the teacher, with his thumb and
finger, took out the piece of apple.

"Did n't know it was there," said the boy, unabashed.

Nearly all the moral sentiment and graces are late in maturing in the
boy. He has no proper self-respect till past his majority. Of course
there are exceptions, but they are mostly windfalls. The good boys
die young. We lament the wickedness and thoughtlessness of the young
vagabonds at the same time that we know it is mainly the acridity and
bitterness of the unripe fruit that we are lamenting.


People who have not made friends with the birds do not know how much
they miss. Especially to one living in the country, of strong local
attachments and an observing turn of mind, does an acquaintance with
the birds form a close and invaluable tie. The only time I saw Thomas
Carlyle, I remember his relating, apropos of this subject, that in his
earlier days he was sent on a journey to a distant town on some business
that gave him much bother and vexation, and that on his way back home,
forlorn and dejected, he suddenly heard the larks singing all about
him,--soaring and singing, just as they did about his father's fields,
and it comforted him and cheered him up amazingly.

Most lovers of the birds can doubtless recall similar experiences from
their own lives. Nothing wonts me to a new place more than the birds. I
go, for instance, to take up my abode in the country,--to plant myself
upon unfamiliar ground. I know nobody, and nobody knows me. The roads,
the fields, the hills, the streams, the woods, are all strange. I look
wistfully upon them, but they know me not. They give back nothing to
my yearning gaze. But there, on every hand, are the long-familiar
birds,--the same ones I left behind me, the same ones I knew in my
youth,--robins, sparrows, swallows, bobolinks, crows, hawks, high-holes,
meadowlarks, all there before me, and ready to renew and perpetuate the
old associations. Before my house is begun, theirs is completed; before
I have taken root at all, they are thoroughly established. I do not yet
know what kind of apples my apple-trees bear, but there, in the cavity
of a decayed limb, the bluebirds are building a nest, and yonder, on
that branch, the social sparrow is busy with hairs and straws. The
robins have tasted the quality of my cherries, and the cedar-birds have
known every red cedar on the place these many years. While my house
is yet surrounded by its scaffoldings, the phoebe-bird has built her
exquisite mossy nest on a projecting stone beneath the eaves, a robin
has filled a niche in the wall with mud and dry grass, the chimney
swallows are going out and in the chimney, and a pair of house wrens are
at home in a snug cavity over the door, and, during an April snowstorm,
a number of hermit thrushes have taken shelter in my unfinished
chambers. Indeed, I am in the midst of friends before I fairly know it.
The place is not so new as I had thought. It is already old; the birds
have supplied the memories of many decades of years.

There is something almost pathetic in the fact that the birds remain
forever the same. You grow old, your friends die or move to distant
lands, events sweep on, and all things are changed. Yet there in your
garden or orchard are the birds of your boyhood, the same notes, the
same calls, and, to all intents and purposes, the identical birds
endowed with perennial youth. The swallows, that built so far out of
your reach beneath the eaves of your father's barn, the same ones now
squeak and chatter beneath the eaves of your barn. The warblers and
shy wood-birds you pursued with such glee ever so many summers ago, and
whose names you taught to some beloved youth who now, perchance, sleeps
amid his native hills, no marks of time or change cling to them; and
when you walk out to the strange woods, there they are, mocking you with
their ever-renewed and joyous youth. The call of the high-holes, the
whistle of the quail, the strong piercing note of the meadowlark, the
drumming of the grouse,--how these sounds ignore the years, and strike
on the ear with the melody of that springtime when the world was young,
and life was all holiday and romance!

During any unusual tension of the feelings or emotions, how the note or
song of a single bird will sink into the memory, and become inseparably
associated with your grief or joy! Shall I ever again be able to hear
the song of the oriole without being pierced through and through? Can it
ever be other than a dirge for the dead to me? Day after day, and week
after week, this bird whistled and warbled in a mulberry by the door,
while sorrow, like a pall, darkened my day. So loud and persistent was
the singer that his note teased and worried my excited ear.

       "Hearken to yon pine warbler,
           Singing aloft in the tree!
        Hearest thou, O traveler!
           What he singeth to me?

       "Not unless God made sharp thine ear
           With sorrow such as mine,
        Out of that delicate lay couldst thou
           Its heavy tale divine."

It is the opinion of some naturalists that birds never die what is
called a natural death, but come to their end by some murderous or
accidental means; yet I have found sparrows and vireos in the fields and
woods dead or dying, that bore no marks of violence; and I remember that
once in my childhood a redbird fell down in the yard exhausted, and was
brought in by the girl; its bright scarlet image is indelibly stamped
upon my recollection. It is not known that birds have any distempers
like the domestic fowls, but I saw a social sparrow one day quite
disabled by some curious malady that suggested a disease that sometimes
attacks poultry; one eye was nearly put out by a scrofulous-looking
sore, and on the last joint of one wing there was a large tumorous or
fungous growth that crippled the bird completely. On another occasion
I picked up one that appeared well, but could not keep its centre of
gravity when in flight, and so fell to the ground.

One reason why dead birds and animals are so rarely found is, that on
the approach of death their instinct prompts them to creep away in some
hole or under some cover, where they will be least liable to fall a prey
to their natural enemies. It is doubtful if any of the game-birds, like
the pigeon and grouse, ever die of old age, or the semi-game-birds, like
the bobolink, or the "century living" crow; but in what other form can
death overtake the hummingbird, or even the swift and the barn swallow?
Such are true birds of the air; they may be occasionally lost at sea
during their migrations, but, so far as I know, they are not preyed upon
by any other species.

The valley of the Hudson, I find, forms a great natural highway for the
birds, as do doubtless the Connecticut, the Susquehanna, the Delaware,
and all other large water-courses running north and south. The birds
love an easy way, and in the valleys of the rivers they find a road
already graded for them; and they abound more in such places throughout
the season than they do farther inland. The swarms of robins that come
to us in early spring are a delight to behold. In one of his poems
Emerson speaks of

                                 "April's bird,
        Blue-coated, flying before from tree to tree;"

but April's bird with me is the robin, brisk, vociferous, musical,
dotting every field, and larking it in every grove; he is as easily atop
at this season as the bobolink is a month or two later. The tints of
April are ruddy and brown,--the new furrow and the leafless trees,--and
these are the tints of its dominant bird.

From my dining-room window I look, or did look, out upon a long stretch
of smooth meadow, and as pretty a spring sight as I ever wish to behold
was this field, sprinkled all over with robins, their red breasts turned
toward the morning sun, or their pert forms sharply outlined against
lingering patches of snow. Every morning for weeks I had those robins
for breakfast; but what they had I never could find out.

After the leaves are out, and gayer colors come into fashion, the robin
takes a back seat. He goes to housekeeping in the old apple-tree, or,
what he likes better, the cherry-tree. A pair reared their domestic
altar (of mud and dry grass) in one of the latter trees, where I saw
much of them. The cock took it upon himself to keep the tree free of all
other robins during cherry time, and its branches were the scene of
some lively tussles every hour in the day. The innocent visitor would
scarcely alight before the jealous cock was upon him; but while he was
thrusting the intruder out at one side, a second would be coming in on
the other. He managed, however, to protect his cherries very well, but
had so little time to eat the fruit himself that we got fully our share.

I have frequently seen the robin courting, and have always been
astonished and amused at the utter coldness and indifference of the
female. The females of every species of bird, however, I believe, have
this in common,--they are absolutely free from coquetry, or any airs and
wiles whatever. In most cases, Nature has given the song and the plumage
to the other sex, and all the embellishing and acting is done by the
male bird.

I am always at home when I see the passenger pigeon. Few spectacles
please me more than to see clouds of these birds sweeping across the
sky, and few sounds are more agreeable to my ear than their lively
piping and calling in the spring woods. They come in such multitudes,
they people the whole air; they cover townships, and make the solitary
places gay as with a festival. The naked woods are suddenly blue as with
fluttering ribbons and scarfs, and vocal as with the voices of children.
Their arrival is always unexpected. We know April will bring the robins
and May the bobolinks, but we do not know that either they or any
other month will bring the passenger pigeon. Sometimes years elapse and
scarcely a flock is seen. Then, of a sudden, some March or April they
come pouring over the horizon from the south or southwest, and for a few
days the land is alive with them.

The whole race seems to be collected in a few vast swarms or
assemblages. Indeed, I have sometimes thought there was only one such
in the United States, and that it moved in squads, and regiments, and
brigades, and divisions, like a giant army. The scouting and foraging
squads are not unusual, and every few years we see larger bodies of
them, but rarely indeed do we witness the spectacle of the whole vast
tribe in motion. Sometimes we hear of them in Virginia, or Kentucky
and Tennessee; then in Ohio or Pennsylvania; then in New York; then in
Canada or Michigan or Missouri. They are followed from point to point,
and from State to State, by human sharks, who catch and shoot them for

A year ago last April, the pigeons flew for two or three days up and
down the Hudson. In long bowing lines, or else in dense masses, they
moved across the sky. It was not the whole army, but I should think at
least one corps of it; I had not seen such a flight of pigeons since
my boyhood. I went up to the top of the house, the better to behold the
winged procession. The day seemed memorable and poetic in which such
sights occurred.

    [Footnote: This proved to be the last flight of the pigeons
    in the valley of the Hudson. The whole tribe has now (1895)
    been nearly exterminated by pot-hunters. The few that still
    remain appear to be scattered through the Northern States
    in small, loose flocks.]

While I was looking at the pigeons, a flock of wild geese went by,
harrowing the sky northward. The geese strike a deeper chord than the
pigeons. Level and straight they go as fate to its mark. I cannot tell
what emotions these migrating birds awaken in me,--the geese especially.
One seldom sees more than a flock or two in a season, and what a spring
token it is! The great bodies are in motion. It is like the passage of
a victorious army. No longer inch by inch does spring come, but these
geese advance the standard across zones at one pull. How my desire goes
with them; how something in me, wild and migratory, plumes itself and
follows fast!

       "Steering north, with raucous cry,
        Through tracts and provinces of sky,
        Every night alighting down
        In new landscapes of romance,
        Where darkling feed the clamorous clans
        By lonely lakes to men unknown."

Dwelling upon these sights, I am reminded that the seeing of spring
come, not only upon the great wings of the geese and the lesser wings
of the pigeons and birds, but in the many more subtle and indirect
signs and mediums, is also a part of the compensation of living in
the country. I enjoy not less what may be called the negative side of
spring,--those dark, dank, dissolving days,
 yellow sposh and mud and water everywhere,--yet who can stay long
indoors? The humidity is soft and satisfying to the smell, and to the
face and hands, and, for the first time for months, there is the fresh
odor of the earth. The air is full of the notes and calls of the first
birds. The domestic fowls refuse their accustomed food and wander far
from the barn. Is it something winter has left, or spring has dropped,
that they pick up? And what is it that holds me so long standing in the
yard or in the fields? Something besides the ice and snow melts and runs
away with the spring floods.

The little sparrows and purple finches are so punctual in announcing
spring, that some seasons one wonders how they know without looking in
the almanac, for surely there are no signs of spring out of doors. Yet
they will strike up as cheerily amid the driving snow as if they had
just been told that to-morrow is the first day of March. About the same
time I notice the potatoes in the cellar show signs of sprouting.
They, too, find out so quickly when spring is near. Spring comes by two
routes,--in the air and underground, and often gets here by the latter
course first. She undermines Winter when outwardly his front is nearly
as bold as ever. I have known the trees to bud long before, by outward
appearances, one would expect them to. The frost was gone from the
ground before the snow was gone from the surface.

But Winter hath his birds also; some of them such tiny bodies that one
wonders how they withstand the giant cold,--but they do. Birds live on
highly concentrated food,--the fine seeds of weeds and grasses, and
the eggs and larvae of insects. Such food must be very stimulating and
heating. A gizzard full of ants, for instance, what spiced and seasoned
extract is equal to that? Think what virtue there must be in an ounce
of gnats or mosquitoes, or in the fine mysterious food the chickadee and
the brown creeper gather in the winter woods! It is doubtful if these
birds ever freeze when fuel enough can be had to keep their little
furnaces going. And, as they get their food entirely from the limbs and
trunks of trees, like the woodpeckers, their supply is seldom interfered
with by the snow. The worst annoyance must be the enameling of ice our
winter woods sometimes get.

Indeed, the food question seems to be the only serious one with the
birds. Give them plenty to eat, and no doubt the majority of them would
face our winters. I believe all the woodpeckers are winter birds, except
the high-hole or yellow-hammer, and he obtains the greater part of
his subsistence from the ground, and is not a woodpecker at all in his
habits of feeding. Were it not that it has recourse to budding, the
ruffed grouse would be obliged to migrate. The quail--a bird, no doubt,
equally hardy, but whose food is at the mercy of the snow--is frequently
cut off by our severe winters when it ventures to brave them, which is
not often. Where plenty of the berries of the red cedar can be had, the
cedar-bird will pass the winter in New York. The old ornithologists say
the bluebird migrates to Bermuda; but in the winter of 1874-75, severe
as it was, a pair of them wintered with me eighty miles north of
New York city. They seem to have been decided in their choice by the
attractions of my rustic porch and the fruit of a sugar-berry tree
(celtis--a kind of tree-lotus) that stood in front of it. They lodged in
the porch and took their meals in the tree. Indeed, they became regular
lotus-eaters. Punctually at dusk they were in their places on a
large laurel root in the top of the porch, whence, however, they were
frequently routed by an indignant broom that was jealous of the neatness
of the porch floor. But the pair would not take any hints of this kind,
and did not give up their quarters in the porch or their lotus berries
till spring.

Many times during the winter the sugar-berry tree was visited by a flock
of cedar-birds that also wintered in the vicinity. At such times it
was amusing to witness the pretty wrath of the bluebirds, scolding and
threatening the intruders, and begrudging them every berry they ate. The
bluebird cannot utter a harsh or unpleasing note. Indeed, he seems
to have but one language, one speech, for both love and war, and the
expression of his indignation is nearly as musical as his song. The male
frequently made hostile demonstrations toward the cedar-birds, but did
not openly attack them, and, with his mate, appeared to experience great
relief when the poachers had gone.

I had other company in my solitude also, among the rest a distinguished
arrival from the far north, the pine grosbeak, a bird rarely seen in
these parts, except now and then a single specimen. But in the winter of
1875, heralding the extreme cold weather, and no doubt in consequence of
it, there was a large incursion of them into this State and New England.
They attracted the notice of the country people everywhere. I first saw
them early in December about the head of the Delaware. I was walking
along a cleared ridge with my gun, just at sundown, when I beheld two
strange birds sitting in a small maple. On bringing one of them down, I
found it was a bird I had never before seen; in color and shape like the
purple finch, but quite as large again in size. From its heavy beak,
I at once recognized it as belonging to the family of grosbeaks. A few
days later I saw large numbers of them in the woods, on the ground,
and in the trees. And still later, and on till February, they were very
numerous on the Hudson, coming all about my house,--more familiar even
than the little snowbird, hopping beneath the windows, and looking up
at me apparently with as much curiosity as I looked down upon them.
They fed on the buds of the sugar maples and upon frozen apples in the
orchard. They were mostly young birds and females, colored very
much like the common sparrow, with now and then visible the dull
carmine-colored head and neck of an old male.

Other northern visitors that tarried with me the same winter were the
tree or Canada sparrow and the redpoll, the former a bird larger than
the social sparrow or hair-bird, but otherwise much resembling it, and
distinguishable by a dark spot in the middle of its breast; the latter a
bird the size and shape of the common goldfinch, with the same manner
of flight and nearly the same note or cry, but darker than the winter
plumage of the goldfinch, and with a red crown and a tinge of red on the
breast. Little bands of these two species lurked about the barnyard all
winter, picking up the hayseed, the sparrow sometimes venturing in on
the haymow when the supply outside was short. I felt grateful to them
for their company. They gave a sort of ornithological air to every
errand I had to the barn.

Though a number of birds face our winters, and by various shifts worry
through till spring, some of them permanent residents, and some of them
visitors from the far north, yet there is but one genuine snow bird,
nursling of the snow, and that is the snow bunting, a bird that seems
proper to this season, heralding the coming storm, sweeping by on bold
and rapid wing, and calling and chirping as cheerily as the songsters
of May. In its plumage it reflects the winter landscape,--an expanse of
white surmounted or streaked with gray and brown; a field of snow with
a line of woods or a tinge of stubble. It fits into the scene, and does
not appear to lead a beggarly and disconsolate life, like most of our
winter residents. During the ice-harvesting on the river, I see them
flitting about among the gangs of men, or floating on the cakes of ice,
picking and scratching amid the droppings of the horses. They love the
stack and hay-barn in the distant field, where the farmer fodders his
cattle upon the snow, and every red-root, ragweed, or pigweed left
standing in the fall adds to their winter stores.

Though this bird, and one or two others, like the chickadee and
nuthatch, are more or less complacent and cheerful during the winter,
yet no bird can look our winters in the face and sing, as do so many of
the English birds. Several species in Great Britain, their biographers
tell us, sing the winter through, except during the severest frosts; but
with us, as far south as Virginia, and, for aught I know, much farther,
the birds are tuneless at this season. The owls, even, do not hoot, nor
the hawks scream.

Among the birds that tarry briefly with us in the spring on their way to
Canada and beyond, there is none I behold with so much pleasure as the
white-crowned sparrow. I have an eye out for him all through April
and the first week in May. He is the rarest and most beautiful of the
sparrow kind. He is crowned, as some hero or victor in the games. He is
usually in company with his congener, the white-throated sparrow, but
seldom more than in the proportion of one to twenty of the latter.
Contrasted with this bird, he looks like its more fortunate brother,
upon whom some special distinction has been conferred, and who is, from
the egg, of finer make and quality. His sparrow color of ashen gray
and brown is very clear and bright, and his form graceful. His whole
expression, however, culminates in a singular manner in his crown. The
various tints of the bird are brought to a focus here and intensified,
the lighter ones becoming white, and the deeper ones nearly black.
There is the suggestion of a crest, also, from a habit the bird has
of slightly elevating this part of its plumage, as if to make more
conspicuous its pretty markings. They are great scratchers, and will
often remain several minutes scratching in one place, like a hen. Yet,
unlike the hen and like all hoppers, they scratch with both feet at
once, which is by no means the best way to scratch.

The white-throats often sing during their sojourning both in fall and
spring; but only on one occasion have I ever heard any part of the song
of the white-crowned, and that proceeded from what I took to be a young
male, one October morning, just as the sun was rising. It was pitched
very low, like a half-forgotten air, but it was very sweet. It was the
song of the vesper sparrow and the white-throat in one. In his breeding
haunts he must be a superior songster, but he is very chary of his music
while on his travels.

The sparrows are all meek and lowly birds. They are of the grass, the
fences, the low bushes, the weedy wayside places. Nature has denied them
all brilliant tints, but she has given them sweet and musical voices.
Theirs are the quaint and simple lullaby songs of childhood. The
white-throat has a timid, tremulous strain, that issues from the low
bushes or from behind the fence, where its cradle is hid. The song
sparrow modulates its simple ditty as softly as the lining of its own
nest. The vesper sparrow has only peace and gentleness in its strain.

What pretty nests, too, the sparrows build! Can anything be more
exquisite than a sparrow's nest under a grassy or mossy bank? What care
the bird has taken not to disturb one straw or spear of grass, or
thread of moss! You cannot approach it and put your hand into it without
violating the place more or less, and yet the little architect has
wrought day after day and left no marks. There has been an excavation,
and yet no grain of earth appears to have been moved. If the nest had
slowly and silently grown like the grass and the moss, it could not
have been more nicely adjusted to its place and surroundings. There is
absolutely nothing to tell the eye it is there. Generally a few spears
of dry grass fall down from the turf above and form a slight screen
before it. How commonly and coarsely it begins, blending with the debris
that lies about, and how it refines and comes into form as it approaches
the centre, which is modeled so perfectly and lined so softly! Then,
when the full complement of eggs is laid, and incubation has fairly
begun, what a sweet, pleasing little mystery the silent old bank holds!

The song sparrow, whose nest I have been describing, displays a
more marked individuality in its song than any bird with which I am
acquainted. Birds of the same species generally all sing alike, but I
have observed numerous song sparrows with songs peculiarly their own.
Last season, the whole summer through, one sang about my grounds like
this: _swee-e-t, swee-e-t, swee-e-t, bitter._ Day after day, from May
to September, I heard this strain, which I thought a simple but very
profound summing-up of life, and wondered how the little bird had
learned it so quickly. The present season, I heard another with a song
equally original, but not so easily worded. Among a large troop of
them in April, my attention was attracted to one that was a master
songster,--some Shelley or Tennyson among his kind. The strain was
remarkably prolonged, intricate, and animated, and far surpassed
anything I ever before heard from that source.

But the most noticeable instance of departure from the standard song
of a species I ever knew of was in the case of a wood thrush. The bird
sang, as did the sparrow, the whole season through, at the foot of my
lot near the river. The song began correctly and ended correctly; but
interjected into it about midway was a loud, piercing, artificial note,
at utter variance with the rest of the strain. When my ear first caught
this singular note, I started out, not a little puzzled, to make, as
I supposed, a new acquaintance, but had not gone far when I discovered
whence it proceeded. Brass amid gold, or pebbles amid pearls, are
not more out of place than was this discordant scream or cry in the
melodious strain of the wood thrush. It pained and startled the ear. It
seemed as if the instrument of the bird was not under control, or else
that one note was sadly out of tune, and, when its turn came, instead of
giving forth one of those sounds that are indeed like pearls, it shocked
the ear with a piercing discord. Yet the singer appeared entirely
unconscious of the defect; or had he grown used to it, or had his
friends persuaded him that it was a variation to be coveted? Sometimes,
after the brood had hatched and the bird's pride was at its full, he
would make a little triumphal tour of the locality, coming from under
the hill quite up to the house, and flaunting his cracked instrument
in the face of whoever would listen. He did not return again the next
season; or, if he did, the malformation of his song was gone.

I have noticed that the bobolink does not sing the same in different
localities. In New Jersey it has one song; on the Hudson, a slight
variation of the same; and on the high grass-lands of the interior
of the State, quite a different strain,--clearer, more distinctly
articulated, and running off with more sparkle and liltingness. It
reminds one of the clearer mountain air and the translucent spring-water
of those localities. I never could make out what the bobolink says in
New Jersey, but in certain districts in this State his enunciation is
quite distinct. Sometimes he begins with the word _gegue, gegue._
Then again, more fully, _be true to me, Clarsy, be true to me, Clarsy,
Clarsy,_ thence full tilt into his inimitable song, interspersed in
which the words _kick your slipper, kick your slipper,_ and temperance,
temperance (the last with a peculiar nasal resonance), are plainly
heard. At its best, it is a remarkable performance, a unique
performance, as it contains not the slightest hint or suggestion, either
in tone or manner or effect, of any other bird-song to be heard. The
bobolink has no mate or parallel in any part of the world. He stands
alone. There is no closely allied species. He is not a lark, nor a
finch, nor a warbler, nor a thrush, nor a starling (though classed
with the starlings by late naturalists). He is an exception to many
well-known rules. He is the only ground-bird known to me of marked and
conspicuous plumage. He is the only black and white field-bird we
have east of the Mississippi, and, what is still more odd, he is black
beneath and white above,--the reverse of the fact in all other cases.
Preëminently a bird of the meadow during the breeding season, and
associated with clover and daisies and buttercups as no other bird is,
he yet has the look of an interloper or a newcomer, and not of one to
the manner born.

The bobolink has an unusually full throat, which may help account for
his great power of song. No bird has yet been found that could imitate
him, or even repeat or suggest a single note, as if his song were the
product of a new set of organs. There is a vibration about it, and a
rapid running over the keys, that is the despair of other songsters. It
is said that the mockingbird is dumb in the presence of the bobolink.
My neighbor has an English skylark that was hatched and reared in
captivity. The bird is a most persistent and vociferous songster, and
fully as successful a mimic as the mockingbird. It pours out a strain
that is a regular mosaic of nearly all the bird-notes to be heard, its
own proper lark song forming a kind of bordering for the whole. The
notes of the phoebe-bird, the purple finch, the swallow, the yellowbird,
the kingbird, the robin, and others, are rendered with perfect
distinctness and accuracy, but not a word of the bobolink's, though the
lark must have heard its song every day for four successive summers. It
was the one conspicuous note in the fields around that the lark made no
attempt to plagiarize. He could not steal the bobolink's thunder.

The lark is a more marvelous songster than the bobolink only on account
of his soaring flight and the sustained copiousness of his song. His
note is rasping and harsh, in point of melody, when compared with the
bobolink's. When caged and near at hand, the lark's song is positively
disagreeable, it is so loud and full of sharp, aspirated sounds. But
high in air above the broad downs, poured out without interruption for
many minutes together, it is very agreeable.

The bird among us that is usually called a lark, namely, the meadowlark,
but which our later classifiers say is no lark at all, has nearly the
same quality of voice as the English skylark,--loud, piercing, z-z-ing;
and during the mating season it frequently indulges while on the wing in
a brief song that is quite lark-like. It is also a bird of the stubble,
and one of the last to retreat on the approach of winter.

The habits of many of our birds are slowly undergoing a change. Their
migrations are less marked. With the settlement and cultivation of the
country, the means of subsistence of nearly every species are vastly
increased. Insects are more numerous, and seeds of weeds and grasses
more abundant. They become more and more domestic, like the English
birds. The swallows have nearly all left their original abodes--hollow
trees, and cliffs, and rocks--for human habitations and their
environments. Where did the barn swallow nest before the country was
settled? The chimney swallow nested in hollow trees, and, perhaps,
occasionally resorts thither yet. But the chimney, notwithstanding the
smoke, seems to suit his taste best. In the spring, before they have
paired, I think these swallows sometimes pass the night in the woods,
but not if an old, disused chimney is handy.

One evening in early May, my attention was arrested by a band of them
containing several hundreds, perhaps a thousand, circling about near a
large, tall, disused chimney in a secluded place in the country. They
were very lively, and chippering, and diving in a most extraordinary
manner. They formed a broad continuous circle many rods in diameter.
Gradually the circle contracted and neared the chimney. Presently
some of the birds as they came round began to dive toward it, and the
chippering was more animated than ever. Then a few ventured in; in a
moment more, the air at the mouth of the chimney was black with the
stream of descending swallows. When the passage began to get crowded,
the circle lifted and the rest of the birds continued their flight,
giving those inside time to dispose of themselves. Then the influx began
again, and was kept up till the crowd became too great, when it cleared
as before. Thus by installments, or in layers, the swallows were packed
into the chimney until the last one was stowed away. Passing by the
place a few days afterward, I saw a board reaching from the roof of the
building to the top of the chimney, and imagined some curious person or
some predaceous boy had been up to take a peep inside, and see how so
many swallows could dispose of themselves in such a space. It would have
been an interesting spectacle to see them emerge from the chimney in the


If we represent the winter of our northern climate by a rugged snow-clad
mountain, and summer by a broad fertile plain, then the intermediate
belt, the hilly and breezy uplands, will stand for spring, with March
reaching well up into the region of the snows, and April lapping well
down upon the greening fields and unloosened currents, not beyond
the limits of winter's sallying storms, but well within the vernal
zone,--within the reach of the warm breath and subtle, quickening
influences of the plain below. At its best, April is the tenderest of
tender salads made crisp by ice or snow water. Its type is the first
spear of grass. The senses--sight, hearing, smell--are as hungry for
its delicate and almost spiritual tokens as the cattle are for the first
bite of its fields. How it touches one and makes him both glad and sad!
The voices of the arriving birds, the migrating fowls, the clouds of
pigeons sweeping across the sky or filling the woods, the elfin horn of
the first honey-bee venturing abroad in the middle of the day, the clear
piping of the little frogs in the marshes at sundown, the campfire in
the sugar-bush, the smoke seen afar rising over the trees, the tinge of
green that comes so suddenly on the sunny knolls and slopes, the full
translucent streams, the waxing and warming sun,--how these things and
others like them are noted by the eager eye and ear! April is my natal
month, and I am born again into new delight and new surprises at
each return of it. Its name has an indescribable charm to me. Its two
syllables are like the calls of the first birds,--like that of the
phoebe-bird, or of the meadowlark. Its very snows are fertilizing, and
are called the poor man's manure.

Then its odors! I am thrilled by its fresh and indescribable odors,--the
perfume of the bursting sod, of the quickened roots and rootlets, of the
mould under the leaves, of the fresh furrows. No other month has odors
like it. The west wind the other day came fraught with a perfume that
was to the sense of smell what a wild and delicate strain of music is to
the ear. It was almost transcendental. I walked across the hill with my
nose in the air taking it in. It lasted for two days. I imagined it came
from the willows of a distant swamp, whose catkins were affording the
bees their first pollen: or did it come from much farther,--from beyond
the horizon, the accumulated breath of innumerable farms and budding
forests? The main characteristic of these April odors is their uncloying
freshness. They are not sweet, they are oftener bitter, they are
penetrating and lyrical. I know well the odors of May and June, of the
world of meadows and orchards bursting into bloom, but they are not so
ineffable and immaterial and so stimulating to the sense as the incense
of April.

The season of which I speak does not correspond with the April of the
almanac in all sections of our vast geography. It answers to March in
Virginia and Maryland, while in parts of New York and New England it
laps well over into May. It begins when the partridge drums, when the
hyla pipes, when the shad start up the rivers, when the grass greens in
the spring runs, and it ends when the leaves are unfolding and the last
snowflake dissolves in midair. It may be the first of May before the
first swallow appears, before the whip-poor-will is heard, before the
wood thrush sings; but it is April as long as there is snow upon the
mountains, no matter what the almanac may say. Our April is, in fact,
a kind of Alpine summer, full of such contrasts and touches of wild,
delicate beauty as no other season affords. The deluded citizen fancies
there is nothing enjoyable in the country till June, and so misses the
freshest, tenderest part. It is as if one should miss strawberries
and begin his fruit-eating with melons and peaches. These last are
good,--supremely so, they are melting and luscious,--but nothing so
thrills and penetrates the taste, and wakes up and teases the papillae
of the tongue, as the uncloying strawberry. What midsummer sweetness
half so distracting as its brisk sub-acid flavor, and what splendor of
full-leaved June can stir the blood like the best of leafless April?

One characteristic April feature, and one that delights me very much,
is the perfect emerald of the spring runs while the fields are yet brown
and sere,--strips and patches of the most vivid velvet green on the
slopes and in the valleys. How the eye grazes there, and is filled
and refreshed! I had forgotten what a marked feature this was until I
recently rode in an open wagon for three days through a mountainous,
pastoral country, remarkable for its fine springs. Those delicious
green patches are yet in my eye. The fountains flowed with May. Where no
springs occurred, there were hints and suggestions of springs about
the fields and by the roadside in the freshened grass,--sometimes
overflowing a space in the form of an actual fountain. The water did not
quite get to the surface in such places, but sent its influence.

The fields of wheat and rye, too, how they stand out of the April
landscape,--great green squares on a field of brown or gray!

Among April sounds there is none more welcome or suggestive to me than
the voice of the little frogs piping in the marshes. No bird-note
can surpass it as a spring token; and as it is not mentioned, to my
knowledge, by the poets and writers of other lands, I am ready to
believe it is characteristic of our season alone. You may be sure April
has really come when this little amphibian creeps out of the mud and
inflates its throat. We talk of the bird inflating its throat, but you
should see this tiny minstrel inflate _its_ throat, which becomes like a
large bubble, and suggests a drummer-boy with his drum slung very high.
In this drum, or by the aid of it, the sound is produced. Generally the
note is very feeble at first, as if the frost was not yet all out of the
creature's throat, and only one voice will be heard, some prophet bolder
than all the rest, or upon whom the quickening ray of spring has first
fallen. And it often happens that he is stoned for his pains by the yet
unpacified element, and is compelled literally to "shut up" beneath
a fall of snow or a heavy frost. Soon, however, he lifts up his voice
again with more confidence, and is joined by others and still others,
till in due time, say toward the last of the month, there is a shrill
musical uproar, as the sun is setting, in every marsh and bog in the
land. It is a plaintive sound, and I have heard people from the city
speak of it as lonesome and depressing, but to the lover of the country
it is a pure spring melody. The little piper will sometimes climb a
bulrush, to which he clings like a sailor to a mast, and send forth his
shrill call. There is a Southern species, heard when you have reached
the Potomac, whose note is far more harsh and crackling. To stand on the
verge of a swamp vocal with these, pains and stuns the ear. The call
of the Northern species is far more tender and musical. [Footnote: The
Southern species is called the green hyla. I have since heard them in my
neighborhood on the Hudson.]

Then is there anything like a perfect April morning? One hardly knows
what the sentiment of it is, but it is something very delicious. It is
youth and hope. It is a new earth and a new sky. How the air transmits
sounds, and what an awakening, prophetic character all sounds have! The
distant barking of a dog, or the lowing of a cow, or the crowing of
a cock, seems from out the heart of Nature, and to be a call to come
forth. The great sun appears to have been reburnished, and there is
something in his first glance above the eastern hills, and the way his
eye-beams dart right and left and smite the rugged mountains into gold,
that quickens the pulse and inspires the heart.

Across the fields in the early morning I hear some of the rare April
birds,--the chewink and the brown thrasher. The robin, the bluebird, the
song sparrow, the phoebe-bird, come in March; but these two ground-birds
are seldom heard till toward the last of April. The ground-birds are all
tree-singers or air-singers; they must have an elevated stage to speak
from. Our long-tailed thrush, or thrasher, like its congeners the
catbird and the mockingbird, delights in a high branch of some solitary
tree, whence it will pour out its rich and intricate warble for an hour
together. This bird is the great American chipper. There is no other
bird that I know of that can chip with such emphasis and military
decision as this yellow-eyed songster. It is like the click of a giant
gunlock. Why is the thrasher so stealthy? It always seems to be going
about on tiptoe. I never knew it to steal anything, and yet it skulks
and hides like a fugitive from justice. One never sees it flying aloft
in the air and traversing the world openly, like most birds, but
it darts along fences and through bushes as if pursued by a guilty
conscience. Only when the musical fit is upon it does it come up into
full view, and invite the world to hear and behold.

The chewink is a shy bird also, but not stealthy. It is very
inquisitive, and sets up a great scratching among the leaves, apparently
to attract your attention. The male is perhaps the most conspicuously
marked of all the ground-birds except the bobolink, being black above,
bay on the sides, and white beneath. The bay is in compliment to the
leaves he is forever scratching among,--they have rustled against his
breast and sides so long that these parts have taken their color; but
whence come the white and the black? The bird seems to be aware that his
color betrays him, for there are few birds in the woods so careful about
keeping themselves screened from view. When in song, its favorite perch
is the top of some high bush near to cover. On being disturbed at such
times, it pitches down into the brush and is instantly lost to view.

This is the bird that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Wilson about, greatly
exciting the latter's curiosity. Wilson was just then upon the threshold
of his career as an ornithologist, and had made a drawing of the Canada
jay which he sent to the President. It was a new bird, and in reply
Jefferson called his attention to a "curious bird" which was everywhere
to be heard, but scarcely ever to be seen. He had for twenty years
interested the young sportsmen of his neighborhood to shoot one for him,
but without success. "It is in all the forests, from spring to fall,"
he says in his letter, "and never but on the tops of the tallest trees,
from which it perpetually serenades us with some of the sweetest notes,
and as clear as those of the nightingale. I have followed it for miles,
without ever but once getting a good view of it. It is of the size
and make of the mockingbird, lightly thrush-colored on the back, and a
grayish white on the breast and belly. Mr. Randolph, my son-in-law, was
in possession of one which had been shot by a neighbor," etc. Randolph
pronounced it a flycatcher, which was a good way wide of the mark.
Jefferson must have seen only the female, after all his tramp, from his
description of the color; but he was doubtless following his own great
thoughts more than the bird, else he would have had an earlier view. The
bird was not a new one, but was well known then as the ground-robin. The
President put Wilson on the wrong scent by his erroneous description,
and it was a long time before the latter got at the truth of the case.
But Jefferson's letter is a good sample of those which specialists often
receive from intelligent persons who have seen or heard something in
their line very curious or entirely new, and who set the man of science
agog by a description of the supposed novelty,--a description that
generally fits the facts of the case about as well as your coat fits the
chair-back. Strange and curious things in the air, and in the water, and
in the earth beneath, are seen every day except by those who are looking
for them, namely, the naturalists. When Wilson or Audubon gets his eye
on the unknown bird, the illusion vanishes, and your phenomenon turns
out to be one of the commonplaces of the fields or woods.

A prominent April bird, that one does not have to go to the woods or
away from his own door to see and hear, is the hardy and ever-welcome
meadowlark. What a twang there is about this bird, and what vigor! It
smacks of the soil. It is the winged embodiment of the spirit of our
spring meadows. What emphasis in its _"z-d-t, z-d-t"_ and what character
in its long, piercing note! Its straight, tapering, sharp beak is
typical of its voice. Its note goes like a shaft from a crossbow; it
is a little too sharp and piercing when near at hand, but, heard in the
proper perspective, it is eminently melodious and pleasing. It is one
of the major notes of the fields at this season. In fact, it easily
dominates all others. _"Spring o' the year! spring o' the year!"_ it
says, with a long-drawn breath, a little plaintive, but not complaining
or melancholy. At times it indulges in something much more intricate and
lark-like while hovering on the wing in midair, but a song is beyond the
compass of its instrument, and the attempt usually ends in a breakdown.
A clear, sweet, strong, high-keyed note, uttered from some knoll or
rock, or stake in the fence, is its proper vocal performance. It has the
build and walk and flight of the quail and the grouse. It gets up before
you in much the same manner, and falls an easy prey to the crack shot.
Its yellow breast, surmounted by a black crescent, it need not be
ashamed to turn to the morning sun, while its coat of mottled gray is
in perfect keeping with the stubble amid which it walks. The two lateral
white quills in its tail seem strictly in character. These quills spring
from a dash of scorn and defiance in the bird's make-up. By the aid
of these, it can almost emit a flash as it struts about the fields and
jerks out its sharp notes. They give a rayed, a definite and piquant
expression to its movements. This bird is not properly a lark, but a
starling, say the ornithologists, though it is lark-like in its habits,
being a walker and entirely a ground-bird. Its color also allies it to
the true lark. I believe there is no bird in the English or European
fields that answers to this hardy pedestrian of our meadows. He is a
true American, and his note one of our characteristic April sounds.

Another marked April note, proceeding sometimes from the meadows, but
more frequently from the rough pastures and borders of the woods, is
the call of the high-hole, or golden-shafted woodpecker. It is quite as
strong as that of the meadowlark, but not so long-drawn and piercing.
It is a succession of short notes rapidly uttered, as if the bird said
_"if-if-if-if-if-if-if."_ The notes of the ordinary downy and hairy
woodpeckers suggest, in some way, the sound of a steel punch; but
that of the high-hole is much softer, and strikes on the ear with real
springtime melody. The high-hole is not so much a wood-pecker as he is
a ground-pecker. He subsists largely on ants and crickets, and does not
appear till they are to be found.

In Solomon's description of spring, the voice of the turtle is
prominent, but our turtle, or mourning dove, though it arrives in April,
can hardly be said to contribute noticeably to the open-air sounds.
Its call is so vague, and soft, and mournful,--in fact, so remote and
diffused,--that few persons ever hear it at all.

Such songsters as the cow blackbird are noticeable at this season,
though they take a back seat a little later. It utters a peculiarly
liquid April sound. Indeed, one would think its crop was full of water,
its notes so bubble up and regurgitate, and are delivered with such
an apparent stomachic contraction. This bird is the only feathered
polygamist we have. The females are greatly in excess of the males, and
the latter are usually attended by three or four of the former. As soon
as the other birds begin to build, they are on the _qui vive,_ prowling
about like gypsies, not to steal the young of others, but to steal their
eggs into other birds' nests, and so shirk the labor and responsibility
of hatching and rearing their own young. As these birds do not mate, and
as therefore there can be little or no rivalry or competition between
the males, one wonders--in view of Darwin's teaching--why one sex should
have brighter and richer plumage than the other, which is the fact. The
males are easily distinguished from the dull and faded females by their
deep glossy-black coats.

The April of English literature corresponds nearly to our May. In Great
Britain, the swallow and the cuckoo usually arrive by the middle of
April; with us, their appearance is a week or two later. Our April,
at its best, is a bright, laughing face under a hood of snow, like the
English March, but presenting sharper contrasts, a greater mixture of
smiles and tears and icy looks than are known to our ancestral climate.
Indeed, Winter sometimes retraces his steps in this month, and unburdens
himself of the snows that the previous cold has kept back; but we are
always sure of a number of radiant, equable days,--days that go before
the bud, when the sun embraces the earth with fervor and determination.
How his beams pour into the woods till the mould under the leaves is
warm and emits an odor! The waters glint and sparkle, the birds gather
in groups, and even those unused to singing find a voice. On the streets
of the cities, what a flutter, what bright looks and gay colors! I
recall one preëminent day of this kind last April. I made a note of it
in my note-book. The earth seemed suddenly to emerge from a wilderness
of clouds and chilliness into one of these blue sunlit spaces. How
the voyagers rejoiced! Invalids came forth, old men sauntered down the
street, stocks went up, and the political outlook brightened.

Such days bring out the last of the hibernating animals. The woodchuck
unrolls and creeps out of his den to see if his clover has started yet.
The torpidity leaves the snakes and the turtles, and they come forth and
bask in the sun. There is nothing so small, nothing so great, that it
does not respond to these celestial spring days, and give the pendulum
of life a fresh start.

April is also the month of the new furrow. As soon as the frost is gone
and the ground settled, the plow is started upon the hill, and at each
bout I see its brightened mould-board flash in the sun. Where the last
remnants of the snowdrift lingered yesterday the plow breaks the sod
to-day. Where the drift was deepest the grass is pressed flat, and there
is a deposit of sand and earth blown from the fields to windward. Line
upon line the turf is reversed, until there stands out of the neutral
landscape a ruddy square visible for miles, or until the breasts of the
broad hills glow like the breasts of the robins.

Then who would not have a garden in April? to rake together the rubbish
and burn it up, to turn over the renewed soil, to scatter the rich
compost, to plant the first seed, or bury the first tuber! It is not the
seed that is planted, any more than it is I that is planted; it is not
the dry stalks and weeds that are burned up, any more than it is my
gloom and regrets that are consumed. An April smoke makes a clean

I think April is the best month to be born in. One is just in time, so
to speak, to catch the first train, which is made up in this month. My
April chickens always turn out best. They get an early start; they have
rugged constitutions. Late chickens cannot stand the heavy dews, or
withstand the predaceous hawks. In April all nature starts with you. You
have not come out of your hibernaculum too early or too late; the time
is ripe, and, if you do not keep pace with the rest, why, the fault is
not in the season.


There is no month oftener on the tongues of the poets than April. It is
the initiative month; it opens the door of the seasons; the interest and
expectations of the untried, the untasted, lurk in it,

       "From you have I been absent in the spring,"

says Shakespeare in one of his sonnets,--

       "When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
        Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
        That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him."

The following poem, from Tennyson's "In Memoriam," might be headed
"April," and serve as descriptive of parts of our season:--

       "Now fades the last long streak of snow,
           Now bourgeons every maze of quick
           About the flowering squares, and thick
        By ashen roots the violets blow.

       "Now rings the woodland loud and long,
           The distance takes a lovelier hue,
           And drowned in yonder living blue
       The lark becomes a sightless song.

       "Now dance the lights on lawn and lea,
           The flocks are whiter down the vale,
           And milkier every milky sail
        On winding stream or distant sea;

       "Where now the sea-mew pipes, or dives
           In yonder greening gleam, and fly
           The happy birds, that change their sky
        To build and brood; that live their lives

        "From land to land; and in my breast
           Spring wakens too; and my regret
           Becomes an April violet,
        And buds and blossoms like the rest."

In the same poem the poet asks:--

        "Can trouble live with April days?"

Yet they are not all jubilant chords that this season awakens.
Occasionally there is an undertone of vague longing and sadness, akin
to that which one experiences in autumn. Hope for a moment assumes the
attitude of memory and stands with reverted look. The haze, that in
spring as well as in fall sometimes descends and envelops all things,
has in it in some way the sentiment of music, of melody, and awakens
pensive thoughts. Elizabeth Akers, in her "April," has recognized and
fully expressed this feeling. I give the first and last stanzas:--

       "The strange, sweet days are here again,
           The happy-mournful days;
        The songs which trembled on our lips
           Are half complaint, half praise.

       "Swing, robin, on the budded sprays,
           And sing your blithest tune;--
        Help us across these homesick days
           Into the joy of June!"

This poet has also given a touch of spring in her "March," which,
however, should be written "April" in the New England climate:--

       "The brown buds thicken on the trees,
           Unbound, the free streams sing,
        As March leads forth across the leas
           The wild and windy spring.

       "Where in the fields the melted snow
           Leaves hollows warm and wet,
        Ere many days will sweetly blow
           The first blue violet."

But on the whole the poets have not been eminently successful in
depicting spring. The humid season, with its tender, melting blue sky,
its fresh, earthy smells, its new furrow, its few simple signs and
awakenings here and there, and its strange feeling of unrest,--how
difficult to put its charms into words! None of the so-called pastoral
poets have succeeded in doing it. That is the best part of spring which
escapes a direct and matter-of-fact description of her. There is more
of spring in a line or two of Chaucer and Spenser than in the elaborate
portraits of her by Thomson or Pope, because the former had spring
in their hearts, and the latter only in their inkhorns. Nearly all
Shakespeare's songs are spring songs,--full of the banter, the frolic,
and the love-making of the early season. What an unloosed current, too,
of joy and fresh new life and appetite in Burns!

In spring everything has such a margin! there are such spaces of
silence! The influences are at work underground. Our delight is in a few
things. The drying road is enough; a single wild flower, the note of
the first bird, the partridge drumming in the April woods, the restless
herds, the sheep steering for the uplands, the cow lowing in the highway
or hiding her calf in the bushes, the first fires, the smoke going up
through the shining atmosphere, from the burning of rubbish in gardens
and old fields,--each of these simple things fills the breast with
yearning and delight, for they are tokens of the spring. The best spring
poems have this singleness and sparseness. Listen to Solomon: "For lo,
the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the
earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the
turtle is heard in the land." In Wordsworth are some things that breathe
the air of spring. These lines, written in early spring, afford a good

       "I heard a thousand blended notes,
           While in a grove I sate reclined,
        In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
           Bring sad thoughts to the mind."

       "To her fair works did Nature link
           The human soul that through me ran;
        And much it grieved my heart to think
           What man has made of man.

       "Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
           The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
        And 't is my faith that every flower
           Enjoys the air it breathes.

       "The birds around me hopped and played,
           Their thoughts I cannot measure:
        But the least motion which they made
           It seemed a thrill of pleasure."

Or these from another poem, written in his usual study, "Out-of-Doors,"
and addressed to his sister:--

       "It is the first mild day of March,
           Each minute sweeter than before;
       The redbreast sings from the tall larch
          That stands beside the door.

       "There is a blessing in the air,
           Which seems a sense of joy to yield
        To the bare trees, and mountains bare,
           And grass in the green field.

   . . . . . . . . .

       "Love, now a universal birth,
           From heart to heart is stealing,
        From earth to man, from man to earth;
           It is the hour of feeling.

       "One moment now may give us more
           Than years of toiling reason:
        Our minds shall drink at every pore
           The spirit of the season."

It is the simplicity of such lines, like the naked branches of the
trees or the unclothed fields, and the spring-like depth of feeling and
suggestion they hold, that make them so appropriate to this season.

At this season I often find myself repeating these lines of his also:--

       "My heart leaps up, when I behold
           A rainbow in the sky;
        So was it, when my life began;
        So is it, now I am a man;
           So be it, when I shall grow old,
           Or let me die!"

Though there are so few good poems especially commemorative of the
spring, there have no doubt been spring poets,--poets with such newness
and fullness of life, and such quickening power, that the world is
re-created, as it were, beneath their touch. Of course this is in a
measure so with all real poets. But the difference I would indicate may
exist between poets of the same or nearly the same magnitude. Thus, in
this light Tennyson is an autumnal poet, mellow and dead-ripe, and was
so from the first; while Wordsworth has much more of the spring in him,
is nearer the bone of things and to primitive conditions.

Among the old poems, one which seems to me to have much of the charm
of springtime upon it is the story of Cupid and Psyche in Apuleius. The
songs, gambols, and wooings of the early birds are not more welcome
and suggestive. How graceful and airy, and yet what a tender, profound,
human significance it contains! But the great vernal poem, doubly so in
that it is the expression of the springtime of the race, the boyhood of
man as well, is the Iliad of Homer. What faith, what simple wonder,
what unconscious strength, what beautiful savagery, what magnanimous
enmity,--a very paradise of war!

Though so young a people, there is not much of the feeling of spring
in any of our books. The muse of our poets is wise rather than joyous.
There is no excess or extravagance or unruliness in her. There are
spring sounds and tokens in Emerson's "May-Day:"--

          "April cold with dropping rain
        Willows and lilacs brings again,
        The whistle of returning birds,
        And trumpet-lowing of the herds.
        The scarlet maple-keys betray
        What potent blood hath modest May,
        What fiery force the earth renews,
        The wealth of forms, the flush of hues;
        What joy in rosy waves outpoured
        Flows from the heart of Love, the Lord."

But this is not spring in the blood. Among the works of our young
and rising poets, I am not certain but that Mr. Gilder's "New Day" is
entitled to rank as a spring poem in the sense in which I am speaking.
It is full of gayety and daring, and full of the reckless abandon of
the male bird when he is winning his mate. It is full also of the
tantalizing suggestiveness, the half-lights and shades, of April and

Of prose poets who have the charm of the springtime upon them, the best
recent example I know of is Björnson, the Norwegian romancist. What
especially makes his books spring-like is their freshness and sweet good
faith. There is also a reticence and an unwrought suggestiveness about
them that is like the promise of buds and early flowers. Of Turgenieff,
the Russian, much the same thing might be said. His stories are simple
and elementary, and have none of the elaborate hair-splitting and forced
hot-house character of the current English or American novel. They
spring from stronger, more healthful and manly conditions, and have a
force in them that is like a rising, incoming tide.


I wonder that Wilson Flagg did not include the cow among his
"Picturesque Animals," for that is where she belongs. She has not the
classic beauty of the horse, but in picture-making qualities she is far
ahead of him. Her shaggy, loose-jointed body; her irregular, sketchy
outlines, like those of the landscape,--the hollows and ridges, the
slopes and prominences; her tossing horns, her bushy tail, tier swinging
gait, her tranquil, ruminating habits,--all tend to make her an object
upon which the artist eye loves to dwell. The artists are forever
putting her into pictures, too. In rural landscape scenes she is
an important feature. Behold her grazing in the pastures and on the
hillsides, or along banks of streams, or ruminating under wide-spreading
trees, or standing belly-deep in the creek or pond, or lying upon the
smooth places in the quiet summer afternoon, the day's grazing done,
and waiting to be summoned home to be milked; and again in the twilight
lying upon the level summit of the hill, or where the sward is thickest
and softest; or in winter a herd of them filing along toward the spring
to drink, or being "foddered" from the stack in the field upon the new
snow,--surely the cow is a picturesque animal, and all her goings and
comings are pleasant to behold.

I looked into Hamerton's clever book on the domestic animals also,
expecting to find my divinity duly celebrated, but he passes her by and
contemplates the bovine qualities only as they appear in the ox and the

Neither have the poets made much of the cow, but have rather dwelt
upon the steer, or the ox yoked to the plow. I recall this touch from

       "The heifer that lows in the upland farm,
        Far heard, lows not thine ear to charm."

But the ear is charmed, nevertheless, especially if it be not too near,
and the air be still and dense, or hollow, as the farmer says. And
again, if it be springtime and she task that powerful bellows of hers
to its utmost capacity, how round the sound is, and how far it goes over
the hills!

The cow has at least four tones or lows. First, there is her alarmed
or distressed low when deprived of her calf, or when separated from
her mates,--her low of affection. Then there is her call of hunger, a
petition for food, sometimes full of impatience, or her answer to the
farmer's call, full of eagerness. Then there is that peculiar frenzied
bawl she utters on smelling blood, which causes every member of the herd
to lift its head and hasten to the spot,--the native cry of the clan.
When she is gored or in great danger she bawls also, but that is
different. And lastly, there is the long, sonorous volley she lets off
on the hills or in the yard, or along the highway, and which seems to
be expressive of a kind of unrest and vague longing,--the longing of the
imprisoned Io for her lost identity. She sends her voice forth so that
every god on Mount Olympus can hear her plaint. She makes this sound in
the morning, especially in the spring, as she goes forth to graze.

One of our rural poets, Myron Benton, whose verse often has the flavor
of sweet cream, has written some lines called "Rumination," in which the
cow is the principal figure, and with which I am permitted to adorn my
theme. The poet first gives his attention to a little brook that "breaks
its shallow gossip" at his feet and "drowns the oriole's voice:"--

       "But moveth not that wise and ancient cow,
        Who chews her juicy cud so languid now
        Beneath her favorite elm, whose drooping bough
        Lulls all but inward vision fast asleep:
        But still, her tireless tail a pendulum sweep
        Mysterious clock-work guides, and some hid pulley
        Her drowsy cud, each moment, raises duly.

       "Of this great, wondrous world she has seen more
        Than you, my little brook, and cropped its store
        Of succulent grass on many a mead and lawn;
        And strayed to distant uplands in the dawn.
        And she has had some dark experience
        Of graceless man's ingratitude; and hence
        Her ways have not been ways of pleasantness,
        Nor all her paths of peace. But her distress
        And grief she has lived past; your giddy round
        Disturbs her not, for she is learned profound
        In deep brahminical philosophy.
        She chews the cud of sweetest revery
        Above your worldly prattle, brooklet merry,
        Oblivious of all things sublunary."

The cow figures in Grecian mythology, and in the Oriental literature is
treated as a sacred animal. "The clouds are cows and the rain milk." I
remember what Herodotus says of the Egyptians' worship of heifers and
steers; and in the traditions of the Celtic nations the cow is regarded
as a divinity. In Norse mythology the milk of the cow Andhumbla afforded
nourishment to the Frost giants, and it was she that licked into being
and into shape a god, the father of Odin. If anything could lick a god
into shape, certainly the cow could do it. You may see her perform this
office for young Taurus any spring. She licks him out of the fogs and
bewilderments and uncertainties in which he finds himself on first
landing upon these shores, and up onto his feet in an incredibly short
time. Indeed, that potent tongue of hers can almost make the dead alive
any day, and the creative lick of the old Scandinavian mother cow is
only a large-lettered rendering of the commonest facts.

The horse belongs to the fiery god Mars. He favors war, and is one of
its oldest, most available, and most formidable engines. The steed is
clothed with thunder, and smells the battle from afar; but the cattle
upon a thousand hills denote that peace and plenty bear sway in the
land. The neighing of the horse is a call to battle; but the lowing of
old Brockleface in the valley brings the golden age again. The savage
tribes are never without the horse; the Scythians are all mounted; but
the cow would tame and humanize them. When the Indians will cultivate
the cow, I shall think their civilization fairly begun. Recently, when
the horses were sick with the epizoötic, and the oxen came to the city
and helped to do their work, what an Arcadian air again filled the
streets! But the dear old oxen,--how awkward and distressed they looked!
Juno wept in the face of every one of them. The horse is a true citizen,
and is entirely at home in the paved streets; but the ox,--what a
complete embodiment of all rustic and rural things! Slow, deliberate,
thick-skinned, powerful, hulky, ruminating, fragrant-breathed, when he
came to town the spirit and suggestion of all Georgics and Bucolics came
with him. O citizen, was it only a plodding, unsightly brute that went
by? Was there no chord in your bosom, long silent, that sweetly vibrated
at the sight of that patient, Herculean couple? Did you smell no hay or
cropped herbage, see no summer pastures with circles of cool shade, hear
no voice of herds among the hills? They were very likely the only horses
your grandfather ever had. Not much trouble to harness and unharness
them. Not much vanity on the road in those days. They did all the work
on the early pioneer farm. They were the gods whose rude strength first
broke the soil. They could live where the moose and the deer could. If
there was no clover or timothy to be had, then the twigs of the basswood
and birch would do. Before there were yet fields given up to grass, they
found ample pasturage in the woods. Their wide-spreading horns gleamed
in the duskiness, and their paths and the paths of the cows became the
future roads and highways, or even the streets of great cities.

All the descendants of Odin show a bovine trace, and cherish and
cultivate the cow. In Norway she is a great feature. Professor Boyesen
describes what he calls the _saeter_, the spring migration of the dairy
and dairymaids, with all the appurtenances of butter and cheese making,
from the valleys to the distant plains upon the mountains, where the
grass keeps fresh and tender till fall. It is the great event of the
year in all the rural districts. Nearly the whole family go with the
cattle and remain with them. At evening the cows are summoned home with
a long horn, called the _loor,_ in the hands of the milkmaid. The
whole herd comes winding down the mountain-side toward the _saeter_ in
obedience to the mellow blast.

What were those old Vikings but thick-hided bulls that delighted
in nothing so much as goring each other? And has not the charge of
beefiness been brought much nearer home to us than that? But about all
the northern races there is something that is kindred to cattle in the
best sense,--something in their art and literature that is essentially
pastoral, sweet-breathed, continent, dispassionate, ruminating,
wide-eyed, soft-voiced,--a charm of kine, the virtue of brutes.

The cow belongs more especially to the northern peoples, to the region
of the good, green grass. She is the true _grazing_ animal. That broad,
smooth, always dewy nose of hers is just the suggestion of greensward.
She caresses the grass; she sweeps off the ends of the leaves; she reaps
it with the soft sickle of her tongue. She crops close, but she does
not bruise or devour the turf like the horse. She is the sward's best
friend, and will make it thick and smooth as a carpet.

       "The turfy mountains where live the nibbling sheep"

are not for her. Her muzzle is too blunt; then she does not _bite_ as do
the sheep; she has no upper teeth; she _crops._ But on the lower slopes,
and margins, and rich bottoms, she is at home. Where the daisy and the
buttercup and clover bloom, and where corn will grow, is her proper
domain. The agriculture of no country can long thrive without her. Not
only a large part of the real, but much of the potential, wealth of the
land is wrapped up in her.

Then the cow has given us some good words and hints. How could we get
along without the parable of the cow that gave a good pail of milk and
then kicked it over? One could hardly keep house without it. Or the
parable of the cream and the skimmed milk, or of the buttered bread? We
know, too, through her aid, what the horns of the dilemma mean, and what
comfort there is in the juicy cud of reverie.

I have said the cow has not been of much service to the poets, and yet
I remember that Jean Ingelow could hardly have managed her "High Tide"
without "Whitefoot" and "Lightfoot" and "Cusha! Cusha! Cusha! calling;"
or Trowbridge his "Evening at the Farm," in which the real call of the
American farm-boy of "Co', boss! Co', boss! Co', Co'," makes a very
musical refrain.

Tennyson's charming "Milking Song" is another flower of poesy that has
sprung up in my divinity's footsteps.

What a variety of individualities a herd of cows presents when you have
come to know them all, not only in form and color, but in manners and
disposition! Some are timid and awkward, and the butt of the whole
herd. Some remind you of deer. Some have an expression in the face
like certain persons you have known. A petted and well-fed cow has a
benevolent and gracious look; an ill-used and poorly fed one, a pitiful
and forlorn look. Some cows have a masculine or ox expression; others
are extremely feminine. The latter are the ones for milk. Some cows
will kick like a horse; some jump fences like deer. Every herd has its
ringleader, its unruly spirit,--one that plans all the mischief, and
leads the rest through the fences into the grain or into the orchard.
This one is usually quite different from the master spirit, the "boss of
the yard." The latter is generally the most peaceful and law-abiding cow
in the lot, and the least bullying and quarrelsome. But she is not to be
trifled with; her will is law; the whole herd give way before her, those
that have crossed horns with her and those that have not, but yielded
their allegiance without crossing. I remember such a one among my
father's milkers when I was a boy,--a slender-horned, deep-shouldered,
large-uddered, dewlapped old cow that we always put first in the long
stable, so she could not have a cow on each side of her to forage upon;
for the master is yielded to no less in the stanchions than in the
yard. She always had the first place anywhere. She had her choice of
standing-room in the milking-yard, and when she wanted to lie down there
or in the fields the best and softest spot was hers. When the herd were
foddered from the stack or barn, or fed with pumpkins in the fall, she
was always first served. Her demeanor was quiet but impressive. She
never bullied or gored her mates, but literally ruled them with the
breath of her nostrils. If any new-comer or ambitious younger cow,
however, chafed under her supremacy, she was ever ready to make good her
claims. And with what spirit she would fight when openly challenged!
She was a whirlwind of pluck and valor; and not after one defeat or two
defeats would she yield the championship. The boss cow, when overcome,
seems to brood over her disgrace, and day after day will meet her rival
in fierce combat.

A friend of mine, a pastoral philosopher, whom I have consulted in
regard to the master cow, thinks it is seldom the case that one rules
all the herd, if it number many, but that there is often one that will
rule nearly all. "Curiously enough," he says, "a case like this will
often occur: No. 1 will whip No. 2; No. 2 whips No. 3; and No. 3 whips
No. 1; so around in a circle. This is not a mistake; it is often the
case. I remember," he continued, "we once had feeding out of a large
bin in the centre of the yard six cows who mastered right through in
succession from No. 1 to No. 6; _but_ No. 6 _paid off the score by
whipping No. 1._ I often watched them when they were all trying to feed
out of the box, and of course trying, dog-in-the-manger fashion, each to
prevent any other she could. They would often get in the order to do it
very systematically, since they could keep rotating about the box
till the chain happened to get broken somewhere, when there would be
confusion. Their mastership, you know, like that between nations, is
constantly changing. There are always Napoleons who hold their own
through many vicissitudes; but the ordinary cow is continually liable to
lose her foothold. Some cow she has always despised, and has often sent
tossing across the yard at her horns' ends, some pleasant morning will
return the compliment and pay off old scores."

But my own observation has been that, in herds in which there have
been no important changes for several years, the question of might gets
pretty well settled, and some one cow becomes the acknowledged ruler.

The bully of the yard is never the master, but usually a second or third
rate pusher that never loses an opportunity to hook those beneath her,
or to gore the masters if she can get them in a tight place. If such a
one can get loose in the stable, she is quite certain to do mischief.
She delights to pause in the open bars and turn and keep those behind
her at bay till she sees a pair of threatening horns pressing toward
her, when she quickly passes on. As one cow masters all, so there is one
cow that is mastered by all. These are the two extremes of the herd, the
head and the tail. Between them are all grades of authority, with none
so poor but hath some poorer to do her reverence.

The cow has evidently come down to us from a wild or semi-wild state;
perhaps is a descendant of those wild, shaggy cattle of which a small
band is still preserved in some nobleman's park in Scotland. Cuvier
seems to have been of this opinion. One of the ways in which her wild
instincts still crop out is the disposition she shows in spring to hide
her calf,--a common practice among the wild herds. Her wild nature would
be likely to come to the surface at this crisis if ever; and I have
known cows that practiced great secrecy in dropping their calves. As
their time approached, they grew restless, a wild and excited look was
upon them; and if left free, they generally set out for the woods, or
for some other secluded spot. After the calf is several hours old,
and has got upon its feet and had its first meal, the dam by some sign
commands it to lie down and remain quiet while she goes forth to feed.
If the calf is approached at such time, it plays "possum," pretends
to be dead or asleep, till, on finding this ruse does not succeed, it
mounts to its feet, bleats loudly and fiercely, and charges desperately
upon the intruder. But it recovers from this wild scare in a little
while, and never shows signs of it again.

The habit of the cow, also, in eating the placenta, looks to me like a
vestige of her former wild instincts,--the instinct to remove everything
that would give the wild beasts a clew or a scent, and so attract them
to her helpless young.

How wise and sagacious the cows become that run upon the street, or pick
their living along the highway! The mystery of gates and bars is at last
solved to them. They ponder over them by night, they lurk about them by
day, till they acquire a new sense,--till they become _en rapport_ with
them and know when they are open and unguarded. The garden gate, if it
open into the highway at any point, is never out of the mind of these
roadsters, or out of their calculations. They calculate upon the chances
of its being left open a certain number of times in the season; and if
it be but once, and only for five minutes, your cabbage and sweet corn
suffer. What villager, or countryman either, has not been awakened at
night by the squeaking and crunching of those piratical jaws under the
window, or in the direction of the vegetable patch? I have had the cows,
after they had eaten up my garden, break into the stable where my own
milcher was tied, and gore her and devour her meal. Yes, life presents
but one absorbing problem to the street cow, and that is how to get into
your garden. She catches glimpses of it over the fence or through the
pickets, and her imagination or her epigastrium is inflamed. When
the spot is surrounded by a high board fence, I think I have seen her
peeping at the cabbages through a knothole. At last she learns to open
the gate. It is a great triumph of bovine wit. She does it with her horn
or her nose, or may be with her ever-ready tongue. I doubt if she has
ever yet penetrated the mystery of the newer patent fastenings; but the
old-fashioned thumb-latch she can see through, give her time enough.

A large, lank, muley or polled cow used to annoy me in this way when I
was a dweller in a certain pastoral city. I more than half suspected she
was turned in by some one; so one day I watched. Presently I heard the
gate-latch rattle; the gate swung open, and in walked the old buffalo.
On seeing me she turned and ran like a horse. I then fastened the gate
on the inside and watched again. After long waiting the old cow came
quickly round the corner and approached the gate. She lifted the latch
with her nose. Then, as the gate did not move, she lifted it again and
again. Then she gently nudged it. Then, the obtuse gate not taking
the hint, she butted it gently, then harder and still harder, till it
rattled again. At this juncture I emerged from my hiding-place, when
the old villain scampered off with great precipitation. She knew she
was trespassing, and she had learned that there were usually some swift
penalties attached to this pastime.

I have owned but three cows and loved but one. That was the first one,
Chloe, a bright red, curly-pated, golden-skinned Devonshire cow, that an
ocean steamer landed for me upon the banks of the Potomac one bright May
Day many clover summers ago. She came from the north, from the pastoral
regions of the Catskills, to graze upon the broad commons of the
national capital. I was then the fortunate and happy lessee of an old
place with an acre of ground attached, almost within the shadow of the
dome of the Capitol. Behind a high but aged and decrepit board fence I
indulged my rural and unclerical tastes. I could look up from my homely
tasks and cast a potato almost in the midst of that cataract of marble
steps that flows out of the north wing of the patriotic pile. Ah! when
that creaking and sagging back gate closed behind me in the evening, I
was happy; and when it opened for my egress thence in the morning, I was
not happy. Inside that gate was a miniature farm, redolent of homely,
primitive life, a tumble-down house and stables and implements of
agriculture and horticulture, broods of chickens, and growing pumpkins,
and a thousand antidotes to the weariness of an artificial life.
Outside of it were the marble and iron palaces, the paved and blistering
streets, and the high, vacant mahogany desk of a government clerk.
In that ancient inclosure I took an earth bath twice a day. I planted
myself as deep in the soil as I could, to restore the normal tone and
freshness of my system, impaired by the above-mentioned government
mahogany. I have found there is nothing like the earth to draw the
various social distempers out of one. The blue devils take flight at
once if they see you mean to bury them and make compost of them. Emerson
intimates that the scholar had better not try to have two gardens; but
I could never spend an hour hoeing up dock and red-root and twitch-grass
without in some way getting rid of many weeds and fungi, unwholesome
growths, that a petty indoor life is forever fostering in my moral and
intellectual nature.

But the finishing touch was not given till Chloe came. She was the jewel
for which this homely setting waited. My agriculture had some object
then. The old gate never opened with such alacrity as when she paused
before it. How we waited for her coming! Should I send Drewer, the
colored patriarch, for her? No; the master of the house himself should
receive Juno at the capital.

"One cask for you," said the clerk, referring to the steamer bill of

"Then I hope it's a cask of milk," I said. "I expected a cow."

"One cask, it says here."

"Well, let's see it; I'll warrant it has horns and is tied by a rope;"
which proved to be the case, for there stood the only object that bore
my name, chewing its cud, on the forward deck. How she liked the voyage
I could not find out; but she seemed to relish so much the feeling of
solid ground beneath her feet once more, that she led me a lively step
all the way home. She cut capers in front of the White House, and tried
twice to wind me up in the rope as we passed the Treasury. She kicked up
her heels on the broad avenue, and became very coltish as she came under
the walls of the Capitol. But that night the long-vacant stall in the
old stable was filled, and the next morning the coffee had met with a
change of heart. I had to go out twice with the lantern and survey my
treasure before I went to bed. Did she not come from the delectable
mountains, and did I not have a sort of filial regard for her as toward
my foster-mother?

This was during the Arcadian age at the capital, before the easy-going
Southern ways had gone out and the prim new Northern ways had come
in, and when the domestic animals were treated with distinguished
consideration and granted the freedom of the city. There was a charm of
cattle in the street and upon the commons; goats cropped your rosebushes
through the pickets, and nooned upon your front porch; and pigs dreamed
Arcadian dreams under your garden fence, or languidly frescoed it with
pigments from the nearest pool. It was a time of peace; it was the poor
man's golden age. Your cow, your goat, your pig, led vagrant, wandering
lives, and picked up a subsistence wherever they could, like the bees,
which was almost everywhere. Your cow went forth in the morning and came
home fraught with milk at night, and you never troubled yourself where
she went or how far she roamed.

Chloe took very naturally to this kind of life. At first I had to go
with her a few times and pilot her to the nearest commons, and then I
left her to her own wit, which never failed her. What adventures she
had, what acquaintances she made, how far she wandered, I never knew.
I never came across her in my walks or rambles. Indeed, on several
occasions I thought I would look her up and see her feeding in national
pastures, but I never could find her. There were plenty of cows, but
they were all strangers. But punctually, between four and five o'clock
in the afternoon, her white horns would be seen tossing above the gate
and her impatient low be heard. Sometimes, when I turned her forth in
the morning, she would pause and apparently consider which way she would
go. Should she go toward Kendall Green to-day, or follow the Tiber,
or over by the Big Spring, or out around Lincoln Hospital? She seldom
reached a conclusion till she had stretched forth her neck and blown a
blast on her trumpet that awoke the echoes in the very lantern on the
dome of the Capitol. Then, after one or two licks, she would disappear
around the corner. Later in the season, when the grass was parched or
poor on the commons, and the corn and cabbage tempting in the garden,
Chloe was loath to depart in the morning, and her deliberations were
longer than ever, and very often I had to aid her in coming to a

For two summers she was a wellspring of pleasure and profit in my farm
of one acre, when, in an evil moment, I resolved to part with her and
try another. In an evil moment I say, for from that time my luck in
cattle left me. The goddess never forgave me the execution of that rash
and cruel resolve.

The day is indelibly stamped on my memory when I exposed my Chloe for
sale in the public market-place. It was in November, a bright, dreamy,
Indian summer day. A sadness oppressed me, not unmixed with guilt and
remorse. An old Irish woman came to the market also with her pets to
sell, a sow and five pigs, and took up a position next me. We condoled
with each other; we bewailed the fate of our darlings together; we
berated in chorus the white-aproned but blood-stained fraternity who
prowled about us. When she went away for a moment I minded the pigs, and
when I strolled about she minded my cow. How shy the innocent beast was
of those carnal marketmen! How she would shrink away from them! When
they put out a hand to feel her condition she would "scrooch" down her
back, or bend this way or that, as if the hand were a branding-iron. So
long as I stood by her head she felt safe--deluded creature!--and chewed
the cud of sweet content; but the moment I left her side she seemed
filled with apprehension, and followed me with her eyes, lowing softly
and entreatingly till I returned.

At last the money was counted out for her, and her rope surrendered to
the hand of another. How that last look of alarm and incredulity, which
I caught as I turned for a parting glance, went to my heart!

Her stall was soon filled, or partly filled, and this time with a
native,--a specimen of what may be called the cornstalk breed of
Virginia; a slender, furtive, long-geared heifer just verging on
cowhood, that in spite of my best efforts would wear a pinched and
hungry look. She evidently inherited a humped back. It was a family
trait, and evidence of the purity of her blood. For the native blooded
cow of Virginia, from shivering over half rations of cornstalks in the
open air during those bleak and windy winters, and roaming over those
parched fields in summer, has come to have some marked features. For
one thing, her pedal extremities seem lengthened; for another, her
udder does not impede her traveling; for a third, her backbone inclines
strongly to the curve; then, she despiseth hay. This last is a sure
test. Offer a thorough-bred Virginia cow hay, and she will laugh in
your face; but rattle the husks or shucks, and she knows you to be her

The new-comer even declined corn-meal at first. She eyed it furtively,
then sniffed it suspiciously, but finally discovered that it bore some
relation to her native "shucks," when she fell to eagerly.

I cherish the memory of this cow, however, as the most affectionate
brute I ever knew. Being deprived of her calf, she transferred her
affections to her master, and would fain have made a calf of him, lowing
in the most piteous and inconsolable manner when he was out of her
sight, hardly forgetting her grief long enough to eat her meal, and
entirely neglecting her beloved husks. Often in the middle of the night
she would set up that sonorous lamentation, and continue it till sleep
was chased from every eye in the household. This generally had the
effect of bringing the object of her affection before her, but in a mood
anything but filial or comforting. Still, at such times a kick seemed
a comfort to her, and she would gladly have kissed the rod that was the
instrument of my midnight wrath.

But her tender star was destined soon to a fatal eclipse. Being tied
with too long a rope on one occasion during my temporary absence, she
got her head into the meal-barrel, and stopped not till she had devoured
nearly half a bushel of dry meal. The singularly placid and benevolent
look that beamed from the meal-besmeared face when I discovered her was
something to be remembered. For the first time, also, her spinal column
came near assuming a horizontal line. But the grist proved too much
for her frail mill, and her demise took place on the third day, not of
course without some attempt to relieve her on my part. I gave her, as is
usual in such emergencies, everything I "could think of," and everything
my neighbors could think of, besides some fearful prescriptions which I
obtained from a German veterinary surgeon, but to no purpose. I imagined
her poor maw distended and inflamed with the baking sodden mass which no
physic could penetrate or enliven.

Thus ended my second venture in live-stock. My third, which followed
sharp upon the heels of this disaster, was scarcely more of a success.
This time I led to the altar a buffalo cow, as they call the "muley"
down South,--a large, spotted, creamy-skinned cow, with a fine udder,
that I persuaded a Jew drover to part with for ninety dollars. "Pag like
a dish rack (rag)," said he, pointing to her udder after she had been
milked. "You vill come pack and gif me the udder ten tollar" (for he
had demanded an even hundred), he continued, "after you have had her a
gouple of days." True, I felt like returning to him after a "gouple of
days," but not to pay the other ten dollars. The cow proved to be as
blind as a bat, though capable of counterfeiting the act of seeing to
perfection. For did she not lift up her head and follow with her eyes a
dog that scaled the fence and ran through the other end of the lot,
and the next moment dash my hopes thus raised by trying to walk over
a locust-tree thirty feet high? And when I set the bucket before her
containing her first mess of meal, she missed it by several inches, and
her nose brought up against the ground. Was it a kind of far-sightedness
and near blindness? That was it, I think; she had genius, but not
talent; she could see the man in the moon, but was quite oblivious to
the man immediately in her front. Her eyes were telescopic and required
a long range.

As long as I kept her in the stall, or confined to the inclosure, this
strange eclipse of her sight was of little consequence. But when spring
came, and it was time for her to go forth and seek her livelihood in the
city's waste places, I was embarrassed. Into what remote corners or into
what _terra incognita_ might she not wander! There was little doubt but
that she would drift around home in the course of the summer, or perhaps
as often as every week or two; but could she be trusted to find her way
back every night? Perhaps she could be taught. Perhaps her other senses
were acute enough to compensate in a measure for her defective vision.
So I gave her lessons in the topography of the country. I led her forth
to graze for a few hours each day and led her home again. Then I left
her to come home alone, which feat she accomplished very encouragingly.
She came feeling her way along, stepping very high, but apparently a
most diligent and interested sight-seer. But she was not sure of the
right house when she got to it, though she stared at it very hard.

Again I turned her forth, and again she came back, her telescopic eyes
apparently of some service to her. On the third day, there was a fierce
thunder-storm late in the afternoon, and old buffalo did not come home.
It had evidently scattered and bewildered what little wits she had.
Being barely able to navigate those streets on a calm day, what could
she be expected to do in a tempest?

After the storm had passed, and near sundown, I set out in quest of
her, but could get no clew. I heard that two cows had been struck by
lightning about a mile out on the commons. My conscience instantly told
me that one of them was mine. It would be a fit closing of the third act
of this pastoral drama. Thitherward I bent my steps, and there upon the
smooth plain I beheld the scorched and swollen forms of two cows slain
by thunderbolts, but neither of them had ever been mine.

The next day I continued the search, and the next, and the next. Finally
I hoisted an umbrella over my head, for the weather had become hot, and
set out deliberately and systematically to explore every foot of open
common on Capitol Hill. I tramped many miles, and found every man's cow
but my own,--some twelve or fifteen hundred, I should think. I saw many
vagrant boys and Irish and colored women, nearly all of whom had seen a
buffalo cow that very day that answered exactly to my description, but
in such diverse and widely separate places that I knew it was no cow of
mine. And it was astonishing how many times I was myself deceived; how
many rumps or heads, or line backs or white flanks, I saw peeping over
knolls, or from behind fences or other objects, that could belong to no
cow but mine!

Finally I gave up the search, concluded the cow had been stolen, and
advertised her, offering a reward. But days passed, and no tidings were
obtained. Hope began to burn pretty low,--was indeed on the point of
going out altogether,--when one afternoon, as I was strolling over the
commons (for in my walks I still hovered about the scenes of my lost
milcher), I saw the rump of a cow, over a grassy knoll, that looked
familiar. Coming nearer, the beast lifted up her head; and, behold! it
was she! only a few squares from home, where doubtless she had been most
of the time. I had overshot the mark in my search. I had ransacked the
far-off, and had neglected the near-at-hand, as we are so apt to do. But
she was ruined as a milcher, and her history thenceforward was brief and


If there did not something else go to the making of literature besides
mere literary parts, even the best of them, how long ago the old bards
and the Biblical writers would have been superseded by the learned
professors and the gentlemanly versifiers of later times! Is there
to-day a popular poet, using the English language, who does not, in
technical acquirements and in the artificial adjuncts of poetry,--rhyme,
metre, melody, and especially sweet, dainty fancies,--surpass Europe's
and Asia's loftiest and oldest? Indeed, so marked is the success of the
latter-day poets in this respect, that any ordinary reader may well be
puzzled, and ask, if the shaggy antique masters are poets, what are the
refined and euphonious producers of our own day?

If we were to inquire what this something else is which is prerequisite
to any deep and lasting success in literature, we should undoubtedly
find that it is the man behind the book. It is the fashion of the day
to attribute all splendid results to genius and culture. But genius and
culture are not enough. "All other knowledge is hurtful to him who has
not the science of honesty and goodness," says Montaigne. The quality
of simple manhood, and the universal human traits which form the bond
of union between man and man,--which form the basis of society, of the
family, of government, of friendship,--are quite overlooked; and the credit
is given to some special facility, or to brilliant and lucky hit. Does
any one doubt that the great poets and artists are made up mainly of the
most common universal human and heroic characteristics?--that in them,
though working to other ends, is all that construct the soldier, the
sailor, the farmer, the discoverer, the bringer-to-pass in any field,
and that their work is good and enduring in proportion as it is
saturated and fertilized by the qualities of these? Good human stock is
the main dependence. No great poet ever appeared except from a race of
good fighters, good eaters, good sleepers, good breeders. Literature
dies with the decay of the _un-_literary element. It is not in the
spirit of something far away in the clouds or under the moon, something
ethereal, visionary, and anti-mundane, that Angelo, Dante, and
Shakespeare work, but in the spirit of common Nature and of the
homeliest facts; through these, and not away from them, the path of the
creator lies.

It is no doubt this tendency, always more or less marked in highly
refined and cultivated times, to forget or overlook the primary
basic qualities, and to parade and make much of verbal and technical
acquirements, that led Huxley to speak with such bitter scorn of the
"sensual caterwauling of the literary classes," for this is not the
only country in which books are produced that are a mere skin of elegant
words blown up by copious literary gas.

In imaginative works, especially, much depends upon the quality of
mere weight. A stern, material inertia is indispensable. It is like
the immobility and the power of resistance of a piece of ordnance, upon
which the force and efficacy of the projectile finally depend. In
the most daring flights of the master, there is still something which
remains indifferent and uncommitted, and which acts as reserve power,
making the man always superior to his work. He must always leave the
impression that if he wanted to pull harder or to fly higher he could
easily do so. In Homer there is much that is not directly available
for Homer's purposes as poet. This is his personality,--the real
Homer,--which lies deeper than his talents and skill, and which works
through these by indirections. This gives the authority; this is the
unseen backer, which makes every promise good.

What depths can a man sound but his own, or what heights explore? "We
carry within us," says Sir Thomas Browne, "the wonders we seek without

Indeed, there is a strict moral or ethical dependence of the capacity
to conceive or to project great things upon the capacity to be or to
do them. It is as true as any law of hydraulics or of statics, that the
workmanship of a man can never rise above the level of his character.
He can never adequately say or do anything greater than he himself is.
There is no such thing, for instance, as deep insight into the mystery
of Creation, without integrity and simplicity of character.

In the highest mental results and conditions the whole being
sympathizes. The perception of a certain range of truth, such as is
indicated by Plato, Hegel, Swedenborg, and which is very far from
what is called "religious" or "moral," I should regard as the best
testimonial that could be offered of a man's probity and essential
nobility of soul. Is it possible to imagine a fickle, inconstant, or a
sly, vain, mean person reading and appreciating Emerson? Think of the
real men of science, the great geologists and astronomers, one opening
up time, the other space! Shall mere intellectual acumen be accredited
with these immense results? What noble pride, self-reliance, and
continuity of character underlie Newton's deductions!

Only those books are for the making of men into which a man has gone in
the making. Mere professional skill and sleight of hand, of themselves,
are to be apprized as lightly in letters as in war or in government,
or in any kind of leadership. Strong native qualities only avail in the
long run; and the more these dominate over the artificial endowments,
sloughing or dropping the latter in the final result, the more we are
refreshed and enlarged. Who has not, at some period of his life, been
captivated by the rhetoric and fine style of nearly all the popular
authors of a certain sort, but at last waked up to discover that behind
these brilliant names was no strong, loving man, but only a refined
taste, a fertile invention, or a special talent of one kind or another.

Think of the lather of the modern novel, and the fashion-plate men and
women that figure in it! What noble person has Dickens sketched, or
has any novelist since Scott? The utter poverty of almost every current
novelist, in any grand universal human traits in his own character, is
shown in nothing more clearly than in the _kind_ of interest the reader
takes in his books. We are led along solely by the ingenuity of the
plot, and a silly desire to see how the affair came out. What must be
the effect, long continued, of this class of jugglers working upon the
sympathies and the imagination of a nation of gestating women?

How the best modern novel collapses before the homely but immense human
significance of Homer's celestial swineherd entertaining divine Ulysses,
or even the solitary watchman in Aeschylus' "Agamemnon," crouched, like
a night-dog, on the roofs of the Atreidae, waiting for the signal fires
that should announce the fall of sacred Ilion!

But one need not look long, even in contemporary British literature, to
find a man. In the author of "Characteristics" and "Sartor Resartus"
we surely encounter one of the true heroic cast. We are made aware that
here is something more than a _littérateur,_ something more than genius.
Here is veracity, homely directness and sincerity, and strong primary
idiosyncrasies. Here the man enters into the estimate of the author.
There is no separating them, as there never is in great examples. A
curious perversity runs through all, but in no way vitiates the result.
In both his moral and intellectual nature, Carlyle seems made with
a sort of stub and twist, like the best gun-barrels. The knotty and
corrugated character of his sentences suits well the peculiar and
intense activity of his mind. What a transition from his terse and
sharply articulated pages, brimming with character and life, and a
strange mixture of rage, humor, tenderness, poetry, philosophy, to the
cold disbelief and municipal splendor of Macaulay! Nothing in Carlyle's
contributions seems fortuitous. It all flows from a good and sufficient
cause in the character of the man.

Every great man is, in a certain way, an Atlas, with the weight of the
world upon him. And if one is to criticise at all, he may say that, if
Carlyle had not been quite so conscious of this weight, his work would
have been better done. Yet to whom do we owe more, even as Americans?
Anti-democratic in his opinions, he surely is not so in spirit, or
in the quality of his make. The nobility of labor and the essential
nobility of man were never so effectively preached before. The deadliest
enemy of democracy is not the warning or dissenting voice, but it is the
spirit, rife among us, which would engraft upon our hardy Western stock
the sickly and decayed standards of the expiring feudal world.

With two or three exceptions, there is little as yet in American
literature that shows much advance beyond the merely conventional and
scholastic,--little, I mean, in which one gets a whiff of the strong,
unbreathed air of mountain or prairie, or a taste of rude, new power
that is like the tonic of the sea. Thoreau occupies a niche by himself.
Thoreau was not a great personality, yet his writings have a strong
characteristic flavor. He is anti-scorbutic, like leeks and onions. He
has reference, also, to the highest truths.

It is very likely true that our most native and original characters do
not yet take to literature. It is, perhaps, too early in the day. Iron
and lime have to pass through the vegetable before they can reach the
higher organization of the animal, and maybe this Western nerve and
heartiness will yet emerge on the intellectual plane. Let us hope that
it will indeed be Western nerve and heartiness when it gets there, and
not Eastern wit and epigram!

In Abraham Lincoln we had a character of very marked and lofty type, the
most suggestive study or sketch of the future American man that has
yet appeared in our history. How broad, unconventional, and humane!
How democratic! how adhesive! No fine arabesque carvings, but strong,
unhewn, native traits, and deep lines of care, toil, and human
sympathy. Lincoln's Gettysburg speech is one of the most genuine
and characteristic utterances in our annals. It has the true antique
simplicity and impressiveness. It came straight from the man, and is as
sure an index of character as the living voice, or the physiognomy, or
the personal presence. Indeed, it may be said of Mr. Lincoln's entire
course while at the head of the nation, that no President, since the
first, ever in his public acts allowed the man so fully to appear, or
showed so little disposition to retreat behind the featureless political
mask which seems to adhere to the idea of gubernatorial dignity.

It would be hardly fair to cite Everett's speech on the same occasion
as a specimen of the opposite style, wherein ornate scholarship and the
pride of talents dominate. Yet a stern critic would be obliged to
say that, as an author, Everett allowed, for the most part, only
the expurgated, complimenting, drawing-room man to speak; and that,
considering the need of America to be kept virile and broad at all
hazards, his contribution, both as man and writer, falls immeasurably
short of Abraham Lincoln's.

What a noble specimen of its kind, and how free from any verbal tricks
or admixture of literary sauce, is Thoreau's "Maine Woods"! And what a
marked specimen of the opposite style is a certain other book I could
mention in which these wild and grand scenes serve but as a medium to
advertise the author's fund of classic lore!

Can there be any doubt about the traits and outward signs of a noble
character, and is not the style of an author the manners of his soul?

Is there a lyceum lecturer in the country who is above manoeuvring for
the applause of his audience? or a writer who is willing to make himself
of no account for the sake of what he has to say? Even in the best there
is something of the air and manners of a performer on exhibition. The
newspaper, or magazine, or book is a sort of raised platform upon which
the advertiser advances before a gaping and expectant crowd. Truly, how
well he _handles_ his subject! He turns it over, and around, and inside
out, and top-side down. He tosses it about; he twirls it; he takes it
apart and puts it together again, and knows well beforehand where the
applause will come in. Any reader, in taking up the antique authors,
must be struck by the contrast.

"In Aeschylus," says Landor, "there is no trickery, no trifling, no
delay, no exposition, no garrulity, no dogmatism, no declamation, no
prosing,... but the loud, clear challenge, the firm, unstealthy step, of
an erect, broad-breasted soldier."

On the whole, the old authors are better than the new. The real question
of literature is not simplified by culture or a multiplication of books,
as the conditions of life are always the same, and are not made one
whit easier by all the myriads of men and women who have lived upon the
globe. The standing want is never for more skill, but for newer, fresher
power,--a more plentiful supply of arterial blood. The discoverer, or
the historian, or the man of science, may begin where his predecessor
left off, but the poet or any artist must go back for a fresh start.
With him it is always the first day of creation, and he must begin at
the stump or nowhere.



Before genius is manliness, and before beauty is power. The Russian
novelist and poet, Turgenieff, scattered all through whose works you
will find unmistakable traits of greatness, makes one of his characters
say, speaking of beauty, "The old masters,--they never hunted after
it; it comes of itself into their compositions, God knows whence, from
heaven or elsewhere. The whole world belonged to them, but we are unable
to clasp its broad spaces; our arms are too short."

From the same depth of insight come these lines from "Leaves of Grass,"
apropos of true poems:--

"They do not seek beauty--they are sought; Forever touching them, or
close upon them, follows beauty, longing,   fain, love-sick."

The Roman was perhaps the first to separate beauty from use, and to
pursue it as ornament merely. He built his grand edifice,--its piers,
its vaults, its walls of brick and concrete,--and then gave it a
marble envelope copied from the Greek architecture. The latter could be
stripped away, as in many cases it was by the hand of time, and leave
the essentials of the structure nearly complete. Not so with the Greek:
he did not seek the beautiful, he was beauty; his building had no
ornament, it was all structure; in its beauty was the flower of
necessity, the charm of inborn fitness and proportion. In other words,
"his art was structure refined into beautiful forms, not beautiful forms
superimposed upon structure," as with the Roman. And it is in Greek
mythology, is it not, that Beauty is represented as riding upon the back
of a lion? as she assuredly always does in their poetry and art,--rides
upon power, or terror, or savage fate; not only rides upon, but
is wedded and incorporated with it; hence the athletic desire and
refreshment her coming imparts.

This is the invariable order of nature. Beauty without a rank material
basis enfeebles. The world is not thus made; man is not thus begotten
and nourished.

It comes to me there is something implied or understood when we
look upon a beautiful object, that has quite as much to do with the
impression made upon the mind as anything in the object itself; perhaps
more. There is somehow an immense and undefined background of vast and
unconscionable energy, as of earthquakes, and ocean storms, and cleft
mountains, across which things of beauty play, and to which they
constantly defer; and when this background is wanting, as it is in much
current poetry, beauty sickens and dies, or at most has only a feeble

Nature does nothing merely for beauty; beauty follows as the inevitable
result; and the final impression of health and finish which her works
make upon the mind is owing as much to those things which are not
technically called beautiful as to those which are. The former give
identity to the latter. The one is to the other what substance is to
form, or bone to flesh. The beauty of nature includes all that is called
beautiful, as its flower; and all that is not called beautiful, as its
stalk and roots.

Indeed, when I go to the woods or the fields, or ascend to the hilltop,
I do not seem to be gazing upon beauty at all, but to be breathing it
like the air. I am not dazzled or astonished; I am in no hurry to look
lest it be gone. I would not have the litter and debris removed, or the
banks trimmed, or the ground painted. What I enjoy is commensurate
with the earth and sky itself. It clings to the rocks and trees; it is
kindred to the roughness and savagery; it rises from every tangle and
chasm; it perches on the dry oak-stubs with the hawks and buzzards; the
crows shed it from their wings and weave it into their nests of coarse
sticks; the fox barks it, the cattle low it, and every mountain path
leads to its haunts. I am not a spectator of, but a participator in it.
It is not an adornment; its roots strike to the centre of the earth.

All true beauty in nature or in art is like the iridescent hue of
mother-of-pearl, which is intrinsic and necessary, being the result of
the arrangement of the particles,--the flowering of the mechanism of the
shell; or like the beauty of health which comes out of and reaches back
again to the bones and the digestion. There is no grace like the grace
of strength. What sheer muscular gripe and power lie back of the firm,
delicate notes of the great violinist! "Wit," says Heine,--and the same
thing is true of beauty,--"isolated, is worthless. It is only endurable
when it rests on a solid basis."

In fact, beauty as a separate and distinct thing does not exist. Neither
can it be reached by any sorting or sifting or clarifying process. It is
an experience of the mind, and must be preceded by certain conditions,
just as light is an experience of the eye, and sound of the ear.

To attempt to manufacture beauty is as vain as to attempt to manufacture
truth; and to give it to us in poems or any form of art, without a lion
of some sort, a lion of truth or fitness or power, is to emasculate it
and destroy its volition.

But current poetry is, for the most part, an attempt to do this very
thing, to give us beauty without beauty's antecedents and foil. The
poets want to spare us the annoyance of the beast. Since beauty is
the chief attraction, why not have this part alone, pure and
unadulterated,--why not pluck the plumage from the bird, the flower
from its stalk, the moss from the rock, the shell from the shore, the
honey-bag from the bee, and thus have in brief what pleases us? Hence,
with rare exceptions, one feels, on opening the latest book of poems,
like exclaiming, Well, here is the beautiful at last divested of
everything else,--of truth, of power, of utility,--and one may add of
beauty, too. It charms as color, or flowers, or jewels, or perfume
charms--and that is the end of it.

It is ever present to the true artist, in his attempt to report nature,
that every object as it stands in the circuit of cause and effect has
a history which involves its surroundings, and that the depth of the
interest which it awakens in us is in proportion as its integrity in
this respect is preserved. In nature we are prepared for any opulence
of color or of vegetation, or freak of form, or display of any kind,
because of the preponderance of the common, ever-present feature of the
earth. The foil is always at hand. In like manner in the master poems we
are never surfeited with mere beauty.

Woe to any artist who disengages Beauty from the wide background of
rudeness, darkness, and strength,--and disengages her from absolute
nature! The mild and beneficent aspects of nature,--what gulfs and
abysses of power underlie them! The great shaggy, barbaric earth,--yet
the summing-up, the plenum, of all we know or can know of beauty! So the
orbic poems of the world have a foundation as of the earth itself, and
are beautiful because they are something else first. Homer chose for his
groundwork War, clinching, tearing, tugging war; in Dante, it is Hell;
in Milton, Satan and the Fall; in Shakespeare, it is the fierce Feudal
world, with its towering and kingly personalities; in Byron, it is
Revolt and diabolic passion. When we get to Tennyson, the lion is a good
deal tamed, but he is still there in the shape of the proud, haughty,
and manly Norman, and in many forms yet stimulates the mind.

The perception of cosmical beauty comes by a vital original process.
It is in some measure a creative act, and those works that rest upon
it make demands--perhaps extraordinary ones--upon the reader or the
beholder. We regard mere surface glitter, or mere verbal sweetness, in
a mood entirely passive, and with a pleasure entirely profitless. The
beauty of excellent stage scenery seems much more obvious and easy of
apprehension than the beauty of trees and hills themselves, inasmuch as
the act of association in the mind is much easier and cheaper than the
act of original perception.

Only the greatest works in any department afford any explanation of this
wonder we call nature, or aid the mind in arriving at correct
notions concerning it. To copy here and there a line or a trait is no
explanation; but to translate nature into another language--to bridge
it to us, to repeat in some sort the act of creation itself--is the
crowning triumph of poetic art.


After the critic has enumerated all the stock qualities of the poet,
as taste, fancy, melody, it remains to be said that unless there is
something in him that is _living identity,_ something analogous to the
growing, pushing, reproducing forces of nature, all the rest in the end
pass for but little.

This is perhaps what the German critic, Lessing, really means by
_action,_ for true poems are more like deeds, expressive of something
behind, more like acts of heroism or devotion, or like personal
character, than like thoughts or intellections.

All the master poets have in their work an interior, chemical,
assimilative property, a sort of gastric juice which dissolves thought
and form, and holds in vital fusion religions, times, races, and the
theory of their own construction, naming up with electric and defiant
power,--power without any admixture of resisting form, as in a living

There are in nature two types or forms, the cell and the crystal.
One means the organic, the other the inorganic; one means growth,
development, life; the other means reaction, solidification, rest. The
hint and model of all creative works is the cell; critical, reflective,
and philosophical works are nearer akin to the crystal; while there
is much good literature that is neither the one nor the other
distinctively, but which in a measure touches and includes both. But
crystallic beauty or cut and polished gems of thought, the result of the
reflex rather than the direct action of the mind, we do not expect to
find in the best poems, though they may be most prized by specially
intellectual persons. In the immortal poems the solids are very few, or
do not appear at all as solids,--as lime and iron,--any more than they
do in organic nature, in the flesh of the peach or the apple. The main
thing in every living organism is the vital fluids: seven tenths of man
is water; and seven tenths of Shakespeare is passion, emotion,--fluid
humanity. Out of this arise his forms, as Venus arose out of the sea,
and as man is daily built up out of the liquids of the body. We cannot
taste, much less assimilate, a solid until it becomes a liquid; and your
great idea, your sermon or moral, lies upon your poem a dead, cumbrous
mass unless there is adequate heat and solvent, emotional power. Herein
I think Wordsworth's "Excursion" fails as a poem. It has too much
solid matter. It is an over-freighted bark that does not ride the waves
buoyantly and lifelike; far less so than Tennyson's "In Memoriam," which
is just as truly a philosophical poem as the "Excursion." (Wordsworth is
the fresher poet; his poems seem really to have been written in the open
air, and to have been brought directly under the oxygenating influence
of outdoor nature; while in Tennyson this influence seems tempered or
farther removed.)

The physical cosmos itself is not a thought, but an act. Natural objects
do not affect us like well-wrought specimens or finished handicraft,
which have nothing to follow, but as living, procreating energy. Nature
is perpetual transition. Everything passes and presses on; there is no
pause, no completion, no explanation. To produce and multiply endlessly,
without ever reaching the last possibility of excellence, and without
committing herself to any end, is the law of Nature.

These considerations bring us very near the essential difference
between prose and poetry, or rather between the poetic and the didactic
treatment of a subject. The essence of creative art is always the same;
namely, interior movement and fusion; while the method of the didactic
or prosaic treatment is fixity, limitation. The latter must formulate
and define; but the principle of the former is to flow, to suffuse, to
mount, to escape. We can conceive of life only as something constantly
_becoming._ It plays forever on the verge. It is never _in loco,_ but
always _in transitu._ Arrest the wind, and it is no longer the wind;
close your hands upon the light, and behold, it is gone.

The antithesis of art in method is science, as Coleridge has intimated.
As the latter aims at the particular, so the former aims at the
universal. One would have truth of detail, the other truth of
_ensemble._ The method of science may be symbolized by the straight
line, that of art by the curve. The results of science, relatively to
its aim, must be parts and pieces; while art must give the whole
in every act; not quantitively of course, but qualitively,--by the
integrity of the spirit in which it works.

The Greek mind will always be the type of the artist mind, mainly
because of its practical bent, its healthful objectivity. The Greek
never looked inward, but outward. Criticism and speculation were foreign
to him. His head shows a very marked predominance of the motive and
perceptive powers over the reflective. The expression of the face is
never what we call intellectual or thoughtful, but commanding. His gods
are not philosophers, but delight in deeds, justice, rulership.

Among the differences between the modern and the classical aesthetic
mind is the greater precision and definiteness of the latter. The
modern genius is Gothic, and demands in art a certain vagueness and
spirituality like that of music, refusing to be grasped and formulated.
Hence for us (and this is undoubtedly an improvement) there must always
be something about a poem, or any work of art, besides the evident
intellect or plot of it, or what is on its surface, or what it tells.
This something is the Invisible, the Undefined, almost Unexpressed,
and is perhaps the best part of any work of art, as it is of a noble
personality. To amuse, to exhibit culture, to formulate the aesthetic,
or even to excite the emotions, is by no means all,--is not even the
deepest part. Beside these, and inclosing all, is the general impalpable
effect, like good air, or the subtle presence of good spirits, wordless
but more potent far than words. As, in the superbest person, it is not
merely what he says or knows or shows, or even how he behaves, but the
silent qualities, like gravitation, that insensibly but resistlessly
hold us; so in a good poem, or in any other expression of art.


Wherein the race has so far lost and gained, in being transplanted from
Europe to the New England soil and climate, is well illustrated by the
writings of Emerson. There is greater refinement and sublimation of
thought, greater clearness and sharpness of outline, greater audacity of
statement, but, on the other hand, there is a loss of bulk, of unction,
of adipose tissue, and shall we say of power?

Emerson is undoubtedly a master on the New England scale,--such a master
as the land and race are capable of producing. He stands out clear and
undeniable. The national type, as illustrated by that section of the
country, is the purest and strongest in him of any yet. He can never
suffer eclipse. Compared with the English or German master, he is
undoubtedly deficient in viscera, in moral and intellectual stomach;
but, on the other hand, he is of a fibre and quality hard to match
in any age or land. From first to last he strikes one as something
extremely pure and compact, like a nut or an egg. Great matters and
tendencies lie folded in him, or rather are summarized in his pages. He
writes short but pregnant chapters on great themes, as in his "English
Traits," a book like rich preserves put up pound for pound, a pound
of Emerson to every pound of John Bull. His chapter on Swedenborg in
"Representative Men" is a good sample of his power to abbreviate and
restate with added force. His mind acts like a sun-lens in gathering the
cold pale beams of that luminary to a focus which warms and stimulates
the reader in a surprising manner. The gist of the whole matter is here;
and how much weariness and dullness and plodding is left out!

In fact, Emerson is an essence, a condensation; more so, perhaps, than
any other man who has appeared in literature. Nowhere else is there such
a preponderance of pure statement, of the very attar of thought, over
the bulkier, circumstantial, qualifying, or secondary elements. He gives
us net results. He is like those strong artificial fertilizers. A pinch
of him is equivalent to a page or two of Johnson, and he is pitched many
degrees higher as an essayist than even Bacon. He has had an immediate
stimulating effect upon all the best minds of the country; how deep or
lasting this influence will be remains to be seen.

This point and brevity has its convenience and value especially in
certain fields of literature. I by no means would wish to water Emerson;
yet it will not do to lose sight of the fact that mass and inertia are
indispensable to the creator. Considering him as poet alone, I have
no doubt of his irremediable deficiency here. You cannot have broad,
massive effect, deep light and shade, or a torrent of power, with such
extreme refinement and condensation. The superphosphates cannot take the
place of the coarser, bulkier fertilizers. Especially in poetry do
we require pure thought to be well diluted with the human, emotional
qualities. In the writing most precious to the race, how little is
definition and intellectual formula, and how much is impulse, emotion,
will, character, blood, chyle! We must have liquids and gases and
solvents. We perhaps get more of them in Carlyle. Emerson's page
has more serene astral beauty than Carlyle's, but not that intense
blast-furnace heat that melts down the most obdurate facts and
characters into something plastic and poetical. Emerson's ideal is
always the scholar, the man of books and ready wit; Carlyle's hero is a
riding or striding ruler, or a master worker in some active field.

The antique mind no doubt affords the true type of health and wholeness
in this respect. The Greek could see, and feel, and paint, and carve,
and speak nothing but emotional man. In nature he saw nothing but
personality,--nothing but human or superhuman qualities; to him the
elements all took the human shape. Of that vague, spiritual, abstract
something which we call Nature he had no conception. He had no
sentiment, properly speaking, but impulse and will-power. And the
master minds of the world, in proportion to their strength, their spinal
strength, have approximated to this type. Dante, Angelo, Shakespeare,
Byron, Goethe, saw mainly man, and him not abstractly but concretely.
And this is the charm of Burns and the glory of Scott. Carlyle has
written the best histories and biographies of modern times, because he
sees man with such fierce and steadfast eyes. Emerson sees him also,
but he is not interested in him as a man, but mainly as a spirit, as a
demigod, or as a wit or a philosopher.

Emerson's quality has changed a good deal in his later writings. His
corn is no longer in the milk; it has grown hard, and we that read have
grown hard, too. He has now ceased to be an expansive, revolutionary
force, but he has not ceased to be a writer of extraordinary gripe and
unexpected resources of statement. His startling piece of advice, "Hitch
your wagon to a star," is typical of the man, as combining the most
unlike and widely separate qualities. Because not less marked than his
idealism and mysticism is his shrewd common sense, his practical bent,
his definiteness,--in fact, the sharp New England mould in which he is
cast. He is the master Yankee, the centennial flower of that thrifty and
peculiar stock. More especially in his later writings and speakings
do we see the native New England traits,--the alertness, eagerness,
inquisitiveness, thrift, dryness, archness, caution, the nervous energy
as distinguished from the old English unction and vascular force. How he
husbands himself,--what prudence, what economy, always spending up, as
he says, and not down! How alert, how attentive; what an inquisitor;
always ready with some test question, with some fact or idea to match
or to verify, ever on the lookout for some choice bit of adventure or
information, or some anecdote that has pith and point! No tyro basks and
takes his ease in his presence, but is instantly put on trial and must
answer or be disgraced. He strikes at an idea like a falcon at a bird.
His great fear seems to be lest there be some fact or point worth
knowing that will escape him. He is a close-browed miser of the
scholar's gains. He turns all values into intellectual coin. Every book
or person or experience is an investment that will or will not warrant
a good return in ideas. He goes to the Radical Club, or to the literary
gathering, and listens with the closest attention to every word that is
said, in hope that something will be said, some word dropped, that has
the ring of the true metal. Apparently he does not permit himself a
moment's indifference or inattention. His own pride is always to have
the ready change, to speak the exact and proper word, to give to every
occasion the dignity of wise speech. You are bartered with for your
best. There is no profit in life but in the interchange of ideas, and
the chief success is to have a head well filled with them. Hard cash at
that; no paper promises satisfy him; he loves the clink and glint of the
real coin.

His earlier writings were more flowing and suggestive, and had reference
to larger problems; but now everything has got weighed and stamped and
converted into the medium of wise and scholarly conversation. It is of
great value; these later essays are so many bags of genuine coin, which
it has taken a lifetime to hoard; not all gold, but all good, and the
fruit of wise industry and economy.

I know of no other writing that yields the reader so many strongly
stamped medallion-like sayings and distinctions. There is a perpetual
refining and recoining of the current wisdom of life and conversation.
It is the old gold or silver or copper, but how bright and new it looks
in his pages! Emerson loves facts, things, objects, as the workman his
tools. He makes everything serve. The stress of expression is so great
that he bends the most obdurate element to his purpose; as the bird,
under her keen necessity, weaves the most contrary and diverse
materials into her nest. He seems to like best material that is a little
refractory; it makes his page more piquant and stimulating. Within
certain limits he loves roughness, but not at the expense of harmony.
He has wonderful hardiness and push. Where else in literature is there
a mind, moving in so rare a medium, that gives one such a sense of
tangible resistance and force? It is a principle in mechanics that
velocity is twice as great as mass: double your speed and you double
your heat, though you halve your weight. In like manner this body we
are considering is not the largest, but its speed is great, and the
intensity of its impact with objects and experience is almost without
parallel. Everything about a man like Emerson is important. I find his
phrenology and physiognomy more than ordinarily typical and suggestive.
Look at his picture there,--large, strong features on a small face and
head,--no blank spaces; all given up to expression; a high predaceous
nose, a sinewy brow, a massive, benevolent chin. In most men there is
more face than feature, but here is a vast deal more feature than face,
and a corresponding alertness and emphasis of character. Indeed, the
man is made after this fashion. He is all type; his expression is
transcendent. His mind has the hand's pronounced anatomy,--its cords
and sinews and multiform articulations and processes, its opposing and
coordinating power. If his brain is small, its texture is fine and
its convolutions are deep. There have been broader and more catholic
natures, but few so towering and audacious in expression and so rich
in characteristic traits. Every scrap and shred of him is important
and related. Like the strongly aromatic herbs and simples,--sage, mint,
wintergreen, sassafras,--the least part carries the flavor of the whole.
Is there one indifferent or equivocal or unsympathizing drop of blood
in him? Where he is at all, he is entirely,--nothing extemporaneous;
his most casual word seems to have lain in pickle a long time, and is
saturated through and through with the Emersonian brine. Indeed, so
pungent and penetrating is his quality that even his quotations seem
more than half his own.

He is a man who occupies every inch of his rightful territory; he is
there in proper person to the farthest bound. Not every man is himself
and his best self at all times and to his finger points. Many great
characters, perhaps the greatest, have more or less neutral or waste
ground. You must penetrate a distance before you reach the real quick.
Or there is a good wide margin of the commonplace which is sure to put
them on good terms with the mass of their fellow-citizens. And one would
think Emerson could afford to relax a little; that he had earned the
right to a dull page or two now and then. The second best or third best
word sometimes would make us appreciate his first best all the more.
Even his god-father Plato nods occasionally, but Emerson's good breeding
will not for a moment permit such a slight to the reader.

Emerson's peculiar quality is very subtle, but very sharp and firm
and unmistakable. It is not analogous to the commoner, slower-going
elements, as heat, air, fire, water, but is nearer akin to that
elusive but potent something we call electricity. It is abrupt, freaky,
unexpected, and always communicates a little wholesome shock. It darts
this way and that, and connects the far and the near in every line.
There is always a leaping thread of light, and there is always a kind
of answering peal or percussion. With what quickness and suddenness
extremes are brought together! The reader is never prepared for what is
to come next; the spark will most likely leap from some source or
fact least thought of. His page seldom glows and burns, but there is a
never-ceasing crackling and discharge of moral and intellectual force
into the mind.

His chief weapon, and one that he never lays down, is identical with
that of the great wits, namely, surprise. The point of his remark or
idea is always sprung upon the reader, never quietly laid before him.
He has a mortal dread of tameness and flatness, and would make the very
water we drink bite the tongue.

He has been from the first a speaker and lecturer, and his style has
been largely modeled according to the demand of those sharp, heady New
England audiences for ceaseless intellectual friction and chafing. Hence
every sentence is braided hard, and more or less knotted, and, though
of silk, makes the mind tingle. He startles by overstatement, by
understatement, by paradox, by antithesis, and by synthesis. Into
every sentence enters the unexpected,--the congruous leaping from the
incongruous, the high coming down, the low springing up, likeness or
relation suddenly coming into view where before was only difference or
antagonism. How he delights to bring the reader up with a short turn,
to impale him on a knotty point, to explode one of his verbal bombshells
under his very nose! Yet there is no trickery or rhetorical legerdemain.
His heroic fibre always saves him.

The language in which Taine describes Bacon applies with even more force
to Emerson:--

"Bacon," he says, "is a producer of conceptions and of sentences. The
matter being explored, he says to us: 'Such it is; touch it not on that
side; it must be approached from the other.' Nothing more; no proof, no
effort to convince; he affirms, and nothing more; he has thought in the
manner of artists and poets, and he speaks after the manner of prophets
and seers. 'Cogita et visa,'--this title of one of his books might be
the title of all. His process is that of the creators; it is intuition,
not reasoning.... There is nothing more hazardous, more like fantasy,
than this mode of thought when it is not checked by natural and good
strong common sense. This common sense, which is a kind of natural
divination, the stable equilibrium of an intellect always gravitating
to the true, like the needle to the north pole, Bacon possesses in the
highest degree. He has a preëminently practical, even an utilitarian

It is significant, and is indeed the hidden seed or root out of which
comes the explanation of much, if not the main part, of his life and
writings, that Emerson comes of a long line of clergymen; that the blood
in his veins has been teaching, and preaching, and thinking, and
growing austere, these many generations. One wonders that it is still so
bounding and strong, so red with iron and quick with oxygen. But in
him seems to be illustrated one of those rare cases in the genealogy
of families where the best is carried forward each time, and steadily
recruited and intensified. It does not seem possible for any man to
become just what Emerson is from the stump, though perhaps great men
have been the fruit of one generation; but there is a quality in him, an
aroma of fine manners, a propriety, a chivalry in the blood, that dates
back, and has been refined and transmitted many times. Power is born
with a man, and is always first hand, but culture, genius, noble
instincts, gentle manners, or the easy capacity for these things, may
be, and to a greater or a lesser extent are, the contribution of the
past. Emerson's culture is radical and ante-natal, and never fails him.
The virtues of all those New England ministers and all those tomes of
sermons are in this casket. One fears sometimes that he has been too
much clarified, or that there is not enough savage grace or original
viciousness and grit in him to save him. How he hates the roysterers,
and all the rank, turbulent, human passions, and is chilled by the
thought that perhaps after all Shakespeare led a vulgar life!

When Tyndall was here, he showed us how the dark, coarse, invisible heat
rays could be strained out of the spectrum; or, in other words, that
every solar beam was weighted with a vast, nether, invisible side, which
made it a lever of tremendous power in organic nature. After some such
analogy, one sees how the highest order of power in the intellectual
world draws upon and is nourished by those rude, primitive, barbaric
human qualities that our culture and pietism tend to cut off and strain
out. Our culture has its eye on the other end of the spectrum, where
the fine violet and indigo rays are; but all the lifting, rounding,
fructifying powers of the system are in the coarse, dark rays--the
black devil--at the base. The angel of light is yoked with the demon of
darkness, and the pair create and sustain the world.

In rare souls like Emerson, the fruit of extreme culture, it is
inevitable that at least some of the heat rays should be lost, and we
miss them especially when we contrast him with the elder masters. The
elder masters did not seem to get rid of the coarse or vulgar in human
life, but royally accepted it, and struck their roots into it, and drew
from it sustenance and power: but there is an ever-present suspicion
that Emerson prefers the saints to the sinners; prefers the prophets and
seers to Homer, Shakespeare, and Dante. Indeed, it is to be distinctly
stated and emphasized, that Emerson is essentially a priest, and that
the key to all he has said and written is to be found in the fact
that his point of view is not that of the acceptor, the
creator,--Shakespeare's point of view,--but that of the refiner and
selector, the priest's point of view. He described his own state rather
than that of mankind when he said, "The human mind stands ever in
perplexity, demanding intellect, demanding sanctity, impatient equally
of each without the other."

Much surprise has been expressed in literary circles in this country
that Emerson has not followed up his first off-hand indorsement of Walt
Whitman with fuller and more deliberate approval of that poet, but has
rather taken the opposite tack. But the wonder is that he should have
been carried off his feet at all in the manner he was; and it must
have been no ordinary breeze that did it. Emerson shares with his
contemporaries the vast preponderance of the critical and discerning
intellect over the fervid, manly qualities and faith. His power of
statement is enormous; his scope of being is not enormous. The prayer
he uttered many years ago for a poet of the modern, one who could see in
the gigantic materialism of the times the carnival of the same deities
we so much admire in Greece and Rome, seems to many to have even been
explicitly answered in Whitman; but Emerson is balked by the cloud of
materials, the din and dust of action, and the moving armies, in which
the god comes enveloped.

But Emerson has his difficulties with all the poets. Homer is too
literal, Milton too literary, and there is too much of the whooping
savage in Whitman. He seems to think the real poet is yet to appear; a
poet on new terms, the reconciler, the poet-priest,--one who shall unite
the whiteness and purity of the saint with the power and unction of the
sinner; one who shall bridge the chasm between Shakespeare and St. John.
For when our Emerson gets on his highest horse, which he does only on
two or three occasions, he finds Shakespeare only a half man, and
that it would take Plato and Manu and Moses and Jesus to complete him.
Shakespeare, he says, rested with the symbol, with the festal beauty of
the world, and did not take the final step, and explore the essence
of things, and ask, "Whence? What? and Whither?" He was not wise for
himself; he did not lead a beautiful, saintly life, but ate, and drank,
and reveled, and affiliated with all manner of persons, and quaffed the
cup of life with gusto and relish. The elect, spotless souls will always
look upon the heat and unconscious optimism of the great poet with deep
regret. But if man would not become emasculated, if human life is to
continue, we must cherish the coarse as well as the fine, the root as
well as the top and flower. The poet-priest in the Emersonian sense
has never yet appeared, and what reason have we to expect him? The poet
means life, the whole of life,--all your ethics and philosophies, and
essences and reason of things, in vital play and fusion, clothed with
form and color, and throbbing with passion: the priest means a part, a
thought, a precept; he means suppression, expurgation, death. To have
gone farther than Shakespeare would have been to cease to be a poet, and
to become a mystic or a seer.

Yet it would be absurd to say, as a leading British literary journal
recently did, that Emerson is not a poet. He is one kind of a poet. He
has written plenty of poems that are as melodious as the hum of a wild
bee in the air,--chords of wild aeolian music.

Undoubtedly his is, on the whole, a bloodless kind of poetry. It
suggests the pale gray matter of the cerebrum rather than flesh and
blood. Mr. William Rossetti has made a suggestive remark about him. He
is not so essentially a poet, says this critic, as he is a Druid that
wanders among the bards, and strikes the harp with even more than bardic

Not in the poetry of any of his contemporaries is there such a burden
of the mystery of things, nor are there such round wind-harp tones, nor
lines so tense and resonant, and blown upon by a breeze from the highest
heaven of thought. In certain respects he has gone beyond any other. He
has gone beyond the symbol to the thing signified. He has emptied poetic
forms of their meaning and made poetry of that. He would fain cut the
world up into stars to shine in the intellectual firmament. He is more
and he is less than the best.

He stands among other poets like a pine-tree amid a forest of oak and
maple. He seems to belong to another race, and to other climes and
conditions. He is great in one direction, up; no dancing leaves, but
rapt needles; never abandonment, never a tossing and careering, never
an avalanche of emotion; the same in sun and snow, scattering his cones,
and with night and obscurity amid his branches. He is moral first and
last, and it is through his impassioned and poetic treatment of the
moral law that he gains such an ascendency over his reader. He says, as
for other things he makes poetry of them, but the moral law makes poetry
of him. He sees in the world only the ethical, but he sees it through
the aesthetic faculty. Hence his page has the double charm of the
beautiful and the good.


One of the penalties Emerson pays for his sharp decision, his mental
pertinence and resistance, is the curtailment of his field of vision and
enjoyment. He is one of those men whom the gods drive with blinders on,
so that they see fiercely in only a few directions. Supreme lover as he
is of poetry,--Herrick's poetry,--yet from the whole domain of what may
be called emotional poetry, the poetry of fluid humanity, tallied by
music, he seems to be shut out. This may be seen by his reference
to Shelley in his last book, "Letters and Social Aims," and by
his preference of the metaphysical poet throughout his writings.
Wordsworth's famous "Ode" is, he says, the high-water mark of English
literature. What he seems to value most in Shakespeare is the marvelous
wit, the pregnant sayings. He finds no poet in France, and in his
"English Traits" credits Tennyson with little but melody and color. (In
our last readings, do we not surely come to feel the manly and robust
fibre beneath Tennyson's silken vestments?) He demands of poetry that
it be a kind of spiritual manna, and is at last forced to confess that
there are no poets, and that when such angels do appear, Homer and
Milton will be tin pans.

One feels that this will not do, and that health, and wholeness, and
the well-being of man are more in the keeping of Shakespeare than in the
hands of Zoroaster or any of the saints. I doubt if that rarefied air
will make good red blood and plenty of it.

But Emerson makes his point plain, and is not indebted to any of his
teachers for it. It is the burden of all he writes upon the subject. The
long discourse that opens his last volume [footnote: _Letters and Social
Aims_] has numerous subheadings, as "Poetry," "Imagination," "Creation,"
"Morals," and "Transcendency;" but it's all a plea for transcendency. I
am reminded of the story of an old Indian chief who was invited to some
great dinner where the first course was "succotash." When the second
course was ready the old Indian said he would have a little more
succotash, and when the third was ready he called for more succotash and
so with the fourth and fifth, and on to the end. In like manner Emerson
will have nothing but the "spiritual law" in poetry, and he has an
enormous appetite for that. Let him have it, but why should he be so
sure that mankind all want succotash? Mankind finally comes to care
little for what any poet has to _say,_ but only for what he has to
_sing._ We want the pearl of thought dissolved in the wine of life. How
much better are sound bones and a good digestion in poetry than all the
philosophy and transcendentalism in the world!

What one comes at last to want is power, mastery; and, whether it be
mastery over the subtleties of the intellect, as in Emerson himself, or
over the passions and the springs of action, as in Shakespeare, or over
our terrors and the awful hobgoblins of hell and Satan, as in Dante, or
over vast masses and spaces of nature and the abysms of aboriginal man,
as in Walt Whitman, what matters it? Are we not refreshed by all? There
is one mastery in Burns, another in Byron, another in Rabelais, and in
Victor Hugo, and in Tennyson; and though the critic has his preferences,
though he affect one more than another, yet who shall say this one is
a poet and that one is not? "There may be any number of supremes," says
the master, and "one by no means contravenes another." Every gas is
a vacuum to every other gas, says Emerson, quoting the scientist; and
every great poet complements and leaves the world free to every other
great poet.

Emerson's limitation or fixity is seen also in the fact that he has
taken no new step in his own direction, if indeed another step could be
taken in that direction and not step off. He is a prisoner on his
peak. He cannot get away from the old themes. His later essays are
upon essentially the same subjects as his first. He began by writing
on nature, greatness, manners, art, poetry, and he is still writing on
them. He is a husbandman who practices no rotation of crops, but submits
to the exhaustive process of taking about the same things from his soil
year after year. Some readers think they detect a falling off. It is
evident there is not the same spontaneity, and that the soil has to be
more and more stirred and encouraged, which is not at all to be wondered

But if Emerson has not advanced, he has not receded, at least in
conviction and will, which is always the great danger with our bold
prophets. The world in which he lives, the themes upon which he writes,
never become hackneyed to him. They are always fresh and new. He has
hardened, but time has not abated one jot or tittle his courage and
hope,--no cynicism and no relaxing of his hold, no decay of his faith,
while the nobleness of his tone, the chivalry of his utterance, is even
more marked than at first. Better a hundred-fold than his praise of fine
manners is the delicacy and courtesy and the grace of generous breeding
displayed on every page. Why does one grow impatient and vicious when
Emerson writes of fine manners and the punctilios of conventional life,
and feel like kicking into the street every divinity enshrined in the
drawing-room? It is a kind of insult to a man to speak the word in his
presence. Purify the parlors indeed by keeping out the Choctaws, the
laughers! Let us go and hold high carnival for a week, and split the
ears of the groundlings with our "contemptible squeals of joy." And when
he makes a dead set at praising eloquence, I find myself instantly on
the side of the old clergyman he tells of who prayed that he might never
be eloquent; or when he makes the test of a man an intellectual one, as
his skill at repartee, and praises the literary crack shot, and defines
manliness to be readiness, as he does in this last volume and in the
preceding one, I am filled with a perverse envy of all the confused and
stammering heroes of history. Is Washington faltering out a few broken
and ungrammatical sentences, in reply to the vote of thanks of the
Virginia legislature, less manly than the glib tongue in the court-room
or in the club that can hit the mark every time? The test of a wit or of
a scholar is one thing; the test of a man, I take it, is quite another.
In this and some other respects Emerson is well antidoted by Carlyle,
who lays the stress on the opposite qualities, and charges his hero to
hold his tongue. But one cheerfully forgives Emerson the way he puts his
thumb-nail on the bores. He speaks feelingly, and no doubt from as deep
an experience as any man in America.

I really hold Emerson in such high esteem that I think I can safely
indulge myself in a little more fault-finding with him.

I think it must be admitted that he is deficient in sympathy. This
accounts in a measure for his coolness, his self-possession, and that
kind of uncompromising rectitude or inflexibleness that marks his
career, and that he so lauds in his essays. No man is so little liable
to be warped or compromised in any way as the unsympathetic man.
Emerson's ideal is the man who stands firm, who is unmoved, who never
laughs, or apologizes, or deprecates, or makes concessions, or assents
through good-nature, or goes abroad; who is not afraid of giving
offense; "who answers you without supplication in his eye,"--in fact,
who stands like a granite pillar amid the slough of life. You may
wrestle with this man, he says, or swim with him, or lodge in the same
chamber with him, or eat at the same table, and yet he is a thousand
miles off, and can at any moment finish with you. He is a sheer
precipice, is this man, and not to be trifled with. You shrinking,
quivering, acquiescing natures, avaunt! You sensitive plants, you
hesitating, indefinite creatures, you uncertain around the edges, you
non-resisting, and you heroes, whose courage is quick, but whose wit is
tardy, make way, and let the human crustacean pass. Emerson is moulded
upon this pattern. It is no mush and milk that you get at this table. "A
great man is coming to dine with me; I do not wish to please him; I wish
that he should wish to please me." On the lecture stand he might be
of wood, so far as he is responsive to the moods and feelings of his
auditors. They must come to him; he will not go to them: but they do not
always come. Latterly the people have felt insulted, the lecturer showed
them so little respect. Then, before a promiscuous gathering, and in
stirring and eventful times like ours, what anachronisms most of his
lectures are, even if we take the high ground that they are pearls
before swine! The swine may safely demand some apology of him who offers
them pearls instead of corn.

Emerson's fibre is too fine for large public uses. He is what he is, and
is to be accepted as such, only let us _know_ what he is. He does not
speak to universal conditions, or to human nature in its broadest,
deepest, strongest phases. His thought is far above the great sea level
of humanity, where stand most of the world's masters. He is like one of
those marvelously clear mountain lakes whose water-line runs above
all the salt seas of the globe. He is very precious, taken at his real
worth. Why find fault with the isolation and the remoteness in view of
the sky-like purity and depth?

Still I must go on sounding and exploring him, reporting where I touch
bottom and where I do not. He reaps great advantage from his want of
sympathy. The world makes no inroads upon him through this channel. He
is not distracted by the throng or maybe the mob of emotions that find
entrance here. He shines like a star undimmed by current events. He
speaks as from out the interstellar spaces. 'T is vulgar sympathy makes
mortals of us all, and I think Emerson's poetry finally lacks just that
human coloring and tone, that flesh tint of the heart, which vulgar
sympathy with human life as such imparts.

But after we have made all possible deductions from Emerson, there
remains the fact that he is a living force, and, tried by home
standards, a master. Wherein does the secret of his power lie? He is
the prophet and philosopher of young men. The old man and the man of the
world make little of him, but of the youth who is ripe for him he takes
almost an unfair advantage. One secret of his charm I take to be the
instant success with which he transfers our interest in the romantic,
the chivalrous, the heroic, to the sphere of morals and the intellect.
We are let into another realm unlooked for, where daring and imagination
also lead. The secret and suppressed heart finds a champion. To the
young man fed upon the penny precepts and staple Johnsonianism of
English literature, and upon what is generally doled out in the schools
and colleges, it is a surprise; it is a revelation. A new world opens
before him. The nebulae of his spirit are resolved or shown to be
irresolvable. The fixed stars of his inner firmament are brought
immeasurably near. He drops all other books. He will gaze and wonder.
From Locke or Johnson or Wayland to Emerson is like a change from the
school history to the Arabian Nights. There may be extravagances and
some jugglery, but for all that the lesson is a genuine one, and to us
of this generation immense.

Emerson is the knight-errant of the moral sentiment. He leads, in
our time and country, one illustrious division, at least, in the holy
crusade of the affections and the intuitions against the usurpations of
tradition and theological dogma. He marks the flower, the culmination,
under American conditions and in the finer air of the New World, of the
reaction begun by the German philosophers, and passed along by later
French and English thinkers, of man against circumstance, of
spirit against form, of the present against the past. What splendid
affirmation, what inspiring audacity, what glorious egoism, what
generous brag, what sacred impiety! There is an _eclat_ about his words,
and a brave challenging of immense odds, that is like an army with
banners. It stirs the blood like a bugle-call: beauty, bravery, and a
sacred cause,--the three things that win with us always. The first essay
is a forlorn hope. See what the chances are: "The world exists for the
education of each man.... He should see that he can live all history in
his own person. He must sit solidly at home, and not suffer himself to
be bullied by kings or empires, but know that he is greater than all
the geography and all the government of the world; he must transfer the
point of view from which history is commonly read from Rome and Athens
and London to himself, and not deny his conviction that he is the court,
and, if England or Egypt have anything to say to him, he will try the
case; if not, let them forever be silent." In every essay that follows,
there are the same great odds and the same electric call to the youth
to face them. It is, indeed, as much a world of fable and romance that
Emerson introduces us to as we get in Homer or Herodotus. It is true,
all true,--true as Arthur and his knights, or Pilgrim's Progress, and I
pity the man who has not tasted its intoxication, or who can see nothing
in it.

The intuitions are the bright band, without armor or shield, that
slay the mailed and bucklered giants of the understanding. Government,
institutions, religions, fall before the glance of the hero's eye. Art
and literature, Shakespeare, Angelo, Aeschylus, are humble suppliants
before you, the king. The commonest fact is idealized, and the whole
relation of man to the universe is thrown into a kind of gigantic
perspective. It is not much to say there is exaggeration; the very start
makes Mohammed's attitude toward the mountain tame. The mountain _shall_
come to Mohammed, and, in the eyes of all born readers of Emerson, the
mountain does come, and comes with alacrity.

Some shrewd judges apprehend that Emerson is not going to last; basing
their opinion upon the fact, already alluded to, that we outgrow him, or
pass through him as through an experience that we cannot repeat. He is
but a bridge to other things; he gets you over. He is an exceptional
fact in literature, say they, and does not represent lasting or
universal conditions. He is too fine for the rough wear and tear of
ages. True, we do not outgrow Dante, or Cervantes, or Bacon; and I doubt
if the Anglo-Saxon stock at least ever outgrows that king of romancers,
Walter Scott. These men and their like appeal to a larger audience, and
in some respects a more adult one, at least one more likely to be found
in every age and people. Their achievement was more from the common
level of human nature than are Emerson's astonishing paradoxes. Yet I
believe his work has the seal of immortality upon it as much as that
of any of them. No doubt he has a meaning to us now and in this country
that will be lost to succeeding time. His religious significance will
not be so important to the next generation. He is being or has been so
completely absorbed by his times, that readers and hearers hereafter
will get him from a thousand sources, or his contribution will become
the common property of the race. All the masters probably had some
peculiar import or tie to their contemporaries that we at a distance
miss. It is thought by scholars that we have lost the key, or one key,
to Dante, and Chaucer, and Shakespeare,--the key or the insight that
people living under the same roof get of each other.

But, aside from and over and above everything else, Emerson _appeals
to youth and to genius._ If you have these, you will understand him and
delight in him; if not, or neither of them, you will make little of him.
And I do not see why this should not be just as true any time hence as
at present.


                        TO WALT WHITMAN

       "'I, thirty-six years old, in perfect health, begin,
         Hoping to cease not till death.'"
                                       CHANTS DEMOCRATIC.

       "They say that thou art sick, art growing old,
           Thou Poet of unconquerable health,
           With youth far-stretching, through the golden wealth
        Of autumn, to Death's frostful, friendly cold.
        The never-blenching eyes, that did behold
           Life's fair and foul, with measureless content,
           And gaze ne'er sated, saddened as they bent
        Over the dying soldier in the fold
           Of thy large comrade love;--then broke the tear!
        War-dream, field-vigil, the bequeathed kiss,
           Have brought old age to thee; yet, Master, now,
        Cease not thy song to us; lest we should miss
           A death-chant of indomitable cheer,
        Blown as a gale from God;--oh sing it thou!"
                                       ARRAN LEIGH (England).


Whoever has witnessed the flight of any of the great birds, as the
eagle, the condor, the sea-gulls, the proud hawks, has perhaps felt that
the poetic suggestion of the feathered tribes is not all confined to the
sweet and tiny songsters,--the thrushes, canaries, and mockingbirds of
the groves and orchards, or of the gilded cage in my lady's chamber.
It is by some such analogy that I would indicate the character of the
poetry I am about to discuss, compared with that of the more popular and
melodious singer,--the poetry of the strong wing and the daring flight.

Well and profoundly has a Danish critic said, in "For Ide og
Virkelighed" ("For the Idea and the Reality"), a Copenhagen magazine:--

"It may be candidly admitted that the American poet has not the
elegance, special melody, nor _recherché_ aroma of the accepted poets
of Europe or his own country; but his compass and general harmony are
infinitely greater. The sweetness and spice, the poetic _ennui,_ the
tender longings, the exquisite art-finish of those choice poets are
mainly unseen and unmet in him,--perhaps because he cannot achieve them,
more likely because he disdains them. But there is an electric _living
soul_ in his poetry, far more fermenting and bracing. His wings do not
glitter in their movement from rich and varicolored plumage, nor are his
notes those of the accustomed song-birds; but his flight is the flight
of the eagle."

Yes, there is not only the delighting of the ear with the outpouring of
sweetest melody and its lessons, but there is the delighting of the eye
and soul through that soaring and circling in the vast empyrean of "a
strong bird on pinions free,"--lessons of freedom, power, grace, and
spiritual suggestion,--vast, unparalleled, _formless_ lessons.

It is now upwards of twenty years since Walt Whitman printed (in 1855)
his first thin beginning volume of "Leaves of Grass;" and, holding him
to the test which he himself early proclaimed, namely, "that the proof
of the poet shall be sternly deferred till his country has absorb'd him
as affectionately as he has absorb'd it," he is yet on trial, yet
makes his appeal to an indifferent or to a scornful audience. That his
complete absorption, however, by his own country and by the world, is
ultimately to take place, is one of the beliefs that grows stronger and
stronger within me as time passes, and I suppose it is with a hope to
help forward this absorption that I write of him now. Only here and
there has he yet effected a lodgment, usually in the younger and
more virile minds. But considering the unparalleled audacity of his
undertaking, and the absence in most critics and readers of anything
like full-grown and robust aesthetic perception, the wonder really is
not that he should have made such slow progress, but that he should have
gained any foothold at all. The whole literary _technique_ of the race
for the last two hundred years has been squarely against him, laying, as
it does, the emphasis upon form and scholarly endowments instead of upon
aboriginal power and manhood.

My own mastery of the poet, incomplete as it is, has doubtless been much
facilitated by contact--talks, meals, and jaunts--with him, stretching
through a decade of years, and by seeing how everything in his
_personnel_ was resumed and carried forward in his literary expression;
in fact, how the one was a living commentary upon the other. After the
test of time, nothing goes home like the test of actual intimacy; and to
tell me that Whitman is not a large, fine, fresh, magnetic personality,
making you love him and want always to be with him, were to tell me
that my whole past life is a deception, and all the impression of my
perceptive faculties a fraud. I have studied him as I have studied
the birds, and have found that the nearer I got to him the more I saw.
Nothing about a first-class man can be overlooked; he is to be studied
in every feature,--in his physiology and phrenology, in the shape of his
head, in his brow, his eye, his glance, his nose, his ear (the ear is
as indicative in a man as in a horse), his voice. In Whitman all these
things are remarkably striking and suggestive. His face exhibits a rare
combination of harmony and sweetness with strength,--strength like the
vaults and piers of the Roman architecture. Sculptor never carved a
finer ear or a more imaginative brow. Then his heavy-lidded, absorbing
eye, his sympathetic voice, and the impression which he makes of
starting from the broad bases of the universal human traits. (If Whitman
was grand in his physical and perfect health, I think him far more so
now (1877), cheerfully mastering paralysis, penury, and old age.) You
know, on seeing the man and becoming familiar with his presence, that,
if he achieve the height at all, it will be from where every man stands,
and not from some special genius, or exceptional and adventitious
point. He does not make the impression of the scholar or artist or
_littérateur,_ but such as you would imagine the antique heroes to
make,--that of a sweet-blooded, receptive, perfectly normal, catholic
man, with, further than that, a look about him that is best suggested by
the word elemental or cosmical. It was this, doubtless, that led Thoreau
to write, after an hour's interview, that he suggested "something a
little more than human." In fact, the main clew to Walt Whitman's life
and personality, and the expression of them in his poems, is to be found
in about the largest emotional element that has appeared anywhere. This,
if not controlled by a potent rational balance, would either have tossed
him helplessly forever, or wrecked him as disastrously as ever storm
and gale drove ship to ruin. These volcanic emotional fires appear
everywhere in his books; and it is really these, aroused to intense
activity and unnatural strain during the four years of the war and his
persistent labors in the hospitals, that have resulted in his illness
and paralysis since.

It has been impossible, I say, to resist these personal impressions and
magnetisms, and impossible with me not to follow them up in the poems,
in doing which I found that his "Leaves of Grass" was really the _drama
of himself,_ played upon various and successive stages of nature,
history, passion, experience, patriotism, and that he had not made,
nor had he intended to make, mere excellent "poems," tunes, statues, or
statuettes, in the ordinary sense.

Before the man's complete acceptance and assimilation by America, he
may have to be first passed down through the minds of critics and
commentators, and given to the people with some of his rank new quality
taken off,--a quality like that which adheres to objects in the open
air, and makes them either forbidding or attractive, as one's mood is
healthful and robust or feeble and languid. The processes are silently
at work. Already seen from a distance, and from other atmospheres and
surroundings, he assumes magnitude and orbic coherence; for in curious
contrast to the general denial of Whitman in this country (though he
has more lovers and admirers here than is generally believed) stands
the reception accorded him in Europe. The poets there, almost without
exception, recognize his transcendent quality, the men of science his
thorough scientific basis, the republicans his inborn democracy, and all
his towering picturesque personality and modernness. Professor Clifford
says he is more thoroughly in harmony with the spirit and letter of
advanced scientism than any other living poet. Professor Tyrrell and Mr.
Symonds find him eminently Greek, in the sense in which to be natural
and "self-regulated by the law of perfect health" is to be Greek. The
French "Revue des Deux Mondes" pronounces his war poems the most vivid,
the most humanly passionate, and the most modern, of all the verse of
the nineteenth century. Freiligrath translated him into German, and
hailed him as the founder of a new democratic and modern order of
poetry, greater than the old. But I do not propose to go over the whole
list here; I only wish to indicate that the absorption is well commenced
abroad, and that probably her poet will at last reach America by way of
those far-off, roundabout channels. The old mother will first masticate
and moisten the food which is still too tough for her offspring.

When I first fell in with "Leaves of Grass," I was taken by isolated
passages scattered here and there through the poems; these I seized
upon, and gave myself no concern about the rest. Single lines in it
often went to the bottom of the questions that were vexing me. The
following, though less here than when encountered in the frame of mind
which the poet begets in you, curiously settled and stratified a certain
range of turbid, fluctuating inquiry:--

 "There was never any more inception than there is now,--
  Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
  And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
  Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now."

These lines, also, early had an attraction for me I could not define,
and were of great service:--

 "Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,
  Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,
  The whole universe indicates that it is good,
  The past and the present indicate that it is good."

In the following episode, too, there was to me something far deeper than
the words or the story:--

 "The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside;
  I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the wood-pile;
  Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak,
  And went where he sat on a log, and led him in, and assured him,
  And brought water and fill'd a tub for his sweated body and
     bruis'd feet,
  And gave him a room that entered from my own, and gave him some
     coarse clean clothes;
  And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,
  And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles:
  He stayed with me a week before he was recuperated and pass'd North;
  (I had him sit next me at table--my firelock lean'd in the corner.)"

But of the book as a whole I could form no adequate conception, and
it was not for many years, and after I had known the poet himself, as
already stated, that I saw in it a teeming, rushing globe well worthy my
best days and strength to surround and comprehend.

One thing that early took me in the poems was (as before alluded to) the
tremendous personal force back of them, and felt through them as the
sun through vapor; not merely intellectual grasp or push, but a warm,
breathing, towering, magnetic Presence that there was no escape from.

Another fact I was quick to perceive, namely, that this man had almost
in excess a quality in which every current poet was lacking,--I mean the
faculty of being in entire sympathy with actual nature, and the objects;
and shows of nature, and of rude, abysmal man; and appalling directness
of utterance therefrom, at first hand, without any intermediate agency
or modification.

The influence of books and works of art upon an author may be seen in
all respectable writers. If knowledge alone made literature, or culture
genius, there would be no dearth of these things among the moderns. But
I feel bound to say that there is something higher and deeper than the
influence or perusal of any or all books, or all other productions of
genius,--a quality of information which the masters can never impart,
and which all the libraries do not hold. This is the absorption by an
author, previous to becoming so, of the spirit of nature, through
the visible objects of the universe, and his affiliation with them
subjectively and objectively. Not more surely is the blood quickened and
purified by contact with the unbreathed air than is the spirit of man
vitalized and made strong by intercourse with the real things of the
earth. The calm, all-permitting, wordless spirit of nature,--yet so
eloquent to him who hath ears to hear! The sunrise, the heaving sea,
the woods and mountains, the storm and the whistling winds, the gentle
summer day, the winter sights and sounds, the night and the high dome of
stars,--to have really perused these, especially from childhood onward,
till what there is in them, so impossible to define, finds its full mate
and echo in the mind,--this only is the lore which breathes the breath
of life into all the rest. Without it, literary productions may have the
superb beauty of statues, but with it only can they have the beauty of

I was never troubled at all by what the critics called Whitman's want
of art, or his violation of art. I saw that he at once designedly swept
away all which the said critics have commonly meant by that term. The
dominant impression was of the living presence and voice. He would have
no curtains, he said, not the finest, between himself and his reader;
and in thus bringing me face to face with his subject I perceived he
not only did not escape conventional art, but I perceived an enlarged,
enfranchised art in this very abnegation of art. "When half-gods go,
whole gods arrive." It was obvious to me that the new style gained more
than it lost, and that in this fullest operatic launching forth of the
voice, though it sounded strange at first, and required the ear to get
used to it, there might be quite as much science, and a good deal more
power, than in the tuneful but constricted measures we were accustomed

To the eye the page of the new poet presented about the same contrast
with the page of the popular poets that trees and the free, unbidden
growths of nature do with a carefully clipped hedge; and to the spirit
the contrast was about the same. The hedge is the more studiedly and
obviously beautiful, but, ah! there is a kind of beauty and satisfaction
in trees that one would not care to lose. There are symmetry and
proportion in the sonnet, but to me there is something I would not
exchange for them in the wild swing and balance of many free and
unrhymed passages in Shakespeare; like the one, for instance, in which
these lines occur:--

       "To be imprisoned in the viewless winds,
        And blown with restless violence round
        About the pendent world."

Here is the spontaneous grace and symmetry of a forest tree, or a
soughing mass of foliage.

And this passage from my poet I do not think could be improved by the
verse-maker's art:--

 "This day before dawn I ascended a hill and look'd at the crowded
  And I said to my Spirit, _When we become the enfolders of those orbs
     and the pleasure and knowledge of everything in them, shall we be
     fill'd and satisfied then?_
  And my Spirit said, No, _we but level that lift, to pass and continue

Such breaking with the routine poetic, and with the grammar of verse,
was of course a dangerous experiment, and threw the composer absolutely
upon his intrinsic merits, upon his innately poetic and rhythmic
quality. He must stand or fall by these alone, since he discarded all
artificial, all adventitious helps. If interior, spontaneous rhythm
could not be relied on, and the natural music and flexibility of
language, then there was nothing to shield the ear from the pitiless
hail of words,--not one softly padded verse anywhere.

All poets, except those of the very first order, owe immensely to the
form, the art, the stereotyped metres, and stock figures they find ready
to hand. The form is suggestive,--it invites and aids expression, and
lends itself readily, like fashion, to conceal, or extenuate, or eke
out poverty of thought and feeling in the verse. The poet can "cut and
cover," as the farmer says, in a way the prose-writer never can, nor one
whose form is essentially prose, like Whitman's.

I, too, love to see the forms worthily used, as they always are by the
master; and I have no expectation that they are going out of fashion
right away. A great deal of poetry that serves, and helps sweeten one's
cup, would be impossible without them,--would be nothing when separated
from them. It is for the ear, and for the sense of tune and of carefully
carved and modeled forms, and is not meant to arouse the soul with the
taste of power, and to start off on journeys for itself. But the great
inspired utterances, like the Bible,--what would they gain by being cast
in the moulds of metrical verse? In all that concerns art, viewed from
any high standpoint,--proportion, continence, self-control, unfaltering
adherence to natural standards, subordination of parts, perfect
adjustment of the means to the end, obedience to inward law, no
trifling, no levity, no straining after effect, impartially attending to
the back and loins as well as to the head, and even holding toward his
subject an attitude of perfect acceptance and equality,--principles
of art to which alone the great spirits are amenable,--in all these
respects, I say, this poet is as true as an orb in astronomy.

To his literary expression pitched on scales of such unprecedented
breadth and loftiness, the contrast of his personal life comes in with a
foil of curious homeliness and simplicity. Perhaps never before has
the absolute and average _commonness of humanity_ been so steadily and
unaffectedly adhered to. I give here a glimpse of him in Washington on
a Navy Yard horse-car, toward the close of the war, one summer day at
sundown. The car is crowded and suffocatingly hot, with many passengers
on the rear platform, and among them a bearded, florid-faced man,
elderly but agile, resting against the dash, by the side of the young
conductor, and evidently his intimate friend. The man wears a broad-brim
white hat. Among the jam inside, near the door, a young Englishwoman, of
the working class, with two children, has had trouble all the way with
the youngest, a strong, fat, fretful, bright babe of fourteen or fifteen
months, who bids fair to worry the mother completely out, besides
becoming a howling nuisance to everybody. As the car tugs around Capitol
Hill the young one is more demoniac than ever, and the flushed and
perspiring mother is just ready to burst into tears with weariness and
vexation. The car stops at the top of the hill to let off most of the
rear platform passengers, and the white-hatted man reaches inside, and,
gently but firmly disengaging the babe from its stifling place in the
mother's arms, takes it in his own, and out in the air. The astonished
and excited child, partly in fear, partly in satisfaction at the change,
stops its screaming, and, as the man adjusts it more securely to his
breast, plants its chubby hands against him, and, pushing off as far
as it can, gives a good long look squarely in his face,--then, as if
satisfied, snuggles down with its head on his neck, and in less than a
minute is sound and peacefully asleep without another whimper, utterly
fagged out. A square or so more and the conductor, who has had an
unusually hard and uninterrupted day's work, gets off for his first
meal and relief since morning. And now the white-hatted man, holding
the slumbering babe, also acts as conductor the rest of the distance,
keeping his eye on the passengers inside, who have by this time thinned
out greatly. He makes a very good conductor, too, pulling the bell to
stop or to go on as needed, and seems to enjoy the occupation. The babe
meanwhile rests its fat cheeks close on his neck and gray beard, one of
his arms vigilantly surrounding it, while the other signals, from time
to time, with the strap; and the flushed mother inside has a good half
hour to breathe, and to cool and recover herself.


No poem of our day dates and locates itself as absolutely as "Leaves of
Grass;" but suppose it had been written three or four centuries ago,
and had located itself in mediaeval Europe, and was now first brought
to light, together with a history of Walt Whitman's simple and
disinterested life, can there be any doubt about the cackling that would
at once break out in the whole brood of critics over the golden egg that
had been uncovered? This reckon would be a favorite passage with all:--

 "You sea! I resign myself to you also--I guess what you mean;
  I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers;
  I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me;
  We must have a turn together--I undress--hurry me out of sight of
     the land;
  Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse;
  Dash me with amorous wet--I can repay you.

 "Sea of stretch'd ground-swells!
  Sea breathing broad and convulsive breaths!
  Sea of the brine of life! sea of unshovel'd yet always ready graves!
  Howler and scooper of storms! capricious and dainty sea!
  I am integral with you--I too am of one phase, and of all phases."

This other passage would afford many a text for the moralists and

 "Of persons arrived at high positions, ceremonies, wealth, scholarship,
     and the like;
  To me, all that those persons have arrived at sinks away from them,
     except as it results to their Bodies and Souls,
  So that often, to me, they appear gaunt and naked,
  And often, to me, each one mocks the others, and mocks himself
     or herself,
  And of each one, the core of life, namely happiness, is full of
     the rotten excrement of maggots;
  And often, to me, those men and women pass unwittingly the true
     realities of life, and go toward false realities,
  And often, to me, they are alive after what custom has served
     them, but nothing more,
  And often, to me, they are sad, hasty, unwaked somnambules,
     walking the dusk."

Ah, Time, you enchantress! what tricks you play with us! The old
is already proved,--the past and the distant hold nothing but the

Or let us take another view. Suppose Walt Whitman had never existed, and
some bold essayist, like Mr. Higginson or Matthew Arnold, had projected
him in abstract, outlined him on a scholarly ideal background,
formulated and put in harmless critical periods the principles of art
which he illustrates, and which are the inevitable logic of his
poems,--said essayist would have won great applause. "Yes, indeed, that
were a poet to cherish; fill those shoes and you have a god."

How different a critic's account of Shakespeare from Shakespeare
himself,--the difference between the hewn or sawed timber and the living
tree! A few years ago we had here a lecturer from over seas, who gave to
our well-dressed audiences the high, moral, and intellectual statement
of the poet Burns. It was very fine, and people were greatly pleased,
vastly more so, I fear, than they were with Burns himself. Indeed, I
could not help wondering how many of those appreciative listeners had
any original satisfaction in the Scotch poet at first hand, or would
have accepted him had he been their neighbor and fellow-citizen. But as
he filtered through the scholarly mind in trickling drops, oh, he was so

Everybody stirred with satisfaction as the lecturer said: "When
literature becomes dozy, respectable, and goes in the smooth grooves
of fashion, and copies and copies again, something must be done; and
to give life to that dying literature a man must be found _not educated
under its influence."_ I applauded with the rest, for it was a bold
saying; but I could not help thinking how that theory, brought home
to ourselves and illustrated in a living example, would have sent that
nodding millinery and faultless tailory flying downstairs, as at an
alarm of fire.

One great service of Walt Whitman is that he exerts a tremendous
influence to bring the race up on this nether side,--to place the
emotional, the assimilative, the sympathetic, the spontaneous, intuitive
man, the man of the fluids and of the affections, flush with
the intellectual man. That we moderns have fallen behind here is
unquestionable, and we in this country more than the Old World peoples.
All the works of Whitman, prose and verse, are embosomed in a sea of
emotional humanity, and they float deeper than they show; there is far
more in what they necessitate and imply than in what they say.

It is not so much of fatty degeneration that we are in danger in
America, but of calcareous. The fluids, moral and physical, are
evaporating; surfaces are becoming encrusted, there is a deposit of
flint in the veins and arteries, outlines are abnormally sharp and hard,
nothing is held in solution, all is precipitated in well-defined ideas
and opinions.

But when I think of the type of character planted and developed by my
poet, I think of a man or a woman rich above all things in the genial
human attributes, one "nine times folded" in an atmosphere of tenderest,
most considerate humanity,--an atmosphere warm with the breath of a
tropic heart, that makes your buds of affection and of genius start and
unfold like a south wind in May. Your intercourse with such a character
is not merely intellectual; it is deeper and better than that. Walter
Scott carried such a fund of sympathy and goodwill that even the animals
found fellowship with him, and the pigs understood his great heart.

It was the large endowment of Whitman, in his own character in this
respect, that made his services in the army hospitals during the war
so ministering and effective, and that renders his "Drum-Taps" the
tenderest and most deeply yearning and sorrowful expression of the human
heart in poetry that ever war called forth. Indeed, from my own point
of view, there is no false or dangerous tendency among us, in life or in
letters, that this poet does not offset and correct. Fret and chafe as
much as we will, we are bound to gravitate, more or less, toward this
mountain, and feel its bracing, rugged air.

Without a certain self-surrender there is no greatness possible in
literature, any more than in religion, or in anything else. It is always
a trait of the master that he is not afraid of being compromised by
the company he keeps. He is the central and main fact in any company.
Nothing so lowly but he will do it reverence; nothing so high but he
can stand in its presence. His theme is the river, and he the ample and
willing channel. Little natures love to disparage and take down; they
do it in self-defense; but the master gives you all, and more than your
due. Whitman does not stand aloof, superior, a priest or a critic: he
abandons himself to all the strong human currents; he enters into and
affiliates with every phase of life; he bestows himself royally upon
whoever and whatever will receive him. There is no competition between
himself and his subject; he is not afraid of over-praising, or making
too much of the commonest individual. What exalts others exalts him.

We have had great help in Emerson in certain ways,--first-class service.
He probes the conscience and the moral purpose as few men have done, and
gives much needed stimulus there. But, after him, the need is all the
more pressing for a broad, powerful, opulent, human personality to
absorb these ideals, and to make something more of them than fine
sayings. With Emerson alone we are rich in sunlight, but poor in
rain and dew,--poor, too, in soil, and in the moist, gestating earth
principle. Emerson's tendency is not to broaden and enrich, but to
concentrate and refine.

Then, is there not an excessive modesty, without warrant in philosophy
or nature, dwindling us in this country, drying us up in the viscera? Is
there not a decay--a deliberate, strange abnegation and dread--of sane
sexuality, of maternity and paternity, among us, and in our literary
ideals and social types of men and women? For myself, I welcome any
evidence to the contrary, or any evidence that deeper and counteracting
agencies are at work, as unspeakably precious. I do not know where this
evidence is furnished in such ample measure as in the pages of
Walt Whitman. The great lesson of nature, I take it, is that a sane
sensuality must be preserved at all hazards, and this, it seems to me,
is also the great lesson of his writings. The point is fully settled in
him that, however they may have been held in abeyance or restricted to
other channels, there is still sap and fecundity, and depth of virgin
soil in the race, sufficient to produce a man of the largest mould and
the most audacious and unconquerable egotism, and on a plane the last to
be reached by these qualities; a man of antique stature, of Greek fibre
and gripe, with science and the modern added, without abating one jot or
tittle of his native force, adhesiveness, Americanism, and democracy.

As I have already hinted, Whitman has met with by far his amplest
acceptance and appreciation in Europe. There is good reason for this,
though it is not what has been generally claimed, namely, that the
cultivated classes of Europe are surfeited with respectability, half
dead with _ennui_ and routine, and find an agreeable change in the
daring unconventionality of the new poet. For the fact is, it is not the
old and jaded minds of London, or Paris, or Dublin, or Copenhagen, that
have acknowledged him, but the fresh, eager, young minds. Nine tenths of
his admirers there are the sturdiest men in the fields of art, science,
and literature.

In many respects, as a race, we Americans have been pampered and
spoiled; we have been brought up on sweets. I suppose that, speaking
literally, no people under the sun consume so much confectionery, so
much pastry and cake, or indulge in so many gassy and sugared drinks.
The soda-fountain, with its syrups, has got into literature, and
furnishes the popular standard of poetry. The old heroic stamina of our
ancestors, that craved the bitter but nourishing home-brewed, has died
out, and in its place there is a sickly cadaverousness that must be
pampered and cosseted. Among educated people here there is a mania for
the bleached, the double-refined,--white houses, white china, white
marble, and white skins. We take the bone and sinew out of the flour
in order to have white bread, and are bolting our literature as fast as

It is for these and kindred reasons that Walt Whitman is more read
abroad than in his own country. It is on the rank, human, and
emotional side--sex, magnetism, health, physique,--that he is so
full. Then his receptivity and assimilative powers are enormous, and
he demands these in his reader. In fact, his poems are physiological as
much as they are intellectual. They radiate from his entire being,
and are charged to repletion with that blended quality of mind and
body--psychic and physiologic--which the living form and presence send
forth. Never before in poetry has the body received such ennoblement.
The great theme is IDENTITY, and identity comes through the body; and
all that pertains to the body, the poet teaches, is entailed upon
the spirit. In his rapt gaze, the body and the soul are one, and what
debases the one debases the other. Hence he glorifies the body. Not more
ardently and purely did the great sculptors of antiquity carve it in the
enduring marble than this poet has celebrated it in his masculine and
flowing lines. The bearing of his work in this direction is invaluable.
Well has it been said that the man or the woman who has "Leaves of
Grass" for a daily companion will be under the constant, invisible
influence of sanity, cleanliness, strength, and a gradual severance from
all that corrupts and makes morbid and mean.

In regard to the unity and construction of the poems, the reader
sooner or later discovers the true solution to be, that the dependence,
cohesion, and final reconciliation of the whole are in the Personality
of the poet himself. As in Shakespeare everything is strung upon the
plot, the play, and loses when separated from it, so in this poet every
line and sentence refers to and necessitates the Personality behind it,
and derives its chief significance therefrom. In other words, "Leaves of
Grass" is essentially a dramatic poem, a free representation of man in
his relation to the outward world,--the play, the interchanges between
him and it, apart from social and artificial considerations,--in which
we discern the central purpose or thought to be for every man and woman
his or her Individuality, and around that, Nationality. To show rather
than to tell,--to body forth as in a play how these arise and blend; how
the man is developed and recruited, his spirit's descent; how he walks
through materials absorbing and conquering them; how he confronts the
immensities of time and space; where are the true sources of his power,
the soul's real riches,--that which "adheres and goes forward and is not
dropped by death;" how he is all defined and published and made certain
through his body; the value of health and physique; the great solvent,
Sympathy,--to show the need of larger and fresher types in art and in
life, and then how the state is compacted, and how the democratic idea
is ample and composite, and cannot fail us,--to show all this, I
say, not as in a lecture or a critique, but suggestively and
inferentially,--to work it out freely and picturesquely, with endless
variations, with person and picture and parable and adventure, is the
lesson and object of "Leaves of Grass." From the first line, where the
poet says,

       "I loafe and invite my Soul,"

to the last, all is movement and fusion,--all is clothed in flesh and
blood. The scene changes, the curtain rises and falls, but the theme is
still Man,--his opportunities, his relations, his past, his future, his
sex, his pride in himself, his omnivorousness, his "great hands," his
yearning heart, his seething brain, the abysmal depths that underlie him
and open from him, all illustrated in the poet's own character,--he the
chief actor always. His personality directly facing you, and with its
eye steadily upon you, runs through every page, spans all the details,
and rounds and completes them, and compactly holds them. This gives the
form and the art conception, and gives homogeneousness.

When Tennyson sends out a poem, it is perfect, like an apple or a peach;
slowly wrought out and dismissed, it drops from his boughs holding
a conception or an idea that spheres it and makes it whole. It is
completed, distinct, and separate,--might be his, or might be any man's.
It carries his quality, but it is a thing of itself, and centres and
depends upon itself. Whether or not the world will hereafter consent,
as in the past, to call only beautiful creations of this sort _poems,_
remains to be seen. But this is certainly not what Walt Whitman does,
or aims to do, except in a few cases. He completes no poems apart and
separate from himself, and his pages abound in hints to that effect:--

 "Let others finish specimens--I never finish specimens;
  I shower them by exhaustless laws, as Nature does, fresh
     and modern continually."

His lines are pulsations, thrills, waves of force, indefinite dynamics,
formless, constantly emanating from the living centre, and they carry
the quality of the author's personal presence with them in a way that is
unprecedented in literature.

Occasionally there is a poem or a short piece that detaches itself,
and assumes something like ejaculatory and statuesque proportion, as
"O Captain, my Captain," "Pioneers," "Beat, Beat, Drums," and others in
"Drum-Taps;" but all the great poems, like "Walt Whitman," "Song of
the Open Road," "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," "To Working Men,"
"Sleep-Chasings," etc., are out-flamings, out-rushings, of the pent
fires of the poet's soul. The first-named poem, which is the seething,
dazzling sun of his subsequent poetic system, shoots in rapid succession
waves of almost consuming energy. It is indeed a central orb of fiercest
light and heat, swept by wild storms of emotion, but at the same time
of sane and beneficent potentiality. Neither in it nor in either of
the others is there the building-up of a fair verbal structure,
a symmetrical piece of mechanism, whose last stone is implied and
necessitated in the first.

"The critic's great error," says Heine, "lies in asking, 'What ought
the artist to do?' It would be far more correct to ask, 'What does the
artist intend?'"

It is probably partly because his field is so large, his demands
so exacting, his method so new (necessarily so), and from the whole
standard of the poems being what I may call an astronomical one, that
the critics complain so generally of want of form in him. And the
critics are right enough, as far as their objection goes. There is no
deliberate form here, any more than there is in the forces of nature.
Shall we say, then, that nothing but the void exists? The void is filled
by a Presence. There is a controlling, directing, overarching will
in every page, every verse, that there is no escape from. Design and
purpose, natural selection, growth, culmination, are just as pronounced
as in any poet.

There is a want of form in the unfinished statue, because it is
struggling into form; it is nothing without form; but there is no want
of form in the elemental laws and effusions,--in fire, or water, or
rain, or dew, or the smell of the shore or the plunging waves. And may
there not be the analogue of this in literature,--a potent, quickening,
exhilarating quality in words, apart from and without any consideration
of constructive form? Under the influence of the expansive, creative
force that plays upon me from these pages, like sunlight or gravitation,
the question of form never comes up, because I do not for one moment
escape the eye, the source from which the power and action emanate.

I know that Walt Whitman has written many passages with reference far
more to their position, interpretation, and scanning ages hence, than
for current reading. Much of his material is too near us; it needs time.
Seen through the vista of long years, perhaps centuries, it will assume
quite different hues. Perhaps those long lists of trades, tools, and
occupations would not be so repellent if we could read them, as we read
Homer's catalogue of the ships, through the retrospect of ages. They are
justified in the poem aside from their historic value, because they
are alive and full of action,--panoramas of the whole mechanical and
industrial life of America, north, east, south, west,--bits of scenery,
bird's-eye views, glimpses of moving figures, caught as by a flash,
characteristic touches indoors and out, all passing in quick succession
before you. They have in the fullest measure what Lessing demands in
poetry,--the quality of ebbing and flowing action, as distinct from the
dead water of description; they are thoroughly dramatic, fused, pliant,
and obedient to the poet's will. No glamour is thrown over them, no wash
of sentiment; and if they have not the charm of novelty and distance,
why, that is an accident that bars them in a measure to us, but not to
the future. Very frequently in these lists or enumerations of objects,
actions, shows, there are sure to occur lines of perfect description:--

 "Where the heifers browse--where geese nip their food with short
  Where sun-down shadows lengthen over the limitless and lonesome
  Where herds of buffalo make a crawling spread of the square miles
     far and near;
  Where the splash of swimmers and divers cools the warm noon;
  Where the katydid works her chromatic reed on the walnut-tree
     over the well."

 "Spar-makers in the spar-yard, the swarming row of well-grown
  The swing of their axes on the square-hew'd log, shaping it toward
     the shape of a mast,
  The brisk short crackle of the steel driven slantingly into the pine,
  The butter-color'd chips flying off in great flakes and slivers,
  The limber motion of brawny young arms and hips in easy costumes."

 "Always these compact lands--lands tied at the hips with the belt
     stringing the huge oval lakes."

 "Far breath'd land! Arctic braced! Mexican breez'd!--the diverse!
     the compact!"

Tried by the standards of the perfect statuesque poems, these pages will
indeed seem strange enough; but viewed as a part of the poetic
compend of America, the swift gathering-in, from her wide-spreading,
multitudinous, material life, of traits and points and suggestions that
belong here and are characteristic, they have their value. The poet
casts his great seine into events and doings and material progress,
and these are some of the fish, not all beautiful by any means, but all
terribly alive, and all native to these waters.

In the "Carol of Occupations" occur, too, those formidable inventories
of the more heavy and coarsegrained trades and tools that few if any
readers have been able to stand before, and that have given the scoffers
and caricaturists their favorite weapons. If you detach a page of these
and ask, "Is it poetry? have the 'hog-hook,' the 'killing-hammer,' 'the
cutter's cleaver,' 'the packer's maul,' met with a change of heart, and
been converted into celestial cutlery?" I answer, No, they are as barren
of poetry as a desert is of grass; but in their place in the poem, and
in the collection, they serve as masses of shade or neutral color in
pictures, or in nature, or in character,--a negative service, but still
indispensable. The point, the moral of the poem, is really backed up
and driven home by this list. The poet is determined there shall be
no mistake about it. He will not put in the dainty and pretty things
merely,--he will put in the coarse and common things also, and he swells
the list till even his robust muse begins to look uneasy. Remember, too,
that Whitman declaredly writes the lyrics of America, of the masses,
of democracy, and of the practical labor of mechanics, boatmen, and

 "The sum of all known reverence I add up in you, whoever you are;
  All doctrines, all politics and civilization, exude from you;
  All sculpture and monuments, and anything inscribed anywhere, are
     tallied in you;
  The gist of histories and statistics as far back as the records
     reach, is in you this hour, and myths and tales the same:
  If you were  not  breathing and walking here, where would they
     all be?
  The most renown'd poems would be ashes, orations and plays would
     be vacuums.

 "All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it;
 (Did you think it was in the white or gray stone? or the lines of
     the arches and cornices?)

 "All music is what awakens from you when you are reminded by the
  It is not the violins and the cornets--it is not the oboe, nor
     the beating drums--nor the score of the baritone singer singing
     his sweet romanza--nor that of the men's chorus, nor that of
     the women's chorus,
  It is nearer and farther than they."

Out of this same spirit of reverence for man and all that pertains
essentially to him, and the steady ignoring of conventional and social
distinctions and prohibitions, and on the same plane as the universal
brotherhood of the poems, come those passages in "Leaves of Grass" that
have caused so much abuse and fury,--the allusions to sexual acts and
organs,--the momentary contemplation of man as the perpetuator of his
species. Many good judges, who have followed Whitman thus far, stop here
and refuse their concurrence. But if the poet has failed in this part,
he has failed in the rest. It is of a piece with the whole. He has felt
in his way the same necessity as that which makes the anatomist or
the physiologist not pass by, or neglect, or falsify, the loins of his
typical personage. All the passages and allusions that come under this
head have a scientific coldness and purity, but differ from science, as
poetry always must differ, in being alive and sympathetic, instead of
dead and analytic. There is nothing of the forbidden here, none of those
sweet morsels that we love to roll under the tongue, such as are found
in Byron and Shakespeare, and even in austere Dante. If the fact is not
lifted up and redeemed by the solemn and far-reaching laws of maternity
and paternity, through which the poet alone contemplates it, then it
is irredeemable, and one side of our nature is intrinsically vulgar and

Again: Out of all the full-grown, first-class poems, no matter what
their plot or theme, emerges a sample of Man, each after its kind, its
period, its nationality, its antecedents. The vast and cumbrous Hindu
epics contribute their special types of both man and woman, impossible
except from far-off Asia and Asian antiquity. Out of Homer, after all
his gorgeous action and events, the distinct personal identity, the
heroic and warlike chieftain of Hellas only permanently remains. In the
same way, when the fire and fervor of Shakespeare's plots and passions
subside, the special feudal personality, as lord or gentleman, still
towers in undying vitality. Even the Sacred Writings themselves,
considered as the first great poems, leave on record, out of all the
rest, the portraiture of a characteristic Oriental Man. Far different
from these (and yet, as he says, "the same old countenance pensively
looking forth," and "the same red running blood"), "Leaves of Grass"
and "Two Rivulets" also bring their contribution; nay, behind every page
_that_ is the main purport,--to outline a New World Man and a New
World Woman, modern, complete, democratic, not only fully and nobly
intellectual and spiritual, but in the same measure physical, emotional,
and even fully and nobly carnal.

An acute person once said to me, "As I read and re-read these poems, I
more and more think their inevitable result in time must be to produce

       'A race of splendid and savage _old men,_'

of course dominated by moral and spiritual laws, but with volcanoes of
force always alive beneath the surface."

And still again: One of the questions to be put to any poem assuming a
first-class importance among us--and I especially invite this inquiry
toward "Leaves of Grass"--is, How far is this work consistent with, and
the outcome of, that something which secures to the race ascendency,
empire, and perpetuity? There is in every dominant people a germ, a
quality, an expansive force, that, no matter how it is overlaid, gives
them their push and their hold upon existence,--writes their history
upon the earth, and stamps their imprint upon the age. To what extent is
your masterpiece the standard-bearer of this quality,--helping the race
to victory? helping me to be more myself than I otherwise would?


Not the least of my poet's successes is in his thorough assimilation of
the modern sciences, transmuting them into strong poetic nutriment, and
in the extent to which all his main poems are grounded in the deepest
principles of modern philosophical inquiry.

Nearly all the old literatures may be said to have been founded upon
fable, and upon a basis and even superstructure of ignorance, that,
however charming it may be, we have not now got, and could not keep if
we had. The bump of wonder and the feeling of the marvelous,--a kind
of half-pleasing fear, like that of children in the dark or in the
woods,--were largely operative with the old poets, and I believe are
necessary to any eminent success in this field; but they seem nearly to
have died out of the modern mind, like organs there is no longer any
use for. The poetic temperament has not yet adjusted itself to the new
lights, to science, and to the vast fields and expanses opened up in
the physical cosmos by astronomy and geology, and in the spiritual or
intellectual world by the great German metaphysicians. The staple of
a large share of our poetic literature is yet mainly the result of the
long age of fable and myth that now lies behind us. "Leaves of Grass"
is, perhaps, the first serious and large attempt at an expression in
poetry of a knowledge of the earth as one of the orbs, and of man as
a microcosm of the whole, and to give to the imagination these new and
true fields of wonder and romance. In it fable and superstition are at
an end, priestcraft is at an end, skepticism and doubt are at an end,
with all the misgivings and dark forebodings that have dogged the human
mind since it began to relax its hold upon tradition and the past; and
we behold man reconciled, happy, ecstatic, full of reverence, awe, and
wonder, reinstated in Paradise,--the paradise of perfect knowledge and
unrestricted faith.

It needs but a little pondering to see that the great poet of the future
will not be afraid of science, but will rather seek to plant his feet
upon it as upon a rock. He knows that, from an enlarged point of view,
there is no feud between Science and Poesy, any more than there is
between Science and Religion, or between Science and Life. He sees that
the poet and the scientist do not travel opposite but parallel roads,
that often approach each other very closely, if they do not at times
actually join. The poet will always pause when he finds himself in
opposition to science; and the scientist is never more worthy the name
than when he escapes from analysis into synthesis, and gives us living
wholes. And science, in its present bold and receptive mood, may be said
to be eminently creative, and to have made every first-class thinker and
every large worker in any aesthetic or spiritual field immeasurably
its debtor. It has dispelled many illusions, but it has more than
compensated the imagination by the unbounded vistas it has opened up
on every hand. It has added to our knowledge, but it has added to our
ignorance in the same measure: the large circle of light only reveals
the larger circle of darkness that encompasses it, and life and being
and the orbs are enveloped in a greater mystery to the poet to-day than
they were in the times of Homer or Isaiah. Science, therefore, does not
restrict the imagination, but often compels it to longer flights.
The conception of the earth as an orb shooting like a midnight meteor
through space, a brand cast by the burning sun with the fire at its
heart still unquenched, the sun itself shooting and carrying the whole
train of worlds with it, no one knows whither,--what a lift has science
given the imagination in this field! Or the tremendous discovery of the
correlation and conservation of forces, the identity and convertibility
of heat and force and motion, and that no ounce of power is lost,
but forever passed along, changing form but not essence, is a poetic
discovery no less than a scientific one. The poets have always felt
that it must be so, and, when the fact was authoritatively announced by
science, every profound poetic mind must have felt a thrill of pleasure.
Or the nebular hypothesis of the solar system,--it seems the conception
of some inspired madman, like William Blake, rather than the cool
conclusion of reason, and to carry its own justification, as great
power always does. Indeed, our interest in astronomy and geology is
essentially a poetic one,--the love of the marvelous, of the sublime,
and of grand harmonies. The scientific conception of the sun is
strikingly Dantesque, and appalls the imagination. Or the hell of fire
through which the earth has passed, and the aeons of monsters from which
its fair forms have emerged,--from which of the seven circles of the
Inferno did the scientist get his hint? Indeed, science everywhere
reveals a carnival of mightier gods than those that cut such fantastic
tricks in the ancient world. Listen to Tyndall on light, or to Youmans
on the chemistry of a sunbeam, and see how fable pales its ineffectual
fires, and the boldest dreams of the poets are eclipsed.

The vibratory theory of light and its identity with the laws of sound,
the laws of the tides and the seasons, the wonders of the spectroscope,
the theory of gravitation, of electricity, of chemical affinity, the
deep beneath deep of the telescope, the world within world of the
microscope,--in these and many other fields it is hard to tell whether
it is the scientist or the poet we are listening to. What greater magic
than that you can take a colorless ray of light, break it across a
prism, and catch upon a screen all the divine hues of the rainbow?

In some respects science has but followed out and confirmed the dim
foreshadowings of the human breast. Man in his simplicity has called the
sun father and the earth mother. Science shows this to be no fiction,
but a reality; that we are really children of the sun, and that every
heart-beat, every pound of force we exert, is a solar emanation. The
power with which you now move and breathe came from the sun just as
literally as the bank-notes in your pocket came from the bank.

The ancients fabled the earth as resting upon the shoulders of Atlas,
and Atlas as standing upon a turtle; but what the turtle stood upon was
a puzzle. An acute person says that science has but changed the terms
of the equation, but that the unknown quantity is the same as ever. The
earth now rests upon the sun,--in his outstretched palm; the sun rests
upon some other sun, and that upon some other; but what they all finally
rest upon, who can tell? Well may Tennyson speak of the "fairy tales of
science," and well may Walt Whitman say:--

 "I lie abstracted, and hear beautiful tales of things, and the
     reasons of things;
  They are so beautiful, I nudge myself to listen."

But, making all due acknowledgments to science, there is one danger
attending it that the poet alone can save us from,--the danger that
science, absorbed with its great problems, will forget Man. Hence the
especial office of the poet with reference to science is to endow
it with a human interest. The heart has been disenchanted by having
disclosed to it blind, abstract forces where it had enthroned personal
humanistic divinities. In the old time, man was the centre of the
system; everything was interested in him, and took sides for or against
him. There were nothing but men and gods in the universe. But in the
results of science the world is more and more, and man is less and
less. The poet must come to the rescue, and place man again at the top,
magnify him, exalt him, reinforce him, and match these wonders from
without with equal wonders from within. Welcome to the bard who is not
appalled by the task, and who can readily assimilate and turn into
human emotions these vast deductions of the savants! The minor poets do
nothing in this direction; only men of the largest calibre and the most
heroic fibre are adequate to the service. Hence one finds in Tennyson a
vast deal more science than he would at first suspect; but it is under
his feet; it is no longer science, but faith, or reverence, or poetic
nutriment. It is in "Locksley Hall," "The Princess," "In Memoriam,"
"Maud," and in others of his poems. Here is a passage from "In

                                   "They say,
        The solid earth whereon we tread

       "In tracts of fluent heat began,
           And grew to seeming-random forms,
           The seeming prey of cyclic storms,
        Till at the last arose the man;

       "Who throve and branch'd from clime to clime,
           The herald of a higher race,
           And of himself in higher place
        If so he type this work of time

       "Within himself, from more to more;
           Or, crown'd with attributes of woe,
           Like glories, move his course, and show
        That life is not as idle ore,

       "But iron dug from central gloom,
           And heated hot with burning fears,
           And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
        And batter'd with the shocks of doom

       "To shape and use. Arise and fly
           The reeling Faun, the sensual feast;
           Move upward, working out the beast,
        And let the ape and tiger die."

Or in this stanza behold how the science is disguised or turned into the
sweetest music:--

       "Move eastward, happy earth, and leave
           Yon orange sunset waning slow;
        From fringes of the faded eve,
           O happy planet, eastward go;
           Till over thy dark shoulder glow
        Thy silver sister-world, and rise
        To glass herself in dewy eyes
           That watch me from the glen below."

A recognition of the planetary system, and of the great fact that
the earth moves eastward through the heavens, in a soft and tender

But in Walt Whitman alone do we find the full, practical absorption, and
re-departure therefrom, of the astounding idea that the earth is a star
in the heavens like the rest, and that man, as the crown and finish,
carries in his moral consciousness the flower, the outcome, of all this
wide field of turbulent unconscious nature. Of course in his handling it
is no longer science, or rather it is science dissolved in the fervent
heat of the poet's heart, and charged with emotion. "The words of true
poems," he says, "are the tufts and final applause of science." Before
Darwin or Spencer he proclaimed the doctrine of evolution:--

 "I am stuccoed with quadrupeds and birds all over,
  And have distanced what is behind me for good reasons,
  And call anything close again when I desire it.

 "In vain the speeding and shyness;
  In vain the plutonic rocks send their old heat against my approach;
  In vain the mastodon retreats beneath his own powder'd bones;
  In vain objects stand leagues off, and assume manifold shapes;
  In vain the ocean settling in hollows, and the great monsters
     lying low."

In the following passage the idea is more fully carried out, and man
is viewed through a vista which science alone has laid open; yet how
absolutely a work of the creative imagination is revealed:--

 "I am an acme of things accomplish'd, and I am incloser of things
     to be.
  My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs;
  On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the
  All below duly travel'd, and still I mount and mount.

 "Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me;
  Afar down I see the huge first Nothing--I know I was even there;
  I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,
  And took my time, and took no hurt from the foetid carbon.

 "Long I was hugg'd close--long and long,
  Immense have been the preparations for me,
  Faithful and friendly the arms that have help'd me,
  Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful
  For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings;
  They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.

 "Before I was born out of my mother, generations guided me;
  My embryo has never been torpid--nothing could overlay it,
  For it the nebula cohered to an orb,
  The long low strata piled to rest it on,
  Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
  Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths, and deposited
     it with care;
  All forces have been steadily employ'd to complete and delight
  Now on this spot I stand with my robust Soul."

I recall no single line of poetry in the language that fills my
imagination like that beginning the second stanza:--

       "Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me."

One seems to see those huge Brocken shadows of the past sinking and
dropping below the horizon like mountain peaks, as he presses onward on
his journey. Akin to this absorption of science is another quality in
my poet not found in the rest, except perhaps a mere hint of it now and
then in Lucretius,--a quality easier felt than described. It is a tidal
wave of emotion running all through the poems, which is now and then
crested with such passages as this:--

 "I am he that walks with the tender and growing night;
  I call to the earth and sea, half held by the night.

 "Press close, bare-bosom'd night! Press close, magnetic,
     nourishing night!
  Night of south winds! night of the large, few stars!
  Still, nodding night! mad, naked, summer night.

 "Smile, O voluptuous, cool-breath'd earth!
  Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
  Earth of departed sunset! Earth of the mountains, misty topt!
  Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon, just tinged with
  Earth of shine and dark, mottling the tide of the river!
  Earth of the limpid gray of clouds, brighter and clearer for my
  Far-swooping, elbow'd earth! rich, apple-blossom'd earth!
  Smile, for your lover comes!"

Professor Clifford calls it "cosmic emotion,"--a poetic thrill and
rhapsody in contemplating the earth as a whole,--its chemistry and
vitality, its bounty, its beauty, its power, and the applicability
of its laws and principles to human, aesthetic, and art products. It
affords the key to the theory of art upon which Whitman's poems are
projected, and accounts for what several critics call their sense of
magnitude,--"something of the vastness of the succession of objects in

 "I swear there is no greatness or power that does not emulate those
     of the earth!
  I swear there can be no theory of any account, unless it corroborate
     the theory of the earth!
  No politics, art, religion, behavior, or what not, is of account,
     unless it compare with the amplitude of the earth,
  Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude
     of the earth."

Or again, in his "Laws for Creation:"--

 "All must have reference to the ensemble of the world, and the
     compact truth of the world,
  There shall be no subject too pronounced--All works shall illustrate
     the divine law of indirections."

Indeed, the earth ever floats in this poet's mind as his mightiest
symbol,--his type of completeness and power. It is the armory from which
he draws his most potent weapons. See, especially, "To the Sayers of
Words," "This Compost," "The Song of the Open Road," and "Pensive on her
Dead gazing I heard the Mother of all."

The poet holds essentially the same attitude toward cosmic humanity,
well illustrated in "Salut au Monde:"--

 "My spirit has pass'd in compassion and determination around the
     whole earth;
  I have look'd for equals and lovers, and found them ready for me
     in all lands;
  I think some divine rapport has equalized me with them.

 "O vapors! I think I have risen with you and moved away to distant
     continents, and fallen down there for reasons;
  I think I have blown with you, O winds;
  O waters, I have finger'd every shore with you."

Indeed, the whole book is leavened with vehement Comradeship. Not only
in the relations of individuals to each other shall loving good-will
exist and be cultivated,--not only between the different towns and
cities, and all the States of this indissoluble, compacted Union,--but
it shall make a tie of fraternity and fusion holding all the races and
peoples and countries of the whole earth.

Then the National question. As Whitman's completed works now stand, in
their two volumes, it is certain they could only have grown out of the
Secession War; and they will probably go to future ages as in literature
the most characteristic identification of that war,--risen from
and portraying it, representing its sea of passions and progresses,
partaking of all its fierce movements and perturbed emotions, and yet
sinking the mere military parts of that war, great as those were, below
and with matters far greater, deeper, more human, more expanding, and
more enduring.

I must not close this paper without some reference to Walt Whitman's
prose writings, which are scarcely less important than his poems. Never
has Patriotism, never has the antique Love of Country, with even
doubled passion and strength, been more fully expressed than in these
contributions. They comprise two thin volumes,--now included in "Two
Rivulets,"--called "Democratic Vistas" and "Memoranda during the War;"
the former exhibiting the personality of the poet in more vehement
and sweeping action even than do the poems, and affording specimens of
soaring vaticination and impassioned appeal impossible to match in the
literature of our time. The only living author suggested is Carlyle; but
so much is added, the _presence_ is so much more vascular and human, and
the whole page so saturated with faith and love and democracy, that even
the great Scotchman is overborne. Whitman, too, radiates belief, while
at the core of Carlyle's utterances is despair. The style here is
eruptive and complex, or what Jeremy Taylor calls _agglomerative,_ and
puts the Addisonian models utterly to rout,--a style such as only the
largest and most Titanic workman could effectively use. A sensitive lady
of my acquaintance says reading the "Vistas" is like being exposed to
a pouring hailstorm,--the words fairly bruise her mind. In its literary
construction the book is indeed a shower, or a succession of showers,
multitudinous, wide-stretching, down-pouring,--the wrathful bolt and the
quick veins of poetic fire lighting up the page from time to time. I
can easily conceive how certain minds must be swayed and bent by some
of these long, involved, but firm and vehement passages. I cannot deny
myself the pleasure of quoting one or two pages. The writer is referring
to the great literary relics of past times:--

"For us, along the great highways of time, those monuments stand,--those
forms of majesty and beauty. For us those beacons burn through all the
nights. Unknown Egyptians, graving hieroglyphs; Hindus, with hymn and
apothegm and endless epic; Hebrew prophet, with spirituality, as in
flames of lightning, conscience like red-hot iron, plaintive songs and
screams of vengeance for tyrannies and enslavement; Christ, with bent
head, brooding love and peace, like a dove; Greek, creating eternal
shapes of physical and aesthetic proportion; Roman, lord of satire, the
sword, and the codex,--of the figures, some far off and veiled, others
near and visible; Dante, stalking with lean form, nothing but fibre,
not a grain of superfluous flesh; Angelo, and the great painters,
architects, musicians; rich Shakespeare, luxuriant as the sun, artist
and singer of Feudalism in its sunset, with all the gorgeous colors,
owner thereof, and using them at will;--and so to such as German Kant
and Hegel, where they, though near us, leaping over the ages, sit again,
impassive, imperturbable, like the Egyptian gods. Of these, and the like
of these, is it too much, indeed, to return to our favorite figure,
and view them as orbs, moving in free paths in the spaces of that other
heaven, the cosmic intellect, the Soul?

"Ye powerful and resplendent ones! ye were, in your atmospheres, grown
not for America, but rather for her foes, the Feudal and the old--while
our genius is democratic and modern. Yet could ye, indeed, but breathe
your breath of life into our New World's nostrils--not to enslave us as
now, but, for our needs, to breed a spirit like your own--perhaps (dare
we to say it?) to dominate, even destroy what you yourselves have left!
On your plane, and no less, but even higher and wider, will I mete and
measure for our wants to-day and here. I demand races of orbic bards,
with unconditional, uncompromising sway. Come forth, sweet democratic
despots of the west!"

Here is another passage of a political cast, but showing the same great
pinions and lofty flight:--

"It seems as if the Almighty had spread before this nation charts of
imperial destinies, dazzling as the sun, yet with lines of blood, and
many a deep intestine difficulty, and human aggregate of cankerous
imperfection,--saying, Lo! the roads, the only plans of development,
long, and varied with all terrible balks and ebullitions. You said in
your soul, I will be empire of empires, overshadowing all else, past and
present, putting the history of Old World dynasties, conquests, behind
me as of no account,--making a new history, the history of Democracy,
making old history a dwarf,--I alone inaugurating largeness, culminating
time. If these, O lands of America, are indeed the prizes, the
determinations of your Soul, be it so. But behold the cost, and already
specimens of the cost. Behold the anguish of suspense, existence itself
wavering in the balance, uncertain whether to rise or fall; already,
close behind you and around you, thick winrows of corpses on
battlefields, countless maimed and sick in hospitals, treachery among
Generals, folly in the Executive and Legislative departments, schemers,
thieves everywhere,--cant, credulity, make-believe everywhere. Thought
you greatness was to ripen for you, like a pear? If you would have
greatness, know that you must conquer it through ages, centuries,--must
pay for it with a proportionate price. For you, too, as for all lands,
the struggle, the traitor, the wily person in office, scrofulous wealth,
the surfeit of prosperity, the demonism of greed, the hell of passion,
the decay of faith, the long postponement, the fossil-like lethargy, the
ceaseless need of revolutions, prophets, thunder-storms, deaths, births,
new projections, and invigorations of ideas and men."

The "Memoranda during the War" is mainly a record of personal
experiences, nursing the sick and wounded soldiers in the hospitals:
most of it is in a low key, simple, unwrought, like a diary kept for
one's self; but it reveals the large, tender, sympathetic soul of the
poet even more than his elaborate works, and puts in practical form that
unprecedented and fervid comradeship which is his leading element. It is
printed almost verbatim, just as the notes were jotted down at the time
and on the spot. It is impossible to read it without the feeling of
tears, while there is elsewhere no such portrayal of the common soldier,
and such appreciation of him, as is contained in its pages. It is
heart's blood, every word of it, and along with "Drum-Taps" is the only
literature of the war thus far entirely characteristic and worthy of
serious mention. There are in particular two passages in the "Memoranda"
that have amazing dramatic power, vividness, and rapid action, like some
quick painter covering a large canvas. I refer to the account of
the assassination of President Lincoln, and to that of the scenes in
Washington after the first battle of Bull Run. What may be called
the mass-movement of Whitman's prose style--the rapid marshaling
and grouping together of many facts and details, gathering up, and
recruiting, and expanding as the sentences move along, till the force
and momentum become like a rolling flood, or an army in echelon on the
charge--is here displayed with wonderful effect.

Noting and studying what forces move the world, the only sane
explanation that comes to me of the fact that such writing as these
little volumes contain has not, in this country especially, met with its
due recognition and approval, is that, like all Whitman's works, they
have really never yet been published at all in the true sense,--have
never entered the arena where the great laurels are won. They have been
printed by the author, and a few readers have found them out, but to all
intents and purposes they are unknown.

I have not dwelt on Whitman's personal circumstances, his age (he is
now, 1877, entering his fifty-ninth year), paralysis, seclusion, and the
treatment of him by certain portions of the literary classes, although
these have all been made the subjects of wide discussion of late, both
in America and Great Britain, and have, I think, a bearing under the
circumstances on his character and genius. It is an unwritten tragedy
that will doubtless always remain unwritten. I will but mention an
eloquent appeal of the Scotch poet, Robert Buchanan, published in London
in March, 1876, eulogizing and defending the American bard, in his
old age, illness, and poverty, from the swarms of maligners who still
continue to assail him. The appeal has this fine passage:--

"He who wanders through the solitudes of far-off Uist or lonely Donegal
may often behold the Golden Eagle sick to death, worn with age or
famine, or with both, passing with weary waft of wing from promontory
to promontory, from peak to peak, pursued by a crowd of rooks and crows,
which fall back screaming whenever the noble bird turns his indignant
head, and which follow frantically once more, hooting behind him,
whenever he wends again upon his way."

Skipping many things I should yet like to touch upon,--for this paper is
already too long,--I will say in conclusion that, if any reader of mine
is moved by what I have here written to undertake the perusal of "Leaves
of Grass," or the later volume, "Two Rivulets," let me yet warn him
that he little suspects what is before him. Poetry in the Virgilian,
Tennysonian, or Lowellian sense it certainly is not. Just as the living
form of man in its ordinary garb is less beautiful (yet more beautiful)
than the marble statue; just as the living woman and child that may have
sat for the model is less beautiful (yet more so) than one of Raphael's
finest Madonnas, or just as a forest of trees addresses itself less
directly to the feeling of what is called art and form than the house or
other edifice built from them; just as you, and the whole spirit of our
current times, have been trained to feed on and enjoy, not Nature or
Man, or the aboriginal forces, or the actual, but pictures, books, art,
and the selected and refined,--just so these poems will doubtless first
shock and disappoint you. Your admiration for the beautiful is never the
feeling directly and chiefly addressed in them, but your love for the
breathing flesh, the concrete reality, the moving forms and shows of the
universe. A man reaches and moves you, not an artist. Doubtless, too, a
certain withholding and repugnance has first to be overcome, analogous
to a cold sea plunge; and it is not till you experience the reaction,
the after-glow, and feel the swing and surge of the strong waves,
that you know what Walt Whitman's pages really are. They don't give
themselves at first,--like the real landscape and the sea, they are all
indirections. You may have to try them many times; there is something
of Nature's rudeness and forbiddingness, not only at the first, but
probably always. But after you have mastered them by resigning yourself
to them, there is nothing like them anywhere in literature for vital
help and meaning. The poet says:--

 "The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections,
  That scorn the best I can do to relate them."

And the press of your mind to these pages will certainly start new and
countless problems that poetry and art have never before touched, and
that afford a perpetual stimulus and delight.

It has been said that the object of poetry and the higher forms of
literature is to escape from the tyranny of the real into the freedom of
the ideal; but what is the ideal unless ballasted and weighted with the
real? All these poems have a lofty ideal background; the great laws
and harmonies stretch unerringly above them, and give their vista
and perspective. It is because Whitman's ideal is clothed with rank
materiality, as the soul is clothed with the carnal body, that his poems
beget such warmth and desire in the mind, and are the reservoirs of so
much power. No one can feel more than I how absolutely necessary it is
that the facts of nature and experience be born again in the heart
of the bard, and receive the baptism of the true fire before they be
counted poetical; and I have no trouble on this score with the author
of "Leaves of Grass." He never fails to ascend into spiritual meanings.
Indeed, the spirituality of Walt Whitman is the chief fact after all,
and dominates every page he has written.

Observe that this singer and artist makes no _direct_ attempt to be
poetical, any more than he does to be melodious or rhythmical. He
approaches these qualities and results as it were from beneath, and
always indirectly; they are drawn to him, not he to them; and if they
appear absent from his page at first, it is because we have been looking
for them in the customary places on the outside, where he never puts
them, and have not yet penetrated the interiors. As many of the fowls
hide their eggs by a sort of intuitive prudery and secretiveness,
Whitman always half hides, or more than half hides, his thought, his
glow, his magnetism, his most golden and orbic treasures.

Finally, as those men and women respect and love Walt Whitman best who
have known him longest and closest personally, the same rule will apply
to "Leaves of Grass" and the later volume, "Two Rivulets." It is indeed
neither the first surface reading of those books, nor perhaps even the
second or third, that will any more than prepare the student for the
full assimilation of the poems. Like Nature, and like the Sciences, they
suggest endless suites of chambers opening and expanding more and more
and continually.


    [Transcribist's note:  Index has been shortened to names
    of authors and to birds, with scientific names.]

  Akers, Elizabeth.
  Audubon, John Jaines.

  Bacon, Francis.
  Benton, Myron.
  Bittern, American (_Botaurus lentiginosus_).
  Björnson, Björnstjerne.
  Blackbird, cow, or cowbird (_Molothrus ater_).
  Blackbird, European.
  Bluebird (_Sialia sialis_).
  Bobolink (_Dolichonyx oryzivorus_).
  Bryant, William Cullen.
  Buchanan, Robert.
  Bunting, snow, or snowflake (_Passerina nivalis_).
  Burke, Edmund.
  Burns, Robert.
  Byron, Lord.

  Cardinal. See Grosbeak, cardinal.
  Carlyle, Thomas.
  Cedar-bird, or cedar waxwing (_Ampelis cedrorum_).
  Chat, yellow-breasted (_Icteria virens_).
  Chewink, or towhee (_Pipilo erythrophthalmus_).
  Chickadee (_Parus atricapillus_).
  Coleridge, Samuel Taylor.
  Cowper, William.
  Crow, American (_Corvis brachyrhynchos_).
  Cuckoo, American.
  Cuckoo, European.
  Darwin, Charles.
  Dove, mourning (_Zenaidura macroura_).

  Emerson, Ralph Waldo.
  Everett, Edward.

  Flagg, Wilson.
  Flicker. See High-hole.
  Flycatcher, great crested (_Myiarchus crinitus_).
  Frogs. See Hyla.

  Gilder, Richard Watson.
  Grasshopper of Greek poetry.
  Grosbeak, cardinal, or cardinal (_Cardinalis cardinalis_).
  Grosbeak, pine (_Pinicola enucleator leucura_).
  Grouse, ruffed (_Bonasa umbellus_).

  Hamerton, Philip Gilbert.
  High-hole, or yellow-hammer, or golden-shafted woodpecker, or
     flicker (_Colaptes auratus luteus_).
  Hogg, James.
  Hood, Thomas.
  Hornets, black.
  Hudson River valley.
  Hummingbird, ruby-throated (_Trochilus colubris_).
  Hyla, green.
  Hyla, Pickering's.

  Ingelow, Jean.

  Jefferson, Thomas.
  Jonson, Ben.

  Keats, John.
  Kingbird (_Tyrannus tyrannus_).

  Lamb, Charles.
  Lark.  See Skylark.
  Lark, shore or horned (_Otocoris alpestris_).
  Lathrop, George Parson.
  Lincoln, Abraham.
  Logan, John.
  Loon (_Gavia imber_).
  Lowell, James Russell.
  Lyly, John.

  Macaulay, Thomas Babington.
  Meadowlark (_Sturnella magna_).
  Michael Angelo.
  Milton, John.
  Mockingbird (_Mimus polyglottos_).

  Oriole, Baltimore (_Icterus galbula_).
  Oven-bird, or golden-crowned thrush (_Seiurus aurocapillus_).

  Partridge. See Grouse, ruffed.
  Pewee, wood (_Contopus virens_).
  Phoebe-bird (_Sayornis phoebe_).
  Pigeon, passenger (_Ectopistes migratorius_).
  Pipit, American, or titlark (_Anthus pensilvanicus_).
  Pipit, Sprague's (_Anthus spragueii_).
  Pope, Alexander.

  Quail, or bob-white (_Colinus virginianus_).

  Redpoll (_Acanthis linaria_).
  Robin, American (_Merula migratoria_).

  Sandpiper, spotted, or "tip-up" (_Actitis macularia_).
  Shelley, Percy Bysshe.

  Snake, garter.
  Sparrow, social or chipping (_Spizella socialis_).
  Sparrow, song (_Melospiza cinerea melodia_).
  Sparrow, tree or Canada (_Spizella monticola_).
  Sparrow, vesper (_Pooecetes gramineus_).
  Sparrow, white-crowned (_Zonotrichia leucophrys_).
  Sparrow, white-throated (_Zonotrichia albicollis_).
  Swallow, barn (_Hirundo erythrogastra_).
  Swallow, chimney, or chimney swift (_Chaetura pelagica_).
  Swallow, cliff (Petrochellidon lunifrons).
  Swift, chimney.  See Swallow.

  Taine, Hippolyte Adolphe.
  Tennyson, Alfred.
  Thaxter, Celia.
  Thomson, James.
  Thoreau, Henry D..
  Thrasher, brown, or long-tailed thrush (_Toxostoma rufum_).
  Thrush, golden-crowned. See Ovenbird.
  Thrush, hermit (_Hylocichla guttata pallasii_).
  Thrush, wood (_Hylocichla mustelina_).
  Tip-up. See Sandpiper, spotted.
  Titlark. See Pipit, American.
  Townee. See Chewink.
  Trowbridge, John T.
  Turner, J. M. W.

  Warbler, pine (_Dendroica vigorsii_).
  Whip-poor-will (_Antrostomus vociferous_).
  Whitman, Walt.
  Whittier, John Greenleaf.
  Wilde, Richard Henry.
  Wilson, Alexander.
  Woodpecker, downy (_Dryobates pubescens medianus_).
  Woodpecker, golden-shafted. See High-hole.
  Woodpecker, hairy (_Dryobates villosus_).
  Woodpecker, red-headed (_Melanerpes erythrocephalus_).
  Wordsworth, William.
  Wren, house (_Troglodytes aëdon_).

  Yellow-hammer. See High-hole.
  Yellow-throat, Maryland, or northern yellow-throat (_Geothlypis
     trichas brachidactyla_).

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