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Title: The Bird
Author: Michelet, Jules, 1798-1874
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Bird" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

Transcriber's note:

Some presumed printer's errors were corrected. The following is a list
of changes made from the original. The first line shows the original
text; the second line is the corrected text as it appears in this

  A. E (p. viii)
  A. E.

  and. thou (p. 105)
  and, thou

  resemblance (p. 126)

  Page 14 (p. 315)
  Page 74

  Don Jean (Footnote 29)
  Don Juan

Italics are surrounded with _ _ and Greek words are transliterated and
marked with # #. The oe ligature has been replaced in this version by
the letters oe.

  [Illustration: THE BIRD.]










To Madame Michelet.

_I dedicate to thee what is really thine own: three books of the
fireside, sprung from our sweet evening talk_,--


_Thou alone didst inspire them. Without thee I should have pursued,
ever in my own track, the rude path of human history._

_Thou alone didst prepare them. I received from thy hands the rich
harvest of Nature._

_And thou alone didst crown them, placing on the accomplished work the
sacred flower which blesses them._

                                                       _J. MICHELET._



Translator's Preface.

"L'Oiseau," or "The Bird," was first published in 1856. It has since
been followed by "L'Insecte" and "La Mer;" the three works forming a
trilogy which few writers have surpassed in grace of style, beauty of
description, and suggestiveness of sentiment. "L'Oiseau" may be briefly
described as an eloquent defence of the Bird in its relation to man,
and a poetical exposition of the attractiveness of Natural History. It
is animated by a fine and tender spirit, and written with an inimitable
charm of language.

In submitting the following translation to the English public, I
am conscious of an urgent need that I should apologize for its
shortcomings. It is no easy matter to do justice to Michelet in
English; yet, if I have failed to convey a just idea of his beauties
of expression, if I have suffered most of the undefinable _aroma_ of
his style to escape, I believe I have rendered his meaning faithfully,
without exaggeration or diminution. I have endeavoured to preserve,
as far as possible, his more characteristic peculiarities, and even
mannerisms, carrying the _literalness_ of my version to an extent which
some critics, perhaps, will be disposed to censure. But in copying the
masterpiece of a great artist, what we ask of the copyist is, that
he will reproduce every effect of light and shade with the severest
accuracy; and, in the translation of a noble work from one language to
another, the public have a right to demand the same exact adherence to
the original. They want to see as much of the author as they can, and
as little as may be of the translator.

The present version is from the eighth edition of "L'Oiseau," and is
adorned with all the original Illustrations.

                                                               A. E.






  THE EGG,                                                 63

  THE POLE--AQUATIC BIRDS,                                 71

  THE WING,                                                81

  THE FIRST FLUTTERINGS OF THE WING,                       91

  TRIUMPH OF THE WING--THE FRIGATE BIRD,                  101

  THE SHORES--DECAY OF CERTAIN SPECIES,                   111


  THE COMBAT--THE TROPICAL REGIONS,                       131

  PURIFICATION,                                           143

  DEATH--BIRDS OF PREY (THE RAPTORES),                    153


  THE LIGHT--THE NIGHT,                                   171

  STORM AND WINTER--MIGRATIONS,                           181

  MIGRATIONS, _Continued_--THE SWALLOW,                   193

  HARMONIES OF THE TEMPERATE ZONE,                        205

  THE BIRD AS THE LABOURER OF MAN,                        213

  LABOUR--THE WOODPECKER,                                 223

  THE SONG,                                               235

  THE NEST--ARCHITECTURE OF BIRDS,                        247


  EDUCATION,                                              265


  THE NIGHTINGALE, _Continued_,                           287

  CONCLUSION,                                             297

  ILLUSTRATIVE NOTES,                                     311


  [Illustration: HOW THE AUTHOR WAS LED
                 THE STUDY OF NATURE.]



How the Author was led to the Study of Nature.

To my faithful friend, the Public, who has listened to me for so
long a period without disfavour, I owe a confession of the peculiar
circumstances which, while not leading me altogether astray from
history, have induced me to devote myself to the natural sciences.

The book which I now publish may be described as the offspring of the
domestic circle and the home fireside. It is from our hours of rest,
our afternoon conversations, our winter readings, our summer gossips,
that this book, if it be a book, has been gradually evolved.

Two studious persons, naturally reunited after a day's toil, put
together their gleanings, and refreshed their hearts by this closing
evening feast.

Am I saying that we have had no other assistance? To make such a
statement would be unjust, ungrateful. The domesticated swallows which
lodged under our roof mingled in our conversation. The homely robin,
fluttering around me, interjected his tender notes, and sometimes the
nightingale suspended it by her solemn music.


The burden of the time, life, labour, the violent fluctuations of our
era, the dispersion of a world of intelligence in which we lived, and
to which nothing has succeeded, weighed heavily upon me. The arduous
toils of history found occasional relaxation in friendly instruction.
These pauses, however, are only periods of silence. Where shall we seek
repose or moral invigoration, if not of nature?

The mighty eighteenth century, which included a thousand years of
struggle, rested at its setting on the amiable and consoling, though
scientifically feeble book of Bernardin de St. Pierre.[1] It ended with
that pathetic speech of Ramond's: "So many irreparable losses lamented
in the bosom of nature!"

We, whatever we had lost, asked of solitude something more than tears,
something more than the dittany[2] which softens wounded hearts.
We sought in it a panacea for continual progress, a draught from
inexhaustible fountains, a new strength, and--wings.

This work, whatever its character, possesses at least the distinction
of having entered upon life under the usual conditions of existence. It
results from the intimate communion of two souls; and is in all things
itself uniform and harmonious because the offspring of two different


Of the two souls to which it owes its existence, one was the more
powerfully attracted to natural studies by the fact that, in a
certain sense, it had been born among them, and had ever preserved
their fragrance and sweet savour. The other was so much the more
strongly impelled towards them because it had always been separated by
circumstances, and detained in the rugged ways of human history.

History never releases its slave. He who has once drunk of its sharp
strong wine will drink thereof till his death. I could not wrench
myself from it even in days of suffering. When the sorrows of the
past blended with those of the present, and when on the ruins of our
fortunes I inscribed "ninety-three," my health might fail, but not
my soul, my will. All day I applied myself to this last duty, and
pressed forward among the thorns. In the evening I listened--at first
not without effort--to the peaceful narrative of some naturalist or
traveller. I listened and I admired, unable as yet to console myself,
or to escape from my thoughts, but, at all events, keeping them under
control, and preventing any anxieties and any mental storms from
disturbing this innocent tranquillity.

Not that I was insensible to the sublime legends of those heroic men
whose labours and enterprise have so largely benefited humanity. The
great national patriots whose history I was relating were the nearest
of kindred to these cosmopolitan patriots, these citizens of the world.


For myself, I had long hailed, with all my heart, the great French
Revolution which had occurred in the Natural Sciences--the era of
Lamarck and of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire,[3] so fertile in method, the
mighty restorers of all science. With what happiness I traced their
features in their legitimate sons--those ingenious children who have
inherited their intellect!


At their head let me name the amiable and original author of the "Monde
des Oiseaux,"[4] whom the world has long recognized as one of the most
solid, if not also the most amusing, of naturalists. I shall refer to
him more than once; but I hasten, on the threshold of my book, to pay
this preliminary homage to a truly great observer, who, in all that
concerns his own observations, is as weighty, as _special_, as Wilson
or Audubon.

He has wronged himself by saying that, in his noble work, "he has only
sought a pretext for a discourse on man." On the contrary, numerous
pages demonstrate that, apart from all analogy, he has loved and
studied the Bird for its own sake. And it is for this reason that he
has surrounded it with so many legends, with such vivid and profound
personifications. Each bird which Toussenel treats of is now, and will
for ever remain, a person.


Nevertheless, the book now before the reader starts from a point of
view which differs in all things from that of our illustrious master.

A point of view by no means contrary, yet symmetrically opposed, to his.

For I, as much as possible, seeking only the bird _in_ the bird, avoid
the human analogy. With the exception of two chapters, I have written
as if only the bird existed, as if man had never been.

Man! we have already met with him sufficiently often in other places.
Here, on the contrary, we have sought an _alibi_ from the human world,
from the profound solitude and desolation of ancient days.

Man could not have lived without the bird, which alone could save him
from the insect and the reptile; but the bird had lived without man.

Man or no man, the eagle had reigned on his Alpine throne. The swallow
would not the less have performed her yearly migration. The frigate
bird,[5] unseen by human eyes, had still hovered over the lonely
ocean-waters. Without waiting for human listeners, and with all the
greater security, the nightingale had still chanted in the forest his
sublime hymn. And for whom? For her whom he loves, for his offspring,
for the woodlands, and, finally, for himself, his most fastidious


Another difference between this book and that of Toussenel's is, that,
harmonious as he is, and a disciple of the gentle Fourier, he is not
the less a _sportsman_. In every page the military calling of the
Lorraine is clearly visible.

My book, on the contrary, is a book of peace, written specifically in
hatred of sport.

Hunt the eagle and the lion, if you will; but do not hunt the weak.

The devout faith which we cherish at heart, and which we teach in
these pages, is, that man will peaceably subdue the whole earth, when
he shall gradually perceive that every adopted animal, accustomed
to a domesticated life, or at least to that degree of friendship or
neighbourliness of which its nature is capable, will be a hundred times
more useful to him than if he had simply cut its throat.

Man will not be truly man--we return to this topic at the close of our
volume--until he shall labour seriously to accomplish the mission which
the earth expects of him:

The pacification and harmonious communion of all living nature.

"A woman's dreams!" you exclaim. What matters that?

Since a woman's heart breathes in this book, I see no reason to reject
the reproach. We accept it as an eulogy. Patience and gentleness,
tenderness and pity, and maternal warmth--these are the things which
beget, preserve, develop a living creation.

May this, in due time, become not a book, but a reality! Then, haply,
it shall prove suggestive, and others derive from it their inspiration.

The reader, _au reste_, will better understand the character of the
work, if he will take the trouble to read the few pages which follow,
and which I transcribe word for word. [The succeeding section, as the
reader will perceive, is written by Madame Michelet.]



"I was born in the country, where I have passed two-thirds of my
life-time. I feel myself constantly recalled to it, both by the charm
of early habits, by natural sensibilities, and also, undoubtedly, by
the dear memories of my father, who bred me among its shades, and was
the object of my life's worship.

"Owing to my mother's illness, I was nursed for a considerable period
by some honest peasants, who loved me as their own child. I was, in
truth, their daughter; and my brothers, struck by my rustic ways,
called me _the Shepherdess_.

"My father resided at no great distance from the town, in a very
pleasant mansion, which he had purchased, built, and surrounded by
plantations, in the hope that the charms of the spot might console his
young wife for the sublime American nature she had recently quitted.
The house, well exposed on the east and south, saw the morning sun rise
on a vine-clad slope, and turn, before its meridian heats, towards the
remote summits of the Pyrenees, which were visible in clear weather.
The young elm-trees of our own France, mingled with American acacias,
rose-laurels, and young cypresses, interrupted its full flood of light,
and transmitted to us a softened radiance.

"On our right, a thicket of oaks, inclosed with a dense hedge,
sheltered us from the north, and from the keen wind of the Cantal. Far
away, on the left, swept the green meadows and the corn-fields. Through
the broom, and in the shade of some tall trees, flowed a brooklet--a
thin thread of limpid water, defined against the evening horizon by a
small belt of haze which ran along its border.

"The climate is intermediate. In the valley, which is that of the
Tarn, and which shares the mildness of the Garonne and the severity of
Auvergne, we find none of those southern products common everywhere
around Bordeaux. But the mulberry, and the melting perfumed peach, the
juicy grape, the sugared fig, and the melon, growing in the open air,
testify that we are in the south. Fruits superabounded with us; one
portion of the estate was an immense vineyard.

"Memory vividly recalls to me all the charms of this locality, and its
varied character. It was never otherwise than grave and melancholy in
itself, and it impressed these feelings on all about it. My father,
though lively and agreeable, was a man already aged, and of uncertain
health. My mother, young, beautiful, austere, had the queenly bearing
of the North American, with a prudence and an active economy very
rare in Creoles. The estate which we occupied formerly belonged to a
Protestant family, and after passing through many hands before it fell
into ours, still retained the graves of its ancient owners--simple
hillocks of turf, where the proscribed had enshrined their dead under
a thick grove of oaks. I need hardly say, that these trees and these
tombs, consecrated by their very oblivion, were religiously respected
by my father. Each grave was marked out by rose-bushes, which his own
hands had planted. These sweet odours, these bright blossoms, concealed
the gloom of death, while suffering, nevertheless, something of its
melancholy to remain. Thither, then, we were drawn, and as it were in
spite of ourselves, at evening time. Overcome by emotion, we often
mourned over the departed; and, at each falling star, exclaimed, 'It is
a soul which passes!'[6]

"In this living country-side, among alternate joys and pains, I lived
for ten years--from four to fourteen. I had no comrades. My sister,
five years older than myself, was the companion of my mother when I was
still but a little girl. My brothers, numerous enough to play among
themselves without my help, often left me all alone in the hours of
recreation. If they ran off to the fields, I could only follow them
with my eyes. I passed, then, many solitary hours in wandering near the
house, and in the long garden alleys. There I acquired, in spite of a
natural vivacity, habits of contemplation. At the bottom of my dreams
I began to feel the Infinite: I had glimpses of God, of the paternal
divinity of nature, which regards with equal tenderness the blade of
grass and the star. In this I found the chief source of consolation;
nay, more, let me say, of happiness.

"Our abode would have offered to an observant mind a very agreeable
field of study. All creatures under its benevolent protection seemed
to find an asylum. We had a fine fish-pond near the house, but no
dove-cot; for my parents could not endure the idea of dooming creatures
to slavery whose life is all movement and freedom. Dogs, cats, rabbits,
guinea-pigs, lived together in concord. The tame chickens, the pigeons,
followed my mother everywhere, and fed from her hand. The sparrows
built their nests among us; the swallows even brooded under our barns;
they flew into our very chambers, and returned with each succeeding
spring to the shelter of our roof.

"How often, too, have I found, in the goldfinches' nests torn from our
cypress-trees by rude autumnal winds, fragments of my summer-robes
buried in the sand! Beloved birds, which I then sheltered all
unwittingly in a fold of my vestment, ye have to-day a surer shelter in
my heart, but ye know it not!

"Our nightingales, less domesticated, wove their nests in the lonely
hedge-rows; but, confident of a generous welcome, they came to our
threshold a hundred times a-day, and besought from my mother, for
themselves and their family, the silk-worms which had perished.

"In the depths of the wood the woodpecker laboured obstinately at the
venerable trunks; one might hear him at his task when all other sounds
had ceased. We listened in trembling silence to the mysterious blows of
that indefatigable workman mingling with the owl's slow and lamentable

"It was my highest ambition to have a bird all to myself--a
turtle-dove. Those of my mother's--so familiar, so plaintive, so
tenderly resigned at breeding-time--attracted me strongly towards them.
If a young girl feels like a mother for the doll which she dresses, how
much more so for a living creature which responds to her caresses! I
would have given everything for this treasure. But it was not to be so;
and the dove was not my first love.

"The first was a flower, whose name I do not know.

"I had a small garden, situated under an enormous fig-tree, whose humid
shades rendered useless all my cultivation. Feeling very sad and sorely
discouraged, I descried one morning, on a pale-green stem, a beautiful
little golden blossom. Very little, trembling at the lightest breath,
its feeble stalk issued from a small basin excavated by the rains.
Seeing it there, and always trembling, I supposed it was cold, and
provided it with a canopy of leaves. How shall I express the transports
which this discovery awakened? I alone knew of its existence; I alone
possessed it. All day we could do nothing but gaze at each other. In
the evening I glided to its side, my heart full of emotion. We spoke
little, for fear of betraying ourselves. But ah! what tender kisses
before the last adieu! These joys endured but three days. One afternoon
my flower folded itself up slowly, never again to re-open. There was an
end to its love.

"I kept to myself my keen regret, as I had kept my happiness. No other
flower could have consoled me; a life more full of life was needed to
restore the freedom of my soul.

"Every year my good nurse came to see me, invariably bringing some
little present. On one occasion, with a mysterious air, she said to me,
'Put thy hand in my basket.' I did so, expecting to find some fruit,
but felt a silken fur, and something trembling. Ah! it is a rabbit!
Seizing it, I ran in all directions to announce the news. I hugged the
poor animal with a convulsive joy, which nearly proved fatal to it.
My head was troubled with giddiness. I could not eat. My sleep was
disturbed by painful dreams. I saw my rabbit dying; I was unable to
move a single step to succour it. Oh! how beautiful it was, my rabbit,
with its pink nose, and its fur as polished as a mirror! Its large
pearled ears, which were constantly in motion, its fantastic gambols,
had, I confess, a share of my admiration. As soon as the morning
dawned, I escaped from my mother's bed to visit my favourite, and carry
it a green leaf or two. There it sat, and gravely ate the leaves,
casting upon me protracted glances, which I thought full of affection;
then, erecting itself on its hind paws, it turned to the sun its
little snow-white belly, and sleeked its fine whiskers with marvellous

"Nevertheless, slander was busy in its detraction; its face was too
small, said its enemies, and it was very gluttonous. To-day, I might
subscribe to these assertions; but at seven years of age I fought
for the honour of my rabbit! Alas! there was no need to make it the
subject of dispute, it lived so short a time. One Sunday, my mother
having set out for the town with my sister and eldest brother, we were
wandering--we, the little ones--in the enclosure, when a sudden report
broke over our heads. A strange cry, like an infant's first moan,
followed it close at hand. My rabbit had been wounded by a flash of
fire. The unfortunate beast had transgressed beyond the vineyard-hedge,
and a neighbour, having nothing better to do, had amused himself with
shooting at it.

"I was in time to see it rise up, bleeding. So great was my grief that
I almost choked, utterly unable to sob out a single word. But for my
father, who received me in his arms, and by gentle words gave my full
heart relief, I should have fainted. My limbs yielded under me. Pardon
the tears which this recollection still calls forth.

"For the first time, and in early youth, I had a revelation of death,
abandonment, desolation. The house, the garden, appeared to me empty
and bare. Do not laugh: my grief was bitter, and all the deeper because
concentrated in myself.

"Thenceforth, having learned the meaning of death, I began to watch my
father with wistful eyes. I saw, not without terror, that his face was
very pale and his hair white. He would quit us; he would go 'whither
the village-bell summoned him,' to use his oft-repeated phrase. I had
not the strength to conceal my thoughts. Sometimes I flung my arms
around his neck, exclaiming: 'Papa, do not die! oh, never die!' He
embraced me, without replying; but his fine large black eyes were
troubled as they gazed on me.

"I was attached to him by a thousand ties, by a thousand intimate
relations. I was the daughter of his mature age, of his shattered
health, of his affections. I had not that happy equilibrium which his
other children derived from my mother. My father was transmitted in
me (_passé en moi_). He said so himself: 'How I feel that thou art my

"Years and life's trials had deprived him of nothing; to his last hour
he retained the vivacity, the aspirations, and even the charm of youth.
Every one felt it without being able to account for it, and all flocked
around him of their own accord--women, children, men. I still see him
in his little study, seated before his small black table, relating his
Odyssey, his long journeys in America, his life in the colonies; one
never grew weary of his stories. A maiden of twenty years, in the last
stage of a pulmonary disease, heard him shortly before her end: she
would fain have listened to him always; implored him to visit her, for
while he was discoursing she forgot her sufferings and her decay, even
the approach of death.

"This charm I speak of was not that of a clever talker only; it was due
to the great goodness so plainly visible in him. The trials, the life
of adventure and misfortune, which harden so many hearts, had, on the
contrary, but softened his. No man in this generation--a generation
so much agitated, tossed to and fro by so many waves--had undergone
such painful experiences. His father, an Auvergnat, the principal of a
college, then _juge consulaire_ in our most southern city, and finally
summoned to the Assembly of Notables in '88, had all the hard austerity
of his country and his functions, of the school and the tribunals. The
education of that era was cruel, a perpetual chastisement; the more
wit, the more character, the more strength, the more did this education
tend to shatter them, to break them down. My father, of a delicate
and tender nature, could never have survived it, and only escaped by
flying to America, where one of his brothers had previously established
himself. A change of linen was his only fortune, except his youth,
his confidence, his golden dreams of freedom. Thenceforth he always
cherished a peculiar tenderness for that land of liberty; he often
revisited it, and earnestly wished to die there.

"Called by the needs of business to St. Domingo, he was present in that
island at the great crisis of the reign of Toussaint L'Ouverture. This
truly extraordinary man, who up to his fiftieth year had been a slave,
who comprehended and foresaw everything, did not know how to write, or
to give expression to his ideas. His genius succeeded better in great
actions than in fine speeches. He lacked a hand, a pen, and more--the
young bold heart which shall teach the hero the heroic language, the
words in harmony with the moment and the situation. Toussaint, at his
age, could only utter this noble appeal: 'The First of the Blacks to
the First of the Whites!'[7] Permit me to doubt if it were his. At
least, if he conceived it, it was my father who gave expression to the

"He loved my father warmly; he perceived his frankness, and he trusted
him--he, so profoundly mistrustful, dumb with his long slavery, and
secret as the tomb! But who can die without having one day unlocked his
heart? It was my father's misfortune that at certain moments Toussaint
broke his silence, and made him the confidant of dangerous mysteries.
Thenceforth, all was over; he became afraid of the young man, and felt
himself dependent upon him--a new servitude, which could only end with
my father's death. Toussaint threw him into prison, and then, with
a fresh access of fear, would have sacrificed him. Fortunately, the
prisoner was guarded by gratitude; he had been bountiful to many of the
blacks; a negress whom he had protected, warned him of his peril, and
assisted him to escape from it. All his life long he sought that woman,
to show his gratitude towards her; he did not discover her until some
fourteen years afterwards, on his last voyage; she was then living in
the United States.

"To return: though out of prison, he was not saved. Wandering astray
in the forest, at night, without a guide, he had cause to dread the
Maroons, those implacable enemies of the whites, who would have
killed him, in ignorance that they were murdering the best friend of
their race. Fortune is the boon of youth; he escaped every danger.
Having discovered a good horse, whenever the blacks issued from
their hiding-places, one touch of the spear, a wave of the hat, a
cry: 'Advanced guard of General Toussaint!' and this was enough. At
that formidable name all took to flight, and disappeared as if by

"Such was the tenderness of my father's soul, that he did not withdraw
his regard from the great man who had misunderstood him. When, at
a later period, he saw him in France, abandoned by everybody, a
wretched prisoner in a fort of the Jura, where he perished of cold and
misery,[8] he alone was faithful to him. Despite his errors, despite
the deeds of violence inseparable from the grand and terrible part
which that man had played, he revered in him the daring pioneer of a
race, the creator of a world. He corresponded with him until his death,
and afterwards with his family.

"A singular chance ordained that my father should be engaged in the
isle of Elba when the First of the Whites, dethroned in his turn,
arrived to take possession of his miniature kingdom. Heart and
imagination, my father fell captive to this wonderful romance. An
American, and imbued with Republican ideas, he became on this occasion,
and for the second time, the courtier of misfortune. He was the most
intimate of the servants of the Emperor, of his children, of that
accomplished and adored lady who was the charm and happiness of his
exile. He undertook to convey her back to France in the perilous return
of March 1815. This attraction, had there been no obstacle, would
have led him even to St. Helena. As it was, he could not endure the
restoration of the Bourbons, and returned to his beloved America.

"The New World was not ungrateful, and made the happiness of his
life. He had resigned every official capacity in order to abandon
himself wholly to the more independent career of tuition. He taught
in Louisiana. That colonial France, isolated, sundered by the events
of her mother-land's history, and mingling so many diverse elements
of population, breathes ever the breath of France. Among my father's
pupils was an orphan, of English and German extraction. She came to
him when very young, to learn the first elements of knowledge; she
grew under his hands, and loved him more and more; she found a second
family, a second father; she sympathized with the paternal heart, with
a charm of youthful vivacity which our French of the south preserve in
their mature age. She had but three faults: wealth, beauty, extreme
youth--for she was at least thirty years younger than my father; but
neither of them perceived it, and they never reminded themselves of it.
My mother has been inconsolable for my father's death, and has ever
since worn mourning.

"My mother longed to see France, and my father, in his pride of her,
was delighted to show to the Old World the brilliant flower he had
gathered in the New. But anxious as he was to maintain this young
Creole lady in the position and with the fortune which she had always
enjoyed, he would not embark until he had accomplished, with her
consent, a religious and holy act. This was the manumission of his
slaves--of those, at least, above the age of twenty-one; the young,
whom he was prevented by the American law from setting free, received
from him their future liberty, and, on attaining their majority, were
to rejoin their parents. He never lost sight of them. They were always
before his eyes; he knew their names, their ages, and their appointed
hour of liberty. In his French home, he took note of these epochs, and
would say, with a glow of happiness, 'To-day, such an one becomes free!'

"See my father now in his native country, happy in a residence near
his birth-place--building, planting, bringing up his family, the
centre of a young world in which everything sprung from him: the
house, the garden, were his creation; even his wife, whom he had
reared and trained, and whom everybody thought to be his daughter. My
mother was so young that her eldest daughter seemed to be her sister.
Five other children followed, almost in as many successive years,
promptly enwreathing my father with a living garland, which was his
special pride. Few families exhibited a greater variety of tastes and
temperaments; the two worlds were distinctly represented in ours: the
French of the south with the sparkling vivacity of Languedoc--the grave
colonists of Louisiana marked from their birth with the phlegmatic
idiosyncrasies of the American character.

"It was ordered, however, that, with the exception of the eldest, who
was already my mother's companion and shared with her the management
of the household, the five youngest should receive their education
in common from one master--my father. Notwithstanding his age, he
undertook the duties of preceptor and schoolmaster. He gave up to us
his whole day, from six in the morning until six in the evening. He
reserved for his correspondence, his favourite studies, only the first
hours of morning, or, more truly speaking, the last hours of night.
Retiring to rest very early, he rose every day at three o'clock,
without taking any heed of his pulmonary weakness. First of all, he
threw wide his door, and there, before the stars or the dawn, according
to the season, he blessed God; and God also blessed that venerable
head, silvered by the experiences of life, not by the passions of
humanity. In summer time, after his devotions, he took a short walk in
the garden, and watched the insects and the plants awake. His knowledge
of them was wonderful; and very often, after breakfast, taking me by
the hand, he would describe the nature of each flower, would point out
where each little animal that he had surprised at dawn took refuge. One
of these was a snake, which the sight of my father did not in the least
disconcert; each time that he seated himself near its domicile, it
never failed to put forth its head and peer at him curiously. He alone
knew that it was there, and he told none but me of its retirement; it
remained a secret between us.

"In those morning-hours everything he met with became a fertile text
for his religious effusions. Without formal phrases, and inspired by
true feeling, he spoke to me of the goodness of God, for whom there is
neither great nor small, but all are brothers in His eyes, and all are

"Associated with my brothers in their labours, I also took a part in
those of my mother and my sister. When I put aside my grammar and
arithmetic, it was to take up the needle.

"Happily for me, our life, naturally blending with that of the fields,
was, whether we willed it or not, frequently varied by charming
incidents which broke the chains of habit. Study has commenced; we
apply ourselves with eagerness to our books; but what now? See, a
storm is coming! the hay will be spoiled. Quick, we must gather it in!
Everybody sets to work; the very children hasten thither; study is
adjourned; we toil courageously, and the day goes by. It is a pity, for
the rain does not fall; the storm has lingered on the Bordeaux side; it
will come to-morrow.

"At harvest-time we frequently diverted ourselves with gleaning. In
those grand moments of fruition, at once a labour and a festival, all
sedentary application is impossible; one's thoughts are in the fields.
We were constantly escaping out-of-doors, with the lark's swiftness;
we disappeared among the furrows--we little ones concealed by the tall
corn, hidden among the forest of ripe ears.

"It was well understood that during the vintage there was no time to
think of study: much needed labourers, we lived among the vines; it
was our right. But before the grape ripened, we had numerous other
vintages, those of the fruit-trees--cherries, apricots, peaches.
Even at a later period, the apples and the pears imposed upon us new
and severe labours, in which it was a matter of conscience that our
hands should be employed. And thus, even in winter, these necessities
returned--to act, to laugh, and to do nothing. The last tasks,
occurring in mid-November, were perhaps the most delightful; a light
mist then enfolded everything; I have seen nothing like it elsewhere;
it was a dream, an enchantment. All objects were transfigured under the
wavy folds of the vast pearl-gray canopy which, at the breath of the
warm autumn, lovingly alighted hither and thither, like a farewell kiss.

"The dignified hospitality of my mother, my father's charm of manner
and piquant conversation, drew upon us also the unforeseen distractions
of visitors from the town, constraining suspensions of our studies,
at which we did not weep. But the great and unceasing visit was from
the poor, who well knew the house and the hand inexhaustibly opened
by charity. All participated in its benefits, even the very animals;
and it was a curious and diverting thing to see the dogs of the
neighbourhood, patiently, silently seated on their hind legs, waiting
until my father should raise his eyes from his book: they felt assured
that he would not resist the mute eloquence of their prayer. My mother,
more reasonable, was inclined to drive away these indiscreet guests who
came at their own invitation. My father felt that he was wrong, and yet
he never failed to throw them stealthily some fragments, which sent
them away satisfied.

"This they knew perfectly well. One day, a new guest, lean, bristling,
unprepossessing, something between a dog and a wolf, arrived; he was,
in fact, a half-breed of the two species, born in the forests of the
Gresigne. He was very ferocious, very irascible, and bore much too
close a resemblance to his wolfish mother. But, besides this, he was
intelligent, and gifted with a very keen instinct. From the first he
gave himself wholly up to my father, and neither words nor rough usage
could induce him to quit his side. For us he had but little love; and
we repaid him in kind, seizing every opportunity of playing him a
hundred tricks. He ground and gnashed his teeth, though, out of regard
for my father, he abstained from devouring us. To the poor he was
furious, implacable, very dangerous; which decided us on suffering him
to be lost. But there was no such chance. He always came back again.
His new masters would chain him to a post; chains and post, he carried
them all off, and brought them into our house. It was too much for my
father; he would never forsake him.

"But the cats enjoyed even more of his good graces than the dogs.
This was due to his early education, to the cruel years spent at
college; his brother and himself, beaten and repulsed, between the
harshness of their home and the severities of their school, had found a
consolation in a couple of cats. This predilection was transmitted to
his family--each of us, in childhood, possessed our cat. The gathering
at the fireside was a beautiful spectacle; all the grimalkins, in
furred dignity, sitting majestically under the chairs of their young
masters. One alone was missing from the circle--a poor wretch, too
ugly to figure among the others; he knew his unworthiness, and held
himself aloof, in a wild timidity which nothing was able to conquer.
As in every assembly (such is the piteous malignity of our nature!)
there must be a butt, a scapegoat, who receives all the blows, he, in
ours, filled this unthankful rôle. If there were no blows, at least
there were abundant mockeries: we named him Moquo. Weak, and scantily
provided with fur, he stood in more need than the others of the genial
hearth; but we children filled him with fear: even his comrades, better
clothed in their warm ermine, appeared to esteem him but lightly,
and to look at him askant. Of course, therefore, my father turned to
him, and fondled him; the grateful animal lay down under that beloved
hand, and gained confidence. Wrapped up in his coat, and revived by
its warmth, he would frequently be brought, unseen, to the fireside.
We quickly caught sight of him; and if he showed a hair, or the tip of
an ear, our laughter and our glances threatened him, in spite of my
father. I can still see that shadow gathering itself up--_melting_,
so to speak--in its protector's bosom, closing its eyes, annihilating
itself, well content to see nothing.

"All that I have read of the Hindus, and their tenderness for nature,
reminds me of my father. He was a Brahmin. More even than the Brahmins
did he love every living thing. He had lived in a time of blood and
war--he had been an eye-witness of the most terrible slaughters of men
that had ever disgraced history; and it seemed as if that frightful
lavishness of the irrecoverable good, which is life, had given him a
respect for _all_ life, an insurmountable aversion to all destruction.

"This had in time arrived at such an extreme, that he would have
willingly lived upon vegetable food alone. He would have no viands of
blood; they excited his horror. A morsel of chicken, or, more often, an
egg or two, served for his dinner. And frequently he dined standing.

"Such a regimen, however, could not strengthen him. Nor did he
economize his strength, expending it largely in lessons, in
conversations, and in the habitual overflow of a too benevolent heart,
which lived in all things, interested itself in all. Age came, and
with it anxieties: family anxieties? no, but from jealous neighbours
or unfaithful debtors. The crisis of the American banks dealt a severe
blow to his fortune. He came to the extreme resolution, in spite of his
ill health and his years, of once more visiting America, in the belief
that his personal activity and his industry might re-establish affairs,
and secure the fortune of his wife and children.

"This departure was terrible. It was preceded for me by another
blow. I had quitted the mansion and the country; I had entered a
boarding-school in the town. Cruel servitude, which deprived me of
all that made my life--of air and respiration! Everywhere, walls! I
should have died, but for the frequent visits of my mother, and the
rarer visits of my father, to which I looked forward with a delirious
impatience that perhaps love has never known. But now that my father
himself was leaving us--heaven, earth, everything seemed undone. With
whatever hope of reunion he might endeavour to cheer me, an internal
voice, distinct and terrible, such as one hears in great trials, told
me that he would return no more.

"The house was sold, and the plantations laid out by our hands, the
trees which belonged to the family, were abandoned. Our animals were
plainly inconsolable at my father's departure. The dog--I forget for
how many successive days--seated himself on the road which he had
taken at his departure, howled, and returned. The most disinherited of
all, the cat Moquo, no longer confided in any person, though he still
came to regard with furtive glances the empty place. Then he took his
resolution, and fled to the woods, from which we could never call him
back; he resumed his early life, miserable and savage.

"And I, too, I quitted the paternal roof, the hearth of my young years,
with a heart for ever wounded. My mother, my sister, my brothers, the
sweet friendships of infancy, disappeared behind me. I entered upon
a life of trial and isolation. At Bayonne, however, where I first
resided, the sea of Biarritz spoke to me of my father; the waves which
break on its shore, from America to Europe, repeated the story of his
death; the snow-white ocean birds seemed to say, 'We have seen him.'

"What remained to me? My climate, my birth-land, my language. But
even these I lost. I was compelled to go to the North, to an unknown
tongue and a hostile sky, where the earth for half a year wears
mourning weeds. During these long seasons of frost, my failing health
extinguishing imagination, I could scarcely re-create for myself my
ideal South. A dog might have somewhat consoled me: in default, I made
two little friends, who resembled, I fancied, my mother's turtle-doves.
They knew me, loved me, sported by my fireside; I gave to them the
summer which my heart had not.

"Seriously affected, I fell very ill, and thought I should soon touch
the other shore. However studious and tender towards me might be the
hospitality of the stranger, it was needful I should return to France.
It was long before carefulness of affection, and a marriage in which I
found again a father's heart and arms, could restore my health. I had
seen death from so near a view-point--let us rather say, I had entered
so far upon it--that nature herself, living nature, that first love and
rapture of my young years, had for a long time little hold upon me, and
she alone had any. Nothing had supplied her place. History, and the
recital of the pathetic stirring human drama, moved me but lightly;
nothing seized firmly on my mind but the unchangeable, God and Nature.

"Nature is immovable and yet mobile; that is her eternal charm. Her
unwearied activity, her ever-shifting phantasmagoria, do not weary, do
not disturb; this harmonious motion bears in itself a profound repose.

"I was recalled to her by the flowers--by the cares which they demand,
and the species of maternity which they solicit. My imperceptible
garden of twelve trees and three beds did not fail to remind me of the
great fertile vineyard where I was born; and I found, too, some degree
of happiness, by the side of an ardent intellect, which toiled athirst
in the dreary ways and wastes of human history, in cherishing for him
these living waters and the charm of a few flowers."


I resume.

See me now torn from the city by this loving inquietude, by my fears
for an invalid whom it was essential to restore to the conditions of
her early life and the free air of the country. I quitted Paris, my
city, which I had never left before; that city which comprises the
three worlds; that cradle of Art and Thought.

I returned there daily for my duties and occupations; but I hastened
to get quit of it. Its noise, its distant hum, the ebb and flow of
abortive revolutions, impelled me to wander afar. It was with much
pleasure that, in the spring of 1852, I broke through all the ties of
old habits; I closed my library with a bitter joy, I put under lock and
key my books, the companions of my life, which had assuredly thought to
hold me bound for ever. I travelled so long as earth supported me, and
only halted at Nantes, close to the sea, on a hill which overlooks the
yellow streams of Brittany as they flow onward to mingle, in the Loire,
with the gray waters of La Vendée.

We established ourselves in a large country mansion, completely
isolated, in the midst of the constant rains with which our western
fields are inundated at this season. At such a distance from the ocean,
one does not feel its briny influence; the rains are tempests of fresh
water. The house, in the Louis Quinze style, had been uninhabited for
a considerable period, and at first sight seemed a little gloomy.
Situated on elevated ground, it was rendered not the less sombre by
thick hedges on the one side, on the other by tall trees and by an
untold number of unpruned cherry-trees. The whole, on a greensward,
which the undrained waters preserved, even in summer, in a beautifully
fresh condition.

I adore neglected gardens, and this one reminded me of the great
abandoned vineyards of the Italian villas; but it possessed, what these
villas lack, a charming medley of vegetables and plants of a thousand
different species--all the herbs of the St. John, and each herb tall
and vigorous. The forest of cherry-trees, bending under their burden of
scarlet fruit, gave also the idea of inexhaustible abundance.

It was not the sweet austerity (_soave austero_) of Italy; it was a
soft and overflowing profusion, under a warm, mild, and moist sky.


Nothing appeared in sight, though a large town was close at hand,
and a little river, the Erdre, wound under the hill, and from thence
dragged itself towards the Loire. But this vegetable prodigality,
this virgin forest of fruit trees, completely shut in the view. For a
prospect, one must mount into a species of turret, whence the landscape
began to reveal itself in a certain grandeur, with its woods and its
meadows, its distant monuments, its towers. Even from this observatory
the view was still limited, the city only appearing imperfectly, and
not allowing you to catch sight of its mighty river, its island, its
stir of commerce and navigation. A few paces from its great harbour,
of whose existence there was no sign, one might believe oneself in a
desert, in the _landes_ of Brittany, or the clearings of La Vendée.

Two things were of a lofty character, and detached themselves
from this sombre orchard. Penetrating the ancient hedges and
chestnut-alleys, you found yourself in a nook of barren argillaceous
soil, where, among thyme-laurels and other strong, rude trees, rose an
enormous cedar, a veritable leafy cathedral, of such stature that a
cypress already grown very tall was choked by it, and lost. This cedar,
bare and stripped below, was living and vigorous where it received
the light; its immense arms, at thirty feet from the ground, clothed
themselves with strange and pointed leaves; then the canopy thickened;
the trunk attained an elevation of eighty feet. You saw, about three
leagues distant, the fields opposite the banks of the Sèvre and the
woods of La Vendée. Our home, low and sheltered on the side of this
giant, was not less distinguished by it throughout an immense circuit,
and perhaps owed to it its name, the High Forest.


At the other end of the enclosure, from a deep sheet of water, rose
a small ascent, crowned with a garland of pines. These fine trees,
incessantly beaten by the sea-breezes, and shaken by the adverse winds
which follow the currents of the great river and its two tributaries,
groaned in the struggle, and day and night filled the profound silence
of the place with a melancholy harmony. At times, you might have
thought yourself by the sea; they so imitated the noise of the waves,
of the ebbing and flowing tide.

By degrees, as the season became a little drier, this sojourn exhibited
itself to me in its real character; serious, indeed, but more varied
than one would have supposed at the first glance, and beautiful with
a touching beauty which went home to the soul. Austere, as became the
gate of Brittany, it had all the luxuriant verdure of the Vendean coast.

I could have thought, when I saw the pomegranates blooming in the
open air, robust and loaded with flowers, that I was in the south.
The magnolia, no dwarf, as we see it elsewhere, but splendid and
magnificent, and full-grown, like a great tree, perfumed all my garden
with its huge white blossoms, which contain in their thick chalices an
abundance of I know not what kind of oil, an oil sweet and penetrating,
whose odour follows you everywhere; you are enveloped in it.

We found ourselves this time in possession of a true garden, a large
establishment, a thousand domestic occupations with which we had
previously dispensed. A wild Breton girl rendered help only in the
coarser tasks. Save one weekly journey to the town, we were very
lonely, but in an extremely busy solitude; rising very early in the
morning, at the first awakening of the birds, and even before the day.
It is true that we retired to rest at a good hour, and almost at the
same time as the birds.

This profusion of fruits, vegetables, and plants of every kind, enabled
us to keep numerous domestic animals: only the difficulty was, that
nourishing them, knowing each of them, and well-known by them, we
could not make up our minds to eat them. We planted, and here we met
with quite a distinct kind of inconvenience--our plantations were
nearly always devoured beforehand.

This earth, fertile in vegetables, was equally or more prolific of
destructive animals; enormous capacious snails, devouring insects.
In the morning we collected a great tubful of snails. The next day
you would never have thought so. There still seemed to be the full


Our hens did their best. But how much more effective would have been
the skilful and prudent stork, the admirable scavenger of Holland and
all marshy districts, which some Western lands ought at all costs to
adopt. Everybody knows the affectionate respect in which this excellent
bird is held by the Dutch. In their markets you may see him standing
peacefully on one foot, dreaming in the midst of the crowd, and feeling
as safe as in the heart of the deepest deserts. It is a fantastic but
well-assured fact, that the Dutch peasant who has had the misfortune to
wound his stork and to break his leg, provides him with one of wood.

To return: our residence near Nantes would have possessed an infinite
charm for a less absorbed mind. This beautiful spot, this great
liberty of work, this solitude, so sweet in such society, formed a
rare harmony, such as one but seldom meets with in life. Its sweetness
contrasted strongly with the thoughts of the present, with the gloomy
past which then occupied my pen. I was writing of '93. Its heroic
primeval history enveloped, possessed, shall I say consumed, me. All
the elements of happiness which surrounded me, which I sacrificed to
work, adjourning them for a time that, according to all appearances,
might never be mine, I regretted daily, and incessantly cast back upon
them a look of sorrow. It was a daily battle of affection and nature,
against the sombre thoughts of the human world.


That battle for me will be always a powerful _souvenir_. The scene has
remained sacred in my thought. Elsewhere it no longer exists. The house
is destroyed--another built on its site. And it is for this reason
that I have dallied here a little. My cedar, however, has survived; a
notable thing, for architects now-a-days hate trees.

When, however, I drew near the end of my task, some glimpses of light
enlivened the wild darkness. My sorrows were less keen, when I felt
sure that I should thenceforth enjoy this memorial of a cruel but
fertile experience. Once more I began to hear the voices of solitude,
and more plainly I believe than at any other age, but slowly and with
unaccustomed ear, like one who shall have been some time dead, and have
returned from the other world.

In my youth, before I was taken captive by this implacable History, I
had sympathized with nature, but with a blind warmth, with a heart less
tender than ardent. At a later period, when residing in the suburb of
Paris, I had again felt that emotion of love. I watched with interest
my sickly flowers in that arid soil, so sensible every evening of the
joy of refreshing waterings, so plainly grateful. How much more at
Nantes, surrounded by a nature ever powerful and prolific, seeing the
herbage shoot upward hour after hour, and all animal life multiplying
around me, ought I not, I too, to expand and revive with this new

If there were aught that could have re-inspired my mind and broken
the sombre spell that lay upon it, it would have been a book which we
frequently read in the evening, the "Birds of France," by Toussenel, a
charming and felicitous transition from the thought of country to that
of nature.


So long as France exists, his Lark and his Redbreast, his Bullfinch,
his Swallow, will be incessantly read, re-read, re-told. And if there
were no longer a France, in its ingenious pages we should re-discover
all which it owned of good, the true breath of that country, the Gallic
sense, the French _esprit_, the very soul of our fatherland.

The formulæ of a system which it bears, however, very lightly, its
forced comparisons (which sometimes make us think of those too
_spirituel_ animals of Granville), do not prevent the French genius,
gay, good, serene, and courageous, young as an April sun, from
illuminating the entire book. It possesses numerous passages enlivened
with the joyousness, the elasticity, the gushing song of the lark in
the first day of spring.

Add a thing of great beauty, which does not spring from youth. The
author, a child of the Meuse and of a land of hunters, himself in
his early years an ardent and impassioned sportsman, appears altered
in character by his book. He wavers visibly between the first habits
of slaughterous youth, and his new sentiment, his tenderness for
those pathetic lives which he unveils--for these souls, these beings
recognized by his soul. I dare to say that thenceforth he will no more
hunt without remorse. Father and second creator of this world of love
and innocence, he will find interposed between them and him a barrier
of compassion. And what barrier? His own work, the book in which he
gives them life.

I had scarcely begun my book, when it became necessary for me to
leave Nantes. I, too, was ill. The dampness of the climate, the hard
continuous labour, and still more keenly, without doubt, the conflict
of my thoughts, seemed to have struck home to that vital nerve of which
nothing had ever before taken hold. The road which our swallows tracked
for us, we followed; we proceeded southward. We fixed our transitory
nest in a fold of the Apennines, two leagues from Genoa.

An admirable situation, a secure and well-defended shelter, which, in
the variable climate of that coast, enjoys the astonishing boon of an
equable temperature. Although one could not entirely dispense with
fires, the winter sun, warm in January, encouraged the lizard and the
invalid to think it was spring. Shall I confess it, however? These
oranges, these citrons, harmonizing in their changeless foliage with
the changeless blue of heaven were not without monotony. Animated life
was very rare. There were few or no small birds; no sea birds. The
fish, limited in numbers, did not fill with life those translucent
waters. My glance pierced them to a great depth, and saw nothing but
solitude, and the white and black rocks which form the bed of that gulf
of marble.

The littoral, exceedingly narrow, is nothing but a small cornice, an
extremely confined border, a mere eyebrow (_sourcil_) of the mountains,
as the Latins would have said. To ascend the ladder and overlook the
gulf is, even for the most robust, a violent gymnastic effort. My sole
promenade was a little quay, or rather a rugged circular road, which
wound, with a breadth of about three feet, between ancient garden
walls, rocks, and precipices.


Deep was the silence, sparkling the sea, but all lonesome and
monotonous, except for the passage of a few distant barks. Work was
prohibited to me; for the first time for thirty years, I was separated
from my pen, and had escaped from that paper and ink existence in
which I had previously lived. This pause, which I thought so barren,
in reality proved to me very fertile. I watched, I observed. Unknown
voices awoke within me.

At some distance from Genoa, and the excellent friends whom we knew
there, our only society was the small people of the lizards, which run
over the rocks, played, and slumbered in the sun. Charming, innocent
animals, which every noon, when we dined, and the quay was absolutely
deserted, amused me with their vivacious and graceful evolutions. At
the outset my presence had appeared to disquiet them; but a week had
not passed before all, even the youngest, knew me, and knew they had
nothing to fear from the peaceful dreamer.

Such the animal, and such the man. The abstemious life of my lizards,
for which a fly was an ample banquet, differed in nothing from that of
the _povera gente_ of the coast. Many lived wholly on herbs. But herbs
were not abundant in the barren and gaunt mountain. The destitution of
the country exceeded all belief. I was not grieved at daring it, at
finding myself sympathizing with the woes of Italy, my glorious nurse,
who has nourished France, and me more than any Frenchman.

A nurse? That was she ever, so far as was possible in her poverty of
resources, in the poverty of nature to which my health reduced me.
Incapable of food, I still received from her the only nourishment
which I could support, the vivifying air and the light--the sun, which
frequently permitted us, in one of the severest winters of the century,
to keep the windows open in January.

In the lazy, lizard-like life which I lived upon that shore, I wholly
occupied myself with the surrounding country, with the apparent
antiquity of the Apennines and the mountains which girdle the
Mediterranean. Is there then no remedy? Or rather, in their leafless
declivities shall we not discover the fountains which may renew their
life? Such was the idea which absorbed me. I no longer thought of
my illness; I troubled myself no more about recovering. I had made
what is truly great progress for an invalid: I had forgotten myself.
My business henceforward was to resuscitate that mighty patient,
the Apennines. And as by degrees I became aware that the case was
not hopeless--that the waters were hidden, not lost--that by their
discovery we might restore vegetable life, and eventually animal
life,--I felt myself much stronger, refreshed, renewed. For each spring
that revealed itself, I grew less athirst; I felt its waters rise
within my soul.

Ever fertile is Italy. She proved so to me through her very barrenness
and poverty. The ruggedness of the bald Apennines, the lean Ligurian
coast, did but the more awaken, by contrast, the recollection of that
genial nature which cherishes the luxuriant richness of our western
France. I missed the animal life; I felt its absence. From the mute
foliage of sombre orange-gardens I demanded the woodland birds. For
the first time I perceived the seriousness of human existence when it
is no longer surrounded by the grand society of innocent beings whose
movements, voices, and sports are, so to speak, the smile of creation.

A revolution took place in me which I shall, perhaps, some day relate.
I returned, with all the strength of my ailing existence, to the
thoughts which I had uttered, in 1846, in my book of "The People," to
that City of God where the humble and simple, peasants and artisans,
the ignorant and unlettered, barbarians and savages, children, and
those other children, too, which we call animals, are all citizens
under different titles, have all their privileges and their laws, their
places at the great civic banquet. "I protest, for my part, that if
any one remains in the rear whom the City still rejects and does not
shelter with her rights, I myself will not enter in, but will halt upon
her threshold."

Thus, all natural history I had begun to regard as a branch of the
political. Every living species came, each in its humble right,
striking at the gate and demanding admittance to the bosom of
Democracy. Why should their elder brothers repulse them beyond the pale
of those laws which the universal Father harmonizes with the law of the

Such, then, was my renovation, this tardy new life (_vita nuova_),
which led me, step by step, to the natural sciences. Italy, whose
influence over my destiny has always been great, was its scene, its
occasion, just as, thirty years before, it had lit for me, through
Vico, the first spark of the historic fire.

Beloved and beneficent nurse! Because I had for one moment shared her
sorrows, suffered, dreamed with her, she bestowed on me a priceless
gift, worth more than all the diamonds of Golconda. What gift? A
profound sympathy of spirit, a fruitful interchange of the most
intimate ideas, a perfect home-harmony in the thought of Nature.

We arrived at this goal by two paths: I, by my love of the City, by the
effort of completing it through an association of self with all other
beings; my wife, by religious feeling and by her filial reverence for
the fatherhood of God.

Henceforth we were able, every evening, to enjoy a mutual feast.

I have already explained how this work, unknown to ourselves, grew
rich, was rendered fruitful, was impelled forward, by our modest
auxiliaries. They have almost always dictated it.

Our Parisian flowers prepared what our birds of Nantes accomplished. A
certain nightingale of which I speak at the close of the book crowned
the work.

These divers impressions blended and melted together, on our return
to France, and especially here, in the presence of the ocean. At the
promontory of La Hève, under the venerable elms which overshadow it,
this revelation completed itself. The gulls, gannets, and guillemots of
the coast, the small birds of the groves, could say nothing which was
not understood. All things found an echo in our hearts, like so many
internal voices.

The Pharos, the huge cliff, from three to four hundred feet in
height,[9] which from so lofty an elevation overlooks the vast
embouchure of the Seine, the Calvados, and the ocean, was the customary
goal of our promenades, and our resting-point. We usually climbed
to it by a deep covered road, full of freshness and shadow, which
suddenly opened upon this immense lighthouse. Sometimes we ascended
the colossal staircase which, without surprises, in the full sunlight,
and always facing the mighty sea, leads by three flights to the summit,
each flight covering upwards of a hundred feet. You cannot accomplish
this ascent at one breath; at the second stage, you breathe, you seat
yourself for a few moments by the monument which the widow of one of
France's greatest soldiers has raised to his memory, in the hope that
its pyramid might prove a beacon to the mariner, and guard him from


This cliff, of a very sandy soil, loses a little every winter.[10] It
is not, however, the sea which gnaws at it; the heavy rains wash it
away, carrying off the débris, which, at first bare and shapeless, bear
eloquent witness to their downfall. But tender and gracious Nature does
not long suffer this. She speedily attires them, bestows upon them
greensward, herbs, shrubs, briers, which in due time become miniature
oases on the declivity, Liliput landscapes suspended on the vast cliff,
consoling its gloomy barrenness with their sweet youth.

Thus the Beautiful and the Sublime here embrace, a thing of rarity.
The storm-beaten mountain relates to you the _epopea_ of earth, its
rude dramatic history, and shows its bones in evidence of its truth.
But these young children of chance, who spring up on its arid flank,
prove that she is still fertile, that her débris contain the elements
of a new organization, that all death is a life begun.

So these ruins have never caused us any sadness. We have conversed
among them freely of destiny, providence, death, the life to come.
I, whom age and toil have given a right to die--she, whose brow is
already bent by the trials of infancy and a wisdom beyond her years,
we have not lived the less for a grand inspiration of soul, for the
rejuvenescent breath of that much-loved mother, Nature.[11]

Sprung from her at so great a distance from one another, so united in
her to-day, we would fain have rendered eternal this rare moment of
existence, "have cast anchor on the island of time." And how could we
better realize our idea than by this work of tenderness, of universal
brotherhood, of adoption of all life!

My wife incessantly recalled me to it, enlarging my sentiments of
individual tenderness by her facile, bright, emotional interpretation
of the spirit of the country and the voices of solitude.

It was then, among other things, that I learned to understand birds
which, like the swallows, sing little, but talk much--prattling of
the fine weather, of the chase, of scanty or abundant food, of their
approaching departure; in fact, of all their affairs. I had listened
to them at Nantes in October, at Turin in June. Their September
_causeries_ were more intelligible at La Hève. We translated them
easily in all their fond vivacity, all their joyousness of youth and
good-humour, free from ostentation or satire, in accord with the
happy moderation of a bird so free and so wise, which appears not
ungratefully to recognize that he has received from God a lot of such
signal felicity.

Alas! even the swallow is not spared in that senseless warfare which
we wage against nature. We destroy the very birds that protect our
crops--our guardians, our honest labourers--which, following close upon
the plough, seize the future pest, which the heedless peasant disturbs
only to replace in the earth.


Whole races, valuable and interesting, perish. Those lords of ocean,
those wild and sagacious creatures which Nature has endowed with blood
and milk--I speak of the cetacea--to what number are they reduced!
Many great quadrupeds have vanished from the globe. Many animals of
every kind, without utterly disappearing, have recoiled before man;
brutalized (_ensauvagés_) they fly, they lose their natural arts, and
relapse into barbarism. The heron, whose prudence and address were
remarked by Aristotle, is now, at least in Europe, a misanthropical,
narrow-minded, half-foolish animal. The beaver, which, in America, in
its peaceful solitudes, had become a great architect and engineer, has
grown discouraged;[12] to-day it has scarcely the heart to excavate a
burrow in the earth. The hare, so gentle, so handsome, distinguished by
its fur, its swiftness, its wonderful delicacy of ear, will soon have
disappeared; the few of its kind which remain are positively embruted.
And yet the poor animal is still docile and teachable: in careful
hands it might be taught the things most antagonistic to its nature,
even those which need a display of courage.[13]

These thoughts, which others have expressed in far better language,
we cherished at heart. They had been our aliment, our habitual dream,
over which we had brooded for two years, in Brittany, in Italy; it is
here that they have developed into--what shall I say--a book? a living
fruit? At La Hève it appeared to us in its genial idea, that of the
primitive alliance which God has ordained for all his creatures, of the
love-bond which the universal mother has sealed between her children.

The winged order--the loftiest, the tenderest, the most sympathetic
with man--is that which man now-a-days pursues most cruelly.

What is required for its protection? To reveal the bird as soul, to
show that it is a person.

_The_ bird, then, _a single bird_--that is all my book; but the bird
in all the variations of its destiny, as it accommodates itself to the
thousand conditions of earth, to the thousand vocations of the winged
life. Without any knowledge of the more or less ingenious systems of
transformations, the heart gives oneness to its object; it neither
allows itself to be arrested by the external differences of species,
nor by that death which seems to sever the thread. Death, rude and
cruel, intervenes in this book, in the full current of life, but as a
passing accident only; life does not the less continue.

The agents of death, the murdering species, so glorified by man,
who recognizes in them his image, are here replaced very low in
the hierarchy, remitted to the rank which is rightly theirs. They
are the most deficient in the two special qualifications of the
bird--nest-making and song. Sad instruments of the fatal passage, they
appear in the midst of this book as the blind ministers of nature's
hardest necessity.

But the lofty light of life--art in its earliest dawn--shines only
in the smallest. With the small birds, unostentatious as they are,
modestly and seriously clad, art begins, and, on certain points, rises
higher than the sphere of man. Far from equalling the nightingale, we
have been unable to express or to render an account of his sublime song.

The eagle, then, is in these pages dethroned; the nightingale reigns
in his stead. In that moral _crescendo_, where the bird continuously
advances in self-culture, the apex and the supreme point are naturally
discovered, not in brutal strength, so easily overpassed by man, but
in a puissance of art, of soul, and of aspiration which man has not
attained, and which, beyond this world, transports him in a moment to
the further spheres.

High justice and true, because it is clear-visioned and tender! Feeble
on too many points, I doubt not, this book is strong in tenderness and
faith. It is one, constant and faithful. Nothing makes it divaricate.
Above death and its false divorce, through life and the masks which
disguise its unity, it flies, it loves to hover, from nest to nest,
from egg to egg, from love to the love of God.

    LA HÈVE, NEAR HAVRE, _September 21, 1855_.



Part First.

  [Illustration: THE EGG.]



The wise ignorance, the clear-seeing instinct of our forefathers gave
utterance to this oracle: "Everything springs from the egg; it is the
world's cradle."

Even our original, but especially the diversity of our destiny, is due
to the mother. She acts and she foresees, she loves with a stronger or
a weaker love, she is more or less the mother. The more she is so, the
higher mounts her offspring; each degree in existence depends on the
degree of her love.

What can the mother effect in the mobile existence of the fish?
Nothing, but trust her birth to the ocean. What in the insect world,
where she generally dies as soon as she has produced the egg? To obtain
for it before dying a secure asylum, where it may come to light, and

In the case of the superior animal, the quadruped, where the warm
blood should surely stir up love, where the mother's womb is so long
the rest and home of her young, the cares of maternity are also of
minor import. The offspring is born fully formed, clothed in all things
like its mother; and its food awaits it. And in many species its
education is accomplished without any further care on the part of the
mother than she bestowed when it grew in her bosom.

Far otherwise is the destiny of the bird. It would die if it were not

Loved! Every mother loves, from the ocean to the stars. I should rather
say anxiously tended, surrounded by infinite love, enfolded in the
warmth of the maternal magnetism.

Even in the egg, where you see it protected by a calcareous shell, it
feels so keenly the access of air, that every chilled point in the
egg is a member the less for the future bird. Hence the prolonged and
disquieted labour of incubation, the self-inflicted captivity, the
motionlessness of the most mobile of beings. And all this so very
pitiful! A stone pressed so long to the heart, to the flesh--often the
live flesh!

It is born, but born naked. While the baby-quadruped, even from his
first day of life, is clothed, and crawls, and already walks, the
young bird (especially in the higher species) lies motionless upon its
back, without the protection of any feathers. It is not only while
hatching it, but in anxiously rubbing it, that the mother maintains
and stimulates warmth. The colt can readily suckle and nourish itself;
the young bird must wait while the mother seeks, selects, and prepares
its food. She cannot leave it; the father must here supply her place;
behold the real, veritable family, faithfulness in love, and the first
moral enlightenment.

I will say nothing here of a protracted, very peculiar, and very
hazardous education--that of flight. And nothing here of that of song,
so refined among the feathered artists. The quadruped soon knows all
that he will ever know: he gallops when born; and if he experiences an
occasional fall, is it the same thing, tell me, to slide without danger
among the herbage, as to drop headlong from the skies?


Let us take the egg in our hands. This elliptical form, at once the
most easy of comprehension, the most beautiful, and presenting the
fewest salient points to external attack, gives one the idea of a
complete miniature world, of a perfect harmony, from which nothing
can be taken away, and to which nothing can be added. No inorganic
matter adopts this perfect form. I conceive that, under its apparent
inertness, it holds a high mystery of life and some accomplished work
of God.

What is it, and what should issue from it? I know not. But _she_ knows
well--yonder trembling creature who, with outstretched wings, embraces
it and matures it with her warmth; she who, until now the free queen
of the air, lived at her own wild will, but, suddenly fettered, sits
motionless on that mute object which one would call a stone, and which
as yet gives no revelation.

Do not speak of blind instinct. Facts demonstrate how that
clear-sighted instinct modifies itself according to surrounding
conditions; in other words, how that rudimentary reason differs in its
nature from the lofty human reason.

Yes; that mother knows and sees distinctly by means of the penetration
and clairvoyance of love. Through the thick calcareous shell, where
your rude hand perceives nothing, she feels by a delicate tact the
mysterious being which she nourishes and forms. It is this feeling
which sustains her during the arduous labour of incubation, during her
protracted captivity. She sees it delicate and charming in its soft
down of infancy, and she predicts with the vision of hope that it will
be vigorous and bold, when, with outspread wings, it shall eye the sun
and breast the storm.

Let us profit by these days. Let us hasten nothing. Let us contemplate
at our leisure this delightful image of the maternal reverie--of that
second childbirth by which she completes the invisible object of her
love--the unknown offspring of desire.

A delightful spectacle, but even more sublime than delightful. Let
us be modest here. With us the mother loves that which stirs in her
bosom--that which she touches, clasps, enfolds in assured possession;
she loves the reality, certain, agitated and moving, which responds to
her own movements. But this one loves the future and unknown; her heart
beats alone, and nothing as yet responds to it. Yet is not her love the
less intense; she devotes herself and suffers; she will suffer unto
death for her dream and her faith.


A faith powerful and efficacious! It produces a world, and one of the
most wonderful of worlds. Speak not to me of suns, of the elementary
chemistry of globes. The marvel of a humming-bird's egg transcends the
Milky Way.

Understand that this little point which to you seems imperceptible,
is an entire ocean--the sea of milk where floats in embryo the
well-beloved of heaven. It floats; fears no shipwreck; it is held
suspended by the most delicate ligaments; it is saved from jar and
shock. It swims all gently in the warm element, as it will swim
hereafter in the atmosphere. A profound serenity, a perfect state in
the bosom of a nourishing habitation! And how superior to all suckling

But see how, in this divine sleep, it has perceived its mother and her
magnetic warmth. And it, too, begins to dream. Its dream is of motion;
it imitates, it conforms to its mother; its first act, the act of an
obscure love, is to resemble her.

    "Knowest thou not that love transforms
    Into itself whate'er it loves?"

And as soon as it resembles her, it will seek to join her. It inclines,
it presses more closely against the shell, which thenceforth is the
sole barrier between it and its mother. Then, then she listens!
Sometimes she is blessed by hearing already its first tender piping.
It will remain a prisoner no longer. Grown daring, it will take its
own part. It has a beak, and makes use of it. It strikes, it cracks,
it cleaves its prison wall. It has feet, and brings them to its
assistance. See now the work begun! Its reward is deliverance; it
enters into liberty.

To tell the rapture, the agitation, the prodigious inquietude, the
mother's many cares, is beyond our province here; of the difficulties
of its education we have already spoken.

It is only through time and tenderness that the bird receives its
initiation. Superior by its powers of flight, it is so much the more so
through this, that it has had a home and has gained life through its
mother; fed by her, and by its father emancipated, the freest of beings
is the favourite of love.

If one wishes to admire the fertility of nature, the vigour of
invention, the charming, and in a certain sense, the terrifying
richness, which from one identical creation draws a million of opposite
miracles, one should regard this egg, so exactly like another, and yet
the source whence shall issue the innumerable tribes born to a life of
wings on earth.

From the obscure unity it pours out, it expands, in countless and
prodigiously divergent rays, those winged flames which you name birds,
glowing with ardour and life, with colour and song. From the burning
hand of God escapes continuously that vast fan of astounding diversity,
where everything shines, where everything sings, where everything
floods me with harmony and light. Dazzled, I lower my eyes.


Melodious sparks of celestial fire, whither do ye not attain? For ye
exists nor height nor distance; the heaven, the abyss, it is all one.
What cloud, what watery deep is inaccessible to ye? Earth, in all its
vast circuit, great as it is with its mountains, its seas, and its
valleys, is wholly yours. I hear ye under the Equator, ardent as the
arrows of the sun. I hear ye at the Pole, in the eternal lifeless
silence, where the last tuft of moss has faded; the very bear sees
ye afar, and slinks away growling. Ye, ye still remain; ye live, ye
love, ye bear witness to God, ye reanimate death. In those terrestrial
deserts your touching loves invest with an atmosphere of innocence what
man has designated the barbarism of nature.

  [Illustration: THE POLE--AQUATIC BIRDS.]




That powerful fairy which endows man with most of his blessings and
misfortunes, Imagination, sets herself to work to travestie nature for
him in a hundred ways. In all which exceeds his energies or wounds his
sensations, in all the necessities which overrule the harmony of the
world, he is tempted to see and to curse a maleficent will. One writer
has made a book against the Alps; a poet has foolishly placed the
throne of evil among those beneficent glaciers which are the reservoir
of the waters of Europe, which pour forth its rivers and make its
fertility. Others, still more absurdly, have vented their wrath upon
the ices of the Pole, misunderstanding the magnificent economy of the
globe, the majestic balance of those alternative currents which are the
life of Ocean. They have seen war and hate, and the malice of nature,
in those regular and profoundly pacific movements of the universal

Such are the dreams of man. Animals, however, do not share in these
antipathies, these terrors; a twofold attraction, on the contrary,
impels them yearly towards the Poles in innumerable legions.

Every year birds, fishes, gigantic cetaceans, hasten to people the
seas and islands which surround the southern Pole. Wonderful seas,
fertile, full to overflowing of rudimentary life (in the stage of the
zoophytes), of living fermentation, of viscous waters, of spawn, of
superabundant embryos.

Both the Poles are for these innocent myriads, everywhere pursued by
foes, the great, the happy rendezvous of love and peace. The whale,
that unfortunate fish, which has, however, like ourselves, sweet milk
and hot blood, that poor proscribed unfortunate which will soon have
disappeared--it is there that it again finds a refuge, a halt for
the sacred moments of maternity. No races are of purer or gentler
disposition, none more fraternal towards their kin, more tender towards
their offspring. Cruel ignorance of man! How can he have slain without
horror the walrus and the seal, which in so many points are like

The giant man of the old ocean, the whale--a being as gentle as man the
dwarf is brutal--enjoys this advantage over him: sure of species whose
fecundity is alarming, it can accomplish the mission of destruction
which nature has ordained, without inflicting upon them any pain. It
has neither teeth nor saw; none of those means of punishment with
which the destroyers of the world are so abundantly provided. Suddenly
absorbed in the depths of this moving crucible, they lose themselves,
they swoon away, they undergo instantaneously the transformations of
its grand chemistry. Most of the living matter on which the inhabitants
of the Polar Seas support themselves--cetaceans, fishes, birds--have
neither organism nor the means of suffering. Hence these tribes
possess a character of innocence which moves us infinitely, fills us
with sympathy, and also, we must confess, with envy. Thrice blessed,
thrice fortunate that world where life renews and repairs itself
without the cost of death--that world which is generally free from
pain, which ever finds in its nourishing waters the sea of milk, has no
need of cruelty, and still clings to Nature's kindly breast!

Before man's appearance, profound was the peace of these solitudes and
their amphibious races. From the bear and the blue fox, the two tyrants
of that region, they found an easy shelter in the ever-open bosom of
the sea, their bountiful nurse.


When our mariners first landed there, their only difficulty was to
pierce through the mass of curious and kindly-natured phocæ which came
to gaze upon them. The penguins of Australian lands, the auks and
razor-bills of the Arctic shores, peaceable and more active, made no
movement. The wild geese, whose fine down, of incomparable softness,
furnishes the much-prized eider, readily permitted the spoilers to
approach and seize them with their hands.

The attitude of these novel creatures was the cause of pleasant
mistakes on the part of our navigators. Those who from afar first saw
the islands thronged with penguins, standing upright, in their costume
of white and black, imagined them to be bands of children in white
aprons! The stiffness of their small arms--one can scarcely call them
wings in these rudimentary birds--their awkwardness on land, their
difficulty of movement, prove that they belong to the ocean, where they
swim with wonderful ease, and which is their natural and legitimate
element. One might speak of them as its emancipated eldest sons,
as ambitious fishes, candidates for the characters of birds, which
had already progressed so far as to transform their fins into scaly
pinions. The metamorphosis was not attended with complete success; as
birds powerless and clumsy, they remain skilful fishes.


Or again, with their large feet attached so near to the body, with
their neck short or poised on a great cylindrical trunk, with their
flattened head, one might judge them to be near relations of their
neighbours the seals, whose kindly nature they possess, but not their

These eldest sons of nature, eye-witnesses of the ancient ages of
transformation, appeared like so many strange hieroglyphics to those
who first beheld them. With eyes mild, but sad and pale as the face of
ocean, they seemed to regard man, the last-born of the planet, from the
depths of their antiquity.

Levaillant, not far from the Cape of Good Hope, found them in great
numbers on a desert isle where rose the tomb of a poor Danish mariner,
a child of the Arctic Pole, whom Fate had led thither to die among the
Austral wastes, and between whom and his fatherland the density of
the globe intervened. Seals and penguins supplied him with a numerous
society; the former prostrate and lying down; the latter standing
erect, and mounting guard with dignity around the lonely grave: all
melancholy, and responding to the moans of Ocean, which one might have
imagined to be the wail of the dead.

Their winter station is the Cape. In that warm African exile they
invest themselves with a good and solid coat of fat, which will be very
useful defences for them against cold and hunger. When spring returns,
a secret voice admonishes them that the tempestuous thaw has broken
and rent the sharp crystalline ice; that the blissful Polar Seas,
their country and their cradle, their sweet love-Eden, are open and
calling upon them. Impatiently they set forth; with rapid wings they
oar their way across five or six hundred leagues of sea, without other
resting-place than occasional pieces of floating ice may, for a few
moments, offer them. They arrive, and all is ready. A summer of thirty
days' duration makes them happy.


With a grave happiness. The happiness of discovering a profound
tranquillity separates them from the sea where their sole element lies.
The season of love and incubation is, therefore, a time of fasting and
inquietude. The blue fox, their enemy, chases them into the desert. But
union is strength. The mothers all incubate at one and the same time,
and the legion of fathers watches around them, prepared to sacrifice
themselves in their behalf. Let but the little one be hatched, and the
serried ranks conduct it to the sea; it leaps into the waters, and is

Stern, sad climates! Yet who would not love them, when he sees there
the vast tenderness of nature, which impartially orders the home of man
and the bird, the central source of love and devotion? From nature the
Northern home receives a moral grace which that of the South rarely
possesses; a sun shines there which is not the sun of the Equator, but
far more gentle--that of the soul. There every creature is exalted,
either by the very austerity of the climate or the urgency of peril.

The supreme effort in this world of the North, which is nowhere that
of beauty, is to have discovered the Beautiful. This miracle springs
from the mother's soul. Lapland has but one art, one solitary object of
art--the cradle. "It is a charming object," says a lady who has visited
those regions; "elegant and graceful, like a pretty little shoe lined
with the soft fur of the white hare, more delicate than the feathers
of the swan. Around the hood, where the infant's head is completely
protected, warmly and softly sheltered, are hung festoons of coloured
pearls, and tiny chains of copper or silver which clink incessantly,
and whose jingling makes the young Laplander laugh."

O wonder of maternity! Through its influence the rudest woman becomes
artistic, tenderly heedful. But the female is always heroic. It is one
of the most affecting spectacles to see the bird of the eider--the
eider-duck--plucking its down from its breast for a couch and a
covering for its young. And if man steals the nest, the mother still
continues upon herself the cruel operation. When she has stripped off
every feather, when there is nothing more to despoil but the flesh
and the blood, the father takes his turn; so that the little one is
clothed of themselves and their substance, by their devotion and their
suffering. Montaigne, speaking of a cloak which had served his father,
and which he loved to wear in remembrance of him, makes use of a tender
phrase, which this poor nest recalls to my mind--"I wrapped myself up
in my father."


  [Illustration: THE WING.]



    "Wings! wings! to sweep
    O'er mountain high and valley deep.
    Wings! that my heart may rest
    In the radiant morning's breast.

    "Wings! to hover free
    O'er the dawn-empurpled sea.
    Wings! 'bove life to soar,
    And beyond death for evermore."


It is the cry of the whole earth, of the world, of all life; it is that
which every species of animals or plants utters in a hundred diverse
tongues--the voice which issues from the very rock and the inorganic
creation: "Wings! we seek for wings, and the power of flight and

Yea; the most inert bodies rush greedily into the chemical
transformations which will make them part and parcel of the current of
the universal life, and bestow upon them the organs of movement and

Yea; the vegetables, fettered by their immovable roots, expand their
secret loves towards a winged existence, and commend themselves to the
winds, the waters, the insects, in quest of a life beyond their narrow
limits--of that gift of flight which nature has refused to them.

We contemplate pityingly those rudimentary animals, the unau and the
aï, sad and suffering images of man, which cannot advance a step
without a groan--sloths or _tardigrades_. The names by which we
identify them we might justly reserve for ourselves. If slowness be
relative to the desire of movement, to the constantly futile effort
to progress, to advance, to act, the true _tardigrade_ is man. His
faculty of dragging himself from one point of the earth to another, the
ingenious instruments which he has recently invented in aid of that
faculty--all this does not lessen his adhesion to the earth; he is not
the less firmly chained to it by the tyranny of gravitation.


I see upon earth but one order of created beings which enjoy the power
of ignoring or beguiling, by their freedom and swiftness of motion,
this universal sadness of impotent aspiration; I mean those beings
which belong to earth, so to speak, only by the tips of their wings;
which the air itself cradles and supports, most frequently without
being otherwise connected with them than by guiding them at their need
and their caprice.

A life of ease, yet sublime! With what a glance of scorn may the
weakest bird regard the strongest, the swiftest of quadrupeds--a tiger,
a lion! How it may smile to see them in their utter powerlessness
bound, fastened to the earth, which they terrify with vain and useless
roaring--with the nocturnal wailings that bear witness to the bondage
of the so-called king of animals, fettered, as we are all, in that
inferior existence which hunger and gravitation equally prepare for us!

Oh, the fatality of the appetites! the fatality of motion which compels
us to drag our unwilling limbs along the earth! Implacable heaviness
which binds each of our feet to the dull, rude element wherein death
will hereafter resolve us, and says, "Son of the earth, to the earth
thou belongest! A moment released from its bosom, thou shalt lie there
henceforth for ages."

Do not let us inveigh against nature; it is assuredly the sign that
we inhabit a world still in its first youth, still in a state of
barbarism--a world of essay and apprenticeship, in the grand series
of stars, one of the elementary stages of the sublime initiation.
This planet is the world of a child. And thou, a child thou art. From
this lower school thou shalt be emancipated also; thy wings shall be
majestic and powerful. Thou shalt win and deserve, while here, by the
sweat of thy brow, a step forward in liberty.

Let us make an experiment. Ask of the bird while still in the egg what
he would wish to be; give him the option. Wilt thou be a man, and share
in that royalty of the globe which men have won by art and toil?

No, he will immediately reply. Without calculating the immense
exertion, the labour, the sweat, the care, the life of slavery by which
we purchase sovereignty, he will have but one word to say: "A king
myself, by birth, of space and light, why should I abdicate when man,
in his loftiest ambition, in his highest aspirations after happiness
and freedom, dreams of becoming a bird, and taking unto himself wings?"

It is in his sunniest time, his first and richest existence, in his
day-dreams of youth, that man has sometimes the good fortune to forget
that he is a man, a slave to hard fate, and chained to earth. Behold,
yonder, him who flies abroad, who hovers, who dominates over the world,
who swims in the sunbeam; he enjoys the ineffable felicity of embracing
at a glance an infinity of things which yesterday he could only see one
by one. Obscure enigma of detail, suddenly made luminous to him who
perceives its unity! To see the world beneath one's self, to embrace,
to love it! How divine, how lofty a dream! Do not wake me, I pray
you, never wake me! But what is this? Here again are day, uproar, and
labour; the harsh iron hammer, the ear-piercing bell with its voice of
steel, dethrone and dash me headlong; my wings are rent. Dull earth, I
fall to earth; bruised and bent, I return to the plough.

When, at the close of the last century, man formed the daring idea of
giving himself up to the winds, of mounting in the air without rudder,
or oar, or means of guidance, he proclaimed aloud that at length he
had secured his pinions, had eluded nature, and conquered gravitation.
Cruel and tragical catastrophes gave the lie to this ambition. He
studied the economy of the bird's wing, he undertook to imitate it;
rudely enough he counterfeited its inimitable mechanism. We saw with
terror, from a column of a hundred feet high, a poor human bird, armed
with huge wings, dart into air, wrestle with it, and dash headlong into

The gloomy and fatal machine, in its laborious complexity, was a sorry
imitation of that admirable arm (far superior to the human arm), that
system of muscles, which co-operate among themselves in so vigorous
and lively a movement. Disjointed and relaxed, the human wing lacked
especially that all-powerful muscle which connects the shoulder to the
chest (the _humerus_ to the _sternum_), and communicates its impetus to
the thunderous flight of the falcon. The instrument acts so directly
on the mover, the oar on the rower, and unites with him so perfectly
that the martinet, the frigate-bird, sweeps along at the rate of eighty
leagues an hour, five or six times swifter than our most rapid railway
trains, outstripping the hurricane, and with no rival but the lightning.


But even if our poor imitators had exactly imitated the wing, nothing
would have been accomplished. They, then, had copied the form, but
not the internal structure. They thought that the bird's power of
ascension lay in its flight alone, forgetting the secret auxiliary
which nature conceals in the plumage and the bones. The mystery, the
true marvel lies in the faculty with which she endows the bird, of
rendering itself light or heavy at its will, of admitting more or less
of air into its expressly constructed reservoirs. Would it grow light,
it inflates its dimension, while diminishing its relative weight; by
this means it spontaneously ascends in a medium heavier than itself.
To descend or drop, it contracts itself, grows thin and small; cutting
through the air which supported and raised it in its former heavy
condition. Here lay the error, the cause of man's fatal ignorance. He
assumed that the bird was a ship, not a balloon. He imitated the wing
only; but the wing, however skilfully imitated, if not conjoined with
this internal force, is but a certain means of destruction.


But this faculty, this rapid inhalation or expulsion of air, of
swimming with a ballast variable at pleasure, whence does it proceed?
From an unique, unheard-of power of respiration. The man who should
inhale a similar quantity of air at once would be suffocated. The
bird's lung, elastic and powerful, quaffs it, grows full of it, grows
intoxicated with vigour and delight, pours it abundantly into its
bones, into its aerial cells. Each aspiration is renewed second after
second with tremendous rapidity. The blood, ceaselessly vivified with
fresh air, supplies each muscle with that inexhaustible energy which
no other being possesses, and which belongs only to the elements.

The clumsy image of Antæus regaining strength each time he touched
the earth, his mother, does but rudely and weakly render an idea of
this reality. The bird does not need to seek the air that he may be
reinvigorated by touching it; the air seeks and flows into him--it
incessantly kindles within him the burning fires of life.

It is this, and not the wing, which is so marvellous. Take the pinions
of the condor, and follow in its track, when, from the summit of the
Andes and their Siberian glaciers, it swoops down upon the glowing
shore of Peru, traversing in a minute all the temperatures and all
the climates of the globe, breathing at one breath the frightful mass
of air--scorched, frozen, it matters not. You would reach the earth
stricken as by thunder.

The smallest bird in this matter shames the strongest quadruped. Place
me, says Toussenel, a chained lion in a balloon, and his harsh roaring
will be lost in space. Far more powerful in voice and respiration, the
little lark mounts upward, trilling its song, and makes itself heard
when it can be seen no longer. Its light and joyous strain, uttered
without fatigue, and costing nothing, seems the bliss of an invisible
spirit which would fain console the earth.

Strength makes joy. The happiest of beings is the bird, because it
feels itself strong beyond the limits of its action; because, cradled,
sustained by the breath of heaven, it floats, it rises without effort,
like a dream. The boundless strength, the exalted faculty, obscure
among inferior beings, in the bird clear and vital, of deriving at will
its vigour from the maternal source, of drinking in life at full flood,
is a divine intoxication.

The tendency of every human being--a tendency wholly rational, not
arrogant, not impious--is to liken itself to Nature, the great Mother,
to fashion itself after her image, to crave a share of the unwearied
wings with which Eternal Love broods over the world.

Human tradition is fixed in this direction. Man does not wish to be
a man, but an angel, a winged deity. The winged genii of Persia
suggest the cherubim of Judea. Greece endows her Psyche with wings,
and discovers the true name of the soul, #asthma#, _aspiration_. The
soul has preserved her pinions; has passed at one flight through the
shadowy Middle Age, and constantly increases in heavenly longings. More
spotless and more glowing, she gives utterance to a prayer, breathed
in the very depths of her nature and her prophetic ardour: "Oh, that I
were a bird!" saith man.

Woman never doubts but that her offspring will become an angel. She has
seen it so in her dreams.

Dreams or realities? Winged visions, raptures of the night, which we
shall weep so bitterly in the morning! If ye really _were_! If, indeed,
ye lived! If we had lost some of the causes of our regret! If, from
stars to stars, re-united, and launched on an eternal flight, we all
performed in companionship a happy pilgrimage through the illimitable

At times one is apt to believe it. Something whispers us that these
dreams are not all dreams, but glimpses of a world of truth, momentary
flashes revealed through these lower clouds, certain promises to be
hereafter fulfilled, while the pretended reality it is that should be
stigmatized as a foul delusion.





There is never a man, unlettered, ignorant, exhausted, insensible,
who can deny himself a sentiment of reverence, I might almost say of
terror, on entering the halls of our Museum of Natural History.

No foreign collection, as far as my knowledge extends, produces this

Others, undoubtedly, as the superb museum of Leyden, are richer in
particular branches; but none are more complete, none more harmonious.
This sublime harmony is felt instinctively; it imposes and seizes
on the mind. The inattentive traveller, the chance visitor, is
unwillingly affected; he pauses, and he dreams. In the presence of
this vast enigma, of this immense hieroglyph which for the first time
is displayed before him, he may consider himself fortunate if he can
read a character or spell a letter. How often have different classes
of persons, surprised and tormented by such fantastic forms, inquired
of us their meaning! A word has set them in the right path, a simple
indication charmed them; they have gone away contented, and promising
themselves to return. On the other hand, they who traversed this ocean
of unknown objects without comprehending them, have departed fatigued
and melancholy.

Let us express our wish that an administration so enlightened, so high
in the ranks of science, may return to the original constitution of the
museum, which appointed _gardiens démonstrateurs_--attendants who were
also cicerones--and will only admit as guardians of this treasure men
who can understand it, and, on occasion, become its interpreters.

Another wish we dare to form is, that by the side of our renowned
naturalists they will place those courageous navigators, those
persevering travellers who, by their labours, their fruits, by a
hundred times hazarding their lives, have procured for us these costly
spoils. Whatever their intrinsic value, it is, perhaps, increased by
the heroism and grandeur of heart of these adventurers. This charming
colibris,[14] madam, a winged sapphire in which you could see only a
useless object of personal decoration, do you know that an Azara[15] or
a Lesson[16] has brought it from murderous forests where one breathes
nothing but death? This magnificent tiger, whose skin you admire, are
you aware that before it could be planted here, there was a necessity
that it should be sought after in the jungles, encountered face to
face, fired at, struck in the forehead by the intrepid Levaillant?[17]
These illustrious travellers, ardent lovers of nature, often without
means, often without assistance, have followed it into the deserts,
watched and surprised it in its mysterious retreats, voluntarily
enduring thirst and hunger and incredible fatigues; never complaining,
thinking themselves too well recompensed, full of devotion, of
gratitude at each fresh discovery; regretting nothing in such an event,
not even the death of La Perouse[18] or Mungo Park,[19] death by
shipwreck, or death among the savages.


Bid them live again here in our midst! If their lonely life flowed
free from Europe for Europe's benefit, let their images be placed in
the centre of the grateful crowd, with a brief exposition of their
fortunate discoveries, their sufferings, and their sublime courage.
More than one young man shall be moved by the sight of these heroes,
and depart to dream enthusiastically of following in their footsteps.

Herein lies the twofold grandeur of the place. Its treasures were sent
by heroic men, and they were collected, classified, and harmonized by
illustrious physicists, to whom all things flowed as to a legitimate
centre, and whom their position, no less than their intellect, induced
to accomplish here the centralization of nature.

In the last century, the great movement of the sciences revolved around
a man of genius, influential by his rank, his social relations, his
fortune--M. the Count de Buffon. All the donations of men of science,
travellers, and kings, came to him, and by him were classified in this
museum. In our own days a grander spectacle has fixed upon this spot
the eager eyes of all the nations of the world, when two mighty men (or
rather two systems), Cuvier and Geoffroy, made this their battle-field.
All the world enrolled itself on the one side or the other; all took
part in the strife, and despatched to the Museum, either in support of
or opposition to the experiments, books, animals, or facts previously
unknown. Hence these collections, which one might suppose to be dead,
are really living; they still throb with the recollections of the fray,
are still animated by the lofty minds which invoked all these beings to
be the witnesses of their prolific struggle.

It is no fortuitous gathering yonder. It consists of closely connected
series, formed and systematically arranged by profound thinkers. Those
species which form the most curious transitions between the genera are
richly represented. There you may see, far more fully than elsewhere,
what Linné and Lamarck have said, that just as our museums gradually
grew richer, became more complete, exhibited fewer _lacunæ_, we should
be constrained to acknowledge that nature does nothing abruptly, in
all things proceeds by gentle and insensible transitions. Wherever we
seem to see in her works a bound, a chasm, a sudden and inharmonious
interval, let us ascribe the fault to ourselves; that blank is our own


Let us pause for a few moments at the solemn passages where life
uncertain seems still to oscillate, where Nature appears to question
herself, to examine her own volition. "Shall I be fish or mammal?"
says the creature. It falters, and remains a fish, but warm-blooded;
belongs to the mild race of lamentins and seals. "Shall I be bird or
quadruped?" A great question; a perplexed hesitancy--a prolonged and
changeful combat. All its various phases are discussed; the diverse
solutions of the problems naïvely suggested and realized by fantastic
beings like the ornithorhynchus, which has nothing of the bird but
the beak; like the poor bat, a tender and innocent animal in its
family-circle, but whose undefined form makes it grim-looking and
unfortunate. You perceive that nature has sought in it _the wing_, and
found only a hideous membranous skin, which nevertheless performs a
wing's function:

    "I am a bird; see you my wings?"

Yes; but even the wing does not make the bird.


Place yourself towards the centre of the museum, and close to the
clock. There you perceive, on your left, the first rudiment of the wing
in the penguin of the southern pole, and its brother, the Arctic auk,
one degree more developed; scaly winglets, whose glittering feathers
rather recall the fish than the bird. On land the creature is feeble;
but while earth is difficult for it, air is impossible. Do not complain
too warmly. Its prescient mother destines it for the Polar Seas, where
it will only need to paddle. She clothes it carefully in a fine coat
of fat and an impenetrable covering. She will have it warm among the
icebergs. Which is the better means? It seems as if she had hesitated,
had wavered. By the side of the booby we see with surprise an essay
at quite another genus, yet one not less remarkable as a maternal
precaution. I refer to a very rare gorfou--which I have seen in no
other museum--attired in the rough skin of a quadruped, resembling a
goat's fleece, but more shining, perhaps, in the living animal, and
certainly impermeable to water.

To link together the birds which do not fly, we must find the
connecting point in the navigator of the desert--the bird-camel, the
ostrich, resembling the camel itself in its internal structure. At
least, if its imperfect wings cannot raise it above the earth, they
assist it powerfully in walking, and endow it with extraordinary
swiftness: it is the sail with which it skims its arid African ocean.

Let us return to the penguin, the true starting-point of the series--to
the penguin, whose rudimentary pinion cannot be employed as a sail,
does not aid it in walking, is only an indication, like a memorial of


She loosens her bonds, she rises with difficulty in a first attempt
at flight by means of two strange figures, which appear to us both
grotesque and pretentious. The penguin is not of these; a simple, silly
creature, you see that it never had the ambition to fly. But here are
they who emancipate themselves, who seem in quest of the adornment or
the grace of motion. The gorfou may be taken for a penguin which has
decided to quit its condition. It assumes a coquettish tuft of plumes,
that throws into high relief its ugliness. The shapeless puffin, which
seems the very caricature of a caricature, the paroquet, resembles
it in its great beak, rudely chipped, but without edge or strength.
Tail-less and ill-balanced, it may always be upset by the weight of its
large head. It ventures, nevertheless, to flutter about, at the hazard
of toppling over. It swoops nobly close to the surface of earth, and
is, perhaps, the envy of the penguins and the seals. Sometimes it even
risks itself at sea--ill-fated ship, which the lightest breeze will

It is, however, impossible to deny that the first flight is taken.
Birds of various kinds carry on the enterprise more successfully. The
rich genus of _divers_ (Brachypteræ), in its species widely different,
connects the sailor-birds with the natatores, or swimmers: those, with
wings perfected, with a bold and secure flight, accomplish the longest
voyages; these, still clothed with the glittering feathers of the
penguin, frisk and sport at the bottom of the seas. They want but fins
and respiratory organs to become actual fishes. They are alternately
masters of both elements, air and water.


  [Illustration: TRIUMPH OF THE WING.]




Let us not attempt to particularize all the intermediate gradations.
Let us proceed to yonder snow-white bird, which I perceive floating
on high among the clouds; the bird which one sees everywhere--on the
water, on land, on rocks alternately concealed and exposed by the
waves; the bird which one loves to watch, familiar as it is, and
greedy, and which might well be named "the little vulture of the seas."
I speak of those myriads of petrels, or gulls, with whose hoarse cries
every waste resounds. Find me, if you can, creatures endowed with
fuller liberty. Day and night, south or north, sea or shore, dead prey
or living, all is one to them. Using everything, at home everywhere,
they indifferently display their white sails from the waves to the
heaven; the fresh breeze, ever shifting and changing, is the bounteous
wind which always blows in the direction they most desire.

What are they but air, sea, the elements, which have taken wing and
fly? I know nothing of it. To see their gray eye, stern and cold (never
successfully imitated in our museums), is to see the gray, indifferent
sea of the north in all its icy impassiveness. What do I say? That sea
exhibits more emotion. At times phosphorescent and electrical, it will
rise into strong animation. Old Father Ocean, saturnine and passionate,
often revolves, under his pale countenance, a host of thoughts. His
sons, the goëlands, have less of animal life than he has. They fly,
with their dead eyes seeking some dead prey; and in congregated flocks
they expedite the destruction of the great carcasses which float upon
the sea for their behoof. Not ferocious in aspect, amusing the voyager
by their sports, by frequent glimpses of their snowy pinions, they
speak to him of remote lands, of the shores which he leaves behind or
is about to visit, of absent or hoped-for friends. And they are useful
to him, also, by announcing and predicting the coming storm. Ofttimes
their sail expanded warns him to furl his own.


For do not suppose that when the tempest breaks they deign to fold
their wings. Far from this: it is then that they set forth. The storm
is their harvest time; the more terrible the sea, so much the less
easily can the fish escape from these daring fishers. In the Bay of
Biscay, where the ocean-swell, driven from the north-west, after
traversing the Atlantic, arrives in mighty billows, swollen to enormous
heights, with a terrific clash and shock, the tranquil petrels labour
imperturbably. "I saw them," says M. de Quatrefages, "describe in the
air a thousand curves, plunge between two waves, reappear with a fish.
Swiftest when they followed the wind, slowest when they confronted it,
they nevertheless poised always with the same ease, and never appeared
to give a stroke of the wing the more than in the calmest weather. And
yet the billows mounted up the slopes, like cataracts reversed, as high
as the platform of Nôtre Dame, and their spray higher than Montmartre.
They did not appear more moved by it."


Man has not their philosophy. The seaman is powerfully affected when,
at the decline of day, a sudden night darkening over the sea, he
descries, hovering about his barque, an ominous little pigeon, a bird
of funereal black. _Black_ is not the fitting word; black would be
less gloomy: the true tint is that of a smoky-brown, which cannot be
defined. It is a shadow of hell, an evil vision, which strides along
the waters, breasts the billows, crushes under its feet the tempest.
The stormy petrel (or "St. Peter") is the horror of the seaman, who
sees in it, according to his belief, a living curse. Whence does it
come? How is it able to rise at such enormous distances from all land?
What wills it? What does it come in quest of, if not of a wreck? It
sweeps to and fro impatiently, and already selects the corpses which
its accomplice, the atrocious and iniquitous sea, will soon deliver up
to its mercies.

Such are the fables of fear. Less panic-stricken minds would see in
the poor bird another ship in distress, an imprudent navigator, which
has also been surprised far from shore and without an asylum. Our
vessel is for him an island, where he would fain repose. The track of
the barque, which rides through both wind and wave, is in itself a
refuge, a succour against fatigue. Incessantly, with nimble flight,
he places the rampart of the vessel between himself and the tempest.
Timid and short-sighted, you see it only when it brings the night.
Like ourselves, it dreads the storm--it trembles with fear--it would
fain escape--and like you, O seaman, it sighs, "What will become of my
little ones?"

But the black hour passes, day reappears, and I see a small blue point
in the heaven. Happy and serene region, which has rested in peace far
above the hurricane! In that blue point, and at an elevation of ten
thousand feet, royally floats a little bird with enormous pens. A gull?
No; its wings are black. An eagle? No; the bird is too small.

It is the little ocean-eagle, first and chief of the winged race, the
daring navigator who never furls his sails, the lord of the tempest,
the scorner of all peril--the man-of-war or frigate-bird.

We have reached the culminating point of the series commenced by the
wingless bird. Here we have a bird which is virtually nothing more
than wings: scarcely any body--barely as large as that of the domestic
cock--while his prodigious pinions are fifteen feet in span. The great
problem of flight is solved and overpassed, for the power of flight
seems useless. Such a bird, naturally sustained by such supports,
need but allow himself to be borne along. The storm bursts; he mounts
to lofty heights, where he finds tranquillity. The poetic metaphor,
untrue when applied to any other bird, is no exaggeration when applied
to him: literally, he sleeps upon the storm.

When he chooses to oar his way seriously, all distance vanishes: he
breakfasts at the Senegal; he dines in America.

Or, if he thinks fit to take more time, and amuse himself _en
route_, he can do so. He may continue his progress through the night
indefinitely, certain of reposing himself. Upon what? On his huge
motionless wing, which takes upon itself all the weariness of the
voyage; or on the wind, his slave, which eagerly hastens to cradle him.

Observe, moreover, that this strange being is gifted with the proud
prerogative of fearing nothing in this world. Little, but strong and
intrepid, he braves all the tyrants of the air. He can despise, if need
be, the pygargue and the condor: those huge unwieldy creatures will
with great difficulty have put themselves in motion when he shall have
already achieved a distance of ten leagues.

Oh, it is then that envy seizes us, when, amid the glowing azure of
the Tropics, at incredible altitudes, almost imperceptible in the dim
remoteness, we see him triumphantly sweeping past us--this black,
solitary bird, alone in the waste of heaven: or, at the most, at a
lower elevation, the snow-white sea-swallow crosses his flights in easy

Why dost not thou take me upon thy pens, O king of the air, thou
fearless and unwearied master of space, whose wondrously swift
flight annihilates time? Who more than thou is raised above the mean
fatalities of existence?

One thing, however, has astonished me: that, when contemplated from
near at hand, the first of the winged kingdom should have nothing of
that serenity which a free life promises. His eye is cruelly hard,
severe, mobile, unquiet. His vexed attitude is that of some unhappy
sentinel doomed, under pain of death, to keep watch over the infinity
of ocean. He visibly exerts himself to see afar. And if his vision does
not avail him, the doom is on his dark countenance; nature condemns
him, he dies.

On looking at him closely, you perceive that he has no feet. Or at all
events, feet which being palmate and exceedingly short, can neither
walk nor perch. With a formidable beak, he has not the talons of a
true eagle of the sea. A pseudo-eagle, and superior to the true in his
daring as in his powers of flight, he has not, however, his strength,
his invincible grasp. He strikes and slays: can he seize?

Thence arises his life of uncertainty and hazard--the life of a corsair
and a pirate rather than of a mariner--and the fixed inquiry ever
legible on his countenance: "Shall I feed? Shall I have wherewithal to
nourish my little ones this evening?"


The immense and superb apparatus of his wings becomes on land a danger
and an embarrassment. To raise himself he needs a strong wind and a
lofty station, a promontory, a rock. Surprised on a sandy level, on
the banks, the low reefs where he sometimes halts, the frigate-bird is
defenceless; in vain he threatens, he strikes, for a blow from a stick
will overcome him.

At sea, those vast wings, of such admirable utility in ascent, are
ill-fitted for skimming the surface of the water. When wetted, they may
over-weight and sink him. And thereupon, woe to the bird! He belongs to
the fishes, he nourishes the mean tribes on which he had relied for his
own behoof; the game eats the hunter, the ensnarer is ensnared.

And yet, what shall he do? His food lies in the waters. He is ever
compelled to draw near them, to return to them, to skim incessantly the
hateful and prolific sea which threatens to engulf him.

Thus, then, this being so well-armed, winged, superior to all others
in power of flight and vision as in daring, leads but a trembling and
precarious life. He would die of hunger had he not the industry to
create for himself a purveyor, whom he cheats of his food. His ignoble
resource, alas, is to attack a dull and timorous bird, the noddy,
famous as a fisher. The frigate-bird, which is of no larger dimensions,
pursues him, strikes him on the neck with his beak, and constrains him
to yield up his prey. All these incidents transpire in the air; before
the fish can fall, he catches it on its passage.

If this resource fail, he does not shrink from attacking man. "On
landing at Ascension Island," says a traveller, "we were assailed by
some frigate-birds. One tried to snatch a fish out of my very hand.
Others alighted on the copper where the meat was being cooked to carry
it off, without taking any notice of the sailors who were around it."

Dampier saw some of these birds, sick, aged, or crippled, perched upon
the rocks which seemed their sanatorium, levying contributions upon the
young noddies, their vassals, and nourishing themselves on the results
of their fishing. But in the vigour of their prime they do not rest
on earth; living like the clouds, constantly floating on their vast
wings from one world to the other, patiently awaiting their fortune,
and piercing the infinite heaven--the infinite waters--with implacable

The lord of the winged race is he who does not rest. The chief of
navigators is he who never reaches his _bourne_. Earth and sea are
almost equally prohibited to him. He is for ever banished.


Let us envy nothing. No existence is really free here below, no career
is sufficiently extensive, no power of flight sufficiently great, no
wing can satisfy. The most powerful is but a temporary substitute. The
soul waits, demands, and hopes for others:--

    "Wings to soar above life:
    Wings to soar beyond death!"

     [NOTE.--_The Frigate-Bird._ This interesting bird (_Tachypetes_)
     is allied to the cormorants, but differs from them in the
     possession of a forked tail, short feet, a curved beak, and
     extraordinary spread of wing. Its plumage is coloured of a rich
     purple black, but the beak is varied with vermilion red, and
     the throat with patches of white. It is an inhabitant of the
     Tropics, where it lives a predatory life, forcing the gannet and
     the gull to disgorge their prey, and retiring to breed in lonely
     uninhabited islands.

     Of its voracity, Dr. Chamberlaine gives a curious illustration.
     When the fishermen are pursuing their vocation on the sand-banks
     in Kingston Harbour, Jamaica, the gulls, pelicans, and other
     sea-birds gather round in swarms, and as the loaded net is hauled
     ashore, pounce upon their struggling prey. But no sooner does this
     take place, than the frigate-birds attack them with such furious
     violence that they are glad to surrender their hard-earned booty
     to antagonists so formidable.

     The lightness of his body, his short tarsi, his enormous spread
     of wing, together with his long, slender, and forked tail,
     all combine to give this bird a superiority over his tribe,
     not only in length and swiftness of flight, but also in the
     capability of maintaining himself on extended pinions in his
     aerial realm, where, at times, he will soar so high that his
     figure can scarce be discerned by the spectator in this nether

  [Illustration: THE SHORES.]




I have frequently observed, in my days of sadness, a being sadder
still, which Melancholy might have chosen for its symbol: I mean, the
Dreamer of the Marshes, the meditative bird that, in all seasons,
standing solitarily before the dull waters, seems, along with his
image, to plunge in their mirror his monotonous thought.

His noble ebon-black crest, his pearl-gray mantle--this semi-royal
mourning contrasts with his puny body and transparent leanness. When
flying, the poor heron displays but a couple of wings; low as is the
elevation to which he rises, there is no longer any question of his
body--he becomes invisible. An animal truly aerial, to bear so light
a frame, the heron has enough, nay, he has a foot too many; he folds
under his wing the other; and nearly always his lame figure is thus
defined against the sky in a fantastical hieroglyph.


Whoever has lived in history, in the study of fallen races and empires,
is tempted to see herein an image of decay. Yonder bird is a great
ruined lord, a dethroned king, or I am much mistaken. No creature
issues from Nature's hands in so miserable a condition. Therefore
I ventured to interrogate this dreamer, and I said to him from a
distance the following words, which his most delicate hearing caught
exactly:--"My fisher-friend, wouldst thou oblige me by explaining
(without abandoning thy present position), why, always so melancholy,
thou seemest doubly melancholy to-day? Hath thy prey failed thee? Have
the too subtle fish deceived thine eyes? Does the mocking frog defy
thee from the bottom of the waters?"

"No; neither fish nor frogs have made sport of the heron. But the heron
laughs at himself, despises himself, when he remembers the glory of his
noble race, and the bird of the olden times.

"Thou wouldst know wherefore I dream? Ask the Indian chief of the
Cherokees, or the Iowas, why for long days he leans his head upon his
hand, marking on the tree before him an object which was never there?

"The earth was our empire, the realm of the aquatic birds in the
Transitional age when, young and fresh, she emerged from the waters.
An era of strife, of battle, but of abundant subsistence. Not a heron
then but earned his life. There was need neither to attack nor pursue;
the prey hunted the hunter; it whistled, or it croaked on every
side. Millions of creatures of undefined natures, bird-frogs, winged
fish, infested the uncertain limits of the two elements. What would
ye have done, ye feeble mortals, the latest-born of the world? The
Bird prepared earth for ye. Colossal encounters were waged against
the enormous monster-births of the ooze; the son of air, the bird,
attaining the dimensions of an Anak, shrunk not from battle with the
giant. If your ungrateful histories have not traced these events,
God's grand record narrates them in the depths of the earth, where she
deposits the conquered and the conquerors, the monsters exterminated by
us, and we who have exterminated them.

"Your lying myths make us contemporaries of a human Hercules. What had
his club availed against the plesiosaurus? Who would have met, face to
face, the horrible leviathan? The capacity of flight was absolutely
needed, the strong intrepid wing which from the loftiest height bore
downwards the Herculean bird, the epiornis, an eagle twenty feet in
stature, and fifty feet from wing-tip to wing-tip, the implacable
hunter, who, lord of three elements, in the air, in the water, and in
the deep slime, pursued the dragon with ceaseless hostility.

"Man had perished a hundred times. Through our agency man became
possible on a pacified earth. But who will be astonished that these
awful wars, which lasted for myriads of years, spent the conquerors,
wearied the winged Hercules, transformed him into a feeble Perseus, a
pale and lustreless memory of our heroic times?

"Lowered in strength and stature, but not in heart, famished by our
very victory, by the disappearance of evil races, by the division of
the elements which held our prey concealed at the bottom of the waters,
we in our turn were hunted upon the earth, in the forests and the
marsh, by those new-comers who, without our help, had never been. The
malice and dexterity of the woodman were fatal to our nests. Like a
coward, in the thick of the branches which impede flight and shackle
combat, he laid his hand on our young ones. A new war, and a less
fortunate one, this, which Homer calls the War of the Pigmies and the
Cranes. The lofty intelligence of the cranes, their truly military
tactics, have not prevented man their enemy from gaining the advantage
by a thousand execrable arts. Time was on his side, and earth, and
nature: she moves forward, drying up the earth, exhausting the marshes,
narrowing the undefined region where we reigned. It will be with us,
in the end, as with the beaver. Many species perish: another century,
perhaps, and the heron _will have_ lived."

The story is too true. Except those species which have taken their
side, have abandoned earth, have given themselves up frankly and
unreservedly to the liquid element; except the divers, the cormorant,
the wise pelican, and a few others, the aquatic tribes seem in a state
of decay. Restlessness and sobriety maintain them still. It is this
persistent anxiety which has gifted the pelican with a peculiar organ,
hollowing for her under her distended beak a movable reservoir, a
living sign of economy and of attentive foresight.

Others, skilful voyagers, like the swan, live by constantly changing
their abode. But the swan herself, which, though uneatable, is trained
by man on account of her beauty and her grace--the swan, formerly so
common in Italy, and to which Virgil so constantly refers, is now very
rare there. In vain the traveller would seek for those snow-white
flotillas which covered with their sails the waters of the Mincio, the
marshes of Mantua; which mourned for Phaëton in despite of his sisters,
or in their sublime flight, pursuing the stars with harmonious song,
repeated to them the name of Varus.[20]

That song, of which all antiquity speaks, is it a fable? These organs
of singing, which are so largely developed in the swan, were they
always useless? Did they never disport themselves in happy freedom when
enjoying a more genial atmosphere, and spending the greater portion of
the year in the mild climates of Greece and Italy? One might be tempted
to believe it. The swan, driven back to the north, where his amours
secure mystery and repose, has sacrificed his song, has gained the
accent of barbarism, or become voiceless. The muse is dead; the bird
has survived.


Gregarious, disciplined, full of tactic and resources, the crane, the
superior type of intelligence among these species, might contrive, one
would fancy, to prosper, and to maintain herself everywhere in her
ancient royalty. She has lost two kingdoms, however: France, where
she now only appears as a bird of passage; England, where she rarely
ventures to deposit her eggs.

The heron, in the days of Aristotle, was full of industry and
sagacity. The ancients consulted him in reference to fine weather
or tempest, as one of the gravest of augurs. Fallen in the mediæval
days, but preserving his beauty, his heavenward flight, he was still
a prince, a feudal bird; kings esteemed it kingly sport to hunt him,
and considered him a meet quarry for the noble falcon. And so keenly
was he hunted, that already, in the reign of Francis I., he had grown
rare: that monarch lodged him near his own palace at Fontainebleau,
and established there some heronries. Two or three centuries pass,
and Buffon can still believe that there are no provinces in France
where heronries could not be found. In our own days, Toussenel knows
of but one in all the country--at least in its northern districts, in
Champagne: a wood between Rheims and Epernay conceals the last asylum
where the poor lonely bird still dares to hide his loves.


Lonely! In that lies his condemnation. Less gregarious than the crane,
less domesticated than the stork, he seems to have grown harsh towards
his progeny, towards the mate whom he loves. His brief rare fits of
desire scarcely beguile him for a day from his melancholy. He cares
little for life. In captivity he often refuses nourishment, and pines
away without complaint and without regret.

The aquatic birds, creatures of great experience, for the most part
reflective and learned in two elements, were, at their palmiest epoch,
more advanced than many others. They well deserved the care of man. All
of them possessed merits of diverse originality. The social instinct of
the cranes, and their various imitative talent, rendered them amusing
and agreeable. The joviality of the pelican, and his joyous humour;
the tenderness of the goose, and his strong faculty of attachment;
and, finally, the good disposition of the storks, their piety towards
their aged parents, confirmed by so many witnesses, formed between this
world and our own firm ties of sympathy, which human levity ought not
barbarously to have rent asunder.


     [NOTE.--_Heronries in England._ The heron, though rare in England,
     is certainly not so scarce as he seems to be in France, perhaps
     because it is against the laws of sport to hunt him. In some
     districts the man who shot a heron would be regarded with as much
     scorn as if he had killed a fox. He is a very rapacious bird, and
     it is asserted that, on an average, he will destroy daily half a
     hundred small roach and dace.

     There is a fine heronry at Cobham, near Gravesend, in Kent, the
     seat of the Earl of Darnley. Another, in Great Sowdens Wood, on
     the Rye road, one mile from Udimere, in Sussex, contains fully
     four hundred nests. That at Parham, the Hon. R. Curzon's beautiful
     seat has quite a history.

     The original birds were brought from Wales to Penshurst, by the
     Earl of Leicester's steward, in the reign of James I. Thence, some
     two centuries later, they migrated to Michel Grove, at Angmering.
     It may be about twenty years since that the Duke of Norfolk
     caused two or three trees to be felled near their retreat, and
     the offended birds immediately commenced their migrations, and,
     in the course of three seasons, all assembled in Parham Woods.
     Here, in the thick shelter of pine and spruce-fir, are now about
     fifty-seven nests. (See Knox's "Ornithological Rambles in Kent and






The decay of the heron is less perceptible in America. He is not so
frequently hunted. The solitudes are of vaster dimensions. He can
still find, among his beloved marshes, gloomy and almost impenetrable
forests. In these shadowy recesses he is more gregarious: ten or
fifteen "domestic exiles" establish themselves in the same locality, or
at but a short distance from each other. The complete obscurity which
the huge cedars throw over the livid waters re-assures and rejoices
them. Towards the summit of these trees they build with sticks a wide
platform, which they cover with small branches: this is the residence
of the family, and the shelter of their loves; there, the eggs are
laid and hatched in quiet, the young are taught to fly, and all those
paternal lessons are given which will perfect the young fisher. They
have little cause to fear the intrusion of man into their peaceful
retreats: these they find near the sea-shore, especially in North and
South Carolina, in low swampy levels, the haunt of yellow fever. Such
morasses--an ancient arm of the sea or a river, an old swamp left
behind in the gradual recession of the waters--extend sometimes over
a length of five or six miles, and a breadth of one mile. The entry
is not very inviting: a barrier of trees confronts you, their trunks
perfectly upright and stripped of branches, fifty or sixty feet high,
and bare to the very summit, where they mingle and bring together
their leafy arches of sombre green, so as to shed upon the waters an
ominous twilight. What waters! A seething mass of leaves and débris,
where the old stems rise pell-mell one upon another; the whole of a
muddy yellow colour, coated on the surface with a green frothy moss.
Advance, and the seemingly firm expanse is a quicksand, into which you
plunge. A laurel-tree at each step intercepts you; you cannot pass
without a painful struggle with their branches, with wrecks of trees,
with laurels constantly springing up afresh. Rare gleams of light
shoot athwart the darkness, and the silence of death prevails in these
terrible regions. Except the melancholy notes of two or three small
birds, which you catch at intervals, or the hoarse cry of the heron,
all is dumb and desolate; but when the wind rises, from the summit
of the trees comes the heron's moans and sighs. If the storm bursts,
these great naked cedars, these tall "ammiral's masts," waver and clash
together; the forest roars, cries, groans, and imitates with singular
exactness the voices of wolves, and bears, and all the beasts of prey.

It was not then without astonishment that, about 1805, the heron, thus
securely settled, saw a rare face, a man's, roaming under their cedars,
and in the open swamp. One man alone was capable of visiting them in
their haunts, a patient indefatigable traveller, no less courageous
than peaceable--the friend and the admirer of birds, Alexander Wilson.

If these people had been acquainted with their visitor's character, far
from feeling terrified at his appearance, they would undoubtedly have
gone forth to meet him, and, with clapping of wings and loud cries,
have given him an amicable salute, a fraternal ovation.


In those terrible years when man waged against man the most destructive
war that had ever been known, there lived in Scotland a man of peace.
A poor Paisley weaver,[21] in his damp dull lodging, he dreamed of
nature, of the infinite liberty of the woods, and, above all, of the
winged life. A cripple, and condemned to inactivity, his very bondage
inspired him with an ecstatic love of light and flight. If he did not
take to himself wings, it was because that sublime gift is, upon earth,
only the dream and hope of another world.

At first he attempted to gratify his love of birds by the purchase
of those illustrated works which pretend to represent them. Clumsy
caricatures, which convey but a ridiculous idea of their form, and none
at all of their movement; and what _is_ the bird deprived of grace
and motion? These did not suffice. He took a decisive resolution: to
abandon everything, his trade, his country. A new Robinson Crusoe,
he was willing, by a voluntary shipwreck, to exile himself to the
solitudes of America; where he might see with his own eyes, observe,
describe, and paint. He then remembered one little fact: that he
neither knew how to draw, to paint, or to write. But this strong and
patient man, whom no difficulties could discourage, soon learned to
write, and to write an excellent style. A good writer, a minutely
accurate artist, with a delicate and certain hand, he seemed, under
the guidance of Nature, his mother and mistress, less to learn than to

Provided with these weapons, he plunges into the desert, the forest,
and the pestiferous savannahs; becomes the friends of buffaloes and the
guest of bears; lives upon wild fruits, under the splendid ceiling of
heaven. Wherever he chances to observe a rare bird, he halts, encamps,
and is "at home." What, indeed, is to there hurry him onward? He has no
house to recall him, and neither wife nor child awaits him. He has a
family, it is true: that great family which he observes and describes.
And friends, he has _them_, too: those which have not yet learned to
mistrust man, and which perch upon his tree, and chatter with him.

And, O birds, you are right; you have there a truly loyal friend, who
will secure you many others, who will teach men to understand you,
being himself as a bird in thought and heart. One day, perhaps, the
traveller, penetrating into your solitudes, and seeing some of you
fluttering and sparkling in the sun, will be tempted with the hope of
spoil, but will bethink himself of Wilson. Why kill the friends of
Wilson? And when this name flashes on his memory, he will lower his

I do not see, let me add, why we should extend to infinity our massacre
of birds, or, at least, of these species which are represented in our
museums, or in the museums painted by Wilson, and his disciple Audubon,
whose truly royal book, exhibiting both race, and the egg, the nest,
the forest, the very landscape, is a rivalry with nature.


These great observers have one speciality which separates them from all
others. Their feeling is so delicate, so precise, that no generalities
could satisfy it; they must always examine the individual. God, I
think, knows nothing of our classifications: he created such and such a
creature, and gives but little heed to the imaginary lines with which
we isolate the species. In the same manner, Wilson knew nothing of
birds in the mass; but such an individual, of such an age, with such
plumage, in such circumstances. He knows it, has seen it, has seen it
again, and again, and he will tell you what it does, what it eats,
how it comports itself, and will relate certain adventures, certain
anecdotes of its life. "I knew a woodpecker. I have frequently seen
a Baltimore." When he uses these expressions, you may wholly trust
yourself to him; they mean that he has held close relations with them
in a species of friendly and family intimacy. Would that we knew the
men with whom we transact business as well as Wilson knew the bird
_qua_, or the heron of the Carolinas!

It is easily understood, and not difficult to imagine, that when this
_bird-man_ returned among men, he met with none that could comprehend
him. His peculiarly novel originality, his marvellous exactness, his
unique faculty of _individualization_ (the only means of re-making of
re-creating the living being), were the chief obstacles to his success.
Neither publishers nor public cared for more than noble, lofty, and
vague generalities, in faithful observance of Buffon's precept: To
generalize is to ennoble; therefore, adopt the word "general."

It required time, and, more than all, it required that this fertile
genius should after his death inspire a similar genius, the accurate
and patient Audubon, whose colossal work has astonished and subjugated
the public, by demonstrating that the true and living in representation
of individuality is nobler and more majestic than the forced products
of the generalizing art.

Wilson's sweetness of disposition, so unworthily misunderstood, shines
forth in his beautiful preface. To some it may appear infantine, but no
innocent heart can be otherwise than moved by it.

"On a visit to a friend, I found that his young son, about eight or
nine years of age, who had been brought up in the town, but was then
living in the country, had just collected, while wandering in the
fields, a fine nosegay of wild-flowers of every hue. He presented it to
his mother, with the greatest animation, saying: 'Dear mamma, see what
beautiful flowers I have gathered! Oh, I could pluck a host of others
which grow in our woods, and are still more lovely! Shall I not bring
you some more, mamma?' She took the nosegay with a smile of tenderness,
silently admired the simple and touching beauty of nature, and said to
him, 'Yes, my son.' The child started off on the wings of happiness.

"I saw myself in that child, and was struck with the resemblance. If
my native country receive with gracious indulgence the specimens which
I now humbly offer it, if it express a desire that _I should bring it
some more_, my highest ambition will be satisfied. For, as my little
friend said, our woods are full of them; I can gather numerous others
which are still more beautiful."--(Philadelphia, 1808.)


  [Illustration: THE COMBAT.]




A lady of our family, who resided in Louisiana, was nursing her young
child. Every night her sleep was troubled by the strange sensation of
a cold gliding object which sought to draw the milk from her breast.
On one occasion she felt the same impression, and it aroused her. She
sprang up, summoned her attendants; a light was brought; they search
every corner, turn over the bed, and at last discover the frightful
nursling--a serpent of great size and of a dangerous species. The
horror which she felt instantly dried up her milk.

Levaillant relates that at the Cape of Good Hope, in a circle of
friends, and during a quiet conversation, the lady of the house turned
pale, and uttered a terrible cry. A serpent had crept up her legs,
one of those whose sting is death in a couple of minutes. With great
difficulty it was killed.

In India, a French soldier, resuming his knapsack which he had placed
on the ground, discovered behind it the dangerous black serpent,
the most venomous of his tribe. He was about to cut it in two when
a merciful Hindu interposed, obtained its pardon, and took up the
serpent. Stung by it, he died immediately.

Such are the terrors of nature in those formidable climates. But
reptiles, now-a-days rare, are not the greatest curse. In all places
and at all times it is now the insect. Insects everywhere, and in
everything; they possess an infinity of means for attacking you; they
walk, swim, glide, fly; they are in the air, and you breathe them.
Invisible, they make known their presence by the most painful wounds.
Recently, in one of our sea-ports, an official of the customs opened
a parcel of papers brought from the colonies a long time previously.
A fly furiously darted out of it; it pursued, it stung him; two days
afterwards he was a corpse.

The hardiest of men, the buccaneers and filibusters, declared that of
all dangers and of all pains they dreaded most the wounds of insects.

Frequently intangible, invisible, irresistible, they are destruction
itself under an unavoidable form. How shall you oppose them when they
make war upon you in legions? Once, at Barbadoes, the inhabitants
observed an immense army of great ants, which, impelled by unknown
causes, advanced in a serried column and in the same direction against
the houses. To kill them was only trouble lost. There were no means
of arresting their progress. At last an ingenious mind fortunately
suggested that trains of gunpowder should be laid across their route,
and set on fire. These volcanoes terrified them, and the torrent of
invasion gradually turned aside.

No mediæval armoury, with all the strange weapons then made use of;
no chirurgical implement factory, with the thousands of dreadful
instruments invented by modern art, can be compared with the monstrous
armour of Tropical insects--their pincers, their nippers, their teeth,
their saws, their horns, their augers, all their tools of combat, of
death, and of dissection, with which they come armed to the battle,
with which they labour, pierce, cut, rend, and finely partition, with
skill and dexterity equal to their furious blood-thirstiness.

Our grandest works may not defy the energetic force of these terrible
legions. Give them a ship of the line--what do I say? a town--to
devour, and they charge at it with eager joy. In course of time
they have excavated under Valentia, near Caraccas, vast abysses and
catacombs; the city is now literally suspended. A few individuals of
this voracious tribe, unfortunately transported to Rochelle, have set
to work to eat up the place, and already more than one edifice trembles
upon timbers which are only externally sound, and at the core are

What would be the fate of a man given up to the insects? One dares
not think of it. An unfortunate wretch, while intoxicated, fell down
near a carcass. The insects which were devouring the dead could
not distinguish from it the living; they took possession of his
body, entered at every avenue, filled all the natural cavities. It
was impossible to save him. He expired in the midst of frightful

In those lands of fire, where the rapidity of decomposition renders
every corpse dangerous, where all death threatens life, these terrible
accelerators of the disappearance of animal bodies multiply _ad
infinitum_. A corpse scarcely touches the earth before it is seized,
attacked, disorganized, dissected. Only the bones are left. Nature,
endangered by her own fecundity, invites, stimulates, encourages
them by the heat, by the irritation of a world of spices and acrid
substances. She makes them furious hunters, insatiable gluttons.
The tiger and the lion, compared with the vulture, are mild, sober,
moderate creatures; but what is the vulture in the presence of an
insect which, in four-and-twenty hours, consumes thrice its own weight?

Greece personified nature under the calm and noble image of Cybele
chariot-drawn by lions. India dreams of her god Siva, the divinity of
life and death, who incessantly winks his eye, never gazing fixedly,
because his single glance would reduce all the worlds to dust. How weak
these fancies of men in the presence of the reality! What avail their
fictions before the burning centre where, by atoms or by seconds, life
dies, is born, blazes, scintillates? Who could sustain the thunderous
flash without reeling and without terror?


Just, indeed, and legitimate, is the traveller's hesitancy at the
entrance of these fearful forests where Tropical Nature, under forms
oftentimes of great beauty, wages her keenest strife. It is the place
to pause when one knows that the most formidable defence of the Spanish
fortresses is found in a simple grove of cactus, which, planted around
them, speedily swarms with serpents. You frequently detect there a
strong odour of musk, a nauseous, a sinister odour. It tells you that
you are treading on the very dust of the dead: the wreck of animals
which possessed that peculiar savour, tiger-cats, and crocodiles,
vultures, vipers, and rattle-snakes.

The peril is greatest, perhaps, in those virgin-forests where
everything is eloquent of life, where nature's seething crucible
eternally boils and bubbles.

Here and there their living shadows thicken with a threefold
canopy--the colossal trees, the entwining and interlacing lianas, and
herbs of thirty feet high with magnificent leaves. At intervals, these
herbs sink into the ancient primeval slime; while, at the height of a
hundred feet, the lofty and puissant flowers break through the deep
night to display themselves in the burning sun.

In the clearances--the narrow alleys where his rays penetrate--there
is a scintillation, an eternal murmuring, of beetles, butterflies,
humming-birds, and fly-catchers--gems animated and mobile, which
incessantly flutter to and fro. At night--a far more astonishing
scene!--begins the fairylike illumination of shining fire-flies, which,
by thousands of millions, weave the most fantastic arabesques, dazzling
fantasias of light, magical scrolls of fire.

With all this splendour there lurks in the lower levels an obscure
race, a hideous and foul world of caymans, of water-serpents. To the
trunks of enormous trees the fanciful orchids, the well-loved daughters
of fever, the children of a miasmatic atmosphere, quaint vegetable
butterflies, suspend themselves in seeming flight. In these murderous
solitudes they take their delight, and bathe in the putrid swamps,
drink of the death which inspires them with vitality, and, by the
caprice of their unheard-of colours, make sport of the intoxication of

Do not yield--defend yourself--let not the fatal charm bow down your
sinking head. Awake! arouse! under a hundred forms the danger surrounds
you. Yellow fever lurks beneath these flowers, and the black _vomito_;
reptiles trail at your feet. If you gave way to fatigue, a noiseless
army of implacable anatomists would take possession of you, and with
a million lancets convert all your tissues into an admirable bit of
lacework, a gauze veil, a breath, nothingness.

To this all-absorbing abyss of devouring death, of famished life, what
does God oppose to re-assure us? Another abyss, not less famished,
thirsty of life, but less implacable to man. I see the Bird, and I

What! is it in you, ye living flowers, ye winged topazes and sapphires,
that I shall find my safety? Your saving vehemence it is, excited to
the purification of this superabundant and furious fecundity, that
alone renders practicable the entrance to this dangerous realm of
faëry. Were you absent, jealous Nature would perform her mysterious
labour of solitary fermentation, and not even the most daring savant
would venture upon observing her. Who am I here? And how shall I defend
myself? What power would be sufficient? The elephant, the ancient
mammoth, would perish defenceless against a million of deadly darts.
Who will brave them? The eagle or the condor? No; a people far more
mighty--the intrepid and the innumerable legion of fly-catchers.


Humming-birds, colibris, and their brothers of every hue, live with
impunity in these gleaming solitudes where danger lurks on every
side, among the most venomous insects, and upon those mournful plants
whose very shade kills. One of them (crested, green and blue), in the
Antilles, suspends his nest to the most terrible and fatal of trees, to
the spectre whose fatal glance seems to freeze your blood for ever, to
the deadly manchineal.

Wonder of wonders! It is this parroquet which boldly crops the fruits
of the fearful tree, feeds upon them, assumes their livery, and
appears, from its sinister green, to draw the metallic lustre of its
triumphant wings.

Life in these winged flames, the humming-bird and the colibri, is so
glowing, so intense, that it dares every poison. They beat their wings
with such swiftness that the eye cannot count the pulsations; yet,
meanwhile, the bird seems motionless completely inert and inactive. He
maintains a continual cry of _hour! hour!_ until, with head bent, he
plunges the dagger of his beak to the bottom of the flowers, exhausting
their sweets and the tiny insects among them; all, too, with a motion
so rapid that nothing can be compared to it--a sharp, choleric,
extremely impatient motion, sometimes transported by fury--against
what? against a great bird, which he pursues and hunts to the death;
against an already rifled blossom, which he cannot forgive for not
having waited for him. He rends it, devastates it, and scatters abroad
its petals.

Leaves, as we know, absorb the poisons in the atmosphere; flowers
exhale them. These birds live upon flowers, upon these pungent flowers,
on their sharp and burning juices, in a word, on poisons. From their
acids they seem to derive their sharp cry and the everlasting agitation
of their angry movements. These contribute, and perhaps much more
directly than light, to enrich them with those strange reflects which
set one thinking of steel, gold, precious stones, rather than of
plumage or blossoms.

The contrast between them and man is violent. The latter, throughout
these regions, perishes or decays. Europeans who, on the borders of
these forests, attempt the cultivation of the cacao and other colonial
products, quickly succumb. The natives languish, enfeebled and
attenuated. That part of earth where man sinks nearest the level of the
beast is the scene of triumph of the bird, where his extraordinary pomp
of attire, luxurious and superabundant, has justly won for him the name
of bird of paradise.

It matters not! Whatever their plumage, their hues, their forms, this
great winged populace, the conqueror and devourer of insects, and, in
its stronger species, the eager hunter of reptiles, sweeps over all the
land as man's pioneer, purifying and making ready his abode. They swim
intrepidly on this vast sea of death--this hissing, croaking, crawling
sea--on the terrible, miasmatic vapours, inhaling and defying them.

It is thus that the great sanitary work, the time-old combat of the
bird against the inferior tribes which might long render the world
uninhabitable by man, is continued throughout the earth. Quadrupeds,
and even man, take in it but a feeble part. It is ever the war of the
winged Hercules.


To him, indeed, inhabited regions owe all their security. In the
furthest Africa, at the Cape, the good serpent-eater defends man
against the reptiles. Peaceable in disposition and gentle in aspect,
he seems to engage without passion in his dangerous encounters. The
gigantic _jabiru_ does not labour less in the deserts of Guiana, where
man as yet ventures not to live. Their perilous savannahs, alternately
inundated and parched, a dubious ocean teeming in the sunshine with
a horrible population of monsters as yet unknown, possess, as their
superior inhabitant, their intrepid scavenger, a noble bird of battle,
retaining some relics of the ancient weapons with which the primeval
birds were very probably provided in their struggle against the dragon.
These are a horn on the head, and a spur on each of the wings. With
the first it stirs up, excites, and rouses out of the mud its enemy.
The others serve as a guard and defence: the reptile which hugs and
folds it in its embrace, at the same time plunges into its own body
these keen darts, and by its constriction, its own actual exertions, is


This brave and beautiful bird, last-born of the ancient worlds and a
surviving witness to forgotten encounters, which is born, lives, and
dies in the slime, in the primitive cloaca, has no stain nevertheless
of his unclean cradle. I know not what moral instinct raises and
supports him above it. His grand and formidable voice, which sways the
desert, announces from afar the gravity and dignified heroism of the
noble and haughty purifier. The kamichi (_Palamedéa cornuta_), as he is
called, is rare; he forms a genus of himself, a species which is not

Despising the ignoble promiscuousness of the low world in which he
lives, he lives alone, with but one mate. Undoubtedly, in his career
of war, his mate is also a companion-in-arms. They love, they fight
together; they follow the same destiny. Theirs is that soldierly
marriage of which Tacitus speaks: "_Sic vivendum, sic pereundum_,"--"To
life, to death." When this tender companionship, this consoling
succour, fails the kamichi, he disdains to protract his existence; he
rejoins the loved one which he cannot survive.


  [Illustration: PURIFICATION.]



In the morning--not at the first blush of dawn, but when the sun
already mounts the horizon--and at the very moment when the cocoa-nut
tree unfolds its leaves, the _urubus_ (or little vultures), perched in
knots of forty or fifty upon its branches, open their brilliant ruby
eyes. The toils of the day demand them. In indolent Africa a hundred
villages invoke them; in drowsy America, south of Panama or Caraccas,
they, swiftest of cleansers, must sweep out and purify the town before
the Spaniard rises, before the potent sun has stirred the carcass and
the mass of rottenness into fermentation. If they failed a single day,
the country would become a desert.

When it is evening-time in America--when the urubu, his day's work
ended, replaces himself on the cocoa-nut tree--the minarets of Asia
sparkle in the morning's rays. Not less punctual than their American
brothers, vultures, crows, storks, ibises, set out from their balconies
on their various missions: some to the fields, to destroy the insect
and the serpent; others, alighting in the streets of Alexandria or
Cairo, hasten to accomplish their task of municipal scavengering. Did
they but take the briefest holiday the plague would soon be the only
inhabitant of the country.

Thus, in the two hemispheres, the great work of public health is
performed with solemn and wonderful regularity. If the sun is punctual
in fertilizing life, these scavengers--sworn in and licensed by
nature--are no less punctual in withdrawing from his rays the shocking
spectacle of death.


Seemingly they are not ignorant of the importance of their functions.
Approach them, and they will not retreat. When they have received the
signal from their comrades the crows, which often precede them and
point out their prey, you will see the vultures descend in a cloud
from one knows not whence, as if from heaven! Naturally solitary, and
without communication--mostly silent--they flock to the banquet by the
hundred, and nothing disturbs them. They quarrel not among themselves,
they take no heed of the passer-by. They imperturbably accomplish their
functions in a stern kind of gravity; with decency and propriety; the
corpse disappears, the skin remains. In a moment a frightful mass
of putrid fermentation, which man had never dared to draw near, has
vanished--has re-entered the pure and wholesome current of universal

It is strange that the more useful they are to us, the more odious
we find them. We are unwilling to accept them for what they are,
to regard them in their true _rôle_, as the beneficent cressets of
living fire through which nature passes everything that might corrupt
the higher life. For this purpose she has provided them with an
admirable apparatus, which receives, destroys, transforms, without
ever rejecting, wearying, or even satisfying itself. Let them devour a
hippopotamus, and they are still famished. To the gulls (those vultures
of the sea) a whale seems but a reasonable morsel! They will dissect
it and clear it away better than the most skilful whalers. As long as
aught of it remains they remain; fire at them, and they intrepidly
return to it in the mouth of your guns. Nothing dislodges the vulture
on the carcass of a hippopotamus. Levaillant killed one of these birds,
which, though mortally wounded, still plucked away scraps of flesh. Was
he starving? Not he; food was found in his stomach weighing six pounds!

This is automatic gluttony, rather than ferocity. If their aspect is
sad and sombre, nature has favoured them for the most part with a
delicate and feminine ornament, the soft white down about their neck.

Standing before them, you feel yourself in the presence of the
ministers of death; but of death tranquil and natural, and not of
murder. Like the elements, they are serious, grave, inaccusable, at
bottom innocent--rather, let us say, deserving. Though gifted with
a vital force which resumes, subdues, absorbs everything, they are
subject, more than any other beings, to general influences; are
swayed by the conditions of atmosphere and temperature; essentially
hygrometrical, they are living barometers. The morning's humidity
burdens their heavy wings; the weakest prey at that hour might pass
with impunity before them. So great is their subjection to external
nature, that the American species, perched in uniform ranks on the
cocoa-nut branches, follow, as we have said, the exact hour when the
leaves fold up, retire to rest long before evening, and only awake when
the sun, already high above the horizon, re-opens the leaves of the
tree and their white, heavy eyelids.

These admirable agents of that beneficent chemistry which preserves and
balances life here below, labour for us in a thousand places where we
ourselves may never penetrate. We clearly discern their presence and
their services in our towns; but no one can measure the full extent
of their benefits in those deserts where every breath of the winds is
death. In the fathomless forest, in the deep morasses, under the impure
shadow of mangoes and mangroves, where ferment the corpses of two
worlds, dashed to and fro by the sea, the great purifying army seconds
and shortens the action both of the waves and the insects. Woe to the
inhabited world, if their mysterious and unknown toil ceased but for an

In America these public benefactors are protected by the law.

Egypt does more for them; she reveres, she loves them. If the
ancient worship no longer exists, they receive from men as kindly an
hospitality as in the time of Pharaoh. Ask an Egyptian fellah why
he allows himself to be infested and deafened by birds? why he so
patiently endures the insolence of the crow posted on his buffalo's
horn or his camel's hump, or gathering on the date-palms in flocks and
beating down the fruit?--he will answer nothing. To the bird everything
is lawful. Older than the Pyramids, he is the ancient inhabitant of the
country. Man is there only through his instrumentality; he could not
exist without the persistent toil of the ibis, the stork, the crow, and
the vulture.

Hence arises an universal sympathy for the animal, an instinctive
tenderness for all life, which, more than anything else, makes the
charm of the East. The West has its peculiar splendours--in sun and
climate America is not less dazzling; but the moral attraction of
Asia lies in the sentiment of unity which you feel in a world where
man is not divorced from nature; where the primitive alliance remains
unbroken; where the animals are ignorant that they have cause to dread
the human species. Laugh at it if you will; but there is a gentle
pleasure in observing this confidence--in seeing the birds come at the
Brahmin's call to eat from his very hand--in watching the apes on the
pagoda-roofs sleeping in domestic peace, playing with or suckling their
little ones in as much security as in the bosom of their native forests.


"At Cairo," remarks a traveller, "the turtle-doves know so well they
are under the protection of the public, that they live in the midst
of the very clamour of the city. Every day I see them cooing on my
window-shutters, in a very narrow street, at the entrance of a noisy
bazaar, and at the busiest moment of the year, a little before the
Ramadan, when the ceremonies of marriage fill the city day and night
with uproar and tumult. The level roofs of the houses, the usual
promenade of the prisoners of the harem and their slaves, are in like
manner haunted by a crowd of birds. The eagles sleep in confidence on
the balconies of the minarets."

Conquerors have never failed to turn into derision this gentleness,
this tenderness for animated nature. The Persians, the Romans in Egypt,
our Europeans in India, the French in Algeria, have often outraged and
stricken these innocent brothers of man, the object of his ancient
reverence. A Cambyses slew the sacred cow; a Roman the ibis or cat
which destroyed unclean reptiles. But what means the cow? The fecundity
of the country. And the ibis? Its salubrity. Destroy these animals,
and the country is no longer habitable. That which has saved India and
Egypt through so many misfortunes, and preserved their fertility, is
neither the Nile nor the Ganges; it is respect for animal life, the
mildness and the gentle heart of man.

Profound in meaning was the speech of the priest of Saïs to the Greek
Herodotus: "You shall be children ever."

We shall always be so--we, men of the West--subtle and graceful
reasoners, so long as we shall not have comprehended, with a simple and
more exhaustive view, the reason of things. To be a child is to seize
life only by partial glimpses. To be a man is to be fully conscious of
all its harmonious unity. The child disports himself, shatters, and
spurns; he finds his happiness in undoing. And science in its childhood
does the same; it cannot study unless it kills; the sole use which it
makes of a living miracle is, in the first place, to dissect it. None
of us carry into our scientific pursuits that tender reverence for life
which nature rewards by unveiling to us her mysteries.

Enter the catacombs, where, to employ our haughty language, the rude
monuments sleep of a barbarous superstition; visit the treasure-stores
of India and Egypt; at each step you meet with naïve but not the less
profound intuitions of the essential mystery of life and death. Do
not let the form deceive you; do not look upon this as an artificial
work, fabricated by a priestly hand. Under the strange complexity
and burdensome tyranny of the sacerdotal form, I see two sentiments
everywhere revealing themselves in a human and pathetic manner:--

_The effort to save the loved soul_ from the shipwreck of death;

_The tender brotherhood of man and nature_, the religious sympathy for
the dumb animal as the divine instrument in the protection of human

The instinct of antiquity perceived what observation and science
declare: that the Bird is the agent of the grand universal transition,
and of purification--the wholesome accelerator of the interchange of
substances. Especially in burning countries, where every delay is a
peril, he is, as Egypt said, the barque of safety which receives the
dead spoil, and causes it to re-enter the domain of life and the world
of purity.

The fond and grateful Egyptian soul has recognized these benefits,
and wishes for no happiness which it cannot share with the animals,
its benefactors. It does not desire to be saved alone. It endeavours
to associate them in its immortality. It wills that the sacred bird
accompany it to the sombre realm, as if to bear it on its wings.


  [Illustration: DEATH.]




It was one of my saddest hours when, seeking in nature a refuge from
the thoughts of the age, I for the first time encountered the head of
the viper. This occurred in a valuable museum of anatomical imitations.
The head, marvellously imitated and enormously enlarged, so as to
remind one of the tiger's and the jaguar's, exposed in its horrible
form a something still more horrible. You seized at once the delicate,
infinite, fearfully prescient precautions by which the deadly machine
is so potently armed. Not only is it provided with numerous keen-edged
teeth; not only are these teeth supplied with an ingenious reservoir
of poison which slays immediately; but their extreme fineness, which
renders them liable to fracture, is compensated by an advantage that
perhaps no other animal possesses; namely, a magazine of supernumerary
teeth, to supply at need the place of any accidentally broken. Oh,
what provision for killing! What precautions that the victim shall
not escape! What love for this horrible creature! I stood by it
_scandalized_, if I may so speak, and with a sick soul. Nature, the
great mother, by whose side I had taken refuge, shocked me with a
maternity so cruelly impartial.

Gloomily I walked away, bearing on my heart a darker shadow than rested
on the day itself, one of the sternest in winter. I had come forth
like a child; I returned home like an orphan, feeling the notion of a
Providence dying away within me.


Our impressions are not less painful when we see in our galleries
the endless series of birds of prey, prowlers by day and night,
frightful masks of birds, phantoms which terrify the day itself. One is
powerfully affected by observing their cruel weapons; I do not refer to
those terrible beaks which kill with a blow, but those talons, those
sharpened saws, those instruments of torture which fix the shuddering
prey, protract the last keen pangs and the agony of suffering.

Ah! our globe is a barbarous world, though still in its youth; a world
of attempts and rude beginnings, given over to cruel slaveries--to
night, hunger, death, fear! Death? We can accept it; there is in the
soul enough of hope and faith to look upon it as a passage, a stage of
initiation, a gate to better worlds. But, alas, was pain so useful as
to render it necessary to prodigalize it? I feel it, I see it, I hear
it everywhere. Not to hear it, to preserve the thread of my thoughts,
I am forced to stop up my ears. All the activity of my soul would be
suspended, my nerves shattered by it; I should effect nothing more, I
should no longer move forward; my life and powers of production would
remain barren, annihilated by pity!

"And yet is not pain the warning which teaches us to foresee and
to anticipate, and by every means in our power to ward off our
dissolution? This cruel school is the stimulant and spur of prudence
for all living things--a powerful drawing back of the soul upon itself,
which otherwise would be enfeebled by happiness, by soft and weakening

"May it not be said that happiness has a centrifugal attraction which
diffuses us wholly without, detains us, dissipates us, would evaporate
and restore us to the elements, if we wholly abandoned ourselves to it?
Pain, on the contrary, if experienced at one point, brings back all to
the centre, knits closer, prolongs, ensures and fortifies existence.

"Pain is in some wise the artist of the world which creates us,
fashions us, sculptures us with the fine edge of a pitiless chisel. It
limits the overflowing life. And that which remains, stronger and more
exquisite, enriched by its very loss, draws thence the gift of a higher

These thoughts of resignation were awakened by one who was herself a
sufferer, and whose clear eye discerned, even before I myself did, my
troubles and my doubts.

As the individual, said she again, so is the world. Earth itself has
been benefited by Pain. Nature begot her through the violent action
of these ministers of death. Their species, rapidly growing rarer and
rarer, are the memorials, the evidences of an anterior stage of the
globe in which the inferior life swarmed, while nature laboured to
purge the excessive fecundity.

We can retrace in thought the scale of the successive necessities of
destruction which the earth was thus constrained to undergo.

Against the irrespirable air which at first enveloped it, vegetables
were its saviours. Against the suffocating and terrific density of
these lower vegetable forms, the rough coating which encrusted it,
the nibbling, gnawing insect, which we have since execrated, was the
sanitary agent. Against the insect, the frog, and the reptile mass,
the venomous reptile proved an useful expurgator. Finally, when the
higher life, the winged life, took its flight, earth found a barrier
against the too rapid transports of her young fecundity in the powerful
voracious birds, eagles, falcons, or vultures.


But these useful destroyers have diminished in numbers as they have
become less necessary. The swarms of small creeping animals on which
the viper principally whetted his teeth having wonderfully thinned,
the viper also grows rare. The world of winged game being cleared in
its turn, either by man's depredations or by the disappearance of
certain insects on which the small birds lived, you see that the odious
tyrants of the air are also decreasing; the eagle is seldom met with,
even among the Alps, and the exaggerated and enormous prices which
the falcon fetches, seems to prove that the former, the noblest of the
raptores, has now-a-days nearly disappeared.

Thus nature gravitates towards a less violent order. Does this mean
that death will ever diminish? Death! no; but pain surely.

The world little by little falls under the power of the Being who alone
understands the useful equilibrium of life and death, who can regulate
it in such wise as to maintain the scale even between the living
species, to encourage them according to their merit or innocence--to
simplify, to soften, and (if I may hazard the word) to moralize death,
by rending it swift, and freeing it from anguish.

Death was never our serious objection. Is it more than a simple mask
of life's transformations? But pain is an objection, grave, cruel,
terrible. Therefore, little by little, it will disappear from the
earth. Its agents, the fierce executioners of the life which they
plucked out by torture, are already very rare.

Assuredly, when I survey, in the Museum, the sinister assemblage
of nocturnal and diurnal birds of prey, I do not much regret the
destruction of these species. Whatever pleasure our personal instincts
of violence, our admiration of strength, may cause us to take in
these winged robbers, it is impossible to misread in their deathlike
masks the baseness of their nature. Their pitifully flattened skulls
are sufficient evidence that, though greatly favoured with wing, and
crooked beak, and talons, they have not the least need to make use of
their intelligence. Their constitution, which has made them swiftest
of the swift, strongest of the strong, has enabled them to dispense
with address, stratagem, and tactic. As for the courage with which one
is tempted to endow them, what occasion have they to display it, since
they encounter none but inferior enemies? Enemies? no; victims! When
the rigour of the season, or hunger, drives their young to emigrate, it
leads to the beak of these dull tyrants countless numbers of innocents,
very superior in every sense to their murderers; it prodigalizes the
birds which are artists, and singers, and architects, as a prey to
these vulgar assassins; and for the eagle and the buzzard provides a
banquet of nightingales.


The flattened skull is the degrading sign of these murderers. I trace
it in the most extolled, in those whom man has the most flattered, and
even in the noble falcon; noble, it is true, and I the less dispute the
justice of the title, because, unlike the eagle and other executioners,
it knows how to kill its prey at a blow, and scorns to torture it.

These birds of prey, with their small brains, offer a striking contrast
to the numerous amiable and plainly intelligent species which we find
among the smaller birds. The head of the former is only a beak; that
of the latter has a face. What comparison can be made between these
brute giants and the intelligent, all-human bird, the robin redbreast,
which at this very moment hovers about me, perches on my shoulder or my
paper, examines my writing, warms himself at the fire, or curiously
peers through the window to see if the spring-time will not soon return.

If there be any choice among the raptores, I should certainly
prefer--dare I say it?--the vulture to the eagle. Among the bird-world
I have seen nothing so grand, so imposing, as our five Algerian
vultures (in the Jardin des Plantes), posted together like so many
Turkish pachas, adorned with superb cravats of the most delicate white
down, and draped in noble mantles of gray. A solemn divan of exiles,
who seem to discuss among themselves the vicissitudes of things and the
political events which have driven them from their native country.


What real difference exists between the eagle and the vulture? The
eagle passionately loves blood, and prefers living flesh, very rarely
eating the dead. The vulture seldom kills, and directly benefits
life by restoring to its service and to the grand current of vital
circulation the disorganized objects which would associate with others
to their disorganization. The eagle lives upon murder only, and may
justly be entitled the minister of Death. On the contrary, the vulture
is the servant of Life.

Owing to his strength and beauty, the eagle has been adopted as an
emblem by more than one warrior race which lived, like himself, by
rapine. The Persians and the Romans chose him. We now associate him
with the lofty ideas which these great empires originate. Grave
people--even an Aristotle--have accredited the absurd fable that he
daringly eyed the sun, and put his offspring to the test, by making
them also gaze upon it. Once started on this glorious road, the
philosophers halted no more. Buffon went the furthest. He eulogizes
the eagle for his _temperance_. He does not eat at all, says he. The
truth is, that when his prey is large, he feasts himself on the spot,
and carries but a small portion to his family. The king of the air,
says he again, _disdains small animals_. But observation points to a
directly opposite conclusion. The ordinary eagle attacks with eagerness
the most timid of beings, the hare; the spotted eagle assails the duck.
The booted eagle has a preference for field mice and house mice, and
eats them so greedily that he swallows them without killing them. The
bald-headed eagle, or pygargo, will frequently slay his own young, and
often drives them from the nest before they can support themselves.


Near Havre I have observed one instance of truly royal nobility, and,
above all, of sobriety, in an eagle. A bird, captured at sea, but which
has fallen into far too kindly hands in a butcher's house, is so gorged
with an abundance of food obtained without fighting, that he appears
to regret nothing. A Falstaff of an eagle, he grows fat, and cares no
longer for the chase, or the plains of heaven. If he no longer fixedly
eyes the sun, he watches the kitchen, and for a titbit allows the
children to drag him by the tail.

If rank is to be decided by strength, the first place must not be
given to the eagle, but to the bird which figures in the "Thousand and
One Nights" under the name of _Roc_, the condor, the giant of gigantic
mountains, the Cordilleras. It is the largest of the vultures--is,
fortunately, the rarest--and the most destructive, as it feeds only on
live prey. When it meets with a large animal, it so gorges itself with
meat that it is unable to stir, and may then be killed with a few blows
of a stick.

To judge these species truly we must examine the eyrie of the eagle,
the rude, ill-constructed platform which serves for its nest;
compare this rough and clumsy work--I do not say with the delicate
_chef-d'oeuvre_ of a chaffinch's nest--but with the constructions of
insects, the excavations of ants, where the industrious workman varies
his art to infinity, and displays a genius so singular in its foresight
and resources.

The traditional esteem which man cherishes for the courage of the great
Raptores is much diminished when we read, in Wilson, that a tiny bird,
a fly-catcher, such as the purple martin, will hunt the great black
eagle, pursue it, harass it, banish it from its district, give it not
a moment's repose. It is a truly extraordinary spectacle to see this
little hero, adding all his weight to his strength, that he may make
the greater impression, rise and let himself drop from the clouds on
the back of the large robber, mount without letting go, and prick him
forward with his beak in lieu of a spur.

Without going so far as America, you may see, in the Jardin des
Plantes, the ascendancy of the little over the great, of mind over
matter, in the singular tête-à-tête of the gypaetus and the crow. The
latter, a very feeble animal, and the feeblest of birds of prey, which
in his black garb has the air of a pedagogue, labours hard to civilize
his brutal fellow-prisoner, the gypaetus. It is amusing to observe
how he teaches him to play--humanizes him, so to speak--by a hundred
tricks of his own invention, and refines his rude nature. This comedy
is performed with special distinction when the crow has a reasonable
number of spectators. It has appeared to me that he disdains to exhibit
his _savoir-faire_ before a single eye-witness. He calculates upon
their assistance, earns their respect in case of need. I have seen
him dart back with his beak the little pebbles which a child had
flung at him. The most remarkable pastime which he teaches to his big
friend is, to make him hold by one end a stick which he himself draws
by the other. This show of a struggle between strength and weakness,
this simulated equality, is well adapted to soften the barbarian, and
though at first he gives but little heed to it, he afterwards yields to
continued urgency, and ends by throwing himself into the sport with a
savage good temper.


In the presence of this repulsively ferocious figure, armed with
invincible talons and a beak tipped with iron, which would kill at
the first blow, the crow has not the least fear. With the security of
a superior mind, before this heavy mass he goes, he comes, he wheels
about, he snatches its prey before its eyes; the other growls, but too
late; his tutor, far more nimble, with his black eye, metallic and
lustrous as steel, has seen the forward movement; he leaps away; if
need be, he climbs a branch or two higher; he growls in his turn--he
admonishes his companion.

This facetious personage has in his pleasantry the advantage due to the
seriousness, gravity, and sadness of his demeanour. I saw one daily,
in the streets of Nantes, on the threshold of an alley, which, in his
demi-captivity, could only console himself for his clipped wings by
playing tricks with the dogs. He suffered the curs to pass unmolested;
but when his malicious eye espied a dog of handsome figure, worthy
indeed of his courage, he hopped behind him, and, by a skilful and
unperceived manoeuvre, leapt upon his back, gave him, hot and dry,
two stabs with his strong black beak: the dog fled, howling. Satisfied,
tranquil, and serious, the crow returned to his post, and one could
never have supposed that so grim-looking a fellow had just indulged in
such an escapade.


It is said that in a state of freedom, strong in their spirit of
association, and in their numbers, they hazard the most audacious
games, even to watching the absence of the eagle, stealing into his
redoubtable nest, and robbing it of the eggs. And, what is more
difficult to believe, naturalists pretend to have seen great troops
of them, which, when the eagle is at home, and defending his family,
deafen him with their cries, defy him, entice him forth, and contrive,
though not without a battle, to carry off an eaglet.

Such exertions and such danger for this miserable prey! If the thing be
true, we must suppose that the prudent republic, frequently troubled or
harassed by the tyrant of the country, decrees the extinction of his
race, and believes itself bound by a great act of devotion, cost what
it may, to execute the decree.


Their sagacity is shown in a thousand ways, especially in the judicious
and well-weighed choice of their abode. Those which I observed at
Nantes, on one of the hills of the Erdre, passed over my head every
morning, and returned every evening. Evidently they had their town and
country houses. By day they perched on the cathedral towers to make
their observations, ferreting out (_éventant_) what good things the
city might have to offer. At close of day, they regained the woods, and
the well-sheltered rocks where they love to pass the night. These are
domiciliated people, and no mere birds of passage. Attached to their
family, especially to their mates, to whom they are scrupulously loyal,
their peculiar dwelling-place should be the nest. But the dread of the
great birds of night decides them to sleep together in twenties or
thirties--a sufficient number for a combat, if such should arise. Their
special object of hate and horror is the owl; when day breaks, they
take their revenge for his nocturnal misdeeds: they hoot him; they
give him chase; profiting by his embarrassment, they persecute him to

There is no form of association by which they do not know how to
profit. That which is sweetest--the family--does not induce them to
forget, as you may see, the confederacy for defence or the league
for attack. On the contrary, they associate themselves even with
their superior rivals, the vultures, and call, precede, or follow
them, to feed at their expense. They unite--and this is a stronger
illustration--with their enemy the eagle; at least, they surround him
to profit by his combats, by the fray in which he triumphs over some
great animal. These shrewd spectators wait at a little distance until
the eagle has feasted to his satisfaction, and gorged himself with
blood; when this takes place, he flies away, and the remainder falls to
the crows.

Their evident superiority over so great a number of birds is due to
their longevity and to the experience which their excellent memory
enables them to acquire and profit by. Very different to the majority
of animals, whose duration of life is proportionable to the duration of
their infancy, they reach maturity at the end of a year, and live, it
is said, a century.

The great variety of their food, which includes every kind of animal
or vegetable nutriment, every dead or living prey, gives them a wide
acquaintance with things and seasons, harvests and hunts. They interest
themselves in everything, and observe everything. The ancients, who
lived far more completely than ourselves in and with nature, found it
no small profit to follow, in a hundred obscure things where human
experience as yet affords no light, the directions of so prudent and
sage a bird.

With due submission to the noble Raptores, the crow, which frequently
guides them, despite his "inky suit" and uncouth visage, despite the
coarseness of appetite imputed to him, is not the less the superior
genius of the great species of which he is, in size, already a

But the crow, after all, represents only utilitarian prudence, the
wisdom of self-interest. To arrive at the higher orders, the heroes of
the winged race, the sublime and impassioned artists, we must reduce
the bird in size, and lower the material to exalt the mental and moral
development. Nature, like so many mothers, has shown a weakness for her
smallest offspring.



Part Second.

  [Illustration: THE LIGHT--THE NIGHT.]




"Light! more light!" Such were the last words of Goethe. This utterance
of expiring genius is the general cry of Nature, and re-echoes from
world to world. What was said by that man of power--one of the eldest
sons of God--is said by His humblest children, the least advanced in
the scale of animal life, the molluscs in the depths of ocean; they
will not dwell where the light never penetrates. The flower seeks the
light, turns towards it; without it, sickens. Our fellow-workers, the
animals, rejoice like us, or mourn like us, according as it comes or
goes. My grandson, but two months old, bursts into tears when the day

"This summer, when walking in my garden, I heard and I saw on a branch
a bird singing to the setting sun; he inclined himself towards the
light, and was plainly enchanted by it. I was equally charmed to see
him; our pitiful caged birds had never inspired me with the idea of
that intelligent and powerful creature, so little, so full of passion.
I trembled at his song. He bent his head behind him, his swollen bosom;
never singer or poet enjoyed so simple an ecstasy. It was not love,
however (the season was past), it was clearly the glory of the day
which raptured him--the charm of the gentle sun!

"Barbarous is the science, the hard pride, which disparages to such an
extent animated nature, and raises so impassable a barrier between man
and his inferior brothers!

"With tears I said to him: 'Poor child of light, which thou reflectest
in thy song, truly thou hast good cause to hymn it! Night, replete
with snares and dangers for thee, too closely resembles death. Would
that thou mightst see the light of the morrow!' Then, passing in
spirit from _his_ destiny to that of all living beings which, since
the dim profundities of creation, have so slowly risen to the day, I
said, like Goethe and the little bird: 'Light, light, O Lord, more
light!'"--(MICHELET, _The People_, p. 62, edit. 1846.)


The world of fishes is the world of silence. Men say, "Dumb as a fish."

The world of insects is the world of night. They are all
light-shunners. Even those, which, like the bee, labour during the
day-time, prefer the shades of obscurity.

The world of birds is the world of light--of song.

All of them live in the sun, fill themselves with it, or are inspired
by it. Those of the South carry its reflected radiance on their wings;
those of our colder climates in their songs; many of them follow it
from land to land.

"See," says St. John, "how at morning time they hail the rising
sun, and at evening faithfully congregate to watch it setting on our
Scottish shores. Towards evening, the heath-cock, that he may see it
longer, stands on tiptoe and balances himself on the branch of the
tallest willow."


Light, love, and song, have for them but one meaning. If you would
have the captive nightingale sing when it is not the season of his
loves, cover up his cage, then suddenly let in the light upon him,
and he recovers his voice. The unfortunate chaffinch, blinded by
barbarous hands, sings with a despairing and sickly animation, creating
for himself the light of harmony with his voice, becoming a sun unto
himself in his internal fire.

I would willingly believe that this is the chief inspiration of the
bird's song in our gloomy climates, where the sun appears only in vivid
flashes. In comparison with those brilliant zones where he never quits
the horizon, our countries, veiled in mist and cloud, but glowing at
intervals, have exactly the effect of the cage, first covered, and then
exposed, of the imprisoned nightingale. They provoke the strain, and,
like light, awaken bursts of harmony.

Even the bird's flight is influenced by it. Flight depends on the
eye quite as much as on the wing. Among species gifted with a keen
and delicate vision, like the falcon, which from the loftiest heights
of heaven can espy the worm in a thicket--like the swallow, which
from a distance of one thousand feet can perceive a gnat--flight is
sure, daring, and charming to look at in its infallible certainty. Far
otherwise is it with the myopes, the short-sighted, as you may see
by their gait; they fly with caution, grope about, and are afraid of

The eye and the wing--sight and flight--that exalted degree of
puissance which enables you incessantly to embrace in a glance, and
to overleap, immense landscapes, vast countries, kingdoms--which
permits you to see in complete detail, and not to contract, as in a
geographical chart, so grand a variety of objects--to possess and to
discern, almost as if you were the equal of God;--oh, what a source of
boundless enjoyment! what a strange and mysterious happiness, scarcely
conceivable by man!

Observe, too, these perceptions are so strong and so vivid that they
grave themselves on the memory, and to such a degree that even an
inferior animal like a pigeon retraces and recognizes every little
_accident_ in a road which he has only traversed once. How, then, will
it be with the sage stork, the shrewd crow, the intelligent swallow?

Let us confess this superiority. Let us regard without envy those
blisses of vision which may, perhaps, one day be ours in a happier
existence. This felicity of seeing so much--of seeing so far--of seeing
so clearly--of piercing the infinite with the eye and the wing, almost
at the same moment,--to what does it belong? To that life which is our
distant ideal. _A life in the fulness of light, and without shadow!_

Already the bird's existence is, as it were, a foretaste of it. It
would here prove to him a divine source of knowledge, if, in its
sublime freedom, it were not burdened by the two fatalities which
chain our globe to a condition of barbarism, and render futile all our


First, the fatal need of the stomach, which shackles all of us, but
which especially persecutes that living flame, that devouring fire, the
bird, which is forced incessantly to renew itself, to seek, to wander,
to forget, condemned, without hope of relief, to the barren mobility of
its too changeful impressions.

The other fatal necessity is that of night, of slumber, hours of shadow
and ambush, when his wing is broken or captured, or, while defenceless,
he loses the power of flight, strength, and light.

When we speak of light, we mean safety for all creatures.

It is the guarantee of life for man and the animal; it is, as it were,
the serene, calm, and reassuring smile, the privilege of Nature. It
puts an end to the sombre terrors which pursue us in the shadows, to
the not unfounded fears, and to the torment also of cruel dreams--to
the troublous thoughts which agitate and overthrow the soul.

In the security of civil association which has existed for so long a
period, man can scarcely comprehend the agonies of savage life during
these hours that Nature leaves it defenceless, when her terrible
impartiality opens the way to death no less legitimate than life. In
vain you reproach her. She tells the bird that the owl also has a right
to live. She replies to man: "I must feed my lions."

Read in books of travels the panic of unfortunate castaways lost in the
solitudes of Africa, of the miserable fugitive slave who only escapes
the barbarity of man to fall into the hands of a barbarous nature. What
tortures, as soon as at sunset the lion's ill-omened scouts, the wolves
and jackals, begin to prowl, accompanying him at a distance, preceding
him to scent his prey, or following him like ghouls! They whine in your
ears: "To-morrow we shall seek thy bones!" But, O horror! see here, at
but two paces distant! He sees you, watches you, sends a deep roar
from the cavernous recesses of his throat of brass, sums up his living
prey, exacts and lays claim to it! The horse cannot be held still;
he trembles, a cold sweat pours over him, he plunges to and fro. His
rider, crouching between the watch-fires, if he succeeds in kindling
any, with difficulty preserves sufficient strength to feed the rampart
of light which is his only safeguard.

Night is equally terrible for the birds, even in our climates, where it
would seem less dangerous. What monsters it conceals, what frightful
chances for the bird lurk in its obscurity! Its nocturnal foes have
this characteristic in common--their approach is noiseless. The
screech-owl flies with a silent wing, as if wrapped in tow (_comme
étoupée de ouate_). The weasel insinuates its long body into the nest
without disturbing a leaf. The eager polecat, athirst for the warm
life-blood, is so rapid, that in a moment it bleeds both parents and
progeny, and slaughters a whole family.

It seems that the bird, when it has little ones, enjoys a second sight
for these dangers. It has to protect a family far more feeble and more
helpless than that of the quadruped, whose young can walk as soon
as born. But how protect them? It can do nothing but remain at its
post and die; it cannot fly away, for its love has broken its wings.
All night the narrow entry of the nest is guarded by the father, who
sinks with fatigue, and opposes danger with feeble beak and shaking
head. What will this avail if the enormous jaw of the serpent suddenly
appears, or the horrible eye of the bird of death, immeasurably
enlarged by fear?

Anxious for its young, it has little care for itself. In its season of
solitude Nature spares it the tortures of prevision. Sad and dejected
rather than alarmed, it is silent, it sinks down and hides its little
head under its wings, and even its neck disappears among the plumes.
This position of complete self-abandonment, of confidence, which it had
held in the egg--in the happy maternal prison, where its security was
so perfect--it resumes every evening in the midst of perils and without


Heavy for all creatures is the gloom of evening, and even for the
protected. The Dutch painters have seized and expressed this truth very
forcibly in reference to the beasts grazing at liberty in the meadows.
The horse of his own accord draws near his companion, and rests his
head upon him. The cow, followed by her calf, returns to the fence, and
would fain find her way to the byre. For these animals have a stable,
a lodging, a shelter against nocturnal snares. The bird has but a leaf
for its roof!

How great, then, its happiness in the morning, when terrors vanish,
when the shadows fade away, when the smallest coppice brightens and
grows clear! What chattering on the edge of every nest, what lively
conversations! It is, as it were, a mutual felicitation at seeing one
another again, at being still alive! Then the songs commence. From the
furrow the lark mounts aloft, with a loud hymn, and bears to heaven's
gate the joy of earth.

As with the bird, so with man. Every line in the ancient Vedas of India
is a hymn to the light, the guardian of life--to the sun which every
day, by unveiling the world, creates it anew and preserves it. We
revive, we breathe again, we traverse our dwelling-places, we regain
our families, we count over our herds. Nothing has perished, and life
is complete. No tiger has surprised us. No horde of beasts of prey have
invaded us. The black serpent has not profited by our slumbers. Blessed
be thou, O sun, who givest us yet another day!

All animals, says the Hindu, and especially the wisest, the elephant,
_the Brahmin of creation_, salute the sun, and praise it gratefully at
dawn; they sing to it from their own hearts a hymn of thankfulness.

But a single creature utters it, pronounces it for all of us, sings
it. Who? One of the weak--which fears most keenly the night, and hails
with eagerest joy the morning--which lives in and by the light--whose
tender, infinitely sensitive, extended, penetrating vision, discerns
all its accidents--and which is most intimately associated with the
decline, the eclipses, and the resurrection of light.

The bird for all nature chants the morning hymn and the benediction of
the day. He is her priest and her augur, her divine and innocent voice.






One of Nature's confidants, a sacred soul, as simple as profound, the
poet Virgil, saw in the bird, as the ancient Italian wisdom had seen in
it, an augur and a prophet of the changes of the skies:--

    "Nul, sans être averti, n'éprouva les orages--
    La grue, avec effroi, s'élançant des vallées,
    Fuit ces noires vapeurs de la terre exhalées--
    L'hirondelle en volant effleure le rivage;
    Tremblante pour ses oeufs, la fourmi déménage.
    Des lugubres corbeaux les noires légions
    Fendent l'air, qui frémit sous leurs longs bataillons--
    Vois les oiseaux de mer, et ceux que les prairies
    Nourrissent près des eaux sur des rives fleuries.
    De leur séjour humide on les voit s'approcher,
    Offrir leur tête aux flots qui battent le rocher,
    Promener sur les eaux leur troupe vagabonde,
    Se plonger dans leur sein, reparaître sur l'onde,
    S'y replonger encore, et, par cent jeux divers,
    Annoncer les torrents suspendus dans les airs.
    Seule, errante à pas lents sur l'aride rivage,
    La corneille enrouée appelle aussi l'orage.
    Le soir, la jeune fille, en tournant son fuseau,
    Tire encore de sa lampe un présage nouveau,
    Lorsque la mèche en feu, dont la clarté s'émousse,
    Se couvre en petillant de noirs flocons de mousse.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Mais la sécurité reparaît à son tour--
    L'alcyon ne vient plus sur l'humide rivage,
    Aux tiédeurs du soleil étaler son plumage--
    L'air s'éclaircit enfin; du sommet des montagnes,
    Le brouillard affaissé descend dans les campagnes,
    Et le triste hibou, le soir, au haut des toits,
    En longs gémissements ne traîne plus sa voix.
    Les corbeaux même, instruits de la fin de l'orage,
    Folâtrent à l'envi parmi l'épais feuillage,
    Et, d'un gosier moins rauque, annonçant les beaux jours,
    Vont revoir dans leurs nids le fruit de leurs amours."

                   _"The Georgics," translated by Delille._[22]

A being eminently electrical, the bird is more _en rapport_ than any
other with numerous meteorological phenomena of heat and magnetism,
whose secrets neither our senses nor our appreciation can arrive at. He
perceives them in their birth, in their early beginnings, even before
they manifest themselves. He possesses, as it were, a kind of physical
prescience. What more natural than that man, whose perception is much
slower, and who does not recognize them until after the event, should
interrogate this instructive precursor which announces them? This is
the principle of auguries. And there is no truer wisdom than this
pretended "folly of antiquity."

Meteorology, especially, may derive from hence a great advantage. It
will possess the surest means. And already it has found a guide in the
foresight of the birds. Would to Heaven that Napoleon, in September
1811, had taken note of the premature migration of the birds of the
North! From the storks and the cranes he might have secured the most
trustworthy information. In their precocious departure, he might have
divined the imminency of a severe and terrible winter. They hastened
towards the South, and he--he remained at Moscow!

In the midst of the ocean, the weary bird which reposes for a night
on the vessel's mast, beguiled afar from his route by this moving
asylum, recovers it, nevertheless, without difficulty. So complete is
his sympathy with the globe, so exactly does he know the true realm of
light, that, on the following morning, he commits himself to the breeze
without hesitation; the briefest consultation with himself suffices.
He chooses, on the immense abyss, uniform and without other path than
the vessel's track, the exact course which will lead him whither he
wishes to go. There, not as upon land, exists no local observation,
no landmark, no guide; the currents of the atmosphere alone, in
sympathy with those of water--perhaps, also, some invisible magnetic
currents--pilot this hardy voyager.

How strange a science! Not only does the swallow in Europe know
that the insect which fails him there awaits him elsewhere, and
goes in quest of it, travelling upon the meridian; but in the same
latitude, and under the same climates, the loriot of the United States
understands that the cherry is ripe in France, and departs without
hesitation to gather his harvest of our fruits.


It would be wrong to believe that these migrations occur in their
season, without any definite choice of days, and at indeterminate
epochs. We ourselves have been able to observe, on the contrary, the
exact and lucid decision which regulates them; not an hour too soon or
too late.

When living at Nantes, in October 1851, the season being still
exceptionally fine, the insects numerous, and the feeding-ground of
the swallows plentifully provided, it was our happy chance to catch
sight of the sage republic, convoked in one immense and noisy assembly,
deliberating on the roof of the church of St. Felix, which dominates
over the Erdre, and looks across the Loire. Why was the meeting held on
this particular day, at this hour more than at any other? We did not
know; soon afterwards we were able to understand it.

Bright was the morning sky, but the wind blew from La Vendée. My
pines bewailed their fate, and from my afflicted cedar issued a low
deep voice of mourning. The ground was strewn with fruit, which we
all set to work to gather. Gradually the weather grew cloudy, the sky
assumed a dull leaden gray, the wind sank, all was death-like. It was
then, at about four o'clock, that simultaneously arrived, from all
points, from the wood, from the Erdre, from the city, from the Loire,
from the Sèvre, infinite legions, darkening the day, which settled
on the church roof, with a myriad voices, a myriad cries, debates,
discussions. Though ignorant of their language, it was not difficult
for us to perceive that they differed among themselves. It may be
that the youngest, beguiled by the warm breath of autumn, would fain
have lingered longer. But the wiser and more experienced travellers
insisted upon departure. They prevailed; the black masses, moving all
at once like a huge cloud, winged their flight towards the south-east,
probably towards Italy. They had scarcely accomplished three hundred
leagues (four or five hours' flight) before all the cataracts of heaven
were let loose to deluge the earth; for a moment we thought it was a
Flood. Sheltered in our house, which shook with the furious blast, we
admired the wisdom of the winged soothsayers, which had so prudently
anticipated the annual epoch of migration.

Clearly it was not hunger that had driven them. With a beautiful and
still abundant nature around them, they had perceived and seized upon
the precise hour, without antedating it. The morrow would have been too
late. The insects, beaten down by the tempest of rain, would have been
undiscoverable; all the life on which they subsisted would have taken
refuge in the earth.

Moreover, it is not famine alone, or the forewarning of famine, that
decides the movements of the migrating species. If those birds which
live on insects are constrained to depart, those which feed on wild
berries might certainly remain. What impels _them_? Is it the cold?
Most of them could readily endure it. To these special reasons we must
add another, of a loftier and more general character--it is the need of

Even as the plant unalterably follows the day and the sun, even as the
mollusc (to use a previous illustration) rises towards and prefers to
live in the brighter regions--even so the bird, with its sensitive
eye, grows melancholy in the shortened days and gathering mists of
autumn. That decline of light, which is sometimes dear to us for moral
causes, is for the bird a grief, a death. Light! more light! Let us
rather die than see the day no more! This is the true purport of its
last autumnal strain, its last cry on its departure in October. I
comprehended it in their farewells.


Their resolution is truly bold and courageous, when one thinks on the
tremendous journey they must achieve, twice every year, over mountains,
and seas, and deserts, under such diverse climates, by variable winds,
through many perils, and such tragical adventures. For the light and
hardy _voiliers_, for the church-martin, for the keen swallow which
defies the falcon, the enterprise perhaps is trivial. But other tribes
have neither their strength nor their wings; most of them are at this
time heavy with abundant food; they have passed through the glowing
time of love and maternity; the female has finished that grand work of
nature--has given birth to, and brought up her callow brood; her mate,
how he has spent his vigour in song! These two, then, have consummated
life; a virtue has gone out from them; an age already separates them
from the fresh energy of their spring.

Many would remain, but a goad impels them forward. The slowest are the
most ardent. The French quail will traverse the Mediterranean, will
cross the range of Atlas; sweeping over the Sahara, it will plunge
into the kingdoms of the negro; these, too, it will leave behind; and,
finally, if it pauses at the Cape, it is because there the infinite
Austral ocean commences, which promises it no nearer shelter than the
icy wastes of the Pole, and the very winter which exiled it from Egypt.

What gives them confidence for such enterprises? Some may trust to
their arms, the weakest to their numbers, and abandon themselves to
fate. The stock-dove says: "Out of ten or a hundred thousand the
assassin cannot slay more than ten, and doubtlessly I shall not be one
of the victims." They seize their opportunity; the flying cloud passes
at night; if the moon rise, against her silver radiance the black
wings stand out clear and distinct; they escape, confused, in her pale
lustre. The valiant lark, the national bird of our ancient Gaul and of
the invincible hope, also trusts to his numbers; he sets out in the
day-time, or rather, he wanders from province to province; decimated,
hunted, he does not the less give utterance to his song.

But the lonely bird, which has neither the support of numbers nor of
strength, what will become of him? What wilt thou do, poor solitary
nightingale, which, like others of thy race, must confront this great
adventure, but without assistance, without comrades? Thou, what art
thou, friend? A voice! The very power which is in thee will be thy
betrayal. In thy sombre attire, thou might well pass unseen by blending
with the tints of the discoloured woods of autumn. But see now! The
leaf is still purple; it wears not the dull dead brown of the later

Ah, why dost thou not remain? why not imitate the timorousness of those
birds which in such myriads fly no further than Provence? There,
sheltered behind a rock, thou shalt find, I assure thee, an Asiatic
or African winter. The gorge of Ollioules is worth all the valleys of

"No; I must depart. Others may tarry; for _they_ have only to gain the
East. But me, my cradle summons _me_: I must see again that glowing
heaven, those luminous and sumptuous ruins where my ancestors lived and
sang; I must plant my foot once more on my earliest love, the rose of
Asia; I must bathe myself in the sunshine. _There_ is the mystery of
life, there quickens the flame in which my song shall be renewed; my
voice, my muse is the light."


Thus, then, he takes wing; but I think his heart must throb as he draws
near the Alps, when their snowy peaks announce his approach to the
terror-haunted gate on whose rocks are posted the cruel children of
day and night, the vulture, the eagle--all the hooked and talon-armed
robbers, athirst for the warm blood of life--the accursed species which
inspire the senseless poetry of man--some, _noble_ murderers, which
bleed quickly and drain the flowing tide; others, _ignoble_ murderers,
which choke and destroy;--in a word, all the hideous forms of murder
and death.

I imagine to myself, then, that the poor little musician whose voice
is silenced--not his _ingegno_, nor his delicate thought--having no
friend to consult, will halt to consider well before entering upon the
long ambush of the pass of Savoy. He pauses at the threshold, on a
friendly roof, well known to myself, or in the hallowed groves of the
Charmettes,[23] deliberates and says: "If I pass during the day, they
will all be there; they know the season; the eagle will pounce upon me;
I die. If I pass by night, the great horn-owl (_duc_), the common owl
(_hibou_), the entire host of horrible phantoms, with eyes enlarged in
the darkness, will seize me, and carry me off to their young. Alas!
what shall I do? I must endeavour to avoid both night and day. At the
gloomy hour of dawn, when the cold, raw air chills in his eyrie the
great fierce beast, which knows not how to build a nest, I may fly
unperceived. And even if he see me, I shall be leagues away before he
can put into motion the cumbrous machinery of his frozen wings."

The calculation is judicious, but nevertheless a score of accidents may
disturb it. Starting at midnight, he may encounter in the face, during
his long flight across Savoy, the east wind, which engulfs and delays
him, neutralizes his exertions, and fetters his pinions. Heavens! it is
morning now. Those sombre giants, already clothed in October in their
snowy mantles, reveal upon their vast expanse of glittering white a
black spot, which moves with terrible rapidity. How gloomy are they
already, these mountains, and of what evil augury, draped in the long
folds of their winter shrouds! Motionless as are their peaks, they
create beneath them and around them an everlasting agitation of violent
and antagonistic currents, which struggle with one another so furiously
that at times they compel the bird to tarry. "If I fly in the lower
air, the torrents which hurl through the shadows with their clanging
floods, will snare me in their whirling vapours. And if I mount to the
cold and lofty realms, which kindle with a light of their own, I give
myself up to death; the frost will seize and slacken my wings."

An effort has saved him. With head bent low, he plunges, he falls into
Italy. At Susa or towards Turin he builds a nest, and strengthens his
pinions. He recovers himself in the depth of the gigantic Lombard
_corbeille_, that great nursery of fruits and flowers where Virgil
listened to his song. The land has in nowise changed; now, as then,
the Italian, an exile from his home, the sad cultivator of another's
fields,[24] the _durus arator_, pursues the nightingale. The useful
insect-devourer is proscribed as an eater of grain. Let him cross
then, if he can, the Adriatic, from isle to isle, despite the winged
corsairs, which keep watch on the very rocks; he will arrive perhaps in
the land ever consecrated to birds--in genial, hospitable, bountiful
Egypt--where all are spared, nourished, blessed, and kindly welcomed.

Still happier land, if in its blind hospitality it did not also shelter
the murderer. The nightingale and dove are gladly entertained, it
is true, but no less so the eagle. On the terraces of sultans, on
the balconies of minarets, ah, poor traveller, I see those flashing
dreadful eyes which dart their gaze this way. And I see that they have
already marked thee!

Do not remain here long. Thy season will not last. The destructive
wind of the desert will dry up, and destroy, and sweep away thy meagre
nourishment. Not a gnat will be left to sustain thy wing and thy voice.
Bethink thyself of the nest which thou hast left in our woods, remember
thy European loves. The sky was gloomy, but there thou madest for
thyself a sky of thine own. Love was around thee; every soul thrilled
at thy voice; the purest throbbed for thee. There is the real sun,
there the fairest Orient. True light is where one loves.


  [Illustration: MIGRATIONS--THE SWALLOW.]




Undoubtedly the swallow has seized upon our dwellings without ceremony;
she lodges under our windows, under our eaves, in our chimneys. She
does not hold us in the slightest fear.

It might have been said that she trusted to her unrivalled wing, had
she not placed her nest and her children within our reach. The true
reason why she has become the mistress of our house is, that she has
taken possession not only of our house, but of our heart.

In the rural mansion where my father-in-law educated his children,
he would hold his class during summer in a greenhouse in which the
swallows rested without disturbing themselves about the movements of
the family, quite unconstrained in their behaviour, wholly occupied
with their brood, passing out at the windows and returning through the
roof, chattering very loudly with one another, and still more loudly
when the master would make a pretence of saying, as St. Francis said,
"Sister swallows, can you not be silent?"

Theirs is the hearth. Where the mother has built her nest, the daughter
and the grand-daughter build. They return there every year; their
generations succeed to it more regularly than do our own. A family
dies out or is dispersed, the mansion passes into other hands; but the
swallow constantly returns to it, and maintains its right of occupation.

It is thus that our traveller has come to be accepted as a symbol of
the permanency of home. She clings to it with such fidelity, that
though the house may be repaired, or partially demolished, or long
disturbed by masons, it is still retaken possession of, re-occupied by
these faithful birds of persevering memory.

She is the _bird of return_. And if I bestow this title upon her,
it is not alone on account of her annual return, but on account of
her general conduct, and the direction of her flight, so varied, yet
nevertheless circular, and always returning upon itself.

She incessantly wheels and _veers_, indefatigably hovers about the same
area and the same locality, describing an infinity of graceful curves,
which, however varied, are never far distant from one another. Is it to
pursue her prey, the gnat which dances and floats in the air? Is it to
exercise her power, her unwearying wing, without going too far from her
nest? It matters not; this revolving flight, this incessantly returning
movement, has always attracted our eyes and heart, throwing us into a
reverie, into a world of thought.

We see her flight clearly, but never, or scarcely ever, her little
black face. Who, then, art thou, thou who always concealest thyself,
who never showest me aught but thy trenchant wings--scythes rapid as
that of Time? But Time goes forward without pause; thou, thou always
returnest. Thou drawest close to my side; it seems as if thou wouldst
graze me, wouldst touch me?--So nearly dost thou caress me, that I feel
in my face the wind, almost the whirr of thy wings. Is it a bird? Is it
a spirit? Ah, if thou art a soul, tell me so frankly, and reveal to me
the barrier which separates the living from the dead.


But let us not anticipate, nor let loose the waters of bitterness.
Rather let us trace this bird in the people's thoughts, in the good old
popular wisdom, close akin, undoubtedly, to the wisdom of Nature.

The people have seen in her only the natural dial, the division of
the seasons, of the two great _hours of the year_. At Easter and at
Michaelmas, at the epochs of family gatherings, of fairs and markets,
of leases and rent-paying, the black and white swallow appears, and
tells us the time. She comes to separate and define the past and the
coming seasons. At these epochs families and friends meet together, but
not always to find the circle complete; in the last six months this
friend has disappeared, and that. The swallow returns, but not for all;
many have gone a very long journey, longer than _the tour of France_.
To Germany? No; further, further still.

Our _companions_, industrious travellers, followed the swallow's
life, except that on their return they frequently could no longer
find their nest. Of this the pendant bird warns them in an old German
saying, wherein the narrow popular wisdom would fain retain them
round the roof-tree of home. On this proverb, the great poet Rückert,
metamorphosing himself into a swallow, reproducing her rhythmical and
circular flight, her constant turns and returns, has founded a lyric at
which many will laugh, but more than one will weep:--


         "De la jeunesse, de la jeunesse,
          Un chant me revient toujours--
        Oh! que c'est loin! Oh! que c'est loin
          Tout ce qui fut autrefois;

         "Ce que chantait, ce que chantait
          Celle qui ramène le printemps,
    Rasant le village de l'aile, rasant le village de l'aile.
          Est-ce bien ce qu'elle chante encore?

        "'Quand je partis, quand je partis,
          Etaient pleins l'armoire et le coffre.
          Quand je revins, quand je revins,
          Je ne trouvai plus que le vide.'

         "O mon foyer de famille,
          Laisse-moi seulement une fois
          M'asseoir à la place sacrée
          Et m'envoler dans les songes!

         "Elle revient bien l'hirondelle,
          Et l'armoire vidée se remplit.
    Mais le vide du coeur reste, mais reste le vide du coeur,
          Et rien ne le remplira.

         "Elle rase pourtant le village,
          Elle chante comme autrefois--
          'Quand je partis, quand je partis,
          Coffre, armoire, tout était plein.
          Quand je revins, quand je revins
          Je ne trouvai plus que le vide.'"


        From childhood gay, from childhood gay,
          E'er breathes to me a strain,
        How far the day, how far the day
          Which ne'er may come again!

        And is her song, and is her song--
          She who brings back the spring,
    The hamlet touching with her wing, the hamlet touching with her wing--
          Is it true what she doth sing?

        "When I set forth, when I set forth,
          Both barn and chest were brimming o'er;
        When I came back, when I came back,
          I found a piteous lack of store."

        Oh, my own home, so dearly loved,
          Kind Heaven grant that I may kneel
        Again upon thy sacred hearth,
          While dreams the happy past reveal!

        The swallow surely will return,
          Coffer and barn will brim once more;
    But blank remains the heart, empty the heart remains,
          And none may the lost restore!

        The swallow skims through the hamlet,
          She sings as she sang of yore:--
        "When I set out, when I set out,
          Both barn and chest were brimming o'er;
        When I came back, when I came back,
          I found a piteous lack of store."


The swallow, caught in the morning, and closely examined, is seen to
be a strange and ugly bird, we confess; but this fact perfectly well
agrees with what is, _par excellence_, the _bird_--the being among
all beings born for flight. To this object Nature has sacrificed
everything; she has laughed at _form_, thinking only of _movement_; and
has succeeded so well that this bird, ugly in repose, is, when flying,
the most beautiful of all.

Scythe-like wings; projecting eyes; no neck (in order to treble her
strength); feet, scarcely any, or none: all is wing. These are her
great general features. Add a very large beak, always open, which, in
flight, snaps at its prey without stopping, closes, and again re-opens.
Thus she feeds while flying; she drinks, she bathes while flying; while
flying, she feeds her young.

If she does not equal in accuracy of line the thunderous swoop of
the falcon, by way of compensation she is freer; she wheels, makes a
hundred circles, a labyrinth of undefined figures, a maze of varied
curves, which she crosses and re-crosses, _ad infinitum_. Her enemy
is dazzled, lost, confused, and knows not what to do. She wearies and
exhausts him; he gives up the chase, but leaves her unfatigued. She
is the true queen of the air; the incomparable agility of her motions
makes all space her own. Who, like her, can change in the very moment
of springing, and turn abruptly? No one. The infinitely varied and
capricious pursuit of a prey which is ever fluttering--of the gnat, the
fly, the beetle, the thousand insects that waver to and fro and never
keep in the same direction--is, undoubtedly, the best training school
for flight, and renders the swallow superior to all other birds.

Nature, to attain this end, to achieve this unique wing, has adopted
an extreme resolution, that of suppressing the foot. In the large
church-haunting swallow, which we call the martin, the foot is reduced
to a mere nothing. The wing gains in proportion; the martin, it is
said, accomplishes eighty leagues in an hour. This astounding swiftness
equals even that of the frigate-bird. The foot, remarkably short in
the latter, is but a stump in the martin; if he rests, it is on his
belly; so that he never perches. With him it is the reverse of all
other beings; movement alone affords him repose. When he darts from
the church-towers, and commits himself to the air, the air cradles
him amorously, supports, and refreshes him. If he would cling to any
object, he has only his own small and feeble claws. But when he rests,
he is infirm, and, as it were, paralyzed; he feels every roughness; the
hard fatality of gravitation has resumed possession of him; the chief
among birds seems sunk to a reptile.


To take the range of a place is a great difficulty for him: so, if he
fixes his nest aloft, at his departure from it he is constrained to let
himself fall into his natural element. Afloat in the air he is free, he
is sovereign; but until then he is a slave, dependent on everything, at
the disposal of any one who lays hand upon him.

The true name of the genus, which is a full explanation in itself, is
the Greek _A-pode_, "Without feet." The great race of swallows, with
its sixty species which fill the earth, charms and delights us with its
gracefulness, its flight, and its soft chirping, owes all its agreeable
qualities to the deformity of a very little foot; it is at once the
foremost among the winged tribes by the gift of the perfect art of
flight, and the most sedentary and attached to its nest.

Among this peculiar genus, the foot not supplying the place of the
wing, the training of the young being confined to the wing alone and
a protracted apprenticeship in flying, the brood keep the nest for
a long time, demanding the cares and developing the foresight and
tenderness of the mother. The most mobile of birds is found fettered by
her affections. Her nest is not a transient nuptial bed, but a home, a
dwelling-place, the interesting theatre of a difficult education and
of mutual sacrifices. It has possessed a loving mother, a faithful
mate,--what do I say?--rather, young sisters, which eagerly hasten
to assist the mother, are themselves little mothers, and the nurses
of a still younger brood. It has developed maternal tenderness, the
anxieties and mutual teaching of the young to the younger.

The finest thing is, that this sentiment of kinship expands. In danger,
every swallow is a sister; at the cry of one, all rush to her aid;
if one be captured, all lament her, and torture their bosoms in the
attempt to release her.

That these charming birds extend their sympathy to birds foreign to
their own species one easily conceives. They have less cause than any
others to dread the beasts of prey, from their lightness of wing, and
they are the first to warn the poultry-coops of their appearance. Hen
and pigeon cower and seek an asylum as soon as they hear the swallow's
warning voice.

No; man does not err in considering the swallow the best of the winged

And why? She is the happiest, because the freest.

Free by her admirable flight.

Free by her facility of nourishment.

Free by her choice of climate.

Also, whatever attention I have paid to her language (she speaks
amicably to her sisters, rather than sings), I have never heard her do
aught but bless life and praise God.

_Libertà! molto e desiato bene!_ I revolved these words in my heart
on the great piazza of Turin, where we never wearied of watching
the flight of innumerous swallows, hearing a thousand little joyous
cries. On their descent from the Alps they found there convenient
habitations all prepared for their reception, in the apertures left
by the scaffold-beams in the very walls of the palaces. At times,
and frequently in the evening, they chattered very loudly and cried
shrilly, to prevent us from understanding them. Often they darted down
headlong, just skimming the ground, but rising again so quickly that
one might have thought them loosened from a spring or shot from a
bow. Unlike man, who is incessantly called back to earth, they seem
to gravitate above. Never have I seen the image of a more sovereign
liberty. Their tricks, their sports, were infinite.

We travellers regarded with pleased eyes these other travellers,
which bore their pilgrimage so gaily and so lightly. The horizon,
nevertheless, was heavy, and ringed by the Alps, which at that hour
seemed close at hand. The black pine-woods were already darkened
and overshadowed by the evening; the glaciers glittered again with
a ghastly whiteness. The sorrowful barrier of these grand mountains
separated us from France, towards which we were soon about to travel





Why do the swallow and so many other birds place their habitation so
near to that of man? Why do they make themselves our friends, mingling
with our labours, and lightening them by their songs? Why is that
happy spectacle of alliance and harmony, which is the end of nature,
presented only in the climates of our temperate zone?

For this reason, that here the two parties, man and the bird, are free
from the burdensome fatalities which in the south separate them, and
place them in antagonism to one another.

That which enervates man, on the contrary, excites the bird, endows him
with ardent activity, inquietude, and the vehemence which finds vents
in harsh cries. Under the Tropics both are in complete divergence,
slaves of a despotic nature, which weighs upon them differently.

To pass from those climates to ours is to become free.

_Here_ we dominate over the nature which _there_ subjugated us. I quit
willingly, and without one wistful glance, the overwhelming paradise
where, a feeble child, I have languished in the arms of the great nurse
who, with a too potent draught, has intoxicated while thinking to
suckle me.

This milder nature was made for me, is my legitimate spouse--I
recognize her. And, above all, she resembles me; like me, she is grave,
she is laborious, she has the instinct of work and patience.

Her renewed seasons share among themselves her great annual day,
as the workman's day alternates between toil and repose. She gives
no fruit gratuitously; she gives what is worth all the fruits of
earth--industry, activity.

With what rapture I find there to-day my image, the trace of my will,
the creations of my exertions and my intelligence! Deeply laboured by
me, by me metamorphosed, she relates to me my works, reproduces to me
myself. I see her as she was before she underwent this human creative
work, before she was made man.

Monotonous at the first glance, and melancholy, she exhibited her
forests and meadows; but both strangely different from those which are
seen elsewhere.

The meadow, the rich green carpet of England and Ireland, with its
delicate soft sward constantly springing up afresh--not the rough
fleece of the Asiatic steppes, not the spiny and hostile vegetation of
Africa, not the bristling savagery of American savannahs, where the
smallest plant is woody and harshly arborescent--the European meadow,
through its annual and ephemeral vegetation, its lowly little flowers,
with mild and gentle odours, wears a youthful aspect; nay, more, an
aspect of innocence, which harmonizes with our thoughts and refreshes
our hearts.

On this first layer of humble yielding herbage, which has no
pretensions to mount higher, stands out in bold contrast the strong
individuality of the robust trees, so different from the confused
vegetation of meridional forests.

Who can single out, beneath such a mass of lianas, orchids, and
parasitical plants, the trees, themselves herbaceous, which are there,
so to speak, engulphed? In our ancient forests of Gaul and Germany
stand, strong and serious, slowly and solidly built, the elm or the
oak--that forest hero, with kindly arms and heart of steel, which has
conquered eight or ten centuries, and which, when felled by man and
associated with his labours, endows them with the eternity of the works
of nature.


As the tree, so the man. May it be given us to resemble it--to
resemble that mighty but pacific oak, whose powerful absorption has
concentrated every element, and made of it the grave, useful, enduring
individual--the solid personality--of which all men confidently demand
a support, a shelter; which stretches forth its helpful arms to the
divers animal tribes, and shelters them with its foliage! With a
thousand voices they gratefully enchant, by day and night, the still
majesty of this aged witness of the years. The birds thank it from
their hearts, and delight its paternal shades with song, love, and

Indestructible vigour of the climates of the West? Why doth this oak
live through a thousand years? Because it is ever young.

It is the oak which chronicles the commencement of spring. For us the
emotion of the new life does not begin when all nature clothes itself
in the uniform verdure of the meaner vegetation. It commences only when
we see the oak, from the woody foliage of the past, which it still
retains, gathering its fresh leaves; when the elm, permitting itself to
be outstripped by inferior trees, tints with a light green the severe
delicacy of its airy branches, clearly defined against the sky.


Then, then, Nature speaks to all--her potent voice troubles even the
soul of sages. And why not? Is she not holy? And this surprising
awakening, which has stirred life everywhere--from the hard dumb heart
of the oaks, even to their lofty crest, where the bird pours out its
gladness--is it not, as it were, a return of God?

I have lived in climates where the olive and the orange preserve an
eternal bloom. Without ignoring the beauty of these favoured trees,
and their special distinction, I could never accustom myself to the
monotonous permanency of their unchangeable garb, whose verdure
responded to the heaven's unchangeable sapphire. I was ever in a state
of expectancy, waiting for a renewal which never came. The days passed
by, but were always identical. Not a leaf the less on the ground, not a
cloudlet in the sky. Mercy, I exclaimed, O everlasting Nature! To the
changeful heart which thou hast given me, grant a little change. Rain,
mire, storm, I accept them all; so that from sky or earth the idea of
movement may return to me--the idea of renovation; that every year the
spectacle of a new creation may refresh my heart, may restore to me
the hope that my soul shall enjoy a similar resurrection, and, by the
alternations of sleep, of death, or of winter, create for itself a new


Man, bird, all nature, utter the same desire. We exist through change.

To these forcible alternations of heat, cold, fog, and sun, melancholy
and joyaunce, we owe the tempered, the powerful personality of our
West. Rain wearies us to-day; fine weather will come with the morrow.
The splendours of the East, the marvels of the Tropics, taken together,
are not worth the first violet of Easter, the first song of April, the
blossom of the hawthorn, the glee of the young girl who resumes her
robes of white.

In the morning a potent voice, of singular freshness and clearness, of
keen metallic _timbre_, the voice of the mavis, rises aloft, and there
is no heart so sick or so sour as to hear it without a smile.

One spring, on my way to Lyons, among the intertangled vines which the
peasants laboured to raise up again, I heard a poor, old, miserable,
and blind woman singing, with an accent of extraordinary gaiety, this
ancient village lay:

    "Nous quittons nos grands habits,
    Pour en prendre de plus petits."






The "_miserly_ agriculturist," is the accurate and forcible expression
of Virgil. Miserly, and blind, in truth, for he proscribes the birds
which destroy insects and protect his crops.

Not a grain will he spare to the bird which, during the winter rains,
hunted up the future insect, sought out the nests of the larvæ,
examined them, turned over every leaf, and daily destroyed myriads of
future caterpillars; but sacks of corn to the adult insects, and whole
fields to the grasshoppers which the bird would have combated!

With his eyes fixed on the furrow, on the present moment, without
sight or foresight; deaf to the grand harmony which no one ever
interrupts with impunity, he has everywhere solicited or approved the
laws which suppressed the much-needed assistant of his labour, the
insect-destroying bird. And the insects have avenged the bird. It has
become necessary to recall in all haste the banished. In the island
of Bourbon, for example, a price was set on each martin's head; they
disappeared, and then the grasshoppers took possession of the island,
devouring, extinguishing, burning up with harsh acridity all that they
did not devour. The same thing has occurred in North America with the
starling, the protector of the maize. The sparrow even, which attacks
the grain, but also defends it--the thieving, pilfering sparrow, loaded
with so many insults, and stricken with so many maledictions--it has
been seen that without him Hungary would perish; that he alone could
wage the mighty war against the cockchafers and the myriad winged foes
which reign in the low-lying lands: his banishment has been revoked,
and the courageous militia hastily recalled which, if not strictly
disciplined, are not the less the salvation of the country.

No long time ago, near Rouen, and in the valley of Monville, the
crows had for a considerable period been proscribed. The cockchafers,
accordingly, profited to such an extent--their larvæ, multipled _ad
infinitum_, pushed so far their subterranean works--that an entire
meadow was pointed out to me as completely withered on the surface;
every root of grass or herb was eaten up; and all the turf, easily
detached, could be rolled back on itself just as one raises a carpet.

All toil, all appeals of man to nature, supposes the intelligence of
the natural order. Such is the order, and such the law: _Life has
around it and within it its enemy--most frequently as its guest--the
parasite which undermines and cankers it_.

Inert and defenceless life, especially vegetable, deprived of
locomotion, would succumb to it but for the stronger support of the
indefatigable enemy of the parasite, the merciless pursuer, the winged
conqueror of the monsters.

The war rages _without_ under the Tropics, where they surge up on all
sides. _Within_ in our climates, where everything is hidden, more
profound, and more mysterious.

In the exuberant fecundity of the Torrid Zone, the insects, those
terrible destroyers of plant-life, carry off the superfluous. They
are there a necessity. They ravage among the prodigious abundance of
spontaneous plants, of lost seeds, of the fruits which Nature scatters
over the wastes. Here, in the narrow field watered by the sweat of
man, they garner in his place, devour his labour and its harvest; they
attack even his life.


Do not say, "Winter is on my side; it will check the foe." Winter
does but slay the enemies which would perish of themselves. It kills
especially the ephemera, whose existence was already measured by that
of the flower, or the leaf with which it was bound up. But, before
dying, the prescient atom assures the safety of its posterity; it finds
for it an asylum, conceals and carefully deposits its future, the germ
of its reproduction. As eggs, as larvæ, or in their own shapes, living,
mature, armed, these invisible creatures sleep in the bosom of the
earth, awaiting their opportunity. Is she immovable, this earth? In
the meadows I see her undulate--the black miner, the mole, continues
her labours. At a higher elevation, in the dry grounds, stretch the
subterranean granaries, where the philosophical rat, on a good pile of
corn, passes the season in patience.

All this life breaks forth at spring-time. From high, from low, on the
right, on the left, these predatory tribes, _échelonned_ by legions
which succeed one another and relieve one another each in its month,
in its day--the immense, the irresistible conscription of nature--will
march to the conquest of man's works. The division of labour is
perfect. Each has his post marked out, and will make no mistake. Each
will go straight to his tree or his plant. And such will be their
tremendous numbers, that not a leaf but will have its legion.

What wilt thou do, poor man? How wilt thou multiply thyself? Hast thou
wings to pursue them? Hast thou even eyes to see them? Thou mayest kill
them at thy pleasure; their security is complete: kill, annihilate
millions; they live by thousands of millions! Where thou triumphest by
sword and fire, burning up the plant itself, thou hearest all around
the light whirring of the great army of atoms, which gives no heed to
thy victory, and destroys unseen.

Listen. I will give thee two counsels. Weigh them, and adopt the wiser.

The first remedy for this, if you resolve upon fighting your foe, is
to poison everything. Steep your seeds in sulphate of copper; put your
barley under the protection of verdigris. This the foe is unprepared
for; it disconcerts him. If he touches it, he dies or sickens. You,
also, it is true, are scarcely flourishing; your adventurous stratagem
may help the plagues which devastate our era. Happy age! The benevolent
labourer poisons at the outset; this copper-coloured corn, handed over
to the baker, ferments with the sulphate; a simple and agreeable means
of "raising" the light _pâte_, to which, perhaps, people would object.

No; adopt a better course than this. Take your side. Before so many
enemies it is no shame to fall back. Let things go, and fold your
arms. Rest, and look on. Be like that brave man who, on the eve of
Waterloo, wounded and prostrate, contrived to lift himself up and scan
the horizon; but he saw there Blucher, and the great cloud of the black
army. Then he fell back, exclaiming, "They are too many!"

And how much more right have you to say so! You are alone against the
universal conspiracy of life. You also may exclaim, "They are too many!"

You insist. See here these fields so full of inspiring hope; see the
humid pastures where I might please myself with watching the cattle
lost among the thick herbage. Let us lead thither the herds!

They are expected. Without them what would become of those living
clouds of insects which love nothing but blood? The blood of the ox
is good; the blood of man is better. Enter; seat yourself in their
midst; you will be well received, for you are their banquet. These
darts, these horns, these pincers, will find an exquisite delicacy in
your flesh; a sanguinary orgie will open on your body for the frantic
dance of this famished host, which will not relax at least from want;
you shall see more than one fall away, and die of the intoxicating
fountain which he had opened with his dart. Wounded, bleeding, swollen
with puffed-up sores, hope for no repose. Others will come, and again
others, for ever, and without end. For if the climate is less severe
than in the zones of the South, in revenge, the eternal rain--that
ocean of soft warm water incessantly flooding our meadows--hatches in a
hopeless fecundity those nascent and greedy lives, which are impatient
to rise, to be born, and to finish their career by the destruction of
superior existences.

I have seen, not in the marshes, but on the western heights, those
pleasant verdurous hills, clothed with woods or meadows--I have seen
the pluvial waters repose for lack of outlet; and then, when evaporated
by the sun's rays, leave the earth covered with a rich and abundant
animal production--slugs, snails, insects of a myriad species, all
people of terrible appetite, born with sharp teeth, with formidable
apparatus, and ingenious machines of destruction. Powerless against
the irruption of an unexpected host which crawled, stirred, ascended,
penetrated, had almost eaten up ourselves, we contended with them
through the agency of some brave and voracious fowls, which never
counted their enemies, and did not criticise, but swallowed them. These
Breton and Vendean fowls, inspired with the genius of their country,
made their campaign so much the more successfully, because each waged
war in its own manner. The _black_, the _gray_, and the _egg-layer_
(such were their military titles), marched together in close array,
and recoiled not a step; the _dreamer_ or _philosopher_ preferred
skirmishing by himself (_chouanner_), and accomplished much more work.
A superb black cat, the companion of their solitude, studied daily the
track of the field mouse and the lizard, hunted the wasp, devoured the
Spanish fly, always at some distance in advance of the respectful hens.


One word more in reference to them, and one regret. Our business
being finished, we prepared for our departure. But what would become
of _them_? Given to a friend, they would assuredly be eaten. We
deliberated long. Then, coming to a vigorous decision, according to
the ancient creed of savage tribes, who believed that it was sweetest
to die by the hands of those we love, and thought that by eating their
heroes they themselves became heroic, we made of them, not without
lamentation, a funereal banquet.

It is a truly grand spectacle to see descend--one might almost say from
heaven--against this frightful swarming of the universal monster-birth
which awakens in the spring, hissing, whirring, croaking, buzzing,
in its huge hunger, the universal saviour, in a hundred forms and a
hundred legions, differing in arms and character, but all endowed with
wings, all sharing a seeming privilege of ubiquity.


To the universal presence of the insect, to its ubiquity of numbers,
responds that of the bird, of his swiftness, of his wing. The great
moment is that when the insect, developing itself through the heat,
meets the bird face to face; the bird multiplied in numbers; the bird
which, having no milk, must feed at this very moment a numerous family
with her living prey. Every year the world would be endangered if the
bird could suckle, if its aliment were the work of an individual, of a
stomach. But see, the noisy, restless brood, by ten, twenty, or thirty
little bills, cry out for their prey; and the exigency is so great,
such the maternal ardour to respond to this demand, that the desperate
tomtit, unable to satisfy its score of children with three hundred
caterpillars a day, will even invade the nests of other birds and pick
out the brains of their young.

From our windows, which opened on the Luxemburg, we observed every
winter the commencement of this useful war of the bird against the
insect. We saw it in December inaugurate the year's labour. The honest
and respectable household of the thrush, which one might call the
leaf-lifter (_tourne-feuilles_), did their work by couples; when the
sunshine followed rain, they visited the pools, and lifted the leaves
one by one, with skill and conscientiousness, allowing nothing to pass
which had not been attentively examined.

Thus, in the gloomiest months, when the sleep of nature so closely
resembles death, the bird continued for us the spectacle of life. Even
among the snow, the thrush saluted us when we arose. During our grave
winter walks we were always accompanied by the wren, with its golden
crest, its short, quick song, its soft and flute-like recall. The more
familiar sparrows appeared on our balconies; punctual to the hour, they
knew that twice a-day their meal would be ready for them, without any
peril to their freedom.

For the rest, the honest labourers, on the arrival of spring, scrupled
to ask our aid. As soon as their young were able to fly, they joyously
brought them to our windows, as if to thank and bless us.


  [Illustration: LABOUR--THE WOODPECKER.]




Among the calumnies of which birds have been made the victims, none
is more absurd than to say, as it has been said, that the woodpecker,
when burrowing among the trees, selects the robust and healthy trunks,
those that offer the greatest difficulties, and must increase his toil.
Common sense plainly shows that the poor animal, living upon worms and
insects, will seek the infirm, the rotten trees, those offering the
least resistance, and promising, moreover, the most abundant prey. The
persistent hostility which he wages against the destructive tribes
that would corrupt the vigorous trunk, is a signal service rendered to
man. The State owes him, if not the appointment, at least the honorary
title, of Conservator of the Forests. But what is the fact? That for
all his reward, ignorant officials have often set a price upon his

But the woodpecker would be no true type of the workman if he were
not calumniated and persecuted. His modest guild, spread over the two
worlds, serves, teaches, and edifies man. His garb varies; but the
common sign by which he may be recognized is the scarlet hood with
which the good artisan generally covers his head, his firm and solid
skull. His special tool, which is at once pickaxe and auger, chisel
and plane, is his square-fashioned bill. His nervous limbs, armed with
strong black nails of a sure and firm grasp, seat him securely on
his branch, where he remains for whole days, in an awkward attitude,
striking always from below upwards. Except in the morning, when he
bestirs himself, and stretches his limbs in every direction, like all
superior workmen, who allow a few moments' preparation in order not to
interrupt themselves afterwards, he digs and digs throughout a long
day with singular perseverance. You may hear him still later, for he
prolongs his work into the night, and thus gains some additional hours.

His constitution is well adapted for so laborious a life. His muscles,
always stretched, render his flesh hard and leathery. The vesicle of
the gall, in him very large, seems to indicate a bilious disposition,
eager and violent in work, but otherwise by no means choleric.

Necessarily the opinions which men have pronounced on this singular
being are widely different. They have judged this great worker well or
ill, according as they have esteemed or despised work, according as
they themselves have been more or less laborious, and have regarded a
sedentary and industrious life as cursed or blessed by Heaven.

It has often been questioned whether the woodpecker was gay or
melancholy, and various answers have been given--perhaps all equally
good--according to species and climate. I can easily believe that
Wilson and Audubon, who chiefly refer to the golden-winged woodpecker
of the Carolinas, on the threshold of the Tropics, have found him very
lively and restless; this woodpecker gains his livelihood without toil
in a genial country, rich in insects; his curved elegant beak, less
rugged than the beak of our species, seems to indicate that he works
in less rebellious woods. But the woodpecker of France and Germany,
compelled to pierce the bark of our ancient European oaks, possesses
quite a different instrument--a hard, strong, and heavy bill. It is
probable that he devotes more hours to his toil than his American
congener. He is, as a labourer, bound by hard conditions, working more
and earning less. In dry seasons especially, his lot is wretched; his
prey flies from him, and retires to an extreme distance, in search of
moisture. Therefore he invokes the rain, with constant cry: "_Plieu!
Plieu!_" It is thus that the common people interpret his note; in
Burgundy he is called _The Miller's Procurer_; woodpecker and miller,
if the rain should not descend, would stand still and run the risk of


One eminent ornithologist, Toussenel, an excellent and ingenious
observer, seems to me mistaken in his judgment of the woodpecker's
character, when he pronounces him a lively bird. For on what grounds?
On the amusing curvets in which he indulges to gain the heart of his
love. But who among us, or among more serious beings, in such a case,
does not do the same? He calls him also a tumbler and a clown, because
at his appearance he wheeled round rapidly. For a bird whose powers of
flight are very limited, it was perhaps the wisest course to adopt,
especially in the presence of such an admirable shot. And this proved
his good sense. A vulgar sportsman, the woodpecker, which knows the
coarseness of his flesh, would have suffered to approach him. But in
the presence of such a connoisseur and so keen a friend of birds,
he had great cause for fear, lest he should be impaled to adorn his

I beg this illustrious writer to consider also the moral habitudes
and disposition which would be acquired from such continuous toil.
The _papillonne_ counts for nothing here, and the length of such
working-days far exceeds the convenient limit of what Fourier calls
agreeable labour. The woodpecker toils alone and on his own account;
undoubtedly he makes no complaint; he feels that it is for his interest
to work hard and to work long. Firm on his robust legs, though in a
painful attitude, he remains at his post all day, and even far into the
night. Is he happy? I believe so. Gay? I doubt it. Melancholy? By no
means. The passionate toil which renders us so grave, compensates by
driving away sorrow.

The unintelligent artisan, or the poor over-wrought slave, whose only
idea of happiness lies in immobility, would not fail to see in a
life of such assiduity the malediction of Fate. The artisans of the
German towns assert that he is a baker, who, in the indolent ease of
his counting-house, starved the poor, deceived them, sold them false
weight. And now, as a punishment, he works, they say, and must work
until the day of judgment, living on insects only.

A poor and unmeaning explanation! I prefer the old Italian fable:
Picus, son of Time or Saturn, was an austere hero, who scorned the
deceitful love and illusions of Circe. To avoid her, he took to himself
wings, and flew into the forest. If he bears no longer a human figure,
he has--what is better--a foreseeing and prophetic genius; he knows
that which is to come, he sees that which is to be.

A very grave opinion upon the woodpecker is pronounced by the Indians
of North America. These heroes discern very clearly that the woodpecker
himself was a hero. They are partial to wearing the head of one which
they name "the wiry-billed woodpecker," and believe that his ardour and
courage will pass into them. A well-founded belief, as experience has
shown. The puniest heart must feel strengthened which sees ever present
before it this eloquent symbol, saying: "I shall be like it in strength
and constancy."

Only it should be noted that, if the woodpecker be a hero, he is the
peaceful hero of labour. He asks nothing more. His beak, which might be
very formidable, and his powerful spurs, are nevertheless prepared for
everything else but combat. His toil so completely absorbs him, that no
competition could stimulate him to fight. It engulfs him, requires of
him all the exertion of his faculties.


Varied and complex is his work. At first the skilful forester, full
of tact and experience, tests his tree with his hammer--I mean his
beak. He listens, as the tree resounds, to what it has to say, to what
there is within it. The process of auscultation, but recently adopted
in medicine, has been the woodpecker's leading act for some thousands
of years. He interrogates, sounds, detects by his ear the cavernous
voids which the substance of the tree presents. Such an one, sound
and vigorous in appearance, which, on account of its gigantic size,
has been marked out for the shipwright's axe, the woodpecker, by his
peculiar skill, condemns as worm-eaten, rotten, sure to fail in the
most fatal manner possible, to bend in construction, or to spring a
leak and so produce a wreck.

The tree thoroughly tested, the woodpecker selects it for himself, and
establishes himself upon it; there he will exercise his art. The trunk
is hollow, therefore rotten, therefore populous; a tribe of insects
inhabits it. You must strike at the gate of the city. The citizens in
wild tumult attempt to escape, either through the walls of the city,
or below, through the drains. Sentinels should be posted; but in their
default the solitary besieger watches, and from moment to moment looks
behind to snap up the passing fugitives, making use, for this purpose,
of an extremely long tongue, which he darts to and fro like a miniature
serpent. The uncertainty of the sport, and the hearty appetite which it
stimulates, fill him with passion; his glance pierces through bark and
wood; he is present amidst the terrors and the counsels of his enemies.
Sometimes he descends very suddenly, in alarm lest a secret issue
should save the besieged.

A tree externally sound, but rotten and corrupt within, is a terrible
image for the patriot who dreams over the destinies of cities. Rome,
at the epoch when the republic begun to totter, feeling itself like to
such a tree, trembled one day as a woodpecker alighted on the tribunal
in open forum, under the very hand of the prætor. The people were
profoundly moved, and revolved the gloomiest thoughts. But the augurs,
who had been summoned, arrived: if the bird escaped with impunity,
the republic would perish; if he remained, he threatened only him who
held the bird in his hand--the prætor. This magistrate, who was Ælius
Tubero, killed the bird immediately, died soon afterwards, and the
republic endured six centuries longer.

This is grand, not ridiculous. It endured through this noble appeal to
the citizen's devotion. It endured through this silent response given
to it by a great heart. Such actions are fertile; they make men and
heroes; they prolong the life of states.

To return to our bird: this workman, this solitary, this sublime
prophet does not escape the universal law. Twice a-year he grows
demented, throws off his austerity, and, shall it be said, becomes
ridiculous. Happy he among men who plays the fool but twice a-year!

Ridiculous! He is not so because he loves, but because he loves
comically. Gorgeously arrayed, and in his finest plumage, relieving
his somewhat sombre garb by his beautiful scarlet _grecque_, he whirls
round his lady-love; and his rivals do the same.

But these innocent workers, designed for the most serious
labours--strangers to the arts of the fashionable world, to the graces
of the humming-birds--know not in what way to manifest their duty, and
present their very humble homage but by the most uncouth curvettings.
Uncouth at least in our opinion; they are scarcely so in the eyes of
the object of these attentions. They please her, and this is all that
is needed. The queen's choice declared, no battle can take place.
Admirable are the manners of these good and worthy workmen. The others
retire aggrieved, but with delicacy cherish religiously the right of

Do the fortunate suitor and his fair one, think you, air their idle
loves wandering through the forests? Not at all. They instantly begin
to work. "Show me thy talents," says she, "and let me see that I have
not deceived myself." What an opportunity for an artist! She inspires
his genius. From a carpenter he becomes a joiner, a cabinet-maker;
from a cabinet-maker, a geometer! The regularity of forms, that divine
rhythm, appears to him in love.

It is exactly the renowned history of the famous blacksmith of Anvers,
Quintin Matsys, who loved a painter's daughter, and who, to win her
love, became the greatest painter of Flanders in the sixteenth century.

    "Of Vulcan swart, love an Apelles made."

    (D'un noir Vulcain, l'amour fit un Appelle).

Thus, one morning the woodpecker develops into the sculptor. With
severe precision, the perfect roundness which the compass might give,
he hollows out the graceful vault of a superb hemisphere. The whole
receives the polish of marble and ivory. All kinds of hygienic and
strategic precautions are not wanting. A narrow winding entry, whose
slope inclines outwards that the water may not penetrate, favours the
defence; it suffices for one head and one courageous bill to close it.

What heart could resist all these toils? Who would not accept this
artist, this laborious purveyor for domestic wants, this intrepid
defender? Who would not believe herself able to accomplish in safety,
behind the generous rampart of this devoted champion, the delicate
mystery of maternity?


So she resists no longer, and behold the pair installed! There is
wanting now but a nuptial chant (Hymen! O Hymeneæ!) It is not the
woodpecker's fault if Nature has denied to his genius the muse of
melody. At least, in his harsh voice one cannot mistake the impassioned
accents of the heart.

May they be happy! May a young and amiable generation spring into life,
and mature under their eyes! Birds of prey shall not easily penetrate
here. Only grant that the serpent, the frightful black serpent, may
never visit this nest! Oh, that the child's rough hand may not cruelly
crush its sweet hope! And, above all, may the ornithologist, the friend
of birds, keep afar from this spot!

If persevering toil, ardent love of family, heroic defence of liberty,
could impose respect and arrest the cruel hand of man, no sportsman
would touch this noble bird. A young naturalist, who smothered one
in order to impale it, has told me that he sickened of the brutal
struggle, and suffered a keen remorse; it seemed to him as if he had
committed an assassination.

Wilson appears to have felt an analogous impression. "The first time,"
says he, "that I observed this bird, in North Carolina, I wounded him
slightly in the wing, and when I caught him he gave a cry exactly
like an infant's, but so loud and lamentable that my frightened horse
nearly threw me off. I carried him to Wilmington: in passing through
the streets, the bird's prolonged cries drew to the doors and windows
a crowd of people, especially of women, filled with alarm. I continued
my route, and, on entering the court of the hotel, met the master of
the house and a crowd of people, alarmed at what they heard. Judge how
this alarm increased when I asked for what was needed both by my child
and myself. The master remained pale and stupid, and the others were
dumb with astonishment. After having amused myself at their expense for
a minute or two, I revealed my woodpecker, and a burst of universal
laughter echoed around. I ascended with it to my chamber, where I left
it while I paid attention to my horse's wants. I returned at the end of
an hour, and, on opening the door, heard anew the same terrible cry,
which this time appeared to originate in grief at being discovered in
his attempts to escape. He had climbed along the window almost to the
ceiling, immediately above which he had begun to excavate. The bed was
covered with large pieces of plaster, the laths of the ceiling were
exposed for an area of nearly fifteen square inches, and a hole through
which you could pass your thumb was already formed in the skylight;
so that, in the space of another hour, he would certainly have
succeeded in effecting an opening. I fastened round his neck a cord,
which I attached to the table, and left him--I wanted to preserve him
alive--while I went in search of food. On returning, I could hear that
he had resumed his labours, and on my entrance saw that he had nearly
destroyed the table to which he had been fastened, and against which he
had directed all his wrath. When I wished to take a sketch, he cut me
several times with his beak, and displayed so noble and so indomitable
a courage that I was tempted to restore him to his native forests. He
lived with me nearly three days, refusing all food, and I was present
at his death with sincere regret."


  [Illustration: THE SONG.]



There is no one who will not have remarked that birds kept in a cage
in a drawing-room never fail, if visitors arrive and the conversation
grows animated, to take a part in it, after their fashion, by
chattering or singing.

It is their universal instinct, even in a condition of freedom. They
are the echoes both of God and of man. They associate themselves with
all sounds and voices, add their own poesy, their wild and simple
rhythms. By analogy, by contrast, they augment and complete the grand
effects of nature. To the hoarse beating of the waves the sea-bird
opposes his shrill strident notes; with the monotonous murmuring of the
agitated trees the turtle-dove and a hundred birds blend a soft sad
cadence; to the awakening of the fields, the gaiety of the country,
the lark responds with his song, and bears aloft to heaven the joys of

Thus, then, everywhere, above the vast instrumental concert of nature,
above her deep sighs, above the sonorous waves which escape from the
divine organ, a vocal music springs and detaches itself--that of the
bird, almost always in vivid notes, which strike sharply on this solemn
base with the ardent strokes of a bow.

Winged voices, voices of fire, angel voices, emanations of an intense
life superior to ours, of a fugitive and mobile existence, which
inspires the traveller doomed to a well-beaten track with the serenest
thoughts and the dream of liberty.

Just as vegetable life renews itself in spring by the return of the
leaves, is animal life renewed, rejuvenified by the return of the
birds, by their loves, and by their strains. There is nothing like it
in the southern hemisphere, a youthful world in an inferior condition,
which, still in travail, aspires to find a voice. That supreme flower
of life and the soul, Song, is not yet given to it.

The beautiful, the sublime phenomenon of this higher aspect of the
world occurs at the moment that Nature commences her voiceless concert
of leaves and blossoms, her melodies of March and April, her symphony
of May, and we all vibrate to the glorious harmony; men and birds take
up the strain. At that moment the smallest become poets, often sublime
songsters. They sing for their companions whose love they wish to gain.
They sing for those who hearken to them, and more than one accomplishes
incredible efforts of emulation. Man also responds to the bird. The
song of the one inspires the other with song. Harmony unknown in tropic
climes! The dazzling colours which there replace this concord of sweet
sounds do not create such a mutual bond. In a robe of sparkling gems,
the bird is not less alone.

Far different from this favoured, dazzling, glittering being are the
birds of our colder countries, humble in attire, rich in heart, but
almost paupers. Few, very few of them, seek the handsome gardens, the
aristocratic avenues, the shade of great parks. They all live with
the peasant. God has distributed them everywhere. Woods and thickets,
clearings, fields, vineyards, humid meadows, reedy pools, mountain
forests, even the peaks snow-crowned--he has allotted each winged tribe
to its particular region--has deprived no country, no locality, of this
harmony, so that man can wander nowhere, can neither ascend so high,
nor descend so low, but that he will be greeted with a chorus of joy
and consolation.


Day scarcely begins, scarcely does the stable-bell ring out for the
herds, but the wagtail appears to conduct, and frisk and hover around
them. She mingles with the cattle, and familiarly accompanies the hind.
She knows that she is loved both by man and the beasts, which she
defends against insects. She boldly plants herself on the head of the
cow, on the back of the sheep. By day she never quits them; she leads
them homeward faithfully at evening.

The water-wagtail, equally punctual, is at her post; she flutters round
the washerwomen; she hops on her long legs into the water, and asks for
crumbs; by a strange instinct of mimicry she raises and dips her tail,
as if to imitate the motion of beating the linen, to do her work also
and earn her pay.

The bird of the fields before all others, the labourer's bird, is the
lark, his constant companion, which he encounters everywhere in his
painful furrow, ready to encourage, to sustain him, to sing to him
of hope. _Espoir_, hope, is the old device of us Gauls; and for this
reason we have adopted as our national bird that humble minstrel, so
poorly clad, but so rich in heart and song.


Nature seems to have treated the lark with harshness. Owing to the
arrangement of her claws, she cannot perch on the trees. She rests on
the ground, close to the poor hare, and with no other shelter than the
furrow. How precarious, how riskful a life, at the time of incubation!
What cares must be hers, what inquietudes! Scarcely a tuft of grass
conceals the mother's fond treasure from the dog, the hawk, or the
falcon. She hatches her eggs in haste; with haste she trains the
trembling brood. Who would not believe that the ill-fated bird must
share the melancholy of her sad neighbour, the hare?

    This animal is sad, and fear consumes her.

    "Cet animal est triste et la crainte le ronge."


But the contrary has taken place by an unexpected marvel of gaiety
and easy forgetfulness, of lightsome indifference and truly French
carelessness; the national bird is scarcely out of peril before she
recovers all her serenity, her song, her indomitable glee. Another
wonder: her perils, her precarious existence, her cruel trials, do
not harden her heart; she remains good as well as gay, sociable and
trustful, presenting a model (rare enough among birds) of paternal
love; the lark, like the swallow, will, in case of need, nourish her

Two things sustain and animate her: love and light. She makes love for
half the year. Twice, nay, thrice, she assumes the dangerous happiness
of maternity, the incessant travail of a hazardous education. And when
love fails, light remains and re-inspires her. The smallest gleam
suffices to restore her song.

She is the daughter of day. As soon as it dawns, when the horizon
reddens and the sun breaks forth, she springs from her furrow like an
arrow, and bears to heaven's gate her hymn of joy. Hallowed poetry,
fresh as the dawn, pure and gleeful as a childish heart! That powerful
and sonorous voice is the reapers' signal. "We must start," says the
father; "do you not hear the lark?" She follows them, and bids them
have courage; in the hot sunny hours invites them to slumber, and
drives away the insects. Upon the bent head of the young girl half
awakened she pours her floods of harmony.

"No throat," says Toussenel, "can contend with that of the lark in
richness and variety of song, compass and _velvetiness_ of _timbre_,
duration and range of sound, suppleness and indefatigability of the
vocal chords. The lark sings for a whole hour without half a second's
pause, rising vertically in the air to the height of a thousand yards,
and stretching from side to side in the realm of clouds to gain a yet
loftier elevation, without losing one of its notes in this immense

"What nightingale could do as much?"


This hymn of light is a benefit bestowed on the world, and you will
meet with it in every country which the sun illuminates. There are
as many different species of larks as there are different countries:
wood-larks, field-larks, larks of the thickets, of the marshes, the
larks of the Crau de Provence, larks of the chalky soil of Champagne,
larks of the northern lands in both hemispheres; you will find them,
moreover, in the salt steppes, in the plains of Tartary withered
by the north wind. Preserving reclamation of kindly nature; tender
consolations of the love of God!

But autumn has arrived. While the lark gathers behind the plough the
harvest of insects, the guests of the northern countries come to visit
us: the thrush, punctual to our vintage-time; and, haughty under his
crown, the wren, the imperceptible "King of the North." From Norway,
at the season of fogs, he comes, and, under a gigantic fir-tree, the
little magician sings his mysterious song, until the extreme cold
constrains him to descend, to mingle, and make himself popular among
the little troglodytes which dwell with us, and charm our cottages by
their limpid notes.

The season grows rough; all the birds draw nearer man. The honest
bullfinches, fond and faithful couples, come, with a short melancholy
chirp, to solicit help. The winter-warbler also quits his bushes; timid
as he is, he grows sufficiently bold towards evening to raise outside
our doors his trembling voice with its monotonous, plaintive accents.

"When, in the first mists of October, shortly before winter, the poor
proletarian seeks in the forest his pitiful provision of dead wood, a
small bird approaches him, attracted by the noise of his axe; he hovers
around him, and taxes his wits to amuse him by singing in a very low
voice his softest lays. It is the robin redbreast, which a charitable
fairy has despatched to tell the solitary labourer that there is still
some one in nature interested in him.

"When the woodcutter has collected the brands of the preceding day,
reduced to cinders; when the chips and the dry branches crackle in the
flames, the robin hastens singing to enjoy his share of the warmth, and
to participate in the woodcutter's happiness.

"When Nature retires to slumber, and folds herself in her mantle of
snow; when one hears no other voices than those of the birds of the
North, which define in the air their rapid triangles, or that of the
north wind, which roars and engulfs itself in the thatched roof of the
cottages, a tiny flute-like song, modulated in softest notes, protests
still, in the name of creative work, against the universal weakness,
lamentation, and lethargy."

Open your windows, for pity's sake, and give him a few crumbs, a
handful of grain. If he sees friendly faces, he will enter the room; he
is not insensible to warmth; cheered by this brief breath of summer,
the poor little one returns much stronger into the winter.

Toussenel is justly indignant that no poet has sung of the robin.[25]
But the bird himself is his own bard; and if one could transcribe his
little song, it would express completely the humble poesy of his life.
The one which I have by my side, and which flies about my study, for
lack of listeners of his own species, perches before the glass, and,
without disturbing me, in a whispering voice utters his thoughts to
the ideal robin which he fancies he sees before him. And here is their
meaning, so far as a woman's hand has succeeded in preserving it:--


    "Je suis le compagnon
    Du pauvre bûcheron.

    "Je le suis en automne,
    Au vent des premiers froids,
    Et c'est moi qui lui donne
    Le dernier chant des bois.

    "Il est triste, et je chante
    Sous mon deuil mêlé d'or.
    Dans la brume pesante
    Je vois l'azur encor.

    "Que ce chant te relève
    Et te garde l'espoir!
    Qu'il te berce d'un rêve,
    Et te ramène au soir!

    "Mais quand vient la gelée,
    Je frappe à ton carreau.
    Il n'est plus de feuillée,
    Prends pitié de l'oiseau!

    "C'est ton ami d'automne
    Qui revient près de toi.
    Le ciel, tout m'abandonne--
    Bûcheron, ouvre-moi!

    "Qu'en ce temps de disette,
    Le petit voyageur,
    Régalé d'une miette,
    S'endorme à ta chaleur!

    "Je suis le compagnon
    Du pauvre bûcheron."



    I am the companion
    Of the poor woodcutter.

    I follow him in autumn,
    When the first chill breezes plain;
    And I it is who warble
    The woodlands' last sweet strain.

    He is sad, and then I sing
    Under my gilded shroud,
    And I see the gleam of azure
    Glint through the gathering cloud.

    Oh, may the song inspiring
    Revive Hope's flame again,
    And at even guide thee homeward
    By the magic of its strain!

    But when the streams are frozen,
    I tap at thy window-pane--
    Oh, on the bird take pity,
    Not a leaf, not a herb remain!

    It is thy autumn comrade
    Who makes appeal to thee;
    By heaven, by all forsaken,
    Woodman, oh, pity me!

    Yes, in these days of famine
    The little pilgrim keep;
    On dainty crumbs regale him,
    By the fireside let him sleep!

    For I am the companion
    Of the poor woodcutter!



  [Illustration: THE NEST.]




I am writing opposite a graceful collection of nests of French birds,
made for me by a friend. I am able thus to appreciate, to verify the
descriptions of authors, to improve them, perhaps, if the very limited
resources of style can give any just idea of a wholly special art, less
analogous to ours than one would be tempted to believe at the first
glance. Nothing in this branch of study can supply the place of actual
sight of the objects. You must see and touch; you will then perceive
that all comparison is false and inaccurate. These things belong to a
world apart. Shall we say _above_, or _below_ the works of man? Neither
the one nor the other; but essentially different, and whose supposed
similarities (or relations) are only external.

Let us recollect, at the outset, that this charming object, so much
more delicate than words can describe, owes everything to art, to
skill, to calculation. The materials are generally of the rudest, and
not always those which the artist would have preferred. The instruments
are very defective. The bird has neither the squirrel's hand nor the
beaver's tooth. Having only his bill and his foot (which by no means
serves the purpose of a hand), it seems that the nest should be to him
an insoluble problem. The specimens now before my eyes are for the
most part composed of a tissue or covering of mosses, small flexible
branches, or long vegetable filaments; but it is less a _weaving_
than a _condensation_; a felting of materials, blended, beaten, and
welded together with much exertion and perseverance; an act of great
labour and energetic operation, for which the bill and the claw would
be insufficient. The tool really used is the bird's own body--his
breast--with which he presses and kneads the materials until he has
rendered them completely pliable, has thoroughly mixed them, and
subdued them to the general work.

And within, too, the implement which determines the circular form of
the nest is no other than the bird's body. It is by constantly turning
himself about, and ramming the wall on every side, that he succeeds in
shaping the circle.


Thus, then, his house is his very person, his form, and his immediate
effort--I would say, his suffering. The result is only obtained by a
constantly repeated pressure of his breast. There is not one of these
blades of grass but which, to take and retain the form of a curve, has
been a thousand and a thousand times pressed against his bosom, his
heart, certainly with much disturbance of the respiration, perhaps with
much palpitation.

It is quite otherwise with the habitat of the quadruped. He comes
into the world clothed; what need has he of a nest? Thus, then, those
animals which build or burrow labour for themselves rather than for
their young. A skilful miner is the mountain rat, in his oblique
tunnel, which saves him from the winter gale. The squirrel, with hand
adroit, raises the pretty turret which defends him from the rain. The
great engineer of the lakes, the beaver, foreseeing the gathering
of the waters, builds up several stages to which he may ascend at
pleasure; but all this is done for the individual. The bird builds for
her family. Carelessly did she live in her bright leafy bower, exposed
to every enemy; but the moment she was no longer alone, the hoped for
and anticipated maternity made her an artist. The nest is a creation of


Thus, the work is imprinted with a force of extraordinary will, of a
passion singularly persevering. You see in it especially this fact,
that it is not, like our works, prepared from a model, which settles
the plan, conducts and regulates the labour. Here the conception is so
thoroughly _in_ the artist, the idea so clearly defined, that, without
frame or carcase, without preliminary support, the aerial ship is built
up piece by piece, and not a hitch disturbs the ensemble. All adjusts
itself exactly, symmetrically, in perfect harmony; a thing infinitely
difficult in such a deficiency of tools, and in this rude effort of
concentration and kneading by the mere pressure of the breast. The
mother does not trust to the male bird for all this; but she employs
him as her purveyor. He goes in quest of the materials--grasses,
mosses, roots, or branches. But when the ship is built, when the
interior has to be arranged--the couch, the household furniture--the
matter becomes more difficult. Care must be taken that the former be
fit to receive an egg peculiarly sensitive to cold, every chilled point
of which means for the little one a dead limb. That little one will
be born naked. Its stomach, closely folded to the mother's, will not
fear the cold; but the back, still bare, will only be warmed by the
bed; the mother's precaution and anxiety are, therefore, not easily
satisfied. The husband brings her some horse-hair, but it is too hard;
it will only serve as an under-stratum, a sort of elastic mattress.
He brings hemp, but that is too cold; only the silk or silky fibre of
certain plants, wool or cotton, are admissible; or better still, her
own feathers, her own down, which she plucks away, and deposits under
the nursling. It is interesting to watch the male bird's skilful and
furtive search for materials; he is apprehensive lest you should learn,
by watching him with your eyes, the track to his nest. Frequently,
if you look at him, he will take a different road, to deceive you. A
hundred ingenious little thefts respond to the mother's desire. He
will follow the sheep to collect a little wool. From the poultry-yard
he will gather the dropped feathers of the mother hen. If the farmer's
wife quit for a moment her seat in the porch, and leave behind her
distaff or ball of thread, he will spy his opportunity, and go off the
richer for a thread or two.



Collections of nests are very recent, not numerous, and, as yet,
not rich. In that of Rouen, however, which is remarkable for its
arrangement; in that of Paris, where many very curious specimens may be
examined; you can distinguish already the different industries which
create this master-piece of the nest. What is the chronology, the
gradual growth of it? Not from one art to another (not from masonry
to weaving, for example); but in each separate art, the birds which
abandon themselves to it are more or less successful, according to the
intelligence of the species, the abundance of material, or the exigency
of climate.

Among the burrowing birds, the booby, and the penguin, whose young, as
soon as born, spring into the sea, content themselves with hollowing
out a rude hole. But the bee-eater, the sea-swallow, which must educate
their young, excavate under the ground a dwelling which is admirably
proportioned, and not without some geometrical design. They furnish
it, moreover, and strew it with soft yielding substances on which the
fledgling will be less sensitive to the hardness or freshness of the
humid soil.

Among the building-birds, the flamingo, which raises a pyramid of mud
to isolate her eggs from the inundated earth, and, while standing
erect, hatches them under her long legs, is contented with a rude,
rough work. It is, moreover, a stratagem. The true mason is the
swallow, which suspends her house to ours.

The marvel of its kind is, perhaps, the wonderful carpentry which the
thrush executes. The nest, very much exposed under the moist shelter of
the vines, is made externally of moss, and amid the surrounding verdure
escapes the eye; but look within: it is an admirable cupola, neat,
polished, shining, and not inferior to glass. You may see yourself in
it as in a mirror.

The rustic art, appropriate to the forests, of timber-work, joining,
wood-carving, is attempted on the lowest scale by the toucan, whose
bill, though enormous, is weak and thin: he attacks only worm-eaten
trees. The woodpecker, better armed, as we have seen, accomplishes
more: he is a true carpenter; until love inspires him, and he becomes a

Infinite in varieties and species is the guild of basket-makers and
weavers. To note the starting-point, the advance, and the climax of an
industry so varied, would be a prolonged labour.

The shore birds plait, to begin with, but very unskilfully. Why should
they do better? So warmly clothed by nature with an unctuous and almost
impermeable coat of plumage, they have little need to allow for the
elements. Their great art is the chase; always lank, and insufficiently
fed, the piscivora are controlled by the wants of a craving stomach.

The very elementary weaving of the herons and storks is already
outstripped, though to no great extent, by the basket-makers of the
woods, the jay, the mocking-bird, the bullfinch. Their more numerous
brood impose on them more arduous toil. They lay down rude enough
foundations, but thereupon plant a basket of more or less elegant
design, a web of roots and dry twigs strongly woven together. The
cistole delicately interlaces three reeds or canes, whose leaves,
mingled with the web, form a safe and mobile base, undulating as the
bird rocks. The tomtit suspends her purse-like cradle to a bough, and
trusts to the wind to nurse her progeny.

The canary, the goldfinch, the chaffinch, are skilful _felters_. The
latter, restless and suspicious, attaches to the finished nest, with
much skill and address, a quantity of white lichens, so that the
spotted appearance of the whole completely misleads the seeker, and
induces him to take this charming and cunningly disguised nest for an
accident of vegetation, a fortuitous and natural object.


Glueing and felting play an important part in the work of the
weavers. It would be a mistake to separate these arts too widely. The
humming-bird consolidates its little house with the gum of trees. Most
birds employ saliva. Some--a strange thing, and a subtle invention of
love!--here make use of processes for which their organs are least
adapted. An American starling contrives to sew the leaves with its
bill, and does so very adroitly.

A few skilful weavers, not satisfied with the bill, bring into play
their feet. The chain prepared, they fix it with their feet, while the
beak inserts the weft. They become genuine weavers.

In fine, skill never fails them. It is very astonishing, but
implements _are_ wanting. They are strangely ill-adapted for the work.
Most insects, in comparison, are wonderfully furnished with arms and
utensils. But these are true workmen, are born workmen. The bird is so
but for a time, through the inspiration of love.






The more I reflect upon it, the more clearly I perceive that the bird,
unlike the insect, is not an industrial animal. He is the poet of
nature, the most independent of created beings, with a sublime, an
adventurous, but on the whole an ill-protected existence.

Let us penetrate into the wild American forests, and examine the means
of safety which these isolated beings invent or possess. Let us compare
the bird's resources, the efforts of his genius, with the inventions of
his neighbour, man, who inhabits the same localities. The difference
does honour to the bird; human invention is always acting on the
offensive. While the Indian has fashioned a club and a tomahawk, the
bird has built only a nest.

For decency, warmth, and elegant gracefulness, the nest is in every
respect superior to the Indian's wigwam or the Negro's hut, which,
frequently, in Africa, is nothing but a baobab hollowed by time.

The negro has not yet invented the door; his hut remains open. Against
the nocturnal forays of wild beasts, he obstructs the entrance with

Nor does the bird know how to close his nest. What shall be its
defence? A great and terrible question.

He makes the entry narrow and tortuous. If he selects a natural nest,
as the wryneck does, in the hollow of a tree, he contracts the opening
by skilful masonry. Many, like the pine-pine, build a double nest in
two apartments: the mother sits in the alcove; in the vestibule watches
the father, an attentive sentinel, to repulse invasion.


What enemies has he to fear! Serpents, men or apes, squirrels! And what
do I say? The birds themselves! This people, too, has its robbers. His
neighbours sometimes assist a feeble bird to recover his property,
to expel by force the unjust usurper. Naturalists assure us that the
rooks (a kind of crow) carry further the spirit of justice. They do not
pardon a young couple who, to complete their establishment the sooner,
rob the materials--"the movables"--of another nest. They assemble in a
troop of eight or ten to rend in fragments the nest of the criminals,
and completely destroy that house of theft. And punished thieves are
driven afar, and forced to begin all over again.

Is there not here an idea of property, and of the sacred lights of

Where shall they find securities, and how assure a commencement of
public order? It is curious to know in what way the birds have resolved
the question.

Two solutions presented themselves. The first was that of
_association_--the organization of a government which should
concentrate force, and by the reunion of the weak form a defensive
power. The second (but miraculous? impossible? imaginative?) would
have been the realization of the _aerial city_ of Aristophanes,--the
construction of a dwelling-place guarded by its lightness from the
unwieldy brigands of the air, and inaccessible to the approaches of the
brigands of the earth--the hunter, the serpent.

These two things--the one difficult, the other apparently
impossible--the bird has realized.

At first, association and government. Monarchy is the inferior venture.
Just as the apes have a king to conduct each band, several species of
birds, especially in dangerous emergencies, appear to follow a chief.

The ant-eaters have a king; so have the birds of paradise. The tyrant,
an intrepid little bird of extraordinary audacity, affords his
protection to some larger species, which follow and confide in him.
It is asserted that the noble hawk, repressing its instincts of prey
for certain species, allows the trembling families which trust in his
generosity to nestle under and around him.

But the safest fellowship is that between equals. The ostrich,
the penguin, a crowd of species, unite for this purpose. Several
kinds, associating for the purpose of travel, form, at the moment of
emigration, into temporary republics. We know the good understanding,
the republican gravity, the perfect tactic of the storks and cranes.
Others, smaller in size or less completely armed--in climates,
moreover, where nature, cruelly prolific, engenders without pause their
formidable foes--place their abodes close together, but do not mingle
them, and under a common roof, living in separate partitions, form
veritable hives.

The description given by Paterson appeared fabulous; but it has been
confirmed by Levaillant, who frequently encountered in Africa, studied,
and investigated the strange community. The engraving given in the
"Architecture of Birds" enables the reader more readily to comprehend
his narration. It is the image of an immense umbrella planted on
a tree, and shading under its common roof more than three hundred
habitations. "I caused it to be brought to me," says Levaillant, "by
several men, who set it on a vehicle. I cut it with an axe, and saw
that it was in the main a mass of Booschmannie grass, without any
mixture, but so strongly woven together that it was impossible for the
rain to penetrate. This is only the framework of the edifice; each
bird constructs for himself a separate nest under the common pavilion.
The nests occupy only the reverse of the roof; the upper part remains
empty, without, however, being useless; for, raised more than the
remainder of the pile, it gives to the whole a sufficient inclination,
and thus preserves each little habitation. In two words, let the reader
figure to himself a great oblique and irregular roof, whose edge in the
interior is garnished with nests ranged close to one another, and he
will have an exact idea of these singular edifices.


"Each nest is three or four inches in diameter, which is sufficiently
large for the bird; but as they are in close contact around the roof,
they appear to the eye to form but a single edifice, and are only
separated by a small opening which serves as an entry to the nest;
and one entrance frequently is common to three nests, one of which is
placed at the bottom, and the others on each side. It has 320 cells,
and will hold 640 inhabitants, if each contains a couple, which may
be doubted. Every time, however, that I have aimed at a swarm, I have
killed the same number of males and females."

A laudable example, and worthy of imitation! I wish I could but
believe that the fraternity of those poor little ones was a sufficient
protection. Their number and their noise may sometimes alarm the enemy,
disturb the monster, make him take another direction. But if he should
persist; if, strong in his scaly skin, the boa, deaf to their cries,
mounts to the attack, invades the city at the time when the fledglings
have as yet no wings for flight, their numbers then can but multiply
the victims.

There remains the idea of Aristophanes, the _aerial city_--to isolate
it from earth and water, and build in the air.

This is a stroke of genius. And to carry it out is needed the miracle
of the two foremost powers in the world--love and fear.

Of the most vivid fear; of that which freezes your blood: if, peering
through a hole in a tree, the black flat head of a cold reptile rises
and hisses in your face, though you are a man, and a brave man, you

How much more must the little, feeble, disarmed creature, surprised in
its nest, and unable to make use of its wings--how much more must it
tremble, and sink panic-stricken!

The invention of the aerial city took place in the land of serpents.

Africa, the realm of monsters, in its horrible arid wastes, sees them
cover the earth. Asia, on the burning shore of Bombay, in her forests
where the mud ferments, makes them swarm, and fatten, and swell with
venom. In the Moluccas they are innumerable.

Thence came the inspiration of the _Loxia pensilis_ (the grosbeak of
the Philippines). Such is the name of the great artist.

He chooses a bamboo growing close to the water. To the branches of this
tree he delicately suspends some vegetable fibres. He knows beforehand
the weight of the nest, and never errs. To the threads he attaches, one
by one (not supporting himself on anything, but working in the air)
some sufficiently strong grasses. The task is long and fatiguing; it
presupposes an infinite amount of patient courage.

The vestibule alone is nothing less than a cylinder of twelve to
fifteen feet, which hangs over the water, the opening being below, so
that one enters it ascending. The upper extremity may be compared to a
gourd or an inflated bag, like a chemist's retort. Sometimes five or
six hundred nests of this kind hang to a single tree.

Such is my city of the air; not a dream and a phantasy, like that of
Aristophanes, but actual, realized, and answering the three conditions:
security both on the side of land and water, and inaccessibility to
the robbers of the air through its narrow openings, where one can only
enter by ascending with great difficulty.

Now, that which was said to Columbus when he defied his guests to
make an egg stand upright, you perhaps will say to the ingenious bird
in reference to his suspended city. You will observe, "It was very
simple." To which the bird will reply, like Columbus, "Why did you not
discover it?"


  [Illustration: EDUCATION.]



Behold, then, the nest made, and protected by every prudential means
which the mother can devise. She rests upon her perfected work, and
dreams of the new guest which it shall contain to-morrow.

At this hallowed moment, ought not we, too, to reflect and ask
ourselves what it is this mother's heart contains?

A soul? Shall we dare to say that this ingenious architect, this tender
mother, has _a soul_?

Many persons, nevertheless, full of sense and sympathy, will denounce,
will reject this very natural idea as a scandalous hypothesis.

Their heart would incline them towards it; their mind leads them to
repel it; their mind, or at least their education, the idea which, from
an early age, has been impressed upon them.

Beasts are only machines, mechanical automata; or if we think we can
detect in them some glimmering rays of sensibility and reason, those
are solely the effect of _instinct_. But what is instinct? A sixth
sense--I know not what--which is undefinable, which has been implanted
in them, not acquired by themselves--a blind force which acts,
constructs, and makes a thousand ingenious things, without their being
conscious of them, without their personal activity counting for aught.

If it is so, this instinct would be invariable, and its works immovably
regular, which neither time nor circumstances would ever change.

Indifferent minds--distracted, busy about other matters--which have
no time for observation, accept this statement upon parole. Why not?
At the first glance certain actions and also certain works of animals
appear _almost_ regular. To come to a different conclusion, more
attention, perhaps, is needed, more time and study, than the question
is fairly worth.

Let us adjourn the dispute, and see the object itself. Let us take the
humblest example, an individual example; let us appeal to our eyes, our
own observation, such as each one of us can make with the most vulgar
of the senses.

Perhaps the reader will permit me here to introduce, in all honesty
and simpleness, the journal of my canary, Jonquille, as it was written
hour by hour from the birth of her first child; a journal of remarkable
exactness, and, in short, an authentic register of birth.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It must be stated, at the outset, that Jonquille was born in a cage,
and had not seen how nests were made. As soon as I saw her disturbed,
and became aware of her approaching maternity, I frequently opened her
door, and allowed her freedom to collect in the room the materials of
the bed the little one would stand in need of. She gathered them up,
indeed, but without knowing how to employ them. She put them together,
and stored them in a corner of her cage. It was very evident that the
art of construction was not innate in her, that (exactly like man) the
bird does not know until it has learned.

"I gave her the nest ready made, at least the little basket which forms
the framework and walls of the structure. Then she made the mattress,
and felted the interior coating, but in a very indifferent manner.
Afterwards she sat on her egg for sixteen days with a perseverance, a
fervour, a maternal devotion which were astonishing, scarcely rising
for a few minutes in the day from her fatiguing position, and only when
the male was ready to take her place.

"At noon on the sixteenth day the shell was broken in two, and we saw,
struggling in the nest, a pair of little wings without feathers, a
couple of tiny feet, a something which struggled to rid itself entirely
of its envelopment. The body was one large stomach, round as a ball.
The mother, with great eyes, outstretched neck, and fluttering wings,
from the edge of the basket looked at her child, and looked at me also,
as if to say: '_Do not come near!_'

"Except some long down on the wings and head, it was completely naked.

"On this first day she only gave it some drink. It opened, however,
already a bill of good proportions.

"From time to time, that it might breathe the more easily, she moved a
little, then replaced it under her wing, and rubbed it gently.

"The second day it ate but a very light beakful of chickweed, well
prepared, brought in the first place by the father, received by the
mother, and transmitted by her with short, quick chirps. In all
probability this was given rather for medicinal purposes than as food.

"So long as the nursling has all it requires, the mother permits
the male bird to fly to and fro, to go and come, to attend to his
occupations. But as soon as it asks for more, the mother, with her
sweetest voice, summons the purveyor, who fills his beak, arrives in
all haste, and transmits to her the food.

"The fifth day the eyes are less prominent; on the sixth, in the
morning, feathers stretch along the wings, and the back grows darker;
on the eighth it opens its eyes when called, and begins to stutter:
the father ventures to nourish it. The mother takes some relaxation,
and frequently absents herself. She often perches on the rim of the
nest, and lovingly contemplates her offspring. But the latter stirs,
feels the need of movement. Poor mother! in a little while it will
escape thee.


"In this first education of the still passive and elementary life, as
in the second (and active, that of flight), of which I have already
spoken, one fact, evident and clearly discernible at every moment,
was, that everything was proportioned with infinite prudence to the
condition least foreseen, a condition essentially variable, the
nursling's individual strength; the quantity, quality, and mode of
preparation of the food, the cares of warmth, friction, cleanliness,
were all ordered with a skill and an attention to detail, modified
according to circumstance, such as the most delicate and provident
woman could hardly have surpassed.

"When I saw her heart throbbing violently, and her eye kindling as she
gazed on her precious treasure, I exclaimed: 'Could I do otherwise near
the cradle of my son?'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ah, if she be a machine, what am I myself? and who will then prove
that I am a person? If she has not a soul, who will answer to me for
the human soul? To what thereafter shall we trust? And is not all
this world a dream, a phantasmagoria, if, in the most individual
actions, actions the most plainly reasoned over and calculated upon, I
am to conclude there is nothing but a lack of reason, a mechanism, an
"automatism," a species of pendulum which sports with life and thought?

Note that our observations were made on a captive, who worked in fatal
and predetermined conditions of dwelling-place, nourishment, &c.
But how, if her action had been more evidently chosen, willed, and
meditated; if all this had transpired in the freedom of the forests, or
she had had cause to disquiet herself about many other circumstances
which captivity enabled her to ignore? I am thinking especially of
the anxiety for security, which, for the bird in savage life, is the
foremost of all cares, and which more than anything else exercises and
develops her free genius.

This first initiation into life, of which I have just given an example,
is followed by what I shall call the _professional education_; every
bird has a vocation.


This education is more or less arduous, according to the medium and the
circumstances in which each species is placed. That of fishing, for
instance, is simple enough for the penguin, which, in her clumsiness,
finds it difficult to conduct her brood to the sea; its great nurse
attends the little one, and offers it the food all ready; it has but
to open its bill. With the duck, this education or training is more
complex. I observed one summer, on a lake in Normandy, a duck, followed
by her brood, giving them their first lesson. The nurslings, riotous
and greedy, asked but for food. The mother, yielding to their cries,
plunged to the bottom of the water, reappearing with some small worm or
little fish, which she distributed impartially, never giving twice in
succession to the same duckling!

In this picture the most touching figure was the mother, whose stomach
undoubtedly was also craving, but who retained nothing for herself, and
seemed happy in the sacrifice. Her visible desire was to accustom her
family to do as she did, to dive under the water intrepidly to seize
their prey. With a voice almost gentle, she implored this action of
courageous confidence. I had the happiness of seeing the little ones
plunge in, one after another, to the depth of the black abyss. Their
education was just on the eve of completion.

This is but a simple training, and for one of the inferior vocations.
There remains to speak of that of the arts: of the art of flight, the
art of song, the art of architecture. Nothing is more complex than the
education of certain singing birds. The perseverance of the father, the
docility of the young, are worthy of all admiration.

And this education extends beyond the family-circle. The nightingales,
the chaffinches, while still young or unskilful, know how to listen
to, and profit by, the superior bird which has been allotted to them
as their instructor. In those Russian palaces where flourishes the
noble Oriental partiality for the bulbul's song, you see everywhere
these singing-schools. The master nightingale, in his cage suspended
in the centre of a saloon, has his scholars ranged around him in their
respective cages. A certain sum per hour is paid for each bird brought
here to learn his lesson. Before the master sings they chatter and
gossip among themselves, salute and recognize one another. But as soon
as the mighty teacher, with one imperious note, like that of a sonorous
steel bell, has imposed silence, you see them listen with a sensible
deference, then timidly repeat the strain. The master complacently
returns to the principal passages, corrects, and gently sets them
right. A few then grow bolder, and, by some felicitous chords, essay to
supply the harmony to the dominant melody.

An education so delicate, so varied, so complex, is it that of a
machine, of a brute reduced to instinct? Who can refuse in this to
acknowledge a soul?

Open your eyes to the evidence. Throw aside your prejudices, your
traditional and derived opinions. Preconceived ideas and dogmatic
theories apart, you cannot offend Heaven by restoring a soul to the
beast.[26] How much grander the Creator's work if he has created
persons, souls, and wills, than if he has constructed machines!

Dismiss your pride, and acknowledge a kindred in which there is nothing
to make a devout mind ashamed. What are these? They are your brothers.

What are they? embryo souls, souls especially set apart for certain
functions of existence, candidates for the more general and more widely
harmonic life to which the human soul has attained.

When will they arrive thither? and how? God has reserved to himself
these mysteries.


All that we know is this: that he summons them--them also--to mount
higher and yet higher.

They are, without metaphor, the little children of Nature, the
nurslings of Providence, aspiring towards the light in order to act and
think; stumbling now, they by Degrees shall advance much further.

    "O pauvre enfantelet! du fil de tes pensées
    L'échevelet n'est encore débrouillé."

    Poor feeble child! not yet of thy thought's thread
    Is the entangled skein unravellèd.

Souls of children, in truth, but far gentler, more resigned, more
patient than those of human children. See with what silent good
humour most of them (like the horse) support blows, and wounds, and
ill-treatment! They all know how to endure disease and suffer death.
They retire apart, surround themselves with silence, and lie down in
concealment; this gentle patience often supplies them with the most
efficacious remedies. If not, they accept their destiny, and pass away
as if they slept.

Can they love as deeply as we love? How shall we doubt it, when we
see the most timid suddenly become heroic in defence of their young
and their family? The devotedness of the man who braves death for his
children you will see exemplified every day in the martin, which not
only resists the eagle, but pursues him with heroical ardour.

Would you wish to observe two things wonderfully analogous? Watch on
the one side the woman's delight at the first step of her infant, and
on the other the swallow at the first flight of her little nursling.

You see in both the same anxiety, the same encouragements, examples,
and counsels, the same pretended security and lurking fear, the
trembling "Take courage, nothing is more easy;"--in truth, the two
mothers are inwardly shivering.

The lessons are curious. The mother raises herself on her wings; the
fledgling regards her intently, and also raises himself a little; then
you see her hovering--he looks, he stirs his wings. All this goes
well, for it takes place in the nest--the difficulty begins when he
essays to quit it. She calls him, she shows him some little dainty
tit-bit, she promises him a reward, she attempts to draw him forth with
the bait of a fly.

Still the little one hesitates. And put yourself in his place. You have
but to move a step in the nursery, between your nurse and your mother,
where, if you fell, you would fall upon cushions. This bird of the
church, which gives her first lesson in flying from the summit of the
spire, can scarcely embolden her son, perhaps can scarcely embolden
herself at the decisive moment. Both, I am sure of it, measure more
than once with their glances the abyss beneath, and eye the ground. I,
for one, declare to you, the spectacle is moving and sublime. It is an
urgent need that he should _trust_ his mother, that _she_ should have
confidence in the wing of the little one who is still a novice. From
both does Heaven require an act of faith, of courage. A noble and a
sublime starting-point! But he _has_ trusted, he has made the leap, he
will not fall. Trembling, he floats in air, supported by the paternal
breath of heaven, by the reassuring voice of his mother. All is
finished. Thenceforth he will fly regardless of the wind and the storm,
strong in that first great trial wherein he flew in faith.


     [NOTE.--_The Swallow's Flight._ According to Wilson, the swallow's
     ordinary flight averages one mile per minute. He is engaged in
     flying for ten hours daily. Now, as his life is usually extended
     to a space of ten years, he flies, in that period, 2,190,000
     miles, or nearly eighty-eight times the circumference of the

     The swallow, as Sir Humphrey Davy observes, cheers the sense of
     sight as much as the nightingale does the sense of hearing. He
     is the glad prophet of the year, the harbinger of its brightest
     season, and lives a life of free enjoyment amongst the loveliest
     forms of nature.

     There is something peculiarly beautiful in his rapid, steady,
     well-balanced flight,--

        "Which, ere a double pulse can beat,
        Is here and there with motion fleet,
        As Ariel's wing could scarce exceed;
        And, full of vigour as of speed,
        Forestalls the dayspring's earliest gleam,
        Nor fails with evening's latest beam."

     To all nations he is welcome, and by all the poets has been
     celebrated with fond eulogium.--_Translator._]


  [Illustration: THE NIGHTINGALE.]




The celebrated Pré-aux-Clercs, now known as the Marché Saint Germain,
is, as everybody knows, on Sundays, the Bird Market of Paris. The place
has more than one claim on our curiosity. It is a vast menagerie,
frequently renewed--a shifting, strange museum of French ornithology.

On the other hand, such an auction of living beings, of captives many
of whom feel their captivity, of slaves whom the auctioneer exposes,
sells, and values more or less adroitly, indirectly reminds one, after
all, of the markets of the East, the auctions of human slaves. The
winged slaves, without understanding our languages, do not the less
vividly express the thought of servitude; some, born in this condition,
are resigned to it; others, sombre and silent, dream ever of freedom.
Not a few appear to address themselves to you, seem desirous of
arresting the passer-by's attention, and ask only for a good master.
How often have we seen an intelligent goldfinch, an amiable robin,
regarding us with a mournful gaze, but a gaze by no means doubtful in
its meaning, for it said: "Buy me!"

One Sunday in summer we paid a visit to this mart, which we shall never
forget. It was not well stocked, still less harmonious; the season
of moulting and of silence had begun. We were not the less keenly
attracted by and interested in the naïve attitude of a few individuals.
Ordinarily their song and their plumage, the bird's two principal
attributes, preoccupy us, and prevent us from observing their lively
and original pantomime. One bird, the American mocking-bird, has a
comedian's genius, distinguishing all his songs by a mimicry strictly
appropriate to their character, and often very ironical. Our birds
do not possess this singular art; but, without skill, and unknown
to themselves, they express, by significant and frequently pathetic
movements, the thoughts which traverse their brain.

On this particular day, the queen of the market was a black-capped
warbler, an artist-bird of great value, set apart in the display
from the other birds, like a peerless jewel. She fluttered, _svelte_
and charming all in her was grace. Accustomed to captivity by a long
training, she seemed to regret nothing, and could only communicate
to the soul happy and gentle impressions. She was plainly a being of
perfect geniality, and of such harmony of song and movement, that in
seeing her move I thought I heard her sing.

Lower, very much lower, in a narrow cage, a bird somewhat larger in
size, very inhumanly confined, gave me a curious and quite opposite
impression. This was a chaffinch, and the first which I had seen blind.
No spectacle could be more painful. The man who would purchase by such
a deed of cruelty this victim's song, must have a nature alien to all
harmony, a barbarous soul. His attitude of labour and torture rendered
his song very painful to me. The worst of it is that it was human; it
reminded one of the turns of the head and the ungracious motions of the
shoulders which short-sighted persons, or men become blind, indulge
in. Such is never the case with those born blind. With a violent but
continual effort, grown habitual, the head inclined to the right, with
empty eyes he sought the light. The neck was outstretched, to sink
again between the shoulders, and swelled out to gain new strength--the
neck short, the shoulders bent. This unhappy virtuoso, whose song,
like himself, was dissembled and deformed, had been a mean image of
the ugliness of the slave-artist, if not ennobled by that indomitable
effort to pursue the light, seeking it always on high, and ever
centering his song in the invisible sun which he had treasured up in
his soul.


Moderately capable of profiting by instruction, this bird repeats,
with a marvellous metallic _timbre_, the song of his native wood,
and preserves the particular accent of the country in which he was
born; there being as many dialects of chaffinches as there are
different districts. He remains faithful to his own; he sings only his
cradle-song, and that with an uniform rate, but with a wild passion and
an extraordinary emulation. Set opposite a rival, he will repeat it
eight hundred successive times; occasionally he dies of it. I am not
astonished that the Belgians enthusiastically celebrate the combats
of this hero of the national song, the chorister of their forest of
Ardennes, decreeing prizes, crowns, even triumphal arches, to those
acts of supreme devotion in which life is yielded for victory.

Still lower down than the chaffinch, and in a very small and wretched
cage, peopled pell-mell with half-a-dozen birds of very different
sizes, I was shown a prisoner which I had not distinguished, a young
nightingale caught that very morning. The fowler, by a skilful
Machiavelism, had placed the little captive in a world of very joyous
slaves, quite accustomed to their confinement. These were young
troglodytes, recently born in a cage; he had rightly calculated that
the sight of the sports of innocent infancy sometimes beguiles great

Great evidently, nay, overpowering, was his, and more impressive than
any of those sorrows which we express by tears. A dumb agony, pent up
within himself, and longing for the darkness. He had withdrawn into
the shade as far as might be, to the bottom of the cage, half hidden
in a small eating-trough, making himself large and swollen with his
slightly-bristling feathers, closing his eyes, never opening them even
when he was disturbed, shaken by the frolicsome and careless pastimes
of the young turbulents, which frequently drove one another against
him. Plainly he would neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor console
himself. These self-imposed shadows were, as I clearly saw, an effort,
in his cruel suffering, _not to be_, an intentional suicide. With
his mind he embraced death, and died, so far as he was able, by the
suspension of his senses and of all external activity.

Observe that, in this attitude, there was no indication of malicious,
bitter, or choleric feeling, nothing to remind one of his neighbour,
the morose chaffinch, with his attitude of violent and torturing
exertion. Even the indiscretion of the young birdlings which, without
care or respect, occasionally threw themselves upon him, could call
forth no mark of impatience. He said, obviously: "What matters it to
one who is no more?" Although his eyes were closed, I did not the less
easily read him. I perceived an artist's soul, all tenderness and all
light, without rancour and without harshness against the barbarity of
the world and the ferocity of fate. And it was through this that he
lived, through this that he could not die, because he found within
himself, in his great sorrow, the all-powerful cordial inherent in his
nature: _internal light, song_. In the language of nightingales, these
two words convey the same meaning.

I comprehended that he did not die, because even then, despite himself,
despite his keen desire of death, he could not do otherwise than sing.
His heart chanted a voiceless strain, which I heard perfectly well:--

    "_Lascia che io pianga!
    La Libertà._"

    Liberty!-Suffer me to weep!

I had not expected to find here once more that song which, in the old
time, and by another mouth (a mouth which shall never again be opened),
had already pierced my heart, and left a wound which no time shall

I demanded of his custodian if he were for sale. The shrewd fellow
replied that he was too young to be sold, that as yet he did not eat
alone; a statement evidently untrue, for he was not that year's bird;
but the man wished to keep him for disposal in the winter, when, his
voice returning, he would fetch a higher price.

Such a nightingale, born in freedom, which alone is the true
nightingale, bears a very different value to one born in a cage:
he sings quite differently, having known liberty and nature, and
regretting both. The better part of the great artist's genius is

_Artist!_ I have said the word, and I will not unsay it. This is not
an analogy, a comparison of things having a resemblance: no, it is the
thing itself.

The nightingale, in my opinion, is not the chief, but the only one, of
the winged people to which this name can be justly given.

And why? He alone is a creator; he alone varies, enriches, amplifies
his song, and augments it by new strains. He alone is fertile and
diverse in himself; other birds are so by instruction and imitation.
He alone resumes, contains almost all; each of them, of the most
brilliant, suggests a couplet to the nightingale.

Only one other bird, like him, attains sublime results in the bold and
simple--I mean the lark, the daughter of the sun. And the nightingale
also is inspired by the light; so that, when in captivity, alone,
and deprived of love, it suffices to unloose his song. Confined for
a while in darkness, then suddenly restored to the day, he runs riot
with enthusiasm, he bursts into hymns of joy. This difference,
nevertheless, exists between the two birds: the lark never sings in
the night; hers is not the nocturnal melody, the hidden meaning of the
grand effects of evening, the deep poesy of the shadows, the solemnity
of midnight, the aspirations before dawn--in a word, that infinitely
varied poem which translates and reveals to us, in all its changes, a
great heart brimful of tenderness. The lark's is the lyrical genius;
the nightingale's, the epic, the drama, the inner struggle,--from
thence, a light apart. In deep darkness, it looks into its soul, into
love; soaring at times, it would seem, beyond the individual love into
the ocean of love infinite.


And will you not call him an artist? He has the artist's temperament,
and exalted to a degree which man himself rarely attains. All
which belongs to it--all its merits, all its defects--in him are
superabundant. He is mild and timid, mistrustful, but not at all
cunning. He takes no heed to his safety, and travels alone. He is
burningly jealous, equalling the chaffinch in fiery emulation. "He will
break his heart to sing," says one of his historians.[27] He listens;
he takes up his abode, especially where an echo exists, to listen
and reply. Nervous to an excess, one sees him in captivity sometimes
sleeping long through the day with perturbing dreams; sometimes
struggling, starting up, and wildly battling. He is subject to nervous
attacks and epilepsy.

He is kindly--he is ferocious. Let me explain myself. His heart is full
of tenderness for the weak and little. Give him orphans to watch over,
he will take charge of them, and clasp them to his heart; a male, and
aged, he nourishes and tends them as carefully as any mother-bird. On
the other hand, he is exceedingly cruel towards his prey, is greedy
and voracious; the flame which burns inly, and keeps him almost always
thin, makes him constantly feel the need of recruitment, and it is also
one of the reasons that he is so easily ensnared. It is enough to set
your bait in the morning; especially in April and May, when he exhausts
himself by singing throughout the night. In the morning, weakened,
frail, avid, he pounces blindly on the snare. Moreover, he is very
curious, and, in order to examine a novel object, will expose himself
to be caught.

Once captured, if you do not take the precaution to tie his wings, or
rather to cover the interior and pad the upper part of the cage, he
will kill himself by the frantic fury of his movements.

This violence is on the surface. At bottom, he is gentle and docile: it
is these qualities which raise him so high, and make him in truth an
artist. He is not only the most inspired, but the most tractable, the
most "civilizable," the most laborious of birds.

It is a charming sight to see the fledglings gathered round their
father, listening to him attentively, and profiting by his lessons to
form the voice, to correct their faults, to soften their novice-like
roughness, to render their young organs supple.

But how much more curious it is to see him training himself, judging,
perfecting himself, paying especial attention when he ventures on
new themes! This steadfast perseverance, which springs from his
reverence for his art and from a kind of inward religion, is the
morality of the artist, his divine consecration, which seals him
as one apart--distinguishes him from the vain improvisatore, whose
unconscientious babble is a simple echo of nature.

Thus love and light are undoubtedly his point of departure; but art
itself, the love of the beautiful, confusedly seen in glimpses, and
very keenly felt, are a second aliment, which sustains his soul, and
supplies it with a new inspiration. And this is boundless--a day opened
on the infinite.


The true greatness of the artist consists in overshooting his mark,
in doing more than he willed; and, moreover, in passing far beyond
the goal, in crossing the limits of the possible, and looking

Hence arise great sorrows, an inexhaustible source of melancholy;
hence the sublime folly of weeping over misfortunes which he has never
experienced. Other birds are astonished, and occasionally inquire of
him what is the cause of his grief, what does he regret. When free and
joyous in his forest-home, he does not the less vouchsafe for his reply
the strain which my captive chanted in his silence:

    "Lascia che io pianga!"

    Suffer me, suffer me to weep!

  [Illustration: THE NIGHTINGALE.]




The hours of silence are not barren for the nightingale. He gathers
his ideas and reflects; he broods over the songs which he has heard or
has himself attempted; he modifies and improves them with perfect tact
and taste. For the false notes of an ignorant master he substitutes
ingenious and harmonious variations. The imperfect strain which he has
learned, but has not repeated, he then reproduces; but made indeed his
own, appropriated by his own genius, and converted into a nightingale's

"Do not be discouraged," says a quaint old writer, "if the young bird
be not willing to repeat your lesson, and continue to warble; soon he
will show you that he has not forgotten the lessons received in autumn
and winter--_a fit season for meditation, owing to the length of the
nights_; he will repeat them in the spring-time."

It is very interesting to follow, during the winter, the nightingale's
thoughts, in his darkened cage, wrapped round with a green cloth, which
partially deceives his gaze, and reminds him of his forest. In December
he begins to dream aloud, to descant, to describe in pathetic notes the
things passing before his mind--the loved and absent objects. Mayhap
he then forgets that migration has been forbidden him, and thinks he
has arrived in Africa or in Syria, in lands lighted by a more generous
sun. It may be that he sees this sun; sees the rose reblossom, and
recommences for her, as say the Persian poets, his hymn of impossible
love,--"_O sun! O sea! O rose!_"--(_Rückert._)

For myself, I believe simply that this noble and pathetic hymn, with
its lofty accent, is nought else but himself, his life of love and
combat, his nightingale's drama. He beholds the woods, the beloved
object which transfigures them. He sees her tender vivacity, and the
thousand graces of the winged life which we are unable to perceive. He
speaks to her; she answers him. He takes upon himself two characters,
and, to the full, sonorous voice of the male, replies in soft, brief
utterances. What then? I doubt not that already the rapturousness
of his life breaks upon him--the tender intimacy of the nest, the
little lowly dwelling which would have been his Eden. He believes
in it; he shuts his eyes, and completes the illusion. The egg is
hatched; his Yule-tide miracle disclosed; his son issues forth--the
future nightingale, even at its birth sublimely melodious. He listens
ecstatically, in the night of his gloomy cage, to the future song of
his offspring.

And all this, to be sure, passes before him in a poetical confusion,
where obstacles and strife break up and disturb love's festival. No
happiness here below is pure. A _third_ intervenes. The captive in his
solitude grows irritated and eager; he struggles visibly against his
unseen adversary--_that other_, the unworthy rival which is present to
his mind.

The scene is developed before him, just as it would have transpired
in spring, when the male birds returning, towards March or April,
and before the re-appearance of the hens, resolve to decide among
themselves their great duel of jealousy. For when the latter arrive,
all must be calm and peaceful; there should prevail nothing but love,
tranquillity, and tenderness. The battle endures some fifteen days; and
if the female birds return sooner, the effort grows deadly. The story
of Roland is literally realized; he sounded his ivory horn, even to
the extinction of strength and life. These, too, sing until their last
breath--until death: they will triumph or die.

If it be true, as we are assured, that the lovers are two or three
times more numerous than the lady-loves, you may conceive the violence
of this burning emulousness, in which, perhaps, lurks the first spark
and the secret of their genius.

The fate of the vanquished is terrible--worse than death. He is
constrained to fly; to quit the province, the country; to sink into
the comrade of the lower races of birds; while his song is degraded
into a _patois_. He forgets and disgraces himself; becomes vulgarized
among this vulgar people; little by little growing ignorant of his
own tongue, of theirs, of any tongue. We sometimes discover among
these exiles birds which preserve only the external likeness of the

Though the rival is expelled, nothing as yet is done. The victor must
please, must subdue her. Oh! bright moment, soft inspiration of the
new song which shall touch that little proud Wild-heart, and compel it
to abandon liberty for love! The test imposed by the hen-bird in other
species is assistance in building or excavating the nest; that the
male may show he is skilful, and will take his offspring to his heart.
The effect is sometimes admirable. The woodpecker, as we have seen,
is elevated from a workman into an artist, and from a carpenter into
a sculptor. But, alas! the nightingale does not possess this talent;
he knows not how to do anything. The least among the small birds is a
hundred times more adroit with his bill, his wing, his claw. He has
only his voice which he can make use of; there his power breaks forth,
there he will be irresistible. Others may display their works, but his
work is himself; he shows, he reveals himself, and he appears sublime
and grand.

I have never heard him at this solemn moment without thinking that not
only should he touch her heart, but transform, ennoble, and exalt her,
inspire her with a lofty ideal, with the enchanted dream of a glorious
nightingale which shall be hereafter the offspring of their love.

Let us resume. So far, we have particularized three songs.

The drama of the battle-song, with its alternations of envy, pride,
bravado, stern and jealous fury.

The song of solicitation, of soft and tender entreaty, but mingled with
haughty movements of an almost imperious impatience, wherein genius is
visibly astonished that it still remains unrecognized, is irritated at
the delay, and laments it; returning quickly, however, to its tone of
reverent pleading.

Finally comes the song of triumph: "I am the conqueror, I am loved, the
king, the divinity, and the creator." In this last word lies all the
intensity of life and love; for it is she, above all, that creates,
mirroring and reflecting his genius, and so transforming herself that
henceforth there is not in her a movement, a breath, a flutter of the
wings, which does not owe its melodiousness to him, rendered visible in
this enchanted grace.

Thence spring the nest, the egg, the infant. All these are an embodied
and living song. And this is the reason that he does not stir from
her for a moment, during the sacred labour of incubation. He does not
remain in the nest, but on a neighbouring branch, slightly elevated
above it. He knows marvellously well that his voice is most potent
at a distance. From this exalted position, the all-powerful magician
continues to fascinate and fertilize the nest; he co-operates in the
great mystery, and still inspires with song, and heart, and breath, and
will, and tenderness.

This is the time that you should hear him, should hear him in his
native woods, should participate in the emotions of this powerful
fecundity, the most proper perhaps to reveal, to enable us to
comprehend here below the great hidden Deity which eludes us. He
recedes before us at every step, and science does no more than put a
little further back the veil wherein he conceals himself. "Behold,"
said Moses, "behold him who passes, I have seen him by the skirts." "Is
it not he," said Linné, "who passes? I have seen him in outline." And
for myself, I close my eyes; I perceive him with an agitated heart, I
feel him stirring within me on a night enchanted by the voice of the


Let us draw near; it is a lover: yet keep you distant, for it is a god.
The melody, now vibrating with a glowing appeal to the senses, anon
grows sublime and amplified by the effects of the wind; it is a strain
of sacred harmony which swells through all the forest. Near at hand, it
is occupied with the nest, their love, the son which will be born; but
afar, another is the beloved, another is the son: it is Nature, mother
and daughter, eternal love, which hymns and glorifies itself; it is the
infinite of love which loves in all things and sings in all; these are
the tendernesses, the canticles, the songs of gratitude, which go up
from earth to heaven.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Child, I have felt this in our southern fields, during the beautiful
starry nights, near my father's house. At a later time, I felt it more
keenly, especially in the vicinity of Nantes, in the lonesome vineyard
of which I have spoken in a preceding page. The nights, less sparkling,
were lightly veiled with a warm haze, through which the stars
discreetly sent their tender glances. A nightingale nestled on the
ground, in a spot but half concealed, under my cedar tree, and among
the periwinkle-flowers. He began towards midnight, and continued until
dawn; happily, manifestly proud, in his solitary vigil, and filling
the majestic silence with his voice. No one interrupted him except,
near morning, the cock, a creature of a different world, a stranger
to the songs of the spirit, but a punctual sentinel, who felt himself
conscientiously compelled to indicate the hour and warn the workman.

"The other persisted for some time in his strain, seeming to say, like
Juliet to Romeo: 'No, it is not the day.'

"His stationing himself near us showed that he feared nothing, that he
knew how profound a security he might enjoy by the side of two hermits
of work, very busy, very benevolent, and not less occupied than the
winged solitary in their song and their dream. We could watch him
at our ease, either fluttering about _en famille_, or maintaining a
rivalry in song with a haughty neighbour who sometimes came to brave
him. In course of time we became, I think, rather agreeable to him, as
assiduous auditors, amateurs, perhaps connoisseurs. The nightingale
feels the want of appreciation and applause; he plainly has a great
regard for man's attentive ear, and fully comprehends his admiration.

"Once more I can see him, at some ten or fifteen paces distant, hopping
forward in accordance with my movements, preserving the same interval
between us, so as to keep always out of reach, but at the same time to
be heard and admired.

"The attire in which you are clothed is by no means a matter of
indifference to him. I have observed that birds in general do not like
black, and that they are afraid of it. I was dressed quite to his
fancy, in white shaded with lilac, with a straw hat ornamented with a
few blossoms. Every minute I could see him fix upon me his black eye,
of a singular vivacity, wild and gentle, sometimes a little proud,
which said plainly, 'I am free, and I have wings; against me thou canst
do nothing. But I am very willing to sing for thee.'

"We had a succession of severe storms at breeding-time, and on one
occasion the thunder rolled near us. No scene can be more affecting
than the approach of these moments: the air fails; fish rise to the
surface in order to breathe a little; the flower bends languidly;
everything suffers, and tears flow unbidden. I could see clearly that
his feelings were in unison with the general distress. From his bosom,
oppressed like mine, broke a kind of hoarse sob, like a wild cry.


"But the wind, which had suddenly risen, now plunged into our woods;
the loftiest trees, even the cedar, bent. Torrents of rain dashed
headlong, all was afloat. What became of the poor little nest, exposed
on the ground, with no other shelter than the periwinkle's leaf? It
escaped; for when the sun reappeared, I saw my bird flying in the
purified air, gayer than ever, with his heart full of song. All the
world of wings then hymned the light; but he more loudly than any.
His clarion voice had returned. I saw him beneath my window, his eye
on fire and his breast swollen, intoxicating himself with the same
happiness that made my heart palpitate.

"Tender alliance of souls! Why does it not everywhere exist, between us
and our winged brothers, between man and the universal living nature?"


  [Illustration: CONCLUSION.]



At the very moment that I am about to pen the conclusion of this book,
our illustrious master arrives from his great autumnal sport. Toussenel
brings me a nightingale.

I had requested him to assist me with his advice, to guide me in
choosing a singing nightingale. He does not write, but he comes; he
does not advise, he looks about, finds, gives, realizes my dream. This,
of a truth, is friendship.

Be welcome, bird, both for the sake of the cherished hand which brings
thee, and for thy own, for thy hallowed muse, the genius which dwells
within thee!

Wilt thou sing readily for me, and, by thy puissance of love and calm,
shed harmony on a heart troubled by the cruel history of men?

It was an event in our family, and we established the poor
artist-prisoner in a window-niche, but enveloped with a curtain; in
such wise that, being both in solitude and yet in society, he might
gradually accustom himself to his new hosts, reconnoitre the locality,
and assure himself that he was under a safe, a peaceful, and benevolent

No other bird lived in this saloon. Unfortunately, my familiar robin,
which flies freely about my study, penetrated into the apartment.
We had troubled ourselves the less about him, because he saw daily,
without any emotion, canaries, bullfinches, nightingales; but the sight
of the nightingale threw him into an incredible transport of fury.
Passionate and intrepid, without heeding that the object of his hate
was twice his own size, he pounced on the cage with bill and claws; he
would fain have killed its inmate. The nightingale, however, uttered
cries of alarm, and called for help with a hoarse and pitiful voice.
The other, checked by the bars, but clinging with his claws to the
frame of an adjacent picture, raged, hissed, _crackled_ (the popular
word _petillait_ alone expresses his short, sharp cry), piercing him
with his glances. He said, in effect:--

"King of song, what dost thou here? Is it not enough that in the woods
thy imperious and absorbing voice should silence all our lays, hush
our strains into whispers, and singly fill the desert? Yet thou comest
hither to deprive me of the new existence which I have found for
myself, of this artificial grove where I perch all the winter, a grove
whose branches are the shelves of a library, whose leaves are books!
Thou comest to share, to usurp the attention of which I was the object,
the reverie of my master, and my mistress's smile! Woe to thee! I _was_


The robin does, in reality, attain to a very high degree of familiarity
with man. The experience of a long winter proves to me that he much
prefers human society to that of his own kind. In our absence he shares
in the small talk of the birds of the aviary; but as soon as we
arrive, he abandons them, and comes curiously to place himself before
us, remains with us, seems to say, "You are here, then! But where have
you been? And why have you absented yourself so long from home?"

The invasion of the robin, which we soon forgot, was not forgotten, it
appears, by his timorous victim. The unfortunate nightingale fluttered
about ever afterwards with an air of alarm, and nothing could reassure

Care was taken, however, that no one should approach him. His mistress
had charged herself with the necessary attentions. The peculiar mixture
which alone can nourish this ardent centre of life (blood, hemp, and
poppy), was conscientiously prepared. Blood and flesh, these are the
substance; hemp is the herb of intoxication; but the poppy neutralizes
it. The nightingale is the only creature which it is necessary to feed
incessantly with sleep and dreams.

But all was in vain. Two or three days passed in a violent agitation,
and in abstinence through despair. I was melancholy, and filled with
remorse. I, a friend of freedom, had nevertheless a prisoner, and a
prisoner who would not be consoled! It was not without some scruples
that I had formed the idea of procuring a nightingale; for the mere
sake of pleasure, I should never have come to such a decision. I knew
well that the very spectacle of such a captive, deeply sensible of its
captivity, was a permanent source of sorrow. But how should I set him
free? Of all questions, that of slavery is the most difficult; the
tyrant is punished by the impossibility of finding a remedy for it.
My captive, before coming into my possession, had been two years in a
cage, and had neither wings nor the impulse of industry to seek his own
food; but had it been otherwise, he could return no more to the free
birds. In their proud commonwealth, whoever has been a slave, whoever
has languished in a cage and not died of grief, is pitilessly condemned
and put to death.

We should not easily have escaped from this dilemma, if song had not
come to our assistance. A soft, almost monotonous strain, sung at a
distance, especially just before evening, appeared to influence and
win upon him. If we did but look at him, he listened less attentively,
and grew disturbed; but if we turned aside our gaze, he came to the
brink of the cage, stretched out his long, fawn-like neck (of a
charming mouse-like gray), raised every now and then his head, his
body remaining motionless, with a keen inquiring eye. With evident
avidity, he tasted and enjoyed this unexpected pleasure, with grateful
recollection, and delicate and sensitive attention.

This same avidity he felt a minute afterwards for his food. He was fain
to live, he devoured the poppy, forgetfulness.

A woman's songs, Toussenel had told me, are those which affect them
most; not the vivacious aria of a wayward damsel, but a soft, sad
melody. Schubert's "Serenade" had a peculiar influence upon our
nightingale. He seemed to feel and recognize himself in that German
soul, as tender as it was profound.

His voice, however, he did not regain. When transported to my house, he
had begun his December songs. The emotions of the journey, the change
of _locale_ and of persons, the inquietude which he had experienced in
his new condition, and, above all, the ferocious welcome, the robin's
assault, had too deeply moved him. He grew tranquil, asked no more of
us; but the muse, so rudely interrupted, was thenceforth silent, and
did not awake until spring.

Meanwhile, he certainly knew that the person who sang afar off wished
him no evil; he apparently supposed her to be a nightingale of another
form. She might without difficulty approach, and even put her hand in
his cage. He regarded intently what she did, but did not stir.

It became a curious question to me, who had not contracted with him
this musical alliance, to know if he would also accept me. I showed no
indiscreet eagerness, knowing that even a look, at certain moments,
vexes him. For many days, therefore, I kept my attention fixed on the
old books or papers of the fourteenth century, without observing him.
But he, he would examine me very curiously when I was alone. Be it
understood, however, that when his mistress was present, he entirely
forgot me, I was annulled!

Thus he grew accustomed to see me daily without any uneasiness, as an
inoffensive, pacific being, with little of movement or noise about me.
The fire in the grate, and near the fire this peaceable reader, were,
during the absences of the preferred individual, in the still and
almost solitary hours, his objects of contemplation.

I ventured yesterday, being alone, to approach him, to speak to him
as I do to the robin, and he did not grow agitated, he did not appear
disturbed; he listened quietly, with an eye full of softness. I saw
that peace was concluded, and that I was accepted.

This morning I have with my own hand placed the poppy seed in the cage,
and he is not the least alarmed. You will say: "Who gives is welcome."
But I assert that our treaty was signed yesterday, before I had given
him anything, and was perfectly disinterested.

See, then, in less than a month, the most nervous of artists, the
most timid and mistrustful of beings, grows reconciled with the human

A curious proof of the natural union, of the pre-existent alliance
which prevails between us and these creatures of instinct, which we
call _inferior_.


This alliance, this eternal fact, which our brutality and our ferocious
intelligences have not yet been able to rend asunder, to which these
poor little ones so readily return, to which we shall ourselves
return, when we shall be truly men, is exactly the conclusion this book
has aimed at, and which I was about to write, when the nightingale
entered, and the father with the nightingale.

The bird himself has been, in that facile amnesty which he has granted
to us, his tyrants, my living conclusion.

       *       *       *       *       *

Those travellers who have been the first to penetrate into lands
hitherto untrodden by man, unanimously report that all animals,
mammals, amphibians, birds, do not shun them, but, on the contrary,
rather approach to regard them with an air of benevolent curiosity, to
which they have responded with musket-shots.

Even to-day, after man has treated them so cruelly, animals, in their
times of peril, never hesitate to draw near him.

The bird's ancient and natural foe is the serpent; the enemy of
quadrupeds is the tiger. And their protector is man.

From the furthest distance that the wild dog smells the scent of the
tiger or the lion, he comes to press close to us.

And so, too, the bird, in the horror which the serpent inspires,
especially when it threatens his callow brood, finds a language of the
most forcible character to implore man's help, and to thank him if he
kills his enemy.


For this reason the humming-bird loves to nestle near man. And it is
probably from the same motive that the swallows and the storks, in
times fertile in reptiles, have acquired the habit of dwelling among us.

Here an observation becomes essential. We often construe as a sign of
mistrust the bird's flight and his fear of the human hand. This fear
is only too well founded. But even if it did not exist, the bird is
an infinitely nervous and delicate creature, which suffers if simply

My robin, which belongs to a very robust and friendly race of birds,
which continually draws near us, as near as possible, and which
assuredly has no fear of his mistress, trembles to fall into her hand.
The rustling of his plumes, the derangement of his down, all bristling
when he has been handled, he keenly dislikes. The sight, above
all, of the outstretched hand about to seize him, makes him recoil

When he lingers about in the evening, and does not return into his
cage, he does not refuse to be replaced within it; but sooner than see
himself caught, he turns his back, hides in a crease or fold of the
gown where he well knows he must infallibly be taken.

All this is not mistrust.

       *       *       *       *       *

The art of domestication will make no progress if it occupies itself
only with the services which tamed animals may render to man.

It ought to proceed in the main from the consideration of the service
which man may render the animals;

Of his duty to initiate all the tenants of this world into a gentler,
more peaceable, and superior society.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the barbarism in which we are still plunged, we know of only two
conditions for the animal, absolute liberty or absolute slavery; but
there are many forms of demi-servitude which the animals themselves
would willingly accept.

The small Chili falcon (_cernicula_), for example, loves to dwell with
his master. He goes alone on his hunting expeditions, and faithfully
returns every evening with what he has captured, to eat it _en
famille_. He feels the want of being praised by the father, flattered
by the dame, and, above all, caressed by the children.


Man, formerly protected by the animals, while he was indifferently
armed, has gradually risen into a position to become their protector,
especially since he has had powder, and enjoyed the possibility of
shooting down from a distance the most formidable creatures. He has
rendered birds the essential service of infinitely diminishing the
number of the robbers of the air.

He may render them another, and not a less important one--that of
sheltering at night the innocent species. Night! sleep! complete
abandonment to the most frightful chances! Oh! harshness of Nature! But
she is justified, inasmuch as she has planted here below the far-seeing
and industrious being who shall more and more become for all others a
second providence.

"I know a house on the Indre," says Toussenel, "where the greenhouses,
open at even, receive every honest bird which seeks an asylum against
the dangers of the night, where he who has delayed till late knocks
with his bill in confidence. Content to be immured during the night,
secure in the loyalty of their host, they fly away happy in the
morning, and repay him for his hospitality with the spectacle of their
joy and their unrestricted strains."

       *       *       *       *       *

I shall exercise great caution in speaking of their domestication,
since my friend, M. Isidore Geoffrey Saint Hilaire, reopens in so
praiseworthy a manner this long-forgotten question.

An allusion will suffice. Antiquity in this special branch has
bequeathed us the admirable patrimony which has supported the human
race: the domestication of the dog, the horse, and the ass; of the
camel, the elephant, the ox, the sheep, the goat, and poultry.

What progress has been made in the last two thousand years? What new

Two only, and these unquestionably trivial: the importation of the
turkey and the China pheasant.


No direct effort of man has accomplished so much for the welfare of the
globe as the humble toil of the modest auxiliaries of human life.

To descend to that which we so foolishly despise, to the poultry-yard,
when one sees the millions of eggs which the ovens of Egypt hatch, or
with which our Normandy loads the ships and fleets that every year
traverse the Channel, one learns to appreciate how the small agencies
of domestic economy produce the greatest results.

If France did not possess the horse, and some person introduced it,
such a conquest would be of greater benefit to her than the conquest of
the Rhine, of Belgium, of Savoy; the horse alone would be worth three

But here now is an animal which represents in itself the horse, the
ass, the cow, the goat; which combines all their useful qualities, and
which yields moreover an incomparable wool; a hardy, robust animal,
enduring cold with wonderful vigour. You understand, of course, that
I refer to the lama, which M. Isidore Geoffrey Saint Hilaire exerts
himself, with so laudable a perseverance, to naturalize in France.
Everything seems leagued in his despite: the fine flock at Versailles
has perished through malice; that of the Jardin des Plantes will perish
through the confined area and dampness of the locality.

The conquest of the lama is ten times more important than the conquest
of the Crimea.

       *       *       *       *       *

But again, this species of transplantation needs a generosity of means,
a combination of precautions, let us say a tenderness of education,
which are rarely found united.

One word here--one small fact--whose bearing is not small.

A great writer, who was not a man of science, Bernardin de Saint
Pierre, had remarked that we should never succeed in transplanting the
animal unless we imported along with him the plant to which he was
especially partial. This observation fell to the ground, like so many
other theories which excite the philosophical smile, and which men of
science name _poetry_.

But it has not been made in vain, for an enlightened amateur had
formed here, in Paris, a collection of living birds. However constant
his attentions, a very rare she-parrot which he had obtained remained
obstinately barren. He ascertained in what kind of plant she made her
nest, and commissioned a person to procure it for him. It could not
be got alive; he received it leafless and branchless; a simple dead
trunk. It mattered not; the bird, in this hollow trunk discovered her
accustomed place, and did not fail to make therein her nest. She laid
eggs, she hatched them, and now her owner has a colony of young ones.

       *       *       *       *       *

To re-create all the conditions of abode, food, vegetable environment,
the harmonies of every kind which shall deceive the exile into a
forgetfulness of his country, is not only a scientific question, but a
task of ingenious invention.

To determine the limit of slavery, of freedom, of alliance and
collaboration with ourselves, proper for each individual creature, is
one of the gravest subjects which can occupy us.

A new art is this; nor shall you succeed in it without a moral gravity,
a refinement, a delicacy of appreciation which as yet are scarcely
understood, and shall only exist perhaps when Woman undertakes those
scientific studies from which she has hitherto been excluded.

This art supposes a tenderness unlimited in justice and wisdom.


  [Illustration: ILLUSTRATIVE NOTES.]



The chief illustration of a book is incontestably the formula in which
it is summed up. Here it is, then, in few words:--

This book has considered the bird _in himself_, and but little in
relation to man.

The bird, born in a much lower condition than man (oviparous, like the
serpent), possesses three advantages over him, which are his special

I. _The wing_, _flight_, an unique power, which is the dream of man.
Every other creature is slow. Compared with the falcon or swallow, the
Arab horse is a snail.

II. Flight itself does not appertain solely to the wing, but to an
incomparable power of _respiration and vision_. The bird is peculiarly
the son of air and light.

III. An essentially electrical being, the bird sees, knows, and
foresees earth and sky, the weather, the seasons. Whether through an
intimate relation with the globe, whether through a prodigious memory
of localities and routes, he is always facing eastward, and always
knows his path.

He swoops; he penetrates; he attains what man shall never attain. This
is evident, particularly in his marvellous war against the reptile and
the insect.

Add the marvellous work of continual purification of everything
dangerous and unclean, which some species accomplish. If this war and
this work ceased but for one day, man would disappear from the earth.

This daily victory of the beloved son of light over death, over a
murderous and tenebrous life, is the fitting theme of his _song_, of
that hymn of joy with which the bird salutes each Dawn.

But, besides song, the bird has many other languages. Like man, he
prattles, recites, converses. He and man are the only beings which have
really a language. Man and the bird are the voice of the world.

The bird, with its gift of augury, is ever drawing near to man, who
is ever inflicting injury upon him. He undoubtedly divines, and has a
presentiment of, what he will one day become when he emerges from the
barbarism in which he is now unhappily plunged.

He recognizes in him the creature unique, sanctified, and blessed, who
ought to be the arbiter of all, who should accomplish the destiny of
this globe by one supreme act of good--the union of all life and the
reconciliation of all beings.

This pacific union must after a time be effected by a great art of
education and initiation, which man begins to comprehend.


Page 64. _Training for flight_ (see also p. 84).--Is it wrong for man,
in his reveries, to beguile himself into a belief that he will one day
be more than man, to attribute to himself wings? Dream or presentiment,
it matters not.

It is certain that a power of flight such as the bird possesses
is truly a _sixth sense_. It would be absurd to see in it only an
auxiliary of touch. (See, among other works, Huber, _Vol des oiseaux
de proie_, 1784).

The wing is so rapid and so infallible only because it is aided by a
visual faculty which has not its equal in all creation.

The bird, we must confess, lives wholly in the air, in the light. If
there be a sublime life, a life of fire, it is this.

Who surveys and descries all earth? Who measures it with his glance and
his wing? Who knows all its paths? And not in any beaten route, but at
the same time in every direction: for where is not the bird's track?

His relations with heat, electricity, and magnetism, all the
imponderable forces, are scarcely known to us; we see them, however, in
his singular meteorological prescience.

If we had seriously studied the matter, we should have had the balloon
for some thousands of years; but even with the balloon, and the balloon
capable of being _steered_, we should still be enormously behind the
bird. To imitate its mechanism, and exactly reproduce its details, is
not to possess the agreement, the _ensemble_, the unity of action,
which moves the whole with so much facility and with such terrible

Let us renounce, for this life at least, these higher gifts, and
confine ourselves to examine the two machines--our own and the
bird's--in those points where they differ least.

The human machine is superior in what is its smallest peculiarity, its
susceptibility of adaptation to the most diverse purposes, and, above
all, in its omnipuissance of the hand.

On the other hand, he has far less unity and centralization. Our
inferior limbs, our thighs, and legs, which are very long, perform
eccentric movements far from the central point of action. Circulation
is very slow; a thing perceptible in those last moments, when the body
is dead at the feet before the heart has ceased to throb.

The bird, almost spherical in form, is certainly the apex, divine and
sublime, of living centralization. We can neither see nor imagine a
higher degree of unity. From his excess of concentration he derives
his great personal force, but it implies his extreme individuality, his
isolation, his social weakness.

The profound, the marvellous solidarity, which is found in the higher
genera of insects, as in the bees and ants, is not discovered among
birds. Flocks of them are common, but true republics are rare.

Family ties are very strong in their influence, such as maternity and
love. Brotherhood, the sympathy of species, the mutual assistance
rendered even by different kinds, are not unknown. Nevertheless,
fraternity is strong among them in the inferior line. The whole heart
of the bird is in his love, in his nest.

There lies his isolation, his feebleness, his dependence; there also
the temptation to seek for himself a defender.

The most exalted of living beings is not the less one of those which
the most eagerly demand protection.



Page 67. _On the life of the bird in the egg._--I draw these details
from the accurate M. Duvernoy. Ovology in our days has become a
science. Yet I know but a few treatises specially devoted to the
bird's egg. The oldest is that of an Abbé Manesse, written in the last
century, very verbose, and not very instructive (the MS. is preserved
in the Museum Library). The same library possesses the German work
of Wirfing and Gunther on nests and eggs; and another, also German,
whose illustrations appear of a superior character, although still
defective. I have seen a part of a new collection of engravings, much
more carefully executed.

Page 74. _Gelatinous and nourishing seas._--Humboldt, in one of his
early works ("Scenes in the Tropics"), was the first, I think, to
authenticate this fact. He attributes it to the prodigious quantity of
medusæ, and other analogous creatures, in a decomposed state in these
waters. If, however, such a cadaverous dissolution really prevailed
there, would it not render the waters fatal to the fish, instead of
nourishing them? Perhaps this phenomenon should be attributed rather to
nascent life than to life extinct, to that first living fermentation in
which the lowest microscopic organizations develop themselves.

It is especially in the Polar Seas, whose aspect is so wild and
desolate, that this characteristic is observed. Life there abounds in
such excess that the colour of the waters is completely changed by
it. They are of an intense olive-green, thick with living matter and



Page 91. _Our Museum._--In speaking of its collections, I may not
forget its valuable library, which now includes that of Cuvier, and
has been enriched by donations from all the physicists of Europe.
I have had occasion to acknowledge very warmly the courtesy of the
conservator, M. Desnoyers, and of M. le Docteur Lemercier, who has
obligingly supplied me with a number of pamphlets and curious memoirs
from his private collection.

Page 94. _Buffon._--I think that now-a-days too readily forget that
this great _generalizer_ has not the less received and recorded a
number of very accurate observations furnished him by men of special
vocations, officers of the royal hunt, gamekeepers, marines, and
persons of every profession.


Page 96. _The Penguin._--The brother of the auk, but less degraded;
he carries his wings like a veritable bird, though they are only
membranes floating on an evoided breast. The more rarified air of our
northern pole, where he lives, has already expanded his lungs, and the
breast-bone begins to project. The legs, less closely confined to the
body, better maintain its equilibrium, and the port and attitude gain
in confidence. There is here a notable difference between the analogous
products of the two hemispheres.


Page 103. _The Petrel, the mariner's terror._--The legend of the
petrel gliding upon the waves, around the ship which he appears to
lead to perdition, is of Dutch origin. This is just as it ought to
be. The Dutch, who voyage _en famille_, and carry with them their
wives, their children, even their domestic animals, have been more
susceptible to evil auguries than other navigators. The hardiest of
all, perhaps--true amphibians--they have not the less been anxious and
imaginative, hazarding not only their lives, but their affections, and
exposing to the fantastic chances of the sea the beloved home, a world
of tenderness. That small lumbering bark, which is in truth a floating
house, will nevertheless go, ever rolling across the seas of the North,
the great Arctic Ocean, and the furious Baltic, accomplishing without
pause the most dangerous voyages, as from Amsterdam to Cronstadt. We
laugh at these ugly vessels and their antiquated build, but he who
observes how plenteously they combine the two purposes of store-room
for the cargo and accommodation for the family, can never see them in
the ports of Holland without a lively interest, or without lavishing on
them his good wishes.


Page 113. _Epiornis._--The remains of this gigantic bird and its
enormous egg may be seen in the Museum. It is computed that its size
was fivefold that of the ostrich. How much we must regret that our rich
collection of fossils, or the major part, lies buried in the drawers
of the Museum for want of room. For thirty or forty thousand francs
a wooden gallery might be constructed, in which the whole could find
opportunities of display.

Meanwhile, we argue as if these vast studies, now in their very
infancy, had already been exhausted. Who knows but that man has only
seen the threshold of the prodigious world of the dead? He has scarcely
scratched the surface of the globe. The deeper explorations to which
he is constrained by the thousand novel needs of art and industry (as
that, for example, of piercing the Alps for a new railway) will open
to science unexpected prospects. Palæontology as yet is built upon
the narrow foundation of a _minimum_ number of facts. If we remember
that the dead--owing to the thousands of years the globe has already
lived--are enormously more numerous than the living, we cannot but
consider this method of reasoning upon a few specimens very audacious.
It is a hundred, nay, a thousand to one, that so many millions of dead,
once disinterred, will convict us of having erred, at least, through
_incomplete enumeration_.


Page 113. _Man had perished a hundred times._--Here we trace one of the
early causes of the limited confederacy originally existing between
man and the animal--a compact forgotten by our ungrateful pride, and
without which, nevertheless, the existence of man had been impossible.

When the colossal birds whose remains we are constantly exhuming had
prepared for him the globe, had subjugated the crawling, climbing life
which at first predominated--when man came upon the earth to confront
what remained of the reptiles, to confront those new but not less
formidable inhabitants of our planet, the tiger and the lion--he found
on his side the bird, the dog, and the elephant.

At Alexandria may be seen the last few individuals of those giant dogs
which could strangle a lion. It was not through terror that these
formidable animals allied themselves with man, but through natural
sympathy, and their peculiar antipathy to the feline race, the giant
cat (the tiger or lion).

Without the alliance of the dog against beasts of prey, and that of the
bird against serpents and crocodiles (which the bird kills in the very
egg), man had assuredly been lost.

The useful friendship of the horse originated in the same cause. You
may trace it in the indescribable and convulsive horror which every
young horse experiences at the mere odour of the lion. He attaches, he
surrenders himself to man.

Had he not possessed the horse, the ox, and the camel--had he been
compelled to bear on his back and shoulders the heavy burdens of which
they relieve him--man would have remained the miserable slave of his
feeble organization. Borne down by the habitual disproportion of weight
and strength, either he would have abandoned labour, have lived upon
chance victims, without art or progress; or, rather, he would have
lived earth's everlasting porter--crooked, dragging, and drawing, with
sunken head, never gazing on the sky, never thinking, never raising
himself to the heights of invention.


Page 132. _On the power of insects._--It is not only in the Tropical
world that they are formidable; at the commencement of the last century
half Holland perished because the piles which strengthen its dykes
simultaneously gave way, invisibly undermined by a worm named the

This redoubtable nibbler, which is often a foot in length, never
betrays itself; it only works within. One morning the beam breaks, the
framework yields, the ship engulfed founders in the waves.

How shall we reach, how discover it? A bird knows it--the lapwing, the
guardian of Holland. And it is thus a notable imprudence to destroy, as
has been done, his eggs. (Quatrefages, _Souvenirs d'un Naturaliste_.)

France, for more than a century, has suffered from the importation of a
monster not less terrible--the _termite_, which devours dry wood just
as the taret consumes wet wood. The single female of each swarm has the
horrible fecundity of laying daily eighty thousand eggs. La Rochelle
begins to fear the fate of that American city which is suspended in the
air, the termites having devoured all its foundations, and excavated
immense catacombs beneath.

In Guiana the dwellings of the termites are enormous hillocks, fifteen
feet in height, which men only venture to attack from a distance, and
by means of gunpowder. You may judge, therefore, the importance of the
ant-eater, which dares to enter this gulf, and seek out the horrible
female whence issues so accursed a torrent. (Smeathmann, _Mémoire sur
les Termites_.)

Does climate save us? The termites prosper in France. Here, too, the
cockchafer flourishes; and even on the northern slopes of the Alps,
under the very breath of the glaciers, it devours vegetation. In the
presence of such an enemy every insectivorous bird should be respected;
at least, the canton of Vaud has recently placed the swallow under the
protection of the law. (See the work of Tschudi.)


Page 134. _You frequently detect there a strong odour of musk._--The
plain of Cumana, says Humboldt, presents, after heavy rains, an
extraordinary phenomenon. The earth, moistened and reheated by the
sun's rays, gives forth that odour of musk which, under the torrid
zone, is common to animals of very different classes--to the jaguar,
the small species of the tiger-cat, the cabiai, the galinazo vulture,
the crocodile, the viper, the rattlesnake. The gaseous emanations which
are the vehicles of this aroma appear only to disengage themselves
in proportion as the soil enclosing the _débris_ of an innumerable
quantity of reptiles, worms, and insects, becomes impregnated with
water. Everywhere that one stirs up the soil, one is struck by the
mass of organic substances which alternately develop, transform, or
decompose. Nature in these climates appears more active, more prolific,
one might say more lavish of life.


Pages 136, 137. _Humming-birds and colibris._--The eminent naturalists
(Lesson, Azara, Stedmann, &c.) who have supplied so many excellent
descriptions of these birds, are not, unfortunately, as rich in details
of their manners, their food, their character.

As to the terrible unhealthiness of the places where they live (and
live with so intense a life), the narratives of the old travellers--of
Labat and others--are folly confirmed by the moderns. Messieurs
Durville and Lesson, in their voyage to New Guiana, scarcely dared to
cross the threshold of its profound virgin forests, with their strange
and terrible beauty.

The most fantastic aspect of these forests--their prodigious fairylike
enchantment of nocturnal illumination by myriads of fire-flies--is
attested and very forcibly described, as far as relates to the
countries adjoining Panama, by a French traveller, M. Caqueray, who has
recently visited them. (See his Journal in the new _Revue Française_,
10th June 1855.)


Page 153. _The valuable museum of anatomical collections_--that of
Doctor Auzoux.--I cannot too warmly thank, on this occasion, our
esteemed and skilful professor, who condescends to instruct us ignorant
people, men of letters, men of the world, and women. He willed that
anatomy should descend to all, should become popular; and it is done.
His admirable imitations, his lucid demonstrations, gradually work out
that great revolution whose full extent can already be perceived. Shall
I dare to tell men of science my inmost thought? They themselves will
have an advantage in possessing always at hand these objects of study
under so convenient a form and in enlarged proportions, which greatly
diminish the fatigue of attention. A thousand objects, which seem to
us different because different in size, recover their analogies, and
reappear in their true relative forms, through the simple process of

America, I may add, appears more keenly sensible of these advantages
than we are. An American speculator had desired M. Auzoux to supply him
yearly with two thousand copies of his figure of man, being certain of
disposing of them in all the small towns, and even in the villages.
Every American village, says M. Auzoux, endeavours to obtain a museum,
an observatory, &c.


Page 157. _The suppression of pain._--To prevent death is undoubtedly
impossible; but we may prolong life. We may eventually render rarer,
less cruel, and almost _suppress pain_.

That the hardened old world laughs at this expression is so much the
better. We have seen this spectacle in the days when our Europe,
barbarized by war, centred all medical art in surgery, and only knew
how to cure by the knife by a horrible prodigality of suffering, young
America discovered the miracle of that profound dream in which all pain
is annihilated.[28]


Page 157. _The useful equilibrium of life and death._--Numerous species
of birds no longer make a halt in France. One with difficulty descries
them flying at inaccessible elevations, deploying their wings in haste,
accelerating their passage, saying,--"Pass on, pass on quickly! Let us
avoid the land of death, the land of destruction!"

Provence, and many other departments in the south, are barren deserts,
peopled by every living tribe, and therefore vegetable nature is sadly
impoverished. You do not interrupt with impunity the natural harmonies.
The bird levies a tax on the plant, but he is its protector.

It is a matter of notoriety that the bustard has almost disappeared
from Champagne and Provence. The heron has passed away; the stork is
rare. As we gradually encroach upon the soil, these species, partial
to dusty wastes and morasses, depart to seek a livelihood elsewhere.
Our progress in one sense is our poverty. In England the same fact
has been observed. (See the excellent articles on Sport and Natural
History, translated from Messrs. St. John, Knox, Gosse, and others, in
the _Revue Britannique_.) The heath-cock retires before the step of the
cultivator; the quail passes into Ireland. The ranks of the herons grow
daily thinner before the _utilitarian improvements_ of the nineteenth
century. But to these causes we must add the barbarism of man, which
so heedlessly destroys a throng of innocent species. Nowhere, says M.
Pavie, a French traveller, is game more timid than in our fields.

Woe to the ungrateful people! And by this phrase I mean the sporting
crowd who, unmindful of the numerous benefits we owe to animals,
have exterminated innocent life. A terrible sentence of the Creator
weighs upon the tribes of sportsmen,--_they can create nothing_.
They originate no art, no industry. They have added nothing to the
hereditary patrimony of the human species. What has their heroism
profited the Indians of North America? Having organized nothing, having
accomplished nothing permanent, these races, despite their singular
energy, have disappeared from the earth before inferior men, the last
emigrants of Europe.

Do not believe the axiom that huntsmen gradually develop into
agriculturists. It is not so--they kill or die; such is their whole
destiny. We see it clearly through experience. He who has killed, will
kill; he who has created, will create.

In the want of emotion which every man suffers from his birth, the
child who satisfies it habitually by murder, by a miniature ferocious
drama of surprise and treason, of the torture of the weak, will find
no great enjoyment in the gentle and tranquil emotions arising from
the progressive success of toil and study, from the limited industry
which does everything itself. To create, to destroy--these are the two
raptures of infancy: to create is a long, slow process; to destroy is
quick and easy. The least act of creation implies those best gifts of
the Creator and of kindly Nature: gentleness and patience.

It is a shocking and hideous thing to see a child partial to "sport;"
to see woman enjoying and admiring murder, and encouraging her child.
That delicate and sensitive woman would not give him a knife, but she
gives him a gun: kill at a distance--be it so! for we do not see the
suffering. And this mother will think it admirable that her son, kept
confined to his room, shall drive off _ennui_ by plucking the wings
from flies, by torturing a bird or a little dog.

Far-seeing mother! She will know when too late the evil of having
formed a hard heart. Aged and weak, rejected of the world, she will
experience in her turn her son's brutality.

       *       *       *       *       *

But rifle practice? They will object to you. Must not the child grow
skilful in killing, that, from murder to murder, he may at last arrive
at the surpassing feat of killing the flying swallow? The only country
in Europe where everybody knows how to handle a musket is that where
the bird is least exposed to slaughter. The land of William Tell knew
how to place before her children a juster and more exalted object when
they liberated their country.

       *       *       *       *       *

France is not cruel. Why, then, this love of murder, this extermination
of the animal world?

It is the _impatient people_, the _young people_, the _childish
people_, in a rude and restless childhood. If they cannot be doing in
creating, they will be doing by destroying.

But what they most fatally injure is--themselves! A violent education,
stormily impassioned in love or severity, crushes in the child,
withers, chokes up the first moral flower of natural sensitiveness, all
that was purest of the maternal milk, the germ of universal love which
rarely blooms again.

Among too many children we are saddened by their almost incredible
sterility. A few recover from it in the long circle of life, when they
have become experienced and enlightened men. But the first freshness of
the heart? It shall return no more.[29]

How is it that this nation, otherwise born under such felicitous
circumstances, is, with rare and local exceptions, accursed with so
singular an incapacity for harmony? It has its own peculiar songs,
its charming little melodies of vivacity and mirth. But it needs a
prolonged effort, a special education, to attain to harmony.


Page 158. _Flattening of the brain._--The weight of the brain, compared
with that of the body, is, in the

    Ostrich, in the ratio of                      1 to 1200
    Goose,                                        1 to  360
    Duck,                                         1 to  257
    Eagle,                                        1 to  160
    Plover,                                       1 to  122
    Falcon,                                       1 to  102
    Paroquet,                                     1 to   45
    Robin,                                        1 to   32
    Jay,                                          1 to   28
    Chaffinch, cock, sparrow, goldfinch,          1 to   25
    Hooded tomtit,                                1 to   16
    Blue-cap tomtit,                              1 to   12

                (_Estimate of Haller and Leuret._)


Page 158. _The noble falcon._--The _noble_ birds (the falcon,
gerfalcon, saker) are those which _hold_ their prey by the _talon_, and
kill it with the bill: their bill, for this purpose, is toothed. The
_ignoble_ birds (the eagle, the kite, &c.) are for the most part swift
of flight (_voiliers_): these employ their talons to rend and choke
their victims. The _rameurs_ rise with difficulty, which enables the
_voiliers_ to escape them the more easily. The tactics of the former
are to feign, in the first place, to rise to a great height; and then,
by suffering themselves to drop, they disconcert the manoeuvres of
the _voiliers_. (Huber, _Vol des Oiseaux de Proie_, 1784, 4to. He was
the first of that clever lineage, Huber of the birds, Huber of the
bees, Huber of the ants.)


Page 177. _Its happiness in the morning, when terrors
vanish!_--"Before" (says Tschudi) "the vermeil tints of the early dew
have announced the approach of the sun, oftentimes before even the
lightest gleam has heralded dawn in the east, while the stars still
sparkle in the sombre azure of heaven, a low murmur resounds on the
summit of a venerable pine, and is speedily followed by a more or less
distinct prattling; then the notes arise, and an interminable series
of keen sounds strike the air on every side like a clang of swords
continually hurtled one against another. It is the coupling time of
the wood-cock. With his eye a-flame, he dances and springs on the
branch, while below him, in the copse, his hens repose tranquilly, and
reverently contemplate the mad antics of their lord and master. He is
not long left alone to animate the forest. The mavis rises in his turn,
shaking the dew from his glittering feathers. Behold him whetting his
bill upon the branch, and leaping from bough to bough, up to the very
crest of the maple tree where he has slept, astonished to find nearly
all life still slumbering in the forest, though the dawn has taken the
place of night. Twice, thrice, he hurls his _fanfare_ at the echoes of
the mountain and the valley, which a dense mist still envelopes.

"Thin columns of white smoke escape from the roof of the cottages;
the dogs bark around the farm-yards; and the bells ring suspended to
the neck of the cow. The birds now quit their thickets, flutter their
wings, and dart into the air to salute the sun, which once more comes
to bless them with his bounteous light. More than one poor little
sparrow rejoices that he has escaped the perils of the darkness.
Perched on a little twig, he had trusted to enjoy his slumber without
alarm, his head buried beneath his wing, when, by the ray of a star,
he discerned the noiseless screech-owl gliding through the trees,
intent upon some misdeed. The pole-cat stole from the valley-depth, the
ermine descended from the rock, the pine-marten quitted his nest, the
fox prowled among the bushes. All these enemies the poor little one
watched during this terrible night. On his tree, on the earth, in the
air--destruction menaced him on every side. How long, how long were
the hours when, not daring to move, his only protection was the young
leaves which screened him! And now, how great the pleasure to ply his
unfettered wing, to live in safety, protected, defended by the light!

"The chaffinch raises with all his energy his clear and sonorous note;
the robin sings from the summit of the larch, the goldfinch amid
the alder-groves, the blackbird and the bullfinch beneath the leafy
arbours. The tomtit, the wren, and the troglodyte mingle their voices.
The stockdove coos, and the woodpecker smites his tree. But far above
these joyous utterances re-echo the melodious strains of the woodlark
and the inimitable song of the thrush."


Page 185. _Migrations._--For the famished Arab, the lank inhabitant
of the desert, the arrival of the migrating birds, weary and heavy at
this season, and, therefore, easy to catch, is a blessing from God, a
celestial manna. The Bible tells us of the raptures of the Israelites,
when, during their wanderings in Arabia Petræa, fasting and enfeebled,
they suddenly saw descending upon them the winged food: not the locusts
of abstemious Elias, not the bread with which the raven nourished his
bowels, but the quail heavy with fat, delicious and yet substantial,
which voluntarily fell into their hands. They ate to repletion; and no
longer regretted the rich flesh-pots of Pharaoh.

I willingly excuse the gluttony of the famished. But what shall I say
of our people, in the richest countries of Europe, who, after harvest
and vintage-time, with barns and cellars brimming full, pursue with no
less fury these poor travellers? Thin or fat, they are equally good:
they would eat even the swallows; they devour the song-birds, "those
which have only a voice." Their wild frenzy dooms the nightingale to
the spit, plucks and kills the household guest, the poor robin, which
yesterday fed from their hands.

The migration season is a season of slaughter. The law which impels
southward the tribes of birds is, for millions, a law of death.
Many depart, few return; at each stage of their route they must pay
a tribute of blood. The eagle waits on his crag, man watches in the
valley. He who escapes the tyrant of the air, falls a victim to the
tyrant of the earth. "A fortunate opportunity!" exclaims the child or
the sportsman, the ferocious child with whom murder is a jest. "God has
willed it so!" mutters the pious glutton; "let us be resigned!" These
are the judgments of man upon the carnival of massacre. As yet we know
nothing more, for history has not written the opinions of the massacred.

       *       *       *       *       *


Migrations are exchanges for every country (except the poles, at the
epoch of winter). The particular condition of climate or food, which
decides the departure of one species of birds, is precisely that which
determines the arrival of another species. When the swallow quits us
at the autumn rains, we note the arrival of the army of plovers and
peewits in quest of the lobworms driven from their lurking-places by
the floods. In October, and as the cold increases, the greenfinches,
the yellow-hammers, the wrens, replace the song-birds which have
deserted us. The snipes and partridges descend from their mountains at
the moment when the quail and the thrush emigrate towards the south.
It is then, too, that the legions of the aquatic species quit the
extreme north for those temperate climes where the seas, the lakes, and
the pools, do not freeze. The wild geese, the swans, the divers, the
ducks, the teal, cleave the air in battle array, and swoop down upon
the lakes of Scotland and Hungary, and our marshes of the south. The
delicate stork flies southward, when his cousin, the crane, sets out
from the north, where his supplies begin to fail him. Passing over our
lands, he pays us tribute by delivering us from the last reptiles and
batrachians which a warm autumnal breeze has restored to life.

Page 188. _My muse is the light._--And yet the nightingale loses it
when he returns to us from Asia. But all true artists require that it
should be softly ordered, blended with rays and shadows. Rembrandt in
his paintings has exhausted the effects, at once warm and soft, of the
science of chiaro-oscuro. The nightingale begins his song when the
gloom of evening mingles with the last beams of the sun; and hence it
is that we tremble at his voice. Our soul in the misty and uncertain
hours of the gloaming regains possession of the inner light.


Page 215. _Do not say, "Winter is on my side."_--While M. de
Custine was travelling in Russia, he tells us that, at the fair of
Nijni-Novgorod, he was frightened by the multitude of _blattes_ which
thronged his chamber, with an infectious smell, and which could not
be got rid of. Dr. Tschudi, a careful traveller, who has explored
Switzerland in its smallest details, assures us that at the breath of
the south wind, which melts the snow in twelve hours, innumerable hosts
of cockchafers ravage the country. They are not a less terrible scourge
than the locusts to the south.

During our Italian tour, my wife and I made an observation which will
not have escaped the notice of naturalists; namely, that the cockchafer
does not die in autumn. From the inhabited portions of our palazzo,
almost entirely shut up in winter, we saw clouds of these insects
emerge in the spring, which had slept peacefully in expectation of
its warmth. Moreover, in that country, even ephemeral insects do not
perish. Gigantic gnats wage war against us every night, demanding our
blood with sharp and strident voice.

If, by the side of these proofs of the multiplication of insects,
even in temperate or cold countries, we put the fact that the swallow
is not satisfied with less than one thousand flies _per diem_; that
a couple of sparrows carry home to their young four thousand three
hundred caterpillars or beetles weekly; a tomtit three hundred daily;
we see at once the evil and the remedy. We quote these figures from
M. Quatrefages (_Souvenirs_), and from a letter written by Mr. Walter
Trevelyan to the editor of "The Birds of Great Britain," translated in
the _Revue Britannique_, July 7, 1850.

I offer the reader a very incomplete summary of the services rendered
to us by the birds of our climate.

Many are the assiduous guardians of our herds. The heron
_garde-boeuf_, making use of his bill as a lancet, cuts the flesh of
the ox to extract from it a parasitical worm which sucks the blood and
life of the animal. The wagtails and the starlings render very similar
services to our cattle. The swallows destroy myriads of winged insects
which never rest, and which we see dancing in the sun's rays; gnats,
midges, flies. The goat-suckers and the martinets, twilight hunters,
effect the disappearance of the cockchafers, the gnats, the moths, and
a swarm of nibbling insects (_rongeurs_), which work only by night.
The magpie hunts after the insects which, concealed beneath the bark
of the tree, live upon its sap. The humming-bird, the fly-catcher, the
_soui-mangas_, in tropical countries, purify the chalice of the flower.
The bee-eater, in all lands, carries on a fierce hostility against the
wasps which ruin our fruit. The goldfinch, partial to uncultivated
soil and the seeds of the thistle, prevents the latter from spreading
over the ground. Our garden birds, the chaffinches, blackcaps,
blackbirds, tits, strip our fruit-bushes and great trees of the grubs,
caterpillars, and beetles, whose ravages would be incalculable. A
large number of these insects remain during winter in the egg or the
larva, waiting for spring to burst into life; but in this state they
are diligently hunted up by the mavis, the wren, the troglodyte. The
former turn over the leaves which strew the earth; the latter climb
to the loftiest branches, or clear out the trunk. In wet meadows, you
may see the crows and storks boring the ground to seize on the white
worm (_ver blanc_) which, for three years before metamorphosing into a
cockchafer, gnaws at the roots of our grasses.

Here we pause, not to weary our reader, and yet the list of useful
birds is scarcely glanced at.


Page 228. _The woodpecker, as an augur._--Are the methods of
observation adopted by meteorology serious and efficacious? Some men
of science doubt it. It might, perhaps, be worth while examining if we
could not deduce any part of the meteorology of the ancients from their
divination by birds. The principal passages are pointed out in Pauly's
Encyclopædia (Stuttgard), article _Divinatio_.

"The woodpecker is a favoured bird in the steppes of Poland and Russia.
In these sparsely wooded plains he constantly directs his course
towards the trees; by following him, you discover a hidden ravine, a
little later some springs, and finally descend towards the river. Under
the bird's guidance you may thus explore and reconnoitre the country."
(Mickiewicz, _Les Slaves_, vol. i., p. 200.)


Page 235. _Song._--Do not separate what God has joined together. If
you place a bird in a cage beside you, his song quickly fatigues you
with its sonorous timbre and its monotony. But in the grand concert of
Nature, that bird would supply his note, and complete the harmony. This
powerful voice would subdue itself to the modulations of the air; soft
and tender it would glide, borne upon the breeze.

And then, in the deep woody depths, the singer incessantly moves from
place to place, now drawing near, and now receding; hence arise those
distant effects which induce a delightful reverie, and that delicate
cadence which thrills the heart.

Under our roof his song would be ever the same; but on the pinions of
the wind the music is divine, it penetrates and ravishes the soul.


Page 241. _The robin hastens, singing, to enjoy his share of the
warmth._--I find this admirable passage in "The Conquest of England by
the Normans" (by Augustin Thierry). The chief of the barbarous Saxons
assembles his priests and wise men to ascertain if they will become
Christians. One of them speaks as follows:--

"Thou mayst remember, O king, a thing which sometimes happens, when
thou art seated at table with thy captains and men-at-arms, in the
winter season, and when a fire is kindled and the hall well warmed,
while there are wind and rain and snow without. There comes a little
bird, which traverses the room on fluttering wing, entering by one
door and flying out at another: the moment of its passage is full of
sweetness for it, it feels neither the rain nor the storm; but this
interval is brief, the bird vanishes in the twinkling of an eye, and
_from winter passes away into winter_. Such seems to me the life of man
upon this earth, and its limited duration, compared with the length of
the time which precedes and follows it."


From winter he passes into winter. "Of wintra in winter eft cymeth."

Page 247. _Nests and Hatching._--In the vast extent of the islands
linking India to Australia, a species of bird of the family
_Gallinaceæ_ dispenses with the labour of hatching her eggs. Raising an
enormous hillock of grasses whose fermentation will produce a degree
of heat favourable to the process, the parents, as soon as this task
is completed, trust to Nature for the reproduction of their kind.
Mr. Gould, who furnishes these curious details, speaks also of some
curious nests constructed by another species of bird. It consists of
an avenue formed by small branches planted in the ground, and woven
together at their upper extremities in the fashion of a dome. The
structure is consolidated by enlaced and intertwined herbs. This first
stage of their labour accomplished, the artists proceed to the work of
decoration. They seek in every direction, and often at a distance, the
gaudiest feathers, the finest polished shells, and the most brilliant
stones, to strew over the entrance. This avenue would seem, however,
not to be the nest, but the place where the birds hold their first
rendezvous. (See the coloured plates in Mr. Gould's magnificent volume,
"Australian Birds.")


Page 266. _Instinct and Reason._--The ignorant and inattentive think
all things _nearly alike_. And Science perceives that all things
differ. According as we learn to observe, do these differences become
apparent; that imperceptible "shade," and worthless "almost," which
at the outset does not prevent us from confusing all things with
one another, really distinguishes them, and points out a notable
discrepancy, a wide interval betwixt this object and that, a blank, a
_hiatus_, sometimes an enormous abyss, which separates and holds them
apart,--so much so, that occasionally between these things, at first
sight _so nearly alike_, a whole world will intervene, without the
power of bringing them together.

It has been asserted and repeated that the works of insects presented
an absolute similarity, a mechanical regularity. And yet our Reaumurs
and our Hubers have discovered numerous facts which positively
contradict this pretended symmetry, especially in the case of the ant,
whose life is complicated with so many incidents, so many unforeseen
exigencies, that she would never provide against them but for the rapid
discernment, the promptitude of mind, which is one of the most striking
characteristics of her individuality.

It has been supposed that the nests of birds are always constructed
on identical principles. Not at all. A close observation reveals the
fact that they differ according to the climate and the weather. At New
York, the baltimore makes a closely fitted nest, to shelter him from
the cold. At New Orleans his nest is left with a free passage for the
air to diminish the heat. The Canadian partridges, which in winter
cover themselves with a kind of small pent-roof at Compiègne, under a
milder sky do away with this protection, because they judge it to be
useless. The same discernment prevails in relation to the seasons. The
American spring, in the opening years of the present century, occurring
very late, the woodpecker (of Wilson) wisely made his nest two weeks
later. I will venture to add that I have seen, in southern France, this
delicate appreciation of climatic changes varying from year to year; by
an inexplicable foresight, when the summer was likely to be cold, the
nests were always more thickly woven.

The guillemot of the north (_mergula_), which fears above all things
the fox, on account of his partiality for her eggs, builds her nest on
a rock level with the water, so that, no sooner are they hatched than
the brood, however closely dogged by the plunderer, have time to escape
in the waves. On the other hand, here, on our coasts, where her only
enemy is man, she makes her nest on the loftiest and most precipitous
cliffs, where man can with difficulty reach it.

Ignorant persons, and no less those naturalists who study natural
history in books only, acknowledge the differences existing between
species, but believe that the actions and labours of the individuals
of a species invariably correspond. Such a view is possible when you
have only seen things from above and afar, in a sublime generality.
But when the naturalist takes in hand his pilgrim's staff--when, as
a modest, resolute, indefatigable pilgrim of Nature, he assumes his
shoes of iron--all things change their aspect: he sees, notes, compares
numerous individual works in the labours of each species, seizes
their points of difference, and soon arrives at the conclusion which
logic had already suggested,--that, in truth, _no one thing resembles
another_. In those works which appear identical to inexperienced eyes,
a Wilson and an Audubon have detected the diversities of an art very
variable--according to means and places, according to the characters
and talents of the artists--in a spontaneous infinity. So extensive is
the region of liberty, fancy, and _ingegno_.

Let us hope that our collections will bring together several specimens
of each species, arranged and classified according to the talent and
progress of the individual, recording as near as may be the age of the
birds which constructed the nests.

If these boundless diversities do not result from unrestrained activity
and personal spontaneity, if you wish to refer them all to an identical
instinct, you must, to support so miraculous a theory, make us believe
another miracle: that this instinct, although identical, possesses the
singular elasticity of accommodating and proportioning itself to a
variety of circumstances which are incessantly changing, to an infinity
of hazardous chances.

What, then, will be the case if we find, in the history of animals,
such an act of pretended instinct as supposes a resistance to that very
course our instinctive nature would apparently desire? What will you
say to the wounded elephant spoken of by Fouché d'Obsonville?

That judicious traveller, so utterly disinclined to romantic
tendencies, saw an elephant in India, which, having been wounded in
battle, went daily to the hospital that his wound might be dressed.
Now, guess what this wound might be. A burn. In this dangerous Indian
climate, where everything grows putrid, they are frequently constrained
to cauterize the sores. He endured this treatment patiently, and went
every day to undergo it. He felt no antipathy towards the surgeon
who inflicted upon him so sharp an agony. He groaned; nothing more.
He evidently understood that it was done for his benefit; that his
torturer was his friend; that this necessary cruelty was designed for
his cure.

Plainly this elephant acted upon reflection, and upon a blind instinct;
he acted against nature in the strength and enlightenment of his will.


Page 270. _The master-nightingale._--I owe this anecdote to a lady well
entitled to a judgment upon such questions--to Madame Garcia Viardot
(the great singer). The Russian peasants, who possess a fine ear and a
keen sensibility for Nature (compared with her harshness towards them),
said, when they occasionally heard the Spanish _cantatrice_: "The
nightingale does not sing so well."


Page 273. _Still the little one hesitates, &c._--"One day I was walking
with my son in the neighbourhood of Montier. We perceived towards the
north, on the Little Salève, an eagle emerging from the windings of
the rocks. When he was tolerably near the Great Salève he halted, and
two eaglets, which he had carried on his back, attempted to fly, at
first very close to their teacher, and in narrow circles; then, a few
minutes afterwards, feeling fatigued, they returned to rest upon his
back. Gradually their essays were protracted, and at the close of the
lesson the eaglets effected some much more important flights, still
under the eyes of their teacher of gymnastics. After about an hour's
occupation the two scholars resumed their post on the paternal back,
and the eagle returned to the rock from which he had started." (M.
Chenvières, of Geneva.)


Page 304. _The small Chili falcon_ (cernicula).--I extract this
statement from a new, curious, but little known work, written in French
by a Chilian: _Le Chili_, by B. Vicuna Mackenna (ed. 1855, p. 100).
Chili I take to be a most interesting country, which, by the energy
of its citizens, should considerably modify the unfavourable opinion
entertained by the citizens of the United States in reference to South
Americans. America will not exist as a world, so long as a common
feeling shall be wanting between the two opposite poles which ought to
create her majestic harmony.


_Final Note on the Winged Life._--To appreciate beings so alien from
the conditions of our prosaic existence, we must for a moment abandon
earth, and become a sense apart. We get a glimpse of something inferior
and superior, of something on this side and on that, the limbs of the
animal life on the borders of the life of the angels. In proportion as
we assume this sense, we lose the temptation of degrading the winged
life--that strange, delicate, mighty dream of God--to the vulgarities
of earth.

To-day even, in a place infinitely unpoetic, neglected, squalid, and
obscure, among the black mud of Paris, and in the dank darkness of an
apartment scarcely better than a cavern, I saw, and I heard chirping,
in a subdued voice, a little creature which seemed not to belong to
this low world. It was a warbler, and one of a common species--not the
blackcap, which is prized so highly for his song. This one was not then
singing; she chattered to herself, just a few notes, as monotonous as
her situation. For winter, shadow, captivity, all were around her. The
captive of a rough, rude man, of a speculator in birds, she heard on
every side sounds which silenced her song; powerful voices were above
her head, a mocking-bird among them, which rang out every moment their
brilliant clarions. Generally, she would be condemned to silence. She
was accustomed, one could perceive, to sing in a low tone. But in
this limited flight, this habitual resignation and half lamentation,
might be detected a charming delicacy, a more than feminine softness
(_morbidezza_). Add to this the unique grace of her bosom and her
motions, of her modest red and white attire, which sparkled, however,
with a bright sheeny reflex.

I recalled to my mind the pictures in which Ingres and Delacroix have
shown us the captives of Algiers or the East, and exactly depicted the
dull resignation, the indifference, the weariness of their monotonous
lives, and also the decline (must we say the extinction?) of the inner

But, alas! it was wholly different here. The flame burned in all
its strength. She was more and less than a woman. No comparison was
of any use. Inferior by right of her animal nature, by her pretty
bird-masquerade, she was lifted above by her wings, and by the winged
soul which sang in that little body. An all-powerful _alibi_ held her
enthralled afar off, in her native grove, in the nest whence she had
been stolen in her infancy, or in her future love-nest. She warbled
five or six notes, and they kindled my very soul; I myself, for the
moment armed with wings, accompanied her in her distant dream.



[1] The book referred to was the "Études de la

[2] Dittany was formerly much used as a cordial and

[3] Jean Baptiste de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, was born August
1, 1744; died December 20, 1829. His chief work is his "History of
Invertebrate Animals."--Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire was born in
1772, and died in 1844. He expounds his theory of natural history in
the "Philosophie Anatomique," 2 vols., 1818-20.--_Translator._

[4] Alphonse Toussenel, an illustrious French _littérateur_, born in
1803. The first edition of his "Le Monde des Oiseaux, Ornithologie
Passionelle," was published in 1852.--_Translator._

[5] The frigate bird, or man-of-war bird (_Trachypetes

[6] Alluding to a popular superstition, which Béranger has made the
subject of a fine lyric:--

    "What means the fall of yonder star,
      Which falls, falls, and fades away?...
    My son, whene'er a mortal dies,
      Earthward his star drops instantly."--_Translator._

[7] It was with this exordium Toussaint commenced his appeal to
Napoleon Bonaparte.

[8] Napoleon's treatment of Toussaint L'Ouverture is one of the darkest
spots on his fame. He flung this son of the Tropics into a dungeon
among the icy fastnesses of the Alps, where he died, slain by cold and
undeserved ill-treatment, on the 27th of April 1803.--_Translator._

[9] There are two lights, of which the more elevated is 396 feet above
the sea-level.--_Translator._

[10] La Hève is the ancient Caletorum Promontorium, and situated about
three miles north-west of Havre.--_Translator._

[11] That the reader may feel the full force of this passage, I subjoin
the original: "Nous n'en vivions pas moins d'un grand souffle d'âme, de
la rajeunissante haleine de cette mère aimée, la Nature."

[12] Compare the interesting descriptions of the huge dams erected by
beavers across the American rivers, in Milton and Cheadle's valuable
narrative of travel, "The North-West Passage by Land."--_Translator._

[13] The reader will hardly require to be reminded of the poet Cowper
and his hares.--_Translator._

[14] Family _Trochilidæ_.

[15] Felix de Azara was an eminent Spanish traveller, who died at
Arragon in 1811. He acted as one of the commissioners appointed to
trace the boundary-line between the Spanish and Portuguese possessions
in the New World. His researches in Paraguay made many valuable
contributions to natural history.--_Translator._

[16] Lesson was a French traveller of repute; but his works are little
known beyond the limits of his own country.--_Translator._

[17] François Levaillant was born at Paramaribo in Dutch Guiana, in
1753. Passionately fond of natural history, and scarcely less fond of
travel, he gratified both passions in 1780 by undertaking a series
of explorations in Southern Africa. His last journey extended a
little beyond the tropic of Capricorn. He returned to Europe in 1784,
published several valuable works of travel and zoology, and died in

[18] The unfortunate navigator, Jean François de Calaup, Comte de La
Perouse, was born in 1741. At an early age he entered the French navy,
rose to a high grade, and distinguished himself by his services against
the English in North America. In 1783 he was appointed to command an
expedition of discovery, and on the 1st of August 1785, sailed from
Brest with two frigates, the _Boussole_ and the _Astrolabe_. He reached
Botany Bay in January 1788, and thenceforward was no more heard of
for years. Several vessels were despatched to ascertain his fate, but
could obtain no clue to it. In 1826, however, Captain Dillon, while
sailing amongst the Queen Charlotte Islands, discovered at Wanicoro
the remains of the shipwrecked vessels. A mausoleum and obelisk to the
memory of their unfortunate commander was erected on the island in

[19] Mungo Park, the illustrious African traveller (born near Selkirk
in 1771), perished on his second expedition to the Niger towards
the close of the year 1805. No exact information of his fate has
been obtained, but from the evidence collected by Clapperton and
Lander, it seems probable that he was drowned in attempting to
navigate a narrow channel of the river in the territory of Houssa.
Another account, however, represents him to have been murdered by the

[20] See Virgil, "Georgics."

[21] Alexander Wilson, the eminent ornithologist, was born at Paisley
in 1766. He was bred a weaver, but emigrating to the United States in
1794, found means to pursue the studies for which he had a natural
bias, and in which he earned an enduring reputation. The first volume
of his "American Ornithology" was published in 1808. He died of
dysentery, in August 1813.--_Translator._

[22] We subjoin Dryden's version of the above passage ("_Georgics_,"
Book I.):--

    "Wet weather seldom hurts the most unwise,
    So plain the signs, such prophets are the skies:
    The wary crane foresees it first, and sails
    Above the storm, and leaves the lowly vales;
    The cow looks up, and from afar can find
    The change of heaven, and snuffs it in the wind.
    The swallow skims the river's watery face,
    The frogs renew the croaks of their loquacious race....
    Besides, the several sorts of watery fowls,
    That swim the seas, or haunt the standing pools;
    The swans that sail along the silver flood,
    And dive with stretching necks to search their food,
    Then lave their back with sprinkling dews in vain,
    And stem the stream to meet the promised rain.
    The crow, with clamorous cries, the shower demands,
    And single stalks along the desert sands.
    The nightly virgin, while her wheel she plies,
    Foresees the storm impending in the skies.
    When sparkling lamps their sputtering light advance,
    And in the sockets oily bubbles dance.

      "Then, after showers, 'tis easy to descry,
    Returning suns, and a serener sky;
    The stars shine smarter, and the moon adorns,
    As with unborrowed beams, her sharpened horns;
    The filmy gossamer now flits no more,
    Nor halcyons bask on the short sunny shore:
    Their litter is not tossed by sows unclean,
    But a blue draughty mist descends upon the plain.
    And owls, that mark the setting sun, declare
    A star-light evening, and a morning fair....
    Then thrice the ravens rend the liquid air,
    And croaking notes proclaim the settled fair.
    Then, round their airy palaces they fly
    To greet the sun: and seized with secret joy,
    When storms are over-blown, with food repair
    To their forsaken nests, and callow care."

[23] The favourite haunt of Jean Jacques Rousseau, on the bank of Lake

[24] This was written before the annexation of Lombardy to the new
Italian kingdom.

[25] It is unnecessary to remind the reader that this is true only of
_French_ poets.--_Translator._

[26] The reader must not identify the translator with these opinions,
which, however, he did not feel at liberty to modify or omit.

[27] Everybody knows the beautiful story of the "Musician's Duel"--the
rivalry between a nightingale and a flute-player--as told by Ford and

[28] Our author refers to the discovery of the anæsthetic
properties of ether by an American. It was a surgeon of old Europe,
however, that gave the world the far more powerful anæsthetic of

[29] Compare Byron, in "Don Juan."

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