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Title: Bob - The Story of Our Mocking-bird
Author: Lanier, Sidney
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.

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By Sidney Lanier

With Sixteen Illustrations in Color

Charles Scribner's Sons
New York,
A.D. Mdccccx

Copyright, 1883, by _The Independent_

Copyright, 1899, by Mary Day Lanier

Prefatory Note

The poet Sidney Lanier loved to swing in full-muscled walks through
the fields and woods; to take the biggest bow and quiver out of the
archery implements provided for himself and his brood of boys, and
with them trailing at his heels, to tramp and shoot at rovers; to
bestride a springy horse and ride through the mountains and the
valleys, noting what they were pleased to show of tree and bird and
beast life. He could feel the honest savage instinct of the hunter
(and lose it in his first sight of a stag's death-eyes). A rare bird's
nest with eggs produced in him the rapture vouchsafed to barbarian
Boy, along with the divine suggestions vouchsafed to the Poet. This
may be worth while to say to those of Lanier's readers who may think
of him as a sensitive, delicate man of letters, and who must see in
most of his writing evidences of extreme sensibility. It was this
habit of a practical, face-to-face conversation with nature which,
joined with the artist's instinct, makes the sketch of "Bob" so
veracious a picture of a bird-individual and a bird-species. Lanier's
wife and children remember well the delight the bird had for his
brother artist; how the amused flute would trill with extravagant
graces to the silent but heedful wonder of the caged one. Every
surprising token of intelligence, of affection, of valor displayed by
Bob was hailed by Mr. Lanier with a boy's ecstacy over a pet, and a
poet's thankfulness of a beautiful work of the Creator.

There is, doubtless, no need to assure the reader that the events of
Bob's life as hereinafter depicted are historically true; he was
acquired by one of the poet's boys, who, forbidden to rob nests,
remembers his fear, on the way home with Bob in his straw hat, that
the account of the bird's helpless condition would not serve as a fair
and reasonable excuse for keeping him as a pet.

The illustrations which form so important a part of the effort to make
a picture of Bob, are unusual in their origin and in their method. Mr.
Dugmore made photographic studies of a young mocking-bird, or, rather,
of a number of young mocking-birds, the photographs were colored by
him, and the plates from these photographs were printed in color. The
variety of rare tints in any bird's plumage, their extreme delicacy,
and the infinitely fine gradations of shading have almost always
baffled the artist and the printer. The present attempt to reproduce
Mr. Dugmore's masterly pictures in color shows at least a handsome
advance in the difficult art.

Charles Day Lanier.

October, 1899.

List of Illustrations

From Photographs made from Life and colored by A. R. Dugmore

"Bob lying in a lump"

"To increase the volume of his rudimentary feathers"

"Throw his head back and open his yellow-lined beak"

"He scrambled to the bars of the cage--which his feeble companion was
unable to do"

"For it was his own image in the looking-glass of a bureau"

"His bath"

"When he smoothed his feathers"

"And as many times slid down the smooth surface of the mirror and
wounded himself upon the perilous pin-cushion"

"The most elegant, trim ... little dandy"

"A sidelong, inquiring posture of the head, ... Is she gone?"

"He eats very often"

"Bob never neglects to wipe his beak after each meal"

"He stretches his body until he seems incredibly tall"

"When he is cold, he makes himself into a round ball of feathers"

"When his feathers fall. He is then unspeakably dejected.... every
feather dropped from his tail"

"We have only to set Bob's cage where a spot of sunshine will fall on
it.... up goes his beak, and he is off"


The Mocking-Bird

  Superb and sole, upon a pluméd spray
  That o'er the general leafage boldly grew,
  He summ'd the woods in song; or typic drew
  The watch of hungry hawks, the lone dismay
  Of languid doves when long their lovers stray,
  And all birds' passion-plays that sprinkle dew
  At morn in brake or bosky avenue.
  Whate'er birds did or dreamed, this bird could say.
  Then down he shot, bounced airily along
  The sward, twitched in a grasshopper, made song
  Midflight, perched, prinked, and to his art again.
  Sweet Science, this large riddle read me plain:
  How may the death of that dull insect be
  The life of yon trim Shakspere on the tree?


Not that his name _ought_ to be Bob at all. In respect of his behavior
during a certain trying period which I am presently to recount, he
ought to be called Sir Philip Sidney: yet, by virtue of his conduct in
another very troublesome business which I will relate, he has equal
claim to be known as Don Quixote de la Mancha: while, in consideration
that he is the Voice of his whole race, singing the passions of all
his fellows better than any one could sing his own, he is clearly
entitled to be named William Shakspere.

For Bob is our mocking-bird. He fell to us out of the top of a certain
great pine in a certain small city on the sea-coast of Georgia. In
this tree and a host of his lordly fellows which tower over that
little city, the mocking-birds abound in unusual numbers. They love
the prodigious masses of the leaves, and the generous breezes from the
neighboring Gulf Stream, and, most of all, the infinite flood of the
sunlight which is so rich and cordial that it will make even a man
lift his head towards the sky, as a mocking-bird lifts his beak, and
try to sing something or other.

[Illustration: "Bob lying in a lump"]

About three years ago, in a sandy road which skirts a grove of such
tall pines, a wayfarer found Bob lying in a lump. It could not have
been more than a few days since he was no bird at all, only an egg
with possibilities. The finder brought him to our fence and turned him
over to a young man who had done us the honor to come out of a Strange
Country and live at our house about six years before. Gladly received
by this last, Bob was brought within, and family discussions were
held. He could not be put back into a tree: the hawks would have had
him in an hour. The original nest was not to be found. We struggled
hard against committing the crime--as we had always considered it--of
caging a bird. But finally it became plain that there was no other
resource. In fact, we were obliged to recognize that he had come to us
from the hand of Providence, and, though we are among the most
steady-going democrats of this Republic, we were yet sufficiently
acquainted with the etiquette of courts to know that one does not
refuse the gift of the King.

Dimly hoping, therefore, that we might see our way clear to devise
some means of giving Bob an education that would fit him for a
forester, we arranged suitable accommodations for him, and he was
tended with motherly care.

[Illustration: "To increase the volume of his rudimentary feathers"]

He repaid our attentions from the very beginning. He immediately began
to pick up in flesh and to increase the volume of his rudimentary
feathers. Soon he commenced to call for his food as lustily as any
spoiled child. When it was brought, he would throw his head back and
open his yellow-lined beak to a width which no one would credit who
did not see it. Into this enormous cavity, which seemed almost larger
than the bird, his protectress would thrust--and the more vigorously
the better he seemed to like it--ball after ball of the yolk of
hard-boiled egg mashed up with Irish potato.

[Illustration: "Throw his head back and open his yellow-lined beak"]

How, from this dry compound which was his only fare except an
occasional worm off the rose-bushes, Bob could have wrought the
surprising nobleness of spirit which he displayed about six weeks
after he came to us ... is a matter which I do not believe the most
expansive application of Mr. Herbert Spencer's theory of the genesis
of emotion could even remotely account for. I refer to the occasion
when he fairly earned the title of Sir Philip Sidney. A short time
after he became our guest a couple of other fledgelings were brought
and placed in his cage. One of these soon died, but the other
continued for some time longer to drag out a drooping existence. One
day, when Bob was about six weeks old, his usual ration had been
delayed, owing to the pressure of other duties upon his attendant. He
was not slow to make this circumstance known by all the language
available to him. He was very hungry indeed and was squealing with
every appearance of entreaty and of indignation when at last the lady
of the house was able to bring him his breakfast. He scrambled to the
bars of the cage--which his feeble companion was unable to do--took
the proffered ball of egg-and-potato fiercely in his beak, and then,
instead of swallowing it, deliberately flapped back to his sick guest
in the corner and gave him the whole of it without tasting a morsel.

[Illustration: "He scrambled to the bars of the cage--which his feeble
companion was unable to do"]

Now when Sir Philip Sidney was being carried off the battle-field of
Zutphen with a fearful wound in his thigh, he became very thirsty and
begged for water. As the cup was handed him, a dying soldier who lay
near cast upon it a look of great longing. This Sidney observed:
refusing the cup, he ordered that it should be handed to the soldier,
saying, "His necessity is greater than mine."

       *       *       *       *       *

A mocking-bird is called Bob just as a goat is called Billy or Nan, as
a parrot is called Poll, as a squirrel is called Bunny, or as a cat is
called Pussy or Tom. In spite of the suggestions forced upon us by the
similarity of his behavior to that of the sweet young gentleman of
Zutphen, our bird continued to bear the common appellation of his race
and no efforts on the part of those who believe in the fitness of
things have availed to change the habits of Bob's friends in this
particular. Bob he was, is, and will probably remain.

Perhaps under a weightier title he would not have thriven so
prosperously. His growth was amazing in body and in mind. By the time
he was two months old he clearly showed that he was going to be a
singer. About this period certain little feeble trills and
experimental whistles began to vary the monotony of his absurd squeals
and chirrups. The musical business, and the marvellous work of
feathering himself, occupied his thoughts continually. I cannot but
suppose that he superintended the disposition of the black, white and
gray markings on his wings and his tail as they successively appeared:
he certainly manufactured the pigments with which those colors were
laid on, somewhere within himself,--and all out of egg-and-potato. How
he ever got the idea of arranging his feather characteristics exactly
as those of all other male mocking-birds are arranged--is more than I
know. It is equally beyond me to conceive why he did not--while he was
about it--exert his individuality to the extent of some little
peculiar black dot or white stripe whereby he could at least tell
himself from any other bird. His failure to attend to this last matter
was afterwards the cause of a great battle from which Bob would have
emerged in a plight as ludicrous as any of Don Quixote's,--considering
the harmless and unsubstantial nature of his antagonist--had not this
view of his behavior been changed by the courage and spirit with which
he engaged his enemy, the gallantry with which he continued the fight,
and the good faithful blood which he shed while it lasted. In all
these particulars his battle fairly rivalled any encounter of the
much-bruised Knight of la Mancha.

He was about a year old when it happened, and the fight took place a
long way from his native heath. He was spending the summer at a
pleasant country home in Pennsylvania. He had appeared to take just as
much delight in the clover fields and mansion-studded hills of this
lovely region as in the lonesome forests and sandy levels of his
native land. He had sung, and sung: even in his dreams at night his
sensitive little soul would often get quite too full and he would pour
forth rapturous bursts of sentiment at any time between twelve o'clock
and daybreak. If our health had been as little troubled by broken
slumber as was his, these melodies in the late night would have been
glorious; but there were some of us who had gone into the country
especially to sleep; and we were finally driven to swing the sturdy
songster high up in our outside porch at night, by an apparatus
contrived with careful reference to cats. Several of these animals in
the neighborhood had longed unspeakably for Bob ever since his
arrival. We had seen them eyeing him from behind bushes and through
windows, and had once rescued him from one who had thrust a paw
between the very bars of his cage. That cat was going to eat him, art
and all, with no compunction in the world. His music seemed to make no
more impression on cats than Keats's made on critics. If only some
really discriminating person had been by with a shot-gun when The
Quarterly thrust its paw into poor Endymion's cage!

[Illustration: "For it was his own image in the looking-glass of a

[Illustration: "His bath"]

[Illustration: "When he smoothed his feathers"]

One day at this country-house Bob had been let out of his cage and
allowed to fly about the room. He had cut many antics, to the
amusement of the company, when presently we left him, to go down to
dinner. What occurred afterward was very plainly told by
circumstantial evidence when we returned. As soon as he was alone, he
had availed himself of his unusual freedom to go exploring about the
room. In the course of his investigation he suddenly found himself
confronted by ... it is impossible to say what he considered it. If he
had been reared in the woods he would probably have regarded it as
another mocking-bird,--for it was his own image in the looking-glass
of a bureau. But he had never seen any member of his race except the
forlorn little unfledged specimen which he had fed at six weeks of
age, and which bore no resemblance to this tall, gallant, bright-eyed
figure in the mirror. He had thus had no opportunity to generalize his
kind; and he knew nothing whatever of his own personal appearance
except the partial hints he may have gained when he smoothed his
feathers with his beak after his bath in the morning. It may therefore
very well be that he took this sudden apparition for some Chimæra or
dire monster which had taken advantage of the family's temporary
absence to enter the room, with evil purpose. Bob immediately
determined to defend the premises. He flew at the invader, literally
beak and claw. But beak and claw taking no hold upon the smooth glass,
with each attack he slid struggling down to the foot of the mirror.
Now it so happened that a pin-cushion lay at this point, which
bristled not only with pins but with needles which had been
temporarily left in it and which were nearly as sharp at the eye-ends
as at the points. Upon these Bob's poor claws came down with fury: he
felt the wounds and saw the blood: both he attributed to the strokes
of his enemy, and this roused him to new rage. In order to give
additional momentum to his onset he would retire towards the other
side of the room and thence fly at the foe. Again and again he
charged: and as many times slid down the smooth surface of the mirror
and wounded himself upon the perilous pin-cushion. As I entered, being
first up from table, he was in the act of fluttering down against the
glass. The counterpane on the bed, the white dimity cover of the
bureau, the pin-cushion, all bore the bloody resemblances of his feet
in various places, and showed how many times he had sought distant
points in order to give himself a running start. His heart was beating
violently, and his feathers were ludicrously tousled. And all against
the mere shadow of himself! Never was there such a temptation for the
head of a family to assemble his people and draw a prodigious moral.
But better thoughts came: for, after all, was it not probable that the
poor bird was defending--or at any rate believed he was defending--the
rights and properties of his absent masters against a foe of unknown
power? All the circumstances go to show that he made the attack with a
faithful valor as reverent as that which steadied the lance of Don
Quixote against the windmills. In after days, when his cage has been
placed among the boughs of the trees, he has not shown any warlike
feelings against the robins and sparrows that passed about, but only a
friendly interest.

[Illustration: "And as many times slid down the smooth surface of the
mirror and wounded himself upon the perilous pin-cushion"]

[Illustration: "The most elegant, trim ... little dandy"]

At this present writing, Bob is the most elegant, trim, electric,
persuasive, cunning, tender, courageous, artistic little dandy of a
bird that mind can imagine. He does not confine himself to imitating
the songs of his tribe. He is a creative artist. I was witness not
long ago to the selection and adoption by him of a rudimentary
whistle-language. During an illness it fell to my lot to sleep in a
room alone with Bob. In the early morning, when a lady--to whom Bob is
passionately attached--would make her appearance in the room, he would
salute her with a certain joyful chirrup which appears to belong to
him peculiarly. I have not heard it from any other bird. But sometimes
the lady would merely open the door, make an inquiry, and then retire.
It was now necessary for his artistic soul to find some form of
expressing grief. For this purpose he selected a certain cry almost
identical with that of the cow-bird--an indescribably plaintive,
long-drawn, thin whistle. Day after day I heard him make use of these
expressions. He had never done so before. The mournful one he would
usually accompany, as soon as the door was shut, with a sidelong,
inquiring posture of the head, which was a clear repetition of the
lover's _Is she gone? Is she really gone?_

[Illustration: "A sidelong, inquiring posture of the head, ... Is she

       *       *       *       *       *

There is one particular in which Bob's habits cannot be recommended.
He eats very often. In fact if Bob should hire a cook, it would be
absolutely necessary for him to write down his hours for her guidance;
and this writing would look very much like a time-table of the
Pennsylvania, or the Hudson River, or the Old Colony, Railroad. He
would have to say: "Bridget will be kind enough to get me my breakfast
at the following hours: 5, 5.30, 5.40, 6, 6.15, 6.30, 6.45, 7, 7.20,
7.40, 8 (and so on, every fifteen or twenty minutes, until 12 M.); my
dinner at 12, 12.20, 12.40, 1, 1.15, 1.30 (and so on every fifteen or
twenty minutes until 6 p.m.); my supper is irregular, but I wish
Bridget particularly to remember that I _always_ eat whenever I awake
in the night, and that I usually awake four or five times between
bedtime and daybreak." With all this eating, Bob never neglects to
wipe his beak after each meal. This he does by drawing it quickly,
three or four times on each side, against his perch.

[Illustration: "He eats very often"]

[Illustration: "Bob never neglects to wipe his beak after each meal"]

I never tire of watching his motions. There does not seem to be the
least friction between any of the component parts of his system. They
all work, give, play in and out, stretch, contract, and serve his
desires generally with a smoothness and soft precision truly

Merely to see him leap from his perch to the floor of his cage is to
me a never-failing marvel. It is so instantaneous, and yet so quiet:
_clip_, and he is down, with his head in the food-cup: I can compare
it to nothing but the stroke of Fate. It is perhaps a strained
association of the large with the small: but when he suddenly leaps
down in this instantaneous way, I always feel as if, while looking
down upon the three large Forms of the antique Sculpture, lying in
severe postures along the ground, I suddenly heard the clip of the
fatal shears.

His repertory of songs is extensive. Perhaps it would have been much
more so if his life had been in the woods where he would have had the
opportunity to hear the endlessly-various calls of his race. So far as
we can see, the stock of songs which he now sings must have been
brought in his own mind from the egg, or from some further source
whereof we know nothing. He certainly never _learned_ these calls:
many of the birds of whom he gives perfect imitations have been always
beyond his reach. He does not apprehend readily a new set of tones. He
has caught two or three musical phrases from having them whistled near
him. No systematic attempt, however, has been made to teach him
anything. His procedure in learning these few tones was peculiar. He
would not, on first hearing them, make any sign that he desired to
retain them, beyond a certain air of attention in his posture. Upon
repetition on a different day, his behavior was the same: there was no
_attempt_ at imitation. But sometime afterward, quite unexpectedly, in
the hilarious flow of his birdsongs would appear a perfect
reproduction of the whistled tones. Like a great artist he was rather
above futile and amateurish efforts. He took things into his mind,
turned them over, and, when he was perfectly sure of them, brought
them forth with perfection and with unconcern.

He has his little joke. His favorite response to the endearing terms
of the lady whom he loves is to scold her. Of course he understands
that she understands his wit. He uses for this purpose the angry
warning cry which mocking-birds are in the habit of employing to drive
away intruders from their nests. At the same time he expresses his
delight by a peculiar gesture which he always uses when pleased. He
extends his right wing and stretches his leg along the inner surface
of it as far as he is able.

[Illustration: "He stretches his body until he seems incredibly tall"]

He has great capacities in the way of elongating and contracting
himself. When he is curious, or alarmed, he stretches his body until
he seems incredibly tall and of the size of his neck all the way. When
he is cold, he makes himself into a round ball of feathers.

[Illustration: "When he is cold, he makes himself into a round ball of

       *       *       *       *       *

I think I envy him most when he goes to sleep. He takes up one leg
somewhere into his bosom, crooks the other a trifle, shortens his
neck, closes his eyes,--and it is done. He does not appear to hover a
moment in the borderland between sleeping and waking but hops over the
line with the same superb decision with which he drops from his perch
to the floor. I do not think he ever has anything on his mind after he
closes his eyes. It is my belief that he never committed a sin of any
sort in his whole life. There is but one time when he ever looks sad.
This is during the season when his feathers fall. He is then
unspeakably dejected. Never a note do we get from him until it is
over. Nor can he be blamed. Last summer not only the usual loss took
place, but every feather dropped from his tail. His dejection during
this period was so extreme that we could not but believe he had some
idea of his personal appearance under the disadvantage of no tail.
This was so ludicrous that his most ardent lovers could scarcely
behold him without a smile; and it appeared to cut him to the soul
that he should excite such sentiments.

[Illustration: "When his feathers fall. He is then unspeakably
dejected.... every feather dropped from his tail"]

But in a surprisingly short time his tail-feathers grew out again, the
rest of his apparel reappeared fresh and new, and he lifted up his
head: insomuch that whenever we wish to fill the house with a gay,
confident, dashing, riotous, innocent, sparkling glory of jubilation,
we have only to set Bob's cage where a spot of sunshine will fall on
it. His beads of eyes glisten, his form grows intense, up goes his
beak, and he is off.

[Illustration: "We have only to set Bob's cage where a spot of
sunshine will fall on it.... up goes his beak, and he is off"]

Finally we have sometimes discussed the question: is it better on the
whole, that Bob should have lived in a cage than in the wildwood?
There are conflicting opinions about it: but one of us is clear that
it is. He argues that although there are many songs which are never
heard, as there are many eggs which never hatch, yet the general end
of a song is to be heard, as that of an egg is to be hatched. He
further argues that Bob's life in his cage has been one long blessing
to several people who stood in need of him: whereas in the woods,
leaving aside the probability of hawks and bad boys, he would not have
been likely to gain one appreciative listener for a single half-hour
out of each year. And, as I have already mercifully released you from
several morals (continues this disputant) which I might have drawn
from Bob, I am resolved that no power on earth shall prevent me from
drawing this final one.--We have heard much of "the privileges of
genius," of "the right of the artist to live out his own existence
free from the conventionalities of society," of "the un-morality of
art," and the like. But I do protest that the greater the artist, and
the more profound his pity toward the fellow-man for whom he
passionately works, the readier will be his willingness to forego the
privileges of genius and to cage himself in the conventionalities,
even as the mocking-bird is caged. His struggle against these will, I
admit, be the greatest: he will feel the bitterest sense of their
uselessness in restraining _him_ from wrong-doing. But, nevertheless,
one consideration will drive him to enter the door and get contentedly
on his perch: his fellow-men, his fellow-men. These he can reach
through the respectable bars of use and wont; in his wild thickets of
lawlessness they would never hear him, or, hearing, would never
listen. In truth this is the sublimest of self-denials, and none but a
very great artist can compass it: to abandon the sweet green forest of
liberty, and live a whole life behind needless constraints, for the
more perfect service of his fellow-men.


To Our Mocking-Bird

Died of a Cat, May, 1878


  Trillets of humor,--shrewdest whistle-wit,--
    Contralto cadences of grave desire
    Such as from off the passionate Indian pyre
  Drift down through sandal-odored flames that split
  About the slim young widow who doth sit
    And sing above,--midnights of tone entire,--
    Tissues of moonlight shot with songs of fire;--
  Bright drops of tune, from oceans infinite
  Of melody, sipped off the thin-edged wave
  And trickling down the beak,--discourses brave
    Of serious matter that no man may guess,--
    Good-fellow greetings, cries of light distress--
      All these but now within the house we heard:
      O Death, wast thou too deaf to hear the bird?


  Ah me, though never an ear for song, thou hast
    A tireless tooth for songsters: thus of late
    Thou camest, Death, thou Cat! and leap'st my gate,
  And, long ere Love could follow, thou hadst passed
  Within and snatched away, how fast, how fast,
    My bird--wit, songs, and all--thy richest freight
    Since that fell time when in some wink of fate
  Thy yellow claws unsheathed and stretched, and cast
  Sharp hold on Keats, and dragged him slow away,
  And harried him with hope and horrid play--
    Ay, him, the world's best wood-bird, wise with song--
    Till thou hadst wrought thine own last mortal wrong.
      'Twas wrong! 'twas wrong! I care not, _wrong's_ the word--
      To munch our Keats and crunch our mocking-bird.


  Nay, Bird; my grief gainsays the Lord's best right.
    The Lord was fain, at some late festal time,
    That Keats should set all Heaven's woods in rhyme,
  And thou in bird-notes. Lo, this tearful night,
  Methinks I see thee, fresh from death's despite,
    Perched in a palm-grove, wild with pantomime,
    O'er blissful companies couched in shady thyme,
  --Methinks I hear thy silver whistlings bright
  Mix with the mighty discourse of the wise,
  Till broad Beethoven, deaf no more, and Keats,
    'Midst of much talk, uplift their smiling eyes,
    And mark the music of thy wood-conceits,
  And halfway pause on some large, courteous word,
  And call thee "Brother," O thou heavenly Bird!

Baltimore, 1878.

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ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.