Page images



A sunbeam is more easily caught by look for it in the exquisite moulding of the pencil than a bird, with its vivid and Etruscan vases, or in the figures of the eccentric movements. When, therefore, fresco work, which may be seen on the the progress of imitative art is considered walls of their tombs and buried palaces. as inevitably determined by the facilities Penelope, or the “ chaste Lucrece,” may of execution growing out of the nature have labored on tapestry, “with wonof its objects, it becomes a matter less of drous needle," surprise than of curious observation, that so many centuries of progressive that even her art sisters the natural roses,

Nature's own shape of branch and berry, refinement should have been marked Her inkle silk twin with the rubied cherry," respectively by the approach of some other of its departments to perfection, but we doubt if a hypogriff or the ram while this, of ornithological illustration, of Colchis would have been very accuis only just now to be regarded as affordrately figured. ing such indications.

This discrepancy in art would appear Architecture, which has for its type

the more remarkable, were it not that “God’s Temple of the earth and sky," it is coupled with an analogous defiwas earliest perfected, for here the imi. ciency in the natural science of the tative faculty was first compelled into

times. The old philosophy took MAN service by men's necessities. Sculpture, for its centre and reasoned out to the with its still forms, next followed, and circumference of God. Man's man's prevailing egoism re-created him- -“ shadow on the world's vast mirror self in marble. Then followed, by irre

shown," sistible association, those objects most of course exhibited all the conditions of intimately near him, on which his feet Polytheism, Pantheism, or whatever were pressed, and which afforded him, in name is chosen to designate the old a great degree, shelter and food—and mythology. This fantastic spiritualizaBotany first grew, in the wreaths about tion omitted the inferior grades in its dethe marble brows of heroes, and on the ductions, and has left to modern science frescoes of their shafted temples, into a the task of elucidating their relations 10 science. It is to be observed, that the universal truth. It is not specially to be same nicety of eye and consummate skill wondered at that either sculpture or which made the Grecian chisel immortal, painting should have most readily sethrough the limbs and expression of their sected for their subjects such familiar deities and athletæ, is apparent in the groups as offered, by their attitudes of curves, lobes, edging, and even veins, of repose, the greatest facilities of imitathe tendrils, flowers, and vine-leaves tion. But the impulse which has always thrown into their ornation; while all driven genius above mere forms to the figures of beasts, and especially of birds, expression of the spiritual, elevated these whether appearing in hieroglyphics or common things into creations; and in over the porticos of their temples, bore Italian art, while scenes of passion, in always miserably crude and monstrous which children of the dust rose and outlines. Their pet emblem, the Phænix grew mighty till “ the god expanded on -a bird especially delighting in ashes their brows,” were added to « enduring would hardly be distinguished, if put in memories”—the elements, also, which the same place, from the extraordinary add beauty and grandeur to natural sceand celebrated Anser-Eagle on the Boston nery, from the most striking to the simMerchants' Exchange; and those por- plest of inanimate objects, were melted tions of the Centaur legitimately equine upon the canvass in miraculous colors. would scarcely serve to mount a Wel. But the same omissions and characterislington statue.

tics which we have noted as peculiar to This distinction is traceable through the features of classic art, as well as to all the phases of antique art, whether we its philosophy, are apparent here. We

• The Birds of America: By J. J. Audubon. Ornithological Biography; or, An Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America: By John James Audubon, F.R.S. L. & E.


[ocr errors]

find the most accurate exhibitions of the in our hands alone, and certainly through human figure, with the finest combina. the discovery of this magnificent western tions of natural scenery, but the lower world, has this department of Natural grades of mere animal existence were History been elevated into the proper almost totally neglected. When the forms dignity of a science. Aristotle and of animals are introduced at all, they are Pliny are the only classic names at all exclusively those of our domestic fami- identified with its subjects, and the liars, and these matchless pencils seem vague, romancing, and absurd deductions at once to forget their cunning in por- which characterize their treatment, afford traying them. The careless regard of us rather matter of amusement than anatomical finish apparent, betrays the serious consideration. But it is not little attention to comparative science amidst classic associations only that we which marked the period. As for birds, are necessitated to observe these crudi. they were scarcely thought of as legiti- ties. They are abundantly apparent mate subjects in the composition of that through all the heavy stages of European glorious era of art, only constituting, progress down to our own time; nor as it were, an accidental feature. Even was it till genius had caught an eloquent the brush of Titian slurred over a dove, impulse from the majestic beauty of a content with mere outline, without aim- new continent-not unaffected, also, by ing at expression. Though, at a later our free institutions and free society period, the Flemish school deviated into that the hardy realization of bold concepgrotesquery, and delighted in cats, mon- tions startled the European mind from keys, and monsters, with an occasional the complacency of self-satisfied repose accurate drawing of some domestic crea- into an unexpected recognition of what ture, like Paul Potter's Bull, yet nothing was really embraced in the study of real has been accomplished in the por- Ornithology. traving of objects of natural history To trace the feeble struggles of Orniuntil our own time, when Lanseer in thology through the fog of technicalities animals, and Audubon in birds, have sud- thrown around it by the Linnæan school, denly carried up their respective depart- and the yet denser mystification of ridiments to the rank of highest art. These culous legends by later “ Cabinet Natuconsiderations are the more curious ralists,” to the period when, with the when we remark, as has been suggested impulse of genius in the American wil. before, how perfectly this artistic pro- derness, it emerged into the clear light, gression has kept pace with the develop- affords a contrast not a little flatterment of our actual knowledge of Natu- ing to our national feeling. It need ral History.

not be urged, as an offset, that Wilson The same train of mingled necessity was a Paisley weaver, and that thereand convenience which led the earlier fore Scotland is entitled to share his sculptors and painters to select for their honors with us. Had he remained the subjects of art, first, the human form, drudging slave of oppressive institutions, and then those inanimate objects most the daring conception of his great work intimately associated it—which could never have expanded into execuoffered, in their still life, greater facili- tion. The man was in him undoubtedly ties for study and imitation than could before he came here; he had felt the possibly be perceived in the fugitive and restless movement of power to accomactive forms of the animal kingdom- plish much; but until the wild grandeur has no doubt been essentially, and to as of our fresh and boundless scenery burst great a degree, definitive of the course upon him with its inspiration to great of philosophic research through the deeds, these yearnings had been unsame field. It is not less remarkable defined. The direction once given, than historically correct, that though the there was everything in the lenient freeGrecian chisel and Italian pencil have dom of our social state, in the profuse furnished models which are the envy abundance and hospitality by which he and emulation of our time—though our saw himself surrounded, to encourage him ethics and poetry glory in a classic basis with the hope of realizing the suggeson which we have superstructed few tions of his taste.—But he had to send to improvements--yet we are at liberty to England for his patronage. And was it glorify ourselves in the fact that almost not quite as much as could be expected

[ocr errors]

Leaving Architecture out of the question, for in that we are immeasurably surpassed.


of our national infancy, that we should been printed must be gospel. Now, this furnish her with worthier objects than she easy simplicity and ready faith has, herself had been able to produce, for the indeed, merit of its own, and, is highly outlay of her superfluous and idle wealth? commendable in place, but it is ques. We had hardly recovered from pecuniary tionable whether the field of science is distresses left by the war of the Revolu- the legitimate one for its exhibition. tion, and the greater portion of the con- Gesner, next, assigns the third volume tinent was yet a wilderness, but here and of his History of Animals to birds. This there impressed by the hands of civilized is almost stereotyped from the former,

Little money and less time were with a few “ additions” but not « imthe toiling tradesmen by the Atlantic provements.” Francis Willoughby then shore, and the hardy woodsman on the writes a comparatively respectable work outskirts of the forest, able to spare for in Latin, which was afterwards transanything in the shape of Art. The same lated and improved by Mr. Ray. The remark may be made of the somewhat ground gained by these two men was in similar case of Audubon, though without the adoption of more rational principles the draw back of any dispute as to our of classification, which, in the former full and entire claim to the glorious instances, had been loosely determined “ American Woodsman,” as he proudly by the character of the food, size, shape, styled himself, while he “ ruffled among &c. But all difficulties on such points his peers,” the lettered giants of the were fully done away with by the “ City of the Craigs”—the admired centre appearance, in 1776, of the great nomenof observation. He is ours beyond clator, Linnæus, who reduced nearly the any cavil-and it must be acknowledged whole circle of natural sciences to a that the fact of our having produced the rigidly accurate and luminous classificatwo unrivalled masters of a science tion, from which there are few “modern which has always languished in the old instances” of essential variation. Though world, is somewhat significant of the rele- the work of Linnæus was in itself vast, vancy, to say the least of it, of the sugges- and indispensably demanded for the distion that there is something in our atmo- entanglement of the involutions consesphere sufficiently congenial to the vital- quent upon a large and incessantly accu. ity of genius. We have only to set forth mulating series of genera, yet the method what had actually been accomplished by adopted by him, and only wise under European ornithologists down to the his use of it, has been, in the hands of time of Wilson, to fully justify any self- his disciples, most fatal to the very progratulation of which we may be accused. gress it was intended to facilitate. The

After Aristotle and Pliny, it seems study of Natural History was now, in a that Peter Belon, in 1555, had pub- great measure, confined to the mere outlished at Paris the first book on orni- line of harsh and pompous technicalities. thology. This earliest effort, as might The naturalist became a stilt-walking be expected, was characterized by great bibliograph of swelling epithets, and all imperfections; the aitempt at illustra- that lends the charm of vivacity to such tion was preposterous, and his biogra- delightful subjects was overlaid and phies were mainly distinguished for the verily smothered by a ponderous and inventive facility, or broad credulity, of unwieldy terminology. Of course, in their author. That this should be so is this crustaceous envelope, Ornithology not singular to the birth of this or any was not particularly inviting. The shell other science; but the misfortune is, that was too hard and rough to be readily this inventive credulity has been dupli- attempted by that nice fastidious taste, cated and enlarged upon in most of the which most readily appreciates and hapsucceeding versions. The so-called Na- pily illustrates its pleasant themes, and turalists have been mere compilers, who it fell almost exclusively into the hands have not attempted, by personal observa. of dry old paper-moths, whose dull fation of the creatures treated of, out in tiguing compilations only tended to stul. the solitude of their own haunts, to cor- tify more profoundly the inanities of rect the mistakes of predecessors, and their predecessors. "To be sure, it is faithfully add, to whatever of truth they rather a sweeping use of terms to desigmight find, accurate knowledge of their nate the labors of Buffon in this way own, but have been content to collate without reserve; for, however deficient in such statements as they could pick up, accuracy they may be, his style is certaking it for granted that whatever had tainly agreeable and popular. His ro


[ocr errors]

mances have the same irresistible attrac- He tells with a grave facetiousness, as tion of freshness and earnest simplicity one among other marvellous capabilities about them which belongs to the Tales of the Raven, that it could be taught to of Sinbad the Sailor, and we equally sing like a man ;” and a specially notable relish the piquant gravity of the vera- individual “ had been heard to sing the cious narrator, whether he tells us of the Black Joke with great distinctness, truth mnighty roc, with its mountain-sized egg, and HUMOR !!” An interesting bird was or of the marvellous nightingales, con- that,cerning whom Buffon thus endorses :-.

“ The grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and “Gesner tells the following story, which

humorous bird of yore!" he says was communicated to him by a friend :

A yet more funny story he tells about “Whilst I was at Ratisbone,' says his the Gigantic CRANE of Africa--on opencorrespondent, I put up at an inn, the ing which, “a land tortoise ten inches sign of the Golden Crown, where my host long, and a large black cat were found had three nightingales. It happened at entire in its stomach.” It would have that time, being the spring of the year, added to the interest of this fact, if there when those birds are accustomed to sing, had also been a small live alligator. We that I was so afflicted with the stone, that I could sleep but very little all night. It regret the deficiency, as we have long was usual then about midnight, to hear the

wished to find anything that can equal the two nightingales jangling and talking with gulletal capacity of the true Mississippi each other, and plainly imitating men's

Boatman. This story, by the waydiscourses. Besides repeating the daily“ tortoise,” black cat,” and all-is discourse of the guests, they chaunted out deliberately repeated by the felicitous two stories. One of their stories was con- joker, that Joe Miller of naturalists, who cerning the tapster and his wife, who re- compiled the article on Ornithology in fused to follow him to the wars as he de- the British Encyclopedia. Another of sired her; for the husband endeavored to

Buffon's facetiæ, is the yet rarer whim, persuade his wife, as far as I understood which seems to have possessed him, of by the birds, that he would leave his service in that inn, and go to the wars in converting the “Coot,” properly denomihopes of plunder. But she refused to fol- nated by himself “a well-known bird," low him, resolving to stay either at Ratis. into an experienced and skillful navi. bone, or go to Nuremberg. There was a gator. He says: long and earnest contention between them; and all this dialogue the birds repeated.

“ It there makes a nest of such weeds as They even repeated the unseemly words the stream supplies, and lays them among which were cast out between them, and the reeds floating on the surface, and rising which ought rather to have been suppressed and falling with the water. The reeds and kept a secret. The other story was among which it is built, keep it fast ; so concerning the war which the Emperor that it is seldom washed into the middle was then threatening against the Protes- of the stream. But if this happens, which tants, which the birds probably heard from is sometimes the case, the bird sits in her some of the generals that had conferences nest, like a mariner in his boat, and steers, in the house. These things did they re- with her legs, her cargo into the nearest peat in the night after twelve o'clock, when harbor ; there, having attained her port, there was a deep silence. But in the day she continues to sit in great tranquillity, time, for the most part, they were silent, regardless of the impetuosity of the curand seemed to do nothing but meditate and rent; and, though the water penetrates her revolve with themselves upon what the nest, she hatches her eggs in that wet condi. guests conferred together, as they sat at tion.” table, or in their walks.'”

Undoubtedly, we have here the origi“ Such is the sagacity ascribed to the nal, from which was derived the idea, nightingale !" is the serious comment not simply of Noah's Ark, but of all upon this racy recital of a "correspon- other Arks, Broad Horns, Flat Bottoms, dent” by Monsieur De Buffon, the un- or Bottoms of any plane or curve whatso. paralleled natural philosopher of the ever, in which men, since time began, seventeenth century.

But there are have “gone down to the sea.” Who, other traits of this original humorist supposing such a mortal to exist, that equally flavorous, and in which, happily, had never in all his days seen or heard there is no officious “correspondent in- of a ship or boat, could fail to realize terposed to share the honors with him. the practicability of such easy modes of


progression, should he, by any accident, palpable ignorance, which he exhibited, chance upon this wonderful “Coot,” of the vitality of his subjects—a frivolous mounted upon her nest, with legs stuck and superficial spirit has been imparted through behind for rudders, steering to the conduct of the whole round of “ her cargo into the nearest harbor." such investigations since. This whole He would unquestionably go to work, vapid and finical tribe of “ cabinet naand forth with a new Argo would be turalists,” is to be fathered upon Buffon. seen “steering for unknown isles,” in It was perfectly well-known that he search of the Chimera," “ Golden searcely ever saw a live wild bird or Fleece;" or, it may be, what are as like- beast in his life, and boastingly account. ly to be found, birds' eggs, that would ed for his fame in the exclamation, hatch in " that wet condition.”

“ Have I not sat at my desk for fifty In view of these pleasant absurdities, years?" And his imitators, not possessed the question almost irresistibly suggests of anything of his undoubted genius, supitself, whether the great Buffon had ever, posed that they, too, could scribble themby any miraculous contingency, in the selves into learned Doctorates, Fellowwhole course of his life, seen breathing ships, and Degrees, through subjects bodily in the flesh a dozen specimens of with which they possessed no fraction of these feathered animals,as he is so practical acquaintance. How was it fond of calling them, of which he dis- possible for a pedantic dandy, professedly courses thus humorously.

unable to tell at sight a goosander from One cannot avoid puzzling over the a gosshawk, or a chipsquirrel from a problem, whether, if with his stately gait wren, to write or pencil any thing other and flowing robes, he had ever found than nonsense or some lusus naturæ, when himself wandering over the fields, he he gravely sits down to furnish draw. would not have been sadly bewildered to ings, and describe the minutiæ of habidistinguish a live Field-Mouse from tudes and characteristics peculiar to each, the live Tit-Mouse, running before him —when to accomplish this, he had so far amongst the stubble. But the serious as could be perceived, no earthly matruth is, that though in the aggregate of terials but a certain free and easy aptiM. Buffon's varied and extensive works, tude at guess-work, and certain ponderhe has accomplished a vast deal for gen- ous folios at his elbow filled with the eral science, in simplifying and popular. guesses in colors, and guesses in type, of ising its dry details, yet, to the particu- others—second-sighted seers like himlar department of Ornithology, and, in- self. How, unless by special inspirdeed, that also of Zoology may be in- ation, was he to conjecture when these cluded, he has done quite as much evil “authorities” were in the neighborhood as good, to speak with reason ; for, if he of truth. If one of them should happen has clothed its delineations in a more at- to make the “ Gigantic Crane” of Africa tractive and universal style, and, there. swallow a boa constrictor alive, instead fore, increased the number of students; of merely “a large black cat entire," what he has, on the other hand, by such reck. could he say “anent” so probable a less and unpardonable carelessness, as we statement. Disputing precedents is danhave noticed above, in the collocation of gerous—and down goes the boa, all its his materials, not only done more than huge and knotted volume swallowed up any body else toward perpetuating the in the profound of bis ignorance. Or if errors of old writers, by stamping them he should meet with a straggling account with the broad seal of his own fame—but of a “ White Crow". having been seen has himself originally and deliberately, in America, what should prevent him ailded immensely to the stock. But this from basing upon this fact the theory of is not all the mischief.--By this loose a “ white species”.

common to this and fanciful treatment--the sheer and country! Certainly not the possession

[ocr errors]

Should our naturalist be guilty of this surprising leap from a single fact to a conclusion, he would not be the solitary instance of this salient facility among European Naturalists of our day. Mr. Gould, who has figured amongst them with some pretension, is a happy instance in point. (See Gould's Birds of Europe,_article, Swallow Tailed Kite-Nauclerus Furcatus.) He says, as the excuse for introducing this bird to such company: “ Two examples of this elegant bird having been taken in this country -the first in Argyleshire, the second in Yorkshire-we have considered it as entitled (as if it were a high honor) to be included among the Birds of Europe !” It is hard to

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »