Page images
PDF
EPUB

110 Strictures on "Observations on the Natural History of Birds." [Feb.

very letter, had acquired paramount influence, obtained many legacies, and was universally consulted as to the decrees of fate. This was very strange. "At length two deserters came over from the enemy, and recognized our fortuneteller as well known in the camp of the Turks, to whom, they said, by means of nocturnal visits, she had communicated our movements and intentions. This also created much astonishment, as she had often been of important service to us, and we had wondered at the address and ability with which she had executed the most perilous commissions. But the deserters persisted in their evidence; they had frequently been present when she communicated our positions and strength,-betrayed our plans, and enabled the enemy to succeed in their attacks. The events which had actually happened afforded strong presumptions against her; and a Turkish cypher, which served as a passport, being found in her possession, rendered her death indispensable.

"I then urged the Bohemian as to her predictions, and she avowed, in general, that, by acting alternately as a spy for each party, she had obtained double emolument, with complete personal security. By this means she learnt the secret plans of both; and she knew precisely what was to be attempted by either. Those who consulted her on their destiny confided to her all the dangers they were to encounter. The most secret projects were thus revealed to her in detail. Her calculation was almost always a demonstration; and sometimes, where she did not possess these advantages, chance befriended her.

"In my particular instance, she was desirous to impress an irresistible belief in her unerring knowledge. I was selected as a striking example of her skill; and, by fixing my fate at a remote period, and in utter disregard of all ordinary hazards, even of the immediate and constant skirmishes of the cavalry, the hair-breadth scapes, which, in my situation, were an everyday occurrence, she trusted to obtain unbounded confidence.

"From her information, our centinels were cut off, and our piquets overthrown; but the attacks upon our night guards were arranged so as to suit her predictions, and especially

that, on the near approach of the
twentieth of August, the Hussars of
Czekler might be on duty. From
constant intercourse with the officers,
she knew that two of my comrades
preceded me in command. To the
one she sold drugged wine, and he
was taken dangerously ill; and, just
as the other had mounted, she con-
trived to thrust burning tinder into
the nostrils of his charger.” D.

[ocr errors]

STRICTURES ON OBSERVATIONS ON
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF BIRDS."

MR EDITOR,

THE "Observations on the Natural History of Birds," which appeared in your Miscellany in September last, having failed to draw forth the opinions of your ornithological friends on the subject, the following remarks are, in consequence, submitted to the consideration of your readers.

Your correspondent A. states, as the result of his own experience, that "if the nest (of the lapwing) is discovered as soon as the bird has begun to lay, and you remove an egg, so as to allow only one or two to remain in the nest, the bird will continue to lay for ten or twelve days, nay, for weeks, successively. If, however, you allow the number to reach four, it immediately begins to hatch, and there is no further deposition of eggs." By thus robbing the nest, he has induced this bird to lay ten eggs, while the ordinary number is four. He has tried the same experiment with the common lark, and with equal suc

cess.

The opinion, that some birds will
lay more than their ordinary number
of
eggs, by daily abstracting one from
the nest, has received considerable
support from the learned author of
the British Zoology, who, when speak-
ing of the house or chimney swallow,
says,-" It lines the bottom (of its
nest) with feathers and grasses, and
usually lays from four to six eggs,
white, speckled with red; but, by tak-
ing away one of the eggs daily, it will
successively lay as far as nineteen, as
Dr Lister has experienced.”—Pen-
nant's Brit. Zool. Vol. I. p. 400. Lon-
don, 1776. But the experience of
Lister stands in opposition to the po-
sitive testimony of the late Mr Mon-
tagu, who, when speaking of this opi-
nion respecting incubation, says,➡

WA

T

"We believe there never was an instance, (of a bird laying more eggs successively, by taking one from the nest daily,) at least we have never been fortunate enough to discover one in the great variety of experiments we have tried on various birds, amongst which was the swallow, which has been declared to lay as many as nineteen.”Mont. Ornithological Dictionary, Vol. I. Introd. xi. Now, it is well known to every student of British ornithology, that Montagu paid very great attention to the habits of birds, so that his testimony on such a subject should be received with confidence.

In our younger days, we gave credit to the efficacy of robbing a nest in making a bird lay more than her usual number of eggs, because such an opinion was current among our school Companions. Our experiments, however, tried on the Magpie, Sparrow, and Wren, were invariably unsuccessful, so that, at last, we ranked this current belief in the list of popular errors. Indeed, were such a habit to prevail in birds, it would stand in opposition to all our notions of the laws of reproduction. On this subject the reasoning of Montagu appears conclusive. Those who suppose a bird capable of producing eggs at will, or that any bird is excited to lay more eggs than usual by daily robbing their nest, are certainly mistaken. In a domesticated fowl, it is probable the desire of incubation may be prolonged by leaving little or nothing in the nest to sit on. It will, therefore, lay the number allotted by Nature, which is determined before the first egg is produced. If it is prevented from incubation by any means whatever, it may begin again to lay in five or six days; but there is always an interval of a few days, and sometimes as many weeks, which must wholly depend on the age and vigour of the bird. When it happens that a fresh lot of eggs is laid, with only a few days interval, and that, perhaps, in the same nest, it is deemed a continuation, for want of nice observation; but we are not to look to domesticated animals for natural causes, for those are taken from their state of nature. Let us look to birds in their natural wild state, and see if any well-attested instances are to be found where they have laid more Eggs successively, by taking one from the nest daily; for instance, the num

.

ber laid by a Hedge Sparrow is commonly five, sometiines only four, and rarely six-will the taking away the daily laid egg produce a seventh or an eighth? No."-Ibid.

From this view of the matter, your correspondent A. must excuse our want of confidence in his boyish recollections, since they thus stand in opposition to the high authority of one whose opinion on the subject was the result of numerous and diversified experiments. We would, however, earnestly recommend the repetition of these experiments to those whose situations are favourable for making such observations.

Although we have thus opposed the doctrine which your correspondent A. thinks he has established, we have had no other object in doing so, than to communicate the few historical notices of the subject in our possession; and we hope he will continue to favour your readers with those facts in the history of animals which he has ascertained. PHYSICUS.

CURIOUS FACTS IN NATURAL HISTORY.

MR EDITOR,

In one of your early numbers I observe some remarks on the Natural History of Birds, which are extremely curious. I wish your correspondent would continue his anecdotes, for his facts are most interesting, and, I am convinced, they are not generally known among the learned, however familiar they may be to every herdboy in Scotland. A great many years ago, a worthy farmer of my acquaintance, in the lower district of Annandale, took it into his head to rob a wild duck of her eggs, which he had accidentally discovered, and to place them under one of his tame ducks that was hatching at the same time. The young brood (twelve in number) came into the world at the usual period, but, notwithstanding the attention which he paid to them, they were all lost or destroyed, except one which continued with her step-dame. This singular bird never perfectly acquired the habits or dispositions of her domestic sisterhood, she never would submit to the embraces of a tame drake,-and every spring she left the farm-yard and proceeded to the wilds in quest of a mate. She seemed to

have a malicious pleasure, if I may so
express it, in leading her lovers into a
share; and was at great pains to draw
them into such situations as admitted
of their being easily shot. I have of-
ten known two or three of her follow-
ers killed in the course of a day. She
always hatched her young in a peat
moss at some distance from the house,
but never failed to bring them to the
farm-yard as soon as they were able
to follow her. During the whole
time of rearing them, she was unu-
sually tame, and with difficulty could
be kept out of the kitchen, endeavour-
ing, as it were, by every means in her
power, to make her wild progeny fa-
iniliar with man. I need not tell you
that this duck became a great pet with
all the neighbourhood; and many a
wild duck was spared by the fowler
lest he should kill the favourite Jen-
ny. When this duck was about four
years old, my friend was visited by a
kinsman of his from Fife, who was so
much taken with her that he begged
for and obtained her as a present. She
was put into a cage, and by him con-
veyed to Edinburgh, where he had a
small silver collar made for her, with
his name and address engraven upon
it; and with this he carried her in
triumph to his house near Kinross.
She was kept in confinement for a
night and a day; when, seeming per-
fectly contented, she was let out into
the yard. She set about adjusting
herself for sometime, then suddenly
took wing, and, in the course of a few
hours, was among her old companions
in Annandale. She was a second time
conveyed to Fife, and her wings clipt.
She continued perfectly happy to ap-
pearance till her feathers grew, when
she again bade her new friends fare-
well. It would appear that she was
obliged this time to rest by the way,
as she was shot in the neighbourhood
of Biggar by a gentleman, who com-
municated the circumstance to the
owner, with the collar which was
found about her neck with his name
and place of abode. We have often
heard, Mr Editor, of the sagacity of
dogs, and even of cats; and I know
myself several instances where these
animals have found their way back to
their original dwellings, after being
conveyed to very great distances; but
this case proves that the feathered
tribe have also some degree of instinct.
It is a well known fact, that all emi-

grating birds return not only to the
same district or town, but the swal-
low, for instance, if not prevented, to
the same house, and even to the same
window where it was hatched, there
to bring forth its young. I know this
from actual experiment. I would say
the same thing of fishes; and I think
this fact is pretty well ascertained,
both with regard to the salmon and
the herring. Independent of the
great difference between the herrings
on the east and west coasts of Scot-
land, there are few of your Scots read-
ers, I should suppose, who are unac-
quainted with the superior excellence
of the Lochfine herring; and it is
well known, that fish of the same size
and quality are found on no other part
of our coasts. I consider them, then,
as a particular tribe, that return regu-
larly to their own breeding ground.
In the Western Islands, the experien-
ced fishermen will tell the particular
loch from which a parcel of herrings
are taken,-so marked is the difference
between the several tribes, even when
the neck of land which separates the
two arms of the sea does not exceed a
mile or two in breadth. To condescend
upon particulars,-there is a marked
difference between the herrings caught
in Lochbuy and those caught in Loch-
scridden, which lie both on the west
coast of Mull, and not many miles
asunder. The fishermen on the Sol-
way Firth, I believe, could easily tell
you, when they kill a salmon, whether
it was a native of the Annan or the
Nith. If these remarks are consider-
ed worthy of a place in your Miscel-
lany, you may perhaps hear again
from
AN INQUIRER.

Jan. 12, 1818.

OBSERVATIONS ON THE AGAMEMNON
OF ESCHYLUS, ILLUSTRATED WITH
TRANSLATIONS.

(Concluded from page 31.)

UPON the conclusion of the speech which was last quoted, Cassandra enters into the fatal palace, going, as the poet afterwards expresses it,

"Like a swan to death, singing her dirge,"

and, in a few moments after her departure, redoubled shrieks behind the scene announce the murder of Agamemnon. The Chorus, upon this oc

*

casion, act quite, as might be expected, from their character of inefficiency, and, were the occasion not so horrible, we might almost be inclined to laugh at their confusion and perplexity. Indeed, as the drama appears in the hands of Eschylus, the distinct provinces of tragedy and comedy do not seem so strictly defined as in the succeeding dramatists; and the exact copying of nature leads him occasionally into a mixture of style, which might have produced, if it had been carried a little farther, a drama of the description which Shakespeare seems to take most delight in exhibiting. The comic traits of Eschylus, however, if they can be called by that name, are very slightly marked, and can scarcely offend the most severe taste. While the Chorus are in a puzzle how to proceed,-the scene opens, and Clytemnestra is discovered standing in triumph by the dead body of her husband. It is in the following audacious and unshrinking tone that she now comes forward with all the native boldness of her character, and with that additional species of exaltation and intoxication of spirit which seems not unfrequently to accompany the commission of great crimes.

Cly. I scruple not one moment to re-
tract

The words convenience dictated-and hold
Another language now! Were not these

arts

Allowed-how could one, of his enemies
Obtain advantage-enemies that seem

friends

Or hedge them in with fence so sure, no
leap

Can clear its wide perplexity? No thought
This of a day-it rose from ancient hatred,
And hath been plotted long-and so my
Have fallen, and this foot hath trod their

foes

necks!

Ah! he could not escape me-all so true
The plot was laid, that he was fairly
netted--

Aye bodily netted like a fish-within
The splendid garment I had wound around

him;

I struck him twice-and after two loud

shrieks

His legs gave way—he fell-again I struck

him

Flat on the ground-that was a votive blow
To Pluto, the receiver of the dead!

[blocks in formation]

Who bears a fearless heart! praise me, or blame me,

I care not, I-Still I say-here he liesAgamemnon-he who was my husbandwhom

This right hand slew-aye, and slew rightly-here

He lies before you-so conceive the fact !

We

This, it must be owned, is sufficiently fiendish, and, coming so soon as it does after the grand moral picture of Cassandra, a striking contrast of character is presented to us. see, within a very short compass, the extremes of virtue and of vice, the one almost exalted to divinity, and the other with the traces of the most diabolical atrocity. A glance, as it were, is given us into the opposite regions of heaven and of hell; and we see two women resembling each other in the same great features of intelligence and of heroic courage, yet of characters so different in their moral frame, that they seem for ever to be separated, in our imagination, into the most disanother very noble purpose is answered similar states of being. In this view, The great qualities of Clytemnestra's by the introduction of Cassandra. mind might have made us admire her rather too much in spite of her atro

Instances of the same kind are to be city, were there no other character on found in Euripides.

VOL. II.

whom our admiration could rest with

the most perfect safety. Now Cassandra possesses all Clytemnestra's great endowments, but, at the same time, she stands on that moral eminence, from which the other had fallen; and we are made to see in the contrast, that, with that fall, every thing was gone that was really admirable. No other poet, perhaps, has so perfectly relieved the bad influence apt to be produced by the exhibition of noble endowments in a wicked mind. Shakespeare has done it in another way, and very finely too, though not quite so completely. The remorse and misery of his Lady Macbeth, so tremendously brought out in the sleeping scene, are evidences, in deed, that the greatest powers of mind will not save from wretchedness, if they are wickedly employed; but we have not in the play any contrast of dignified excellence to oppose to her. Milton's Satan is, throughout all his poem, too much an object of our admiration,-there are none of the good angels, except, perhaps, the Seraph Abdiel, of whom, however, we see little, that impress our minds very profoundly. And to come down to a very powerful poet of our own day,-Lord Byron trespasses still more upon the genuine course of moral sentiment, by preventing us almost from seeing any thing bad in his most detestable characters. Eschylus had got over this hazard so completely, that he seems rather to have felt that the danger lay on the other side, and that his audience would now conceive a greater antipathy to Clytemnestra than ought to be entertained towards any thing human. In what follows, he accordingly endeavours rather to palliate her guilt;-her loose attachment to Egisthus is kept a good deal in the background,-and the wrongs she had suffered from her husband in the cruel sacrifice of her daughter, are brought forward with great effect, and with all the deep feeling of an heroic, though ill-regulated mind. She thus replies to a threat of the Chorus:

Cly. O thou art ready to denounce my
banishment,

The hatred of my citizens on me,
And the full popular fury !-but on him
What was thy sentence when my lamb,
my daughter,

Though numerous flocks were bleating in
his pastures

He tore from me, a victim, to the altar

And gave the dear fruit of my bitter pangs To soothe the howlings of the Thracian

winds?

Then meet it was to thunder banishment Upon his head for such an impious deed! no-he was to render no account-but Soon as my glorious act has met thine ears I must be harshly dealt with-try thy strength

I

If thou prevailest-know that I can suffer No less than do-but take heed, if thou fail,

Lest I instruct thee, not to be so forward!

Several of those imaginary palliations which are ever ready to come to the relief of a guilty mind, and which seem to have prevailed more particularly in the creed of those ages, serve likewise to retard the advances of her remorse. The Chorus had said something of the

evil genius that seemed to preside over that house; and Clytemnestra immediately seizes the idea, and insinuates that there was a destiny in her guilt which she could not avoid.

Cly. Aye, thou hast found him now, by whom are spilt

These gory seas-the giant power of guilt

Who in our house his home hath built!
Twisted with our hearts and liver,
The thirst of blood is burning ever,
The ancient stains clean wiped out never
Ere pours afresh another foaming river!
The Chorus, however, very properly

answer.

Ch. O terrible that power, if such in-
deed

Sways this unhallowed mansion-terrible,
If true-nor less detestable the creed!
Yet Jove o'er all is powerful-nor can hell
Without his high permission weave her
spell!

Another idea, then, seems to strike the fervid imagination of the guilty

woman.

Cly. Rightly thou sayst 'twas I that reft his life, But think not that you see In me Agamemnon's wife!

No! in her form alone

The ancient fury of the house I stand, Who, from the fatal feast of Atreus, plann'd

This vengeance for the murdered boys; Pushing the hour along, unseen, no noise, When for their lives, a man's life should atone !

The reply of the Chorus is quite as sound, as could well have been made.

« PreviousContinue »