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Atlantic Monthly, Volume 3, Issue 17, March, 1859 by Various

Part 3 out of 5

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upon seeds, and hence their forages are made chiefly in the tilled
lands, where the weeds afford them an abundance of food. The negligence
of the tiller of the soil is, therefore, a great gain to the small
birds, by leaving a supply of seeds in the annual grasses that grow
thriftily with his crops.

Among these flocks of Snow-Birds, a few individuals of the common
Hair-Bird (_Fringilla socialis_) may frequently be seen. The majority of
this species migrate to a more open clime; but sufficient numbers remain
to entitle them to be included with other Snow-Birds of the Finch tribe.
He is one of the smallest of the Sparrows, of a brownish ash color
above, and grayish white beneath. He wears a little cap or turban of
brown velvet on his head, and by this mark he is readily distinguished
from his kindred Sparrows. Relying on his diminutive size for his
security, he comes quite up to our door-step, mindless of the people who
are assembled round it, and, fearless of danger, picks up the crumbs
that are scattered there. He may be seen at all seasons of the year,
though his voice is not heard in the spring so early as that of the
Song-Sparrow or the Blue-Bird. He lives chiefly on seeds, though,
like other granivorous birds, he feeds his young with grubs and small
insects. This is a general practice with the granivorous tribes, in
order to provide their young with soft and digestible food before they
are strong enough to digest the hard, coriaceous seed. Nature has formed
an exception in the Pigeon tribe; but has compensated them by providing
that the parent bird shall soften the food in her own crop before it is
given to the tender young. From the peculiar manner in which the young
are fed comes the epithet, "sucking doves."

It is common to speak disparagingly of the little Hair-Bird, as if he
were good for nothing, without beauty and without song, and, what is of
still more consequence in the eyes of the sordid epicure, too small to
be eaten, his weight of flesh not being worth a charge of powder and
shot. We can never sufficiently rejoice that there are some birds
too small to excite the avaricious feelings of these knights of the
fowling-piece and the rifle. The Hair-Bird is not to be despised,
except by epicures. Though he is contemptuously styled the
"Chipping-Sparrow,"--a name which I will never consent to apply to
him,--his voice is no mean accompaniment to the general chorus which may
be heard every still morning before sunrise, during May and June. His
continued trilling note is to this warbling band what the octave flute
is to a grand concert of artificial instruments. The voices of numbers
of these birds, which are the very first to be heard and the last to
become silent in the morning, serve to fill up the pauses in this sylvan
anthem, like a running _appoggiatural_ accompaniment in certain admired
musical compositions. How little soever the Hair-Bird may generally be
valued as a songster, his voice, I am sure, would be most sadly missed,
were it never more to be heard charmingly blending with the other louder
voices of the feathered choristers.

How often, on still, sultry nights in July, when scarcely a breath of
air is stirring among the foliage of the trees, when the humming of the
Moth might be plainly heard, as it glided by my open window, have I been
charmed with the voice of this little bird, uttered in a low, trilled
note, from the branch of some neighboring tree! He seems to be the
sentinel whom Nature has appointed to watch for the first gleam of dawn,
which he always faithfully announces before any other bird has begun to
stir. Two or three strains from his octave pipe are the signal for a
general awakening of the birds, and one by one they join the song,
until the whole air resounds with an harmonious medley of voices.
The Hair-Bird has a singular habit of sitting upon the ground, while
chirping in the early morning. His nest is placed commonly upon an
apple-tree, sometimes in a bush, but never on the ground. It is very
neatly constructed of the fibres of roots closely woven together, and
beautifully lined with fine soft hair, whence he has obtained his name.
It is not surpassed in neatness and beauty by the nest of any other

I will leave the granivorous birds to speak of another class, equally
hardy, but of habits more like those of the Woodpecker. I allude to the
Chicadees, to whose lively notes we are indebted for a great part of the
cheerfulness of a winter's walk. These notes are not a song; but there
is a liveliness in their sound, most frequently uttered during a
pleasant winter-day, causing them to be associated with these agreeable
changes in the weather. The Chicadees are not seen, like Snow-Birds,
most numerous during a snow-storm, or after a fall of snow. Their habits
are nearly the same in all weathers, except that they are more prone to
be noisy and loquacious on pleasant, sunny days.

The sounds from which the Chicadee has derived his name appear to be his
call-notes, like the crowing of a Cock or the gobbling of a Turkey, and
are probably designed by Nature to enable the birds, while scattered
singly over the forest, to signalize their presence to others of the
same species. Hence it may be observed, that, when the call is rapidly
repeated, a multitude of his kindred will immediately assemble around
the one that gave the alarm. When no alarm is intended to be given, the
bird utters these notes but seldom, and only as he passes from one tree
to another. He is probably accustomed to hearing a response, and, if one
is not soon heard, he will repeat his call until it is answered; for as
these birds do not forage the woods in flocks, this continual hailing
is carried on between them to satisfy their desire for each other's
company. A similar conversation passes between the individuals of a
flock of Chickens, when scattered over a farmyard; one, on finding
itself alone, will chirp until it hears a response, when it seems
immediately satisfied. The call-notes of the Chicadee are very lively,
with a mixture of querulousness in their tone, that renders them the
more pleasing.

The Chicadee is the smallest of the birds that remain with us during the
winter. He is a permanent resident, and everybody knows him. He is a
lively chatterer and an agreeable companion; and as he never tarries
long in one place, he does not tire one with his garrulity. He is our
attendant in all our pleasant winter-walks, in the orchard or the wood,
in the garden or by the rustic wayside. We have seen him, on still
winter-days, flitting from tree to tree, with the liveliest motions and
in the most engaging attitudes, examining every twig and branch, and
winding over and under and in and out among them, and, after a
few lively notes, hopping to another tree to pass through the same
manoeuvres. Even those who are confined to the house are not excluded
from a sight of these birds; one cannot open a window, on a bright
winter's morning, without a greeting from one of them on the nearest

Beside the note from which the Chicadee derives his name, he sometimes
utters two very plaintive notes, which are separated by a regular
musical interval, making a fourth on the descending scale. They slightly
resemble those of the Pewee, and are often supposed to come from some
other bird, so different are they from the common note of the Chicadee.
I have not been able to ascertain the circumstances under which the bird
repeats this plaintive strain, but it is uttered both in summer and
winter. Indeed, there is such a variety in the notes uttered at
different times by this bird, that, if they were repeated in
uninterrupted succession, they would form one of the most agreeable of
woodland melodies.

The Chicadee is not a singing-bird. He utters his usual notes at all
times of the year; but in the early part of summer he is addicted to a
very low but pleasant kind of warbling, considerably varied, and wanting
only more loudness and precision to entitle him to a rank with the
singing-birds. This warbling does not seem intended to cheer his
partner, but it is rather a sort of soliloquizing for his own amusement.
If it was uttered by the young birds only, we might suppose them to be
taking lessons in music, and that this was a specimen of their first
attempts. I have often heard the Golden Robin warbling in a similar

In company with the Chicadees in their foraging excursions, we often see
two Speckled Woodpeckers, differing apparently only in size, each having
a sort of red crest. The smaller of the two (_Picus pubescens_) is the
Downy Woodpecker. The birds of this species are called "Sap-Suckers,"
from their habit of making perforations in the sound branches of trees
through the bark without penetrating the wood, as if they designed only
to obtain the sap. These perforations are often made in a circle round
the branch, and it is highly probable that they follow the path of a
grub that is concealed underneath the bark. Our farmers, who suspect
every bird of some mischievous designs, accuse them of boring into the
tree for the purpose of drinking the sap.

The Woodpecker is a more restless, though not a more industrious
bird than the Chicadee, and seldom gives the branches so thorough an
examination as the latter. He searches for grubs that are concealed in
the wood of the tree; he examines those spots only where he hears their
scratchings, bores the wood to obtain them, and then flies off. But the
Chicadee looks for insects on or near the surface, and does not confine
his search to trees. He examines fences, the under part of the eaves of
houses, and the woodpile, and destroys, in the course of his foraging,
many an embryo moth and butterfly which would otherwise become the
parent of noxious larvae. The Woodpecker is often represented as the
emblem of industry; but the Chicadee is more truly emblematical of this
virtue, and the Woodpecker of perseverance, as he never tires when
drilling into the wood of a tree in quest of his prey.

Another of the companions of the Chicadee is the Brown Creeper,
(_Certhia familiaris_,) of similar habits, and commonly seen moving in a
spiral direction around the trunks and branches of trees, and, when
he is conscious of being observed, keeping on the further side of the
branch. He is more frequently seen in the winter than in the summer,
when he confines himself to the seclusion of the pine forest. The
different birds which I have named, as companions of the Chicadee, often
assemble by seeming accident in large numbers upon one tree, and meeting
with more company than is agreeable to them, they will often on these
occasions make the wood resound with their noisy disputes. They may
have been assembled by some accidental note of alarm, and on finding
no particular cause for it, they raise a shout that reminds one of the
extraordinary vociferation with which young men and boys conclude a
false alarm of fire in the early part of the night. These different
birds, though evidently social, are not gregarious, and seldom, without
vexation, endure the presence of more than two or three companions.

The Nut-Hatch (_Sitta Caroliniensis_) is often found among these
assemblages, and may be recognized by his piercing trumpet-like note.
This bird resembles the Woodpeckers in the shape of the bill, but has
only one hinder toe, instead of two; and is said to have derived its
name from a habit of breaking open or hatching nuts, to obtain the
kernel. He is a permanent inhabitant of the cold parts of the American
continent, resembling the Titmouse in his diligence and activity, and in
the various manoeuvres he performs while in quest of his insect-food.

There are times when even this class of birds, that collect their food
from the bark and wood of trees, are driven to great extremities. When
the trees are incased with ice, which, though not impenetrable by their
strong bills, prevents their laying hold of the bark with their claws
for support, they are in some danger of starving. It is at such times
that the gardens and barnyards are frequented by large numbers of
Woodpeckers, Creepers, and Nut-Hatches, driven by this necessity from
their usual haunts. A piece of suet fastened to the branch of a tree,
at any time of the winter, would soon be discovered by these birds and
afford them a grateful repast. I have frequently assembled them under my
windows by this allurement.

I will leave the Chicadees and their companions to speak of another
class of birds of different character and habits: these are the Jays,
and their sable-plumed congeners of the Crow family. In all parts of
the country that abound in woods of any description, we are sure to be
greeted by the loud voice of the Blue Jay, one of the most conspicuous
tenants of the forest. He has a beautiful outward appearance, under
which he conceals an unamiable temper and a propensity to mischief.
Indeed, there is no other bird in our forest that is arrayed in equal
splendor. His neck of fine purple, his pale azure crest and head
with silky plumes, his black crescent-shaped collar, his wings and
tail-feathers of bright blue with stripes of white and black, and his
elegant form and vivacious manners, combine to render him attractive to
all observers.

But with all this beauty, he has, like the Peacock, a harsh voice; he is
a thief, and a disturber of the peace. He is a sort of Ishmael among the
sylvan tribes, who are startled at the sound of his voice, and fear him
as a bandit. The farmer, who is well acquainted with his habits, is no
friend to him; for he not only takes what is required for his immediate
wants, but hoards a variety of articles in large quantities for future
use. It would seem as if he were aware when he was engaged in an honest
and when in a dishonest expedition; for while searching for food in the
the wood or open field, he is extremely noisy,--but when he ventures
into a barn, to take what does not belong to him, he is silent and
stealthy, and exhibits all the peculiar manners of a thief.

It would be no mean task to enumerate all the acts of mischief
perpetrated by this bird; and I cannot but look upon him as one the
most guilty of the feathered tribe. He plunders the cornfield both
at seed-time and harvest; he steals everything that is eatable, and
conceals it in his hoarding-places; he destroys the eggs of smaller
birds and devours their young; he quarrels with all other species, and
his life is a constant scene of contentions. He is restless, pugnacious,
and irascible, and always seems like one who is out on some expedition.
Yet, though a pest to other birds, he is a watchful parent and a
faithful guardian of his off-spring. It is dangerous to venture near
the nest of a pair of Jays, as they immediately attack the adventurer,
aiming their blows at his face and eyes with the most savage

Like the Magpie, the Jay has considerable talent for mimicry, and in a
state of domestication may be taught to articulate words like a Parrot.
At certain times I have heard this bird utter a few notes resembling the
tinkle of a bell, and which, if syllabled, might form such a word as
_dilly-lily_; but it is not a musical strain. Indeed, there is no music
in his nature, and in all his imitations of other sounds he prefers the
harsh to the melodious, such as the voice of the Hawk, the Owl, and
other unmusical birds.

The Blue Jay is a true American; he is known throughout this continent,
and never visits any other country. At no season is he absent from our
woods, and he is an industrious consumer of the larger insects and
grubs, atoning in this way for some of his evil deeds. In this respect,
however, his services are not to be compared to those of the Robin and
the Blue-Bird. Yet I am not prepared to say that I would consent to his
banishment, for he is one of the most cheering tenants of the groves, at
a season when they have but few inhabitants; and I never listen to his
voice without recalling a crowd of charming reminiscences of pleasant
winter excursions and adventures at an early period of my life. The very
harshness of his voice has caused it to be impressed more forcibly upon
the memory, in connection with these scenes.

The common Crow may be considered the representative, in America, of
the European Rook, which he resembles in many of his habits, performing
similar services, and being guilty of the same mischievous deeds. It
is remarkable that in Europe, where land is more valuable than in this
country, and where agriculture is carried on with an amount of skill and
nicety that would astonish an American farmer, the people are not
so jealous of the birds. In Great Britain rookeries are regular
establishments, and the Rooks, notwithstanding the mischief they do, are
protected, on account of their services to agriculture. The farmers of
Europe, having learned by repeated observation, that, without the aid
of mischievous birds, the work of the farmer would be sacrificed to
the more destructive insect-race, forgive them their trespasses, as we
forgive the trespasses of cats and dogs. The respect shown to birds by
any people seems to bear a certain ratio to the antiquity of the nation.
Hence the sacredness with which they are regarded in Japan, where the
population is so dense that the inhabitants would feel that they could
ill afford to divide the produce of their fields with the birds, unless
they were convinced of their usefulness.

The Crow is one of the most unfortunate of the feathered tribe in his
relations to man; for by almost all nations he is regarded with hatred,
and every man's hand is against him. He is protected neither by custom
nor superstition; the sentimentalist cares nothing for him as an object
of poetical regard, and the utilitarian is blind to his services as a
scavenger. The farmer considers him as the very ringleader of mischief,
and uses all means he can invent for his destruction; the friend of the
singing-birds bears him a grudge as the destroyer of their eggs and
young; and even the moralist is disposed to condemn him for his cunning
and dissimulation.

Hence he is everywhere hated and persecuted, and the expedients used for
his destruction are numerous and revolting to the sensibilities. He
is outlawed by acts of Parliament and other legislative bodies; he is
hunted with the gun; he is caught in crow-nets; he is hoodwinked with
bits of paper smeared with bird-lime, in which he is caught by means of
a bait; he is poisoned with grain steeped in hellebore and strychnine;
the reeds in which he roosts are treacherously set on fire; he is
pinioned by his wings, on his back, and is made to grapple his
sympathizing companions who come to his rescue; like an infidel, he is
not allowed the benefit of truth to save his reputation; and children,
after receiving lessons of humanity, are taught to regard the Crow as
an unworthy subject when they carry their precepts into practice. Every
government has set a price upon his head, and every people holds him up
to public execration.

As an apology for these atrocities, might be enumerated a long catalogue
of misdemeanors of which he is guilty. He pillages the cornfield, and
pulls up the young shoots of maize to obtain the kernels attached to
their roots; he destroys the eggs and the young of innocent birds which
we should like to preserve; he purloins fruit from the garden and
orchard, and carries off young ducks and chickens from the farmyard.
Beside his mischievous propensities and his habits of thieving, he is
accused of cunning, and of a depraved disposition. He who would plead
for the Crow will not deny the general truth of these accusations, but,
on the other hand, would enumerate certain special benefits which he
confers upon man.

In the catalogue of the services of this bird we find many details
which should lead us to pause before we consent to his destruction. He
consumes, in the course of the year, vast quantities of grubs, worms,
and noxious vermin; he is a valuable scavenger, and clears the land
of offensive masses of decaying animal substances; he hunts the
grass-fields, and pulls out and devours the underground caterpillars,
wherever he perceives the signs of their operations, as evinced by the
wilted stalks; he destroys mice, young rats, lizards, and the smaller
serpents; lastly, he is a volunteer sentinel about the farm, and drives
the Hawk from its inclosures, thus preventing greater mischief than
that of which he himself is guilty. It is chiefly during seed-time and
harvest that the depredations of the Crow are committed; during the
remainder of the year we witness only his services; and so highly are
these services appreciated by those who have written of birds, that I
cannot name an ornithologist who does not plead in his behalf.

Let us turn our attention, for a moment, to his moral qualities. In vain
is he accused of cunning, when without this quality he could not live.
His wariness is really a virtue, and, under the circumstances in which
he is placed, it is his principal means of self-preservation. He has no
moral principles, no creed, to which he is under obligations to offer
himself as a martyr. His cunning is his armor; and I am persuaded that
the persecutions to which he has always been subjected have caused the
development of an amount of intelligence that elevates him many degrees
above the majority of the feathered race.

There are few birds that equal the Crow in sagacity. He observes many
things that would seem to require the faculties of a rational being. He
judges with accuracy, from the deportment of the person approaching him,
if he is prepared to do him an injury; and seems to pay no regard to one
who is strolling the fields in search of flowers or for recreation. On
such occasions, one may get so near him as to observe his manners, and
even to note the varying shades of his plumage. But in vain does the
sportsman endeavor to approach him. So sure is he to fly at the right
moment for his safety, that one might suppose he could measure the
distance of gunshot.

The voice of the Crow is like no other sound uttered by the feathered
race; it is harsh and unmelodious, and though he is capable, when
domesticated, of imitating human speech, he cannot sing. But Aesop
mistook the character of this bird when he represented him as the dupe
of the fox, who gained the bit of cheese he carried in his mouth by
inducing him to exhibit his musical powers. The Crow could not be fooled
by any such appeals to his vanity.

The Crow is commonly regarded as a homely bird; yet he is not without
beauty. His coat of glossy black with violet reflections, his dark eyes
and sagacious expression of countenance, his stately and graceful gait,
and his steady and equable flight, combine to give him a proud and
dignified appearance. The Crow and the Raven have always been celebrated
for their gravity, a character that seems to be the result of their
black sacerdotal vesture, and of certain manifestations of intelligence
in their ways and general deportment. Indeed, any one who should watch
the motions of the Crow for the space of five minutes, either when he is
stalking alone in the field, or when he is careering with his fellows
around some tall tree in the forest, would acknowledge that he deserves
to be called a grave bird.

Setting aside the services rendered by the Crow to agriculture, I esteem
him for certain qualities which are agreeably associated with the charms
of Nature. It is not the singing-birds alone that contribute by their
voices to gladden the husbandman and cheer the solitary traveller. The
crowing of the Cock at the break of day is as joyful a sound, though not
so musical, as the voice of the Robin who chants his lays at the same
early hour. To me the cawing of the Crow is cheering and delightful, and
it is heard long before the majority of birds have left their perch. If
not one of the melodies of morn, it is one of the most notable sounds
that herald its approach. And how intimately is the voice of this bird
associated with the sunshine of calm winter-days,--with our woodland
excursions during this inclement season,--with the stroke of the
woodman's axe,--with open doors in bright and pleasant weather, when the
eaves are dripping with the melting snow,--and with all those cheerful
sounds that enliven the groves during that period when every object
is valuable that relieves the silence or softens the dreary aspect of

If we leave the open fields and woods, and ramble near the coast to some
retired and solitary branch of the sea, our meditations may be suddenly
startled by the harsh voice of the Kingfisher, like the sound of a
watchman's rattle. This bird is seldom seen in winter in the interior;
most of his species migrate southwardly and to the sea-coast, just so
far as to be within reach of the open waters. As they subsist on the
smaller kinds of fishes, they would perish with hunger, after the waters
are frozen, if they did not migrate. But the Kingfisher often remains on
the coast during open winters, and may therefore be considered one of
our winter-birds.

This bird is the celebrated Alcedo, or Halcyon, of the ancients, who
attributed to him many apparently supernatural powers. He was supposed
to construct his nest upon the waves, on which it was made to float like
a skiff. But as the turbulence of a storm would be likely to cause its
destruction, Nature had gifted him with the extraordinary power of
stilling the motions of the winds and waves, during the period of
incubation. Hence the serene weather that accompanies the summer
solstice was supposed to be occasioned by the benign influence of this
bird, and the term "halcyon days" was applied to this period. It is
remarkable that the fable should add to these supernatural gifts the
power of song, as one of the accomplishments of the Kingfisher. These
superstitions must have been very general among the ancients, and were
not confined to the Greeks and Romans. Some of the Asiatic nations still
wear the skin of the Kingfisher about their persons, as a protection
against both moral and physical evils; the feathers are used as
love-charms; and it is believed, that, if the body of the Kingfisher be
evenly fixed upon a pivot, it will turn its head to the north, like the
magnetic needle.

This bird is singularly grotesque in his appearance, though not without
beauty of plumage. With his long, straight, and quadrangular bill, his
short and diminutive feet and legs, and his immense head, his plumage
of a handsome dusky blue, with a bluish band on the breast and a white
collar around the neck,--when this mixture of the grotesque and the
beautiful is considered in connection with the singularity of his
habits, we need not marvel at the superstitions connected with his
history. He sits patiently, like an angler, on a post at the head of a
wharf, or on a branch of a tree that extends over the bank, and, leaning
obliquely, with extended head and beak, he watches for his finny prey.
There, with the light blue sky above him and the dark blue waves
beneath, nothing on the surface of the water can escape his penetrating
eyes. Quickly, with a sudden swoop, he seizes a single fish from an
unsuspecting shoal, and announces his success by the peculiar sound of
his rattle.

It may not have been observed by all that the most interesting periods
or situations for rambling are not those which most abound with exciting
scenes and objects. There must be a certain dearth of individual objects
that draw the attention, intermingled with occasional remarkable or
mysterious sights and sounds, to yield an excursion its greatest
interest. The hunter (unless he be a purveyor for the market)
understands this philosophy, and knows that there is more pleasure
in chasing a single deer or a solitary fox over miles of pasture
and moorland, than in hunting where these animals are abundant, and
slaughtering them as fast as one can load his gun. The pleasures
attending a rural excursion in the winter are founded on this fact, and
may be explained by this principle. There, amid the general silence,
every sound attracts attention and is accompanied by its echo; and since
the trees and shrubs have lost their leafy garniture, every tree and
other object has its own distinct shadow, and we fix our attention
more easily upon anything that excites our interest than when it is
distracted by the confusion of numbers.

Hence it is in the winter that the picturesque character of the flight
of birds is particularly noticeable. In summer, and in autumn, before
the fall of the leaf, birds are partially concealed by the foliage of
trees, so that the manner of their flight does not become so readily
apparent. But in winter, if we start a flock of birds from the ground,
we can hardly avoid taking notice of all the peculiarities of their
movements. I have alluded to the descent of Snow-Buntings upon the
landscape as singularly picturesque; but the motions of a flock of
Quails, when suddenly aroused from a thicket, are not less so. When a
Pigeon, or any other bird with strong and large wings, takes flight, the
motions of its wings are not vibratory, and its progress through the air
is so rapid as to injure the pleasing effect of its motions, because we
obtain no distinct perception of the bird during its flight. It is quite
otherwise with the Quail. The body of this bird is plump and heavy, and
his wings are short, and have a peculiar concavity of the under surface
when expanded; their motions are very rapid, and, having but little
sweep, the bird seems to sail on the air, carried along by a gentle but
rapid vibration of the wings, which describe only a very small arc of a
circle. Hence we observe the entire shape of the bird during its flight.
The Partridge, and other gallinaceous birds, fly in a similar manner;
but, on account of their larger size, their motions are less attractive.

The Humming-Bird has proportionally larger wings than the Quail, and,
when flying, his wings describe almost a complete circle in their rapid
vibrations. If we look upon one during his flight, he seems to have no
wings, but rather to be encircled by a semi-transparent halo. There
are other birds that seem to be wings only, their bodies being hardly
perceptible, on account of their small proportional size; such are the
Swallow, the Pigeon, the Cuckoo, and the Night-Hawk.

Birds of prey are remarkable for their steady and graceful flight; the
motion of their wings is slow, while, like the Pigeon, they are capable
of propelling themselves through the air with great rapidity. The
circumgyrations of a Hawk, when reconnoitring far aloft in the air, are
singularly graceful. The flight of the Crow and the Raven is slow and
apparently difficult, and they are easily overtaken and annoyed by the
King-Bird and other small birds. They are not formed, like the Falcon,
to catch their prey upon the wing, and, though their wings are large and
powerful, they are incapable of performing those graceful and difficult
evolutions which we observe in the flight of birds of prey. The flight
of Herons resembles that of the Raven.

Small birds, with the exception of a few species, move in an undulating
course, alternately rising and sinking. Birds that move in this manner
are, I believe, incapable of making a long journey on the wing without
rest, and commonly perform their migrations by short daily stages.

The flight of the little Sand-Pipers, which frequent the salt marshes in
numerous flocks, is particularly worthy of study. It is not unlike the
flight of Quails, but more evenly sustained, on account of the greater
length and power of their wings. These birds are capable of holding an
even flight in a perfectly horizontal line, only a few inches above the
surface of the ground. When they alight, they seldom make a curve or
gyration, but descend in a straight and oblique course. Snow-Buntings
usually turn about, just before they reach the ground; and I have
seen them perform the most intricate changes, like the movements of a
cotillon-party, executed with the rapidity of arrows, when suddenly
checked in their flight by the discovery of a good tract of forage.

With these observations, which might be indefinitely extended, I take
leave of the subject, simply remarking, that to the motions of birds, no
less than to their beauty of plumage and the sounds of their voices,
are we indebted for a great part of the picturesque attractions of
landscape; and the more we study them, the more are we convinced, that,
in whatever direction we turn our observations, we may extend them to
infinity. There is no limit to any study of Nature, and even one so
apparently insignificant as the flight of birds leads to an endless
series of interesting facts, and opens the eyes to new beauties in the
aspect of Nature and new sources of rational delight.




The year 1289 was one marked in the annals of Florence and of Italy by
events which are still famous, scored by the genius of Dante upon the
memory of the world. It was in this year that Count Ugolino and his sons
and grandsons were starved by the Pisans in their tower prison. A few
months later, Francesca da Rimini was murdered by her husband. Between
the dates of these two terrible events the Florentines had won the great
victory of Campaldino; and thus, in this short space, the materials had
been given to the poet for the two best-known and most powerful stories
and for one of the most striking episodes of the "Divina Commedia."

In the great and hard-fought battle of Campaldino Dante himself took
part. "I was at first greatly afraid," he says, in a letter of which
but a few sentences have been preserved,[A]--"but at the end I felt the
greatest joy,--according to the various chances of the battle." When the
victorious army returned to Florence, a splendid procession, with the
clergy at its head, with the arts of the city each under its banner, and
with all manner of pomp, went out to meet it. There were long-continued
feasts and rejoicings. The battle had been fought on the 11th of June,
the day of St. Barnabas, and the Republic, though already engaged in
magnificent works of church-building, decreed that a new church should
be erected in honor of the Saint on whose day the victory had been won.

[Footnote A: See Lionardo Aretino's _Vita di Dante._]

A little later in that summer, Dante was one of a troop of Florentines
who joined the forces of Lucca in levying war upon the Pisan territory.
The stronghold of Caprona was taken, and Dante was present at its
capture; for he says, (_Inferno,_ xxi. 94-96,) "I saw the foot-soldiers,
who, having made terms, came out from Caprona, afraid when they beheld
themselves among so many enemies."[B]

[Footnote B: Landino, and most of the commentators after him, state that
Dante refers in this passage to the fear of the garrison taken in
the place when it was recaptured the next year by the Pisans. But as
Florence and Pisa continued at desperate enmity, Dante could hardly have
witnessed this latter scene.]

Thus, during a great part of the summer of 1289, Dante was in active
service as a soldier. He was no lovesick idler, no mere home-keeping
writer of verses, but was already taking his part in the affairs of the
state which he was afterwards to be called on for a time to assist in
governing, and he was laying up those stores of experience which were to
serve as the material out of which his vivifying imagination was to form
the great national poem of Italy. But of this active life, of these
personal engagements, of these terrible events which took such strong
possession of his soul, there is no word, no suggestion even, in the
book of his "New Life." In it there is no echo, however faint, of those
storms of public violence and private passion which broke dark over
Italy. In the midst of the tumults which sprang from the jealousies of
rival states, from the internal discords of cities, from the divisions
of parties, from the bitterness of domestic quarrels,--this little book
is full of tenderness and peace, and tells its story of love as if the
world were the abode of tranquillity. No external excitements could
break into the inner chambers of Dante's heart to displace the love that
dwelt within them. The contrast between the purity and the serenity of
the "Vita Nuova" and the coarseness and cruelty of the deeds that were
going on while it was being written is complete. Every man in some sort
leads a double life,--one real and his own, the other seeming and the
world's,--but with few is the separation so entire as it was with

But in these troubled times the "New Life" was drawing to its close.
The spring of 1290 had come, and the poet, now twenty-five years old,
sixteen years having passed since he first beheld Beatrice, was engaged
in writing a poem to tell what effect the virtue of his lady wrought
upon him. He had written but the following portion when it was broken
off, never to be resumed:--

"So long hath Love retained me at his hest,
And to his sway hath so accustomed me,
That as at first he cruel used to be,
So in my heart he now doth sweetly rest.
Thus when by him my strength is dispossessed,
So that the spirits seem away to flee,
My frail soul feels such sweetness verily,
That with it pallor doth my face invest.
Then Love o'er me such mastery doth seize,
He makes my sighs in words to take their way,
And they unto my lady go to pray
That she to give me further grace would please.
Where'er she sees me, this to me occurs,
Nor can it be believed what humbleness is hers."

"'Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo! facta est quasi vidua domina
gentium!' [How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! how
is she become as a widow, she that was great among the nations!][C]

[Footnote C: _Lamentations_, I. 1.]

"I was yet engaged upon this Canzone, and had finished the above stanza,
when the Lord of justice called this most gentle one unto glory under
the banner of that holy Queen Mary whose name was ever spoken with
greatest reverence by this blessed Beatrice.[D]

[Footnote D: There is among the Canzoni of Dante one beginning,

"Morte poich' io non truovo a cui mi doglia,"

which seems to have been written during the illness of Beatrice, in view
of her approaching death. It is a beautiful and touching poem. Death is
besought to spare that lady, "who of every good is the true gate."--"If
thou extinguishest the light of those beautiful eyes, which were wont to
be so sweet a guide to mine, I see that thou desirest my death."

"O Death, delay not mercy, if 'tis thine!
For now I seem to see the heavens ope,
And Angels of the Lord descending here,
Intent to bear away the holy soul
Of her whose honor there above is sung."]

"And although it might give pleasure, were I now to tell somewhat of her
departure from us, it is not my intention to treat of it here for three
reasons. The first is, that it is no part of the present design, as may
be seen in the proem of this little book. The second is, that, supposing
it were so, my pen would not be sufficient to treat of it in a fitting
manner. The third is, that, supposing both the one and the other, it
would not be becoming in me to treat of it, since, in doing so, I
should be obliged to praise myself,--a thing altogether blameworthy in
whosoever does it,--and therefore I leave this subject to some other

"Nevertheless, since in what precedes there has been occasion to make
frequent mention of the number nine,[E] and apparently not without
reason, and since in her departure this number appeared to have a large
place, it is fitting to say something on this point, seeing that it
seems to belong to our design. Wherefore I will first tell how it had
place in her departure, and then I will assign some reason why this
number was so friendly to her. I say, that, according to the mode of
reckoning in Italy, her most noble soul departed in the first hour of
the ninth day of the month; and according to the reckoning, in Syria,
she departed in the ninth month of the year, since the first month there
is Tismim, which with us is October; and according to our reckoning, she
departed in that year of our indiction, that is, of the years of the
Lord, in which the perfect number[F] was completed for the ninth time in
that century in which she had been set in the world; and she was of the
Christians of the thirteenth century.[G]

[Footnote E: In the earlier part of the _Vita Nuova_ there are many
references to this number. We translate in full the passage given above,
as one of the most striking illustrations of Dante's youthful fondness
for seeking for the mystical relations and inner meanings of things. The
attributing such importance to the properties of the number nine, though
it might at first seem puerile and an indication of poverty of feeling,
was a portion of the superstitious belief of the age, in which Dante
naturally shared. The mysterious properties of numbers were a subject of
serious study, and were connected with various branches of science and
of life.

"Themistius vero, et Boethius, et Averrois Babylonius, cum Platone, sic
numeros extollunt, ut neminem absque illis posse recte philosophari
putent. Loquuntur autem de numero rationali et formali, non de
materiali, sensibili, sive vocali numero mercatorum.... Sed intendunt ad
proportionem ex illo resultantem, quem numerum naturalem et formalem et
rationalem vocant; ex quo magna sacramenta emanant, tam in naturalibus
quam divinis atque coelestibus.... In numeris itaque magnam latere
efficaciam et virtutem tam ad borum quam ad malum, non modo
splendidissimi philosophi unanimiter docent, sed etiam doctores
Catholici."--Cornelii Agrippae _De Occulta Philosophia_, Liber Secundus,
cc. 2, 3.]

[Footnote F: The perfect number is ten.]

[Footnote G: Thus it appears that Beatrice died on the 9th of June,
1290. She was a little more than twenty-four years old.]

"One reason why this number was so friendly to her may be this: since,
according to Ptolemy and the Christian truth, there are nine heavens
which move, and, according to the common astrological opinion, these
heavens work effects here below according to their relative positions,
this number was her friend, to the end that it might be understood that
at her generation all the nine movable heavens were in most perfect
conjunction.[H] This is one reason; but considering more subtilely and
according to infallible truth, this number was she herself,--I speak in
a similitude, and I mean as follows. The number three is the root of
nine, since, without any other number, multiplied by itself, it makes
nine,--as we see plainly that three times three are nine. Then, if
three is the factor by itself of nine, and the Author of Miracles[I]
by himself is three,--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are three and
one,--this lady was accompanied by the number nine that it might be
understood that she was a nine, that is, a miracle, whose only root is
the marvellous Trinity. Perhaps a more subtle person might discover some
more subtile reason for this; but this is the one that I see for it, and
which pleases me the best."

[Footnote H: Compare with this passage Ballata v.,

"Io mi son pargoletta bella e nova,"

and Sonnet xlv.,

"Da quella luce che 'I suo corso gira";

the latter probably in praise of Philosophy.]

[Footnote I: The point is here lost in a translation,--_factor_ and
_author_ being expressed in the original by one word, _fattore_.]

After thus treating of the number nine in its connection with Beatrice,
Dante goes on to say, that, when this most gentle lady had gone from
this world, the city appeared widowed and despoiled of every dignity;
whereupon he wrote to the princes of the earth an account of its
condition, beginning with the words of Jeremiah which he quoted at the
entrance of this new matter. The remainder of this letter he does not
give, because it was in Latin, and in this work it was his intention,
from the beginning, to write only in the vulgar tongue; and such was the
understanding of the friend for whom he writes,--that friend being, as
we may suppose, Guido Cavalcanti, whom Dante, it may be remembered,
has already spoken of as the chief among his friends. Then succeeds
a Canzone lamenting the death of Beatrice, which, instead of being
followed by a verbal exposition, as is the case with all that have gone
before, is preceded by one, in order that it may seem, as it were,
desolate and like a widow at its end. And this arrangement is preserved
in regard to all the remaining poems in the little volume. In this poem
he says that the Eternal Sire called Beatrice to himself, because he saw
that this world was not worthy of such a gentle thing; and he says of
his own life, that no tongue could tell what it has been since his lady
went away to heaven.

Among the sonnets ascribed to Dante is one which, if it be his, must
have been written about this time, and which, although not included in
the "Vita Nuova," seems not unworthy to find a place here. Its imagery,
at least, connects it with some of the sonnets in the earlier portion of
the book.

"One day came Melancholy unto me,
And said, 'With thee I will awhile abide';
And, as it seemed, attending at her side,
Anger and Grief did bear her company.

"'Depart! Away!' I cried out eagerly.
Then like a Greek she unto me replied;
And while she stood discoursing in her pride,
I looked, and Love approaching us I see,

"In cloth of black full strangely was he clad,
A little hood he wore upon his head,
And down his face tears flowing fast he had.

"'Poor little wretch! what ails thee?' then I said.
And he replied, 'I woful am, and sad,
Sweet brother, for our lady who is dead.'"

About this time, Dante tells us, a person who stood to him in friendship
next to his first friend, and who was of the closest relationship to his
glorious lady, so that we may believe it was her brother, came to
him and prayed him to write something on a lady who was dead. Dante,
believing that he meant the blessed Beatrice, accordingly wrote for him
a sonnet; and then, reflecting that so short a poem appeared but a poor
and bare service for one who was so nearly connected with her, added to
it a Canzone, and gave both to him.

As the months passed on, his grief still continued fresh, and the memory
of his lady dwelt continually with him. It happened, that, "on that day
which completed a year since this lady was made one of the citizens of
eternal life, I was seated in a place where, remembering her, I drew
an Angel upon certain tablets. And while I was drawing it, I turned
my eyes, and saw at my side certain men to whom it was becoming to do
honor, and who were looking at what I did; and, as was afterward told
me, they had been there now some time before I perceived them. When I
saw them, I rose, and, saluting them, said, 'Another was just now with
me, and on that account I was in thought.' When these persons had gone,
I returned to my work, that is, to drawing figures of Angels; and while
doing this, a thought came to me of saying words in rhyme, as for an
anniversary poem for her, and of addressing them to those who had come
to me. Then I said this sonnet, which has two beginnings:--


"Unto my mind remembering had come
The gentle lady, with such pure worth graced,
That by the Lord Most High she had been placed
Within the heaven of peace, where Mary hath her home."


"Unto my mind had come, indeed, in thought,
That gentle one for whom Love's tears are shed,
Just at the time when, by his power led,
To see what I was doing you were brought.

"Love, who within my mind did her perceive,
Was roused awake within my wasted heart,
And said unto my sighs, 'Go forth! depart!'
Whereon each one in grief did take its leave.

"Lamenting they from out my breast did go,
And uttering a voice that often led
The grievous tears unto my saddened eyes.

"But those which issued with the greatest woe,
'O noble soul,' they in departing said,
'To-day makes up the year since thou to heaven didst rise.'"

The preceding passage is one of the many in the "Vita Nuova" which are
of peculiar interest, as illustrating the personal tastes of Dante, and
the common modes of his life. "I was drawing," he says, "the figure of
an Angel"; and this statement is the more noticeable, because Giotto,
the man who set painting on its modern course, was not yet old enough
to have exercised any influence upon Dante.[J] The friendship which
afterwards existed between them had its beginning at a later period. At
this time Cimabue still held the field. He often painted angels around
the figures of the Virgin and her Child; and in his most famous picture,
in the Church of Sta. Maria Novella, there are certain angels of which
Vasari says, with truth, that, though painted in the Greek manner, they
show an approach toward the modern style of drawing. These angels may
well have seemed beautiful to eyes accustomed to the hard unnaturalness
of earlier works. The love of Art pervaded Florence, and a nature so
sensitive and so sympathetic as Dante's could not but partake of it
in the fullest measure. Art was then no adjunct of sentimentalism, no
encourager of idleness. It was connected with all that was most serious
and all that was most delightful in life. It is difficult, indeed, to
realize the delight which it gave, and the earnestness with which it was
followed at this period, when it seemed, as by a miracle, to fling off
the winding-sheet which had long wrapped its stiffened limbs, and to
come forth with new and unexampled life.

[Footnote J: In this year, 1291, Giotto was but fifteen years old,
and probably a student with Cimabue. Benvenuto da Imola, who lectured
publicly at Bologna on the _Divina Commedia_ in the year 1378, reports,
that, while Giotto, still a young man, was painting at Padua, Dante
visited him. And Vasari says, that it was a tradition, that Giotto had
painted, in a chapel at Naples, scenes out of the _Apocalypse_, from
designs furnished him by the poet. If we may believe another tradition,
which there seems indeed little reason to doubt, Giotto went to Ravenna
during the last years of Dante's life, that he might spend there some
time in company with his exiled friend.]

The strength and the intelligence of Dante's love of Art are shown in
many beautiful passages and allusions in the "Divina Commedia." There
was something of universality, not only in his imagination, but also in
his acquisitions. Of the sources of learning which were then open, there
was not one which he had not visited; of the fountains of inspiration,
not one out of which he had not drunk. All the arts--poetry, painting,
sculpture, and music--were alike dear to him. His Canzoni were written
to be sung; and one of the most charming scenes in the great poem is
that in which is described his meeting with his friend Casella, the
musician, who sang to him one of his own Canzoni so sweetly, that "the
sweetness still within me sounds."[K]

[Footnote K: This Canzone, to the exposition of which the third Trattato
of the _Convito_ is devoted, has been inimitably translated by the
Reverend Charles T. Brooks. We believe it to be the happiest version
of one of Dante's minor poems that exists in our language,--and every
student of the poet will recognize the success with which very great
difficulties have been overcome. It appeared in the _Crayon_, for
February, 1853.]

"Dante took great delight in music, and was an excellent draughtsman,"
says Aretino, his second biographer; and Boccaccio reports, that in his
youth he took great pleasure in music, and was the friend of all the
best musicians and singers of his time. There is, perhaps, in the
whole range of literature, no nobler homage to Art than that which is
contained in the tenth and twelfth cantos of the "Purgatory," in which
Dante represents the Creator himself as using its means to impress the
lessons of truth upon those whose souls were being purified for the
final attainment of heaven. The passages are too long for extract, and
though their wonderful beauty tempts us to linger over them, we must
return to the course of the story of Dante's life as it appears in the
concluding pages of the "New Life."

Many months had passed since Beatrice's death, when Dante happened to
be in a place which recalled the past time to him, and filled him with
grief. While standing here, he raised his eyes and saw a young and
beautiful lady looking out from a window compassionately upon his sad
aspect. The tenderness of her look touched his heart and moved his
tears. Many times afterwards he saw her, and her face was always full
of compassion, and pale, so that it reminded him of the look of his own
most noble lady. But at length his eyes began to delight too much in
seeing her; wherefore he often cursed their vanity, and esteemed
himself as vile, and there was a hard battle within himself between the
remembrance of his lady and the new desire of his eyes.

At length, he says, "The sight of this lady brought me into so new
a condition, that I often thought of her as of one who pleased me
exceedingly,--and I thought of her thus: 'This is a gentle, beautiful,
young, and discreet lady, and she has perhaps appeared by will of
Love, in order that my life may find repose.' And often I thought more
amorously, so that my heart consented in it, that is, approved my
reasoning. And after it had thus consented, I, moved as if by reason,
reflected, and said to myself, 'Ah, what thought is this that in so vile
a way seeks to console me, and leaves me scarcely any other thought?'
Then another thought rose up and said, 'Now that thou hast been in so
great tribulation of Love, why wilt thou not withdraw thyself from such
bitterness? Thou seest that this is an inspiration that sets the desires
of Love before thee, and proceeds from a place no less gentle than
the eyes of the lady who has shown herself so pitiful toward thee.'
Wherefore, I, having often thus combated with myself, wished to say some
words of it. And as, in this battle of thoughts, those which spoke for
her won the victory, it seemed to me becoming to address her, and I said
this sonnet, which begins, 'A gentle thought'; and I called it _gentle_
because I was speaking to a gentle lady,--but otherwise it was most

"A gentle thought that of you holds discourse
Cometh now frequently with me to dwell,
And in so sweet a way of Love doth tell,
My heart to yield unto him he doth force.
"'Who, then, is this,' the soul says to the heart,
'Who cometh to bring comfort to our mind?
And is his virtue of so potent kind,
That other thoughts he maketh to depart?'
"'O saddened soul,' the heart to her replies,
'This is a little spirit fresh from Love,
Whose own desires he before me brings;
"'His very life and all his power doth move
Forth from the sweet compassionating eyes
Of her so grieved by our sufferings.'"

"One day, about the ninth hour, there arose within me a strong
imagination opposed to this adversary of reason. For I seemed to see
the glorified Beatrice in that crimson garment in which she had first
appeared to my eyes, and she seemed to me young, of the same age as when
I first saw her. Then I began to think of her, and, calling to mind the
past time in its order, my heart began to repent bitterly of the desire
by which it had so vilely allowed itself for some days to be possessed,
contrary to the constancy of reason. And this so wicked desire being
expelled, all my thoughts returned to their most gentle Beatrice, and
I say that thenceforth I began to think of her with my heart possessed
utterly by shame, so that it was often manifested by my sighs; for
almost all of them, as they went forth, told what was discoursed of in
my heart,--the name of that gentlest one, and how she had gone from
us.... And I wished that my wicked desire and vain temptation might be
known to be at an end; and that the rhymed words which I had before
written might induce no doubt, I proposed to make a sonnet in which I
would include what I have now told."

With this sonnet Dante ends the story in the "Vita Nuova" of the
wandering of his eyes, and the short faithlessness of his heart; but
it is retold with some additions in the "Convito" or "Banquet," a work
written many years afterward; and in this later version there are some
details which serve to fill out and illustrate the earlier narrative.[L]
The same tender and refined feeling which inspires the "Vita Nuova"
gives its tone to all the passages in which the poet recalls his
youthful days and the memory of Beatrice in this work of his sorrowful
manhood. In the midst of its serious and philosophic discourse this
little story winds in and out its thread of personal recollection and of
sweet romantic sentiment. It affords new insight into the recesses of
Dante's heart, and exhibits the permanence of the gracious qualities of
his youth.

[Footnote L: The differences in the two accounts of this period of
Dante's experience, and the view of Beatrice presented in the _Convito,_
suggest curious and interesting questions, the solution of which has
been obscured by the dulness of commentators. We must, however, leave
the discussion of these points till some other opportunity.]

Its opening sentence is full of the imagery of love. "Since the death of
that blessed Beatrice who lives in heaven with the angels, and on
earth with my soul, the star of Venus had twice shone in the different
seasons, as the star of morning and of evening, when that gentle lady,
of whom I have made mention near the close of the "New Life," first
appeared before my eyes accompanied by Love, and gained some place in my
mind. ... And before this love could become perfect, there arose a
great battle between the thought that sprang from it and that which was
opposed to it, and which still held the fortress of my mind for the
glorified Beatrice."[M]

[Footnote M: _Convito_, Tratt. ii. c. 3.]

And so hard was this struggle, and so painful, that Dante took
refuge from it in the composition of a poem addressed to the Angelic
Intelligences who move the third heaven, that is, the heaven of Venus;
and it is to the exposition of the true meaning of this Canzone that
the second book or treatise of the "Convito" is directed. In one of the
later chapters he says, (and the passage is a most striking one, from
its own declaration, as well as from its relation to the vision of the
"Divina Commedia,")--"The life of my heart was wont to be a sweet and
delightful thought, which often went to the feet of the Lord of those
to whom I speak, that is, to God,--for, thinking, I contemplated the
kingdom of the Blessed. And I tell [in my poem] the final cause of my
mounting thither in thought, when I say, 'There I beheld a lady in
glory'; [and I say this] in order that it may be understood that I was
certain, and am certain, through her gracious revelation, that she was
in heaven, whither I in my thought oftentimes went,--as it were, seized
up. And this made me desirous of death, that I might go there where she
was."[N] Following upon the chapter in which this remarkable passage
occurs is one which is chiefly occupied with a digression upon the
immortality of the soul,--and with discourse upon this matter, says
Dante, "it will be beautiful to finish speaking of that living and
blessed Beatrice, of whom I intend to say no more in this book.... And
I believe and affirm and am certain that I shall pass after this to
another and better life, in which that glorious lady lives of whom my
soul was enamored."[O]

[Footnote N: _Convito_, Tratt. ii. c. 8.]

[Footnote O: Id. c. 9.]

But it is not from the "Convito" alone that this portion of the "Vita
Nuova" receives illustration. In that passage of the "Purgatory" in
which Beatrice is described as appearing in person to her lover the
first time since her death, she addresses him in words of stern rebuke
of his fickleness and his infidelity to her memory. The whole scene is,
perhaps, unsurpassed in imaginative reality; the vision appears to have
an actual existence, and the poet himself is subdued by the power of his
own imagination. He tells the words of Beatrice with the same feeling
with which he would have repeated them, had they fallen on his mortal
ear. His grief and shame are real, and there is no element of feigning
in them. That in truth he had seemed to himself to listen to and to
behold what he tells, it is scarcely possible to doubt. Beatrice says,--

"Some while at heart my presence kept him sound;
My girlish eyes to his observance lending,
I led him with me on the right way bound.
When of my second age the steps ascending,
I bore my life into another sphere,
Then stole he from me, after others bending.
When I arose from flesh to spirit clear,
When beauty, worthiness, upon me grew,
I was to him less pleasing and less dear."[P]

[Footnote P: Purgatory, c. xxx. vv. 118-126.--CAYLEY'S Translation.]

But although Beatrice only gives utterance to the self-reproaches of
Dante, we have seen already how fully he had atoned for this first and
transient unfaithfulness of his heart. The remainder of the "Vita Nuova"
shows how little she had lost of her power over him, how reverently he
honored her memory, how constant was his love of her whom he should see
never again with his earthly eyes. Returning to the "New Life,"--

"After this tribulation," he says, "at that time when many people were
going to see the blessed image which Jesus Christ left to us as the
likeness of his most beautiful countenance,[Q] which my lady now beholds
in glory, it happened that certain pilgrims passed through a street
which is almost in the middle of that city where the gentlest lady was
born, lived, and died,--and they went along, as it seemed to me, very
pensive. And thinking about them, I said to myself, 'These appear to me
to be pilgrims from a far-off region, and I do not believe that they
have even heard speak of this lady, and they know nothing of her; their
thoughts are rather of other things than of her; for, perhaps, they are
thinking of their distant friends, whom we do not know.' Then I said to
myself, 'I know, that, if these persons were from a neighboring country,
they would show some sign of trouble as they pass through the midst of
this grieving city.' Then again I said, 'If I could hold them awhile, I
would indeed make them weep before they went out from this city; for I
would say words to them which would make whoever should hear them weep.'
Then, when they had passed out of sight, I proposed to make a sonnet in
which I would set forth that which I had said to myself; and in order
that it might appear more pity-moving, I proposed to say it as if I had
spoken to them, and I said this sonnet, which begins, 'O pilgrims.'

[Footnote Q: The most precious relic at Rome, and the one which chiefly
attracted pilgrims, during a long period of the Middle Ages, was the
Veronica, or representation of the Saviour's face, supposed to have been
miraculously impressed upon the handkerchief with which he wiped his
face on his way to Calvary. It was preserved at St. Peter's and shown
only on special occasions. Compare with this passage the lines in the
_Paradiso_, c. xxxi. 103-8:--

"As one that haply from Croatia came
To see our Veronica, and no whit
Could be contented with its olden fame,
Who in his heart saith, when they're showing it,
'O Jesu Christ! O very Lord God mine!
Does truly this thy feature counterfeit?'"

G. Villani says, that in 1300, the year of jubilee, for the consolation
of Christian pilgrims, the Veronica was shown in St. Peter's every
Friday, and on other solemn festivals. viii. 36.]

"I called them _pilgrims_ in the wide sense of that word; for pilgrims
may be understood in two ways,--one wide, and one narrow. In the wide,
whoever is out of his own country is so far a pilgrim; in the narrow
use, by pilgrim is meant he only who goes to or returns from the house
of St. James.[R] Moreover, it is to be known that those who travel in
the service of the Most High are called by three distinct terms. Those
who go beyond the sea, whence often they bring back the palm, are called
_palmers_. Those who go to the house of Galicia are called _pilgrims_,
because the burial-place of St. James was more distant from his country
than that of any other of the Apostles. And those are called _romei_ who
go to Rome, where these whom I call pilgrims were going.

[Footnote R: The shrine of St. James, at Compostella, (contracted from
_Giacomo Apostolo_,) in Galicia, was a great resort of pilgrims during
the Middle Ages,--and Santiago, the military patron of Spain, was one of
the most popular saints of Christendom. Chaucer says, the Wif of Bathe

"Had passed many a straunge streem;
At Rome sche hadde ben, and at Boloyne,
In Galice at Seynt Jame, and at Coloyne."

And Shakspeare, in _All's Well that Ends Well_, makes Helena represent
herself as "St. Jacques's pilgrim."]

"O pilgrims, who in pensive mood move
Thinking perchance of those who absent
Say, do ye come from land away so far
As your appearance seems to us to show?

"For ye weep not, the while ye forward go
Along the middle of the mourning town,
Seeming as persons who have nothing
Concerning the sad burden of her woe.

"If, through your will to hear, your steps ye
Truly my sighing heart declares to me
That ye shall afterwards depart in tears.

"For she[S] her Beatrice hath lost: and ye
Shall know, the words that man of her
may say
Have power to make weep whoever

[Footnote S: The city.]

Some time after this sonnet was written, two ladies sent to Dante,
asking him for some of his rhymes. That he might honor their request, he
wrote a new sonnet and sent it to them with two that he had previously
composed. In his new sonnet, he told how his thought mounted to heaven,
as a pilgrim, and beheld his lady in such condition of glory as could
not be comprehended by his intellect; for our intellect, in regard to
the souls of the blessed, is as weak as our eyes are to the sun. But
though he could not clearly see where his thought led him, at least he
understood that his thought told of his lady in glory.

"Beyond the sphere that widest orbit hath
Passeth the sigh that issues from my
While weeping Love doth unto him impart
Intelligence which leads him on his path,

"When at the wished-for place his flight he
A lady he beholds, in honor dight,
And shining so, that, through her splendid
The pilgrim spirit upon her doth gaze.

"He sees her such that his reporting words
I understand not, for he speaketh low
And strange to the sad heart which makes
him tell;

"He speaketh of that gentle one, I know,
Since oft he Beatrice's name records;
So, ladies dear, I understand him well."

This was the last of the poems which Dante composed in immediate honor
and memory of Beatrice, and is the last of those which he inserted in
the "Vita Nuova." It was not that his love grew cold, or that her image
became faint in his remembrance; but, as he tells us in a few concluding
and memorable words, from this time forward he devoted himself to
preparation for a work in which the earthly Beatrice should have less
part, while the heavenly and blessed spirit of her whom he had loved
should receive more becoming honors. The lover's grief was to find no
more expression; the lamentations for the loss which could never be made
good to him were to cease; the exhibition of a personal sorrow was at an
end. Love and grief, in their double ministry, had refined, enlarged,
and exalted his spirit to the conception of a design unparalleled in its
nature, and of which no intellectual genius, unpurged by suffering, and
impenetrated in its deepest recesses by the spiritualizing heats of
emotion, would have been capable of conceiving. Moreover, as time wore
on, its natural result was gradually to withdraw the poet from the
influence of temporary excitements of feeling, resulting from his
experience of love and death, and to bring him to the contemplation
of life as affected by the presence and the memory of Beatrice in its
eternal and universal relations. He tells us in the "Convito," that,
"after some time, my mind, which neither such consolation as I could
give it, nor that offered to it by others, availed to comfort,
determined to turn to that method by which others in grief had consoled
themselves. And I set myself to read that book, but little known, of
Boethius, in which in prison and exile he had consoled himself. And
hearing, likewise, that Tully had written a book, in which, treating
of friendship, he had offered some words of comfort to Laelius, a most
excellent man, on the death of Scipio, his friend, I read this also. And
although at first it was hard for me to enter into their meaning, I at
length entered into it so far as my knowledge of language, and such
little capacity as I had, enabled me; by means of which capacity, I had
already, like one dreaming, seen many things, as may be seen in the 'New
Life.' And as it might happen that a man seeking silver should, beyond
his expectation, find gold, which a hidden chance presents to him, not,
perhaps, without Divine direction, so I, who sought for consolation,
found not only a remedy for my tears, but also acquaintance with
authors, with knowledge, and with books."

Nor did these serious and solitary studies withdraw him from the pursuit
of wisdom among men and in the active world. Year by year, he entered
more fully into the affairs of state, and took a larger portion of their
conduct upon himself.

His heart kept fresh by abiding recollections of love, his faith
quickened by and intermingled with the tenderest hopes, his imagination
uplifted by the affection which overleaped the boundaries of the
invisible world, and his intellect disciplined by study of books and
of men, his experience enlarged by constant occupation in affairs, his
judgment matured by the quick succession of important events in which
he was involved,--every part, of his nature was thus prepared for the
successful accomplishment of that great and sacred design which he set
before himself now in his youth. Heaven had called and selected him for
a work which even in his own eyes partook somewhat of the nature of a
prophetic charge. His strength was to be tested and his capacity to be
approved. Life was ordered for the fulfilment of his commission. The men
to whom God intrusts a message for the world find the service to
which they are appointed one in which they must be ready to sacrifice
everything. Dante looked forward, even at the beginning, to the end, and
saw what lay between.

The pages of the "New Life" fitly close with words of that life in which
all things shall be made new, "and there shall be no more death, neither
sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former
things are passed away." The little book ends thus:--

"Soon after this, a wonderful vision appeared to me, in which I saw
things which made me purpose to speak no more of this blessed one until
I could more worthily treat of her. And to attain to this, I study to
the utmost of my power, as she truly knoweth. So that, if it shall
please Him through whom all things live, that my life be prolonged for
some years, I hope to speak of her as never was spoken of any woman. And
then may it please Him who is the Lord of Grace, that my soul may go to
behold the glory of its lady, the blessed Beatrice, who in glory looks
upon the face of Him, _qui est per omnia saecula benedictus_ [who is
Blessed forever]!"

In 1320, or perhaps not till 1321, the "Paradiso" was finished; in 1321,
Dante died.

* * * * *


"Concerning ye Amphisbaena, as soon as I received your commands, I made
diligent inquiry: he assures me y't it had really two heads, one at each
end, two mouths, two stings or tongues."

Rev. Christopher Toppan to Cotton Mather.

Far away in the twilight time
Of every people, in every clime,
Dragons and griffins and monsters dire,
Born of water, and air, and fire,
Or nursed, like the Python, in the mud
And ooze of the old Deucalion flood,
Crawl and wriggle and foam with rage,
Through dusk tradition and ballad age.
So from the childhood of Newbury town
And its time of fable the tale comes down
Of a terror which haunted bush and brake,
The Amphisbaena, the Double Snake!

Thou who makest the tale thy mirth,
Consider that strip of Christian earth
On the desolate shore of a sailless sea,
Full of terror and mystery,
Half-redeemed from the evil hold
Of the wood so dreary and dark and old,
Which drank with its lips of leaves the dew
When Time was young and the world was new,
And wove its shadows with sun and moon
Ere the stones of Cheops were squared and hewn;
Think of the sea's dread monotone,
Of the mournful wail from the pine-wood blown,
Of the strange, vast splendors that lit the North,
Of the troubled throes of the quaking earth,
And the dismal tales the Indian told,
Till the settler's heart at his hearth grew cold,
And he shrank from the tawny wizard's boasts,
And the hovering shadows seemed full of ghosts,
And above, below, and on every side,
The fear of his creed seemed verified;--
And think, if his lot were now thine own,
To grope with terrors nor named nor known,
How laxer muscle and weaker nerve
And a feebler faith thy need might serve;
And own to thyself the wonder more
That the snake had two heads and not a score!

Whether he lurked in the Oldtown fen,
Or the gray earth-flax of the Devil's Den,
Or swam in the wooded Artichoke,
Or coiled by the Northman's Written Rock,
Nothing on record is left to show;
Only the fact that he lived, we know,
And left the cast of a "double head"
In the scaly mask which he yearly shed.
For he carried a head where his tail should be,
And the two, of course, could never agree,
But wriggled about with main and might,
Now to the left and now to the right;
Pulling and twisting this way and that,
Neither knew what the other was at.

A snake with two heads, lurking so near!--
Judge of the wonder, guess at the fear!
Think what ancient gossips might say,
Shaking their heads in their dreary way,
Between the meetings on Sabbath-day!
How urchins, searching at day's decline
The Common Pasture for sheep or kine,
The terrible double-ganger heard
In leafy rustle or whirr of bird!
Think what a zest it gave to the sport
In berry-time of the younger sort,
As over pastures blackberry-twined
Reuben and Dorothy lagged behind,
And closer and closer, for fear of harm,
The maiden clung to her lover's arm;
And how the spark, who was forced to stay,
By his sweetheart's fears, till the break of day,
Thanked the snake for the fond delay!

Far and wide the tale was told,
Like a snowball growing while it rolled.
The nurse hushed with it the baby's cry;
And it served, in the worthy minister's eye,
To paint the primitive Serpent by.
Cotton Mather came posting down
All the way to Newbury town,
With his eyes agog and his ears set wide,
And his marvellous inkhorn at his side;
Stirring the while in the shallow pool
Of his brains for the lore he learned at school,
To garnish the story, with here a streak
Of Latin, and there another of Greek:
And the tales he heard and the notes he took,
Behold! are they not in his Wonder-Book?

Stories, like dragons, are hard to kill.
If the snake does not, the tale runs still
In Byfield Meadows, on Pipestone Hill.
And still, whenever husband and wife
Publish the shame of their daily strife,
And, with mad cross-purpose, tug and strain
At either end of the marriage-chain,
The gossips say, with a knowing shake
Of their gray heads, "Look at the Double Snake!
One in body and two in will,
The Amphisbaena is living still!"



It is with a feeling of no mean satisfaction, that, in this year of
1859, the philosopher can calmly propose the investigation of a subject,
the mere mention of which would have created universal disgust, and even
horror, at a period not long past. Thanks to the progress of liberal
ideas and sound criticism, we are able, in the middle of the
ever-memorable Nineteenth Century, serenely to examine anew those
questions which for entire centuries stolid prejudice and narrow
dogmatism considered settled, and adjudicated in the High Court of
Humanity for all times to come. However signal the progress of our age
may be in the useful arts and in aesthetics, especially in upholstery,
in chemistry, in the government of large cities, and in the purity of
commerce, in pottery, pills, and poetry, and in the dignity of politics,
nothing, we may venture to say, will so distinctly and so broadly
characterize the period in which we happily live, when the future
historian shall sweep with his star-seeker over the past, as the
joyful fact, that we, above all others, have divested ourselves of
long-cherished errors, hugged by our forefathers as truths full of life
and vigor, and have, indeed, so to speak, founded a Novum Organon in
fact and reality, while the great Bacon proposed one in mind and theory.
To our enlightened age it was reserved to return to polygamy, after
nearly three thousand dragging years of dull adhesion of our race to
tiresome monogamy, leaping back by one bound over the whole European
Past into ancient and respectable Asia. _Ex Oriente lux; ex Oriente
gaudia seraglii!_ It is in our blessed epoch that atheism, by some, and
pantheism, by others, are boldly taught and vindicated, as once they
were by Greeks or Orientals, and with an earnestness and enthusiasm very
different from the sneer with which Encyclopaedists of Voltaire's time
attacked Christianity and Deism. To prove, however, the magnificent
many-sidedness of our noble times, it is we that have returned once more
to pictures of the Virgin Mary with winking and with weeping eyes, or
to her apparitions talking _patois_, as that of La Valette, and to a
hundred things in the Church, cautiously passed over _sub silentio_ in
the last century, but now joyously proclaimed and sustained with defiant
erudition by English and German _doctores graces_, and by the Parisian
"Univers," which, openly rejoicing in the English blood spilt by
the Sepoys,--for it is but Protestant blood, and that of hateful
freemen,--heralds the second or third advent of universal love
and Papacy. It is in our age that representative, and indeed all
institutional government, for the first time, is called effete
parliamentarism, a theatrical delusion, for which; according to the
requirements of advanced civilization, the beneficent, harmonious, and
ever-glorious Caesarism, _pur et simple_, must be substituted, as it
was once sublimely exhibited in the attractive Caesars of Rome, those
favorites of History and very pets of Clio. In the time of Tiberius, as
President Troplong beautifully and officially expressed it, "Democracy
at last seated herself on the imperial throne, embodied in the
Caesars,"--those worshipful incarnations of democracy, brought to our
view in the _tableaux_ of Suetonius and by the accounts of Tacitus. We
have at last returned to Caesarism, or Asiatic absolutism, improved by
modern light, and making the emperor a Second Providence, opening and
shutting the mouths of the universal-suffrage people, for words or
bread, as imperial divinity finds best. This is the progress of our age
in Europe, while we, in this hemisphere, have taken, for the first
time in history, a rational view of party strife, and with unclouded
intelligence maintain that judges and presidents are, and ought to be,
party exponents, doing away with those once romantic, but certainly
superannuated ideas of Country, Justice, Truth, and Patriotism. All real
progress tends toward simplification; and how simple are the idea of
party and the associations clustering around this sacred word, compared
with the confusing and embarrassing unreality of those ideas and
juvenile feelings we have mentioned last!

But we have not done yet with the glory of our age. It is this, the
decennium we are soon going to close, that has risen to that enviable
eminence whence slavery is declared a precious good of itself,
a hallowed agent of civilization, an indispensable element of
conservatism, and a foundation of true socialism. From this lofty
eminence the seer-statesman--rising far above the philosophical sagacity
displayed by Aristotle and Varro, when they discussed the sacred
topic--proclaims that Capital ought to own, and has a divine right to
own, and always more or less does own, Labor; and that, since Labor
constitutes the whole humanity of the laboring man, it clearly follows
that he himself must be owned, if his labor be owned. Would you own the
bird without its cage? Generous gospel of the rich! Blessed are the

It is the destiny of the middle of the nineteenth century--well may
we be forgiven, if we pronounce it with some pride--unhesitatingly
to defend the African slave-trade, and to smile at what sickly
philanthropists used to consider the unutterable woe, the unmeasured
crime, and the diabolical hard-heartedness of that traffic. We have
changed all this; and, to say the truth, it was high time to discover
that the negro-trade forms a charming chapter in the history of Europe,
and that the protracted efforts to put it down were unchristian and
unstatesmanlike. Pitt, Roscoe, Wilberforce, Burke, Washington, Franklin,
Madison, Adams, Lowndes,--puny names! short-sighted men! By the African
slave-trade, creatures that are hardly deserving the name of men, on
account of organic, intellectual, and moral incapacity, are forcibly
carried into the regions of Christian religion and civilization, there
to become civilized in spite of their unfitness for civilization. The
mariners, usually occupied in risking life or health merely for the
sake of base traffic and filthy lucre, are suddenly transformed into
ministering agents of civilization and religion. It gives a priestly
character to the captain of a slave-ship,--to him that is willing to
break the laws of his country, even daring the gallows, for the benefit
of the sable brother, and of his law-abiding conservative society. How
different from those dark times when the poet could say, _--Homo ignoto
homini lupus est!_ The missionary only endeavors to carry the Church to
Africa; the slave-trader carries Africa to the Church, to civilization,
and to the auction-table.

There are but two more returns to truth and justice necessary,--the
Inquisition and the Witch-Trials. These restored, we may safely
congratulate ourselves on having regained the ground on which our race
stood before the Reformation, that untoward event, whence all the
mischief dates that has befallen man in the shape of human rights,
liberty, and other deplorable things, as lately a grave writer--not a
Catholic, nor a Jew either--gravely assured us. Gentle readers, let us
not be impatient. Progress has been of late so rapid, that many of you,
it is to be hoped, will yet have an opportunity of hailing the return of
those two noble institutions, _pro majore gloria Dei_, for which they
always existed, as long as chill and misty skepticism did not extinguish
their glowing poetry. Ah! happy times! poetic age! when there existed
not only "words that burn," but also laws that burned!

In the mean time, it may not be inappropriate to commence the
consideration of a topic somewhat farther removed from us, but which,
according to our humble opinion, ought not to remain wholly beyond the
limits of a candid, liberal, and unprejudiced examination,--we mean the
important question, Whether the choicest of all substances, the most
delicate of all muscular texture, that substance of which kings,
philosophers, policemen, and supporters of crinoline are fashioned
by the plastic hand of Nature, ought forever to be excluded from the
reproductive process of wasted energy and proportionably consumed
nervous and cerebral fibre. Reader, do not shrink; grant us a patient
ear. You do not know how rapidly you may change your own opinion and
feelings. Do you not remember with what awe we first read in the
"Almanach des Gourmands," that a certain _sauce piquante_ was so fine
that with it a man would eat his own mother? This was only twenty years
ago; yet all of us, now, are helping a high-bred gentleman, trading, on
a gigantic scale, in the bones of his great ancestor. What sublimity of

To those who say, It is unnatural to eat our friends, we would answer,
that it is the office of civilization to remove us farther and farther
from Nature. Analyze the present magnitude called Lady, and you can
arithmetically state it, how little of it is nature-woman, and how
much is hoop-civilization. To those, again, who object, that it is too
primitive, we would reply, that the highest civilization is always a
return to Nature, which is likewise exemplified by many of our ladies in
the ball-room,--we mean by their upper portion.

But _revenons a nos moutons_. The Rev. Messrs. Williams and Calvert,
missionaries, for many long years, among the Fijians, state, in their
recently published work, that those unsophisticated children of Nature
eat "long pig,"--as they call, with graceful humor, roast-man, in
contradistinction to "short-pig," by which they designate our squealing
fellow-roasters,--from three different motives.--When a chief has a
gala-day, or desires to signal his arrival by a right royal feast, it is
considered befitting to slaughter some men, to let the blood run in
the path of royalty, and to have on the table some _roast-homme_. Our
Captain Wilkins told us, years ago, that, for this _roast-homme_, a
plump Fijiana, of some twelve or thirteen years, is preferred. They know
very well what is good!--The second motive is hatred. When a Fijian
mortally hates a person, he endeavors to kill him; and having killed the
enemy, why should the victim not be eaten?--Lastly, it would seem that
affectionate regard, especially for a favorite wife, sometimes rises
to a mordant passion and an unconquerable longing for material
assimilation,--so much so, that the loving husband roasts his Penelope,
and neighbors are invited to participate in his better fourth or fifth,
as the polygamic case may be. Perhaps, years after, when with less
demonstrative nations the memory of the beloved one would have passed
away, the Fijian Fidelio may smack his lips, and exclaim, with
Petrarch's fervor,--

"Perche Morte fura
Prima i migliori, e lascia star i rei:
Questa aspettata al regno degli Dei
Cosa bella mortal passa e non dura."

Now we are very anxious not to be misunderstood by our readers. In
writing this paper, we do not mean to urge the reintroduction of
Cannibalism among us at once. The public mind may not yet be ripe for
it; but we desire to assist in placing the subject in its proper light,
and in showing that an enlightened impartiality can find very much in
defence of the Fijians,--more, indeed, than the Rev. Mr. Froude has been
able to accumulate in favor of his wife-devouring hero,--or than Mr.
Spratt can say in favor of humanization in general, and the breaking-up
of the Union in particular, by the reopening of the African
slave-trade,--or than our venerable chief-justice has contrived to say
in favor of reintroducing slavery in conquered territory, where positive
law had abolished or excluded it, by the abstract Constitution itself,
_proprio vigore_, (not quite unlike a wagoner, it seems to us, that
carries the soil of distant parts, _ipsa adhesione_, as it sticks to
his boots, into the tavern-room,) without special law, which even the
ancient civilians very stupidly declared to be necessary. First, you
will remember, it was passionately maintained that the Constitution of
the United States does not know the Common Law; and now it is insisted
that Common Law (so far as slavery is concerned) is as inherent in the
Constitution as the black pigment is in the negro. You cannot wash it
out; it inheres physiologically in the Constitution. I tell you, reader,
we are _fast_ people indeed; we travel fast in our opinions, with now
and then a somerset for the delectation of the philosopher.

Let us sit down, and have a philosophical conversation; above all, let
us discard sentiment, feeling,--what you call heart, and all that sort
of thing. You know how much mischief Las Casas has done by allowing his
feelings to interfere when the Spaniards roasted Indians, from what he
chose to call diabolical lust of gold, and sheer, abstract cruelty. Poor
Bishop! He belonged to the softs. Let us be philosophers, economists,
and, above all, Constitutionalists. Some philosophers, indeed, have
said that all idea of Right and Wrong, and the idea that there is
a difference between the two, must needs, first of all, start from
sentiment; but leave, I implore you, such philosophic fogyism behind

First, then, as to the principle of Right. It is a fact, that most
tribes and races, probably all nations in their earliest days,
have killed old and useless parents, and have eaten enemies, once
slain,--perhaps friends, too. Some nations carried the eating of human
flesh far down into their civilized periods and into recent times. The
Spaniards found the civilized Aztecs enjoying their _petits soupers_
of babes _a la Tartare_, or gorgeous dinners on fattened heroes _aux
truffes_. Have you forgotten that from that fine Introduction to
Prescott's "Conquest of Mexico" a flavor of roast "long pig" steams into
our nostrils as from a royal kitchen? Eating our equals, therefore,
is sound Common Law of all mankind, even more so than slavery, for it
exists before slavery can be introduced. Slavery is introduced when the
prisoner of war may be made to work,--when the tilling of the soil has
commenced; though then not always; for we now know that slavery was
introduced among the Greeks at a comparatively late period: but killing
parents and eating enemies exists in the hunter's state, and at those
periods when people find it hard work to obtain food, each one for
himself, to keep even a starved body and a little bit of soul together.
Chewing our neighbor is even better, for it is older Common Law, than
the universal buying of a wife and consequent selling of daughters which
exists even now over far the greater portion of the globe. We take it
that our species began with eating itself without paying for the fare.
Partaking of our neighbor precedes all _lex scripta_, all statute law,
all constitutions. As to ourselves in particular, whose law is the
English law, we know that the Druids sacrificed human beings to their
gods; and every one knows full well, that man, when in gastronomic
contact with the gods, always appropriates the most savory morsels
and the largest portions of the sacrifice to himself, leaving to the
ethereal taste of Jove or Tezcatlipoca the smell of some burnt bones or
inwards. Yet there is no law on record abolishing human sacrifices. We
know, indeed, that some Teutonic tribes, when they adopted Christianity,
positively prohibited the eating of horse-flesh, but no law ever forbade
to honor our fathers and mothers by making them parts of our feasts; so
that no lawyer of the true sort will deny, that, to this day, the right
of sacrificing fellow-men, and the reasonable concomitant of eating the
better portion of the sacrifice, still exists. Greeks and Romans have
sacrificed men; why should not we? That men have their individual rights
is no valid objection. Rights depend exclusively upon the law; and the
law, we have shown, does not grant equal rights (at least, not equal
destinations) to the Eater and the Eatee; for it seems to be one thing
to eat, and another to be eaten. It was a very silly maxim of the
ancient Civil Law, That the law, the _regula_, is derived from the right
(_jus_), not the _jus_ from the law. Has not a Supreme Court in one of
our States lately denied to a negro even the right to choose between
liberty and slavery,--the choice being left to him by his deceased
master,--because the creature (which, when doing wrong, is responsible
and has a will imputed to him) has no will to choose, because it cannot
have any, says the Supreme Court of that State?

However, it will doubtless be objected by some, that it is simply
disgusting to eat our fellow-creatures of the same species,--that it is
unnatural and against our religion,--and that so remarkable a diversity
of taste can be explained only on the ground of our belonging to
different races. We do not believe that the Fijians belong to a
different race. Fijian, or Fijician, results, by a slight change of
letters, from the word Phoenician; and there can be no doubt that
the Fijians are descendants of those Phoenicians who, according to
Herodotus, sailed, in the reign of the Egyptian King Necho, from the
Persian Gulf round the Cape of Good Hope, and entered the Mediterranean
through the Pillars of Hercules. How they came to be wafted to the
opposite hemisphere is not for us to explain, nor do we know it. Suffice
it to say, that Fijician and Phoenician are the same word. Possibly old
Admiral Hanno preceded Captain Cook. Who can prove the contrary?

As to the first of these objections, we admit that some people may
feel a degree of aversion to _roast-homme_; but so does the Mahometan
abominate roast "short pig"; and a Brahmin, taken to Cincinnati and its
environs, at the sanguinary hog-murder time, would die outright, of
horror. We almost died, ourselves, at the sickening sight of that
porcian massacre. _De gustibus non est disputantibus_, as our colonel
used to say. Disgust, is the result of a special treaty of amity and
reciprocity between the stomach and the imagination, differing according
to difference in the contracting parties. We have known many persons
who would not touch mutton, and others who would rather starve than eat
oysters; while we ourselves revolt at sourkrout, which, nevertheless,
millions of Germans, French, and Americans consider delicious. Disgust
is arbitrary; it does not furnish us with a philosophical ground for
argumentation. The Fijian does not feel disgust at the flavor of a
well-roasted white sailor; and as long as he does not insist upon our
relishing his fare, what right have we to ask him to feel disgusted?
When the panther-tailed Aztec priest fattened his prisoner, or carried
along the children decked with wreaths, soon to be smothered in their
own juice, he cannot have felt disgust, any more than the Malay, of whom
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles tells us, that, with epicurean refinement,
he cut the choicest bits from his living prisoner, in order to baste
them to a turn and season them with choice pepper.

Is it unnatural? We have once seen, with our own eyes, a very large
unroasted "small pig" devour one of her own piglets, whilst the others
lustily drew nourishment from the grunting mother. It look our appetite
away for forty-eight hours; yet it was nature; and in some portions of
Europe, people express the highest degree of fondness by the expressive
phrase,--"I could eat you." We may rely upon it, that, as Mr. Agassiz
says,--"There is no difference in kind, but only in degree."

With reference to religion, we readily acknowledge that dining _a la
Fijienne_ does not appear exactly to be a divine institution, as slavery
has recently been discovered to be. From olden times it used to be the
belief of superstitious man that there was a divine afflatus in liberty;
but our profound theological scholars and Biblical critics have found
out that the divinity is on the other side. Neither Tertullian nor
Austin, neither St. Bernard nor any Pope, good or bad, neither Luther,
Bossuet, Calvin, nor Baxter, no commentator, exegetist, or preacher,
ever found out, what these profoundest inquirers have at length
discovered, that slavery is divine, like matrimony. Had they discovered
this great truth before the Catholic Church settled the number of
sacraments, there must have been eight instead of seven. Why was their
advent so late?

Possibly these grave and candid, deep and fervent theologians, whose
opinions on theology are quoted everywhere, whose works are spread over
the globe, and whose lore is stupendous, may yet discover that there is
a divine flavor even in a soup _a la Mexicaine_. One thing, however,
is quite certain, namely,--that there is no prohibition of digestively
assimilating our neighbor with ourselves, from one end of the Bible to
the other. Was not Fielding's parson logical, who preferred punch to
wine, because it is nowhere spoken ill of in Scripture? When Baron
Viereck was rebuked by a friend for having given his daughter in
marriage to the King of Denmark, the Queen, undivorced, continuing to
occupy the throne, the shrewd father replied, that he had found no
passage in the Bible that prohibits a King of Denmark from having two
wives; and has not the democratic Fijian as good a right to that logic
as the noble Baron had?

To say the truth, all these objections are founded mainly upon
sentiment, and we trust that morbid sentimentality will have no weight
in an age which ridicules the horror of the British Commons at the
descriptions of the middle passage, and demands calm judgment when the
question arises, how to increase the number of representatives and the
profits on sugar and cotton,--in our poetic age, in which republican
senators have openly declared their chivalrous allegiance to the
sovereign substance of which night-caps are made, and petticoats,--to
His Majesty, King Cotton,--not a very merry king, it must be owned, as
young King Charles was, or old King Cole, but still a worthy sovereign;
for, after all, he is but a new and most bulky avatar of Almighty

No objection whatsoever can be made to the _deglutinatio Fijiana_ on the
score of utility. The islands of the Fijians are but small; no Fijian
Attila can lead forth his hosts into neighboring countries; no Fijian
Goths can pour down from Polynesian Alps into an Oceanic Italy; no
Athenians can there send sons and gods to a Coreyra: and no Fijian Miles
Standish can there walk up and down before his pipe-clayed bandoleers in
foreign colonies. How, then, can an over-increase of population be more
harmoniously prevented than by making the young and sleek furnish the
starving with a plump existence? Is it not, economically viewed,
the principle of Dr. Franklin's smoke-consuming pipe applied to the
infinitely more important sphere of human existence? The festive table,
to which, according to the great Malthus, Nature declines inviting a
large portion of every well-peopled country, will never be known by
the happy Fijian Say or Senior, so long as wise conservatism shall not
change its old and sacred laws, and shall allow Nature to invite one
happy portion as guests, and another happy portion as savory dishes. It
is Nature in modest simplicity, as it is exhibited in half-a-dozen mice
in a deep kettle, of whom one survivor and material representative
remains. The Chinese expose female infants, and lawful infanticide has
been abolished in some districts of the British East Indies within these
thirty years only. Would it not be wiser to reassimilate the tender dear
ones, and think of them ever after with smacking memory?

It is true, indeed, that, upon the whole, Fijian gastronomy leers more
toward the tender sex than toward that which in our country wears the
trousers uncrinolined. But, we submit, is this a fair objection? Why
_is_ the tender sex more _tender?_ Lately, when an orator had strongly
expressed himself against the maxim of patriotic office-hunters,--"To
the victor belong the spoils," he was very logically asked,--"And pray,
Sir, to whom should the spoils belong, if not to the victor?" So we
would ask, should any one complain of girls being thus economized by
men,--"Who, in the name of common sense, should, if not men? Would you
have them perform that sacrificial duty for one another?"

But whatever may be thought, by some of our lovely readers, of this last
argument, (which henceforth may be termed _argumentum marcianum_,) and
which, in the case before us, will always be an _ex parte_ argument, all
will agree that no objection can be taken to making repasts on _porcus
longus_ once fairly killed,--for instance, on heroes stretched on the
battle-field. This was the cogent argument of the New Zealander, after
baptism,--used in discussing the topic with the Rev. Mr. Yale. Willing
to give up slaughtering fellow-men for the sake of eating them, he could
not see why it was not wicked to waste so much good food.

If it were objected, that, admitting the making of your enemy's
flesh flesh of your own flesh would necessarily lead to skirmishes,
"surprise-parties," and battles for the sole purpose of getting a
dinner,--to a sort of pre-prandial exercise, as in fishing,--we would
simply answer, "Too late!" Our friends who desire the reopening of the
African slave-trade declare that they wish to buy slaves only. When
statesmen, and missionaries, and simple people with simple sense and
simple hearts, cry out to them, "Stop! for the sake of our common
Father, stop! By reopening the slave-trade, you revive the vilest
crimes, and, for every negro ultimately sold to you on the coast, you
cause the murder of at least ten in the interior, not to speak of those
that are coolly massacred in the barracoon, when no demand exists,"--the
satisfactory reply is: "We have nothing to do with all that; we do not
travel beyond the record. We buy the negro who is a slave; what made him
a slave we do not care to know. The pearl in the market does not show
the toil of the fisher." And so the Fijian would properly reply: "Do not
mix up different subjects. I rescue my departed brother from ignominious
decay, and remake a man of him. How he came to depart,--that belongs to
quite a different chapter."

This utilitarian view acquires a still greater importance when applied
to criminals under sentence of capital punishment. Soon after Beccaria,
it was asked, if we mistake not, by Voltaire: "Of what use is the
dead body of a criminal? You cannot restore the victim to life by the
execution of the murderer." And many pardons in America have been
granted on the assumption that no satisfactory answer could be given to
the philosophical question: "What use can the swinging body of the poor
creature be to any one?" The Fijian alone has a perfectly satisfactory

The missionaries, already named in this paper, give a long account of
the execution of a supposed Fijian conspirator, which ends with these
words: "At last he was brought down to the ground by a club; after which
he was eaten."

We can discern many advantages to be derived from the introduction of
what we will call "_pates penitentiaires_."

There would be no waste of food.

The sentence of the judge would sound more civilized; for, instead of
hearing the odious words, "You shall be hanged by the neck until you
are dead," words would be pronounced somewhat like these: "You shall be
taken to Delmonico, and there and by him be served up on such a day, as
_scelerat en papillotes_."

There would be a greater readiness in jurors to convict interesting
criminals, who now-a-days cannot be found guilty,--especially were a law
passed that the jury should have the criminal. We read in the "Scottish
Criminal Trials," that a woman, clearly convicted of an atrocious
murder, was, nevertheless, found not guilty. The astonished lord
justiciary asked the foreman, how it was possible to find the prisoner
not guilty, with such overwhelming evidence, and was answered: "Becaase,
my laird, she is purty." Would not the delicacy of the prisoner have
been an additional reason for finding her guilty with Fijian jurors?

Fourthly, there would be an obvious national advantage in some
countries, in which the government is at one and the same time busily
engaged in finding cheap food for the people, and in transporting
annually many hundreds of political _suspects_ to killing colonies. It
is, indeed, surprising, that so sagacious and parental a government as
that of Napoleon the Third,--may His Majesty be long preserved for the
civilization of France, the peace of Europe, and the glory of mankind in
general!--it is surprising, that his all-providing and all-foreseeing
government has not long ago discovered how the craving of the national
stomach for food, and of the popular mind for political purification,
might be stilled by no longer transporting political offenders and
_suspects_ to French Guiana or Lambessa, where they uselessly and
ignobly perish, but by sentencing them, instead, to the enviable lot of
making a feast for their brethren. Would not every Socialist, receiving
permission thus to help feed society, exclaim: _C'est magnifique! mais
c'est sublime!_

When Robespierre was in the zenith of his guillotinacious glory, the
_bonnes_ would sit around the scaffold, minding children and knitting
stockings, to see the head of a marquis or of a shoemaker fall. We leave
it to every reader, whether there would not be more historic unity and
poetic completeness in the _tableau_, were we to read that these good
creatures dined upon the _ci-devant_, after the execution.

Imperial Rome is the _beau ideal_ of the present government of _la belle
France_; and we must own, that, when perusing the exhilarating pages of
Suetonius, it has often occurred to our mind that there is something
wanting in the list of high deeds related of those superb specimens of
humanity exhibited in the Caligulas and Heliogabali. They did so much
for cookery! Yet they seem never to have risen above an indirect
consumption of their subjects, by feeding their lobsters with ignoble
slaves; never did they directly bestow upon Roman freemen the honor of
being served up for the imperial table. Nero murdered his mother and
bade his teacher open his own veins. Would it not read much more
civilized, if the annals of the empire were telling us: _Nero, jam
divus, leniter dixit: O Seneca, Pundit delectabilis et philosophe laute,
quis dubitet te libentissime mihi hodie proferre artocreatem stoicum?_

Strange as it may appear to some readers, that thus the polished Romans
might have learned a lesson of civilization from the Fijians, they will
not reject our suggestion, when they reflect, that, only a short time
ago, they were, probably, as much surprised at finding the government
of so great a country as France adopting imperial Rome as a model
body-politic. Familiarize your mind with the idea, and all difficulties
vanish. It is only the last step which costs,--not the first.

There are many more reasons that might be urged in favor of the
Fijians. We are not aware that the reverend missionaries have given
any statistical tables, showing a regularity in the annual numbers of
consumed persons, male and female, classed according to the reasons why
consumed; but no one can doubt that such tables might be given, and if
so, the whole question of anthropophagism could be very easily Buckled
up in a tidy little valise. The Fijians, in the plural, we take it,
have little or nothing to do with it; it is the abstract, will-less,
impersonal Fijian--who, according to the learned Ferrari,[A] would be
called, now, Podesta Fijian, now Consul Fijian, now Papa Fijianus--that
snuffs the flavor of his own dear natural _pot a feu_; and Right
or Wrong, Just or Unjust, Commendable or Revolting, are schoolboy
distinctions, no longer recognized by the philosophical historian, who
treats all moral questions and national movements like questions of
natural philosophy,--like social chemistry, in which so puerile a word
as poison has no place. Arsenic is arsenic with certain effects, and
nothing more; and society poisons itself annually to such an amount,
arithmetically expressed.

[Footnote A: _Histoire des Revolutions d'Italie, ou Guelf's et
Gibelins_. Par J. Ferrari. Paris, 1858.]

We ask leave to add two suggestions in favor of the Fijians, both, it
would seem, of philosophic importance. If you do not like the Fijian
national dish,--_national_ in more than one sense,--have the dear
sons of Nature, as Carlyle probably would call them, not the right to
reply,--"We do not like your _sauerkraut_, if you are a German; your
_polenta_, if you are an Italian; your _olla podrida_, if you are a
Spaniard; nor your _grit_, if you are a Dane; your bacon and greasy
greens, if you are a Southerner; nor your baked beans, if you are a
Northerner; nor any other stuff called national dishes,--all of which
are vile, except English roast beef and plum-pudding, and Neapolitan

The other suggestion is this: Is it likely that Nature has placed the
Fijians exactly in the same meridian with Greenwich, which in some
measure may be called the meridian of civilization, for nothing?--is it
likely that all the solar and cosmic influences which must result from
this fact have really left the Fijian in that state of hyper-brutality
which you think is proved by his _menage_? Is it, we ask, fairly to be
supposed? We think not.

We do not presume to know whether we have carried conviction to the
minds of our readers; but even if we have not,--if we have only been
sufficiently fortunate to give the first impulse to the great inquiry,
we shall be satisfied. If we consider the history of some opinions now
openly preached and vehemently maintained,--how timidly they were
first hinted at, within our own recollection, and with what surprising
rapidity they have risen to an unblushing amplitude, rustling and
sweeping proudly and defiantly along the Broadway of human events
and opinions,--how that which but a lustre ago was wicked is now
virtuous,--we see no reason for despair; and our century may yet witness
the time when it will be considered the highest mixture of philosophic
courtesy and Christian urbanity to make the most graceful semi-lateral
bow, as you pass your friend in the street, and, kissing the tip of your
finger, to lisp, with bending head and smiling eye,--

"May I never disagree with you!"



[_The Professor talks with the Reader. He tells a Young Girl's Story_.]

When the elements that went to the making of the first man, father of
mankind, had been withdrawn from the world of unconscious matter, the
balance of creation was disturbed. The materials that go to the making
of one woman were set free by the abstraction from inanimate nature of
one man's-worth of masculine constituents. These combined to make our
first mother, by a logical necessity involved in the previous creation
of our common father. All this, mythically, illustratively, and by no
means doctrinally or polemically.

The man implies the woman, you will understand. The excellent gentleman
whom I had the pleasure of setting right in a trifling matter a few
weeks ago believes in the frequent occurrence of miracles at the present
day. So do I. I believe, if you could find an uninhabited coral-reef
island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with plenty of cocoa-palms
and bread-fruit on it, and put a handsome young fellow, like our
Marylander, ashore upon it, if you touched there a year afterwards, you
would find him walking under the palm trees arm in arm with a pretty

Where would she come from?

Oh, that's the miracle!

----I was just as certain, when I saw that fine, high-colored youth at
the upper right-hand corner of our table, that there would appear some
fitting feminine counterpart to him, as if I had been a clairvoyant,
seeing it all beforehand.

----I have a fancy that those Marylanders are just about near enough to
the sun to ripen well.--How some of us fellows remember Joe and Harry,
Baltimoreans, both! Joe, with his cheeks like lady-apples, and his eyes
like black-heart cherries, and his teeth like the whiteness of the flesh
of cocoa-nuts, and his laugh that set the chandelier-drops rattling
overhead, as we sat at our sparkling banquets in those gay times! Harry,
champion, by acclamation, of the College heavyweights, broad-shouldered,
bull-necked, square-jawed, six feet and trimmings, a little science,
lots of pluck, good-natured as a steer in peace, formidable as a
red-eyed bison in the crack of hand-to-hand battle! Who forgets the
great muster-day, and the collision of the classic with the democratic
forces? The huge butcher, fifteen stone,--two hundred and ten
pounds,--good weight,--steps out like Telamonian Ajax, defiant. No words
from Harry, the Baltimorean,--one of the quiet sort, who strike first,
and do the talking, if there is any, afterwards. No words, but, in the
place thereof, a clean, straight, hard hit, which took effect with a
spank like the explosion of a percussion-cap, knocking the slayer of
beeves down a sand-bank,--followed, alas! by the too impetuous youth, so
that both rolled down together, and the conflict terminated in one of
those inglorious and inevitable Yankee _clinches_, followed by a general
_melee_, which make our native fistic encounters so different from such
admirably-ordered contests as that which I once saw at an English fair,
where everything was done decently and in order, and the fight began and
ended with such grave propriety, that a sporting parson need hardly have
hesitated to open it with a devout petition, and, after it was over,
dismiss the ring with a benediction.

I can't help telling one more story about this great field-day, though
it is the most wanton and irrelevant digression. But all of us have a
little speck of fight underneath our peace and goodwill to men,--just

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