Page images

ments, games, and voices, are as the smiles they are, disappear. The first of the ocean, of creation. Michelet had, in his work those mild and sensible beings to whom nature "Le Peuple,” emitted in the spirit of dem- gave blood and milk, (I speak of the cetecex,) ocratic eclecticism which dominates over quadrupeds have disappeared from the earth

how few do they now number! Many large

. all his ideas, a protestation against there Many animals of different kinds, without entirebeing any one so degraded as to be unde- ly disappearing, have fled before man; they fly serving of civic rights. Natural history bewildered, lose their natural arts, and fall into now appeared to him in the light of a a state of barbarism. The heron, extolled by branch of politics. All living creatures Aristotle for its skill and prudence, is now (at came in their humble right to knock at least in Europe) a misanthropic, stupid creature. the door of his intelligence, and ask to be The beaver, which in America had, in its peaco

ful solitudes, become an architect and an engiadmitted into the bosom of a universal

neer, has lost courage, and in the present day democracy. Such is the legitimate pro- is scarcely at the trouble of making a hole in gress of philosophy. Admit one, you the ground. The hare, so good, so handsome, must admit all. “Why should the supe- so original in its fur, by its speed and its quick rior brothers,” says the preacher of uni- sense of hearing, will soon have disappeared ; versal democracy,“ place beyond the law the few that remain are brutalized. Yet, neverthose whom the universal Father harmo- theless, the poor animal is still docile

and teachnizes in the world's law ?»

able; with kindness it can be taught things Thus man and wife united in deep require the exercise of courage.”

that are even opposed to its nature, and that agreement of spirit, entertaining a fruitful communication of intimate thoughts and “The winged class,” Michelet goes on sustaining a perfect harmony in feeling for to remark, after a few more paragraphs to nature. Only that they arrived at this by the same purport, “the most perfect, the different processes, the one by his love for most delicate, the one that sympathizes the city, and his efforts to complete it by most with man, is that which man purassociating with it all living things; the sues in the present day with the most cruel other by the force of religion and filial

perseverance. love "pour la maternité de Dieu.”

" What is to be done to protect it? The promontory of La Hève completed Reveal birds as minds -- show that they the revelation. There the birds of the are persons.” sea and those of the woods had nothing

In such a system --if system it can be to say that was not understood. There, called — where faith and love take the from that elevated point, from whence place of scientific classification, the agents the eye embraces the mouth of the Seine, of death,

the murderous birds, so glorified the Čalvador, and the Ocean, they began by some, are rejected among the lower to hear the birds that seldom sing, but classes of the bird hierarchy. They are that speak like the swallows, gossiping so in their modification as they are also in about fine weather, about rare or abund. the arts of music. The nightingale, on ant food, or about their proximate de the contrary, is placed at the top of the parture. "I had listened to them at scale. But the egg precedes the bird, and Nantes in October, at Turin in June. upon this theme we have the following Their gossip in September at La Hève beautiful passage: was more distinct. "We could translate it freely, in their pleasing vivacity, in that “The learned ignorance, the far-seeing instinct joy of youth and happiness, which is void of the ancients, spoke this oracle. Every thing of noise or display, in conformity with comes from an egg; it is the cradle of the world that felicitous equilibrium of a bird that is

“Same origin, but diversity of destiny comes free and wise, and which appears to re- sees, she loves more or less ; she is more or less

especially from the mother. She acts and forecognize not without gratitude that it has mother. The more she is so, the more she asreceived from the Creator so much that is cends in the scale; every degree in existence conducive to happiness.”

attaches itself to the degree of love.

“What can the mother do in the mobile exist“Alas! the swallow itself is not excepted from ence of fish?

Nothing but confide its egg to the insensate war that is carried on against na- the ocean. What can it do in the insect world, ture. We even destroy the birds that save our when generally she perishes after having laid harvests, good workmen that follow the plow, her egg? Find for it

, before dying, a safe place seizing the future destroyer, which the careless to come to life and to live. peasant turns up and then buries again. “The destiny of a bird is different. It would

“Entire races, important and interesting as die if it was not loved.

“Loved ? Every mother loves, from the ocean When man first reached the polar reto the stars. But I mean to say, cared for, sur-gions, he was received by the living mulrounded by an infinite love, enveloped in the titudes with curiosity, but without fear. maternal warmth and magnetism.”

It was with difficulty, we are told, that

the sailors could force their way through Remarking upon the birds of the Arctic the crowd of benevolent and curious seals regions, Michelet justly observes that that came to look at them. The penguins those realms of ice and darkness have of the southern seas, the auks of the been stupidly vilified. “A poet has fool- northern, never stirred from their places. ishly placed the throne of evil in these The ducks, whose soft down supplies us beneficent glaciers, which are the reserve with eider, allowed themselves to be apof the waters of Europe, which pour forth proached without difficulty and to be taken its rivers and give to it its fertility. with the hand. Others still more stupid have cursed the Thus the polar regions are depicted as ices of the pole, ignoring the magnificent deriving from love and devotion a moral economy of the globe and the majestic grace which is seldom met with in the balancing of alternative currents which South. A sun shines there which is not constitute the life of the ocean. They the sun of the equator, but milder, that have seen war and hatred, wickedness of of the mind. Every living creature is nature, in these profoundly pacific and raised in the scale there by the very ausregular movements of the universal terity of the climate and by a common mother.

danger. “Such are the dreams of men. Ani The wing--the cry of the psalmist and mals in no way participate in these anti- the poet-furnishes the subject for a pleaspathies. On the contrary, a double at- ingly comtemplative chapter. Man entraction makes them congregate every deavors to supersede the absence of wings year towards the poles in innumerable by all kinds of locomotive contrivances, legions.

but how little do they effect towards "Every year birds, fish, gigantic cetaceæ overcoming the universal aspiration, the go to people the seas and islands which more sad as it is so utterly powerless. surround the southern pole. Admirably With the bird, on the contrary, what a productive seas full to superabundance of sublime and easy life! With what an life, germinating, in the state of zoo- eye of contempt can the smallest of the phytes) of living fermentation, of gelatin-winged creation look down upon the ous waters, of spawn and germs incalcu- strongest and the swiftest of quadrupedslable.”

the tiger or the lion! How the bird Then we are told that the poles are the must smile at the vain and useless fretting, seat of love and peace to these great the nocturnal roar which only testifies to gatherings. How the giant man of the the slavery of the miscalled king of aniold ocean”--the whale-finds there a mals ! temporary shelter during the sacred mo The genius of Michelet has seized the ments of maternity. It slays its myriads great inference to be drawn from this -a work of destruction commanded by state of things—at least in so far as renature—it is true, but it does this with gards man--and which was long ago anout inflicting pain; the whale has neither nounced, in a less poetic but a more teeth nor saw in its capacious mouth. philosophic form, by the author of the “ Most of the living matters with which Natural History of Enthusiasm,” in his the inhabitants of the seas around the best work, “The Physical Theory of anpoles support life are so imperfectly or other Life.” “It is the certain sign," ganized as to have little or no conscious- says Michelet, “ that we still inbabit a ness. This gives to these tribes a charac- very young world, a world still barbarous, ter of innocence which touches us infinitely, a world of trial and apprenticeship, in the fills us with sympathy-nay, if it must be series of stars, a mere elementary step in said, with envy." Alas! on the other side the great final initiation.” But he goes of the picture, see the stealthy fox pounc on to argue that we, too, shall have wings ing upon a thoughtless palmiped, or the --handsome and powerful wings. This is hardy white bear waiting polar days and not necessarily the case. The vis inertiæ nights at a hole till an innocent seal shall of matter, the tendency of gravitation, pop up its devoted head.

and the resistance of the atmosphere, are

not overcome by mere mechanical force--southern Aptenyx and Patagonian penby bones, tendons, and muscles—but by guins, and an imperfect development in the force of mind. But mind is limited by the ostrich and its congeners, the triumph the capabilities of the materials it employs, of the same organ is undoubtedly witand when it is freed of these encum- nessed in the frigate-bird. The gull, in brances, and enjoys that which St. Paul its white dress and playful flight, is a 80 eloquently designates as a “spiritual charming bird, beloved by sailors, whom body," and when the locomotion of that it always reminds of home. The stormy spiritual corporeity shall follow volition as petrel--not black, but of an indescribable a whole, as now the relative motion of the smoky brown-surging out of the waves, limbs follow it in man, or of wings in birds, coming no one knows whence, and riding who shall say what shall be the limits to the tempest, is, on the contrary, looked such locomotive power ?

upon with horror. Poor thing, it proWithout carrying out his philosophy to bably seeks for a little shelter from the so refined a height as that presented to us storm in the vessel's wake. in "The Physical Theory of another Life," the French historian says: “Ask a bird if “But darkness disappears; day returns. I he will be a man, and participate in the see a little blue point in the sky. Happy and royalty of the world, gained by the sweat serene region which was at peace above the reof the brow, by efforts, and pains, and gion of storms. In this blue point, a little bird cares innumerable and unceasing, and he with an immense wing hovers royally at an would answer: ‘King myself by my birth elevation of ten thousand feet. A guil? no ; in space and light, wherefore shall I ab- the wing is dark. An eagle? no; the bird is

small. dicate, when man, in his loftiest ambition,

"It is the eaglet of the sea, the first of the in his supreme aspirations for happiness winged race, the audacious navigator, that never and liberty, dreams of making himself a furls its sails, the prince of the tempest, conbird and taking flight with wings?" " temner of all dangers; the warrior, or the frigate

How clumsy, how miserably inefficient, bird. too, have been the attempts made to im

“We attained the term of the series in comitate wings! These attempts date as far mencing, with the wingless birds. Here we back as the mythological era, and have body scarcely larger than that of a domestic

have a bird that is almost all wings. With a come down to our own times. Yet, had fowi, it has prodigious wings that sometimes wings been successfully imitated, nothing extend fourteen feet. The great problem of could have come of it. Apart from want flight is solved, and even surpassed; for flight of muscular power, man could not have seems to be useless. Such a bird, naturally admitted, as the bird does, air into ex- sustained by such appliances, has only to let pansive lungs and cellular bones and cends to such heights that it finds peace. The

itself be borne along. The storm comes, it asfeathers. He would have been stifled, poetic metaphor, false for every other bird, is struck down by apoplexy, or exhausted no longer a figure of speech in this instance; it by rarefaction.

sleeps to the letter on the storm. “The smallest bird puts to shame the largest disappears. It breakfasts in Senegal and dines

"If it wishes seriously to travel, all distance quadruped. Chain a lion to a balloon and his

in America. deep roar would be lost in space. The little

"Or if it wishes to take it-more quietly, to Jark, so far more powerful in voice and respiration, ascends singing, and is heard when it is amuse itself on the way, it can do so; it can no longer visible. Its song, gay, light, without lay by for the night, certain of repose; on fatigue, that costs no effort, seems like the glad. only to stretch out in the atmosphere, which

what? on its great motionless wings, that it has ness of an invisible spirit, which would console takes all charge of the fatigues of the journey, the earth.

"Force constitutes joy. The most exuber- or upon the bosom of the wind, its slave, which antly joyful of beings is a bird, because it feels is obliged to cradle it." strength beyond its action--because cradled, lifted by the breath of heaven, it swims, it as

Strong and swift, the frigate-bird can cends without an effort, as in a dream. The afford to despise the tyrants of the air. unlimited force, the sublime faculty of taking It could in an instant leave the condor its force at will from the maternal source, of leagues behind it. But even this king of inspiring life by torrents, obscure among inferior the air, fearless and indefatigable, master beings, is clear and lively in birds ; it is in them of space, and seemingly more than any a divine inebriation."

other creature detached from the miserIf poverty of wing is to be seen in the able fatalities of being, has its cares, its

apprehensions. They show themselves in It does not in any way affect either the its anxious eye. The very magnificence philosophy or the purport of the work. of its wings unfit it for the earth; it dare and we shall not therefore trouble ournot land or swim, and it has to depend selves with the vexed question. At the for nourishment upon meeting with other best it is a tale at second-hand from Loubirds that are fishing, and that have lifted isiana. their fish out of the water. It attacks Birds, according to our author, continue them, makes them disgorge their prey, in the present day the labor imposed upon and catches it ere it reaches what to him them in bygone.epochs, that of preparing is almost a fatal element. Thus it is in all the earth for the habitation of men. The things; even in the triumph of winged cranes and storks defend men against power there is not perfect freedom. reptiles in Asia and in Africa. The giant "There must be, therefore, another state jabiru (Mycteria Americana) prepares that the soul awaits, asks, and hopes for: the way for man in those forests of Guyana

in which he dare not yet venture to dwell. " Des ailes par-dessus la vie! The noble Kamichi toils away at the same Des ailes par-delà la mort !""

great purport.

There are also the purifiers, cleansers, All birds are not esteemed equally hap- or scavengers. Such are the urubus, or py by our author. Some, he thinks, as little vultures of America, without which the heron, are gradually disappearing some of the cities of the south would be This lonely bird of the marsh, flying with untenantable. Vultures, crows, storks, only one limb, extended like some strange ibises, all contribute to the salubrity of hieroglyph, he pictures to his faney as the earth, more especially in warm clisome great lord ruined, some king tum- mates. Gulls will not leave the floating bled down from his throne. He traces carcase of a whale; the vulture will not back its history to the time when the sometimes be driven from its prey. Leearth was inhabited by those great mon- vaillant shot one on a hippopotamus, which sters, which now lie entombed in its crust, still ate on after being fatally wounded. when man could not have lived; for what In some parts of Syria there is no expellcould the club of Hercules have done ing them from the burial-grounds, where against a Plesiosaurus ? and when birds, inhumation is sadly too superficial. When such as the Epiornis-an eagle twenty the murrain attacks a flock of sheep, we feet high, and fifty from wing to wing— have seen them so glatted and hardy as first prepared the earth for the reception to scorn even the shepherd's stiek. In of humanity, by extirpating the colossal America the law protects these public creatures of mixed characters-toad-birds, benefactors. Egypt did more; it loved winged-fish, and mythological dragons. them and venerated them. The Egyptian

The swan—spared by man for its grace fellah, or peasant, never drives the crow and beauty, and because it is not esteemed from the buffalo's horn or the camel's at table-has almost disappeared from the back; he knows it is there for beneficent waters of Italy, where it once abounded. purposes. It is only the so-called civilized Driven to the north, it has lost the power man who persecutes birds with a senseless of song, so much vaunted by antiquity: hostility, as if they were the enemies in“Is its existence a fable, or has it expired stead of the kind friends of man. What away from the mild climate of Greece and should we do, for example, without the Italy?"

insectivorous birds? Look at the roseate Cranes have also almost disappeared thrush-the Seleucidæ, as the ancients from France and England. In Buffon's called them-whose advent, on the aptime, he said there was scarcely a province proach of locusts, was looked upon as a without a heronry. There is only one manifestation of divine beneficence. now in France, between Epernay and Throughout the East, the mission of the Rheims. How few of these bird relics of bird is better understood than in the the middle ages are now to be met with West. The vulture treads the streets of in England!

Antioch undisturbed. The beautiful beeAn anecdote, related by Michelet-after eater builds in the rare pathways and drawing a fine portrait of Wilson--of a horse-tracks, (the soil is so hard, the snake imbibing the milk of a human being, jackal can not get so easily at its nest.) has been contested, and again defended. The little owlet winks ominously from

the tombstone close by; the doves of selves up to it altogether? Pain, on the conCairo salute the bridal festival, or cheer trary, if experienced on only one point, brings the lonely inmates of the harem; the back every thing to the center, strengthens, stork rears its young actually within fortifies, continues, and assures existence. reach of the urchin so mischievous in other that makes us, fashions us, sculptures us out

“Pain is-so to say—the artist of the world, climes.

with the sharp edge of a pitiless chisel; it The observation of the priest of Sais to prunes superabundant life; and that which the Greek Herodotus, “ You will always remains, more exquisite and more enduring, be children,” had, Michelet tells us, much enriched by the very loss, draws from it the depth in it. Conquerors always deride gift of a superior life. the native respect for the animal creation. As it was with the Romans in Egypt, so The world of fish is silence, that of init is with the English in India and the sects is for the most part night. But the French in Algeria; they can not appre- world of birds is light. Those of the ciate the regard of the native for animal south have its reflection on their wings, life. It may appear puerile ; it is not so. those of the north salute it with their If the meaning was sought for, it would songs. The bird's flight depends upon it. be found, even in apparently the most That flight is at once swiftest and boldest contemptible instances. What is a flea, among those who see furthest ; with the or its still more repulsive congener? A falcon, that can distinguish a wren in a warning, by their bites, that man is living bush from the skies, to the swallow that in an atmosphere of impurity, and that detects a fly at a distance of a thousand there is not around and about him, or in feet. So perfect is the sight in some his domicile, that cleanliness which is es. birds, as the pigeon, the stork, the crow, sential to perfect salubrity.

or the swallow, that they remember every The men of the West—to return again feature of a country which they have once to Michelet-will always be children so traversed. Let us acknowledge this sulong as, subtle but superficial reasoners, periority. Let us contemplate without they shall not embrace with a more simple envy these sources of enjoyment which and comprehensive view the reason of we shall also, perhaps, participate in in a things. To be a child, is to contemplate better existence. The delight of seeing so life only by partial glimpses ; to be a much, and so far, of piercing the infinite man, is to be able to understand the unity with the eye, what does it attach itself to? and the harmony that pervades all things. To this life, which is our remote idea:

But what, then, amidst so much optim- "To live in full light and with no shade.” ism, of the rapacious birds ? “Birds of Night, again, is the reverse of day. death, robbers by day and by night, The fatality that chains even winged frightful masks of birds, phantoms that creatures to the terrestrial globe, makes terrify even by day. It is grievous to night their time of trial, as it is to all observe their cruel arms; I do not say other creatures. Little does man, in the those terrible beaks that can kill with one security of civil associations, know of the blow, but those claws, those sharp points, anguish of savage life at the hours when those instruments of torture, which fix Nature leaves such limited means of dethe trembling prey, and prolong the last fense, when its terrible impartiality opens agony and the great anguish of the pains the way to death, as legitimate as is life. of death."

All nocturnal aniinals of prey have this in

common, that they arrive without making “May not pain itself be an advertisement which any noise. teaches us to foresee and to provide, to preserve

Again, what joy, when in the morning ourselves by all possible means from our disso- light dispels the terror of the night!

This cruel school is wakefulness, the What chatting, what chirping, what singstimulus to prudence on the part of all that has ing! It is like a universal felicitation at life; a powerful contraction of the mind upon seeing one another again, of still living. itself, which would otherwise let itselt float The lark ascends and sings, it bears the away with nature, and be enervated by soft and debilitating impressions.

gladness of the earth upwards into the .“Can it not be said that happiness has a cen- skies. “Birds chant the morning hymn, trifugal attraction, which expands itself out- and the blessing of the day for all nature. wardly, unframes, evaporates, and would give Their innocent and divine voices are its us back to the elements, if we were to give our- / priest and its augur.”

« PreviousContinue »