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VOICES OF THE BIRD-KIND.
From the motion of birds, the transition is natural enough to their notes and language, of which I shall say something. Not that I would pretend to understand their language, like the vizier of the Spectator, who, by the recital of a conversation which passed between two owls, reclaimed a sultan, before delighting in conquest and devastation; but I would be thought only to mean that many of the winged tribes have various sounds and voices adapted to express their various passions, wants, and feelings; such as anger, fear, love, hatred, hunger, and the like. All species are not equally eloquent; some are copious and fluent as it were in their utterance, while others are confined to a few important sounds: no bird, like the fish-kind, is quite mute, though some are rather silent. The language of birds is very ancient, and, like other ancient modes of speech, very elliptical; little is said, but much is meant and understood.
The notes of the eagle-kind are shrill and piercing; and about the season of nidification much diversified, as I have been often assured by a curious observer of Nature, who long resided at Gibraltar, where eagles abound. The notes of our hawks much resemble those of the king of birds. Owls have very expressive notes; they hoot in a fine vocal sound, much resembling the vox humana, and reducible by a pitch-pipe to a musical key. This note seems to express complacency and rivalry among the males: they use also a quick call and a horrible scream; and can snore and hiss when they mean to menace. Ravens, besides their loud croak, can exert a deep and solemn note that makes the woods to echo; the amorous sound of a crow is strange and ridiculous; rooks, in the breeding season, attempt sometimes in the gaiety of their hearts to sing, but with no great success; the parrot-kind have many modulations of voice, as appears by their aptitude to learn human sounds; doves coo in an amorous and mournful manner, and are emblems of despairing lovers; the woodpecker sets up a sort of loud and hearty laugh; the fern-owl, or goatsucker, from the dusk till daybreak, serenades his mate with the clattering of castanets. All the tuneful passeres express their complacency by sweet modulations, and a variety of melody. The swallow, as has been observed in a former letter, by a shrill alarm bespeaks the attention of the other hirun
dines, and bids them be aware that the hawk is at hand. Aquatic and gregarious birds, especially the nocturnal, that shift their quarters in the dark, are very noisy and loquacious; as cranes, wild-geese, wild-ducks, and the like: their perpetual clamour prevents them from dispersing and losing their companions.
In so extensive a subject, sketches and outlines are as much as can be expected; for it would be endless to instance in all their infinite variety the notes of the feathered nation. I shall therefore confine the remainder of this letter to the few domestic fowls of our yards, which are most known, and therefore best understood. And first the peacock, with his gorgeous train, demands our attention; but, like most of the gaudy birds, his notes are grating and shocking to the ear: the yelling of cats, and the braying of an ass, are not more disgustful. The voice of the goose is trumpet-like, and clanking; and once saved the Capitol at Rome, as grave historians assert; the hiss also of the gander is formidable and full of menace, and "protective of his young." Among ducks the sexual distinction of voice is remarkable; for, while the quack of the female is loud and sonorous, the voice of the drake is inward and harsh, and feeble, and scarce discernible. The cock turkey struts and gobbles to his mistress in a most uncouth manner; he hath also a pert and petulant note when he attacks his adversary. When a hen turkey leads forth her young brood she keeps a watchful eye; and if a bird of prey appear, though ever so high in the air, the careful mother announces the enemy with a little inward moan, and watches him with a steady and attentive look; but, if he approach, her note becomes earnest and alarming, and her outcries are redoubled.
No inhabitants of the yard seem possessed of such a variety of expression, and so copious a language as common poultry. Take a chicken of four or five days old, and hold it up to a window where there are flies, and it will immediately seize its prey, with little twitterings of complacency; but if you tender it a wasp or a bee, at once its note becomes harsh, and expressive of disapprobation, and a sense of danger. When a pullet is ready to lay she intimates the event by a joyous soft and easy note. Of all the occurrences of their life that of laying seems to be the most important; for no sooner has a hen disburdened herself, than she rushes forth with a clamorous kind of joy, which the cock and the rest of his mistresses immediately adopt.
The tumult is not confined to the family concerned, but catches from yard to yard, and spreads to every homestead within hearing, till at last the whole village is in an uproar. As soon as a hen becomes a mother her new relation demands a new language; she then runs clucking and screaming about, and seems agitated, as if possessed. The father of the flock has also a considerable vocabulary; if he finds food, he calls a favourite concubine to partake; and if a bird of prey passes over, with a warning voice he bids his family beware. The gallant chanticleer has, at command, his amorous phrases and his terms of defiance. But the sound by which he is best known is his crowing; by this he has been distinguished in all ages as the countryman's clock or larum, as the watchman that proclaims the divisions of the night.
A neighbouring gentleman one summer had lost most of his chickens by a sparrow-hawk, that came gliding down between a faggot pile and the end of his house, to the place where the coops stood. The owner, inwardly vexed to see his flock thus diminishing, hung a setting net adroitly between the pile and the house, into which the caitif dashed, and was entangled. Resentment suggested the law of retaliation; he therefore clipped the hawk's wings, cut off his talons, and, fixing a cork on his bill, threw him down among the brood-hens. Imagination cannot paint the scene that ensued; the expressions that fear, rage, and revenge, inspired, were new, or at least such as had been unnoticed before the exasperated matrons upbraided, they execrated, they insulted, they triumphed. In a word, they never desisted from buffeting their adversary till they had torn him in a hundred pieces.
AN ENGLISH WONDER OF COLD AND SNOW.
There were some circumstances attending the remarkable frost in January, 1776, so singular and striking, that a short detail of them may not be unacceptable.
The first week in January was uncommonly wet, and drowned with vast rains from every quarter: from whence it may be inferred, as there is great reason to believe is the case, that intense frosts seldom take place till the earth is perfectly glutted and chilled with water; and hence dry' autumns are seldom followed by rigorous winters.
January 7th.Snow driving all the day, which was followed by frost, sleet, and some snow, till the 12th, when a prodigious mass overwhelmed all the works of men, drifting over the tops of the gates, and filling the hollow lanes.
On the 14th the writer was obliged to be much abroad, and thinks he never before, or since, has encountered such rugged Siberian weather. Many of the narrow roads were now filled above the tops of the hedges; through which the snow was driven into most romantic and grotesque shapes, so striking to the imagination, as not to be seen without wonder and pleasure. The poultry dared not to stir out of their roosting places; for cocks and hens are so dazzled and confounded by the glare of snow that they would soon perish without assistance. The hares also lay sullenly in their seats, and would not move till compelled by hunger; being conscious, poor animals, that the drifts and heaps treacherously betray their footsteps, and prove fatal to numbers of them.
From the 14th the snow continued to increase, and began to stop the road waggons, and coaches, which could no longer keep on their regular stages: more especially on the western roads, where the fall appears to have been deeper than in the south. The company at Bath, that wanted to attend the Queen's birthday, were strangely incommoded: the carriages of many persons, who got in their way to town from Bath as far as Marlborough, after strange embarrassments, here met with a ne plus ultra. The ladies fretted, and offered large rewards to labourers if they would shovel them a track to London but the relentless heaps of snow were too bulky to be removed; and so the 18th passed over, leaving the company in very uncomfortable circumstances at the Castle and other inns. On the 22d the author had occasion to go to London through a sort of Laplandian scene, very wild and grotesque indeed. But the metropolis itself exhibited a still more singular appearance than the country; for being bedded deep in snow, the pavement of the streets could not be touched by the wheels or the horses' feet, so that the carriages ran about without the least noise. Such an exemption from din and clatter was strange, but not pleasant; it seemed to convey an uncomfortable idea of desolation :
SALADIN AND NATHAN.
(From "Nathan the Wise.")
[GOTTHOLD EPHRAIM LESSING, poet and dramatist, was born at Camenz, Silesia, January 22, 1729; died at Brunswick, February 15, 1781. He was educated at the Fürstenschule of Meissen; studied theology at Leipsic, 1746-1748; and worked as a journalist and critic in Berlin, 1748-1752. Meanwhile he became deeply interested in the drama, published several successful plays, and in 1767 was made official playwright, and director of the Hamburg theater. From 1770 until his death he was librarian of the ducal library at Wolfenbüttel. The comedy" Minna von Barnhelm " (1765) was the first national drama of Germany, and the tragedy "Emilia Galotti" (1772) is considered his dramatic masterpiece, but the noble philosophic drama "Nathan the Wise" (1779) is the only one that lives. His masterpiece, however, is "Laocoön" (1766), a short fragment on the principles of art, which has been, and still is, of world-wide influence. His other works are: "Wolfenbüttelsche Fragmente" (1777), "Anti-Goerze" (1778), "Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts" (1780), and "Ernst und Falk" (1778-1780).]
Scene: SALADIN's Palace. SALADIN and SITTAн his sister.
His caravans through every desert toil,
His heart to every virtue how unlocked,
But come what may, let him be Jew or not,
You would not, sister, take his wealth by force?
By force? What mean you? Fire and sword? Oh no!