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Prey. In rivers they have their own districts ; and, if one swan trespasses on the domains of another, woe to the weaker vessel. We have attempted to describe a bloodless encounter of this kind :* but swan-fights do not always terminate so harmlessly. It is on record, that black swans have more tha
once fallen victims to the prowess of their white neighbours. On one occasion, in the Regent's Park, two white swans set upon a black one, and one of the whites seizing the black's neck in his bill, shook him so violently and fatally, that he died almost on the spot ; whilst the conquerors rowed proudly up and down with arched wings and feathers erect in all the pride of victory.
A friend, who was an early riser, had long noticed four swans on the Serpentine river. When taking his morning walk in June, 1840, he missed one of them, and saw blood upon the wing of one of the survivors. Upon inquiry, he found that the other three had attacked the fourth, and killed him. The body of the murdered swan was whealed as if it had been beaten with sticks.
Long life, when it is not interrupted by violence, is the swan's portion. Willughby speaks of him as “a very long-lived fowl, so that it is thought to attain the age of three hundred years :
which,” (saith Aldrovandus) “ to me seems not likely. For my part, I could easily be induced to believe it : for that I have been assured by credible persons, that a goose will live a hundred years
But that a swan is much longer lived than a goose, if it were not manifest in experience, yet are there many convincing arguments to prove, viz. : that in the same kind it is bigger : that it hath harder, firmer, and more solid flesh: that it sits longer on its eggs before it hatches them. For, that I may invert Plinie's words, those creatures live longest that are longest born in the womb. Now incubation answers to gestation.”
Whatever weight there may be in Willughby's argument, there can be no doubt a swan will live a very long time. Mr. Yarrell says, that marked swans have been known to live fifty years; but there was one not very long ago, in the neighbourhood of Shepperton, though not upon the Thames, over whose head more than double that length of years was supposed it have passed.
The Morning Post of the 9th of July, 1840, had the following notice :
DEATH OF A CELEBRATED CHARACTER.
“ The beginning of last week an exceedingly well-known character departed this life, namely, Old Jack, the gigantic and venerable swan, with which the public have been so long acquainted
* See the “ Fragment” headed, “ A Word to Anglers," p. 168.
on the canal in the enclosure of St. James's Park, at the advanced age of seventy years. Old Jack was hatched some time about the year 1770, on the piece of water attached to Old Buckingham House, and for many years basked in the sunshine of royal favour, Queen Charlotte being extremely partial to him, and frequently condescending to feed him herself. When the pleasuregardens in St. James's Park were laid out, Jack was removed there, and his immense size, sociable disposition, and undaunted courage, have often excited the admiration of the public. Jack's strength and courage were, indeed, astonishing. Frequently has he seized an unlucky dog who chanced to approach to the edge of his watery domain by the neck and drowned him; and, on one occasion, when a boy, about twelve years of age, had been teasing him, Jack caught him by the leg of his trousers, and dragged him into the water up to his knees. Jack, however, never acted on the offensive, and, if not annoyed, was exceedingly tractable. But the march of modern improvement affected poor Jack as much as it has done thousands of more pretending bipeds. The Ornithological Society was formed, and a host of feathered foreigners found their way on to the canal, with whom Jack had many fierce and furious encounters, and invariably came off successful. But a legion of Polish geese at length arrived, who commenced hostilities with Jack. Despising every thing like even warfare, they attacked him in a body, and pecked him so severely, that he drooped for a few days and then died. The body of poor old Jack is to be stuffed for one of the scientific museums.
Those who live near the banks of the Thames well know the instinctive prescience with which swans will, before a flood, raise their nests so as to save their eggs from being chilled by the water ; and we will conclude this chapter, already we fear too long, with an account of one of these wonderful preparations, clearly showing that to the incubating swan,
Coming events cast their shadows before,” for which Mr. Yarrell was indebted to the kindness of Lord Braybrooke.
The scene of this true tale was a small stream at Bishop's Stortford. A female swan had seen some eighteen summers, had reared many broods, and was become familiar to the neighbours, who valued her highly. Once, while she was sitting on four or five eggs, she was observed to be very busy, collecting weeds, grasses, and other materials to raise her nest. A farming man was ordered to take down half a load of haulm, with which she most industriously raised her nest and eggs two feet and a half : that very night there came down a tremendous fall of rain, which flooded all the malt-shops, and did great damage. Man made no preparation, the bird did. Instinct prevailed over reason : her eggs were above, and only just above the water.” *
* British Birds. A very interesting account of similar foresight in the Beaver will be found in the New Sporting Magazine, for July, 1840. The Elbe, upon a particular occasion, had been higher than it had risen within the memory of man; but the event had been expected because the beavers had been observed to build such unusually high dams, a sure sign of spring floads in that river.
A WORD TO ANGLERS.
“Good luck to your fishing."
IF, as "Thomas Best, Gent., late of his Majesty's Drawingroom in the Tower,” saith, “Patience is highly necessary for every
be endowed with who angles for carps, on account of their sagacity and cunning,”—that virtue is still more essential as an endowment to the angler who goes after the great Thames trouts. He must be content to spend much time in dropping down from stream to weir, from pool to stream, and from stream to weir again, and to burn all the skin off his face many times before he has even a run: moreover, unless he wears gloves—and no one handles his tools with mittens so well as he does without -he will have to present a pair of hands at the dining-table only to be rivalled in their nut-brown hue by those of the gipsy or the gravel-digger. But when he does get a nine or ten pounder into his well, the look-down upon the fish, after all the hair-breadth hazards of losing him when hooked, is worth the weariness of many blank days, and the production of those unpresentable hands to boot.
To be sure, it does sometimes happen, even to the best of sportsmen, that, after the struggle is apparently over, and the fish is close to the boat's side, something will give way, leaving the unhappy Piscator with a straight rod and suddenly slackened line, and also with a sensation as if he had been suddenly deprived of his back-bone.
But for a lover of nature, even when fortune smiles not, this kind of fishing has many charms :-the bright river, the continual change of scene, the rich beauty of the highly cultivated and picturesque country through which it flows, and the exhilarating freshness of the air as it comes laden with the perfume of the new-mown hay, or of the honeysuckle blossoms from
“ the cottage of thatch,
Where never physician has lifted the latch,” make mere existence a pleasure.
Then there is always something to be seen by one who has eyes and knows how to use them. There are the wild flowers that enamel the banks, the insects, the fish—it requires a practised eye to see them—the birds. Here, a king-fisher shoots by like a meteor-there go the summer-snipes—the swift darts by close to the boat, like
“ An arrow from a Tartar's bow”—
That back-water is positively carpeted with the green leaves and snowy star-bloom of the water-lily-and the nightingale hard by, in shadiest covert hid, fairly sings down all the host of daysongsters, though the blackbird and thrush make melody loud and clear. On one of these expeditions not long ago, we observed below
Lock, just as a thunder-storm was coming on, a pair of swans with seven young ones. There was evidently something more than usual going on-some sensation, as the French say, among them. The young were collected between the parents, and the whole party pushed up stream. At first we thought they were nearing our punt, as we were dropping down from trying the weir, in the hope of bread; but three of the young ones mounted on the back of the female swan, who elevated her wings to receive them, the brilliant whiteness of her plumage contrasting beautifully with the grey down of the little creatures, and there was a scared appearance about the whole party. The cause was soon manifest. A magnificent swan, worthy of Leda berself
, came ploughing up the water, indignant at a trespass on his domain. The family hurried on: and in their haste, one of the young slipt off its mother's back. There was distress! A weakling was left behind in the wake of its father, and whilst it scrambled along, non pussibus æquis, uttered shrill cries as the enemy advanced. Up came the mighty bird, and then the father, evidently inferior to the attacking swan in age, size, and strength, turned to meet him, while the little family, huddled close to the mother, made haste to escape up the river. Proud as the senior, the
father threw back his neck between his arched wings, and confronted the giant. This was unexpected : they kept sailing backward and forward abreast of each other, across the stream, like two warships ; and the watchful turns of their graceful necks and bodies, as each tried to take the other at advantage, was a sight to see. We thought at last that they would do battle ; for each of the rivals elevated himself on the water, and made show of combat to the outrance. But, by this time, the family, under the guidance of the affectionate mother, were safe, and the elder male swan seemed