Изображения страниц

floating quietly on some lake or pool. When flushed, they go off in a straight line, one behind the other; and when in full plumage, or not detained by parental affection, are difficult of approach, seldom suffering the sportsman to come within gun-shot. Their disposition seems to be mild, and they are no match for the violent temper of the mute swan, Cygnus olor, as those who may think it worth while to look at our future sketch of that species will find.

Here then we must, for the present, take our leave, with an admonition to those “gunners” or “punt-shooters” who go

after the wild fowl in England or America, by night, to take warning from Jemmy Randall's shot, immortalized in the ancient Irish ballad intituled :

[blocks in formation]

7. Within two or three months after,

To her uncle appeared she, Crying " Dear uncle, dear uncle,

Let Jemmy Randall go free.


“For my apron being about me,

He took me for a swan."
But it's, oh! and for ever, alas !
It was sweet Mally Bann.

When the fair maids in the city

Were assembled in a row, She appeared among them

Like a mountain of snow.


All the maidens in the country

They held up their head, When this beautiful, this lovely,

This fair one was dead, &c. &c.

Eheu Mariola



“I go to soft Elysian shades

And bowers of kind repose ;
Where never any storm invades,

Nor tempest ever blows.

“ There in cool streams and shady woods

I'll sport the time away,
Or swimming down the crystal floods,
Among young halcyons play."


Thomas Brown, doctor of physic, in the third book of his Pseudodoxia Epidemica,” chapter xxvii., “compendiously treating of sundry tenents concerning other animals, which examined, prove either false or dubious,” thus writeth :

“ And first from great antiquity, and before the melody of the syrens, the musical note of swans hath been commended, and that they sing most sweetly before their death. Thus we read in Plato, that from the opinion of Metempsuchosis, or transmigration of the souls of men into the bodies of beasts most suitable unto their human condition, after his death, Orpheus the musician became a swan. Thus was it the bird of Apollo, the god of musick by the Greeks, and the hieroglyphick of musick among the Ægyptians, from whom the Greeks derived the conception, hath been the affirmation of many Latines, and hath not wanted assertors almost from every nation.”

After much learned discussion wherein, inter alia, he refutes the story “ delivered” by Aldrovandi “concerning the musick of the swans on the river of Thames near London," and shows that “the formation of the weazon” in those birds is not peculiar to them “ but common also unto the Platea or Shovelard, a bird of no musical throat,” he alludes further to the confession of the Italian, that the tracheal apparatus in the swans may be contrived to contain “ a larger stock of ayr, whereby being to feed on weeds at the bottom, they might the longer space detain their heads under water."

But a still further objection occurs to the philosophical doctor in “the known and open disadvantage” of a flat bill, "for no latirostrous animals (whereof nevertheless there are no slender numbers) were ever commended for their note, or accounted among those animals which have been instructed to speak.” And he sums up


argument thus : When, therefore, we consider the dissention of authors, the falsity of relations, the indisposition of the organs, and the immusical note of all we ever beheld or heard of, if generally taken and comprehending all swans, or of all places, we cannot assent thereto. Surely be that is bit with a tarantula, shall never be cured by this musick; and with the same hopes we expect to hear the harmony of the spheres.”

The latter certainly may be expected to regale our ears at about the period when our much confiding friend, Mr. Simbledon Hopeful, receives his first dividend from the grand joint-stock company for pickling pine-apples.

It is curious that ornithologists should term the swan of the poets The Mute Swan, and it is by no means clear that the ancients did not confound the more canorous and less graceful species, the Hooper, with the tame or mute swan, the bird now under consideration. Hoopers may be seen to this day on

Cayster's flowery side,” and we know that they " sang their last and died” in the great holocaust when the sun's son was run away with ; but the mute swan, Cygnus olor, does not appear to have been ever noticed there. That the last named species was the musical swan of the ancients there can be no doubt. A cameo, representing Leda and the swan, figured in the “Gemmæ" of Leonardus Augustinus from the Orsini collection, would extinguish any doubt on that point. The Hooper carries its neck nearly upright as it floats and walks, looking stiff and awkward when compared with the elegant bending carriage of Cygnus olor. When, therefore, Aristotle is quoted as saying that swans are canorous, especially at the end of life, and that they pass over the seas singing, it is almost evident that there is a confusion of the attributes of two species. However this may be, it is pretty clear that tò KÚKVELOV Qõely passed into a proverb for a dying speech, and that often none of the most decorous. A Deipnosophist in Athenæus tells a story from Chrysippus of a poor devil led forth to death, who prayed the executioner to stay his hand a little while, for that he had a great longing to die like the swans, singing. The carnifex, who from experience knew what odd fancies are apt to come into the minds of men when "small back

[ocr errors]

is gripping them,” granted his prayer; when the condemned poured forth such a torrent of invective upon all and sundry as, if done into choice English, would not have disgraced the most celebrated of our Tyburn heroes ;-no, not Abershaw himself,

“ When the king and the law, and the thief had their own." To talk of the music of the mute swan, seems to be rather Milesian ; and, indeed, to apply that term to the notes uttered by any of the swans, is to use a licence more than poetical, albeit, as we have admitted in our last chapter, the clangour of some of them sounds not unpleasantly, when softened by distance. Oppian makes them the birds of dawning, pouring forth their song upon the sea-shore before sunrise, when

“ Lucifer had chas'd
The stars away, and fled himself at last."

But whether they sang early in the morning, or at the latest possible period of life, the mute swans are not condemned to the silent system as the name would imply. They may be heard in spring and summer mur

urmuring rather than singing with a soft, low voice, plaintive withal, while complacently accompanying their young. Colonel Hawker has printed a few bars of a domesticated wild swan's melody, the notes being two C, and the minor third (E flat); and the gallant writer declares that the musician kept working his head, as if delighted with his own performance.*

The wind instrument of the mute swan is thus constructed.

The keel of the breast-bone is single, there being no cavity : the windpipe comes down between the forks of the merry-thought, and then curves upwards, and passes backwards to the bone of divarication, whence its short tubes proceed to the lungs.

In this country the bird has long been considered of sufficient importance to demand the special care of the legislature, and stealing or spoiling its eggs was punishable by statute.t

By the old law, when a marked swan was stolen in an open and common river, the purloined bird, if it could be obtained, and if not, another swan, was hung up by the bill, and the thief was compelled to hand over to the party robbed as much wheat as would cover all the swan, the operation being effected by pouring the grain on its head till it was entirely hidden. But stealing marked and pinioned swans, or even unmarked birds, if kept in a moat, pond, or private river, and domesticated, is felony. The taking of swans not so marked or kept is a misdemeanor only.

* Instructions to young Sportsmen.

f 11. Hen. VII. C. 17.

1. Jac. c. 27.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »