Obrazy na stronie

out its dead body during school hours. The other four little Robins were fed and reared, day by day, in the presence of the seventy children. Do you wonder that the young folks of England are so fond of their confiding Robin Redbreast ?

But we will tell you one more anecdote, still more interesting. In one of the churches of Old England the Bible had been left on the sacred desk lying open, with one part resting on a raised ledge, leaving a hollow place between it and the cushion. There a pair of Robins, before the following Sunday, built their nest and deposited their eggs. The next Sunday, during divine service, there the mother bird boldly sat, undisturbed either by the music of the choir, the reading of the services, or the responses of the congregation. On the following Sunday there were five little young Robins in the nest; and all through the morning and evening services the parent birds were flying in and out, bringing food to their little ones, unmindful of the congregation over whose heads they passed and repassed in the discharge of their parental duties.

Such is the Robin Redbreast of Europe. We have no bird in this part of America which quite equals it in its confiding trust and its sociable and affectionate familiarity. Our Robin, so called from some fancied resemblance in its colors, is a very different bird in all respects.

The Robin of North America belongs to a very different family, – that of the Thrushes. It is of nearly twice the length of the Redbreast, and more than twice its size. Having been so fortunate as to receive the name by which it is now generally known, and having some good qualities of its own, the American Robin is quite as much of a favorite as it deserves to be, — more so than a good many other birds far more worthy of our favor.

Our Robin is probably one of the most common birds all over North America. In summer it is found as far to the north as the Arctic seas, from the Atlantic to the Par

cific Oceans; and in winter it is found in all the Southern States and in Mexico. It is called the Migratory Thrush by Audubon, because it leaves us when winter comes on, and

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

does not return until the frost is out of the ground. It does this probably because its food fails it in winter, — not because of the cold. In the thick woods in the valleys of the White Mountains, where berries are plentiful all the year round, the Robin stays through all the very severe winters.

The American Robin possesses some traits of character not altogether to be commended. He is greedy, voracious, and wasteful of the good things of our gardens. He helps himself to our cherries. He eats more than he needs, and wastes more than he eats. He plunders our strawberry-beds, and there too he picks to pieces and destroys unnecessarily more than he eats. So, too, the Robin appropriates our currants, and, later in the season, helps himself to ripe pears, if we leave them to ripen within his reach; and he is also accused of helping himself in the autumn to our grapes. The worst of it is that he does not seem to know when he has had enough. Too often will he eat more than is good for himself. In South Carolina he will devour the berries of a tree called the Pride of India, in such large quantities as to disable himself from flying, and large numbers are taken and destroyed after they have thus fed upon these berries, becoming an easy prey.

The Robin is also a quarrelsome fellow, and will sometimes drive away from the garden where it resorts other kinds of unoffending birds which deserve better treatment. A pair of Robins once undertook to prevent several families of Swallows from returning to their own homes in a Martinbox, in order to feed their young. The Robins stood doggedly before the entrance to the nest of the Swallows, and refused to permit them to pass in. The poor Swallows, not strong enough to fight their own battles alone, told their grievances to their neighbors, who came in large numbers and resolutely attacked the Robins; but even they were not strong enough to break the blockade until the owner of the garden appeared, and raised the siege by driving the Robins away.

But these are the worst points in our Robin's character. It has its good points too, and these are not few. Its very greediness enables it to do a great deal of good. In the spring of the year, when there are no berries for it to feed upon, it destroys a vast number of injurious insects, slugs, and worms, which, but for the Robin, might destroy whole crops.

Like the Robin of Europe, our bird also has a confiding disposition ; though its confidence has more of the boldness of one who demands a right, than of the gentle trust of one who seeks a favor. Early in spring, long before there are any leaves to shelter or hide his nest, our Robin openly constructs his large coarse nest of mud and hay, in places more or less exposed. His very boldness assures his safety, under the protection of man, from other enemies. He builds his nest often in places singularly exposed to interruption and observation. In one instance it was near a blacksmith's forge; in another, it was on the timbers of a half-finished ship on the stocks, upon which the carpenters were still at work. It is a very common thing to find its nests on the porches of houses, over window-sills, and in other places which bring it into similar intimacy with man.

The Robin is a desérvedly popular singer. Its notes are said, by persons

familiar with those of the far-famed Blackbird of Europe, to so greatly resemble those of the latter bird as to be hardly distinguishable. These are earnest, simple, and thrilling; and, being the first to open and among the last to close the great vernal concert of Nature, their notes are even more esteemed than those of many of our superior songsters.

The parental devotion of our Robin is one of its best traits. It is watchful, provident, and faithful to its young; jealous of any approach to its nest, and evincing the greatest anxiety at any appearance of danger. If its nest is approached too near, or its young molested, its cries of distress and alarm are made almost articulate with reproaches and remonstrances.

Our Robins, when taken sufficiently young, are easily tamed and reconciled to confinement. They soon become strongly attached to their benefactors where they are kindly treated, and perfectly tame and familiar. In our younger days, a pair of tame Robins made a part of our large family. They were allowed to come and go from their cage at pleasure, and would follow our father, when permitted to do so, wherever he went, - ever on the watch for food from his hands, or ready to see if he turned over the ground, that they might search for worms. They would come at his call, alight on his finger, or head, or shoulder; and would resent, with an amusing air of jealousy, any attempt of the smaller children to interfere with their privileges in these respects. One of our pets, very much to our sorrow, was accidentally killed. But our childish grief, sincere as it was, did not equal the inconsolable sorrow of its bereaved mate, which, refusing to be comforted, resisted all attempts to induce it to take food, and in a few days its loving spirit — for who can doubt that it had one ? — had left it to follow its loved and loving mate.

Such is our American Robin, — bearing little resemblance in size, shape, colors, or character to its English namesake, yet not wholly undeserving of our favorable regard. We might all imitate with advantage its affectionate, loving disposition to its kindred and family; and esteem ourselves fortunate if we can make ourselves so generally welcome with our sweet and simple harmony as the Robin. Its faults, we will remember, are but the promptings of its natural instincts, planted there by a common Creator; and that we, who are better taught, have no excuse when we imitate them.

There are other birds called Robins also in America, but not properly. The Baltimore Oriole, of which we may say something in another number, is often called the Golden Robin. The Towhee Finch, one of the common birds of the woods, is known by many as the Ground Robin. In some parts of the State of New York, the showy Scarlet Tanager is only known as the French Robin. In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the Hermit Thrush and the Olive-backed Thrush are both called the Swamp Robin. All this only shows that, as a people, we have little or no originality in giving names to new objects, - which is rather unfortunate, as it necessarily makes a good deal of confusion that might have been avoided.

T. M. B.

[blocks in formation]

THUS sang a German Minnesinger of the twelfth century, Earl Conrad of

1 Kirchberg by name, title, and residence. Suppose we “go a Maying ” among old traditions and old poets for a little, and see with what rites and ceremonies our English ancestors welcomed the “merry month.”

We do not celebrate the first day of May to any extent in this country. When those grim old Puritans came across the sea in the good ship Mayflower, and landed on ice-covered Plymouth Rock, they brought with them, together with other stiff and uncomfortable things (their straight-backed, hard-seated chairs, for instance), an abhorrence for the light observance of any festival-day that might be traced to Heathen or Popish “idolatry.” And May-day, alas ! dates from both the Romans and the Druids. So May-day, Christmas, and other holidays found no footing on New England soil.

Christmas (clearly Papistical in origin) has asserted itself again, but Mayday can never hope for much favor with us. For even farther to the south, where men of less rigid tastes and opinions settled, we lack at this season that profusion of wild-flowers that renders the month so great a favorite with English boys and girls. (In the far South, flowers bloom all the year, and May-day can possess no significance.) With us, that most sweet and lovely blossom, the Trailing Arbutus, –“ Darling of the forest,” as Rose Terry prettily calls it, - has long since passed away. It came very early; we plucked it perhaps from beneath a light spring snow; it gladdened us beyond measure, but it is gone, and there is little to take its place. And, certainly, without flowers in plenty one cannot fitly celebrate a floral festival.

I know, indeed, some pleasant country places where little parties are made up to visit the woods and choose and crown a Queen; but these are only feeble indications of that youthful love for the day which inspired Tennyson's beautiful “May Queen.”

In England it is very different. The season has advanced with rapid stride ; already the earth is covered with luxuriance of wild-flowers, and Summer, lusty and impatient, knocks at the door. English writers upon country life abound with pictures of fragrant and beautiful May. What a wealth of wild blossoming does not that admirable writer for the young, Thomas Miller, spread before us when he says: “If May produced not another blossom beyond those which she hangs out upon our thousands of miles of hawthorn hedges, we should still hail her as Queen of the Year. O, is it not a pleasant thought to know that even 'looped and windowed raggedness,' the poorest beggar that ever wandered by the wayside, now inhales a fragrance worthy of the gardens of Heaven ?.

May-day is fitly celebrated where so much material for floral decoration

exists; but even in England the old customs have sadly fallen away. Once upon a time every village had its annual setting up of the May-pole, which was consecrated to the Goddess of Flowers, the garlands upon it being left undisturbed till the ensuing year. At the present time, I presume a May-pole would hardly be discovered if one searched from end to end of “Merry England.”

Washington Irving says: “I shall never forget the delight I felt on first seeing a May-pole. It was on the banks of the Dee, close by the picturesque old bridge that stretches across the river from the quaint little city of Chester. My fancy adorned it with wreaths of flowers, and peopled the green banks with all the dancing revelry of May-day. One can readily imagine what a gay scene it must have been in jolly old London, when the doors were decorated with flowering branches, when every hat was decked with hawthorn, and Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Maid Marian, the morris-dancers, and all the other fantastic masks and revellers, were performing their antics about the May-pole in every part of the city.”

Robin Hood, personated by some gay young fellow, presided in those gay old times as Lord of the May; while beside him Maid Marian, crowned as Lady of the May,

"With eyes of blue Shining through dusk hair, like the stars of night, And habited in pretty forest plight,

His greenwood beauty, sat, young as the dew." Early on May morning, while the gradually brightening east shot upward faint spires of grayish light, and the damp breath of the night still floated over meadow and wood, the young people were up and out to “gather the May.” The matter of the first moment was the May-pole. It was the custom in most parts of England for the landed gentry to allow the villagers the choice of a suitable tree on their domains; and a tall, straight sapling having been selected, it was speedily cut down and dragged to the village-green by oxen gayly decorated with flowers and bright-colored ribbons. It is stated that during the reign of Queen Elizabeth it was not uncommon to see as many as forty yoke of cattle employed in drawing a May-pole. Following it came youths and maidens bearing green branches and gay wreaths and nosegays. Besides decorating the May-pole with these floral treasures, they fastened them to the cottage-doorways and twined them about the pillars in the village church. For it was a simple age, when simple pleasures satisfied the country people.

The custom of erecting a May-pole, as well as the practice of choosing a King and Queen (or Lord and Lady) of May, dates from the time of the Saxons, when yearly “Wittenagemotes," or assemblies of the Barons, were held in the month of May. During the absence of their chiefs the common people chose a King, who selected a Queen, and the two ruled in the stead of their lords, — he crowned with an oaken, she with a hawthorn wreath. A pole was put up to dance about, and the authority of the pair was respected while the Wittenagemote continued in session. The May-pole was sometimes a “ Liberty-pole” too, in those days, its erection with a garland upon

« PoprzedniaDalej »