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ing certainly held that it was a fiction based upon a great subjective truth; and even had he thought it a fiction, he would have agreed more with those who held it to be a fact, than he would have agreed with those who simply ignored it as an idle fable. And, as a matter of fact, these hypothetical admissions were only hypothetical. No one who reads Browning's greater poems can doubt for a moment that the whole drift and tendency of his mind and life went in the opposite direction, towards a deeper and deeper value for the Christian revelation, and not towards a more decided distrust of it.
We do not doubt in the least that Browning was not what could be called an orthodox disciple of any Christian Church. To our minds, he often verges on pantheism in his optimistic treatment of all forms of evil as in some sense necessary and of divine causation. No doubt his mind held to what is called universalism, and to optimism generally. He never laid any hold of the notion that there was a tradition and a Church which might be a safer guide to Christian truth than the individual instincts of each separate soul. He was an individualist to the core, and believed much more in the guidance of the affections to which his heart inclined, than in the guidance of the reason. Still, the one deepest belief of his life was that Christ revealed the divine mind and the divine purpose in a sense so profound, that the doctrine of the incarnation was to him a real word of God. He was not an Athanasian. Perhaps even he did not hold theologically the whole of the Nicene Creed. But he held to the incarnation in a sense much more eager and much more progressive and much more constant, than he held to any of the doubts or hesitations which the opponents of that doctrine had suggested to him. Browning had no faith in any ecclesiastical guidance, sectarian or otherwise. Though brought up a Dissenter, all that he retained of Dissent was his intense individualism, his inability to submit himself to any mediate guide to God. But certainly we may say this of him, that his hypothetical doubts had far less part in him than his growing and pas sionate belief. Mrs. Sutherland Orr has not made things much plainer by her disquisitions on the obscure passages in Ferishta's Fancies" and "La Saisiaz," or any other of Browning's crude transcendentalisms of later years. These halfbaked compositions, which mark rather his later impatience of the difficulty of expressing thought in adequate speech, than
his earlier power to mould for himself a rough but most effective and impressive form of speech, will never count much for the exposition either of his faith or his genius. But they at least show that he became more and more convinced that Christ is the great revelation of God, as he grew older, incoherent as many of his attempts to affirm this were. To the world in general, "Saul," "Christmas Eve and Easter Day," the story of the Arabian physician concerning the resurrection of Lazarus, and "The Ring and the Book," will remain Browning's high-water mark as a religious poet, though not perhaps his high-water mark as a Christian believer. He was a heterodox Christian, no doubt, with certain pantheistic leanings, but he was a Christian of the utmost intensity. He believed, from his heart, that Christ revealed God, and was personally the divine Son of God, in a sense a great deal deeper and a great deal more vivid and personal than most orthodox Christians.
From The Sunday Magazine.
BIRDS ON THEIR TRAVELS.
INSTINCT must be a great difficulty to the materialist; one of the greatest with which he has to contend. Whence is it? What is it? The secret tuition which directs the beaver to construct its dam, the squirrel to lay up its hidden stores, the spider to spin its silken web; the guiding impulse which in these latter days of the dying year is taking from us half our feathered friends, and bringing to us in their place a host of their hardier fellows. We have the facts. Every spring they come, every autumn they go. And as they arrive they meet others leaving, and as they leave they meet those others returning a double ebb and flow of feathered life. And surely enough of interest attaches to these periodical migrations without the need for prying into questions which we shall never be able to answer, and discussing problems which no finite mind can solve. And, after all, we do know the two great causes which act as the principal factors in turning birds twice a year into feathered pilgrims. One cause is climate, the other cause is food. A bird like the fieldfare, although hardier than its first cousin the thrush, is nevertheless unable to bear the rigors of a northern winter, and so travels southwards as soon as the leaves begin to fall. Some
times even our winter is too severe for its constitution, and then it travels farther still, and spends just a few days with us on its return journey in the spring. The swift, on the other hand, a native of northern Africa, cannot endure the heat of a tropical summer, and so flies away northward in time to escape the pitiless scorching of an almost equatorial sun. Probably no bird is so sensitive to extremes of heat and cold. It leaves its home to avoid the heat, and yet suffers terribly if the air be chill in the land of its temporary sojourn. Often and often have swifts been picked up dying and dead in the later days of an English spring, chilled through and through by a biting northerly wind, or frozen by the cold blast which comes with the hail of a vernal thunder-storm.
The question of food, of course, is dependent upon that of climate. Autumn frosts begin, and the insects disappear, and so the birds which prey upon those insects are perforce obliged to depart, driven hence not only by stress of weather, but also by want of food. But again, although our British Islands cannot supply the swallow, and the swift, and the nightjar with the insects which they need, they can supply the redwing and the fieldfare with worms, and snails, and slugs, and hips and haws. And so we extend hospitality, as it were, to one class of birds, although compelled to refuse it to another, and the autumnal exodus is balanced by an autumnal immigration.
Much the same order is preserved by these travelling birds, both in their arrival and departure. The chiff-chaff and the willow-warbler (“hay-bird,” the rustics call him) are generally the first to come, and usually the last to go. Sometimes one sees them even in the gusty days of March, and they linger on until the first frosts of autumn bring down the last remaining leaves from the trees. Close upon them follows the active little sandmartin, bound for the steep, soft-walled quarries wherein it can scoop out its odd little burrows with little exertion, and not much fear of molestation. Then one notices a house-martin or two, pioneers of the host which will appear a few days later; and then the fork-tailed swallows come; and last of all the swifts, which are seldom to be seen before the latter end of May.
his net drew up a company or heape of swallows as big as a bushel, fastened by the legs and bills in one; which, being carried to their stoves, quickened and flew, and, coming again in the cold air, dyed." And in the pages of a popular almanack, published in the year of grace 1889, I find precisely the same statement made in all sober earnesti.e., that swallows do not migrate, but at the approach of winter conceal themselves deep down in ponds or streams, and there, clinging together in great clusters, lie torpid until the warm days of spring call them once more to active life! Strange how these false old notions live on in spite of daily spreading knowledge.
The swift is one of the very few birds which do not seem utterly exhausted by their long journey over the sea. Five minutes after its arrival it is hawking for flies as actively as if it had just left its nest after a long night's repose, for its astonishing physique is scarcely susceptible of fatigue, and the untiring muscles are like so many rods and strands of tempered steel. Swallows are less vigorous, and are generally glad enough to rest awhile on the rigging of any vessel which they may chance to meet. And when they reach the land at last one often sees them sitting in hundreds upon the shore, too wearied even to snap at the sand-flies which are flitting in thousands around them.
So with other birds as well. Their strength seems most accurately adjusted to the length of their journey, and the immigrants as they arrive drop upon the shore, utterly unable to fly for another hundred yards. If they chance to be blown out of their course by contrary winds, and find no place whereon to rest awhile, they perish. The gulls and the terns are better off, for they can sit on the sea itself and rest as long as they will. But the poor migrants, less favored by their structure, have no such power; and to them to stop in their flight, unless to perch awhile upon the yards of a friendly ship, means death.
How these birds find their way to the exact spot which they left six months before is a puzzle indeed; yet so they do. A marked pair of swallows have been known to return year after year to the very same spot beneath the eaves of the The old ideas about these birds and very same house, winging their way thither their "hibernation " still linger, it seems, over some three or four thousand intervenin some country districts. "One here" ing miles of land and sea. What a mar(Königsberg), wrote Master George Bouke- vellous memory the birds must have, thus ley, somewhere about the year 1620,"in to recollect all the details of a journey
which they have taken perhaps but once previously, and that six or seven months before! For they must surely carry with them a mental map of the country over which they have passed, clear and distinct in every detail, indelibly photographed upon their tiny brains. Wonderful as is the instinct of the carrier pigeon, which brings it safely home from a distance of hundreds of miles, it is as nothing compared with that of these tiny migrants, in whose case the hundreds of miles to be travelled are replaced by as many thousands, and which have to journey in the first instance to a bourne wholly unknown. The nightingale, again, is a very regular migrant in its going and coming, and I have often thought that the same individual bird returns again and again to the same locality. When I was a boy there was a thick bramble bush near our house to which always resorted a night ingale of particularly rich and exquisite song. And we always looked out-or, rather, listened - for him on the twelfth of April. On the eleventh he was hardly ever there; once, I think, he delayed his coming until the fifteenth. But in other years, as a rule almost without exception, he began his song on the twelfth; and then we used to go out in the evening and whistle in answer to his song, while he would come nearer, and nearer, and nearer in his excitement, until at last he would sit in a hedge only some four or five yards away. For a nightingale is always extremely jealous of a rival, real or supposed, and can easily be brought to close quarters by any one who will remain motionless and carefully whistle in answer to the bird at every break in his song. No very accurate imitation of his own rich notes is needed, for a nightingale's ear is not at all discriminating, and his mind is simply The brown, hairy caterpillars-"woolly filled with the fact that he has been chai- bears," we called them-on which he lenged to a sort of musical duel. And loves to feed have all "spun up" in their that challenge he accepts with the utmost silken cradles, and turned to pupæ, for alacrity. At first, as one answers him, he which he does not care at all. The climerely tries experiments, singing fresh mate, too, tries him a little, for he seems notes or fresh combinations, and then wait- to know that the cooling nights will soon ing to see whether that strain also will be grow cooler still. And so off he goes, imitated. But before very long he is sure pioneer of the great autumnal exodus, to be roused to keener emulation, and back to his South African home, where then, in his excitement and I fear hairy caterpillars are always to be found, jealousy, he will sometimes come almost and floods, and hail, and snow, and bitter within arm's reach. But oh! the squall east wind have no terrors. which he sets up when he finds out his mistake, and discovers that his supposed rival is not another nightingale at all, but that he has been taken in and deceived by a mere human biped! One would scarcely believe that it could proceed from a night
ingale's throat, far less from that self-same throat from which, a few brief moments before, those floods of liquid melody were welling. Yet the bird soon forgets his disappointment and disgust, and the very next night one can go and entice him again in like manner.
It is an odd fact, by the way, that the cock nightingales-which alone sing, in spite of Shakespeare's opinion to the contrary*- precede the hen birds by several days, and appear to spend the interval before the arrival of the latter in practising their choicest melodies. For a nightingale's voice suffers somewhat during his ten months and a fortnight of silence, and a little preliminary practice is necessary before his lost powers come back to him. And full well do the bird-catchers know that if he is to thrive in captivity and freely pour out the beauties of his song, he must be trapped now, before he has chosen his mate; for if he be taken after his choice is made, he will surely pine away and die. So they tempt him with mealworms, whose attractions he cannot resist; and then for him it is good-bye to the woods forever.
Although the song of the nightingale usually ceases by the end of May or the beginning of June - for after the olivebrown eggs are hatched, and his mate has no longer to be comforted during her weary vigils, his voice breaks and goes
the bird remains with us until well on into the summer, and seldom takes his departure until quite the latter end of August. By that time many of the migrants are going or gone. The cuckoo is generally the first to leave:
In July he begins to fly,
Come August go he must.
Then goes the nightingale, quietly and unobtrusively. One does not miss him.
The nightingale, if she should sing by day.
(Merchant of Venice, Act v, Scene i.)
for his song has been silent for weeks. A few days later the swift, delicate of constitution, and intolerant of cold night dews, leaves its friends the swallows and the martins, and sets out also upon its long pilgrimage. The nightjar, too, goes about the same time; and strangely bold does it become for the while, and curiously in different to the usually detested daylight. Once, in this autumn season, I knew a travelling nightjar to come and sit upon a window ledge while the sun was high in the heavens; and there it quietly rested for some little time, oblivious of the fact that two of us were standing and watching it, not more than a foot or two away. When it had rested sufficiently it turned its head towards the sea, which lay about a mile away, and set off upon its journey. And this was in the brilliant sunshine of a hot August day.
mer. But some come from the south, like the woodcock, which is regular almost to a day-the 20th of October- and stops to rest for a brief space by the sea before travelling on to inland woods. Terribly exhausted they are, some of them; so exhausted that they can be knocked down with a stick, or even captured by hand. For they have not the iron muscles of the swift and the sea-gulls, but can just swing their way over the sea, and no more. And so a short sojourn by the shore is necessary, that strength may be regained for the last part of the long journey.
The short-eared owl, or woodcock owl, comes with them, although it is not of them, and then for a time has a very unowl-like way of getting into turnip fields, and so being flushed with the partridges. This owl, like the kestrel in winter, always leaves some of its number behind when it goes over the sea in the spring. Strange, this division of forces, the one band going off regularly to the Continent to nest, and the other band as regularly staying behind.
Next one fails to notice the pretty, active little flycatchers, which all the summer long have been busily hawking for flies and such minute life-atoms before our very windows; for they are confiding little fellows, these flycatchers, and not at all afraid of man at moderately close quarters. And then one no longer sees a whitethroat flit out of the hedge and dive in again a few yards farther on. The corncrake is silent too, for he is over the sea by now, and comfortably settled in his winter quarters. And then the swallows and the martins begin to congregate together in those ominous gatherings which are so sure a precursor of autumn; and one knows that in a few brief hours they will have left us also. And when they go very few of our summer visitors are left; and the short-pany there. ening days and the fast-falling leaves tell only too surely of the bleak and chilly days at hand.
The chiff-chaff is almost the last to leave us; for it is a robust little being, and can stand a good deal of cold weather, and so remains until it has seen almost the last of its fellow-emigrants depart. But the kestrel is the last of all, for he goes not until near upon December, when the ground is frozen hard, and mice do not venture from their holes. And even then he leaves a few of his kind behind him, representatives of the family, so to speak, while he himself is absent abroad.
And while all this company have been departing, a band of substitutes have been silently taking their places. Birds from the far north, these, most of them, hardy of constitution and inured to cold, and yet not able to endure the biting winter frosts of the lands where they hie them in sum
The fieldfares and the redwings, most social of birds, come down from their homes in the north, banished for six long months and more by the icy hand of winter. And so they visit us, and hunt in the field for slugs and worms, and for hips and haws in the hedges. And they always come in such flocks; "not in single spies, but in battalions." They have no idea of solitude at all, but must fly in company, and feed in company, and roost in company all the winter long. And when spring comes round again they return to their northern haunts, and nest in com
But sometimes even our comparatively mild winters are too severe for the fieldfare and the redwing, and then they betake themselves, first to the sheltered valleys on our southern shores, where the sharp north wind may justly be expected to lose its sting and bitterness, and then, if still the frost should hold, to lands more southern still. But it is seldom that one does not see the pretty, speckle-breasted birds all the winter long; and good cause indeed has the farmer to bless them for their coming, when he thinks - if ever he does so think of all the snails and slugs which they have captured for him.
Snipes, too, come over in mid-autumn great snipes, common snipes, tiny jacksnipes, and other snipes too very often by way of reinforcement to those whom early in the year they left behind them. For some of these birds-like naturalized foreigners for family or other reasons
see fit to make our country the land of their adoption, and go not away in the spring when all their fellows depart. And in early summer days, as one walks through the low marsh lands, one sees these settlers flying aloft, and perseveringly "drumming," in that strange way of theirs, high up in the air above. How or why they do this I do not know at all. I do not think that any one has quite settled that question. But probably the vibration of the rapidly quivering wings is the actual cause of the sound, for it is only uttered -if one may justly employ that termas the bird flutters downwards in his descent. Meanwhile the hen is sitting closely upon her eggs, or zealously guarding her newly hatched young. And he who catches sight of her will only do so by purest accident.
According to M. Fatio, who recently read a paper on the subject before the Physiological Society of Geneva, the snipe is an amateur surgeon in a small way, and not only dresses any wounds which it may receive with down plucked from its own body, but even manufactures splints wherewith to secure a broken limb. According to this observer, who brought forward a quantity of evidence in order to corroborate his statements, the stem of a feather serves as the actual splint, and is fastened to the leg by means of a long strip of narrow-leaved grass wound tightly round and round. And the bird is also said to take great care properly to "set the bone before applying the bandage. In one case brought forward by M. Fatio a poor wounded snipe, shot in both legs and lost for the time, was found next day to have applied such splints to both its fractured limbs, and on its beak, clogged with coagulated blood, was still some of the down which it had applied as a dressing.
Among the smaller birds, the snow bunting and the brambling are strictly winter visitors; but the former, being a hardy Norseman, is usually content with Scottish weather, and only comes south now and then. The brambling goes everywhere, and is far more commonly to be met with; for it is a gregarious bird, like the fieldfare and the redwing, and travels in large flocks. But one is very apt to mistake it for its first cousin the chaffinch. The two birds are so very much alike in size, and color, and habits. And as they are very good friends, as near relations should be, and feed and live together on perfectly amicable terms, one cannot well be blamed for confusing the
two together, and looking on the whole flock as composed of chaffinches only.
But ducks, and certain of the marshloving birds, form the main body of the army of winter migrants. They come in great variety, and also in some abundance. Not quite so commonly as they did in days of old, however; that is not to be expected, for we are so fond of draining our old fen-lands, and growing corn and turnips where was nothing but ooze and slime, and naturally the ducks do not like the changed condition of affairs. Where are they to find worms and water-snails if we will persist in drying up all the mud? So that when one goes into the fenny-land of Norfolk, and engages the natives in friendly converse, one hears much about ducks in the past, but not much about ducks in the present. But then the fenland in Norfolk forms one of those districts where every one goes out with a gun. The Wild Birds' Protection Act is practically a dead letter, for who is to enforce its regulation when the nearest policeman is fifteen or twenty miles away, and the country all around is a practical wilderness? So that one hears the gun throughout the spring and summer, and every year the birds become fewer and fewer. One sedge-warbler in a long day's outing, when one ought to have seen or heard fifty or sixty! That was my record two years ago, and other birds were scarce in proportion. The pity of it-the pity of it! And we cannot replace them, cannot bring them back. Our marsh birds are most surely doomed, and twenty years hence, perhaps, will be but casual visitors, like the avocet and the stork and the spoonbill, which once bred commonly in our islands, and now are but seldom seen.
That is why the autumnal immigration of our marshland birds has something of sadness about it; for one feels that they will not so come much longer, and that every year is reducing their numbers. What will our bird-fauna be like in the time to come? The hawks are going, and the owls are going, and the kingfisher is going, and one seldom sees a magpie or a jay. Terns and sea-gulls are shot in thousands, that their wings may be used to "decorate" ladies' bonnets, or from mere love of killing; and starlings, and robins, and sparrows, and finches are shot, and their plumage dyed to resemble that of their gaudier fellows. The pity of itthe pity of it! Shall we find out our mistake before it is too late? Or shall we live at last in a birdless world, in which the insect is master of all?