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INTERPRETED BY THE BIRDS.
It is the world of birds which offers to the observation of the philosopher the most numerous and charming examples of order in amorous liberty, of conjugal fidelity and maternal devotion. The history of swallows and pigeons, of swans, and even of house sparrows, swarms with inconsolable Artemisias and Niobes, who allow themselves to die of hunger and of grief beside bodies of their dead spouses or their slain children, and who do not make of their mourning the occasion of a crisis in business, like some who might be named among mortals.
Whoever has not seen the hen, the turkey, the partridge, and the quail, defend their young, can have but a moderate idea of heroism. A man who should display but once in the course of his career as a citizen, the tenth part of that devotion which these poor creatures exhibit at any moment of their lives to assure the safety of their tender broods, would have places of honor at all the theatres during his life, and statues in the forums after his death. A partridge that drags her wings and feigns to be wounded before the dog, that leaps in his face and picks at his eyes ; a shrike that puts to flight, by the vigor of her resistance, the loafing truant who has meditated the invasion of her domicil; the swan, which will not let a cavalcade drink at the stream near her little ones
- all these poor mothers, whose existence is one long series of heroic acts and sublime devotions, would have much trouble to understand our admiration for the Athenian Codrus or Roman Curtius. Is that all? they would say, when
had brayed into their ears, as into ours, the merit of these persons.
There is no case known among the feathered bipeds where a mother has willingly abandoned her young, except under main force. The cases of infanticide, so common with the sow, with the rabbit, and with the human species, are so rare with the birds that such of the learned as are most worthy of faith, contest their existence. These cases of infanticide, moreover, could not in any issue be attributed to the mothers : they must be exclusively due to the amorous brutality of the males, which destroy the young
as they break the eggs, in order to regain possession of the females. If some birds of prey drive their young from the
eyrie too soon, it is because they have not the means of meeting the expenses of their education.
If infanticide is a crime unknown among birds, charity on the other hand is practiced among them towards lost children with a fervor which shames our philanthropy. Place in any window a young sparrow orphaned and lost from its home; immediately all the fathers and mothers in the neighborhood will come one after another to fetch it a bill full. Little creatures hardly weaned from their own nests, and yet without families, will profit by the opportunity to make their experiments in maternity. Noble and touching inspiration of the sentiment of universal solidarity, which man will not fail to exploit, with inexcusable barbarity !
Thus act most of the little birds friendly to man, the chaffinch, the linnet, the swallow. The vulgar idea that the parents of the captive orphan bring it poison in order to withdraw it by death from the torments of captivity, is as stupid a prejudice as that which supposes the children of the executioner condemned by the law to practice their father's profession.
The birds do not kill their children from tenderness such Roman, Spartan, or Jewish virtues are repngnant to their manners ; they are simple enough to keep the child with a cold in its head, rather than pull off its nose. The parents do not poison their young, as ignorance asserts ; only when these ones have already tasted a little of the charms of liberty, instead of merely bringing them food and consolation, they bring them counsels to escape; and the poor captives, who are already but too much inclined to sadness, soon feed only on desires and ardent regrets, and end by sinking under a twofold weariness of spirit and body.
Maternal charity goes so far among birds that it degenerates into abuse and amounts to suicide. Thus the red-throat, the bunting, the hedge.sparrow, in whose nest the female of the cuckoo has laid her egg, sacrifice the interest and even the existence of their own families, to the voracity of the bastard parasite, introduced by fraud into their nest. The cuckoo is too faithful an emblem of the loafing classes, who are inefficient at any kind of work themselves, and whom Nature would condemn to die of hunger, if labor were not condemned to nourish idleness. The red-throat and the bunting, who rear the young cuckoo to the detriment of their own family, symbolize the poor country girls
who are obliged to refuse to the fruit of their own womb the milk of their breasts, in order to sell it to the children of rich strangers. The female of the cuckoo is the incomplete woman who despises the joys of maternity, and accepts love only under the aspect of worldly position.
The genius of maternal love which reveals to the female of the bird her eminent faculties as a workwoman and artist, endows her at the same time with courage to defend her young family, and with foresight to shelter it against the storms which threaten its safety.
Wisdom and love can not easily be allied with more firmness than is shown by the female bird.
Do not suppose that as soon as there is promise of marriage between two turtle-doves or sparrows, the lover is forthwith invested with all the rights of the husband. A word in the air, and a cavatina more or less well trilled, is not enough to triumph over her resistance. She does not understand trifling about such matters, and will only yield to the amorous entreaties of her betrothed after she has given the last stroke of her bill to her nest. Knowing that love will bring the family after it, she has the force to control her senses, and to retard her defeat until the day when the possession of a domicil shall have completely reässured her as to the consequences of her weakness, and the future of her young
Every one understands the irony of the allusion, and knows the class of lovers to whom the bird here gives a lesson. I will not be so cruel as to turn the steel in the wound, and to send the epigram to its address. It is very easy, in fact, to impose constraint when it is known that the pleasure is only a little delayed, when for securities of our approaching happiness we have fortune, the spring-time, abundance of insects, and a house of one's own; and the birds who possess all this and the rest, speak of it quite at their ease.
But I would like to know how they would listen to the voice of wisdom and of foresight, were they in our place, poor proletaries for whom love is the only consolation of this world, and the only luxurious fancy which does not transcend our
- From Toussenel, by M. E. L.
A DRAMA ON THE SEA-SHORE.
[From the Philosophical Studies of Honoré de Balzac.]
The young have a compass with which they like to measure the future. When their will accords with the boldness of the angle which they open, the world is theirs. But this phenomenon of intuition occurs only at a certain age. From the twenty-second to the twenty-eighth year of man's life is the age of great thoughts, the age of first conceptions ; because it is the age of immense desires, the age when we doubt of nothing : doubt is but another name for impotence. After this age, transient as the season of seed-sowing, comes that of execution. There are, in a manner, two youths the youth during which we believe, and the youth during which we act. These often coincide in men favored by Nature, who are, like Cæsar, Newton and Bonaparte, greatest among the great.
I was measuring the time required by a thought for its development, my compass in my hand, standing upon a rock, a hundred yards above the ocean whose waves broke upon its ledges, and I threaded the maze of my future, enriching it with works, like an engineer who on vacant ground traces fortresses and palaces. The sea was splendid. I had just taken a fine swim, and awaited Pauline, my guardian angel, who was bathing in a granite alcove floored with fine sand - the most coquettish dressing-room that ever Nature fashioned for her fairies of the surf,
We were at the end of the Croisic, a delicate peninsula of Bretagne. We were far from the port, in a place left unguarded by the revenue cutters, because it is regarded as too inaccessible even for smugglers. To float in the air, after having swum in the sea ! Ah! who would not have launched into the future! Why was I thinking ? Why does sorrow come ? Who knows? Ideas fall on your heart, or on your head, without consulting you. Never was coquette more fantastic or imperious, than is conception for artists ; we must seize it like fortune, by its full-flowing locks, when it comes.
Astride upon my thought like Astolfo on his hippogriff, I was galloping then through the world and disposing of all at my will. As I sought around me some presage for those audacious constructions which my mad imagination counseled me to undertake, a pretty cry, the note of a woman who calls you in the silence of the desert, the voice of a woman issuing from the
bath, reänimated, joyous, rose above the murmur of that fluctuating fringe which the billows ever wore upon the sallies of the beach.
This note, breaking fresh from the soul on my ear, seemed to show me in the rocks the foot of an angel, who, opening his wings, had exclaimed, “ Thon wilt succeed.” I descended radiant, light. I bounded like a pebble in glancing down the slope. When she saw me, she asked, “ What is in you ?” I made no answer, but my eyes were moist. Last night Pauline had understood my griefs, as now she understood my joy, with the magical sensibility of a harp which obeys the variations of the atmosphere. Human life has brilliant moments ! In silence we moved along the beach. The sky was cloudless, and the sea as fair. Others might have seen but two blue plains one above the other ; but we who heard each other's voices without having spoken ; we who, between these two shores of the infinite, launched those illusions in which youth disports we clasped each other's hands at the least changes presented, either by the sheet of water or the sheets of air, taking these light phenomena for the material translations of our twofold thought. Who has not tasted in pleasures that moment of unlimited joy, when the soul seems to be freed from the bonds of flesh, and to find itself again as if restored to the world whence it came ? Not pleasure alone is our guide into these regions. Are there not hours in which our sentiments intertwine themselves and bound
away there like two children who take each other by the hand and begin to run without knowing why? Thus we went on.
As the roofs of the town appeared, a greyish line on the horizon, we met a poor fisherman returning to Croisic. His feet were bare, his linen breeches tattered in the legs, in holes and badly patched ; then he had a shirt of sail-cloth, shreds of listing for suspenders, and a rag for a vest. This misery hurt us, its dissonance b.ieaking upon our harmonies. We looked at each other plaintively for not having at that moment the power to draw from the treasures of Aboul Casem. We observed a superb lobster and a sea-spider hung by a cord, which the fisherman swung in his right hand, while with the other he held his baits and fishing tackle. We accosted him with the intention of purchasing his shell-fish-an idea which struck us both at once, and was expressed by a smile, to which I answered by a light pressure
that I held, and which I drew nearer my heart. It is of these nothings that memory afterwards makes poems; when near the fire we recall the