Our United States are more largely indebted to citizens of foreign birth, for aid in the establishment of their political independence and institutions, and the military and political reputation which they enjoy, than for the developement of their scientific resources, and their share of literary fame. In the latter respect, however, they have had distinguished benefactors; and in the list of those whom Providence has withdrawn from the stage of life, we could mention none, whose memory challenges more honour and gratitude, than that of ALEXANDER WILSON, the ORNITHOLOGIST. His spirit and career were singularly romantic; his talents and dispositions admirably fitted for his pursuits; and his labours extensive and brilliant, in a department of science which possesses a peculiar beauty, grace, and richness of imagery. It is, indeed ,eminently poetical; and the indefatigable searcher and elegant historian of American birds, was truly a poet, in every sense in which the heart, fancy, and habits can form that character. He made verses, and good verses; but he appeared more as such, in the warmth of his affections, the fervour of his enthusiasm, his passion for nature in her original magnificence, and the imaginative and intuitive character of his modes of studying and describing the feathered tribes. An inspiration, strong, pure, and bright, impelled him to the forest, the mountain ridge, and the waters of the wilderness; all the finest influences of which he deeply felt, while his eye and his ear were specially employed in rendering him familiar, with the most interesting of the creatures that associate the human wanderer to their scenery.
We have already said enough to make superfluous, all apology for introducing into this volume, the following biographical sketch of the successful naturalist. It is a just and appropriate tribute, though only an imperfect abstract of that ample and terse account, which the world owes to the pen of his friend [author's note: George Ord, Esq. of Philadelphia, F.L.S.], who, gifted with similar talents and tastes, and eminent in the same fields of knowledge, has so written his life, and edited his works, that nothing is left for his admirers to regret, except the hardship of his struggles and the prematurity of his decease.
Alexander Wilson was born in the west of Scotland, in the town of Paisley, on the sixth of July, 1766. His parents were in the humblest sphere; poor and illiterate; and he lost his mother when he was about ten years of age. After remaining for some time in the common school of his native place, where he was but imperfectly taught even the mere rudiments of an English education, he was apprenticed to a weaver. In his father's family, be acquired the name of the "lazy weaver," because he appeared to neglect his business, in order to read old magazines and manufacture rhymes.
As soon as the term of his apprenticeship, five years, expired, he relinquished the trade, and adopted the capacity of a pedler, principally in order to gratify his inclination to wander through Scotland. He set out with his pack, at the age of eighteen, vigorous and sanguine, resolved to study nature, to cultivate his muse and fill his purse. But the object last mentioned was defeated by the others. While the trader, as his biographer remarks, was feasting his eyes upon the beauties of a landscape, or inditing an elegy on a fox, the auspicious moment to drive a bargain was neglected, or some more fortunate rival was allowed to supplant him. The glory of Burns, who was then the unrivalled favourite of Scotland, fired the ambition of Wilson, and prompted him to make the most laborious efforts with his pen. Some of his compositions pleased persons of respectability, to whom they were shown, and who, in consequence, admitted him to their society. This advance emboldened him to issue proposals for a volume, for which he sought subscribers, in traversing the country again, as a pedler; an enterprise in which he failed, though the failure did not prevent him from publishing his volume. Its title was "Poems, Humorous, Satirical, and Serious," and its success scarcely exceeded that of his attempts to gather a golden harvest. These poems, however, passed through two small editions, before the year 1792. They afterwards fell into an oblivion, which the author himself did not finally regret.
Mortified at the disappointment of his glowing hopes, Wilson retired to the little village of Lochwinnoch, where he read and wandered amid the romantic scenery of the neighbourhood, and occasionally exercised his pen in essays for the periodical work called the Bee, which Dr. Anderson published at Edinburgh. To that capital he now and then repaired, in order to attend a debating society; his journeys being performed on foot, and his pockets often wanting enough to procure him the necessaries of life. An accidental circumstance brought him into acquaintance and correspondence with his idol Burns; but their original cordiality was destroyed not long after, by a criticism in which Wilson used some harsh language respecting a passage in the unrivalled tale of Tam O'Shanter. Poverty drove him back to Paisley, in search of mechanical employment, for a bare subsistence. Here, taking part in the controversy which arose in the first years of the French revolution, between the weavers and the manufacturers, the ardour of his character and his love of rhyming betrayed him into the composition of a bitter satire on one of the masters, who took revenge by prosecuting him for a libel, and had the satisfaction to see him forced by the sentence of the court to burn his poem, with his own hands, at the public cross in the town of Paisley, and then enter the public prison for a short term. Wilson was regarded as a martyr to the common cause, by his fellow operatives; but in this consisted his whole indemnity for his sufferings. His next publication was his tale of "Watty and Meg," which acquired, and has retained, considerable popularity in Scotland.
Full of chagrin and discontent, the poetical weaver listened to the captivating accounts of America, then, as now, circulated among the Scottish poor; he conceived hopes of a brighter lot beyond the ocean, and adopted a plan of extreme diligence at the loom, and personal economy; by which, in the lapse of four months, he compassed the sum requisite for the expense of emigration. After living at the rate of one shilling per week, he set out on foot, for Port Patrick, whence he proceeded to Belfast in Ireland, wherein company with a nephew, a lad of sixteen — he embarked as a deck-passenger, on board an American ship bound to Newcastle, in the state of Delaware.
It was in July, 1794, that our sanguine adventurer arrived in the United States, without a letter of introduction, a shilling in his pocket, or a previous acquaintance in the strange land which then valued neither weavers nor poets. A buoyant spirit and enthusiastic admiration of republican freedom, sustained him against all the depressing influences of his situation. He shouldered his fowling piece, and trudged from New Castle to Philadelphia; delighted with the sense of liberty, the aspect of the country, and the plumage of the birds, which were at once objects of particular interest, for what we may style the instinct of his genius. At Philadelphia he made himself known to a compatriot, a copperplate printer, who, learning his destitute situation, gave him employment at this business; which, however, he soon quitted, in order to engage as a weaver, first at Pennepack, ten miles north of Philadelphia, and then in Virginia. The habits of the people with whom he was compelled to associate in that state, and the general wretchedness of his existence there, compelled him to return in a short time to Pennepack.
In the autumn of the year 1795, he travelled through a part of the state of New Jersey, in his old quality of pedler, and with more success in it than he had enjoyed in Scotland. It is worthy of remark, that one who wandered in so humble a character, kept a diary, written with much care, and enriched with shrewd observations on the manners of the people, with notes of the principal natural productions, and with sketches of the indigenous quadrupeds and birds. On returning from this adventure, commercial and literary, he opened a school for children, a few miles beyond Frankford in Pennsylvania; but, finding the situation unpleasant, he removed to Milestown, and taught in the school-house of that village. Here he remained for several years, in the faithful discharge of his duty to his pupils, and the assiduous culture of the several branches of common learning, which he had not before found the opportunity to pursue, with any steadiness or method. A part of his leisure he devoted to the occupation of surveying lands for the, farmers, by which he gained a pittance in addition to his slender fees as a tutor. In this interval, he performed, on foot, in the space of twenty-eight days, a journey of nearly eight hundred miles, into the state of New York, for the purpose of seeing and assisting a family of indigent relatives, who had emigrated thither from Scotland.
Wilson next changed his residence at Milestown, for the village of Bloomfield, New Jersey, where he gain opened a school; but he had not been long in this place, before he was tempted to contract an engagement with the trustees of a seminary in the township of Kingsess, a short distance from Gray's Ferry, on the river Schuyikill, and about four miles from Philadelphia. This removal forms an epoch in his career. It placed him in the immediate neighbourhood of the celebrated botanist, WILLIAM BARTRAM, whose gardens opened to him a field of delightful study and exercise, and whose lessons and example animated and guided him in the study of Nature. Bartram, perceiving the bent of his genius, put into his hands some works on Natural History; by the aid of which, and his stock of materials derived from personal observation, he made important advances in that department of knowledge in which Providence had destined him to excel. To dissipate the gloom which the penury and toil incident to the station of a country schoolmaster, occasionally spread over his mind, his friends persuaded him to copy sketches of the human figure, and landscapes; but, on these subjects, his pencil seemed to lose all its felicity and charm, and triumphed only and in every respect, when at the instigation of Bartram, he undertook to delineate birds. As he prosecuted this congenial work, he became more and more proficient and fond in Ornithology, until he was led to the resolution of devoting himself to it altogether, and forming a collection, at whatever hazard, of all the feathered species in this part of North America. This enthusiasm is indicated by the language which he held in one of his letters — "I sometimes smile to think that while others are immersed in deep schemes of speculation and aggrandizement, in building towns and purchasing plantations, I am entranced in contemplation over the plumage of a lark, or gazing, like a lover, on the lineaments of an owl." At this period, he contributed poems of some length to the "Literary Magazine," a monthly publication, of which the great novelist Brown was the editor.
We find Wilson — now a confirmed ornithologist — in 1804, engaged in a pedestrian, scientific tour to the Falls of Niagara, passing, as he relates, (for the route was then very different from what it is at present,) in the course of one thousand and three hundred miles through deep snows, and almost uninhabited forests, over stupendous mountains; and down dangerous rivers. This journey, severe as it was, whetted his appetite for travelling, and as scarcely ended when he felt himself eager for some more extensive expedition; which should further amplify his store of facts and drawings in ornithology. It gave birth too, to another descriptive poem, entitled the Foresters, and inserted in the Port Folio, a well known periodical miscellany. Our enthusiast passed the winter of 1805, chiefly in drawing or describing birds, and in the spring, made some progress in etching, in pursuance of a design which he could never achieve, of furnishing, himself, a series of new and superior plates for the illustration of Edwards' Natural History. Meanwhile, his little school hardly yielded what would serve to clothe and feed him in the simplest manner. Such an account as the following, extracted from one of his letters, is characteristic of those institutions, as they then flourished. "February 20, 1805. I shall, on the twelfth of next month, be scarcely able to collect a sufficiency to pay my board, having not more than twenty-seven scholars. Five or six families who used to send me their children, have been almost in a state of starvation. The rivers Schuylkill and Delaware are still shut, and wagons are passing and repassing this moment on the ice." The extent of his design and performance, notwithstanding all the difficulties and privations which he underwent, may be judged of by the annexed passage of the application that he made February, 1806, to the president of the United States, to be attached to the exploratory expedition, then projected by the government. "Having been engaged these several years in collecting materials, and furnishing drawings from nature, with the design of publishing a new ornithology of the United States of America, so deficient in the works of Catesby, Edwards, and other Europeans, I have traversed the greater part of our northern and eastern districts, and have collected many birds undescribed by these naturalists. Upwards of one hundred drawings are completed; and two plates in folio already engraved. But, as many beautiful tribes frequent the Ohio, and the extensive country through which it passes, that probably never visit the Atlantic States, and as faithful representations of these can only be taken from living nature, or from birds newly killed, I had planned an expedition down that river from Pittsburg to the Mississippi, thence to New Orleans, and to continue my researches by land in returning to Philadelphia."
No answer to his request was given by the president, Mr. Jefferson; a silence which much offended Wilson, but of which the cause has not transpired. In 1806, he was engaged by Mr. S. F. Bradford, bookseller, at a liberal salary, as assistant editor for the American edition of Rees's New Cyclopaedia. The same bookseller also undertook to be the publisher of his AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGY, and to advance the moneys necessary for the undertaking. This was almost the consummation of his wishes and happiness. Nothing could exceed the zest and assiduity, with which he executed the heavy duties which he thus incurred. At length, in September of 1808, the first volume of the Ornithology made its appearance. It was a splendid specimen of his abilities and taste, and was received with the applause and admiration due to its various merits. Soon after it was issued, the author set out for the eastern states to exhibit his book and procure subscribers. He travelled as far as the District of Maine, and returned through Vermont, by the way of Albany, to Philadelphia. Every where, the book was inspected with curious and wondering eyes, and the author loaded with compliments; but the whole number of the subscriptions which he was able to procure by his best exertions, did not exceed forty-five. The letters which he addressed to his friends at home during this journey, afford an entertaining, though not very flattering picture of New England.
In the same year, and for the same objects, but with still less advantage, he departed southward, visiting every city and town of importance, as tar as Savannah. The correspondence with which he amused his friends on this occasion, is likewise rich in pleasant anecdote and graphical description. The journey, as it was performed in the winter, put to the test all the faculties and virtues of the traveller.
The second volume of the Ornithology was published in 1810, when the author once more sallied forth, comparing himself to "a beggar with her bantling," and reached New Orleans, by the way of Pittsburg, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the south-western states. The principal events of this journey, his impressions from the scenery and the manners, and his hopes and disappointments, are related in his correspondence and diary, with a copiousness so seasoned that it never tires the reader, and a degree of frankness and vivacity that gives double value and interest to his narrative. His force of spirit, acuteness of remark, acquirements in natural history, and descriptive talent, all appear to great advantage in these compositions; which, we may add, are a curious record of the difficulties and suffering, unavoidable in the year 1810, in a route now comparatively so safe and convenient. On his return to Philadelphia, he devoted himself, at the Botanic Garden of Mr. Bartram, with unremitting zeal, to the preparation of more volumes of the Ornithology — a task to which poverty, the bad faith of others, and the want of important, but then unattainable accessories, opposed obstacles sufficient to paralyze any labourer, except a long-tried, passionate enthusiast. In 1812, he found it necessary to visit the eastern states, for the purpose of seeing his subscribers, and settling accounts with his agents. One occurrence of this expedition should be mentioned here, for its pleasantry. At Haverhill, the good people observing a stranger among them of very inquisitive habits, and who evinced particular earnestness in exploring the country, came to the sage conclusion that he was a spy from Canada, employed in taking sketches of the place, to facilitate British invasion. It was therefore thought material for the public safety, that Wilson should be apprehended, and he was accordingly taken into custody; but the magistrate before whom he was brought, on being made acquainted with his character and objects, quickly dismissed him, with apologies for the patriotic mistake.
In 1812, Wilson was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society; and in the following year, by the month of August, he had succeeded in completing the letter-press of the eighth volume of his splendid work. But unfortunately, his intense anxiety to conclude his undertaking betrayed him into an excess of toil, which, however inflexible his mind, his bodily frame was unable to bear. "At length he was attacked by a disease, which, perhaps, at another period of his life, might not have been attended with fatal effects. Now, however, in his debilitated state of body and harassed mind, it proved a mighty foe whose assaults all the combined efforts of friendship, science, and skill could not repel." The dysentery, in a little more than a week, closed the mortal career of Alexander Wilson, on the twenty-third of August, 1813.
Mr. Ord has summed up the character and criticised labours of this illustrious naturalist, with equal feeling, knowledge, candour, and judgment. He maintains that there never did arise a man, more eminently qualified for a naturalist than Wilson; and exults in the fact, that we have, in the volumes of the American Ornithology, as faithful, complete, and interesting an account of our birds as the Europeans possess of theirs in whatever form. We need no other evidence, says the same generous friend, of the unparalleled industry of our author, than the fact, that of two hundred and seventy-eight species which have been figured and described in his volumes, fifty-six had not been noticed by any other naturalist. This expensive collection of birds, was the result of many months of unwearied research amongst forests, swamps, and morasses, and nothing but the most remarkable qualities, and exalted enthusiasm could have supported a simple individual in labours of body and mind, compared with which the bustle of common life is mere holy-day activity or recreation.
Independently of that part of Wilson's work, which was his proper province, viz. drawing and describing his subjects, he was compelled to occupy much of his time in the drudgery of colouring the plates; his sole resource for a livelihood being, the while, in this employment, which moreover, was attended with peculiar, and the most irksome embarrassments. It was his intention, on the completion of his Ornithology, to publish what is still a desideratum, an edition of it in octavo, with coloured plates; and he meditated a work on the Quadrupeds of the United States, to be printed and illustrated in the style of the Ornithology. Death intercepted these useful aims.
It remains for us to describe the man, and furnish a few specimens of his literary performance; but this has been so well done by his kindred biographer, that it would be an injustice to both to employ any language of our own for the purpose. What follows is therefore extracted from Mr. Ord's sumptuous volume published last year; and we are the more tempted to make these quotations, as the costliness and size of that volume prevent it from being extensively known.
Wilson was possessed of the nicest sense of honour. In all his dealings he was not only scrupulously just, but highly generous. His veneration for truth was exemplary. His disposition was social and affectionate. His benevolence was extensive: He was remarkably temperate in eating and drinking, his love of study and retirement preserving him from the contaminating influence of the convivial circle. But as no one is perfect, Wilson in a small degree partook of the weaknesses of humanity. He was of the "genus irritabile," and was obstinate in opinion. It ever gave him pleasure to acknowledge error, when the conviction resulted from his own judgment alone, but he could not endure to be told of his mistakes. Hence his associates had, to be sparing of their criticisms, through a fear of forfeiting his friendship. With almost all his friends he had occasionally, arising from a collision of opinion, some slight misunderstanding, which was soon passed over, leaving no disagreeable impression. But an act of disrespect he could ill brook, and a wilful injury he would seldom forgive.
In his person he was of a middle stature, of a thin habit of body; his cheek-bones projected, and his eyes, though hollow, displayed considerable vivacity and intelligence; his complexion was sallow, his mien thoughtful; his features were coarse, and there was a dash of vulgarity in his physiognomy, which struck the observer at the first view, but which failed to impress one on acquaintance. His walk was quick when travelling, so much so that it was difficult for a companion to keep pace with him; but when in the forests, in pursuit of birds, he was deliberate and attentive — he was, as it were, all eyes, and all ears.
His remains were deposited in the cemetery of the Swedish church, in the district of Southwark, Philadelphia. While in the enjoyment of health, he had conversed with a friend on the subject of death, and expressed a wish to be buried in some rural spot sacred to peace and solitude, whither the charms of nature might invite the steps of the votary of the muses, and the lover of science, and where the birds might sing over his grave. A plain marble tomb marks where his ashes lie.
The style of Wilson appears to be well adapted to the subjects upon which he wrote. It is seldom feeble, it is sometimes vigorous, and it is generally neat. He appears to have 'understood himself, and his readers always understand him.' That he was capable of graceful writing, he has given us, in the preface to his first volume, a remarkable instance.
In a work abounding with so many excellencies as the Ornithology, it would not be difficult to point out passages of merit, any one of which would give the author a just claim to the title of a describer of no ordinary powers.
Dr. Drake, in his observations upon the descriptive abilities of the poet Bloomfield, thus expresses himself. "Milton and Thompson have both introduced the flight of the sky-lark, the first with his accustomed spirit and sublimity; but probably no poet has surpassed, either in fancy or expression, the following prose narrative of Dr. Goldsmith: 'Nothing,' observes he, 'can be more pleasing than to see the lark warbling upon the wing; raising its note as it soars, until it seems lost in the immense heights above us; the note continuing, the bird itself unseen; to see it then descending with a swell as it comes from the clouds, yet sinking by degrees as it approaches its nest; the spot where all its affections are centred; the spot that has prompted all this joy.' This description of the descent of the bird, and of the plea sures of its little nest, is conceived in a strain of the most exquisite delicacy and feeling."
I am not disposed to dispute the beauty of the imagery of the above, or the delicacy of its expression; but I should wish the reader to compare it with Wilson's description of the mockingbird, unquestionably the most accomplished songster of the feathered race.
"The plumage of the mocking-bird, though none of the homeliest, has nothing grand or brilliant in it; and, had he nothing else to recommend him, would scarcely entitle him to notice; but his figure is well-proportioned, and even handsome. The ease, elegance, and rapidity of his movements, the animation, of his eye, and the intelligence he displays in listening, and laying up lessons from almost every species of the feathered creation within his hearing, are really surprising, and mark the peculiarity of his genius. To these qualities we may add that of a voice full, strong, and musical, and capable of almost every modulation, from the clear, mellow tones of the wood thrush, to the savage scream of the bald eagle. In measure and accent he faithfully follows his originals. In force and sweetness of expression, he greatly improves upon them, in his native groves, mounted upon the top of a tall bush, or half-grown tree, in the dawn of dewy morning, while the woods are already vocal with a multitude of warblers, his admirable song rises preeminent over every competitor. The ear can listen to his music alone, to which that of all the others seems a mere accompaniment. Neither is this strain altogether imitative. His own native notes, which are easily distinguishable by such as are well acquainted with those of our various song birds, are bold and full, and varied seemingly beyond all limits. They consist of short expressions of two, three, or at the most five or six syllables, generally interspersed with imitations, and all of them uttered with great emphasis and rapidity; and continued, with undiminished ardour, for half an hour, or an hour, at a time. His expanded wings and tail, glistening with white, and the buoyant gaiety of his action, arresting the eye, as his song most irresistibly does the ear. He sweeps round with enthusiastic ecstasy — he mounts and descends as his song swells or dies away, and as my friend, Mr. Bartram, has beautifully expressed it, 'he bounds aloft, with the celerity of an arrow, as if to recover or recal his very soul, which expired in the last elevated strain.' While thus exerting himself, a bystander, destitute of sight, would suppose that the whole feathered tribes had assembled together, on a trial of skill, each striving to produce his utmost effect, so perfect are his imitations. He many times deceives the sportsman, and sends him in search of birds that perhaps are not within miles of him, but whose notes he exactly imitates. Even birds themselves are frequently imposed on by this admirable mimick, and are decoyed by the fancied calls of their mates, or dive, with precipitation, into the depths of thickets, at the scream of what they suppose to be the sparrow-hawk.
"The mocking-bird loses little of the power and energy of his song by confinement. In his domesticated state, when he commences his career of song, it is impossible to stand by uninterested. He whistles for the dog; Caesar starts up, wags his tail, and runs to meet his master. He squeaks out like a hurt chicken, and the hen hurries about with hanging wings, and bristled feathers, clucking to protect her injured brood. He runs over the quiverings of the Canary, and the clear whistlings of the Virginia nightingale or red-bird, with such superior execution and effect, that the mortified songsters feel their own inferiority, and become altogether silent, while he seems to triumph in their defeat by redoubling his efforts.
"This excessive fondness for variety, however, in the opinion of some, injures his song. His elevated imitations of the brown thrush, are frequently interrupted by the crowing of cocks; and the warblings of the blue-bird, which he exquisitely manages, are mingled with the screaming of swallows, or the cackling of hens; amidst the simple melody of the robin, we are suddenly surprised by the shrill reiterations of the whip-poor-will, while the notes of the kildeer, blue jay, martin, baltimore, and twenty others succeed, with such imposing reality, that we look round for the originals, and discover, with astonishment, that the sole performer in this singular concert, is the admirable bird now before us. During this exhibition of his powers, he spreads his wings, expands his tail, and throws himself around the cage in all the ecstasy of enthusiasm, seeming not only to sing, but to dance, keeping time to the measure of his own music. Both in his native and domesticated state, during the solemn stillness of night, as soon as the moon rises in silent majesty, he begins his delightful solo, and serenades us with a full display of his vocal powers, making the whole neighbourhood ring with his inimitable medley."
I will give but one example more of our author's descriptive powers in prose, and that will be found in his History of the Bald Eagle. As a specimen of nervous writing it is excellent; in its imagery it is unsurpassed: and in the accuracy of its detail it transcends all praise.
"This distinguished bird, as he is the most beautiful of his tribe in this part of the world, and the adopted emblem of our country, is entitled to particular notice. He has been long known to naturalists, being common to both continents, and occasionally met with from a very high northern latitude to the borders of the torrid zone, but chiefly in the vicinity of the sea, and along the shores and cliffs of our lakes and large rivers. Formed by nature for braving the severest cold; feeding equally on the produce of the sea, and of the land; possessing powers of flight capable of outstripping even the tempests themselves; unawed by any thing but man; and from the ethereal heights to which he soars, looking abroad, at one glance, on an immeasurable expanse of forests, fields, lakes and ocean, deep below him; he appears indifferent to the little localities of change of season; as in a few minutes he can pass from summer to winter, from the lower to the higher regions of the atmosphere, the abode of eternal cold; and thence descend at will to the torrid or the arctic regions of the earth. He is therefore found at all seasons in the countries which he inhabits; but prefers such places as have been mentioned above, from the great partiality he has for fish.
"In procuring these he displays, in a very singular manner, the genius and energy of his character, which is fierce, contemplative, daring and tyrannical: attributes not exerted but on particular occasions; but when put forth, overpowering all opposition. Elevated upon a high dead limb of some gigantic tree, that commands a wide view of the neighbouring shore and ocean, he seems calmly to contemplate the motions of the various feathered tribes that pursue their busy avocations below: the snow-white gulls slowly winnowing the air; the busy tringae coursing along the sands; trains of ducks streaming over the surface; silent and watchful cranes, intent and wading; clamorous crows, and all the winged multitudes that subsist by the bounty of this vast liquid magazine of nature. High over all these hovers one, whose action instantly arrests all his attention. By his wide curvature of wing, and sudden suspension in air, he knows him to be the fish-hawk settling over some devoted victim of the deep. His eve kindles at the sight, and balancing himself with half opened wings, on the branch, he watches the result. Down, rapid as an arrow from heaven, descends the distant object of his attention, the roar of its wings reaching the ear as it disappears in the deep, making the surges foam around. At this moment the looks of the eagle are all ardour, and levelling his neck for flight, he sees the fish-hawk emerge, struggling with his prey, and mounting into the air with screams of exultation. These are the signal for our hero, who, lauching in the air, instantly gives chase, soon gains on the fish-hawk, each exerts his utmost to mount above the other, displaying in these rencontres the most elegant and sublime aerial evolutions. The unincumbered eagle rapidly advances, and is just on the point of reaching his opponent when with a sudden scream, probably of despair and honest execration, the latter drops his fish; the eagle poising himself for a moment, as if to take a more certain aim, descends like a whirlwind, snatches it in his grasp ere it reaches the water, and bears his ill-gotten booty silently away to the woods."
His poetical description of the blue-bird, which originally appeared in the first volume of the Ornithology, has been copied into many publications, and still maintains its popularity. Of all Wilson's minor effusions this pleases me the most. Its imagery is derived from objects that are familiar to us, but yet it is not trite; none but an attentive observer of nature could have conceived it, and expressed it so naturally.
TO THE BLUE BIRD.
When winter's cold tempests and snows are no more,
Green meadows and brown furrow'd fields re-appearing,
The fishermen hauling their shad to the shore,
And cloud-cleaving geese to the lakes are a-steering;
When first the lone butterfly flits on the wing;
When red glow the maples, so fresh and so pleasing,
O then comes the BLUE BIRD, the herald of spring!
And hails with his warblings the charms of the season.
Then loud piping frogs make the marshes to ring;
Then warm glows the sunshine, and fine is the weather;
The blue woodland flowers just beginning to spring,
And spicewood and sassafras budding together;
O then to your gardens ye housewives repair!
Your walks border up; sow and plant at your leisure;
The blue bird will chant from his box such an air,
That all your hard toils will seem truly a pleasure.
He flits through the orchard, he visits each tree,
The red flowering peach and the apple's sweet blossoms;
He snaps up destroyers wherever they be,
And seizes the caitiffs that lurk in their bosoms;
He drags the vile grub from the corn it devours;
The worms from their webs where they riot and welter;
His song and his services freely are ours,
And all that he asks is, in summer a shelter.
The ploughman is pleased when he gleans in his train,
Now searching the furrows — now mounting to cheer him;
The gard'ner delights in his sweet simple strain,
And leans on his spade to survey and to hear him;
The slow, ling'ring school-boys forget they'll be chid,
While gazing intent as he warbles before 'em
In mantle of sky-blue and bosom so red,
That each little loiterer seems to adore him.
When all the gay scenes of summer are o'er,
And autumn slow enters so silent and sallow,
And millions of warblers, that charm'd us before,
Have fled in the train of the sun-seeking swallow;
The blue bird forsaken, yet true to his home,
Still lingers, and looks for a milder to-morrow,
Till forced by the horrors of winter to roam,
He sings his adieu in a lone note of sorrow.
While spring's lovely season, serene, dewy, and warm,
The green face of earth, and the pure blue of heav'n,
Or love's native music have influence to charm,
Or sympathy's glow to our feelings is giv'n,
Still dear to each bosom the blue bird shall be;
His voice, like the thrillings of hope, is a treasure;
For, through bleakest storms if a calm he but see,
He comes to remind us of sunshine and pleasure!