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ART. IX.—The Beautiful Things of Earth. *
WHILE wars and rumours of wars are absorbing so large a share of public attention and sympathy, may it not be a seasonable relief to turn the eye to the quiet and peaceful scenes of nature, . and to some of the most common and obvious of her works, which solicit our admiration, and contribute to our enjoyment ? A very dear friend of ours, doomed in the early years of womanhood to the seclusion of a sick-chamber, received, one morning, a beautiful bouquet. She took it into her emaciated hand, looked at the flowers a moment, and then, with a sweet smile, expressive at once of gratitude and adoration, faintly said, “It is a beautiful world !" Yet how few of the multitudes who spend a life among its beauties recognise them, or realise how much they minister to human happiness! It has been said that he whose eye is so refined by discipline that it can repose with pleasure upon the severe outline of even a beautiful form, has reached the purest of sensational enjoyment.
If, at the accomplishment of the work of creation, an angel had been summoned to behold this beautiful world before a moving creature had been introduced, could he have doubted that it was framed, fitted up, and adorned, for beings who should have organs of sense and capacities of exquisite enjoyment in the use of them? Indeed, may it not be questioned whether the view of the Creator's handiwork, which drew from the angelic hosts shouts of joy, was not taken while it was yet such an unoccupied theatre of divine wisdom and skill? The airy vault beneath which our globe revolves, the deep, restless sea, the giant mountains, the flowing river, the impenetrable forest, and the trackless desert, independent of all animation, present a spectacle of unrivalled grandeur and sublimity.
It is our present purpose to direct the thoughts of the reader to two or three of the most simple and common phenomena of the outer world, and to persuade some hitherto uninterested spectator to avail himself of such an unfailing source of personal enjoyment. It is not every one, however, who can relish a beautiful object in nature or art. Were a savage from the wilderness to be suddenly transported from his wigwam to the foot of the Horse-shve Fall, he would be likely to gaze for a moment at the “show," and then, without betraying the slightest emotion, turn away and seek to hide himself in the forest. But there comes another, whose eye never grows weary of beholding, and who knows too well the poverty of words to express the awe and wonder with which the scene fills his
* From the Princeton Review for October 1863.
Their Wide Diffusion.
aldas wonder the bond as the emped out of any ti
mind. These both have organs of sense alike, but they have not both the power to enjoy.
Some men walk abroad in the fields on a June morning, and trample unconsciously upon flowers, the beauty and fragrance of which fill another with delight. The miller's son looks out upon the broad sea, and considers how many thousand ponds like bis father's could be pumped out of it, while his schoolmate may regard it as the great highway of the commerce of the world—the bond that unites the family of nations. “It has wonders for instruction," says a quaint writer of a former age, “a variety of creatures for examination, and diversity of accidents for admiration. It brings health to the sick, delightful refreshment to the weary, and fertilising moisture to the thirsty earth. It entertains the sun with vapours, the moon with obsequiousness, and the stars with a natural mirror, and is itself made subservient to the wealth and glory of the world by that art of arts-navigation."
One of the first thoughts that will occur to us as we walk abroad among the beautiful things of earth, is their wide diffusion—their boundless affluence. “Wherever there is a patch of earth there is likely to be a patch of wild flowers. If there is a crevice in the rock wide enough to admit the edge of a knife, there will the winds carry a few grains of dust, and there, straight up springs a flower. In the lower parts of the Alps they cover the earth with beauty. Midway up the mountains they meet you again, sometimes fragrant, and always lovely. Where the larch, and the pine, and the rhododendron (the last living shrub), are no longer to be seen, when you are just about to tread upon the border of perpetual snow, there still peep up and blossom the forget-me-nots, the Alpine ranunculus, and the white and blue gentian, the last of which displays a blue of such intense and splendid colouring as can scarcely be surpassed by the heavens themselves. It is impossible not to be affected at thus meeting with these unsheltered things at the edge of eternal barrenness.
*Spake full well in language quaint and olden,
One who dwelleth by the castled Rhine,
Stars that in earth's firmament do shine." Even the homely potato has a beautiful blossom, and the graceful cornstalk is adorned with tufts of the softest silk.
Sweetly has one of our popular poets* given speech and language to these dumb orators.
"Your voiceless lips, O flowers! are living preachers,
Each cup a pulpit-every leaf a book,
From loneliest nook.
* Horace Smith. VOL. XIII.—NO. XLVII.
Floral apostles! that in dewy splendour
Weep without woe, and blush without a crime,'
Your love sublime.
Arrayed,' the lilies cry, 'in robes like ours;
Are human flowers.'
With which Thou paintest nature's wide-spread hall,
Of love to all.
Blooming o'er field and wave, by day and night,
In such a world of thought could furnish scope,
Yet fount of hope.
Up raised from seed or bulb interr'd in earth,
And second birth.
Far from all voice of teachers and divines,
Priests, sermons, shrines.”
This universal diffusion of one class of beautiful objects is, with some limitation, characteristic of all; but the present reference, so far as natural objects are concerned, we shall restrict to such as are beautiful for sound, colour or motion.
(1.) The variety of agreeable sounds is an impressive feature of the outward world. There are birds of the sea, of beautiful plumage and motion, but they are not songsters. These fill only the inhabited parts of the world, wherever there are ears to be regaled with their music. Many a time have we strolled through a southern forest, towards evening, and endeavoured to distinguish the chief performers in a bird-concert; but such was the variety and yet similarity of notes, and so harmoniously did they blend with each other, that, with two or three exceptions, the attempt was vain. Now and then a distinct strain could be heard, independent of the grand chorus, to which we paid involuntary deference. No combination of musical sounds heard among men, could equal the sweetness, softness, and harmony of these choral symphonies.
Close observers of birds have, as we know, interpreted their songs with no little ingenuity, and have thus imparted to them an interest much beyond that of unmeaning sounds, however The Music of Earth—Birds.
musical. One may easily fancy a dialogue with some sociable individual of the feathered race. A little happy creature perches himself upon a post, a bush, or the limb of a tree, and after casting a quick glance around, and adjusting his dress for a moment, opens his pipes, and out comes a little dulcet music. He stops; cocks his tiny head, and seems to listen. We say* Thank you, little friend, your notes are very melodious to the ear. We seldom hear any that we like so well. Could we not tempt your little throat to try another strain ?” As this little flattering speech occupies about as much time as he usually pauses, he is all ready at its close to pipe up again, and then we tell him how sorry we are that bad boys ever trouble him or his family, or that he has any annoyances in the world where he is trying to do all the good he can, and not willingly hurting anybody. And this seems to tickle his vanity a little, and forthwith he entertains us with another strain, which he scarcely completes when something diverts him, and off he flits to gratify other listeners, or perhaps to sing where only birds and insects will hear him.
Beautiful as is the music of the woods and fields in itself, it is doubly so if we can suppose it to be a medium of social intercourse between the musicians themselves—their every-day conversation set to music. That there really is a meaning in bird notes, defined and intelligible among themselves, we are assured by those who narrowly watch the sounds, and the movements which accompany or follow them.
Let the incredulous go out into the meadows on a summer's morning, and say if there could be put in print a more urgent and yet courteous suggestion of duty to a delinquent debtor, than our American ornithologist hears in the dunning song of Robert-of-Lincoln (familiarly Bob-o-link). “Bob-o-Link! BobO-link to Tom Denny. Tom Denny, come, pay me the twoand-six-pence, you've owed me more than a year and a half now! "Tshe 'Tshe 'Tahe, 'Tsh 'Tsh 'Tshe!” then suddenly diving down into the grass, as if to avoid any altercation.
It is difficult to account for the peculiar variations in the songs of birds, says a naturalist, except on the hypothesis that their notes have some significance among their own tribe. For example, the blue-bird, at the opening of Spring, seems to call in a subdued winning tone. Is it for a mate? Soon the note changes to a soft warbling trill. Is it a token of requited love? If one whistles in close imitation of these sounds, in their proper accent, the bird responds. In the autumn the same bird utters a plaintive note while he passes, with his flitting tribe, over the fading woods. Is it a requiem?
There is that little cunning, impudent fellow, the wren, who will be content with a nest in an old hat nailed up on the side of the shed, or in the pocket of an unused carriage-has his song, “so loud, sprightly, and tremulous," no meaning? He seems to strain every muscle of his little body, and his throat is opened as if he would swallow himself, so anxious does he seem to sing so loud that all the world shall hear. At the sultry hour of noon, when most of the musicians of the air seek repose and shelter from the heat, the shrill pipe of this "sylvan elf” is wide open; and when two or three other birds are excited by his notes to sing, we can scarcely persuade ourselves that there is not some understanding among them, that favours us with an aerial concert, of which the ear never tires.
It has been said that “every variety of animated beings possess some means of intelligible communication. Each creature, by peculiar sounds or signs of correspondence, has a language understood by its own kind, and sometimes learned by others. Emotions of caution, affection, and fear, of joy, gratitude, and grief, are disclosed by simple tones of voice or inipressive gestures, to signify feelings, strictly comprehended and often answered. Insects, birds, fishes, and beasts thus express themselves in distinct languages—signs spoken and sung, seen, heard, and felt."*
Some birds, espuially those of the gregarious and migratory tribes (as the crane, martin, wild duck, and goose), have a peculiar note, which is called “the gathering cry." The swallow has it also. His usual song is a soft melancholy twitter, but when about to enter upon their annual migration, these birds are summoned to their general rendezvous by a peculiar and uniform note. Crows will sail above and around a carcass for a long time, if there is no tree to alight on, and will give a signal of the approach of an enemy. When the feast begins, one of the flock selects a post of observation from which he can descry danger, and in due time another relieves him, that he may take his share in the repast. Such a process indicates some sort of intercommunication.
We were once walking on the tow-path of the Lehigh Canal, when a solitary duck waddled along before us. Whether it was love of mischief or love of the duck we do not know, but something prompted us to drive her into the water, and pass on. At the distance of one hundred rods or more, we came across the rest of the flock and drove them in also. Some token interchanged between them must have attracted their attention, for a clump of trees intervened to prevent their seeing each other. As the stray duck approached the rest, they first paddled faster, and then flew towards each other and (as nearly as ducks could) into each other's arms. Once fairly together,
* Dr Gibbon bofore the Society for the Advancement of Science, Boston, 1858,