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Tereus, was separated from her sister. This absence overwhelmed her with sorrow, and at length her husband promised to conduct Philomela to the home of the sorrowing sister. On the journey, Tereus proposed to Philomela that she should become his wife ; and finding all his entreaties repulsed, carried her to a solitary fortress and cut out her tongue; after which he informed Progne that her sister, having died on the road, had been buried with all the religious rites. But soon the woful condition of the imprisoned sister came to the knowledge of Progne, and Philomela effecting her escape, both revenged themselves upon Tereus by killing his son and serving up the mangled body at the table of the false-hearted king. Here the terror of the fable ends; what remains of that wild and supernatural romance which dwelt in the midst of the ancient ages? The deities themselves interposed and transformed Tereus into a Hoopoe, a bird once believed to prognosticate calamity where it appeared ; Progne became a swallow; the murdered child, Itys, was changed into a pheasant; but to the sorrowing Philoniela was given the form and sweet voice of the nightingale. It is not, therefore, surprising, that many should be anxious to retain the term Philomela, with which so striking a fable has been for so many ages associated. Perhaps the notion of the melancholy nightingale has partly arisen from the gloomy tale connected with its name.
Let us now consider the song of this bird ; most of our readers have perhaps read the description given by Coleridge of the nightingale's song, where he so poetically opposes the idea that it is a melancholy bird. Perhaps he did not remember that the
sorrowful” had been applied to this very bird by Virgil more than eighteen centuries ago, or determined to take the testimony of nature rather than the opinions of a poet whose judgment might have been biassed by the ancient fable, which his friend Ovid had put into a poetical form. Here is Coleridge's opinion of the nightingale's song :
“ A melancholy bird ! oh, idle thought,
We have learnt
Far and near,
Would be too short for him to utter forth
Forget it was not day.” We must, however, admit that Coleridge himself has, in another place, contradicted his assertion that the nightingale is a merry bird ; for, addressing it in his sonnet, he says
“Thou warblest sad thy pity-pleading strain.” But there is no doubt that, if the whole body of naturalists, and all who have written of this bird, were formed into a jury, the verdict would be given in favour of those who hold that the song is rather of the plaintive than of the merry order. Certainly the Grecian dramatists and the Roman poets have thus written, and most of the moderns have imitated their classical predecessors. The old fable may, of course, have had something to do with this notion, but there is in all probability some truth to support an opinion so widely spread.
When we bear in mind the variety of the nightingale's note, it is evident that the song may convey different impressions at different times. When heard amid the silence of nature, and in the darkness of night, it must for the most have an effect which is more of the plaintive than of the mirthful.
Of course a moment's consideration shews that the bird itself cannot be miserable when it sings ; such an act being expressive of the most perfect freedom from suffering: The melancholy is, therefore, in our minds only, and arises from the time, or the circumstances which influence us when the nightingale's voice is heard.
What is the peculiar excellence of the song which charms all who hear it in all lands? The astonishing variety of this bird's note is one of the causes of its power to please. It therefore possesses in the highest degree what a musician would call execution ; for marvellously does the little creature employ the resources of its throat in the production of those slow or swift passages, those trills, shakes, and pipings, which delight our ears. But to this great executive power of the nightingale a mellowness of tone is added, which imparts a peculiar richness to the notes. Some think that in this respect philomela excels other birds more than in its execution. In the latter quality some birds may equal it, but in mellowness it stands alone. The same
pre-eminence attaches to the song in all the qualities which give value to a bird's note, such as the compass of the voice and the duration of the song. It is, indeed, from the perfection of all the above elements of song that the nightingale's music derives its charm. The canary may approach it in one particular, the skylark in another, and the thrush in a third; but in it all these excellences combine ; and thus the nightingale stands alone.
To what singular organisation of the throat and arrangement of its muscles these powers of the nightingale's voice are owing, cannot be stated, as this calculation involves some of the nicest difficulties in the science of music and the properties of windinstruments. We must therefore be satisfied with hearing its rich strains, without seeking to ascertain the physical causes upon which such harmonies depend. The tongue of the nightingale is singularly short; but it is not easy to state the exact effect which this peculiarity has upon the voice. That some result is produced by such a structure is probable; but the best anatomists are unable to shew the connexion of such a form with the high vocal powers of the bird. The following brief account of the nightingale's song,
from author who has paid much attention to the subject, may fitly close these remarks on the musical powers of philomela :
“The nightingale unites the talents of all the singing-birds, and succeeds in every style; sixteen burdens, all different, may be reckoned in its song, well determined by the first and last notes. It can sustain the song uninterrupted during twenty seconds, and the sphere which its voice can fill is, at least, a mile in diameter. Song is so peculiarly the attribute of this species that even the female possesses it, less strong and less varied, it is true, than that of the male, but, as to the rest, entirely resembling it; even in its dreaming sleep the nightingale warbles. What peculiarly con the chari of this bird is, that it never repeats itself, like other birds; it creates at each burden, or passage, and even, if it ever resumes the same, it is always with new accents and added embellishments. In calm weather, in the fine nights of spring, when its voice is heard alone, and undisturbed by any other sound, nothing can be more ravishing and delightful ; then it develops, in their utmost plenitude, all the resources of its incomparable organ; but from the setting-in of the summer solstice it grows more sparing of its song, it is seldom heard, and when it is, there is neither animation nor constancy in its tones. In a few days, at this time, the song altogether ceases, and we hear nothing but hoarse cries and a croaking sound, in which we would in vain endeavour to recognise the melodious philomela."
The nightingale does not sing with equal vigour every night, and when the weather is stormy it frequently will not sing at all. A noise is often effective in exciting the bird to commence its strains. Thus writes one naturalist on this point:
“ If, on a dark night, it does not sing, it may generally be roused by imitating its strains. If this be done on a favourable night, it will commence instantly; but, on a cold and chilly night, it is sometimes very difficult to rouse, though I have seldom been so unfortunate as to fail entirely: The shutting of an adjoining gate, the striking of a church clock, the passing of a cart or coach, if near a road, or even the hearing passengers walking along the hard turnpike-road, will frequently cause it to commence singing; the very incidents which one might have supposed would disturb so shy a bird.”
The nightingale may be kept as a cage-bird without much trouble, provided a supply of insect-food can be obtained, for upon this the bird principally subsists in its natural state. These birds are patrons of good living, and will not endure a spare diet; but they will eat nearly all kinds of insects, though they most prefer ants and their eggs, whilst earwigs, smooth caterpillars, grasshoppers, and cockroaches are by no means despised. Those who can procure a sufficiency of such food may keep a nightingale in a cage, and may then enjoy its song from Christmas to midsummer, though the song of the wild bird is not maintained for above five or six weeks. Many persons are much disappointed in their caged nightingales, which sometimes do not sing a good note throughout the year. In these cases it will generally be found that the birds have been caught when young, before their notes have become formed. When a fully grown bird is taken in spring, shortly after its arrival here, there is every probability that the captive will prove a good songster. All who keep these birds should provide them with water for bathing, of which they are fond, and the cage ought to be eighteen inches long, twelve wide, and as many in height at least. Most of our readers are probably acquainted with the form and appearance of philomela ; those who have never seen a nightingale must be reminded that no brilliant plumage distinguishes this master of natural music, the prevailing colour on the upper parts being a lightish brown, and a whitish hue on the throat and belly. The whole length is about five or six inches, the tail alone measuring nearly one half of this. We must now leave this favourite of poets, and consider the qualities of other warblers of the grove and mead.
Many readers will probably place the sky-lark next to the nightingale, and a few may even declare their resolution to support the fame of this sprightly bird against all others. Many circumstances make the lark a popular favourite. The longsustained trill of its powerful voice, which sends, as it were from the heavens, a strain of music to gladden human hearts, is one charm possessed by this bird of early morn and sunny days. The feathered songsters which pour forth their musical symphonies from the branches of trees, have many rivals among the foliage ; but where is the competitor of the sky-lark, which, rising higher and higher in the bright atmosphere, sings undisturbed in its clear blue heights of air? Then the surprising vigour of its song calls especially for our admiration. How the little creature throws all its soul into its note, which echoes over the rich corn-fields and down the secluded vales with a power not given to any other bird! In the sprightliness of its song, the skylark is reckoned superior to the nightingale; and of this fact none can have a doubt who have listened on a summer's morning to the bold solos performed by this spirited songster. Even in a cage the active spirit of this little bird renders it more remarkable than even the famed philomela. How often is it seen in the midst of crowded cities, confined in its prison outside of some window, with only a little bit of turf to represent the flowery mead! Yet there we see it, standing and flapping its wings with ecstacy, as it pours out the clear song. We must admit that the song has little of that rich softness and plaintiveness which impart such a charm to the nightingale's voice; but this is the only respect in which the skylark is inferior to that bird of night. În sprightliness, compass, powers of execution and duration, many deem this lark equal to the nightingale, attributing to the latter a superiority in the mellowness only of its song. Some may question the sky-lark's right to such a high place amid the choristers of nature, but the general consent of mankind supports the above verdict in favour of the
This bird is known among ornithologists by the term Alauda, which is a name applied to the whole of the lark family. Perhaps the reader will be surprised to hear that not less than sixty species belong to this genus of song-birds, some of which exist in every part of the globe. It is classed amongst the granivorous, or seed-eating birds, and the whole structure of the body adapts it to such a mode of life. The form of the feet disqualifies the skylark from perching on the branches of trees, we therefore never hear its note echoing from the thick foliage of the hedge, or from the shelter of an old tree. The open field, or the hill-sides, are