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§ 1.

THE late Madame de Tracy, an essay-writer of varied talent and considerable learning, should have lived to read Michelet on Birds-for as he is the most fanciful of bird historians, so was she one of the most pronounced of bird-fanciers. Birds divided her affections with her parents and with Erard's pianofortes-next to which in the order of favouritism came flowers. In age she retained all the loves of her youth for the birds of the air. "I mean," she said, "to write a History of Birds for my grandchildren, as my daughters have no taste that way... Madame de N is another instance of indifference to birds, but in her case the reason is of a particular kind-they are not big enough to eat, she says." Whereas Madame de Tracy, in M. Cuvillier Fleury's language, "loved little birds and their little ones as God loves them." They fed on her knees. She would get up in the night to see to their wants or ailments. One day her nightingale was ill. "You remember that Rousseau could not listen to the song of the nightingale without tears.

Un cœur aussi dans ses notes palpite;

L'âme s'y mêle à l'ivresse des sens,

says M. de Lamartine.* Madame de Tracy all but shed tears because her nightingale stopped singing..... 'The Duchesse de Coigny called to see me that morning. She found me bent double, as though I had the lumbago. What's the matter with you? she asked me.-[Answer, in the original:] J'ai un oiseau sur l'estomac.-You mean you've eaten one [and it has disagreed with you]?-No, Dieu merci ; but I'm the sick-nurse of my nightingale, and am trying to make him warm again.' -In fact, the love of birds was, with Madame de Tracy, the beginning of wisdom. To cut their pattes, was to prove oneself capable of strangling one's own children, or of poisoning one's husband, witness Madame Lafarge, who mutilated her grandfather's sparrows. Madame de Tracy liked to quote the names of all those among her illustrious contemporaries who have shown sensibility in the matter of ornithology. M. de Lamartine is a great amateur in nightingales, but does not keep any, parce qu'il les change continuellement de place. M. Thiers is wiser. He can manage an aviary, and Madame de Tracy remarks that he always received with much deference' the advice she tendered him on this subject. As for M. Michelet, of him she makes no mention, perhaps because she knew this ultrà-apologist for l'oiseau to be, in reality, a determined bird-eater-un ornithophage déterminé, Far otherwise with the Abbé Dupanloup, with whom she was one day chatting about the Fathers of the Latin Church, when all of a sudden the abbé exclaimed, Ah! the pretty little bird!' It was one of the nightingales of the

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* In Jocelyn.

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house, taking its promenade on the carpet. He said it,' adds Madame de Tracy, with an accent that went to my heart. I had hitherto admired M. Dupanloup: I now have a lively affection for him.'"*— We strongly suspect that the author of "L'Amour" and of "L'Insecte" would have advanced with like rapidity in her good graces, had she lived to peruse all he says of the bird-world in general and of nightingales in particular-unless, indeed, she had met him at dinner the same day, and witnessed with her own shocked eyes his devastation of roast fowl and pigeon-pie.

When M. Taine reviewed the brilliant French historian's book on Birds-L'Oiseau, par Jules Michelet-he said, with something of the historian's own manner: The nightingale is God in this book, and M. Michelet is his prophet. In listening to the nightingale, M. Michelet has had his visions, dreams, and revelations, just like Mahomet. He writes dialogues about her, like those in the Koran. He watches her movements, as she flits along-timid, voiceless, in her dusky attire, among the reddening leaves of autumn. Whither goest thou? the most fanciful of bird-fanciers demands. Why stayest thou not in Provence, in sheltered glens where sunshine in winter itself has the grateful warmth of the finest spring-time?

No,-departing Philomel is supposed to reply, to her rapt observer and prose-poet's Whither away?—No, depart I must. Óthers may stay that list: they have no concern with the East. As for me, my cradle summons me; I must needs see again those dazzling skies, those sunlit ruins wherein my ancestors sang; I must needs rest me again on my first love, the rose of Asia, and bathe in sunshine... There is the mystery of my life; there, the fertilising flame which shall revive my song; in the clear light of unclouded day has my voice its being, in it my muse exists.

Away, therefore, from M. Michelet's wistful gaze, the nightingale wends her flight, as upon the wings of the wind. Anon she is reported of as halting before the great gate of Italy-before the cold white colossal Alps, peopled with all the brigands of the air, who lie in wait for her coming. She is seen to pause at the sacred wood of the Charmettes, and is heard to say, deliberating and in distrust: If I pass on by day, they all are there; they know the season; the eagle pounces on me, and all is over. If I pass on by night, the grand-duc, the owl, a whole army of horrible phantoms with eyes magnified in the darkness, seize upon me, bear me off to their young brood.... Alas! what shall I do?...I will try to escape day and night both. In the dull hours of early morning, while frosty dews chill in his aerie the great fierce bird of prey that can't build himself a nest, I will hurry by unseen... Even should he see me, I should have got out of his reach ere ever he could begin to move the heavy apparatus of his well-drenched wings.

A good reckoning, Philomela. Nevertheless, a score of accidents supervene. Setting off at midnight, she may have to encounter, full in the face, through the long range of Savoy, the pitiless east wind, that tosses, and whirls, and retards her-a cruel clog on her efforts, and all but breaking her straining wings... And, lo! it is daylight already...

* Cuv. Fleury, Etudes (dernières) historiques et littéraires, t. ii.

The mountains, ces mornes géants, already, in October, robed in white mantles,-how gloomy they are, and ill-boding, in the shroud they wear. Motionless as are their peaks, they create beneath them and around them an agitation everlasting, violent currents of air, blowing in opposite directions, and struggling together in furious strife-so furious sometimes, that one must wait till the frenzy is overpast.-Again the nightingale muses with herself: If I take passage lower down, then the torrents that roar in the darkness with a crash as of artillery, have waterspouts that may carry me away. And if I ascend to the high and bitter cold regions above, where daylight is abroad, I give myself at once to the destroyer; the hoar-frost will slacken and freeze up my pinions.-N'y a-t-il point là, M. Taine asks, tout un drame? Who but must be touched by the anxieties of this " pauvre petit voyageur," lost in snowstorms among the gorges of the Alps?-The drama concludes with an ode, which is the hymn of the nightingale. What she sings, is her love, her grief, her joys, her infinite hopes. Buffon had taken note of the roulades, the flourishes, trills, arpeggios, of her warbling,—with all the precision of a good observer, an attentive analyst, who was thus enabled to define all the operations of that tiny throat, but confining himself to the partie extérieure of the hymn. What M. Michelet perceives in it, is, the source intérieure—the musical passion-the creative soul. In it, as in everything else, he discerns the mystery of Love and of Life. But we cannot follow him into his exegesis of all these nightingale noteslest we get quite beyond our allotted length, as well as utterly out of our depth, in a rhapsody of pantheistic passion.

Rather let us look at, and listen to, Philomela, through the clear eyes, and with the glad open ears, of some of our English poets, medieval and modern. Often we have glimpses of her in Chaucer. Now as "the nightingale that clepeth forth the freshè leavès new' -now as "the lusty nightingale," that goes to matins on May-day with the lark, "within a temple shapen hawthorn-wise"t-now in a poem to himself, with the cuckoo,-in which, as in the Assembly of Fowls, the cuckoo represents profligate celibacy, and the nightingale pure wedded love. "Full little joy have I now of thy cry," the poet tells that "

the leud cuckow"

And as I with the cuckow thus gan chide,

I heard, in the next bush beside,

A nightingale so lustely sing,

That her clere voice she made ring
Thurgh all the greene wood wide-

sorry bird,

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and when she has sung her song to the end, and bade the poet every day this May or thou dine Go looke upon the fresh daisie," his favourite flower of the field, and taken her leave of him, he prays to God "alway with her to be, And joy of love he send her evermore, And shilde us from the cuckow and his lore, For there is not so false a bird as he." In another of Chaucer's best poems, the nightingale seems intended, in contrast with the gay-plumed goldfinch and its tinkling notes, to denote by her sober outward appearance and impassioned song, greater depth of †The Court of Love.

* The Assembly of Foules.

The Cuckow and the Nightingale.

feeling. His solicitude not to miss hearing her sweet strain, is heartily expressed, as he records his roamings before daybreak in a pleasant grove, in which "were okès grete, streight as a line," with branches broad, laden with leaflets new, "that sprongen out ayen the sunne shene, Some very redde, and some a glad light grene;"

Which, as me thought, was right a pleasant sight;
And eke the briddes songe for to here
Would have rejoiced any earthly wight;
And I that couth not yet, in no manere,
Heare the nightingale of al the yeare,
Ful busily herkened with herte and eare,
If I her voice perceive coud any where.†

A passage which, the time and place of it considered, reminds us of the commencement of an old French poem,‡ relating how

Un jour du mois de mai, bouquetier de l'année,

Le berger Aiglantin, la fraîche matinée,

Ouït un rossignol si doucement chanter
Que les petits zéphyrs, apaisant leur murmure,
Et les autres oiseaux, par la jeune verdure,
Demeurèrent muets afin de l'écouter.

Poor Philomela: she's a he, in French.

The impassioned plaintiveness of her tones is finely indicated in another of Chaucer's works-in a stanza descriptive of a chorus of birdvoices so loud that the forest rang again,

Lyke as byt sholde shiver in pesis smale;

And as me thoghtè, that the nightingale
With so grete myght her voys gan out wreste
Ryght as her herte for love wolde breste.§

The next question, as to the melancholy or not of the nightingale's song, we may defer for the present. Meanwhile list we with lovesick Juliet -whose love, however, misleads her fancy, for it is the lark, the herald of the dawn, no nightingale and hear, or think we hear, the latter, as

Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree,||

in the high-walled garden of the Capulets. Or overhear Titania's elfin choristers, bidding

Philomel, with melody,

Sing in our sweet lullaby.¶

Or enter into the true philosophy of Portia's reasoning on the law of association

The nightingale, if she should sing by day,

When every goose is cackling, would be thought
No better a musician than the wren.

* See Bell's preface to The Flower and the Leaf, Chaucer, vol. iv.

†The Flower and the Leaf.

By a poet unknown. Quoted in vol. ii. of M. Léon Feugère's Caractères et Portraits littéraires du XVI® Siècle.

Complaynte of a Loveres Lyfe.

Midsummer Night's Dream, II. 3.

Romeo and Juliet, III. 5.

How many things by season season'd are

To their right praise and true perfection!*

The same illustration naturally occurred to Alison, in his Essays on the Principles of Taste, when arguing that such sounds as are, either from experience or from imagination, associated with certain qualities capable of producing Emotion, are beautiful only when they are perceived in those tempers of mind which are favourable to those Emotions. The bleating of a Lamb, for instance, is beautiful in a fine day in spring: in the depth of winter it is very far from being so. The lowing of a Cow at a distance, amid the scenery of a pastoral landscape in summer, the Reverend Archibald calls extremely beautiful: in a farm-yard, however, he finds it "absolutely disagreeable." The hum of a Beetle, he adds, is beautiful in a fine summer evening, as appearing to suit the stillness and repose of that pleasing season: in the noon of day it is perfectly indifferent. Then come his ornithological examples, with the latter of which we are concerned. "The twitter of the Swallow is beautiful in the morning, and seems to be expressive of the cheerfulness of that time: at any other hour it is quite insignificant. Even the song of the Nightingale, so wonderfully charming in the twilight, or at night, is altogether disregarded during the day; in so much so, that it has given rise to the common mistake, that this bird does not sing but at night."† Alison's inference, which we must not stay to examine, is, that if such notes were beautiful in themselves, independently of all association, they would, necessarily, be beautiful at all times.

John Webster intimates the sensitive temperament of the nightingale, when, in the best approved of his tragedies, he makes his heroine say, in the height of her prison anguish, and by way of reply to Cariola's comfort, that she'll live to "shake this durance off,”

Thou art a fool.

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The Robin redbreast and the Nightingale
Never live long in cages.

In another of the old dramatists, John Ford, is to be found the admirable version of that story which, as Charles Lamb§ and Leigh Hunt|| have respectively pointed out, occurs originally in the Prolusions of Strada, and has been paraphrased in rhyme by Crashaw, Ambrose Phillips, and others, the story, namely, of the Nightingale's contest in song with a Musician of our species. Strada puts it into the mouth of the celebrated Castiglione, as an imitation of the style of Claudian-Castiglione being represented as having himself witnessed this Music's Duel (so Crashaw entitles it). Dr. Black quotes Sir William Jones for an account of an intelligent Persian who declared he had more than once been present, when a celebrated Lutanist, surnamed Bulbul (the nightingale), was playing to a large company in a grove near Schiraz, where he distinctly saw the nightingales trying to vie with the musician; sometimes warbling on the trees, sometimes fluttering from branch to branch, as if they wished to approach the instrument, and at length dropping on the ground in a kind of ecstasy, from which they were soon raised by a

* Merchant of Venice, V. 1:
The Duchess of Malfi.
The Indicator, No. 32.

† Alison on Taste, II. ch. ii. part ii. § Specimens of English Dramatic Poets.

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