Page images


Sweet bird, that sing'st away the early hours,
Of winters past, or coming void of care,
Well pleased with delights which present are,
Fair seasons, budding sprays, sweet-smelling flowers:
To rocks, to springs, to rills, from leafy bowers
Thou thy creator's goodness dost declare,
And what dear gifts on thee he did not spare,
A stain to human sense in sin that lowers.

And bindz in icy chains the sadden'd year;
Fled is their beauty, fled that fragrant breath
Wont to regale the weary passenger.
But when the spring ethereal mildness sheds,
And bids the brook its former flow resume,
Up springs the lark, Aurora's messenger,
Gladd’ning the goat-herd with his early song ;
Each plant, each flower, inhales the genial breath,
And, op’ning into life, again pours forth,
Loose on the zephyr, all its wonted sweets.
Again the violet dark resumes its hue,
Nor wanting to the rose-bud is its bloom.
Whate'er amid the plant creation erst
Conspir'd to make the joyous year complete,
Again shoots forth, renewing ali its power: *
Then why boasts mán his origin divine,
(Lord of the universe, creation's pride)
His spring but once, but once his winter comes,

And when he falls, he falls to rise no more? This note has been already too much extended to admit of Dr.Jortin's imitation of Moschus's lines. See Lusus Poet. p. 32.

* The ancients seem to have been equally attached to this bird as the moderns. Attentive mention is made of it in Homer, Theocritus, Virgil, and Horace; and Mr. Huntingford, in his Apology for the Monostrophics (one of the few controversial works in which the scho

What soul can be so sick, which by thy songs
(Attir'd in sweetness) sweetly is not driven
Quite to forget earth's turmoils, spites and wrongs,
And lift a reverend eye and thought to heaven?

lar and the gentleman are most happily blended), has, by many pas. sages, proved it the favourite also of Sophocles. See p. 89, &c. Some of the best poets of this country have signified their partiality to it, in strains almost as delicious as its own. Milton's regard for it must be well known to all his readers, as it has been remarked by almost all his commentators. Thomson *, pre-eminently the poet of nature, who wrote immediately from observation, has not been wanting in its praises. Gray has remembered it in his Ode to Spring. Is it not somewhat strange that Collins should have omitted to mention this bird? In all his poetry I recollect no allusion to this subject, and have always considered the absence of Philomel as no trivial blemish in his Ode to Evening. But above all the panegyrics that have been deservedly passed upon this universal favourite, I have seen nothing yet that in any degree approaches the notice of one who was certainly no poet; my reader will be surprised, perhaps, when I name honest Isaac Walton. But let him read this and judge. “ But the nightingale, another of my airy creatures, breathes such sweet loud music out of her little instrumental throat, that it might make mankind to think miracles are not ceased. He that at midnight, when the very labourer sleeps securely, should hear, as I have very often, the clear airs, the sweet descantst, the natural rising and falling, the doubling and redoubling of her voice, might well be lifted above earth, and say, ' Lord, what music hast thou provided for the saints in heaven, when thou affordest bad men such music on earth'?Complete Angler,

page 1.

I will subjoin a few descriptions from our older poets. Niccols has been very minute on this head :

The little Philomel with curious care
Sitting alone f, her ditties did prepare,
And many tunes, whose harmony did pass
All music else that e'er invented was;

* The elegant and ingenious Mr. Pennant has very properly quoted in his Britisha Zoology every passage from Milton in which it is mentioned.

... The wakeful nightingale She all night long her amorous descant sung. P. Lost, IV. 603. + This is Thomson's :

... on the bough Sole-sitting.

Spring, 722.

Sweet artless songster, thou my mind dost raise
To airs of spheres, yes, and to angels lays.

Drummond's Flowers of Sion.

One while the mean part she did sweetly warble,
The tenor now, the base, and then the treble:
Then all at once, with many parts in one,
Dividing sweetly in division :
Now some sweet strain to mind she doth restore,
Which all the winter she had conn'd before,
And with such cunning descant thereupon,
That curious art ne'er doctrin'd any one
With lute, with viol, or with voice in quire,
That to her matchless music might aspire.

The Cuckow, p. 12, 1607.

Bird-fanciers are accustomed to call the practice of old birds teaching their young to sing, recording ; from this circumstance Drayton very poetically and fancifully dates the origin of music, which I think exceeds what Lucretius has advanced on the same subject, Lib. V. 1378:

. Philomel in spring
Teaching by art her little one to sing ;
By whose clear voice sweet music first was found
Before Amphion ever knew a sound.

The Owl. Browne, a very minute observer, and sometimes an accurate describer of nature and rural objects, has remarked the same property of this bird :

Under whose shade the nightingale would bring
Her chirping young, and teach them how to sing.

Brit. Past. B. i. Song 5. In mentioning the time before sun-rise he introduces it again :

For the turtle and her mate

Sitten yet in nest :
And the thrustle hath not been
Gath’ring worms yet on the green,

But attends her rest.

Not a bird hath taught her young,
Nor her morning's lesson sung

In the shady grove:
But the nightingale in dark *
Singing, woke the mounting lark

She records her love. Shepherd's Pipe, Eclog. 3. But Browne attributes the custom of teaching to other birds as well as the nightingale: describing a place of retirement, he says,

Wherein melodious birds did nightly harbour;
And on a bough, within the quick’ning spring,
Would be a teaching of their young to sing.

Book 1. Song 3. See Andrew Marvel's “ Appleton House," who touches upon the nightingale, Vol. I. p. 65, Cooke's Edit.

Drayton describes with great spirit a consort of birds, in which the nightingale is highly distinguished:

When Phæbus lifts his head out of the winter's wave,
No sooner doth the earth her flowery bosom wave,
At time as the year brings on the pleasant spring,
But hunts-up to the morn the feather'd sylvans sing:
And in the lower grove, as on the rising knoll,
Upon the highest spray of every mounting pole,
Those choristers are perch'd with many a speckled breast.
Then from her burnish'd gate the goodly glitt'ring east
Gilds every lofty top, which late the humorous night
Bespangled had with pearl, to please the morning's sight:
On which the mirthful choirs, with their clear open throats,
Unto the joyful morn so strain their warbling notes,
That hills and vallies ring, and even the echoing air
Seems all compos'd of sounds, about them every where.
The throstle with shrill sharps ; as purposely he sung
T' awake the lustless sun; or chiding, that so long
He was in coming forth, that should the thickets thrill:
The woosel near at hand, that hath a golden bill :
As nature him had mark'd of purpose, t' let us see
That from all other birds his tunes should different be:
For, with their vocal sounds, they sing to pleasant May;
Upon his dulcet pipe the merle doth only play.
When in the lower brake, the nightingale hard by,
In such lamenting strains the joyful hours doth ply,
As though the other birds she to her tunes would draw,
And (but that nature by her all-constraining law),

* This is Milton's :.

as the wakeful bird Sings darkling.

P. Lost, III. 38.

Each bird to her own kind this season doth invite,
They else, alone to hear that charmer of the night,
(The more to use their ears) their voices sure would spare,
That moduleth her tunes so admirably rare,
As man to set in parts at first had learn’d of her.

Poly-Olbion, Song 13. See likewise a very minute and accurate description in Sylvester's Du Bartas, p. 44, fol. Edit. 1641. See Vol. IV. p. 1319, 1536, Drayton, Oldys's Edit.

To accumulate yet more instances of a similar nature would be neither difficult nor unpleasing :

Sed fugit interea, fugit irreparabile tempus,

Singula dum capti circumvectamur amore. To him who has been “ long in populous cities pent,” who has seldom been accustomed to view “ each rural sight” with poetical eyes, and to “ each rural sound” has turned a deaf or an undelighted ear, these notices, it is feared, will seem most diminutive and frivolous; but to others who have heard from this bird

. Strains that might create a soul Under the ribs of Death, in the luxurious groves of Hertfordshire, it is hoped, however unimportant they may be, that they will at least be considered as not incurious.


« PreviousContinue »