« ZurückWeiter »
ment of them, as what constitutes interest and happiness. It is the possession, having the property of riches, houses, lands, gardens, in which our interest or good is supposed to consist. Now, if riches and happiness are ideutical terms, it may well be thought, that, as by bestowing riches on another you lessen your own, so also by promoting the happinesss of another you lessen your own. And thus there would be a real inconsistence and contrariety between private and public good. But, whatever occasioned the mistake, I hope it has been fully proved to be one.
And to all these things may be added, that religion is far from disowning the principle of self-love, that on the contrary it addresseth itself to us in that state of mind when reason presides; and there can no access be had to the understanding, but by convincing men that the course of life we would persuade them to is for their interest. It may be allowed, without any prejudice to the cause of virtue and religion, that our ideas of happiness and misery are of all our ideas the nearest and most important to us,—that they will, nay, if you please, that they ought to prevail over those of order, and beauty, and harmony, and proportion, if there should ever be, as it is impossible there ever should be, any inconsistence between them: though these last two, as expressing the fitness of actions, are real as truth itself. Let it be allowed, though virtue or moral rectitude does indeed consist in affection to and pursuit of what is right and good, as such, yet that, when we sit down in a cool hour, we can neither justify to ourselves this or any other pursuit, but from a conviction that it will be for our happiness.
Common reason and humanity will have some influence upon mankind, whatever becomes of speculations ; but so far as the interests of virtue depend upon the theory of it being secured from open scorn, so far its very being in the world depends upon its appearing to have no contrariety to private interest and self-love. The foregoing observations therefore, it is hoped, may have gained a little ground in favour of the precept before us ; the particular explanation of which shall be the subject of the next discourse.
I will conclude, at present, with observing the peculiar obligation which we are under to virtue and religion, as enforced in the verses following the text, in the epistle for the day, from our Saviour's coming into the world. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light,” &c. The meaning and force of which exhortation is, that Christianity lays us under new obligations to a good life, as by it the will of God is more clearly revealed, and as it affords additional motives to the practice of it, over and above those which arise out of the nature of virtue and vice ; I might add, as our Saviour has set us a perfect example of goodness in our own nature. Now love and charity is plainly the thing in which he hath placed his religion ; in which, therefore, as we have any pretence to the name of Christians, we must place ours. He hath at once enjoined it upon us by way of command with peculiar force; and by his example, as having undertaken the work of our salvation out of pure love and good-will to mankind. The endeavour to set home this example upon our minds is a very proper employment of this season, which is bringing on the festival of his birth ; which as it may teach us many excellent lessons of humility, resignation, and obedience to the will of God, so there is none it recommends with greater authority, force and advantage, than this of love and charity ; since it was “for us men, and for our salvation,” that “he came down from heaven, and was incarnate, and was made man ;" at he might teach us our duty, and more especially that he might enforce the practice of it, reform mankind, and finally bring us to that "eternal salvation," of which he is the Author to all those that obey him,"
MUDIE. [PJBERT MUDIE, a voluminous writer of our own times, died in 1842, aged 64. He was a self-educated Scotsman, full of various knowledge, but that knowledge not always of the most accurate character. As a writer he was singularly unequal; which may be attributed to the constant pressure of his circumstances, which made him ready to employ his pen upon any subject however unsuited to his taste or acquirements. He had been a diligent observer of Lature before he became familiar with the life of literary toil in London; and there are passages in some of his writings on Natural History which exhibit the same powers of the genuine naturalist that characterise the works of White, of Wilson, and of Audubon. He is occasionally obscure in the attempt to be grand or impressive, but no one can read the following extract from his · Feathered Tribes of the British Islands' (and the work abounds with passages of similar interest) without being satisfied that this man, neglected as he was by his learned contemporaries, had a rare talent for observation, a vivid imagination, and a power of description that might have achieved very high things, under circumstances more favourable for mental cultivation aud moral discipline than his lot afforded.}
The Bittern is, in many respects, an interesting bird, but it is a bird of the wilds - almost a bird of desolation, avoiding alike the neighbourhood of man, and the progress of man's improvements. It is a bird of rude nature, where the land knows no character save that which the untrained working of the elements impresses upon it; so that, when any locality is in the course of being won to usefulness, the bittern is the first to depart, and when any one is abandoned it is the last to return. “The bittern shall dwell there,” is the final curse, and implies that the place is to become uninhabited and uninhabitable. It hears not the whistle of the ploughman, or the sound of the mattock; and the tinkle of the sheep-bell, or the lowing of an ox, (although the latter bears so much resemblance to its own hollow and dismal voice, that it has given foundation to the pame,) is a signal for it to be gone.
Extensive and dingy pools,—if moderately upland, so much the better,—which lie in the hollows catching like so many traps, the lighter and more fertile mould which the rains wash, and the winds blow, from the naked heights around, and converting it into harsh and dingy vegetation, and the pasture of those loathsome things which mingle in the ooze, or crawl and swim in the putrid and mantling waters, are the habitations of the bittern : places which scatter blight and mildew over every herb which is more delicate than a sedge, a carex, or a rush, and consume every wooded plant that is taller than the sapless and tasteless crowberry, or the creeping upland willow; which shed murrain over the quadrupeds, or chills which eat the flesh off their bones; and which, if man ventures there, consume him by putrid fever in the hot and dry season, and shake to pieces with ague when the weather is cold and humid :-places from which the heath and the lichen stand aloof, and where even the raven, lovef of disease, and battener upon all that expires miserably and exhausted, comes rarely, and with more than wonted caution, lest that death which he comes to seal, or riot upon in others, should unawares come upon himself. The raven loves carrion on the dry and unpoisoning moor, scents it from afar, and hastens to it upon his best and boldest wing; but “the reek o'the rotten fen" is loathsomo
to the sense of even the raven, and it is hunger's last pinch ere he come nigh to the chosen habitation—the only loved abode of the bittern.
The bittern appears as if it hated the beams of that sun which calls forth the richness and beauty of nature which it so studiously avoids ; for, though with any thing but music, it hails the fall of night with as much energy, and no doubt, to its own feeling, with as much glee and joy as the birds of brighter places hail the rising of the morn. Altogether it is a singular bird ; and yet there is a sublimity about it of a more heart-stirring character than that which is to be found where the air is balmy and the vegetation rich, and nature keeps holiday in holiday attire. It is a bird of the confines, beyond which we can imagine nothing but utter ruin; and all subjects which trench on that terrible bourn have a deep, though a dismal interest.
And, to those who are nerved and sinewed for the task, the habitation of the bittern is well worthy of a visit, not merely as it teaches us how much we owe to the successive parent generations that subdued those dismal places, and gradually brought the country to that state of richness and beauty in which we found it, but also on account of the extreme of contrast, and the discovery of that singular charm and enchantment with which nature is, in all cases, so thoroughly imbued and invested; so that, where man cannot inhabit, he must still admire ; and even there he can trace the plan, adore the power, and bless the goodness of that Being, in whose sight all the works of the creation are equally good.
On a fine clear day in the early part of the season, when the winds of March have dried the heath, and the dark surface, obedient to the action of the sun, becomes soon warm and turns the exhalations which steal from the marsh upwards, so that they are dissipated in the higher atmosphere, and cross not that boundary to injure the more fertile and cultivated places-even the sterile heath and the stagnant pool, though adverse to our cultivation, have their uses in wild nature; but for these in a climate like ours, and in the absence of nature, the chain of life would speedily be broken.
Upon such a day, it is not unpleasant to ramble toward the abode of the bittern, and, to those especially who dwell where all around is art, and where the tremulous motion of the ever trundling wheel of society dizzies the understanding, till one fancies that the stable laws of nature turn round in concert with the minor revolutions of our pursuits, it is far from being unprofitable. Man, so circumstanced, is apt to descend in intellect as low, or even lower, than those unclad men of the woods whom he despises ; and there is no better way of enabling him to win back his birthright as a rational and reflective being, than a taste of the cup of wild nature, even though its acerbity should make him writhe at the time. That is the genuine medicine of the mind, far better than all the opiates of the library, and the bounding pulse of glowing and glorious thought returns all the sooner for its being a little drastic.
None perhaps acts more speedily than a taste of the sea. Take a man who has never been beyond the “hum” of the city, or the chime of the village clock, and whose thoughts float along with the current of public news in the one, or stagnate in the lazy pool of village chancings in the other, put him on shipboard on a fine evening, when the glassy water has that blink of greenish purple which landsmen adınire, and seamen understand; give him offing till the turn of the night; then let the wind be loosed at once, and the accumulating waves heave fathoms up and sink fathoms down ; let there be sea-room, and trim the bark to drive, now vibrating on the ridge of the unbroken wave, now plunging into the thick of that which has been broken by its owu violence, and hissing as if the heat of her career and collision were making the occan to boil, as when the nether fire upheaves a volcanic
isle ; temper his spirit in those waters for even one night, and when you again land him safely you will find him tenfold more a man of steel.
A calm day in the wilderness is, of course, mildness itself compared with such a night ; but still there is an absence of art, and consequently a touch of the sublime of nature in it; it suits the feeble-minded, for it invigorates without fear.
The dry height is silent, save the chirp of the grasshopper, or the hum of some stray bee which the heat of the day has tempted out, to see if there are any honeyed blooms among the heath ; but, by and by, you hear the warning whistle of the plover, sounded perhaps within a few yards of your feet, but so singularly inward and ventriloque, that you fancy it comes from miles off; the lapwing soon comes at the call, playing and wailing around your head, and quits you not till you are so near the marshy expanse that your footing is heavy, and the ground quakes and vibrates under your feet. That is not much to be heeded if you keep the line of the rushes, for a thick tuft of these sturdy plants makes a safe footfall in any bog. You may now perhaps start the twite, but it will utter its peevish chirp, and jerk off'; and if there is a stream with banks of some consistency, you may see the more lively wagtail
, which will jerk, and run, and flirt about, as if showing off for your especial amusement. If there is a wide portion of clear water, you may perhaps see the wild-duck, with her young brood, sailing out of the reeds, like a vessel of war leading the fleet which she protects ; or, if the pool is smaller, you may see the brown and yellow of the snipe gliding through the herbage on the margin, as if it were a spake in the grass. Not a wing will stir however, or a creature take much heed of your presence, after the lapwing wails her farewell.
In the tuft of tall and close herbage, not very far from the firm ground, but yet so placed near, or rather in the water, that you cannot very easily reach it, the bittern may be close all the time, wakeful, noting you well, and holding herself prepared to “keep her castle,” but you cannot raise her by shouting, or even by throwing stones, the last of which is treason against nature, in a place solely under nature's dominion. Wait till the sun is down, and the last glimmer of the twilight has got westward of the zenith, and then return to the place where you expect the bird.
The reeds begin to rustle with the little winds, in which the day settles accounts with the night; but there is a shorter and a sharper rustle, accompanied by the brush of rather a powerful wing. You look round the dim horizon, but there is no bird ; another rustle of the wing, and another, still weaker and weaker, but not a moving thing between you and the sky around. You feel rather disappointed—foolish, if you are daring; fearful, if you are timid. Anon, a burst of uncouth and savage laughter breaks over you, piercingly, or rather gratingly loud, and so unwonted and odd, that it sounds as if the voices of a bull and a horse were combined, the former breaking down his bellow to suit the neigh of the latter, in mocking you from the sky.
That is the love-song of the bittern, with which he serenades his mate ; and uncouth and harsh as it sounds to you, that mate hears it with far more pleasure than she would the sweetest chorus of the grove ; and when the surprise with which you are at first taken is over, you begin to discover that there is a sort of modulation in the singular sound. As the bird utters it, he wheels in a spiral, expanding his voice as the loops widen, and sinking it as they close ; and though you can just dimly discover him between you and the zenith, it is worth while to lie down on your back, and watch the style of his flight, which is as fine as it is peculiar. The sound comes better out, too, when you are in that position ; and there is an echo, and, as you wouid readily imagine, a shaking of the ground ; not that, according to the tale of the poets, the bird thrusts his bill into the marsh, and shakes that with
his booming, though (familiar as I once was for years with the sound, and all the observable habits of the bitterns) some kindly critic, on a former occasion, laboured to convort me from that heresy. A quagmire would be but a sorry instrument, even for a bittorn's music; but when the bittern booms and bleats over head, one certainly feels as if the earth were shaking ; but it is probably nothing more than the general affection of the sentient system by the jarring upon the ear—an affection which we more or less feel in the case of all harsh and grating sounds more especially when they are new to us.
The length of the bird is about twenty-eight inches, and the extent of the wings about forty-four. It is heavier in proportion to the extent of the wings than the heron ; and though it flies more steadily than that bird, it is not very powerful in forward flight, or in gaining height without wheeling ; but when once it is up, it can keep the sky with considerable ease ; and while it does so, it is safe from the buzzards and harriers, which are the chief birds of prey in its locality.
The nest is constructed by both birds, in a close tuft or bush, near by, and sometimes over, the water, but always more elevated than the flood. Indeed, as it builds early, about the time of the spring rains, which bring it abundance of food, in frogs, snails, worms, and the fry of fishes, it has the flood higher at the time of commencing the nest, than it is likely to be during the incubation. The nest is constructed wholly of vegetable matter-rushes, the leaves of reeds, and those of the stronger marsh grasses. The eggs are four or five, of a greenish brown colour ; the incubation lasts about twenty-five days, and three weeks more elapse before the young are fit for leaving the nest. When they break the shell they are callow, and have a scraggy appearance ; but they are laboriously fed by the parents, and acquire better forms at the same time that they gain their plumage.
The bittern is both a solitary and a peaceful bird ; and, excepting the small fishes, reptiles and other little animals on which it feeds, it offers harm to nothing, animal or vegetable. Unless when the male booms and bleats, or rather bellows and neighs his rude song, the birds are seldom heard, and not often seen, unless sometimes in the severe weather, when they are frozen out, and descend lower down the country in quest of food. They keep in their rushy tents as long as the weather is open, and they can by their long and powerful bills find their food among the roots of these ; and they probably also in part subsist upon the seeds, or even the albuminous roots of some of the aquatic plants; but their feet, which are adapted for rough and spongy surfaces, do not hold well on the ice ; at all events, in the places where I used to know them, when the interstices of the plants and the margins of the pools were so far frozen that they would bear ; and the wild goose had been driven from more port rn haunts by the severity of the weather, the bitterns were not to be found by the most diligent search in the withered tufts, though if they had the habit of converting the earth into a musical instrument, these would be the times at which it would sound the best. On their departure from the upland moors they proceed gradually and skulkingly by the margins of the streams, to the lower swamps and marshes, where, from the warmer climate and the thicker mantle of dry vegetables, the frost is much longer in taking effect.
Though the bittern is an unoffending and retiring bird, easily hawked when on a low flight, and not very difficult to shoot when out of its cover, as it flies short, and soon alights, it is both a vigilant and a powerful bird on the ground. It stands gh, so that, without being seen, it sees all around it, and is not easily surprised.
ill, too, is so strong yet so sharp, and the thrust of it is given with so much ty and effect, that other animals are not very fond of going in upon it; and hen it is wounded, it will make a very determined resistance, throwing itself back so that it may use both its bill and its claws.