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The plovers when to scatter o'er the heath,
In the autumnal evenings, when the Bittern was more common than in the present day, it was often seen to soar, in a spiral line, to an amazing height, screaming in a peculiar note.
The food of the Bittern is small fish, frogs, water newts, and some aquatic vegetable substances. The bird was formerly prized for the table; and when falconry was the favourite sport of the English gentry, it was one of those quarries which constituted what were called "great flights." It was protected by severe penalties, and even one year's imprisonment, and a fine of eightpence for each egg, was the punishment for destroying the eggs (Stat. 25 Henry VIII., confirmed by Edward VI.). The bill of the Bittern placed the hawk in some danger, even after the bird was brought down; for, when wounded and on the ground, by striking at the eye, he often blinded the falcon; it was, therefore, the duty of the falconer to rescue the hawk by plunging the bill of the Bittern into the ground.
* The golden Plover (Charadrius pluvialis Linn. and Pennant, Brit. Zool. vol. ii. p. 98., the Cwttyn yr Aur of the ancient British) is a well-known bird, found, according to many naturalists, in the four quarters of the globe; but, according to Mr. Selby its range is confined to Europe, northern Asia, and a few districts of Africa. It is about the size of a pigeon, has a straight, slender, compressed bill, shorter than the head, black legs, with three toes on each foot, all directed forwards, but the inner one only free, the middle and external being united by a short membrane. The plumage varies in summer and in winter. In the former season, the upper parts of the body are deep black, with small spots of a bright golden hue dispersed over all the borders of the feathers: the front and the space between the eyes are white, and this extends in a narrow space curved over the eye, and downwards on the side of the body, varied with large black and yellow spots; the lateral parts of the head, the breast, and the lower portion of the body, are deep black. In winter, the throat and lower parts become white, varied and spotted with ashy brown and yellow.
In this island it forms a very inartificial nest, in a shallow depression in the ground, on heathy hills. The eggs are four in number, of a greenish-cream colour, covered with irregular umber. brown blotches. The young quit the nest almost as soon as they are hatched, and follow their parents for four or five weeks, after which they are able to fly and provide for themselves. When tending the brood, the old birds employ a number of stratagems to divert the attention of any one approaching them. They feign
1 British Ornithology, ii. p. 231.
Then no more
At last from Aries rolls the bounteous sun,
lameness, tumble over as if unable to fly; and then, after running for some distance, they take wing and perform many gyrations before again alighting. This is not, however, peculiar to the golden Plover; the Lapwing adopts the same stratagem. Shakspeare employs it as a metaphor,
Far from her nest, the lapwing cries " away."-Comedy of Errors.
When on the wing the Plover utters a peculiar shrill monotonous whistle or call note, which is so easily imitated by sportsmen, that the birds can be enticed within gun shot. When merely wounded they run so fast that they often escape.
Towards the end of August the Plover leaves the moors, and descending to the cultivated vales, gets fat by picking up the larvæ and worms in the newly-sown wheat fields; but as the winter draws on it moves to the coast, where it remains until the approach of spring, as described in the poem.
In autumn, when the Plover is fat, it is eaten, and is scarcely inferior to the woodcock; but it was more esteemed formerly than at present. The Plover's eggs, regarded as a delicacy, and frequently seen at the tables of the opulent and luxurious, are not those of the golden plover, but of the Lapwing.
There are several other species of the family known in this country; among which may be mentioned the Dottrel (Charadrius Morinellus Linn. and Penn., Brit. Zool. vol. ii. p. 102.), and the Peewit or Lapwing (Tringa vanellus Linn. and Penn., Brit. Zool. vol. ii. p. 66.); the latter of which, as already mentioned, furnishes the plover's eggs of the London market. The person who robs the nest always leaves one egg to induce the bird again to make up the number, which is four. They are of an olive colour, spotted and blotched with black.
* Aries and Taurus, the ram and the bull, are two signs of the ecliptic, into the latter of which the sun is supposed to enter on the 20th of April.
The ecliptic is an imaginary circle in the heavens, which shows the sun's apparent annual course. It runs along the middle of another imaginary broad circle, the zodiac, intersecting the equator at an angle of 23° 28′ nearly, and touching the tropic of Cancer on one side of the equator, and the tropic of Capricorn on the other side. Astronomers have divided this circle into twelve equal parts, each part containing thirty degrees; and have named these after the twelve constellations of the zodiac, the signs of Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Б З
But, full of life and vivifying soul,
Lifts the light clouds sublime, and spreads them thin,
Drives from their stalls to where the well-us'd plough
Be gracious, Heaven! for now laborious man
Aquarius, and Pisces. The time, which the sun takes, of apparently passing through any one of these signs, is termed a solar month.
But the ecliptic shows, in reality, the course of the earth annually round the sun. The sun's apparent motion is dependent on each period of the earth's course, in which he must be betwixt the earth and some one of the signs; therefore, although the earth only has changed its place, yet to an observer standing on it, the sun appears to have moved. The earth is always in the opposite sign to that one in which the sun appears.
The sign of Aries is that division of the ecliptic which intersects the equator; where, owing to what is called the earth's declination, the sun appears to pass to the northern side of the equator, producing our vernal equinox.
Into the perfect year! Nor ye who live
* Publius Virgilius Maro, commonly named Virgil, the most excellent of the Roman poets, was born in the village of Andes, near Mantua, on the fifteenth of October, in the 648th year from the foundation of Rome, seventy years before the birth of our Saviour. He studied at Cremona, Milan (Mediolanum) and Naples; and acquired philosophy under the Epicurean Syron; and the opinions he then imbibed are obvious in his poems. Our poet styles him "the rural Maro," in allusion to his Bucolics and other pastoral poems; the first of which, the Eclogues, were written with the intention of producing, in his native language, something similar to the Idylls of Theocritus, which he early and enthusiastically admired; but they are inferior to their model. His Georgics, which may be considered as almost practical essays on agriculture, were written at the suggestion of his patron Mæcenas, through whose influence his patrimonial lands at Mantua, which he had lost when a division of lands in Italy was made to the veteran soldiers of Octavianus, were restored. Mæcenas was desirous, by means of the fascinating numbers of Virgil's muse, to bend the attention of his countrymen to rural affairs; the Roman lands, susceptible of high cultivation, having been much neglected, and almost in a condition of waste. Agriculture, nevertheless, was introduced into Britain by the Romans, who, after the conquest of the country, turned their attention towards the lands which their valour had obtained. Their labour, policy, and example, produced such a wonderful effect, that the Emperor Julian, A. D. 359, loaded, in Britain, eight hundred ships, larger than the common barks, with corn, for the use of the continent.
Virgil visited Greece with the view of perfecting his epic poem, the Æneid. On his return, he fell sick at Megara; but lived to reach Brundusium, where he died, in the fifty-second year of his age, nineteen years before the commencement of the Christian era. Virgil considered the Æneid the greatest of his productions; but his undying praise will probably rest upon the Georgics. Any critical remarks upon the various productions of his muse would be here out of place.
And some*, with whom compar'd your insect tribes 60
Have held the scale of empire, rul'd the storm
Ye gen'rous Britons, venerate the plought;
* Cincinnatus, Cato, Washington.
The advice of the poet in this quotation appears to have been the prevailing sentiment of our countrymen for the last half century; during which British agriculture has made greater progress than at any preceding period, and in any other country in the world. Waste lands have been brought into tillage; mosses have been drained; and manuring better attended to than before; whilst corn is seen waving in the full luxuriance of harvest, where formerly appeared only heath or a scanty and worthless pasture. This triumph of skilful industry is not confined to the more favoured portion of our island, in reference to climate; it is most apparent in the north of Scotland, where in some parts, as, for example, Nairn, wheat is ripened even at an elevation of 1000 feet above the level of the sea. If we inquire to what this truly wonderful change is to be attributed, the reply is ready: it is the result of the energies of the minds of the rising generation, raised and exalted by the spread of knowledge, and the light of science guiding and regulating practical skill; the surest presage of still further advancement. Neither is this obvious progress of improvement confined to the wild moors, and long neglected waste districts of our island. The tenants on the fertile lands of England are equally on the alert; there is no standing still they have shaken off the prejudices of their fathers; they have acknowledged the possibility of bending the stubbornness of the most arid soils by the well-directed power of cultivation to yield luxuriant harvests; and, what is of equal value, in witnessing the power of knowledge, they have become eager for scientific information; and have ceased to regard farming as a mere routine of stationary, practical exertion. Almost every farmer, under fifty years of age, is now convinced that the capability of the land is merely limited or increased by the extent of the knowledge of the man who cultivates it: and that the terms productiveness and unproductiveness no longer express the meaning which was formerly attached to them. An intelligent critic has justly said, that, "if