feeding upon the same spot promiscuously, return at a certain signal to their respective sampanes, without a single stranger being found amongst them.

AUGUSTA. Charles mentioned the Gentoos as I do not know the meaning of the term, I request that he will explain it.

CHARLES. They are a people who inhabit the country of Indostan, in the East Indies, and profess the religion of the Bramins.

MR. HARCOURT. You do right, Augusta, to let nothing pass which you do not understand, without asking for an explanation. The catching of small birds in the neighbourhood of London, is a trade followed by weavers and other mechanics, who, during the months of March and October, exchange the close confinement of garrets, for a range in the open fields, where they subsist, for a time, upon the profits of this employment. The nets they use are made to correspond exactly with each other, and are generally twelve yards long, and two and a half wide. They are constructed so as to flap over one another with such velocity, as seldom to dis

appoint their owner of his prize, when the pullers are drawn. But all this apparatus would be ineffectual, without the assistance of birds, to allure and seduce the wild ones into those very snares in which they themselves were once caught. The emulation for superiority of song, which excites the vocal tribes to vie with each other, is the means used to ensnare them. The nets being properly laid, and singing birds, in small cages, placed near them, the flur-birds, are braced by a silken string, tied under their wings round their bodies, and by that confined to a movable perch fixed within the nets. The office of these birds is to call others to a contest with them for excellence. Upon the first perception of the approach of the wild birds, one of them gives notice to the rest, which produces the same tumultuous joy and ecstasy among them, as is heard in a pack of hounds upon discovering the scent. The invitation is given by what is called jirks, in the language of bird-catchers, and is so loud and powerful, as to stop the wild birds in their flight, and fascinate them to the very verge of the machinery


prepared for their destruction. means are used to cause these call-birds to moult before the natural season, which renders their song more powerful than that of others; but the process is cruel, and many die under it, which enhances the value of the survivors to a surprising height: four or five guineas have been given for a single songbird. The hens of every species are killed, and sold by the dozen, for the use of the table; but the cocks are generally preserved, for the sake of their song.

MRS. HARCOURT. The system adopted by the London bird-catchers is ingenious; but the hazardous contrivances to which the inhabitants of the Orkney and Feroe Islands are compelled by necessity, are wonderful.

HENRY. Pray relate them.

MRS. HARCOURT. The Orkney Isles lie to the north of Scotland. Multitudes of the inhabitants subsist upon the eggs of the birds which build upon the cliffs of the rocks, during the breeding season: but this precarious support is obtained at the utmost hazard of their lives. The dauntless fowlers will

ascend the cliffs, which are of a tremendous height, and pass from one to another with amazing dexterity. Sometimes they are lowered from above by a rope, made either with straw, or the bristles of a hog, which they prefer even to ropes of hemp, because it is not so liable to be cut by the sharpness of the rocks. One man, who stands upon the edge of the precipice, lets down his companion and holds the rope; depending on his strength alone, which often fails, and the adventurer is dashed to pieces, or perishes in the sea. SOPHIA. The very recital makes me shudder.

MRS. HARCOURT. The Holm of Noss is a vast rock, severed by some convulsion of nature, from the island, about sixteen fathoms distant. It is of the same stupendous height as the opposite precipice, with a raging sea between. Several stakes have been fixed on the top of the corresponding cliffs, by some bold and fortunate adventurer, who must have attained the heights by extraordinary dexterity: a rope is fastened to these stakes on both sides, along which a machine, called a


cradle, is contrived to slide; and by help of small parallel cord, the daring fowler wafts. himself across, and returns with his booty.

MR. HARCOURT. Courage depends much, as to its kind, upon habit and education. The brave general of a vast army, would appear a coward amongst these hardy islanders.

MRS. HARCOURT. The cliffs of the Feroe Islands, which lie in the Northern Ocean, and are subject to Denmark, are extremely high, and greatly frequented by sea-fowl. The eggs, feathers, and flesh, of these birds, are the inducements which tempt the natives. to explore the recesses of these vast precipices, both from above and below. When they purpose descending, they are furnished with a rope eighty or a hundred fathoms in length. The fowler fastens one end of this line about his waist and between his legs, recommends himself to the protection of the Almighty, and is lowered down by six others, who place a piece of timber on the margin of the rock, to preserve the rope from wearing against the sharp edge. Their dexterity in this dangerous employment, is almost incredible to those who



« VorigeDoorgaan »