Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

abundance of fish; as many as twenty or thirty thousand codfish were sometimes taken by a single haul of a long and deep seine net. You may form,' he says, "some notion of the

matter, when I tell you that the young gentlemen of my ‘ party, while going along the shores, caught cod-fish alive * with their hands, and trouts of weight with a piece of twine and a mackerel-hook hung to their gun-rods, and that if two of them walked knee-deep along the rocks, holding a hand. kerchief by the corners, they swept it full of capelings.'

Almost equally abundant around the rocky coast of Labrador are the sea-fowl. On the voyage from the Magdalene Islands, Gulf of St. Lawrence, which Audubon visited en route to Labrador, in the distant horizon a speck was seen. This was a rock, the top of which was apparently covered with snow; but the pilot asserted that the snow, apparently two or three feet deep, was the white gannets that resort there.'

'I rubbed my eyes,' says Audubon, "and took my spy-glass, and instantly the strange picture stood before me. They were indeed birds, and such a mass of birds, and of such a size as I never saw before. The whole of my party were astonished, and all agreed that it was worth a voyage across the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to see such a sight. The nearer we approached the greater was our surprise at the enormous number of these birds, all calmly seated on their eggs, and their heads turned to the windward towards us. The air for a hundred yards above and for a long distance around was filled with gannets on the wing, which from our position made the air look as if it was filled with falling snowflakes, and caused a thick foggy-like atmosphere all around the rock. The wind was too high to allow us to land, but we were so anxious to do so that some of the party made the attempt. The vessel was brought to and a whale-boat launched, and young Lincoln and John pushed off with clubs and guns; the wind increased and rain set in, but they gained the lee of the rock, but after an hour's absence returned without landing. The air was filled with birds, but they did not perceptibly diminish the numbers on the rock. As the vessel drifted near the rock, we could see that the birds sat so close as almost to touch one another in regular lines. The discharge of a gun had no effect on those which were not touched by the shot, for the noise of the birds stunned all those out of reach of the gun. But where the shot took effect the birds scrambled off in such multitudes and such confusion, that whilst eight or ten were falling in the water dead or wounded, others shook down their eggs, which fell into the sea by hundreds.'

Audubon expresses himself in very strong but justifiable language against the ‘eggers' of Labrador. The appellation is given to certain persons whose almost exclusive avocation is to procure sca-birds eggs, with a view of selling them at some

6

6

6

a

distant port. “Their great object is to plunder every nest, no • matter where, and at whatever risk. They are the pest of the · feathered tribe, and their brutal propensity to destroy the

poor creatures after they have robbed them is abundantly * gratified whenever opportunity presents itself. In consequence of the wholesale destruction of these eggers,' species of birds once common are now very rare, and Audubon could not procure a young guillemot before the marauders had left the coast.

Audubon returned from Labrador and reached New York on September 7, 1833; he found all well, remained there three weeks, and then made arrangements for another journey to Florida. He sent thirteen drawings of land-birds to his son in England, which were to complete the second volume of his work; he also left seventeen drawings of sea-birds, which were to be forwarded in October, for the commencement of the third volume. • As an evidence of the value Audubon set on these

drawings we may note that he insured both parcels for two " thousand dollars each.'

Audubon was unable to pay another visit to Florida ; and in consequence of a letter from his son Victor desiring him to return to England, Audubon, his wife, and son John sailed on April 16, 1834. They arrived in London on May 12, and found Victor well,work and business going on prosperously.' Audubon gives an account of his introduction to Baron Rothschild, who with bad grace and great reluctance promised to take a copy of the · Birds of America, but on learning the price he would have to pay, refused to fulfil his promise. The copy had accordingly to be sent back to Mr. Havell's shop. In the autumn of 1834, Audubon went with his family to Edinburgh, but kept no Journal there. In the summer of 1836, he once more removed to London, sailing for America on July 30 of the same year. We will not follow him in his wanderings there, but only record that he again visited London in 1838, and Edinburgh in 1839, where he published the fifth volume of the Ornithological Biography.'

Audubon then prepared ‘for his last great journey, the grandest of all his journeys, to the Western Wilderness.' With a party of five or six more, he left New York on March 11th, 1843, on an expedition to the Yellow Stone River and adjacent regions in order to procure materials for his work, “The

Quadrupeds of North America. This journey lasted about eight months. Many pages of the Journal describe the daily incidents of the few weeks in which the party in the ‘Omega,' the vessel in which they were proceeding, were slowly passing

[ocr errors]

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

their way up the Missouri, or making excursions for natural history purposes. Audubon's account of the Indian race of Mandans, who live in mud huts, and live chiefly on corn, pumpkins, and beans, is interesting. He gives a story of the fearful ravages occasioned by the small-pox which decimated the Mandan savages in 1837. Of this once powerful tribe of the Mandans, we are told, only twenty-seven persons remained, • and one hundred and fifty thousand perished. This appears incredible; no donbt there is great exaggeration in the story. Audubon returned from this Great Western Prairie expedition in October 1843.

* The interval of about three years which passed between • the time of Audubon's return from the West and the period

when his mind began to fail, was a short and sweet twilight of • his adventurous life. During this period the volume of the • Quadrupeds of North America ? * appeared. Audubon was now getting on in years; if he was born in 1780, as we believe, he would be at this time about sixty-three. In 1846 his mind entirely failed him, and for the last few years of his life his sight went from him, and he had to be led about by the hand of a servant. He expired on January 27, 1851. It is pleasant to think of that happy interval between the return from his last expedition and the time when his mind failed him. There are

• . but few things in his life more interesting and beautiful than 'the tranquil happiness he enjoyed in the bosom of his family, ' with his two sons and their children under the same roof.'

We have already said that as a scientific naturalist Audubon cannot be considered to hold a high place. He is inferior to Wilson, whose facts can be confidently quoted as authentic, whilst those of Audubon must be taken, as his biographer has justly said, cum grano salis. It is impossible, in reading the very graphic narratives of his wanderings and adventures, to divest one's mind of suspicions as to occasional untruthfulness. We have before us a letter from a well-known veteran zoologist

a to whom Audubon was personally known. He writes:— I * recollect Audubon well: like most other idols, he does not bear • being examined. I do not consider him an Ornithologist. • He was fluent and could draw the long bow as well as many

of the Americans, and I have very little faith in the stories • he records as adventures. Audubon had a very slight know

ledge, if any, of systematic Natural History.'' of Audubon as a descriptive writer, Mr. Buchanan justly remarks :--- Some

[ocr errors]

The second volume of the Quadrupeds of North America' was published by his son Victor in 1851, the year of Audubon's death. VOL. CXXXII. NO. CCLXIX.

т

6

[ocr errors]

of his reminiscences of adventure, some of which are published • in this book, seem to me to be quite as good, in vividness of · presentment and careful colouring, as anything I have ever • read.' This is true; but it must not be forgotten that Audubon was indebted to Wm. Macgillirray for superintending the letterpress of his ‘Ornithological Biography. To what extent this work bears the impress of the hand of the distinguished Scotch naturalist it is not possible to say, and we know opinions differ on this point.

The colossal plates-four hundred and thirty-five in number -of the Birds of America' were published in four volumes, the execution of them extending from the year 1829 to the year 1836 inclusive, the letter-press being published at intervals between the years 1831 and 1839. The first ten plates of the series were engraved by Lizars, and the remainder executed in a mixture of line and aqua-tinta by the Havells, senior and junior. In forming an estimate of their qualities as works of art, regard should be had as well to the period as to the method of their production. To the unflagging zeal and industry of their author, and to his extensive and, for the most part, accurate observation, the plates bear abundant testimony, but they afford evidence no less clear of the incompleteness of his artistic training. We have already seen that in early life he studied under David. The wandering character of life, however, which he led, while it was such, probably, as to render systematic prosecution of art-study impossible, was also such as to make the proficiency to which he actually attained very remarkable indeed. The defect in artistic training is shown by the unequal character of the drawings, but more especially by the faulty drawing observable in the rare instances in which anything like difficult foreshortening-whether of leaf or limb-is attempted, and by the almost total disregard in outline of that subtle and ceaseless variety of curvature which expresses, in the living specimen, the fulness of plumage or the energy of muscular action.

The landscape accessories, whether of distance or foreground, though sometimes aiming at the portrayal of local character, are for the most part wanting in fulness and complexity, conventional in design, and heavy in execution, and, from want of keeping,' injure the figures which they are intended to assist. Those plates of the series are undoubtedly most effective in which the birds are simply rendered on a white ground, a practice which has been adopted in the cases of some of the larger, and universally of the small birds. With many of the smaller birds are associated very finely

6

drawn examples of the plants found in the localities in which the birds were killed. These, being actual studies, must be excepted from the observation before made in reference to the landscape proper, which nowhere appears so meagre and unsatisfactory as when it is brought into sharp contrast with the characteristic drawing of some well-studied foreground plant.

We have only to add that Mr. Robert Buchanan has done his part as editor of · The Life and Adventures of Audubon' with honesty, intelligence, and care. The materials were supplied to him in 1867 by Audubon's widow-a lady ever ready with her affection, counsel, and unselfishness to assist her husband in his undertakings. These materials were · inordi‘nately long' and required careful revision. Much of the matter relating to the adventures is printed in the volumes of • The American Ornithological Biography;' but as this work is not readily accessible to the general public, Mr. Buchanan was fully justified in reproducing it in his volume, in which • • the initiated will find much quite novel matter, and general * readers will discover plenty of amusing incidents and exciting adventures.'

6

ART. X.-Lothair. By the Right Hon. B. DISRAELI.

3 vols. London: 1870. Soon Oon after Mr. Disraeli ceased to be Prime Minister of this

country he received from the responsible editor of a popular weekly periodical the offer of a larger sum of money than, it is believed, was ever tendered for an English work of fiction, if he would contribute to that publication a novel of the character of · Coningsby' and • Tancred.' The proposal was not accepted; but the circumstance may have inclined the politician, relieved for the time from his gravest functions, to revert to the literary occupations he had long abandoned. His great antagonist in the House of Commons had never relaxed in his endeavour to combine speculative and literary studies with the exigencies of public life; but with himself the transition had been complete, and the public eye hardly associated the numerous volumes on the railway-stalls bearing his name with the personality of the leading statesman. He seemed rather to avoid than court the society of men of letter

ers, and with the exception of a speech in the chair of the Literary Fund, he took no part in those associations which form the popular recognition of the worth of the literary profession.

« VorigeDoorgaan »