Born: William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, 1721,
London; Sir James Clark Ross, navigator, 1800.
Died: George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, 1632; Dominico
Zampieri (Domenichino), Italian painter, 1641, Naples; Madame de Maintenon, 1719,
St. Cyr; William Oldys, antiquary, 1761, London; Madame de Pompadour, mistress of
Louis XI, 1764, Paris; Dr.
Alexander Murray, philologist, 1813; John Bell, eminent surgeon, 1820, Rome;
Thomas Drummond, eminent in physical science, 1840, Dublin.
Feast Day: Saints Basilissa and Anastasia, martyrs,
1st century. Saint Paternus, Bishop of Avranches, 563. St. Ruadhan,
abbot, 584. St. Munde, abbot, 962. St. Peter Gonzales, 1246.
Quaint and simple minded William Oldys gave himself up, heart
and soul, to the pleasant task of searching among old literary stores. The period
in which he lived and laboured was not one to appreciate the value of such an
enthusiast. Booksellers and men of
letters found it worth while to make use of him, but it was little in their power
to benefit him in return. So he rummaged old book-stalls undisturbed, made his
honest notes, collected materials for mighty works contemplated, jotted down
gentle indignation at unworthy treatment
in endless diaries, and left all these invaluable treasures at his death to be
scattered and lost and destroyed.
Little is known of his life, and that little, not always of a
pleasing nature. 'His parents' relates Grose�antiquary himself, after another
fashion�'dying when he was very young, he soon squandered away his small
patrimony, when he became, at first
attendant in Lord Oxford's library, and afterwards librarian.' Possibly, the
patrimony was very small; possibly, it went in books; be that as it may, it is
pleasing to find him in a post so congenial to his tastes. But Lord Oxford died,
and Oldys became dependent on the
booksellers. How this served his ends, we may judge by an anecdote communicated by
the son of a friend of his. It was made known to the Duke of Norfolk one day at
dinner, that Oldys had been passing 'many years in quiet obscurity in the
Fleet Prison.' The Duke, to his honour, set him free, and got him
appointed Norroy King-at-arms.
Oldys wrote many valuable articles on various subjects; but his
chief remains were manuscript materials laboriously collected for works to come.
His discoveries and curiosities,' says D'Israeli, were dispersed on many a
fly-leaf, in occasional
memorandum-books; in ample marginal notes on his authors. They were sometimes
thrown into what he calls his Parchment Budgets, or Bags of
Biography�Of Botany�Of Obituary�of Books Relative to London,
and other titles and bags, which he was every day
filling.' His annotated edition of Longbaine's Dramatic Poets, preserved in
the British Museum, is 'not interleaved, but overflowing with notes, written in a
very small hand about the margins, and inserted between the lines; nor may the
transcriber pass negligently over
its corners,' stored with date and reference. He also kept diaries, in which he
jotted down work to be done, researches to be made, his feelings, his sorrows,
with an infinitude of items, whose loss is to be regretted. In one volume, which
has been preserved, he grows melancholy
about his work, and sets down a pious misgiving, �'he heapeth up riches, and
cannot tell who shall gather them.' In sadder mood still, he includes the contents
in a quaint couplet:
'Fond treasurer of these stores, behold thy fate
In Psalm the thirty-ninth, 6, 7, and 8.'
He sighs over books he has lent, which have not returned. He
tells how he wrote some valuable article, of nearly two sheets, and how the
book-sellers 'for sordid gain, and to save a little expense in print and paper,
got Mr. John Campbell to cross it and
cramp it, and play the devil with it, till they squeezed it into less compass than
a sheet.' Or again, he growls humorously at old counsellor Fane, of Colchester,
who, in form�, pauperis, deceived me of a good sum of money which he owed
Inc, and not long after set up his
chariot,' and who ' gave me a parcel of manuscripts, and promised me others, which
he never gave me, nor anything else, besides a barrel of oysters.'
Probably 'old counsellor Fane' knew his man, not only in the
bribe of manuscript, but that of oysters. We know, at least, that when his throat
was dry with the dust of folios, Oldys was wont to moisten it. Here is a song
'made extempore by a gentleman,
occasioned by a fly drinking out of his cup of ale,' which D'Israeli traces to
'Busy, curious, thirsty fly!
Drink with me, and drink as I!
Freely welcome to my cup,
Couldst thou sip and sip it up;
Make the most of life you may:
Life is short and wears away.
'Both alike are mine and thine,
Hastening quick to their decline!
Thine's a summer, mine no more,
Though repeated to threescore!
Threescore summers, when they're gone,
Will appear as short as one!'
THE NIGHTINGALE & ITS SONG
The nightingale is pre-eminently the bird of April. Arriving in
England about the middle of the month, it at once breaks forth into full song,
which gradually decreases in compass and volume, as the more serious labours of
life, nest-building, incubating,
and rearing the young, have to be performed. The peculiar mode of migration, in
reference to the limited range of this bird, has long been a puzzling problem for
naturalists. In some districts they are to be heard filling the air with their
sweet melody in every hedge-row; while
in other places, to all appearance quite as well suited to their habits, not one
has ever been observed. And, stranger still, this marked difference, between
abundance and total absence of nightingales, exists between places only a few
miles apart. It might be supposed that the
warmer districts of the kingdom would be most congenial to their habits, yet they
are not found in Cornwall, nor in the south of Devonshire, where, in favourable
seasons, the orange ripens in the open air. On the other hand, they are seldom
heard to the northward of York, while
they are plentiful in Denmark.
The migration of the nightingale to and in England seems to be
conducted in an almost due north and south direction; its eastern limits being
bounded by the sea, and its western by the third degree of west longitude, which
latter a very few stragglers only
ever cross. This line completely cuts off Devonshire and Cornwall, nearly all
Wales, and of course Ireland. Its northern limit, on the eastern side, is York;
but on the west it has been heard as far north as the neighbourhood of Carlisle.
The patriotic Sir John Sinclair,
acting on the general rule that migratory song-birds almost always return to their
native haunts, endeavoured to establish the nightingale in Scotland, but
unfortunately without success. The
attempt was conducted on a scale large enough to exhibit very palpable results, in
case that the desired end had been practicable. Sir John commissioned a London
dealer to purchase as many nightingale's eggs as he could get at the liberal price
of one shilling each; these were
well packed in wool, and sent down to Scotland by mail. A number of trustworthy
men had previously been engaged to find and take especial care of all
robin-redbreasts' nests, in places where the eggs could be hatched in perfect
safety. As regularly as the parcels of eggs arrived
from London, the robins' eggs were removed from their nests and replaced by those
of the nightingale; which in due course were sat upon, hatched, and the young
reared by their Scottish fosterers. The young nightingales, when full fledged,
flew about, and were observed for some
time afterwards apparently quite at home, near the places where they first saw the
light, and in September, the usual period of migration, they departed. They never
The poets have applied more epithets to this bird than,
probably, to any other object in creation. The gentleman so favourably known to
the public under the pseudonym of Cuthbert Bede, collected and published in Notes
and Queries no less than one hundred
and thirteen simple adjectives epithetically bestowed upon the nightingale by
British poets; and the present writer, in the same periodical, added sixty-five
more to the number. The great difference, however, among the poets, is with
reference to the character of its song. Milton
speaks of it as the:
'Sweet bird, that shuns the noise of folly,
Most musical, most melancholy.'
To this, Coleridge almost indignantly
"Most musical, most melancholy bird I"
A melancholy bird? 0 idle thought,
In nature there is nothing melancholy;
But some night wandering man, whose heart was pierced
With the remembrance of a grievous wrong,
Or slow distemper, or neglected love,
And so, poor wretch, filled all things with himself,
And made all gentle sounds tell back the tale
Of his own sorrows�he, and such as he,
First named thy notes a melancholy strain.'
Tis the merry nightingale,
That crowds, and hurries, and precipitates,
With fast thick warble, his delicious notes,
As he were fearful that an April night
Would be too short for him to utter forth
His love chant, and disburden his full
soul Of all its music.'
The classical fable of the unhappy Philomela may have given an
ideal tinge of melancholy to the Daulian minstrel's midnight strain; as well as an
origin to the once, and even now not altogether forgotten popular error, that the
bird sings with its breast
impaled upon a thorn. In an exquisite sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney, set to
music by Bateson in 1604, we read:
The nightingale, as soon as April bringeth
Unto her rested sense a perfect waking,
While late bare earth, proud of her clothing springeth,
Sings out her woes, a thorn her song-book making;
And mournfully bewailing,
Her throat in tunes expresseth,
While grief her heart oppresseth,
For Tereus o'er her chaste will prevailing.'
The earliest notice of this myth by an English poet is,
probably, that in the Passionate Pilgrim of Shakspeare.
'Everything did banish moan,
Save the nightingale alone;
She, poor bird, as all forlorn,
Leaned her breast up till a thorn,
And there sung the dolefull'st ditty,
That to hear it was great pity.'
Hartley Coleridge, alluding to
the controversy respecting the song of the nightingale, says:�No doubt the
sensations of the bird while singing are pleasurable; but the question is, what is
the feeling which its song,
considered as a succession of sounds produced by an instrument, is calculated to
convey to a human listener? When we speak of a pathetic strain of music, we do not
mean that either the fiddle or the fiddler is unhappy, but that the tones or
intervals of the air are such as the
mind associates with tearful sympathies. At the same time, I utterly deny that the
voice of Philomel expresses present pain. I could never have imagined that the
pretty creature sets its breast against a thorn, and could not have perpetrated
the abominable story of Tereus.' And
to still further illustrate his opinion, he compares the songs of the nightingale
and lark in the following lively poem, extracted from a little known limp volume
published at Leeds:
"Tis sweet to hear the merry lark,
That bids a blithe good morrow;
But sweeter to hark, in the twinkling dark,
To the soothing song of sorrow.
Oh, nightingale! what cloth she ail?
And is she sad or jolly?
For ne'er on earth was sound of mirth
So like to melancholy.
The merry lark, he soars on high,
No worldly thought o'ertakes him;
He sings aloud to the clear blue sky,
And the daylight that awakes him.
As sweet a lay, as loud as gay,
The nightingale is trilling;
With feeling bliss, no less than his,
Her little heart is thrilling.
Yet ever and anon a sigh
Peers through her lavish mirth;
For the lark's bold song is of the sky,
And hers is of the earth.
By night and day she tunes her lay,
To drive away all sorrow;
For bliss, alas! to night must pass,
And woe may come tomorrow.'
Tennyson, in his In Memoriam, fully recognizes the
characteristics of both joy and grief in the nightingale's song:
'Wild bird! whose warble liquid, sweet,
Rings echo through the budded quicks,
Oh, tell me where the senses mix,
Oh, tell me where the passions meet,
Whence radiate? Fierce extremes employ
Thy spirit in the lurking leaf,
And in the midmost heart of grief
Thy passion clasps a secret joy.'
Again, he expresses a similar idea in The Gardener's
Yet might I tell of weepings, of farewells,
Of that which came between more sweet than each,
In whispers, like the whispers of the leaves,
That tremble round a nightingale�in sighs
Which perfect joy, perplexed for utterance,
Stole from her sister sorrow.'
Faber, in The Cherwell
Water Lily, gives an angelic character to the strains of Philomel:
I heard the raptured nightingale
Tell from you elmy grove his tale
Of jealousy and love,
In thronging notes that seem'd to fall,
As faultless and as musical
As angels' strains above.
So sweet, they cast on all things round
A spell of melody profound;
They charmed the river in its flowing,
They stayed the night wind in its blowing,
They lulled the lily to her rest,
Upon the Cherwell's heaving breast.'
It seems very probable that Faber had read the following lines
by Drummond, of Hawthorn-den:
Sweet artless songster, thou my mind doth raise
To airs of spheres, yes, and to angels' lays.'
The beautiful prose passage on the nightingale in Walton's Angler has been frequently
quoted, amongst others by Sir Walter Scott, Sir Humphrey Davy, and Bishop Horne;
Dr Drake, too, in his Literary Hours, asserts that this description surpasses all
poets have written on the subject. "The nightingale,' says Walton, '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 mid-night, when the very
labourer sleeps securely, should hear, as I
have very often, the clear airs, the sweet descants, 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
More than two hundred years ago, a learned Jesuit, named Marco
Bettini, attempted to reduce the nightingale's song to letters and words; and his
attempt has been considered eminently successful. Towards the close of the last
century, one Bechstein, a
German, neither a scientific naturalist nor a scholar, simply a sportsman and
observer of nature, but whose name must ever be connected with singing-birds,
improved Bettini's attempt into the following form; which, however uncouth it may
look, must be acknowledged by all
acquainted with the song a very remarkable imitation, as far as the usual signs of
spoken language can represent the different notes and modulations of the voice of
Tiouou, tiouou, tiouou, tiouou,
Shpe tiou tokoua;
Tio, tio, tio, tio,
Konoutio, konoutiou, konotiou, koutioutio,
Tokuo, tskouo, tskouo, tskouo,
Tsii, tsii, tsii, tsii, tsii, tsii, tsii, tsii, tsii, tsii, tsii,
Kouorror, tiou, tksona, pipitksouis,
Tso, tso, tso, tso, tso, tso, tso, tso, tso, tso, tso, tso,
Tsi, tsi, si, tosi, si, si, si, si, si, si, si, si,
Tsorre, tsorre, tsorre, tsorreki;
Tsatu, tsatu, tsatu, tsatu, tsatu, tsatu, tsatu, tsi,
Dlo, dlo, dlo, dla, dlo, dlo, dlo, dlo, dlo,
Lu, ht, lu, ly, ly, ly,
Chalons, a celebrated Belgian composer, has set this to music,
and Nodier asserts that there is nothing equal to it in the language of imitation.
Yet, in the writer's own opinion, it is surpassed in expression, compass of voice,
emphasis on the notes, and
trill of terminating cadence, by the following rather ungallant imitation, sung by
the French peasantry:
ROYAL OPINION ON THE INCOMES OF THE CLERGY
'The Duke of Cumberland heard a Mr. Mudge, one of our angelic
order [a clergyman], and who had a most seraphic finger for the harpsichord, play
him a tune at some friendly knight or squire's house, where he was ambushed for
him on his way to or from
Scotland, and very honestly expresssed great satisfaction at the performance.
"And would your highness think," says his friend, "that with such a
wonderful talent, this worthy clergyman has not above a hundred a-year? "
"And do you not think, sir," replied his highness, "that
when a priest has more, it generally spoils him?"'�Rev. Dr Warner, in
Jesse's 'George Selwyn and his
Contemporaries,' E. 336.