The Ground Bird (Letter from the Editor - Extract)
[From the Herald of Freedom of April 25, 1845; Miscellaneous Writings, 294-296]
Plymouth, April 21, 1845
Dear J. - Yet another letter - though I hope to be the bearer of it, myself - for I am almost literally "mad for" home - as poor Byron's shipwrecked sailors were "mad for land." You speak of Spring, at Concord [NH], and your spring-like correspondent, "K.," speaks of such a season in New York city. I cannot comprehend either of you, here among the mountains. "Winter is lingering" here, not "in the lap of May," - but on the breast of poor, dismal April - on which the grim Season is brooding and incubating like a nightmare. It looks more like what I imagine a Southern winter, than like any thing that can be called Spring. The gloom and cheerlessness of the northern winter, without any of its bracing elasticity. The birds are about - some of them - but they act as if they had been deceived by some spring-token or other, and were abroad before the time. They try to sing - poor things, but it goes heavily - betraying depression of the spirits. Or, it may be, I am imparting the hue of my own, to their music. It is true, or else I fancy it, that some of them have lost their wonted melody. The Ground Bird, my own favorite melodist, (among birds I mean) has lost that lay that used to make my child-heart, with its too sweet and plaintive strain. The little gray Ground Bird, with the black speck under the throat. It is a sort of snow-bird, and is about in the Spring, on the first spots of bare ground, picking up the earliest seeds or insects disclosed by the earth - and at certain times of the day, perching on top of some lowly tree, or bush, it lifts its little head toward heaven, and pours a lay, I have never heard equalled. I have heard Canary bird, and Linnet, and piping-Bullfinch, and every bird, that heedless vanity has caged up, to civilize the "native wood note wild;" and there is not a note of them all to match the lay of the Ground Bird. But I have heard one sing this morning, from a tree top by my native garden fence, and it did not sound as it used to. The tune might read the same, writ down, but it was of a different tone, and on another key, to my ear.
I am glad to see by your paper, that remonstrances are being issued from various quarters, against the barbarous practices of shooting these dear birds. I would sign such a remonstrance, and stretch moral suasion to its utmost tension, in back it up. The heart that is not moved by the chorus of the sweet birds, is not human. It is fit for treason, stratagems, &c. I am ashamed that any us have ever killed a little bird. I bitterly regret the many I stones in my boyhood. It was not cruelty with me, but a wild heedlessness, and the pride of marksmanship. They did not allow me a gun, and so I was driven to the aboriginality of stone-throwing, in which, I lament to say, I had a fatal dexterity. It ought to be regarded as a heinous fault, to kill or scare, an innocent bird. Friend McFarland, of the Statesman, grants an indulgence, I see, to the partridge-shooter and the duck-killer. I would not join him in it. A partridge has as good a right to life, as the robin, and the wild duck, as the little sparrow. To be sure, there is rather more of the heroic (or less of the cowardly) in hunting "the partridge in the mountain," and the wild duck by the margin of the lake, than in murdering a robin red-breast singing in the top of the apple-tree. But life is life, and rights are rights. I see no right any one has to kill a partridge. If any body feels carniverous, after devouring what cattle and swine come their way - let them deny themselves a little, and let the beautiful wood-hen live. A tramp in the dark woods is worth a hundred fold, if you can every now and then come across a partridge, or hear one whirr through the bushes, or drum on the distant log. And how fine to see the wild duck "circling the lake," or a fleet of the, rippling its surface! Oh no, let the partridge live, and the duck, and every thing else that is alive, and let us eat things no more sensitive than the fruits of the earth.