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minstrels of grove and garden, of the masculine sex, each doubtless playing his mid'day sonata, or evening serenade, with intent mainly to please the ear and fancy of his listening lady.
Speaking of the hum of bees, which though monotonous, is through association one of the most delightful of all insect harmonies, Kirby remarks, that it ceases when she alights; that of the wasp and hornet is more sonorous. The bombination of humble-bees may be heard from far, gradually increasing, till, when in its wheeling flight, it passes close to the ear, almost stunning it by its sharp, shrill, deafening sounds.
The buzz of flies has been supposed to arise from the striking of their wings on the air; but this would have been disproved by the silent progress of many other rapid flies, such as the dragon and crane-flies; also by the power of some to produce a loud buzz when not upon the wing. Rennie cites as an example, the buzz of a wasp-fly, when resting apparently motionless on the window. Upon close observation, a vibratory tremor, similar to that of a harpstring, though so rapid as to be almost invisible, was perceptible in its wings; and when these were laid hold of, the sound ceased. It is supposed by the same author that this sound must have arisen either from air playing on the membraneous edges of the wings at their origin, as in the case of an Eolian harp-string, or by the stroke or friction of some internal organ upon the roots of the nervures. * * Loud hummers are the musk-beetle, the cockchafer, and the beautiful green chafer of the rose, which never fails, in alighting on the blossom of his favourite flower, to salute her with a wing-sonata of delighted homage.
The tones of insects, as well as the song of birds, have been deemed worthy the trouble of notation. Gardiner, in his "Music of Nature," tells us that the gnat hums in the note A on the second space; the deathwatch calls, as the owl hoots, in B flat; the buzz of a bee-hive in F; that of the house-fly F in the first space; the humble-bee in an octave lower; the cockchafer D below the line.
Although in no case proceeding from the mouth, the sounds we have been hitherto regarding as instrumental music are no less to be considered as a veritable language,
serving in lieu of voice, to communicate information and express passions, such as fear, anger, pleasure,—above all, love, that ruler of the rest, with which insects no less than man, may be justly denominated the Soul of Song.
There is a peculiar sound heard issuing from a bee-hive previous to its sending forth a swarm,—a sharp, clear hum, produced seemingly, by the vibration of the wings of a single bee. This has been interpreted into an harangue uttered by the young queen, and intended to inspire a portion of the community with courage to go forth, and colonise a new empire. On the conclusion of this inspiratory address, her tone changing to one of supplication, aided even by groans and lamentation, she has been supposed, turning from the people, to address the queenmother of the hive, and, as a candidate for a new throne, entreat her permission to lead the division about to emigrate.
To this effect, at least, is the purport of the royal speech, as translated, certes somewhat freely, by the ear and pen of Butler. * * * Godart also asserts that there is in every nest of humble-bees a trumpeter, who at early morning, ascending to its summit, sounds a reveille with its vibratory wings. But although on these points we may at least suspend our judgment, we have plenty of common evidence, plain even to our common perceptions, that insects can make audible their anger and their fears. These we may hear intermingled in the sharp, impatient scold of the first humble-bee we may venture to imprison for a moment in the hollow of our enclosed hand; and we may listen to the fly's expression of intense terror, in the peculiar screaming buzz which she utters, when—and only when— in the grasp of her arch enemy, the spider. The same passion in different degrees is expressed also by the unwonted creaking of various beetles when caught or molested.
Most of the insect minstrels of whom we have been speaking, being heard at early dawn, in mid-day sunshine, or at dewy eve, may be considered as the singing day-birds of their race; but opposed to these they have their birds of night—their bats and screech-owls in a company of lugubrious performers, headed by the Death's-head and the Death-watch.
Besides those leaders of the band already mentioned, choral multitudes made up of creatures, covering earth and filling air, many too small, singly, for perception of eye or ear, aid largely to swell those pervading harmonies more felt than heard, which rise with the first breath of spring, and expire with the last sigh of autumn.
Insects may be the last in the scale of animated beings, capable of making music to their Maker's praise, and the strains of some of them may be the lowest in the scale of sounds pereeptible to us. But if, with all true poets, we can hear sounds in the murmuring sea and running waters, and in every tree played on by the breath of heaven —if we have an ear for these and the like harmonies,—for the harp of universal nature, which is touched by the rays of the sun, and whose song is the morning, the evening, and the seasons,—if for these the voices of things inanimate, we are gifted with a perceptive ear and receptive heart, can we refuse to reckon as music the softest vibrations of the tiniest insect's wing, because it is an audible token of happy existence, and as such, a hymn of gratitude to the Giver of the boon of life?"
TWELFTH OF AUGUST.
All the world is out—sea-shores, bathing-places, rivers, and mountains, at home and abroad, are more populous now than cities. The tailor stupified till he mistrusts himself for his own goose—the shopkeeper, till he sees no difference between himself and a counter—the very mechanic steals off to some spot of recreation; innkeepers only are at home to receive their fellow-subjects' money; and poor authors, because they rarely do receive it.
The only people who towards the end of August flock into town, are farmers who have cut their corn, and naturally escape for awhile out of the country of which they have had eleven months surfeit,— and now especially enjoy hot pavements, glowing brick walls, crowds of sultry people, and the sight of lions in the Zoological Gardens; with occasional visits to the manufactories of agricultural implements.
"And this is the Twelfth of August," says Christopher North, "and all the Highland mountains have since dawn
been astir, and thundering to the impetuous sportsman's joys! Our spirit burns within us! Lo! how beautiful those fast-travelling pointers do their work on that black mountain's breast, intersecting it into parallelograms, and squares, and circles, and now all asleep on a sudden, as if frozen to death! Higher up among the rocks and cliffs, and stones, we see a stripling whose ambition it is to strike the sky with his forehead, and wet his hair in the misty cloud, pursuing the ptarmigan, now in their variegated summer dress, seen even among the unmelted snows. The scene shifts, and high up in the heath above the Linn of Dee, in the forest of Braemar, the Thane—God bless him— has stalked the red-deer to his lair, and now lays his unerring rifle at rest on the stump of the witches' oak. Never shall eld deaden our sympathies with the pastimes of our fellow men, any more than with their highest raptures, their profoundest griefs. Blessings on the head of every true sportsman on flood, or field, or fell!"
Curlew-shooting—" Alone, or with a friend," says the same inimitable writer, "among the mists and marshes of moors, in silent and stealthy search of the solitary curlew, that is, the whaup! At first sight of his long bill aloft above the rushes, we could hear onr heart beating quick time in the desert; at the turning of his neck, the body being yet still, our heart ceased to beat altogether, and we grew sick with hope when near enough to see the wild beauty of his eye. Unfolded, like a thought, was now the brown silence of the shy creature's ample wings, and with a warning cry he wheeled away upon the wind, unharmed by our ineffectual hail."
WILD GEESE AND SWANS.
"Some people's geese are all swans," says Christopher North, "but so far from that being the case with ours, sad and sorry are we to say it, now all our swans are geese. But in our buoyant boyhood, all God's creatures were to our eyes just as God made them: and there was ever, especially birds, a tinge of beauty over them all. What an inconceivable difference, distance, to the imagination, between the nature of a tame and a wild goose! Aloft in heaven, themselves in night invisible, the gabble of a cloud of wild geese is sublime. Whence comes it, whither goes it, for what and by what power impelled? Reason sees not into the darkness of instinct, and therefore the awe-struck heart of the night-wandering boy beats to hear the leaguelong gabble that probably has winged its wedge-like way from the lakes, and marshes, and dreary morasses of Siberia, from Lapland or Iceland, or the unfrequented and unknown northern regions of America; regions set apart, quoth Bewick we believe, for summer residences, and breeding places, and where they are amply provided with a variety of food, a large portion of which must consist of the larvae of gnats, and myriads of insects there fashioned by the unsetting sun. Now they are gabbling good Gaelic over a Highland wild moor; perhaps in another hour the descending cloud will be covering the wild waters at the head of the wild Loch Maree, or, silent and asleep the whole host be riding at anchor around Lomond's Isles.