Bird-Nesting, A True Story: For Young People

Little Harry went peeping the hedges along,
        For dearly he lov’d a bird’s nest;
He soon found a linnet’s the green leaves among,
        Then a wren’s with the gold-tufted crest.

And next a fine thrush’s, the lining was clay,
        All smooth as a cottager’s floor;
Then a sparrow’s, a robin’s, a chaffinch’s gay–
        He was never so happy before.

Six nests, and such nice ones, how lucky was he!
        He knew not which most to admire;
Some had eggs, some had birds, but to watch them and see
        How they grew, was his only desire.

For mama had oft told him ’twas cruel to take
        Either young ones or eggs from the nest;
That the mother, if frighten’d, her brood would forsake,
        And she knew how to manage them best.

So to visit his treasures tho’ often he went,
        ’Twas but to strew crumbs on the ground,
And to peep at them softly, well pleas’d and content
        To find them all there, safe and sound.

Soon, thanks to his caution, the parents, less shy,
        Would sit still when he came for a space;
Or if they flew off, they but hover’d hard by,
        And the young they look’d up in his face.

They would open their bills, stretch their necks up, and seem
        As if begging he’d feed them, and he
Began thinking mamma was mistaken, and deem
        That frighten’d they never could be!

And wishing, oh! ardently wishing he durst
        Take but one darling bird, one alone;
He was sure ’twould be happy, and carefully nurst;
        It was hard that he could not have one.

With these thoughts in full tide, he was loit’ring alone,
        Near the hedge, when a visitor came,
Who talk’d of bird-nesting, as many have done,
        Without the least mention of blame.

He chatted so freely of tame birds and wild,
        Of the ways to ensnare them and win,
Soon Harry perceiv’d (more than half reconciled)
        That this gentleman thought it no sin.

‘But is it not cruel, sir?’ ‘Nay, but why so?
        If you tend your young nurslings with care,
Quite tame in a cage and familiar they’ll grow,
        And as happy as birds in the air.’

‘But I have not a cage,’ replied Harry. ‘Why then,
        In a box you may cradle them well,
Till their feathers are grown; but the carpenter’s Ben
        Has cages in plenty to sell.’

Good advices, too oft, like free’d birds wing away
        Out of sight when the tempter’s voice comes,
But evil suggestions, I’m sorry to say,
        Boys pounce on, like sparrows on crumbs.

And mamma was forgotten; she, hidden from view,
        Had o’erheard the temptation assail,
And she feared for her Harry, yet trusted him too;
        And now comes the grief of my tale.

The very next morn the chaffinch’s nest
        Was empty and desolate found,
And loud was the wail of the parents’ distress,
        As they flitted distractedly round.

And Harry was missing, and none could tell where;
        He was search’d for in chamber and hall,
And then in the garret; and lo! he was there,
        But weeping he answered the call.

The poor little birds, he had brought them at night,
        He had foolishly hid them in bed,
And returning at morning, with grief and affright,
        He found every one dying or dead.

His fault, his mistake, rushed in pangs on his mind,
        He was weeping with deepest regret;
There was no need to scold had mamma been inclin’d–
        ’Twas a lesson he ne’er could forget.

But the penitent Harry, as fearing he might,
        And eager his fault to atone,
Now thought of a method to keep it in sight,
        Some may laugh at, but I am not one.

He begg’d dear mamma would allow him to keep
        In his pocket one dear little bird,
As a daily memorial lest prudence should sleep,
        And future wrong wishes be stirr’d.

She kiss’d him, well pleas’d with the innocent thought,
        But that this could not be, she explain’d;
And ‘ ’tis not by sights resolution is wrought,
        But by principles, inly maintain’d.’

‘And what then are principles?’ Harry pursued,
        ‘For I’m sure I would gladly obey;’
‘They are rules to be follow’d, which, known to be good,
        We let nobody talk them away.’

Source: Chambers Edinburgh Journal 2.268 (18 March 1837): 64.
(Available in ProQuest database)

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