Friday, April 7, 2017

Bird Music and Agrarianism

In a July 1858 letter to the New England Farmer, "T.A.S. of Westboro'", one of the robin defenders who so incensed N. Page Jr. of the Essex Agricultural Society, directly connected love of birds and their songs to the ideal farming life:
It is strange that after so much dissemination of a broader, deeper, and more benevolent philosophy in regard to the value of the "sweet warblers of the grove," that there should be any person living under the influences of a genuine New England rural home, who can deliberately advocate the destruction of birds, especially "robin red-breast."
While there were strictly economic reasons to protect the bird, those reasons did not exhaust the robin's value.
[W]hat man is so dead to the spiritual teachings of animated nature, whose soul is so unstrung to the "music of the birds," as to find it in his heart to ruthlessly shoot them down for the paltry reason that they partake of some of the bounties of their Creator…. He who has no heart for the companionship, the joy of life and gladness with the song of birds, should forthwith seek the crowded and dusky haunts of city life.
People who couldn't appreciate bird music should leave the country.

Hagenstein, Gregg, & Donahue, in their 2011 volume, American Georgics, note that agrarianism described the fulfilling farm life in contrast to commercial motivations. Farmers focusing too much on the commercial side, too dependent on particular cash crops (like many fruit growers were), risked perverting the agrarian lifestyle. Agrarianism, unlike Romanticism (whose representatives didn't appear very often in farm papers), was nevertheless thoroughly utilitarian. Birds "cheered" farmers in their labor and provided interest and aesthetic appeal. But in T.A.S.'s account there was something more--a sense of connectedness with "Creation," a unified existence in which birdsong was not just a pretty addition but something essential and defining.

By the early 1860s, the general celebration of birdsong had taken a natural history turn. Farmers might enjoy being able to identify bird species via their distinctive songs. The Country Gentleman's prolific amateur ornithologist, "S.L.B.," for example, recommended a program for learning songs, in which one would first learn to distinguish birds visually and then focus observations on one species at a time until each song was thoroughly absorbed (1860, May 17). "Ornithologist, Bedford, Pa" (June 28) added that it was useful to observe time of day and habitat, as well as special songs sung "on-the-wing."  On May 31, "The Naturalist" cribbed a passage from Wilson Flagg (now writing regularly about birds for The Atlantic) extolling the varied repertoire of the song sparrow (Flagg's transcription of seven song sparrow themes embedded below). A few years later, C.N. Bement, (May 1863) contributed a series of articles to the Gentleman in which he sketched the vocalizations of song sparrows, song [wood] thrush, brown [thrasher] thrush, the [American] robin (don't harm them!), and the bobolink, as well as writing about the mimicry powers of the blue jay and chat.


For those who already knew the birds and their songs (e.g,"Acer", 1860, May 31), birdsong, particularly when English phrases were used as mnemonic devices, was a source of some humor.
Birds, like human beings, seem to have a great propensity for medical prescription. I have heard a Baltimore oriole very distinctly and repeatedly assert, "creosote, creosote, cure cure tooth-ache!"--and another which I now hear from my open window where I am writing, repeatedly assures me, "Liquorice, extract, cure cure cough!" The late Dr. King, who resided in the western part of New York, said that nothing was more common than for robins to perch upon the stalks at the roadside, and shout to him as he passed along on his medical visits, "kill'em! kill'em! cure'em, cure'em! give 'em physic, physic, physic!"
Sometimes the celebrations of bird music verged on the romantic. S.L. White (South Groton), writing in the New England Farmer (1862 June), integrated birdsong into the larger sonic landscape of the rural life.
The red-winged blackbird is one of our earliest, and, in my estimation, one of our best musicians. Although his song when alone is not remarkably musical, yet, when a large flock sing in concert, as they generally do in the early spring, there is a great richness in their lively and gushing melody. Flocks of these birds often sing during a rainy day in March or April, and their sweet chorus mingling with the rushing sound of the waters in the swollen streams, with the pattering of the rain-drops upon the roof, with the whispering of the warm south wind among the swelling buds of the trees and flowers, falls
"Upon the spirit like a dream
Of music on the hour of sleep." [George. D. Prentice "Morning in spring"]
Bird music was not the only nonhuman music available to soothe and interest the farmer's ear. There was also the "music of insects" (Flagg, Hovey's Magazine of Horticulture, September 1855), "frog music" (Country Gentleman, May 17 1860), and even "cat music" (Country Gentleman, June 14 1860).  Note: while the latter was discussed for its humor and cruelty ("cat organs") it did reference an interesting bit of early animal communication speculation by M.S. de Vere from his 1858 book Stray Leaves from the Book of Nature. Here's a relevant passage from that book:
Birds alone, and especially singing birds, have a genuine ear for music. As the eye may see, and yet not be able to distinguish colors, so the ear of most animals hears, but cannot discern the depth and volume of tone. But birds are the true musicians of the animal kingdom. They have, what many men lack, a genuine talent to learn and appreciate musical notes and melodies. You sing, and they will repeat, bar after bar; others listen with eager attention to a hand-organ, and, little by little, learn whole tunes; the ablest of all even imitate the songs and voices of others. (p. 253)
This quality would inspire at least one attempt at direct interaction between a farmer and birds, mediated by music. "Z.", in a letter to the Horticulturist (May 1854) wrote:
Birds love music. As I sat under a tree in front of the house, this morning, I took my flute and commenced playing a lively air. I noticed a couple of robins on a tree a few rods distant, who, as I continued playing, flew to the ground, and hopped along, stopping occasionally to listen, till they got within a few feet of me; and there they stood, turning one side of their heads toward me, and then the other, till I put up my instrument, when they flew away.
Others were content to exchange whistles with their local bobwhites. (Country Gentleman, September 10, 1863). 




Monday, April 3, 2017

Children's songs and bird protection in the mid-1800s.

In 1859, the editor of the American Agriculturist, estimating 200,000 child readers in the paper's audience, ran a regular feature, "The Editor and his Young Readers." For the February issue, an artist had been commissioned to provide a wintery image to accompany the column. The editor was impressed by the quality of the resulting engraving, but not the theme: "Trapping Birds." Clearly the publication's bird protection message had not reached everyone...
[W]e confess we don't like the subject of the picture. We don't like the looks of those boys trying to catch the innocent little snow birds. If the birds knew, wouldn't they be off? One little fellow, not quite under the trap, seems to be a little suspicious of danger. He is peering about to see if any harm is near. Don't you hope he'll fly away and scare the rest too? 
The editor then turned to the children depicted in the image:
Do you quite like the appearance of the boy who holds the string, and is no doubt the head of the party? With his coat off, his trowsers tucked into his boots, and his hat set on one side, we think there is a "don't care" look about him that is not very promising. "Don't care" is a bad beginning for any boy to make. If the truth could be known, perhaps we should find him one who has left his threshing in the barn, the roof of which you can just see over the fence in the background, and taking the grain screen, he has coaxed the other boys who should be at school, to go out with him to trap the snow-birds. A boy that would trap such innocent little fellows, that do no harm and that are useless when caught, would be likely to do such tricks. 
The image provided a pedagogical opportunity. Bird trapping was a sign of poor moral character in general. These boys should not be emulated. But there was hope even for boys like these.
Some one should sing to him that sweet little song "Chick-a-dee-dee,"--written by our "Uncle Frank,"--to soften his hard nature a little. 
"Uncle Frank," occasional contributor to the Agriculturist, was Francis C. Woodworth, who published books for children and the periodical "Woodworth's Youth's Cabinet." The official title of the song, published by the periodical in 1852, was "The Song of the Snowbird." The editor strongly believed the song could work magic. The following February (1860), he inserted the entire eight-verse song and its melody in the Children's section, asserting, "We can hardly believe that any boy who sings or even reads these words, would ever after try to kill these innocent birds, as we have seen some do before now. "
click on image to see larger version

I have provided a MIDI version of the melody below for the benefit of those who can't sight-read music. 


The song, while dramatizing the bird and its cordial relationship with children, really says little directly about bird protection. Rather it expresses a common religious theme: "Creation" in its wisdom provides for even the smallest creatures. 

But there was a song, or to be more accurate a poem with a variety of musical settings, that was ubiquitous during the mid-1800s and directly advocated bird protection: "Don't Kill the Birds," by Daniel C. Colesworthy. The poem had shown up in agricultural periodicals as early as 1843 (Southern Cultivator) and was a common selection in children's readers and songbooks well into the 20th century. The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (1893) noted in his obituary that the poem was said to have had "great influence in arresting the slaughter of those innocents by inculcating in the minds of children a sentiment of mercy towards them."

From 1852 reader Songs for the Little Ones at Home
I've found three completely different musical settings for the poem, which I've embedded below in MIDI piano versions. 

The first is from Baker's American School Music Book (1845), music credited to E.L. White.


The second is from The Teacher's Institute (1874), music credited to "E."




The third is from The normal music course (1893), compiled by John W. Tufts. 


While I assume the first setting is the one most children knew, I don't have full confidence that it was any of these. Regardless, children sang it. By 1869, when some horticulturists were searching for relief from the bird laws, it had become a point of irritation for at least one writer in the Cultivator and Country Gentleman (May 20), who invoked "The tow-headed boys and freckle-faced girls who, in their musical moments, have piped forth in plaintive tones--"Don't kill the birds, the pretty birds, Which sing around our door" as a component of his frustration. 

Incidentally this is a different poem/song than the "Don't Kill the Birds" that had a place in Mormon hymnals for many years. 
from Tune book for the primary associations of the children of Zion
That poem seems to be from the pen of Clara F. Berry. Mormons had a special regard for insectivorous birds dating from the Miracle of the Gulls in 1848. I've found at least one writer who regrets the hymn's eventual disappearance from the repertoire, claiming it had an impact on him as a would-be boy hunter.  

I've embedded the MIDI piano version below.



[UPDATE]

One more example:

In the July 1861 issue of New England Farmer, a correspondent told the following tale about the effectiveness of a song:

I have been led to place [a] high estimate on stories, songs, or other articles more especially adapted to attract the attention or interest the feelings of boys, in consequence of having been made acquainted with the fact that the singing of a song called "The Farmer's Best Friends," [A. Holloway, Mt. Brydges, C.W.] which was printed in the Genesee Farmer during 1859, seemed to one who takes a deep interest in the rising generation to have very certainly exerted quite an influence on the singer himself, and on a squad of boys with whom he used to associate. They left off, at all events, both last year and this spring so far, the two practices which are so common with many boys, namely, the shooting of birds and the robbing of their nests.
He thus recommended it to the readership of the New England Farmer:

Having good assurance that this particular song has had so happy an influence on one squad of thoughtless, if not positively cruel and mischievous boys, I have been induced to copy it for use in your columns, for the very natural and confident hope that what has done good in one instance may do a like good in a great many other instances. Some of your subscribers can persuade good singers to commit it to memory, and can get it sung on suitable occasions; and wherever there is any goodness in the heart-soil upon which such seed is scattered, surely there must be a harvest of more or less value.
The "song" was a poem (no musical setting) but one that could be recited in a "musical" way. It began:
Destroy not the birds;
They're the farmers' best friends;
For the little they spoil
They make ample amends. 
Some fruit they will eat;
But grudge it them not;
For the good that they do
Should not be forgot.
They keep down the insects,
Whose rapid increase
Would injure our harvests
Till harvests would cease.
With their songs they amuse
Our wearisome hours,
And their presence enlivens
The shadiest bowers. 
Then forgive their slight faults;
They make ample amends;
And do not forget
They're the farmer's best friends.
Unlike "Don't Kill the Birds," this song would not endure. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Bird Protection in Cross-cultural Perspective (1857-1861)

In its June 1857 edition, the New England Farmer included the following passage in what was otherwise a standard "spare the birds" story:
In Japan the birds are regarded as sacred, and never under any pretense are they permitted to be destroyed. During the stay of the expedition at Japan a number of officers started on a gunning excursion. No sooner did the people observe the cruel slaughtering of their favorites than a number of them waited upon the Commodore and remonstrated against the conduct of the officers. There was no more bird shooting in Japan by American officers after that; and when the treaty between the two countries was concluded, one express condition of it was, that the birds should always be protected. 
When it came to the treatment of birds, the United States compared unfavorably.
What a commentary upon the inhuman practice of our shooting gentry, who are as eager in the pursuit of a tomtit as of an eagle, and indiscriminately shoot everything in the form of a bird which has the misfortune to come within the reach of their murderous weapons. 
In Japan birds were not just protected, they were nurtured:
On the top of the tombstones in Japan, a small cavity or trough is chiseled, which the priests every morning fill with fresh water for the use of the birds. Enlightened America should imitate these customs of the barbarous Japanese, if not by providing fresh water for the feathered warblers, at least by protecting them from the worthless louts who so ruthlessly destroy them. Unless something is done, and that speedily, our insectivorous birds will be wholly exterminated…
I've looked at this particular passage in depth in a longer working paper. Suffice it to say, such comparisons were opportunities to reflect critically on bird protection at the level of the nation, not just state or local community. Even the "barbarous" Japanese knew how wise it was to protect birds. America had to change its ways.

As we've seen, England was a common object of comparison (and confusion). C.N. Bement, for example, in his 1858 entry in the Rural Annual, "Birds both useful and injurious to the farmer and horticulturist," relates the Japanese story above and joins it to the story of the British rook:

In England, says a writer, there is scarcely a farm without its rookery; the humid atmosphere multiplies every species of insect, and those birds reward man for his forbearance by ridding him of legions of his foes. By a policy like that which dictated the revocation of the edict of Nantes, they have occasionally been exposed to the mischievous propensities of recreant, unruly boys and loafers, who, as far as utility is concerned, are not to be compared to crows; but the error of this step soon became manifest and they are now received with universal welcome. 
The editor of the Rural Annual, incidentally, was not as well versed in U.S. and British birds, and thus labeled an image of a blue tit, a "creeper." 

A February 1857 article in the New England Farmer drew attention to the "peculiar habits and manners of the Dutch," one of which was a "peculiar veneration for the stork." The author also noted more general legal protections for birds:
Stringent local laws are in force in all the provinces to protect the nightingales and other singing birds, which are quite numerous, from harm and molestation and any infraction of the laws is severely punished.
In July 1858, the American Farmer decried the peculiarly American "War on Birds," 
[T]he people of no other country in the world are so barbarous and cruel in their warfare upon birds, as the people of this. The little sparrows are found in great numbers in every village and city in Europe; no one ever disturbs them, and among the Turks so tame are the sea-birds that they will scarcely move from the prow of the light caique; and shall we "do that, Which Heaven hath forbid the Ottomites?" [Shakespeare, Othello]
Note that such protections could go hand-in-hand with efforts to import insectivorous birds, already identified and protected as "useful" in other countries.

So Germany could be considered a model for national bird protection laws,  as "G.H.B." observed in an 1861 article in The Horticulturist
When we go to Europe, especially to western Germany, we are surprised at the multitude of birds there, in comparison with those of our own land; and the cause of this scarcity with us is generally considered to be the wanton destruction committed on the feathered tribe….
and its useful birds would be useful to have and protect in the United States
[I]f circumstances had permitted, we should have tried long ago to import from Europe some of the moth-snapper varieties of birds…; also the grub-destroyer, King Sturnus, or starling, who follows every plow in the field….
The importation of house sparrows had just begun. The European starling would come a bit later. Both were initially valued as "useful" birds. Their protection in the U.S. would not endure.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Massachusetts Bird Law of 1855 and the dawn of Economic Ornithology

In April 1855 Massachusetts revised its bird law. This would have far-reaching impacts: it changed the relationship between the agricultural press and bird protection, and spurred the first study that can be called full-fledged "economic ornithology."

Earlier posts have discussed the 1818 bird law, its reception, and revisions. That law had provided a close season on robins and meadowlarks and had allowed land-owners to ban hunting on their properties. The new law, "An Act for the better preservation of Useful Birds," inspired by the "small bird laws" passed in Connecticut and New Jersey, spread the net more widely, mentioning by name, "robins, thrushes, linnets, sparrows, bluebirds, bobolinks, yellow-birds, woodpeckers, [and] warblers [note the omission of meadowlarks!]" Unlike the previous law, it prohibited the taking, killing, or destruction of these birds during the full year and made no provisions allowing land-owners to do what they liked on their own property.

An article in the Barre [MA] Patriot (August 3, 1855), suggests the difficulties with enforcing a law like this in the absence of widespread ornithological knowledge.
The first case that we have heard of under the new law for the preservation of useful birds, came before the Boston police court last Saturday. L.D. Fowler was the accused, and he was charged with the violation of the law inasmuch as he had a large number of bobolinks in his possession. As it was only proved that he had them in his possession, the judge held that he might have raised them, or have taken them before the law went into effect, and he was discharged.
Lest there be any question: L.D. Fowler was guilty. Bobolinks, being migratory birds, do not generally arrive in Massachusetts before May, and the idea that they might have been "raised" is extremely farfetched.

Fruit-growers, accustomed to managing the depredations of robins during cherry season, rebelled against the law. During its January 9, 1858 meeting the Massachusetts Horticultural Society voted to allow the president of the society to ask the legislature to revise the new law. Robins should be removed from the protected list. Some members, citing the robin's value in controlling harmful insects, offered a counter-proposal: delay the request for the robin's exclusion until a full-year study of the food habits of the robin could be performed. J.W.P. [John Whipple Potter] Jenks, entomologist, would be in charge of the study.

T.S. Palmer (1899) calls Jenks's study the first economic ornithology investigation "along modern lines." As we've seen previously, short-term spot investigations of birds' crops and stomach contents had become somewhat routine. Jenks's study, while employing that basic method, would be systematic and long-term, with weekly (and sometimes daily) samples taken between March and September.  According to Palmer, Jenks's revealed the following American Robin diet over the course of the year:
Stomachs taken in March and April contained only insect matter, 90 percent consisting of the larvae of crane flies…From May 1 to June 21 [those] larvae disappeared, but were replaced by a variety of insects, including caterpillars, elaterid beetles, and spiders. From late June to October the stomachs contained strawberries, cherries, and other fruits, but after October the vegetable diet was discarded and replaced by grasshoppers and orthopterous insects.
By June, farm papers were announcing the preliminary results of the study. The New England Farmer, calling the results "favorable to robins," reported that during the first three months of the study Jenks had found only larvae in the crops of the birds, no vegetable matter. The American Farmers' Magazine, in an article titled, "The Robins Vindicated," asserted that the study had "settled the question in favor of the robins."

Meanwhile, in the May issue of the New England Farmer, Wilson Flagg had made a long defense of the robin, suggesting that fruit-growers plant more cherry trees and blueberries to provide a share to robins, instead of petitioning the legislature.

Fruit-growers, however, were not necessarily convinced.

N. Page Jr., of the Essex Agricultural Society, in an October 1859 letter to the New England Farmer, portrayed the law as an assault upon individual rights:
The Bird Law, sent through the Commonwealth on hand-bills last spring, was received, in this neighborhood at least, as a very pretty specimen of Imperial Legislation. Most people here think that a man should have an undisputed right to his own fruit. They fully believe that a free citizen, of a moderately free country, should be allowed to protect his own fruit in his own garden, against the depredations of any wild beast, or bird, that runs or flies. But, although they claim the right, they do not unduly exercise it. Farmers are not devoid of all humanities…
The discovery that robins eat insects was not a surprise, and not of particular benefit to the fruit-grower. And it was not economically feasible for fruit-growers to grow extra fruit for the birds, as Wilson Flagg, among others, had suggested.
I remember that the "Star" correspondent [Flagg] of the Farmer gives no heed to profit or loss, but with admirable coolness, and an easy flourish of his pen, devotes a "large part of our currants, strawberries, and cherries" to the robins….But, permit me to ask, "Who pays the piper?" If friend "Star" should be compelled to pay, as I do, three dollars per day for the "chirping," we should see a "hopping about" infinitely more entertaining than a robin dance. 
Finally, protecting robins was an act of philanthropy. Even if they were protected in Massachusetts, they were not protected nation-wide. Thus, robins fattened with Massachusetts fruit would end up eaten in the South.

The editors of the New England Farmer, tempering its long standing defense of robins, showed sympathy to Page's concerns.
We do not wonder at the sensitiveness manifested by fruit-raisers with regard to the "bird-law."...We like the birds, and encourage their residing near our buildings; but unless the cherry-birds, robins and orioles mind their manners, we shall not listen to their music with as much pleasure as we have heretofore. Mr. Page is pretty severe, and has cause to be so.
In the December 1859 New England Farmer ("Charity for the Robins"), J.S. Needham took direct aim at the Jenks study itself, finding its evidence insufficient even on the grounds of economic ornithology. 
[W]hat incalculable benefit to the poor soil-tiller are four or six birds destroying some five or six hundred worms daily out of millions of millions…
Meanwhile, the editors of the New England Farmer in their notes for December continued the robin-doubting theme:
The birds, those summer friends of ours, [we hardly know whether it is quite fair to call those robins that stole all our cherries and strawberries, "our friends,"] most of them leave us, and sing their songs to other ears.
Ultimately, however, Jenks's continuing research had done the trick. Robins continued to have protection, at least in theory, in Massachusetts, and his work was regularly cited by editors and correspondents in the agricultural press to defend robins. Some agricultural periodicals, on the other hand, wondered if their "spare the birds" message had gone too far and would call for more economic ornithological input into what would be called "the bird question."

Monday, August 8, 2016

Longfellow gets angry (1850s)

W.J. Stillman, whose short-lived journal, The Crayon, is a wonderfully articulate expression of mid-1850s nature=art sentiment, lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a while and got to know Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In Stillman's Autobiography of a Journalist (1901), he tells a story that is relevant to our purposes. 
I never saw him [Longfellow] angry but once, and that was at his next-door neighbor shooting at a robin in a cherry-tree that stood near the boundary between the two gardens. The small shot carried over and rattled about us where we sat…but showed the avicidal intent, and Longfellow went off at once to protest against the barbarity, not at all indignant at the personal danger, if he thought of any. 
Longfellow, of course, would go on to write the poem that gives this blog its name. We are just a few years (1856) away from covering the year of its publication (1863).

And that's it for this summer. I might, if possible, keep the project going sporadically this fall. I have a working paper based this project in progress that might show up hereabouts when I've made some revisions. I've added links from summer 2016 to the "comprehensive links" page.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Another bird-friendly editor: Horace Greeley (1856)

The 1856 edition of the Journal of the U.S. Agricultural Society featured a talk by Townend Glover, the first entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, titled "Entomology as applied to agriculture." Widely reported in the farm press, even in the South, Glover's talk included a special plea for insectiverous birds:
A farmer keeps a watch-dog to guard his premises, and cats to kill rats and mice in his granary and barn; yet he suffers any "unfeathered biped" to tear down his fence rails in order to get a chance shot at any robin, wren, or blue bird which many be unfortunate enough to be on his premises; and yet these very birds do him more good than either dog or cat….
Glover then told a personal story. He had suspected a phoebe of eating bees. After shooting the bird, he dissected it to confirm and found instead that it was full of cucumber bugs from his garden. This shocking bit of economic ornithology had convinced him of the way farmers could mistake friends for foes. 

Appended to the end of the Journal's report was the following comment:
Horace Greeley testified to the value of birds in protecting the crops from the ravages of insects. 
Greeley had founded the New-York Tribune in 1841, but between editing that paper and his involvement in the newly formed Republican party, he still apparently had time to run an experimental farm in rural New York. His What I Know of Farming (1871) contains a long passage about birds and their protection. 
I have no doubt that our best allies in this inglorious warfare are the Birds. They would save us, if we did not destroy them….They are to be valued and cherished as the voluntary police of our fields and gardens, constantly employed in fighting our battles against our ruthless foes…[T]here would be neighborhood or township associations for the protection of insect-eating birds. We must not merely agree to let them live--we must cherish and protect them. 
The most telling Greeley story might be the following (possibly apocryphal) tale from By the Wayside (1902), official organ of Wisconsin and Illinois Audubon societies. In 1871 Greeley was the Wisconsin guest of Judge Harmon S. Conger (an old Whig colleague of his in New York):
Grapes from the Judge's garden were served at dinner and in commenting on the fruit, Mr. Conger's neighbor complained of the trouble he was having in trying to save his berries from the birds. "I have shot them and shot them", he said, "but it is simply impossible to keep the birds away from the vines." With a shocked expression upon his genial face and a piteous look in his eye, Dr. Greeley silently gazed at his old chum; then he exclaimed, "What! do you mean to tell me that you would shoot the birds to save your grapes?" "Why not?" replied Mr. X, "I can't raise grapes to feed the birds." 
The great journalist looked long at his old friend, then spoke with suppressed feeling, "Oh! my God, how happy I could be if I lived where I could raise grapes for the birds." 
Greeley's Tribune, would become, by the time of the Civil War, one of the most prominent, possibly the most prominent newspaper in the country. Famously, among the Tribune's correspondents were Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Bird protection in a southern agricultural journal (The American Cotton Planter 1855)

Abolitionism and bird protection didn't always go together. Case in point: a series of "spare the bird" articles running in the American Cotton Planter in 1855.

The bird protection theme began in March, with a comment by South Carolina naturalist John Bachman drawn from a longer "Essay on the Connection of the Natural Sciences with Agriculture." Bachman supported the economic ornithological project of separating "species injurious to us" from "what are beneficial." While the owl, hawk, and crow had no "special claim to our sympathies" and the vulture, no longer needed for public sanitation, shouldn't be protected, "the warbler and all birds feeding on insects should be cherished as benefactors."

In July, the Cotton Planter ran a genuine "spare the birds" article, excerpted below:
Go out among the trees in the orchard or through the grove, or look into the hedge-rows or peep under the old bridge down the lane, or go to the barn--go any where, every where, where you will, and at this season--this lovely May season--you will find the birds--busy, merry, singing birds, hard at work they are too, building their houses--cradles rather--and all the time keeping up a concert of sweet music. Various, too, are their tastes in selecting their sites for their nesting-places, some hiding away from man, some coming up to his very door; or like the martin and swallow, under his roof and protection. Robin-redbreast almost invariably comes into the orchard, sometimes on the trees, sometimes on the fence, sometimes where kindly treated under the shed by the barn or house.
…. 
We look upon birds as among the essentials of a landscape, and would as soon think of chopping down the orchard, shooting the turkeys, and wringing the necks off of the barn-yard fowls, or making mutton of the sheep, or giving the lambs to the dogs, as to think of destroying the birds or driving them from the premises 
"Going a gunning," with the murderous intent to kill such birds, ought to consign a man to the infamy that we are apt to attach to a savage or a brute who wantonly kills the finest of God's creations
We don't know of a higher Christian duty for a minister to engage in than an effort to preserve the birds in his parish… [my emphasis]
Don't tell us they destroy the small fruit. Plant enough for you and them. If they do eat fruit, so they do eat worms, and you can well afford to give them a few cherries and currants for what they have done for you 
Around the city there is a difficulty in preserving the birds, because all the groves are infested with an abominable nuisance in the shape of big boys and prowling loafters "out for a day's shooting. 
They ought to be out for a day's shooting, and that should be at their own idle caracasses, with fine salt and pepper-cords, and every owner of land should be allowed by law thus to salt and pepper any of these idle vagabonds who come upon his grounds without leave to doom the birds to destruction. 
Farmers! let your motto be--and impress it upon all your family--Never kill a bird.
This article ran uncredited. It was likely written by Solon Robinson, noted agricultural writer and editor, who included the essay in his Facts for Farmers (1865).

In the same issue, the Cotton Planter also reprinted an article from the Hartford Courant, "Don't Kill the Birds", that repeated the "spare the birds" plea, adding,
So important is this subject considered by agriculturists, that the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture in Massachusetts, Mr. Flint, has issued a circular urging upon the farmers and others the execution of the stringent law there is in that State against killing such birds. We have a similar law in this State [Connecticut], and we trust our farmers will see rigidly to the prosecution of all breakers of it….
And then in September, the Cotton Planter ran the widely circulated summary version of Wilson Flagg's two-part "Birds and Insects" article from Hovey's.

It was in fact rare for southern agricultural papers to run these kinds of stories. But the American Cotton Planter was notoriously "progressive." Its editor, N.B. Cloud, had made a concerted effort to bring the best practices of agriculture, including northern ideas, to the south. This included the protection of insectivorous birds.

Make no mistake about it. The American Cotton Planter, based in Alabama, was pro-slavery. Although Cloud, during Reconstruction, would gain a reputation as a radical reviled by the Ku Klux Klan, before the war he was explicit and unapologetic about his publication's stance. Browsing the Cotton Planter and some of the other major southern agricultural journals such as the Southern Cultivator and the Southern Planter can be rather unsettling for a modern reader for this reason. At the same time, for Cloud, at least, bird protection was a northern idea worth promoting.