Monday, July 1, 2013

Ignoble hunters from the city. American Farmer, May 14, 1819.

The first extended mention in the American Farmer of the need for bird protection can be found in the May 14, 1819 (Vol I, issue 7, page 52) edition in the context of a piece voicing complaints about the behavior of city folk visiting the countryside.  Addressed to "sister" and titled, "The country to the city," the article (probably written by John S. Skinner himself) is mostly a complaint about casual thievery from orchards and flower beds, but ends with an additional complaint about the cruelty shown by "ignoble hunters" from the city to birdlife.

Here is the full text, hopefully more readable, below:
But besides the thieves, small or great, we must complain of another species of transgressors. A number of offensive idlers sally out with guns, to the great annoyance of our children and servants, in their sports and labors. The noise and shot enter our very houses; discharges by unmanly sportsmen, upon the blue bird, thrush, and robin, any bird of song or beauty, that falls under the savage glance of these ignoble hunters. This, too, at a season when every murdered bird leaves a helpless brood to perish with famine in the nest. Scarcely the swallow, or a sparrow, can escape, and in a little while, nothing will be left to animate the country near your precincts. But, instead of these beautiful and sprightly little visitors, disgusting crowds of catterpillars (sic) and destructive grubs, will deform and desolate the country, in righteous judgment for the wanton destruction of the useful creatures, who formerly kept down their devouring numbers.
Compressed into this single paragraph are a number of separate arguments against the shooting of songbirds, versions of which we have seen before
  • The aesthetic, picturesque value of birds of "song and beauty" (blue bird, thrush, robin, swallow, sparrow) animating the countryside . [Addison & Steele]
  • The inhumane cruelty of killing adult birds during breeding season. [Trimmer]
  • The plague of caterpillars and grubs resulting from the sin of killing birds [Bradley, Franklin]
  • The "usefulness" of birds [Barton, Wilson]
It is unknown whether Skinner actually held this belief or was just reproducing a common complaint from the point of view of his readership. Skinner would later be a great promoter of hunting, but under the model of the restrained "sportsman," not the "offensive idler."

This article was reprinted in the very first issue of the short-lived Boston farm paper, the Agricultural Intelligencer and Mechanic Register, January 10, 1820.  

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