Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Response to the "Bird Law" Part 1

On May 6, 1818, the Boston paper, Columbia Centinel, ran a letter to the editor with a specific complaint about the Act to Prevent the Destruction of Certain Useful Birds at Unseasonable Times.
This new law, if we understand it right, is put in operation in order to save those birds which it includes from being destroyed while hatching.  In some measure, however, the fitness of it is to be questioned as it respects the robin. This is a bird we every year have in great quantities, and especially at this season of it, when quitting the woods (where they have taken refuge during the winter) they spread themselves in large and numerous bodies all over the country. Would not this law, therefore, if framed from motives of humanity only, be improved by extending only from the first of May, to about the middle of July, at which season, cherries being ripe, and this law in operation, it effectually prevents the farmer from protecting his property from these little noxious invaders; whereas, were it in operation only at the above mentioned time, every sentiment of humanity would be fully gratified by the protection afforded them during the months of incubation; they never even choose their mates till about the beginning of May; and by the middle of July, their young being sufficiently fledged for flight, it gives the farmer an opportunity to prevent the destroyers of his fruit, which, like locusts, always overrun and destroy it; but when suffered peaceably and unmolested to infest it, these troublesome invaders, coming forth reinforced by so many young, will infallibly destroy one quarter of this year's cherries. T.G.
In small letters beneath T.G.'s missive, the editor noted:
There appears much reason in the remarks of our correspondent, and we have no doubt they will arrest legislative attention. The whole object of the law alluded to, was good, and not injury, to the farmer. 
Countering stories we've seen before, T.G. offered a different narrative--equating birds and locusts, with the farmer himself the only means of protecting his investment.  T.G., it would seem, was a careful observer of birds, but not a careful reader of the act itself.  The very next issue (May 9), there was a new letter to the editor letting "T.G" have it.
Mr. Russell--if your correspondent "T.G" in your last paper, who appears to have such an antipathy to poor "Robin Redbreast" had been as careful of his pen and ink, as he is of his Cherries, he would have perused the Law "to prevent the destruction of useful Birds," before he had troubled you to print and the public to read the evidence he has given of his ignorance of that law. Let him recur to the Centinel of Feb. 14, and he will there find, that the law in question, does not prohibit him, nor any other sharp shooter, from killing, taking, or destroying, not only his "noxious Robins," but also Snipes, Woodcocks, and Larks, after the 4th of July in each year! which is a fortnight earlier than he wishes for.  But this ignorant complaint is but a sample of the others against this excellent law....Cherries are never ripe before this last period, and therefore your humane correspondent, after having celebrated the anniversary of Independence, may finish his festival by killing, maiming, or playing the d---l with the annoyers of his dear cherry trees.
And then in what would appear to be an allusion to Addison and his blackbirds, he continued:
On my farm, Major, you know I have a large number of cherry trees; but I never allow a gun to be fired among them; and I think myself well paid for the appropriation of a few trees to Robin Redbreast, and his brother vocalists, by the delightful music with which every morning and night they express their gratitude.Your friend, A FARMER, who willingly distributes Heaven's bounty. 
Clearly, "A FARMER," was writing less to correct "T.G." than to criticize his inhumanity. And one can also sense a certain dissatisfaction with the Act itself, which did not go far enough in its protection of songbirds.

The original writer, resenting to tone of "A Farmer's" response, had the last word:
Mr. Russell--The piece by "A Farmer," in the Centinel of Saturday, in answer to my last communication, I was dubious whether it was worthy of notice--it being so entirely replete with personal reflections; but I have at length determined to hand this to you. With regard to the law in question, I candidly confess that after several inquiries, I had understood that it was to continue in force from the first of March to the first of September. I was mistaken. But my actions, like my intentions, were pure, and I should have hardly supposed there could have been any thing in the piece of Wednesday, to have roused the ire, even of a hot-headed "farmer." He hopes he says, "there are but few T.G.'s in the community;" I might say in the language of retort that, for the credit of the civilization and politeness of this country, I hope there are but few such "farmers;" but such language I disdain, and I deem it beneath the character of a gentleman to notice such rusticity, which, however pardonable it may be in a rustic farmer, is beneath the dignity of a man.  With regard to the law, I was mistaken. But could he not have set me right without stooping to such language? Was it at all necessary for the proof of this affirmations, to call those who were so unfortunate as to mistake the law in that respect, fools, ignorant? But his opprobrium recoils upon himself, who in the bombastic language of self-boasted humanity, descends from the character of a gentleman, to throw scorn, contempt, and indignity at another. T.G.
This exchange may remind modern readers of a discussion board flame war ; the parallels are not accidental. "T.G." never responded to "A Farmer's" real objections, instead reacting to his tone and his ad hominem attack. This exchange is useful as a hint of a problem with the early bird protection movement: the ardor of bird protection proponents sometimes caused them to slip into self-righteous bombast, while non-supporters were mystified why someone should care so much, and saw themselves as victims when they perceived their rights being stripped away. 

No comments:

Post a Comment