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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment