The Nightingale

No part of God's creation is more beautiful and certainly none more interesting than the winged portion of it. Birds are everybody's friends; but singing birds, especially our English ones, are especial favorites. We propose then in this little book to tell our youthful readers something about them, that will not only amuse them but really instruct, and most of all, may you gather up some precious divine lessons as we trace the wisdom and kindness of Him who made them, and without whom not even a sparrow falleth to the ground.
Very few of my young friends have ever seen a Nightingale, I may say none of you who have never been out of Ireland, or Scotland, or a large portion of the north of England. It is never known to visit any of these places, and is but very seldom seen in Devonshire, Cornwall or Wales.
The Nightingale is one of our most welcome visitors, coming to us in the spring, but he is very particular in his choice of places, always avoiding the places I have named.
Gilbert White, who wrote many beautiful things about birds, now a hundred years ago, tells of several efforts having been made to introduce nightingales into many of these places, but always without permanent success. One gentleman, named Sir J. Sinclair, was at trouble to obtain quite a number of the eggs of the nightingale, and placed them in the nests of robins in these unfavored spots. The dear robins were as kind to them as if they had been their own eggs and chicks, and in due time they were hatched and brought up. But just as sure as the migrating time came, though they had no old bird to teach them, off they went to their warmer climates and never returned again. Not only so, but many pairs have been caught and removed to these places when they first arrived in spring. They would build their nests, lay their eggs, and bring up their young, but after migrating would never be seen there again. There is something very curious about this. In some parts of Yorkshire and Devonshire they are said to be common, in other parts of the same counties they never make their appearance. It is difficult to account for this. It cannot be the difference in the climate, for they visit much colder countries, as Sweden. They visit also many parts of Europe, as Poland, Germany, France, Italy, &c. It is thought by some that the supply of the particular insects on which they live is not so plentiful in those places where they do not visit, but that is not positively known.
They are plentiful about London, throughout Sussex, Somersetshire, Isle of Thanet, and especially the Isle of Wight.
What a contrast there is in the character of birds, as indeed in all the creatures God has made. The little impudent sparrow will scarcely get out of your way. What a sociable bird, everybody's friend, the robin is, especially when winter approaches. The swallow, too, loves the companionship of man, and will cling to his habitation, whether it be the wild Indian's rude hut, around which he sings and dances his terrible war song, or the most refined European monarch living in his magnificent marble palace. Not so the nightingale. He shuns our company. He is shy, very timid, and loves the thicket and the shade. And yet there are exceptions. I have read of a pair that built their nest in the middle of a flowering currant bush, but it was in a quiet country spot. The male would sit upon an apple tree and sing away night and day, and both were so tame as to pick up the crumbs thrown for them from the window of the house.
Would you like to listen to his far-famed song? Then about the end of April or beginning of May you must wander down some very quiet lane, surrounded with copse-wood, and oak trees whose leaves are not yet fully out, and then you may both see and hear this wonderful singer, only you must tread softly, or he will be off in a moment.
There are two things the nightingale cannot boast of; he has neither a fine plumage, nor does he build, like other birds, a beautiful nest. His color is very sombre; the upper part a deep yellowish brown, the tail a reddish brown.
The throat and under part are a grayish white. His length is about seven inches; the extent of his wings about eleven, and his shape elegant. But who shall fully describe his song?
It would be easy to fill a volume with what has been written about the nightingale. Poets especially have said many things about it, some true, but not a few mere imagination.
Milton often and in choicest verse sings her praise
“Sweet bird! that shun'st the noise of folly,
Most musical, most melancholy,
Thou chantress, oft the woods among
I woo, to hear thy evening song.”
I think either Milton must have been in a "melancholy" mood, and so thought the sweet nightingale was sympathizing with his own sorrows; or, more likely, he put in "melancholy" simply that the m might chime in with the m in "musical.”
For this another gently rebukes our famous poet, and replies—
“And hark! the nightingale begins its song,
‘Most musical, most melancholy' bird.
A melancholy' bird? Oh! idle thought,
In nature there is nothing melancholy.
`Tis the merry nightingale that crowds, and
hurries, and precipitates
With fast, thick warble, his delicious notes,
As he were fearful that an April night
Would be too short for him to utter forth
His love-chant, and disburden his full soul of all
his music.”
Wonderful is his musical tone; and it has been found that the organs of sound are larger in the nightingale than in any other bird. Did you ever think of the wisdom, as well as the goodness of God in the formation of these organs of sound They are totally different in a bird from what they are in an animal; they are formed for singing just as much as the most charming singer that ever lived. Many birds can be taught to imitate the notes of other birds—a fact never accomplished by any other animal. The strength of note of the nightingale is such that it can be heard fully half-a-mile, but its compass, flexibility, prodigious variety, and harmony of voice have ever made it the most admired of all songsters. "Sometimes," says one of the most ardent admirers, "dwelling for minutes on a strain composed of only two or three melancholy tones, he begins in an under voice, and swelling gradually by the most superb ascending skill to the highest point of strength, he ends it by a dying cadence; or, it consists of a rapid succession of most brilliant sounds, terminated like many other strains of his song by some detached ascending notes.”
The great variety of his tunes is the most wonderful and charming of his excellences. He is said to have from fifteen to twenty different tunes, all of which are kept quite distinct.
As I have said the nightingale is a very timid bird, and it is very difficult to tame him, yet this task has been accomplished, and one who writes more than a hundred years ago speaks of having kept one several years, and of having taught other birds to imitate his song, by placing them near his cage when very young, and before they had heard any other note. You will perhaps be surprised to learn that even a sparrow was thus taught to imitate the notes of the nightingale, though, of course, he never could attain his sweet and powerful voice.
Do you ask how and where does he build his nest? Well, as you might expect, it is always in a thick bush or shrub near to the ground and completely out of sight. You would find it very difficult ever to find one. It is made of dried leaves, often oak, and he is not much of an architect, as the nest is rather slovenly put together, but then he is a singer and not a builder. The hen lays five eggs. The cock comes to this country in the first or second week in April, and in a few days after is followed by the hen. They do not begin to build till the beginning of May, and it is said they leave us for warmer climes in July and August.
It is when the hen is sitting that the male bird is said to sing his sweetest and most plaintive and thrilling notes. He takes care to perch some distance from his beloved companion, lest he should let out the secret as to where she is; and there, on some lofty boughs, his throat swelling and quivering with that thrilling song with which he pours out the joy of his heart, he wiles away the tedious hours of his mate, while she patiently hatches her tender brood. After they are hatched the song gradually loses it sweetness, and in a short time it ceases altogether.
If God can call forth such notes of song from so small a creature on earth, what must be the music of heaven? What the song of redeemed creation—of those saints, who have not only been saved, but changed into the image of Christ, when they shall sing not the praises of creation, but the glories of Him who hath loved them, washed them from their sins in His own blood, and made them kings and priests unto God? Are you amongst the redeemed of the Lord?
Sweet as is the song of the Nightingale, when a dear little one has learned the love of God in the gift of Jesus, and lisps ever so feebly its thankfulness, that is a song far more sweet and a sacrifice most acceptable to Him.