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“Were it known, that a paradise or a humming-bird could be seen alive in any of our zoological gardens,—birds which, however beautiful, sink into insignificance before this, -half London would flock to see them; nay, if one of those monstrous abortions—a double-headed chicken, which we have more than once read of—could have been fed and reared, the owner would have made his fortune! Thus does curiosity, in minds essentially vulgar, predominate over the lasting sense of beauty; and the glories of the visible heavens, no less than the splendours of the peacock, are passed with indifference by unreflecting millions, because both are every-day sights.”—Swanson.
So charming is the perfect combination of grace and splendour displayed by these most lovely creatures, so excellent is their flesh, so hardy are they in their adult state, that, were it not for certain inconveniences attendant upon keeping them, and also, perhaps, for the indifference with which everything not rare is apt to be regarded by us, they would be sought after as nevertiring objects wherewith to gratify the sense of sight. Who does not remember the thrill of delight with which, in childhood, he first gazed upon their brilliant gorgeousness? Peacocks and gold fill our youthful imaginations as fit elements of the magnificence of Solomon; and no fable more fitly chose its decorations than that which attached these feathered gems, in association with the
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many-coloured Iris, to the train of imperial Juno. Even the hen of the Pea-fowl, though sober in her colouring, is most harmoniously shaded, and every movement is coincident with the line of beauty. The causes which disincline many persons from indulging themselves with the daily spectacle of this inapproachable model of beauty, are, in the first place, the depredations that it commits upon gardens. For this there is no help. The dislike which these birds have to enter a fowl-house, and their decided determination to roost on trees or lofty buildings, prevents our exercising a control which should restrain them from mischief till an eye can be kept upon their movements. At the first dawn, or at the most unsuspected moments, they will steal off to their work of plunder. With great conveniences for keeping them in their proper places, I was compelled to choose between the alternative of banishing a very perfect and familiar pair, or of depriving my children of strawberries. A friend, who has been well acquainted with their habits for years, informs me, as the result of his experience, that their cunning is such, that, if frequently driven away from the garden at any particular hour of the day or evening, after a certain time they will never be found there at that special hour, but will invariably make their inroads at daybreak. As a last resource I have tried ejecting them with every mark of scorn and insult, such as harsh words, the cracking of whips, and the throwing of harmless brooms. Most domestic animals, and I believe many birds, are sensitive of disrespectful usage, and would feel as a severe rebuke the manner in which they were thus turned out. But Pea-fowl are incorrigible marauders. A mansion, therefore, whose fruit and vegetable garden is at a distance, is almost the only place where they can be kept without daily vexation. The injury they do to flowers is comparatively trifling; though, like the Guineafowl, they are great eaters of buds, cutting them out from the axillae of leaves as cleanly as a surgeon's dissectingknife would. They must also have a dusting-hole, which is large and unsightly; but this can be provided for them in some out-of-the-way nook; and by feeding and encouragement they will soon be taught to dispose themselves into a tableau vivant, at whatever point of view the tasteful eye may deem desirable. No one with a very limited range should attempt to keep them at all. But, where they can be kept, they should be collected in considerable numbers, that their dazzling effect may be as impressive as possible. Many gardenless castles and country-houses on the Continent would lose their semibarbarous and semi-ruinous appearance, by employing these birds as an embellishment. For they are not less pleasing to the eye than the Stork, which is so much encouraged ; and they would render in great measure the same services, namely, the destruction of small reptiles, with the advantage of remaining at home all the year round. Willughby gives a ludicrous quotation from Johannes Faber in reference to the serpent-eating propensities of the Pea-fowl, which is too coarse, both in idea and expression, for modern republication, though not otherwise objectionable. Something of the kind is popularly believed, perhaps not utterly without truth, respecting Herons and eels. But to these Continental residences it should be understood that no vineyard be at hand. The greenness and sourness of the grapes, which caused the Fox to refrain, would be but a weak argument with them. A Peacock that was suffered to go at large in the dirty back lanes of a town struck me as being more out of its place than any I had ever seen. A charming instance of the ornamental use of Pea-fowl was to be seen a dozen years ago (and perhaps may still) at the Palace of Caserta, near Naples. There is an English garden,* admirably laid out, on a slope commanding the most enchanting views. In one part is a small piece of water, in the midst of which is an island planted with trees and shrubs, and inhabited by numerous Pea-fowl.” Of course they must be pinioned, to prevent their escape. My own birds had no hesitation in flying to and fro, in order to visit an island similarly situated, and which is cultivated as a kitchen-garden. People may talk about Humming-birds, Sun-birds, Birds of Paradise, or any other feathered beauty, but nothing can equal the magnificence of a Peacock in full flight, sweeping across a sheet of water, or glancing in the sunbeams among the topmost branches of a fir-tree. A second objection to them is their alleged wanton destructiveness towards the young of other poultry,t a propensity respecting which I have heard and read” such contradictory statements, that they can only be reconciled by the hypothesis that the Peacock becomes more cruel as he advances in life, and also that males of this species vary in disposition; that, as the human race has produced individuals of such diverse tempers, so the Peacock family includes individuals of different degrees of bloodthirstiness. My own bird, three years old, was perfectly inoffensive; others have been mentioned to me equally pacific. On the other hand, the list of murders undoubtedly committed is long and heavy. The friend before mentioned says, “I have known them kill from twelve to twenty ducklings, say from a week to a fortnight old, during one day; but if they came across a brood of young chicks or ducklings a few days old, they would destroy the whole of them.” And yet, in the face of all this condemnatory evidence, we now and then see a favourite bird, with neck of lapis lazuli, back of emerald, wings of tortoiseshell, and tail outshining the rainbow, in some old-fashioned farm-yard, the pet of his mistress, who is perhaps the most successful poultry-woman in the neighbourhood, and whose stock shows no sign of any murderous thinning. The Peahen, who, when she has eggs or young, seems really a more guilty party, is not in general even suspected. So true is it that one man may steal a horse, while another must not look over the hedge.
* “Itaque genus alitum nemorosis et parvulis insulis, quales objacent Italia, facillime continetur. Nam quoniam nec sublimiter potest, nec per longa spatia volitare, tum etiam quia furis, ac noxiorum animalium rapinae metus non est, sine custode tuto vagatur, majoremque pabuli partem sibi acquirit. Foeminae quidem suá sponte, tanquam servitio liberatae, studiosius pullos enutriunt: nec curator aliud facere debet, quam ut diei certo tempore, signo dato, juxta villam gregem convocet, et exiguum hordei concurrentibus objiciat, ut nec avis esuriat, et numerus advenientium recognoscatur. Sed hujus possessionis rara conditio est.”—“Therefore this genus of fowls is most easily kept in the small woody islands which lie before Italy. For since they can neither fly very high nor for a long distance, and since there is no fear of loss by thieves or vermin, they can safely go at large without a keeper, and find themselves the greater part of their food. The Peahens, indeed, as if freed from slavery, will of their own accord feed their young with greater care; nor should their keeper do more than call the flock towards the farm at a certain time of the day by a known signal, and throw them a little barley as they assemble, so that the birds may not be famished, and their number may be told. But the opportunity of using this kind of landed property is rare.”—Columella, lib. viii. cap. xi. This is very like our pheasantries in alder and osier carrs. The whole chapter is curious and worth reading.
+ Columella gives a fanciful reason for keeping Hens that have families of chickens from coming near Peahens that have broods, which relieves the latter at least from all blame. “Satis autem convenit inter auctores, non debere alias gallinas, quae pullos sui generis educant, in eodem loco pasci. Nam cum conspexerunt pavoniam prolem, suos pullos diligere desinunt et immaturos relinquunt, perosae widelicet quod nec magnitudine, nec specie pavoni pares sint.”—
The hen does not lay till her third summer; but she then seems to have an instinctive fear of her mate, manifested by the secresy with which she selects the place for
“Authors are sufficiently agreed that other Hens, which are rearing young of their own kind, ought not to feed in the same place. For after they have seen the brood of the Pea-fowl, they cease to cherish their own, and desert them while still immature, clearly hating them because neither in size nor beauty are they comparable to the Peacock.” —Book viii. chap. xi. * See the “Penny Cyclopaedia,” article Pavonidae:—“I have never kept Pea-fowl, nor seen chicks just hatched, but have witnessed, the abominable cruelty of the father of the family in knocking a whole brood of them on the head, when nearly a quarter grown.”-H. H.