Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  7 (1883–84), 608–22.

Nature's Serial Story Ch. 4  [4/13]

E P Roe


Novel, Serial

Relevant illustrations:

eng. [6]


Ornithology, Climatology, Biogeography, Animal Behaviour, Gender, Theory, Anthropomorphism, Natural History, Ecology, Naturalists, Error, Reading, Hunting, Collecting, Amusement

People mentioned:

Thomas M Brewer , Alexander Wilson , Spencer F Baird

    With the coming of a spring snowfall, Dr Marvin tells Amy Winfield that she 'can begin the study of ornithology at once' (608), and he explains the migration pattern of birds from their 'winter homes all the way from Virginia to Florida' (610). Later, Webb Clifford looks upon Amy's 'little feminine mysteries of needle and fancy work [...] with an admiring helplessness, as if she were more unapproachable in her sphere than he could ever be in his, with all his scientific facts and theories' (611). When Dr Marvin returns to the Clifford's home the next day he discourses at length on ornithology, observing, amongst many other things, that the 'female bluebird is singularly devoid of sentiment, and takes life in the most serious and matter-of-fact way. Her nest and her young are all in all to her. John Burroughs, who is a very close observer, says she shows no affection for the male, and if he is killed she goes in quest of another mate in the most business-like manner', to which Maggie Clifford exclaims, 'The heartless little jade! [...] it seems to me that I know women of whom she is a type—women whose whole souls are engrossed with their material life' (612–13). The male bluebird, on the other hand, resembles the 'ideal French beau very much in love'. Although Dr Marvin claims that 'Burroughs is mistaken in saying that [the male bluebird] is in most cases the ornamental member of the firm' as he 'feeds his wife as she sits on the nest' (612), he later advises that 'if you wish to fall in love with birds, you should read the books of John Burroughs'. He also explains that the 'great Northern shrike, or butcher-bird', which 'will pounce upon an unsuspecting neighbor, and with one blow of his beak take off the top of its head, dining on its brains', is 'not only a murderer, but an exceedingly treacherous one, for both Mr. Audubon and Mr. Nuttall speak of his efforts to decoy little birds within his reach by imitating their notes'. (616) Dr Marvin concludes his long lecture by telling the children of the Clifford family that 'Shooting birds as game merely is very well, but capturing them in a way to know all about them is a sport that is always in season, and would grow more and more absorbing if you lived a thousand years' (622).


Roe 1885

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