« PreviousContinue »
charges " with all its chivalry." Every idle wight that is lucky enough to possess an old gun or blunderbuss, together with all the archery of Slingsby's school, take the field on the occasion. In vain does the little parson interfere, or remonstrate, in angry tones, from his study window that looks into the churchyard ; there is a continual popping from morning till night. Being no great marksmen, their shots are not often effective; but every now and then a great shout from the besieging army of bumpkins makes known the downfall of some unlucky squab rook, which comes to the ground with the emphasis of a squashed appledumpling.
Nor is the rookery entirely free from other disasters. In so aristocratical and lofty minded a community, which boasts so much ancient blood and hereditary pride, it is natural to suppose that questions of etiquette will sometimes arise, and affairs of honour ensue. In fact, this is very often the case; bitter quarrels break out between individuals, which produce sad scufflings on the tree-tops, and I have more than once seen a regular duel take place between two doughty heroes of the rookery. Their field of battle is generally the air; and their contest is managed in the most scientific and elegant manner; wheeling round and round each other, and towering higher and higher to get the 'vantage ground, until they sometimes disappear in the clouds before the combat is determined.
They have also fierce combats now and then with an invading hawk, and will drive him off from the territories by a posse comitati. They are also extremely tenacious of their domains, and will suffer no other bird to inhabit the grove or its vicinity. There was a very ancient and respectable old bachelor owl that had long had his lodgings in a corner of the grove, but has been fairly ejected by the rooks; and has retired, disgusted with the world, to a neighbouring wood, where he leads the life of a hermit, and makes nightly complaints of his ill treatment.
The hootings of this unhappy gentleman may generally be heard in the still evenings, when the rooks are all at rest; and I have often listened to them of a moonlight night, with a kind of mysterious gratification. This gray-bearded misanthrope of course is highly respected by the squire, but the servants have superstitious notions about him; and it would be difficult to get the dairymaid to venture after dark to the wood which he inhabits.
Besides the private quarrels of the rooks, there are other misfortunes to which they are liable, and which often bring distress into the most respectable families of the rookery. Having the true baronial spirit of the good old feudal times, they are apt now and then to issue from their castles on a forage, and to lay the plebeian fields of the neighbouring country under contribution; in the course of which chivalrous expeditions they now and then get a shot from the rusty artillery of some refractory farmer. Occasionally, too, while they are quietly taking the air beyond the park boundaries, they have the incaution to come within the reach of the truant bowmen of Slingsby's school, and receive a slight shot from some unlucky urchin's arrow. In each case the wounded adventurer will sometimes have just strength enough to bring himself home, and, giving up the ghost at the rookery, will hang dangling " all abroad" on a bough, like a thief on a gibbet; an awful warning to his friends, and an object of great commiseration to the squire.
But maugre all these untoward incidents, the rooks have, upon the whole, a happy holiday life of it. When their young are reared, and fairly launched upon their native element the air, the cares of the old folks seem over, and they resume all their aristocratical dignity and idleness. I have envied them the enjoyment which they appear to have in their etherial heights, sporting with clamorous exultation about their lofty bowers; sometimes hovering over them, sometimes partially alighting upon the topmost branches, and there balancing with outstretched wings, and swinging in the breeze. Sometimes they seem to take a fashionable drive to the church, and amuse themselves by circling in airy rings about its spire; at other times a mere garrison is left at home to mount guard in their strong hold at the grove, while the rest roam abroad to enjoy the fine weather. About sunset the garrison gives notice of their return; their faint cawing will be heard from a great distance, and they will be seen far off, like a sable cloud, and then, nearer and nearer, until they all come soaring home. Then they perform several grand circuits in the air, over the hall and garden, wheeling closer, until they gradually settle down upon the grove, when a prodigious cawing takes place, as though they were relating their day's adventures.
I like at such times to walk about these dusky groves, and hear the various sounds of these airy people roosted so high above me. As the gloom increases, their conversation subsides, and they seem to be gradually dropping asleep; but every now and then there is a querulous note, as if some one was quarrelling for a pillow, or a little more of the blanket. It is late in the evening before they completely sink to repose; and then their old anchorite neighbour, the owl, begins his lonely hooting from his bachelor's hall, in the
Wood. WASHINGTON IRVING.
Those who expect to see at Athens only the more splendid and obvious testimonies of its former state will find themselves agreeably mistaken in the reality of the scene. It may be acknowledged that the Parthenon, the Theseium, the Propylea, the temple of Minerva, Polias, &c. are individually the most striking of the objects occurring here; yet it may perhaps be added that they have been less interesting singly, than in their combined relation to that wonderful grouping together of nature and art, which gives its peculiarity to Athens, and renders the scenery of this spot something which is ever unique to the eye and recollection. Here, if any where, there is a certain genius of the place which unites
and gives a colouring to the whole; and it is further worthy of remark, that this genius loci is one which most strikingly connects the modern Athens with the city of former days. Every part of the surrounding landscape may be recognised as harmonious and beautiful in itself; and at the same time as furnishing those features which are consecrated by ancient description, by the history of heroic actions; and still more as the scene of those celebrated schools of philosophy, which have transmitted their influence to every succeeding age. The stranger, who may be unable to appreciate all the architectural beauties of the temples of Athens, yet can admire the splendid assemblage they form in their position, outline, and colouring; can trace out the pictures of the poets in the vale of Cephissus, the hills of Colonos, and the ridge of Hymettus; can look on one side upon the sea of Salamis, on the other upon the heights of Phyle: and can tread upon the spots which have acquired sanctity from the genius and philosophy of which they were once the seats. The hill of the Areopagus, the Academy, the Lyceum, the Portico, the Pnyx, if not equally distinct in their situation, yet can admit of little error in this respect; and the traveller may safely venture to assert to himself, that he is standing where Demosthenes spoke to the Athenians, and where Plato and Aristotle addressed themselves to their scholars. Nowhere is antiquity so well substantiated as at Athens, or its outline more completely filled up both to the eye and the imagination.
The impressions of this nature, which the tra