"What thou art we know not; 
      What is most like thee? 
      From rainbow clouds there flow not 
      Drops so bright to see, 
      As from thy presence showers a rain of melody." 
                                 SHELLEY'S "SKYLARK."

     "Do you ne'er think what wondrous beings these? 
      Do you ne'er think who made them, and who taught 
      The dialect they speak, whose melodies 
      Alone are the interpreters of thought? 
      Whose household words are songs in many keys, 
      Sweeter than instrument of man e'er caught! 
      Whose habitations in the tree-tops, even, 
      Are half-way houses on the road to heaven." 

Having spent a couple of hours very pleasantly at Tiptree Hall, I turned my face in a northerly direction for a walk through the best agricultural section of Essex.  While passing through a grass field recently mown, a lark flew up from almost under my feet.  And there, partially overarched by a tuft of clover, was her little all of earth - a snug, warm nest with two small eggs in it, about the size and color of those of the ground-chirping-bird of New England, which is nearer the English lark than any other American bird.  I bent down to look at them with an interest an American could only feel.  To him the lark is to the bird-world's companionship and music what the angels are to the spirit land.  He has read and dreamed of both from his childhood up.  He has believed in both poetically and pleasantly, sometimes almost positively, as real and beautiful individualities.  He almost credits the poet of his own country, who speaks of hearing "the downward beat of angel wings."  In his facile faith in the substance of picturesque and happy shadows, he sometimes tries to believe that the phnix may have been, in some age and country, a real, living bird, of flesh and blood and genuine feathers, with long, strong wings, capable of performing the strange psychological feats ascribed to it in that most edifying picture emblazoned on the arms of Banking Companies, Insurance Offices, and Quack Doctors.  He is not sure that dying swans have not sung a mournful hymn over their last moments, under an affecting and human sense of their mortality.  He has believed in the English lark to the same point of pleasing credulity.  Why should he not give its existence the same faith?  The history of its life is as old as the English alphabet, and older still.  It sang over the dark and hideous lairs of the bloody Druids centuries before Julius Cæsar was born, and they doubtless had a pleasant name for it, unless true music was hateful to their ears.  It sang, without loss or change of a single note of this morning's song, to the Roman legions as they marched, or made roads in Britain.  It rang the same voluntaries to the Saxons, Danes, and Normans, through the long ages, and, perhaps, tended to soften their antagonisms, and hasten their blending into one great and mighty people.  How the name and song of this happiest of earthly birds run through all the rhyme and romance of English poetry, of English rural life, ever since there was an England!  Take away its history and its song from her daisy-eyed meadows, and shaded lanes, and hedges breathing and blooming with sweetbrier leaves and hawthorn flowers - from her thatched cottages, veiled with ivy - from the morning tread of the reapers, and the mower's lunch of bread and cheese under the meadow elm, and you take away a living and beautiful spirit more charming than music.  You take away from English poetry one of its pleiades, and bereave it of a companionship more intimate than that of the nearest neighborhood of the stars above.  How the lark's life and song blend, in the rhyme of the poet, with "the sheen of silver fountains leaping to the sea," with morning sunbeams and noontide thoughts, with the sweetest breathing flowers, and softest breezes, and busiest bees, and greenest leaves, and happiest human industries, loves, hopes, and aspirations!

The American has read and heard of all this from his youth up to the day of setting his foot, for the first time, on English ground.  He has tried to believe it, as in things seen, temporal and tangible.  But in doing this he has to contend with a sense or suspicion of unreality - a feeling that there has been great poetical exaggeration in the matter.  A patent fact lies at the bottom of this incredulity.  The forefathers of New England carried no wild bird with them to sing about their cabin homes in the New World.  But they found beautiful and happy birds on that wild continent, as well-dressed, as graceful in form and motion, and of as fine taste for music and other accomplishments, as if they and their ancestors had sung before the courts of Europe for twenty generations.  These sang their sweet songs of welcome to the Pilgrims as they landed from the "Mayflower."  These sang to them cheerily, through the first years and the later years of their stern trials and tribulations.  These built their nests where the blue eyes of the first white children born in the land could peer in upon the speckled eggs with wonder and delight.  What wonder that those strong-hearted puritan fathers and mothers, who

     "Made the aisles of the dim wood ring 
      With the anthems of the free,"

should love the fellowship of these native singers of the field and forest, and give them names their hearts loved in the old home land beyond the sea!  They did not consult Linnæus, nor any musty Latin genealogy of Old World birds, at the christening of these songsters.  There was a good family resemblance in many cases.  The blustering partridge, brooding over her young in the thicket, was very nearly like the same bird in England.  For the mellow-throated thrush of the old land they found a mate in the new, of the same size, color, and general habits, though less musical.  The blackbird was nearly the same in many respects, though the smaller American wore a pair of red epaulettes.  The swallows had their coat tails cut after the same old English pattern, and built their nests after the same model, and twittered under the eaves with the same ecstacy, and played the same antics in the air.  But the two dearest home-birds of the fatherland had no family relations nor counterparts in America; and the pilgrim fathers and their children could not make their humble homes happy without the lark and the robin, at least in name and association; so they looked about them for substitutes.  There was a plump, full-chested bird, in a chocolate-colored vest, with a bluish dress coat, that would mount the highest tree-top in early spring, and play his flute by the hour for very joy to see the snow melt and the buds swell again.  There was such a rollicking happiness in his loud, clear notes, and he apparently sang them in such sympathy with human fellowships, and hopes, and homes, and he was such a cheery and confiding denizen of the orchard and garden withal, that he became at once the pet bird of old and young, and was called the robin; and well would it be if its English namesake possessed its sterling virtues; for, with all its pleasant traits and world-wide reputation, the English robin is a pretentious, arrogant busybody, characteristically pugilistic and troublesome in the winged society of England.  In form, dress, deportment, disposition, and in voice and taste for vocal music, the American robin surpasses the English most decidedly.  In this our grave forefathers did more than justice to the home-bird they missed on Plymouth Rock.  In this generous treatment of their affection for it, they perhaps condoned for mating the English lark so incongruously; but it was true their choice was very limited.  To match the prima donna carissima of English field and sky, it was necessary to select a meadow bird, with some other features of resemblance.  It would never do to give the cherished name and association to one that lived in the forest, or built its nest in the tree-tops or house-tops, or to one that was black, yellow, or red.  Having to conciliate all these conditions, and do the best with the material at hand, they pitched upon a rather large, brownish bird, in a drab waistcoat, slightly mottled, and with a loud, cracked voice, which nobody ever liked.  So it never became a favorite, even to those who first gave it the name of lark.  It was not its only defect that it lacked an ear and voice for music.  There is always a scolding accent that marks its conversation with other birds in the brightest mornings of June.  He is very noisy, but never merry nor musical.  Indeed, compared with the notes of the English lark, his are like the vehement ejaculations of a maternal duck in distress.

Take it in all, no bird in either hemisphere equals the English lark in heart or voice, for both unite to make it the sweetest, happiest, the welcomest singer that was ever winged, like the high angels of God's love.  It is the living ecstacy of joy when it mounts up into its "glorious privacy of light."  On the earth it is timid, silent, and bashful, as if not at home, and not sure of its right to be there at all.  It is rather homely withal, having nothing in feather, feature, or form, to attract notice.  It is seemingly made to be heard, not seen, reversing the old axiom addressed to children when getting voicy.  Its mission is music, and it floods a thousand acres of the blue sky with it several times a day.  Out of that palpitating speck of living joy there wells forth a sea of twittering ecstacy upon the morning and evening air.  It does not ascend by gyrations, like the eagle or birds of prey.  It mounts up like a human aspiration.  It seems to spread out its wings and to be lifted straight upwards out of sight by the afflatus of its own happy heart.  To pour out this in undulating rivulets of rhapsody is apparently the only motive of its ascension.  This it is that has made it so loved of all generations.  It is the singing angel of man's nearest heaven, whose vital breath is music.  Its sweet warbling is only the metrical palpitation of its life of joy.  It goes up over the roof-trees of the rural hamlet on the wings of its song, as if to train the rural soul to trial flights heavenward.  Never did the Creator put a voice of such volume into so small a living thing.  It is a marvel - almost a miracle.  In a still hour you can hear it at nearly a mile's distance.  When its form is lost in the hazy lace-work of the sun's rays above, it pours down upon you all the thrilling semitones of its song as distinctly as if it were warbling to you in your window.

The only American bird that could star it with the English lark, and win any admiration at a popular concert by its side, is our favourite comic singer, the Bobolink.  I have thought often, when listening to British birds at their morning rehearsals, what a sensation would ensue if Master Bob, in his odd-fashioned bib and tucker, should swagger into their midst, singing one of those Low-Dutch voluntaries which he loves to pour down into the ears of our mowers in haying time.  Not only would such an apparition and overture throw the best-trained orchestra of Old World birds into amazement or confusion, but astonish all the human listeners at an English concert.  With what a wonderment would one of these blooming, country milkmaids look at the droll harlequin, and listen to those familiar words of his, set to his own music:-

      Go to milk! go to milk! 
      Oh, Miss Phillisey, 
      Dear Miss Phillisey, 
      What will Willie say 
      If you don't go to milk! 
      No cheese, no cheese, 
      No butter nor cheese 
      If you don't go to milk.

It is a wonder that in these days of refined civilization, when Jenny Lind, Grisi, Patti, and other celebrated European singers, some of them from very warm climates, are transported to America to delight our Upper-Tendom, that there should be no persistent and successful effort to introduce the English lark into our out-door orchestra of singing-birds.  No European voice would be more welcome to the American million.  It would be a great gain to the nation, and be helpful to our religious devotions, as well as to our secular satisfactions.  In several of our Sabbath hymns there is poetical reference to the lark and its song.  For instance, that favorite psalm of gratitude for returning Spring opens with these lines: -

     "The winter is over and gone, 
      The thrush whistles sweet on the spray, 
      The turtle breathes forth her soft moan, 
        The lark mounts on high and warbles away."

Now, not one American man, woman, or child in a thousand ever heard or saw an English lark, and how is he, she, or it to sing the last line of the foregoing verse with the spirit and understanding due to an exercise of devotion?  The American lark never mounts higher than the top of a meadow elm, on which it see-saws, and screams, or quacks, till it is tired; then draws a bee-line for another tree, or a fence-post, never even undulating on the voyage.  It may be said, truly enough, that the hymn was written in England.  Still, if sung in America from generation to generation, we ought to have the English lark with us, for our children to see and hear, lest they may be tempted to believe that other and more serious similes in our Sabbath hymns are founded on fancy instead of fact.

Nor would it be straining the point, nor be dealing in poetical fancies, if we should predicate upon the introduction of the English lark into American society a supplementary influence much needed to unify and nationalise the heterogeneous elements of our population.  Men, women, and children, speaking all the languages and representing all the countries and races of Europe, are streaming in upon us weekly in widening currents.  The rapidity with which they become assimilated to the native population is remarkable.  But there is one element from abroad that does not Americanise itself so easily - and that, curiously, is one the most American that comes from Europe - in other words, the English.  They find with us everything as English as it can possibly be out of England - their language, their laws, their literature, their very bibles, psalm-books, psalm-tunes, the same faith and forms of worship, the same common histories, memories, affinities, affections, and general structure of social life and public institutions; yet they are generally the very last to be and feel at home in America.  A Norwegian mountaineer, in his deerskin doublet, and with a dozen English words picked up on the voyage, will Americanise himself more in one year on an Illinois prairie than an intelligent, middle-class Englishman will do in ten, in the best society of Massachusetts.  Now, I am not dallying with a facetious fantasy when I express the opinion, that the life and song of the English lark in America, superadded to the other institutions and influences indicated, would go a great way in fusing this hitherto insoluble element, and blending it harmoniously with the best vitalities of the nation.  And this consummation would well repay a special and extraordinary effect.  Perhaps this expedient would be the most successful of all that remain untried.  A single incident will prove that it is more than a mere theory.  Here it is, in substance: -

Some years ago, when the Australian gold fever was hot in the veins of thousands, and fleets of ships were conveying them to that far-off, uncultivated world, a poor old woman landed with the great multitude of rough and reckless men, who were fired to almost frenzy by dreams of ponderous nuggets and golden fortunes.  For these they left behind them all the enjoyments, endearments, all the softening sanctities and surroundings of home and social life in England.  For these they left mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.  There they were, thinly tented in the rain, and the dew, and the mist, a busy, boisterous, womanless camp of diggers and grubbers, roughing-and-tumbling it in the scramble for gold mites, with no quiet Sabbath breaks, nor Sabbath songs, nor Sabbath bells to measure off and sweeten a season of rest.  Well, the poor widow, who had her cabin within a few miles of "the diggings," brought with her but few comforts from the old homeland - a few simple articles of furniture, the bible and psalm-book of her youth, and an English lark to sing to her solitude the songs that had cheered her on the other side of the globe.  And the little thing did it with all the fervor of its first notes in the English sky.  In her cottage window it sang to her hour by hour at her labor, with a voice never heard before on that wild continent.  The strange birds of the land came circling around in their gorgeous plumage to hear it.  Even four-footed animals, of grim countenance, paused to hear it.  Then, one by one, came other listeners.  They came reverently, and their voices softened into silence as they listened.  Hard-visaged men, bare-breasted and unshaven, came and stood gentle as girls; and tears came out upon many a tanned and sun-blistered cheek as the little bird warbled forth the silvery treble of its song about the green hedges, the meadow streams, the cottage homes, and all the sunny memories of the fatherland.  And they came near unto the lone widow with pebbles of gold in their hard and horny hands, and asked her to sell them the bird, that it might sing to them while they were bending to the pick and the spade.  She was poor, and the gold was heavy; yet she could not sell the warbling joy of her life.  But she told them that they might come whenever they would to hear it sing.  So, on Sabbath days, having no other preacher nor teacher, nor sanctuary privilege, they came down in large companies from their gold-pits, and listened to the devotional hymns of the lark, and became better and happier men for its music.

Seriously, it may be urged that the refined tastes, arts, and genius of the present day do not develop themselves symmetrically or simultaneously in this matter.  Here are connoisseurs and enthusiasts in vegetable nature hunting up and down all the earth's continents for rare trees, plants, shrubs, and flowers.  They are bringing them to England and America in shiploads, to such extent and variety, that nearly all the dead languages and many of the living are ransacked to furnish names for them.  Llamas, dromedaries, Cashmere goats, and other strange animals, are brought, thousands of miles by sea and land, to be acclimatised and domesticated to these northern countries.  Artificial lakes are made for the cultivation of fish caught in Antipodean streams.  That is all pleasant and hopeful and proper.  The more of that sort of thing the better.  But why not do the other thing, too?  Vattemare made it the mission of his life to induce people of different countries to exchange books, or unneeded duplicates of literature.  We need an Audubon or Wilson, not to make new collections of feathered skeletons, and new volumes on ornithology, but to effect an exchange of living birds between Europe and America; not for caging, not for Zoological gardens and museums, but for singing their free songs in our fields and forests.  There is no doubt that the English lark would thrive and sing as well in America as in this country.  And our bobolink would be as easily acclimatised in Europe.  Who could estimate the pleasure which such an exchange in the bird-world would give to millions on both sides of the Atlantic?

There are some English birds which we could not introduce into the feathered society of America, any more than we could import a score of British Dukes and Duchesses, with all their hereditary dignities and grand surroundings, into the very heart and centre of our democracy.  For instance, the grave and aristocratic rooks, if transported to our country, would turn up their noses and caw with contempt at our institutions - even at our oldest buildings and most solemn and dignified oaks.  It is very doubtful if they would be conciliated into any respect for the Capitol or The White House at Washington.  They have an intuitive and most discriminating perception of antiquity, and their adhesion to it is invincible.  Whether they came in with the Normans, or before, history does not say.  One thing would seem evident.  They are older than the Order of the Garter, and belonged to feudalism.  They are the living spirits of feudalism, which have survived its human retainers by several hundred years, and now represent the defunct institution as pretentiously as in King Stephen's day.  They are as fond of old Norman castles, cathedrals, and churches, as the very ivy itself, and cling to them with as much pertinacity.  For several hundred generations of bird-life, they and their ancestors have colonised their sable communities in the baronial park-trees of England, and their descendants promise to abide for as many generations to come.  In size, form, and color they differ but little from the American crow, but are swifter on the wing, with greater "gift of the gab," and less dignified in general deportment, though more given to aristocratic airs.  Although they emigrated from France long before " La Democratic Sociale" was ever heard of in that country, they may be considered the founders of the Socialistic theory and practice; and to this day they live and move in phalansteries, which succeed far better than those attempted by the American " Fourierites" some years ago.  As in human communities, the collision of mind with mind contributes fortuitous scintillations of intelligence to their general enlightenment; so gregarious animals, birds and bees seem to acquire especial quick-wittedness from similar intercourse.  The English rook, therefore, is more astute, subtle, and cunning than our American crow, and some of his feats of legerdemain are quite vulpine.

The jackdaw is to the rook what the Esquimaux is to the Algonquin Indian; of the same form, color, and general habits, but smaller in size.  They are as fond of ancient abbeys and churches as ever were the monks of old.  Indeed, they have many monkish habits and predilections, and chatter over their Latin rituals in the storied towers of old Norman cathedrals, and in the belfries of ivy-webbed churches in as vivicacious confusion.

There is no country in the world of the same size that has so many birds in it as England; and there are none so musical and merry.  They all sing here congregationalwise, just as the people do in the churches and chapels of all religious denominations.  As these buildings were fashioned in early times after the Gothic order of elm and oak-tree architecture, so the human worshippers therein imitated the birds, as well as the branches, of those trees, and learned to sing their Sabbath hymns together, young and old, rich and poor, in the same general uprising and blending of multitudinous voices.  I believe everything sings that has wings in England.  And well it might, for here it is safe from shot, stones, snares, and other destructives.  "Young England" is not allowed to sport with firearms, after the fashion of our American boys.  You hear no juvenile popping at the small birds of the meadow, thicket, or hedge-row, in Spring, Summer, or Autumn.  After travelling and sojourning nearly ten years in the country, I have never seen a boy throw a stone at a sparrow, or climb a tree for a bird's-nest.  The only birds that are not expected to die a natural death are the pheasant, partridge, grouse, and woodcock; and these are to be killed according to the strictest laws and customs, at a certain season of the year, and then only by titled or wealthy men who hold their vested interest in the sport among the most rigid and sacred rights of property.  Thus law, custom, public sentiment, climate, soil, and production, all combine to give bird-life a development in England that it attains in no other country.  In no other land is it so multitudinous and musical; in none is there such ample and varied provision for housing and homing it.  Every field is a great bird's-nest.  The thick, green hedge that surrounds it, and the hedge-trees arising at one or two rods' interval, afford nesting and refuge for myriads of these meadow singers.  The groves and thickets are full of them and their music; so full, indeed, that sometimes every leaf seems to pulsate with a little piping voice in the general concert.  Nor are they confined to the fields, groves, and hedges of the quiet country.  If the census of the sparrows alone in London could be taken, they would count up to a larger figure than all the birds of a New England county would reach.  Then there is another interesting feature of this companionship.  A great deal of it lasts through the entire year.  There are ten times as many birds in England as in America in the winter.  Here the fields are green through the coldest months.  No deep and drifting snows cover a frozen earth for ten or twelve weeks, as with us.  There is plenty of shelter and seeds for birds that can stand an occasional frost or wintry storm, and a great number of them remain the whole year around the English homesteads.

If such a difference were a full compensation, our North American birds make up in dress what they fall short of English birds in voice and musical talent.  The robin redbreast and the goldfinch come out in brighter colors than any other beaux and belles of the season here; but the latter is only a slender-waisted brunette, and the former a plump, strutting, little coxcomb, in a mahogany-colored waistcoat.  There is nothing here approaching in vivid colors the New England yellow-bird, hang-bird, red-bird, indigo-bird, or even the bluebird.  In this, as well as other differences, Nature adjusts the system of compensation which is designed to equalise the conditions of different countries.