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[54]

Pythagoras has been charged, both before and since the days of Malvolio, with holding that ‘the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a fowl,’—that delinquent men must revisit earth as women, and delinquent women as birds. Malvolio thought nobly of the soul, and in no way approved his opinion; but I remember that Harriet Prescott, in her school-days, accepted this, her destiny, with glee. ‘When I saw the Oriole,’ she wrote to me, ‘from his nest among the plum-trees in the garden, sail over the air and high above the Gothic arches of the elm, a stream of flashing light, or watched him swinging silently on pendant twigs, I did not dream how near akin we were. Or when a Humming-Bird, a winged drop of gorgeous sheen and gloss, a living gem, poising on his wings, thrust his dark, slender, honey-seeking bill into the white blossoms of a little bush beside my window, I should have thought it no such bad thing to be a bird; even if one next became a bat, like the colony in our eaves, that dart and drop and skim and skurry, all the length of moonless nights, in such ecstasies of dusky joy.’ Was this weird creature, the bat, in very truth a bird, in some far primeval time? and does he fancy, in unquiet dreams at nightfall. that he is one still? I wonder whether he can enjoy the winged brotherhood into which he has thrust himself,—victim, perhaps, of some rash quadruped-ambition,—an Icarus, doomed forever not to fall.

I think, that, if required, on pain of death, to name instantly the most perfect thing in the universe, I should risk my fate on a bird's egg. There is, first, its exquisite fragility of material, strong only by the mathematical precision of that form so daintily moulded. There is its absolute purity from external stain, since that thin barrier remains impassable until the whole is in ruins,—a purity recognized in the household proverb of ‘An apple, an egg, and a nut.’ Then, its range of tints, so varied, so subdued, and so beautiful,—whether of pure white, like the Martin's, or pure green, like the Robin's, or dotted and mottled into the loveliest of browns, like the Red Thrush's, or aqua-marine, with stains of moss-agate, like the Chipping-Sparrow's, or blotched with long, weird ink-marks on a pale ground, like the Oriole's, as if it bore inscribed some magic clew to the bird's darting flight and pensile nest. Above all, the associations and predictions of this little wonder,—that one may bear home between his fingers all that winged splendor, all that celestial melody, coiled in mystery within these tiny walls! Even the chrysalis is less amazing, for its form always preserves some trace, however fantastic, of the perfect insect, and it is but moulting a skin; but this egg appears to the eye like a separate unit from some other kingdom of Nature, claiming more kindred with the very stones than with feathery existence; and it is as if a pearl opened and an angel sang.

The nest which is to contain these fair things is a wonderful study also, from the coarse masonry of the Robin

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