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Buy pretty Polly!

Do you know the great Liverpool thoroughfares; those roaring streets with their endless processions of reeling, rocking, rolling wagons, piled high and heavy as if with the wealth of half a world? Do you know their pavements, down which the tide of life flows so strangely mingled; where men of all nations meet face to face; where the returned convict jostles the merchant-prince, and tawdriness and rags fitter with the gay dress of the merchant's wife and daughters? Will the women of the wealthy classes in our overgrown manufacturing towns ever find out, by the by, how much better a simple style of dress, and sober colors, would suit dingy streets and tall chimneys? At present, it seems to be the rule, that the more smoky a town, the more conspicuous the ladies will make their out-door toilet.

These remarks Mrs. B. and I were exchanging, sottavoce, in respect of a bevy of fair Lancastrians in showy dresses, pink bonnets, and light gloves, who, like ourselves, were waiting at the top of one of the principal streets in Liverpool for the chance of a safe crossing, when the request which heads this paper — Buy Pretty Polly!--screamed out close behind us, put an end to our criticisms. It came from the beak of a gray parrot in a cage over a shop-door — much like a little old man with a whitish head and a gray satift doublet, and just reminded my wife that she had always wished for a parrot — that I had promised to buy one, which I didn't at all remember — that there wasn't a better place for the purchase than Liverpool, and weren't we leaving to-day, and might never be there again — facts not in my power to gainsay the upshot was, that we found ourselves in the shop the next minute. The place looked more like a warehouse than a shop; it was lined with cages from the ceiling to the floor — a complete Noah's ark of feathered fowl. Nobody seemed to be guarding them, and for some minutes we stood watching the caged crowd within, screeching, whistling, fluttering, singing, in curious contrast, and yet not without a certain likeness to the perambulating crowd without. Here, too, was a babel of notes and voices; here was the strut, the swagger; here were beaks like hooked noses, both owned by birds of prey; hard, cruel eyes — eyes vindictive, melancholy, bright, restless, treacherous, suspicious, shy. Furry owls blinked out from one corner with the air of well-to-do fathers of families; and you might have sworn the monkeys, peering through their cages on the ground, were own cousins to the street-boys.

Some had ragged suits — fowls roughly used by the world; others wore respectable black, brown, gray, like their fellow-creatures without; and how that scarlet macaw, and those lories, put to shame the finest feathers of the finest birds outside! The longer I looked at the feathered people round me, the stronger the likeness grew to my own species; and I don't know what point it would have reached, if the master of the shop had not started up from somewhere --a little dry old man, with a bright eye and fluffy yellow hair, standing nearly upright, own brother he looked to the cockatoo winking on its perch behind him. Our negotiations, which had to be carried on at the extreme top of our voices, and eked out by dumb show, so deafening was the din about us, ended in the old man offering me my choice among fifty young parrots for a sovereign. I picked out the youngest of them, a shy, quiet bird, not fully fledged, and about six months old. Just as the old man was putting it into the travelling-cage, I said in a tone meant to be highly impressive:--‘"Now, mind, you warrant that bird free from all defects; and if he dies as soon as we get him home, I shall look to you to make it good."’

‘"I dun no about that,"’ replied the seller, eyeing me over his shoulder more like a cockatoo than ever. ‘"Ye look healthy, and like to live, both of ye, and so does Polly; but ye may be gone to-morrow, and so may she.--We mun all go, men and birds. Na, I don't promise to make her good."’

What could mortal man find to say against this rejoinder? not made impertinently or doggedly, but simply, as if it were the most natural thing to say. I retreated somewhat discomfited, and felt more than usually disposed to buy insurance tickets when, we got to the Lime Street Station that morning.

I had sundry good reasons for not choosing our acquaintance at the shop-door; first, in consideration of many accomplishments, his price was five pounds; second, I had a curiosity to watch a young bird grow up to full-grown parrot's estate under my own eye; and lastly, that highly educated fowl might very likely have some words in his vocabulary which Mrs. B. would not like to listen to. That such things have been, we could both bear witness. Though the thing took place years ago, yet could anybody who was present at that confirmation luncheon at Waterwold vicarage, forget what happened then? Our vicar, the Rev. Arthur Simpson, had not long been transferred from a curacy to Waterwold, and his wife, who, with a large family and small means, had not often played the hostess, felt this entertainment, to which a number of guests were to be asked to meet the bishop, a very nervous affair. In her perplexity, Mrs. Simpson consulted Mrs. B., who prides herself on being au fair in such important matters. Ye Gods! what solemn discussions went on between those two ladies about the game, and the fowls, and the waiting, and the creams, for a week beforehand.--I knew every dish, and could have mapped the whole table out on paper. By dint of hearing so much about the luncheon, I naturally came to take a deep interest in its success, so that when on the great day we were ushered into the vicarage dining-room, I was as Mr. Pepys says, ‘"mighty pleased that the table did look so handsome,"’ and shared my wife's satisfaction on observing that the great jelly-lion — for a long time a refractory beast, bent upon coming out of its mould minus its head — had been melted down into submission, and shook the terrors of its mane, every hair complete, in full view of the bishop. He was a grave but genial man. The party proved particularly pleasant; and poor Mrs. Simpson, towards the middle of the luncheon, found leisure to think how well it was going off, when his lordship took notice of a parrot which, swinging in his cage suspended from a hook in the ceiling by the window, looked down on us all with a sort of vindictive surprise.

‘"You have a fine bird there, Mr. Simpson,"’ said the prelate; ‘"I keep one myself at Fulford. Does yours talk much?"’

‘"No, my lord. I've taught him every day myself for the three weeks I've had him, but he won't say anything."’

‘"Indeed!"’ (The bishop looked benignly at the bird through his spectacles.) ‘"Why, Coco, can't you talk? Haven't you anything to say to me, Coco?"’

At the sound of ‘"Coco,"’ his own name, which he had not heard at the vicarage, the bird set up all his feathers; perhaps he was excited, too, by the sight of so much company and good cheer; perhaps he fell bound to answer when addressed by a bishop.--Opening his beak with a scream which made everybody jump, he burst into the heartiest commination service a bishop ever had the luck to listen to. You may imagine, though I can't describe the commotion. The ladies held their ears, the best thing they could do; the servants could not reach the cage to get it down; and how that bird went on while the steps were being brought, and our host, very red and nervous, unhooked and hustled him out of the room at last! The vicar came back in a minute or two, with his finger and thumb bitten, I believe in an attempt to wring the creature's neck. Nothing short of such a measure could have stopped the bird, and this had not succeeded, for all the rest of the luncheon, though everybody tried hard to seem as if they didn't hear it, there was a perpetual grinding growl, the exact voice of the Irish sailor, Coco's previous owner, issuing from the dark closet under the stairs, to which he had been consigned. Of course, we all felt what very naughty words the bird was saying, and the conversation flagged forthwith; somehow, it wasn't easy to keep up church-talk, and school-talk, and religious societies' talk with the accompaniment of a swearing parrot in the background.--After such an experience, you may suppose I should avoid the purchase of a bird which might, like Coco, talk ‘"not wisely, but too well."’

For those who have any curiosity in observing the steps by which an animal grows perfect in its little round of experiences and actions, a young parrot is a most interesting study. A bird of six months is a quiet little thing, two-thirds of its full size, sitting stupidly on its perch all day long. Besides getting its full feathers, and growing a fine red tail, it has to accomplish a great deal in the way of education. Of course, in the case of a solitary individual, where instinct is not helped on by the imitative faculty, the process is much more slow and difficult. Its natural note — not a pleasant one, half plaint and half chirp — has to be changed through the range of inarticulate sounds from the first faint gabble up to perfect human speech. That its beak is an anchor, a fever, and a means of transport, as well as of mastication, the creature has yet to find out; and it must lean this before it can perform its monkey feats of climbing,* swinging, and suspending itself head downwards, precisely like a bird hanging in a larder. And, finally, it has to arrive at the knowledge which seems to come last of all — that his claw is a prehensile organ.

Have parrots any notion of the sense of words? A question which has been often mooted, and most writers, with Pone at their head, give a verdict against the bird's intelligence. To some extent, they do know what--

Owin to the peculiar conformation of the genius Pelttacus they cannot climb by aid of the claws alone.

they say; attaching, like cats and dogs, certain meanings to certain sounds. My parrot, for instance, knows his own name — Coco; and that the worth ‘"Pussy,"’ ‘"Scamp,"’ represent the cat and dog, the meaning of some words of praise and blame. He gives their respective names also to inmates of the house. He goes a step beyond even, for when a pet-robin walks in at the window for his daily dole, Coco calls out patronizingly; ‘"Pretty bird — pretty little bird?"’ and addresses the house-canary in the same way. Here he shews a power of generalization; he has an idea that a creature with beak and feathers is a bird like himself. ‘"Kiss Coco,"’ and ‘"Coco pecks,"’ are also phrases understood, for he suits the action to the word. When he calls for food, he calls intelligently; and it shown apples, nuts, &c., of which he is fond — the name at the same time being repeated — he soon picks up the word, and attaches it to the object. It is plain, therefore, that the bird is more or less intelligent in respect of words which represent an object or action perfectly familiar to him; beyond this, his speech becomes mere imitation of sound. A very sagacious parrot of my acquaintance offers a good example. Its master will peep into the room where Polly is, who calls out instanter; ‘"Ah, there you are, Mr. Clarke!"’ If another gentleman looks in the same way through the half-open door, Polly cries: ‘"Ah, there you are, Mr."’--,and always stops — it knows the name is not ‘"Clarke,"’ But this same Polly was the property of a sailor, who must have been a bit of a coward in a stiff no'-wester; and when the wind blows hard, the bird will cry by the hour together in the most distressed and supplicatory tones: ‘"Lord have mercy on Bob Barnard!"’ attaching, of course, just as little meaning to its words as one of its kind in Antwerp, which repeats the Paternoster and Ave Maria exactly as if it were saving a rosary — a pious accomplishment it required from being, like the famous Vertvert, pet-parrot to a convent.

The facility with which my pretty Polly picks up inarticulate sounds is really astonishing. Distant street-cries, conversations with great variety of voice and tone, yet without any articulate utterance, the creaking of a gate, the rolling gravel with a garden roller, running-water, coughing, sneezing, &c.--all these, and many others, will be faithfully given by our bird-ventriloquist, and the more discordant, the better they seem to please it. If the reader is an F. R. S., the name of my friend Caleb Foracett, and his learned treatise on Methylethylanrylophenylammonium, will be familiar to him; if he is not, and ignorantly supposes this little word to be coined out of Polly's inarticulate sounds, I beg to refer him to Philosophical Transactions, 1851, p. 380. Forneett lives principally at Waterwold, for the sake of the quiet, he says, in a small house, and mostly shut up in a small study; a pale-faced, nervous bachelor, who makes his housekeeper go about in list-shoes, and would make the cat do so also, had not nature, in consideration of Mr. Forncett's nerves, given her a pair of velvet of her own. About a month back, as I was getting out of a railway-carriage at our little station, who should I see but Caleb Forncett getting into one! After we had shaken hands. e in the carriage, I standing on the platform, and he had told me that he was off to London for a fortnight, he exclaimed: ‘"Oh, B., we've got a parrot, and Morris doesn't know how to feed it. She gave it some of her supper last night — bread and cheese and beer. Will you tell us what they ought to have?"’

‘"Of course. But how came you by such a thing? Why, I should have thought you the last man in the world to buy a parrot."’

‘"I didn't buy him,"’ explained Forncett.--‘"The canary died on Tuesday; and when Mr. Smith, of Yelverton, called that afternoon, he said he would send me a bird I should like instead. I was quite surprised when the parrot came in a great cage by the Yelverton carrier yesterday. Such a quiet bird, I think I shall like him. But what are you laughing at, B.?"’

Off went the train with a tremendous whistle, and off went my friend, holding his ears very hard. I finished my laugh as I walked up from the station. The idea of poor Forncett and his prize was really too ridiculous.--I knew the bird well; the noisiest vixen that ever sat in a cage. The Smiths were blest with a large little family, and it had all the nursery uproar at its tongue's end. They found the bird intolerable at last, and had generously given it away half-a-dozen times; but it always came back, like a bad sovereign, to its owners.

That day fortnight, when Caleb Forncett stood at the door of his house, he could scarcely believe it was his own. It might have been appropriated as a foundling-hospital during his absence: out of every door and window, as if the little dwelling were bursting with sound, there poured volumes of nursery cries, slaps, screams, scoldings, vociferations, all in one breath. As the housekeeper answered the door, shrieks of ‘"Mamma, mamma!"’ rang through the passage. Had quiet bachelor ever such a welcome home before?

‘"Morris, what does this — this internal clamor mean?"’ asked her master in a shaky voice, intended to be stern.

‘"Mean, sir!"’ shouted Morris, coming out that she might hear herself speak. ‘"Why, don't you know it's that bird of yours, sir?--He's got the voices of all them little Miss and Master Smiths; and ever since Tuesday was a week, he begun, and has been going on like that. I"’--‘"Cough, cough, whoop, whoop, whoop, till the house rang again."’ ‘"There! now he's in the autumn."’

‘"Good Heavens, what shall I do?"’ cried Caleb aghast.

‘"I know what I shall do, sir, now you're come back — I shall speak my mind, which is, that me or that bird packs off this very afternoon!"’

I need not add that Forncett caught eagerly at the suggestion, and that the parrot went back, as he came, by the carrier that day.

Common report says that Polly, like the phoenix, sees out its century; but from fifty to eighty years is the term of its natural life. Le Valliant, the celebrated naturalist, describes an octogenarian gray parrot he saw at Amsterdam; it was decrepit and doting like a very old man, had lost both sight and memory, and was kept alive with biscuits dipped in Madeira. After sixty, its memory began to fail, and it lost its words by degrees, returning to its native jackdaw note. At sixty-five, its moult became irregular; the tail feathers dwindled, and were replaced by dull yellow instead of red. After this change the bird never renewed its plumage. Three conditions are essential to Polly's health and comfort — warmth, proper food, and cleanliness. The diseases to which these birds, when in captivity, become subject, are brought upon them through ignorance or neglect; for when properly treated, they are perhaps the healthiest of all our feathered prisoners. How often a bird may be seen shivering at an open window, or out of doors, in a cold wind; and when he drops dead from his perch, or wastes away nobody supposes his being set out in ‘"that beautiful sunshine"’ had anything to do with the misfortune.

Again, no creatures suffer more from improper diet. When you see a parrot sitting sullenly, its head drawn into its neck, the plumage dull and harsh-looking, you may be sure poor Polly is a martyr to dyspepsia, and feels quite as cross and no-howish as human bipeds do under similar torments. All birds in captivity should be fed as nearly as possible as they feed themselves in freedom.--Now, the Psittacineæ are strict vegetarians; young shoots, pulpy fruits, grain, and almonds, make up their bill of fare. To keep your bird in full health and beauty --which is the visible sign of health — you must confine him to bread soaked in water (no milk, remember,) hemp-seed, or hemp and canary mixed; a bit of hard biscuit, or crust dried in the oven, is healthful; dates, nuts; in fact, any dry or ripe fresh fruit in moderation. He has Paddy's taste for a good boiled potato, which may be indulged. His favorite part on an apple is the core, from which he picks out the pips with evident relish, undaunted by Sir Fitzroy Kelley's opinion.--For orange and lemon pips, also, he has a penchant, even for those of the Saville orange which we might suppose too bitter for any living thing to eat. Never give your bird animal food in any form, and you will not find him suffer from dysentery, lose his feathers in patches, or pluck them out, as parrots often will, in the uneasiness produced by a vitiated state of the blood consequent on improper diet. The last point, a very important one, cleanliness. Both perch and cage must be duly attended to, or our favorite is apt to suffer from sore feet, or to be attacked by insects. A bath regularly given, daily in summer, twice a week in winter, with the chill just off the water, adds much to his comfort and appearance. They don't like it at first, but they soon enjoy the fun of being well splashed, and are always noisier after it. These rules, which were given me by a dealer in foreign birds in Paris, who has long been noted for the health and beauty of his parrots, apply to cockatoos, macaws, lories, and all birds of this genus. When carefully kept, the gray parrot (Psitt. cineraus) might be reckoned a beautiful creature even without the embellishment of his bright pomegranate tail. The feathers, which lie lightly, yet firmly, over each other, their edged forming deeper and lighter undulations of tint, have a smooth, satiny lustre; and an efflorescence like fine white powder, perpetually renewed, is to his plumage much what its bloom is to the plum. Have you ever lifted the ear coverts, to look at the large curious car, and observed how different from the close, short, round feathers which thatch the head are these?--long, slender plumes they shows through a magnifying-glass — slightly curved over the opening, so as to protect it without intercepting sound. There are two varieties of the ash-colored parrot--one with a dash of red on each wing (Psitt. G. elisrabris,) and another (Psitt. G. Rubre verius,) the gray ground. work of whose plumage is varied all over with red.

The ash-colored parfot was not known in Europe until sometime after the discovery of the Cape by Vasco da Goma, 1496. It is common in most African regions, lives in large communities, but keeps in pairs. The thought comes strangely, enough, that ‘"the coxcomb bird, so talkative and grave,"’ sitting demurely at our fireside, has looked down from a far different perch on herds of buifil and elephants, and seen troops of scared antelopes flying from the lion. Ah, polly, you would talk to some purpose if you could tell us the wonders of your home in the primeval forests of South Africa, of the giant evergreen trees, thickly interlaced with gorgeous creepers, and the jungle beneath, a wilderness of glowing blossoms! Perhaps in the forests which climb half-way up the skirts of the Zeireberg, has pretty Polly chattered and swung with thousands of companions, while the morning shadows lay black in the ravines, and the mists rolled, purple, amber, and gray, down the mountain-heights as the sun struck the topmost crags with flame, and the great diapason of the forest, from all its myriad forms of life, unswelled to greet him! What comfort can these children of the sun take from the sight of our trim gardens, and our pale summer sunshine? We have freed the black population of Africa — why shouldn't some zealous philanthropist, to want of what he calls ‘"a cause to advocate,"’ take up that of her gray forest-people, kept slaves to our pleasure in a solitary dwindled down existence? Let us hear what the bird himself, as the party most concerned, has to say on this matter. Coco, swinging away as if there was nothing else to be done in the world, opens his beak: ‘"What have you got for Coco? Coco is going to be married to the cat. Ha, ha, ha!"’ Decidedly, we need waste no pity on our little gray friend; like a true philosopher, he doesn't trouble his head about the past, but looks out for his advantage in the present, and amuses himself with plans for the future.

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