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Graham's Magazine, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, September 1850 online

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spot, commencing above the eye posteriorily, occupies the whole of the
cheeks. The throat, breast, and belly, so far as to the thighs, which
partake the same color, are of a rich fulvous red, deepest on the belly.
The upper parts, back of the neck, scapulars, and rump, are dark
blackish-brown, irregularly streaked and dashed with pale
yellowish-olive. The wing-coverts are bright bay, the quills and tail
blackish-brown. The vent black, every feather margined with white. The
legs are red, naked a little way up the tibia. It is a very rapid
runner, but flies heavily. It affords a succulent and highly flavored
dish, and is accordingly very highly prized, though scarcely equal in
this respect to its congener, the Sora, which is regarded by many
persons as the most delicious of all game, though for my own part I
would postpone it to the Canvas-Back, _Fuligula valisneria_, the Upland
Plover, _Totanus Bartramius_, and the Pinnated Grouse, or Prairie Fowl,
_Tetrao cupido_.

The Sora Rail, _Rallus Carolinus_, which is more especially the subject
of this paper, is somewhat inferior in size to the last species, and is
easily distinguished from it by the small, round head, and short bill,
in which it differs from all the rest of its family. This bill is
scarcely half an inch in length, unusually broad at the base, and
tapering regularly to a bluntly rounded point. At the base and through
nearly the whole length of the lower mandible it is pale
greenish-yellow, horn-colored at the tip. The crown of the head, nape,
and shoulders, are of a uniform pale olive-brown, with a medial black
stripe on the crown. The cheeks, throat, and breast, pale rufous brown,
fading into rufous white on the belly, which is mottled with broad
transverse gray lines. The back, scapulars, wing-coverts, and rump, are
olive-brown, broadly patched with black, and having many of the feathers
margined longitudinally with white, the quills dark blackish-brown, the
tail dark reddish-brown. The lower parts from the tail posteriorily to
the vent transversely banded with black and white. The legs long and
slender, bare a short way up the tibia, of a pale greenish hue. The iris
of the eye is bright chestnut. The male bird has several black spots on
the neck.

This bird is migratory in the United States, passing along the sea-coast
as well as in the interior; a few breed in New Jersey, on the Raritan,
Passaic, and Hackensack rivers; but on the Delaware and its tributaries,
which abound with wild rice, it is exceedingly abundant, as it is also
in the great northwestern lakes and rivers which are all plentifully
supplied with this its favorite food. It is rarely killed in New York or
to the eastward, though a few are found on the flats of the Hudson. It
winters for the most part to the south of the United States, although a
few pass the cold season in the tepid swamps and morasses of Florida and
Louisiana. All this is now ascertained beyond doubt, but till within a
few years all sorts of strange fabulous tales have been in circulation
concerning the habits of this bird; arising from the circumstance of its
very sudden and mysterious arrival and disappearance on its
breeding-grounds, the marshes being one day literally alive with them,
and the next solitary and deserted. Add to this its difficult, short,
and laborious flight, apparently so inadequate to the performance of
migrations thousands of miles in length, and it will be easy to conceive
that the vulgar, the ignorant, and the prejudiced, should have been
unable to comprehend the possibility of its aërial voyages, and should
have endeavored to account for their disappearance by insisting that
they burrow into the mud and become torpid during the winter, as I have
myself heard men maintain, incredulous and obstinate against conviction.
Audubon has thought it necessary gravely, and at some length, to
controvert this absurd fallacy, and in doing so has recorded the
existence of a planter on the James River, in Virginia, who is well
convinced that the Sora changes in the autumn into a frog, and resumes
its wings and plumage in the spring, thus renewing the absurd old legend
of Gerardus Cambrensis in relation to the tree which bears shell-fish
called _barnacles_, whence in due season issue _barnacle geese_.

The Sora Rail arrives in the Northern States in April or May. I saw one
killed myself this spring in a deep tide marsh on the Salem creek, near
Pennsville, in New Jersey, on the 25th of the former month, which was in
pretty good condition. They migrate so far north as to Hudson’s Bay,
where they arrive early in June, and depart again for the south early in
the autumn. They breed in May and June, making an inartificial nest of
dry grass, usually in a tussock in the marsh, and laying four or five
eggs of dirty white, with brown or blackish-white spots. The young run
as soon as they are hatched, and skulk about in the grass like young
mice, being covered with black down. The Sora Rail is liable to a
curious sort of epileptic fit, into which it appears to fall in
consequence of the paroxysms of fear or rage to which it is singularly
liable.

The following account of the habits and the method of shooting this
bird, from Wilson’s great work on the Birds of America, is so admirably
graphic, truthful, and life-like, that I prefer transcribing it for my
own work on Field Sports, into which I copied it entire as incomparably
superior to any thing I have elsewhere met on the subject, to recording
it myself with, perhaps, inferior vigor.

“Early in August, when the reeds along the shores of the Delaware have
attained their full growth, the Rail resort to them in great numbers, to
feed on the seeds of this plant, of which they, as well as the
Rice-birds, and several others, are immoderately fond. These reeds,
which appear to be the _Zizania panicula effusa_ of Linnæus, and the
_Zizania clavulosa_ of Willenden, grow up from the soft muddy shores of
the tide-water, which are, alternately, dry, and covered with four or
five feet of water. They rise with an erect tapering stem, to the height
of eight or ten feet, being nearly as thick below as a man’s wrist, and
cover tracts along the river for many acres. The cattle feed on their
long, green leaves, with avidity, and wade in after them as far as they
dare safely venture. They grow up so close together, that except at or
near high water, a boat can with difficulty make its way through among
them. The seeds are produced at the top of the plant, the blossoms, or
male parts, occupying the lower branches of the panicle, and the seeds
the higher. The seeds are nearly as long as a common-sized pin, somewhat
more slender, white, sweet to the taste, and very nutritive, as appears
by their effects on the various birds that feed on them at this season.
When the reeds are in this state, and even while in blossom, the Rail
are found to have taken possession of them in great numbers. These are
generally numerous, in proportion to the full and promising crop of the
former. As you walk along the embankment of the river, at this season,
you hear them squeaking in every direction, like young puppies. If a
stone be thrown among the reeds, there is a general outcry, and a
reiterated _kuk, kuk, kuk_—something like that of a Guinea-fowl. Any
sudden noise, or discharge of a gun, produces the same effect. In the
meantime, none are to be seen, unless it be at or near high water—for
when the tide is low, they universally secrete themselves among the
insterstices of the reeds; and you may walk past, and even over them,
where there are hundreds, without seeing a single individual. On their
first arrival, they are generally lean and unfit for the table, but as
the seeds ripen, they rapidly fatten, and from the 20th September to the
middle of October, are excellent, and eagerly sought after. The usual
method of shooting them in this quarter of the country is as follows.

“The sportsman furnishes himself with a light batteau, and a stout,
experienced boatman, with a pole of twelve or fifteen feet long,
thickened at the lower end, to prevent it from sinking too deep in the
mud. About two hours or so before high water, they enter the reeds, and
each takes his post—the sportsman standing in the bow, ready for
action, the boatman on the stern-seat, pushing her steadily through the
reeds. The Rail generally spring singly as the boat advances, and at a
short distance a-head, are instantly shot down, while the boatman,
keeping his eye on the spot where the bird fell, directs the boat
forward, and picks the bird up, while the gunner is loading. It is also
the boatman’s business to keep a sharp look out, and give the word
‘Mark,’ when a Rail springs on either side, without being observed by
the sportsman, and to note the exact spot where it falls, until he has
picked it up; for this once lost sight of, owing to the sameness in the
appearance of the reeds, is seldom found again. In this manner the boat
moves steadily through and over the reeds, the birds flushing and
falling, the gunner loading and firing, while the boatman is pushing and
picking up. The sport continues an hour or two after high water, when
the shallowness of the water, and the strength and weight of the
floating reeds, as also the backwarkness of the game to spring, as the
tide decreases, oblige them to return. Several boats are sometimes
within a short distance of each other, and a perpetual cracking of
musketry prevails above the whole reedy shores of the river. In these
excursions, it is not uncommon for an active and expert marksman to kill
ten or twelve dozen in a tide. They are usually shot singly, though I
have known five killed at one discharge of a double-barrelled piece.
These instances, however, are rare. The flight of these birds among the
reeds, is usually low, and shelter being abundant, is rarely extended to
more than fifty or one hundred yards. When winged, and uninjured in
their legs, they swim and dive with great rapidity, and are seldom seen
to rise again. I have several times, on such occasions, discovered them
clinging with their feet to the reeds under the water, and at other
times skulking under the reeds, with their bills just above the surface;
sometimes, when wounded, they dive, and rising under the gunwale of the
boat, secrete themselves there, moving round as the boat moves, until
they have an opportunity of escaping unnoticed. They are feeble and
delicate in every thing except the legs, which seem to possess great
vigor and energy; and their bodies being so remarkably thin, and
compressed so as to be less than an inch and a quarter through
transversely, they are enabled to pass between the reeds like rats. When
seen, they are almost constantly jetting up the tail, yet though their
flight among the reeds seems feeble and fluttering, every sportsman who
is acquainted with them here, must have seen them occasionally rising to
a considerable height, stretching out their legs behind them, and flying
rapidly across the river, where it is more than a mile in width. Such is
the mode of Rail shooting in the neighborhood of Philadelphia.

“In Virginia, particularly along the shores of James River, within the
tide-water, where the Rail, or Sora, are found in prodigious numbers,
they are also shot on the wing, but more usually taken at night in the
following manner:—

“A kind of iron grate is fixed on the top of a stout pole, which is
placed like a mast in a light canoe, and filled with fire. The darker
the night, the more successful is the sport. The person who manages the
canoe, is provided with a light paddle, ten or twelve feet in length;
and about an hour before high water, proceeds through among the reeds,
which lie broken and floating on the surface. The whole space, for a
considerable way round the canoe, is completely enlightened—the birds
start with astonishment, and, as they appear, are knocked over the head
with a paddle, and thrown into the canoe. In this manner, from twenty to
eighty dozen have been killed by three negroes in the short space of
three hours.

“At the same season, or a little earlier, they are very numerous in the
lagoons near Detroit, on our northern frontier, where another species of
reed, of which they are equally fond, grows in shallows, in great
abundance. Gentlemen who have shot them there, and on whose judgment I
can rely, assure me that they differ in nothing from those they have
usually killed on the shores of the Delaware and Schuylkill; they are
equally fat, and exquisite eating.”

To this I shall only add, that a very light charge of powder and
three-quarters of an oz. of No. 9 shot will be found quite sufficient to
kill this slow flying bird. I have found it an excellent plan to have a
square wooden box, with two compartments, one holding ten lbs. of shot,
with a small tin scoop, containing your charge, and the other containing
a _quantum suff._ of wadding, placed on the thwarts of the boat, before
you, and to lay your powder flask beside it, by doing which you will
save much time in loading; a great desideratum where birds rise in such
quick succession as these will do at times, a couple of hundred being
some times killed by one gun in a single tide.

A landing net on a long light pole will be found very convenient for
recovering dead birds. No rules are needed for killing rail, as they lie
so close and fly so slowly that a mere bungler can scarce miss them,
unless he either gets flurried or tumbles overboard. When dead he is to
be roasted, underdone, like the snipe, served on a slice of crisp
buttered toast, with no condiment save a little salt and his own gravy.
If you are wise, gentle reader, you will lay his ghost to rest with red
wine—Burgundy if you can get it, if not, with claret. For supper he is
undeniable, and I confess that, for my own part, I more appreciate the
pleasure of eating, than the sport of slaying him; and so peace to him
for the present, of which he surely will enjoy but little after the
twentieth of September, until the early frosts shall drive him to his
asylums, in the far southern wilds and waters.

* * * * *




THE FINE ARTS.


Twenty-Seventh Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine
Arts.—Viewed in all its bearings and relations, we believe this to have
been the most important exhibition of this excellent institution. Not
that we think the present by any means the best collection of paintings
we remember to have seen in these same rooms. We believe it is generally
known that for some time past a considerable business has been done in
the way of importing paintings, statues, etc., for purposes of
speculation. Through the exertions of the individuals engaged in this
traffic, scores of foreign pictures have been scattered over the
country. With this business it is not our purpose to meddle. Undoubtedly
these gentlemen possess the right to invest their money in whatever will
yield the largest per centage, and we are glad to perceive that a
fondness for art exists to such an extent as tempts shrewd speculators
and financiers to enter into operations of this description. But,
keeping in view the state of affairs induced by the exertions of these
gentlemen, no surprise will exist in the mind of any one at the
unparalleled interest created in the public mind by the announcement
that the Directors of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, impelled by
a laudable desire to patronize art and artists, had offered certain
“prizes or sums of money,” to be competed for by artists all over the
world. The mere announcement put public curiosity on the _qui vive_.
Expectation was on tip-toe. At length, after protracted delay, on the
16th of May last, the Academy was thrown open to the public.

The two galleries—the south-east and the north-east—those usually
appropriated to the new works, contained one hundred and eighty
pictures, which, with some half dozen scattered through the old
collection, made about one hundred and ninety new pictures, by modern
artists. Of this number some seventy or eighty were foreign—the
majority of these German. How many were submitted for the “prizes or
sums of money” we are not informed.

328 of the catalogue—Death of Abel, etc., by Edward du Jardin, is
probably, so far as subject is involved, the most important work in the
collection. As a whole, we look on these pictures as a failure, as a
_dead failure_. Parts of the works are well drawn, and carefully, even
laboriously studied, but what could be more absurd than the habiliments,
attitude and expression of the angel in the first of the three? The Adam
in the centre is a regular _property_ figure—one of those _stock_
studies which embellish the portfolio of every young artist who has ever
been to Europe. The attitude and expression are such as can be purchased
by the franc’s worth from any one of the scores of models to be found in
almost every city in Europe. The Eve possesses more of the character of
a repentant Magdalene than the “mother of mankind.” The third picture is
to our mind the best; but, taken all together, the works are barely
passable—not by any means what we should have expected from a professor
of painting in one of the first schools in Europe. Religious art
requires abilities and perceptions of the first order—feelings
different from any manifested in this production.

Of a different order is 56—Rouget de Lisle, a French officer, singing
for the first time the Marsellaise Hymn, (of which he was the author,)
at the house of the Mayor of Strasburg, 1792—Painted by Godfroi
Guffens. Every thing here is fire and enthusiasm—the enthusiasm that
ought to pervade _every work of art_—which makes the intelligent
spectator _feel_ as the artist felt in its production. We have heard
various and conflicting remarks made upon this work, and the general
feeling among competent judges is that it is the best of the foreign
works. In our opinion it is, perhaps, _the best_ modern picture in the
collection. The grouping, actions, and expressions of the figures are in
admirable keeping with the subject, and the color is rich, agreeable,
and subdued.

_Murray’s Defense of Toleration._—P. F. Rothermel. If to the exquisite
qualities of color, composition, etc., Mr. Rothermel would add (we know
he can) _expression_, he would unquestionably be _the_ historical
painter of America. In a refined, intellectual perception of the general
character of his subject, Mr. R. is unsurpassed, perhaps unapproached by
any painter in the country. His pictures give evidence of the greatest
care and study—no part is slighted—nothing done with the “that will
do” feeling, which dreads labor. The picture under consideration
embraces a great number of figures—in fact the canvas is literally
covered, but not crowded, every inch giving evidence of intelligence and
design. Concerning the work, we have heard, from the public press as
well as from individuals, but one expression, that of the strongest
commendation—in which we heartily concur.

150, from the Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act IV., Scene 1st., also by Mr.
Rothermel, is conceived in the true feeling of the great poet. The
figures of Bottom, and Titania and the other fairies, are fine
conceptions. Some comparatively unimportant defects in drawing might be
remedied, without injuring the general effect.

Mr. Winner contributes a large work—Peter Healing the Lame Man at the
Beautiful Gate of the Temple. This picture possesses great merit, and
evinces a most commendable ambition. The grouping is well managed—the
expressions of Peter and John are good—the cripple capital. A stumpy
shortness of the figures mars the general character of this otherwise
beautiful production. Mr. Winner paints drapery well, and perhaps
unconsciously loads his figures with it. This defect is conspicuous in
his grand work of “Christ raising the Daughter of Jairus,” now in our
Art Union Gallery. The heads and extremities of Mr. Winner’s pictures
are perfect studies of color and modeling, and evince a masterly
knowledge of anatomy. We should be rejoiced to see the efforts of our
artists liberally sustained, as they ought to be, in the higher
departments of art.

41, The Happy Moment—105, The Recovery—Carl Hubner. These, no doubt,
are _popular_ works—as works of certain classes always will be. We have
heard much said in praise of them. They are beautifully, exquisitely
painted—especially the “Happy Moment,” in which the color and execution
are admirable. But in _sentiment_, or any of the _ideal_ qualities of
such subjects, they are lamentably deficient. Like nearly all the German
painters, Carl Hubner possesses much greater _executive_ than
_imaginative_ powers—he is more of a _mechanic_ than an _artist_. He
gratifies the _eye_ at the expense of the _mind_. Surely rustic love is
suggestive of something more than any thing hinted at in the “Happy
Moment.” “The Recovery” is composed of the usual conventional material
of such subjects—a simpering physician, with a nice diamond ring on his
finger, friends, with the old, upturned eyes and clasped hands, are
mechanically put together—all standing or sitting evidently on purpose
to be painted.

In landscape, the best works in the collection are Nos. 35 and 136, by
Diday, a Geneva artist—a Moonlight, No. 46, B. Stange, and No. 78, a
Roman Aqueduct at Alcala, with caravans of muleteers, F. Bossuet. The
two first are grand and imposing representations of scenery in the High
Alps—in color they are deep and rich in tone. The Moonlight, by Stange,
is the best we have ever seen. The tremulous luminousness of the
moonshine is rendered with matchless truth. The Roman Aqueduct, by
Bossuet, is, beyond question, the finest landscape in the collection.
Sunlight, local color, and texture were never painted with greater truth
than in this splendid production. Light and heat pervade every nook and
corner of the picture, from the dry, dusty foreground, off to the
distant mountains which close the scene. The work furnishes a grand
example of artistic execution and detail. No 52—Lake George—Russel
Smith—is a beautiful piece of open daylight effect, possessing great
truth. A Scene on the North River—Paul Weber—possesses much merit. The
color is fresh and natural, and the sky is the best we have seen by this
artist.

In the Marine department we have works from Schotel, De Groot, Pleysier,
Mozin, and other foreign artists, and from Birch, Bonfield, and
Hamilton, American. Hamilton stands preeminent in this department—his
“Thunder Storm,” and a poetic subject from Rogers’ Columbus, are the
best marines in the Academy. All his works in the present exhibition
have been so minutely described in the daily and weekly papers, and so
universally commended, that we deem it unnecessary to do more than add
our unqualified acquiescence in the favorable judgment thus far
expressed concerning them. Not one of our artists is attracting so much
attention at the present moment as Mr. Hamilton. We have no doubt he is
fully able to sustain the high expectations created by his works within
the last two years. Birch and Bonfield, each, maintain their well-earned
and well-deserved reputations. Of the foreign marines, those of Pleysier
and De Groot are the best—but there is nothing remarkable in either.

A Still Life piece by Gronland, a French artist, is a splendid example
of its class—as is, also, one of a similar character by J. B. Ord, the
best painter of such subjects in the United States.

Want of space prevents our entering into the discussion of the
comparative merits of native and foreign works. We feel no hesitation,
however, in saying that our artists, as a body, have every reason to
congratulate themselves upon the probable results of the present
exhibition.

* * * * *

The Madonna del Velo.—Among the many works of art, which the unsettled
state of the Continent has brought into the London market, are a
collection formerly the property of the Bracca family of Milan. The gem
of the gallery is a remarkably fine and beautifully finished Madonna del
Velo by Raffaelle. This attractive picture derives its title from the
Virgin being represented as lifting a transparent veil from the face of
the sleeping Jesus. She is gazing on the infant with all the devoted
love of a mother, and with all a Madonna’s reverence beaming from her
eyes and depicted in her countenance and her posture; while the young


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Online LibraryVariousGraham's Magazine, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, September 1850 → online text (page 14 of 16)