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Charlotte Grace O'Brien.

Charlotte Grace O'Brien; selections from her writings and correspondence online

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wicked eye to prevent undue familiarities. Bijah went
to London in the winter on coming home to Abigail
they were much pleased to meet again, and as it was the
spring season, I was curious to watch what they would do.
For the first fortnight Bijah hardly noticed Abigail,
but spent his whole time before the mirror, bowing
to himself, twisting his tail about, or tugging at the
fringe of a rug till his bill was full of hairs. Sometimes
he would then fly to Abigail with the hairs, and hop
round her bowing, but more often to the glass, there

179



An Essay on Birds

beginning again all his little antics. During the extreme
cold weather this stopped, but toward the middle of
March the game changed. Abigail began now to follow
Bijah about, to squat down on the floor and curtsey
in the funniest way, calling him with a queer little note,
or with her bill full of hairs. Then would go on the
funniest parody of a minuet imaginable. First the two
birds provide themselves as it were, he with moustachios,
she with a fan large bunches of hairs, thread or any
rubbish. Then Abigail curtseys low on the carpet,
Bijah puffs out his breast, erects his crest, wags his tail,
and trailing his wings runs round and round her. She
throws back her head between her shoulders and puffs
up all her feathers till she looks a whole mass of downy
grey, tail, wings, even head almost lost. She " sets "
to Bijah and he to her ; she runs a little way, he after
her ; she then to him, he from her ; then comes a great
chase to and fro, round one chair, under another, behind
and over the sofa, and finally Bijah may hide under my
skirts. When they have played enough, Abigail pops
on my hand for seed, Bijah flies to the mirror to bow
and make curtsies to the cock bird there. For the last
few days, however, another act of the play is going on.
Bijah has now turned fierce ; if I leave him out of his
cage, for hours together he literally flings himself against
the mirror trying to fight the cock he sees there; he
bites my fingers savagely, and when in his cage he pecked
poor Abigail so fiercely I had to put " Davitt," the
goldfinch, into the cage to keep the peace. Abigail
and Abijah weigh Bounce each, Davitt only ounce, or
a little over, but with his ruby head, his dangerous eye,
and his long beak he is well able for the two of them.
I must tell why I called the goldfinch " Davitt." Well,
Bijah was such a bully I had to get a goldfinch who should
be " a village Hampden who with dauntless breast the

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An Essay on Birds

little tyrant of his fields withstood." Davitt came and
acted up to his character ; but Hampden was a dull
name, besides it was an Irish goldfinch, and sure if ever
there were a peasant Hampden it is Davitt, so Davitt
Mr. Goldy was christened. The goldfinch, too, is like
Mr. Davitt he has a quick, rapid eye, square shouldered,
go-a-head, don't-meddle-with-me, but withal cheery
and lightsome look, like the real man ; as different as
possible from the jovial, bumptious, swelling, walk-over-
the- world, landlordy look of Master Bijah ; and it is
in their characters too. Little Davitt is terribly in
earnest, he does not want to fight, but there is no giving
in about that lad, whereas Bijah, with all his prancing, is
easily frightened. Dear little Bijah too enjoys a joke
and a little familiarity as well as anyone. Davitt comes
when he wants food, Bijah hops on my book or my
breakfast table, or my dog's head from pure friendliness
and impudence. This digression on Davitt has broken
the even tenor of my tale, but tales should go straight.
So to return. Bijah at present is spending his whole
time hurling himself against the mirror when out of
his cage, and quarrelling with Davitt and Abigail when
in it ; the only peaceable personage is " the Nizy," the
canary. " The Nizy " sings all day and looks pretty,
but being a product of civilisation and breeding he is
a fool ; can't even fly straight or find his way in or out
of his cage. However, liberty is improving him too,
and he has begun to discover there is something better
in this world than seed and water and a mean content,
he begins to beat against his bars and rejoice in his liberty,
though it must be owned he chirrups with delight when
he finds himself back in his cage after a flight. I have a
very old Irish dictionary full of the queerest old English
words not to be found in Johnson, and in it I found
" Nizy, a silly fellow." The name at once clung to the

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An Essay on Birds

canary as a good nickname does ; he was a nizy born
and a nizy he will die.

I may say that I find it quite enough to let the birds
out for a flight in the morning and evening ; they are
quite happy in the cage all day as a rule. This then is
the end of my " gibble gabble," to quote again from
my old dictionary. So I and my little family make our
bow and wish you all God-speed :

"Lenten is come with love to town,
With blossmes and with briddes roune
That every blisse bringeth."
1886.



182



WE hear every day among the educated classes talk which
is based on the assumption that the earlier chapters
of Genesis are merely a folklore myth; and probably
all thinking educated people are now more or less con-
vinced that the interpretation to be put on them musr
be broad and not literal. In considering the creatiok
of woman, as I regard the general law of evolution as
being in some sense proved, I look to see what is the
hidden meaning under that law of her being drawn from
the side of man, brought forth from the same animal
being as man. Now, this is scientifically literally true
if we are to look on the lower animal world as our pro-
genitors. To those who know nothing of natural history
as a science, sex seems an immutable law of nature. So
far from its being in reality an immutable law, there
probably are at this very moment in which I write an
infinitely greater number of living breathing animal
organisms strictly or partially sexless than there are of
the higher developments. Darwin sought to prove,
and certainly went far to prove, that sex itself has been
evolved as the pressure of life brought about the need
of more and more specialised powers, and that the
male was in the beginning one animal life with the
female. This is not mere speculation, for nothing is
more curious in natural history than the order of re-
production. It is a science in itself, as also is the history
of the embryo which in man passes through stages
apparently representative of the successive stages of
animal evolution. We find nature's first idea of re-
production to be apparently simple fissure ; then through

183



The Feminine Animal

an astounding variety of forms come the developments
of sex. Through great classes hermaphrodite organs
prevail as in flowers, the ovary receiving the pollen as a
stage of growth, and developing the seed. Then, again,
through other great classes, some as easily observed as
our garden snails, reproduction comes through the
union of two equally endowed individuals. Then, again,
communal animal life is known to us all in the bees,
of whom the great majority are neuters, undeveloped
females, as is proved by the fact that when a hive is left
queenless, the bees will feed on special food what should
be the neuter working bee egg, and it will develop the
female organs and become a queen.

Steadily as we go up in the scale the result of the
pressure of life has been to reserve for one animal all his
forces for the contest with the world, while the other
has been formed so as to give half her life, half her
strength, to the reproduction of the species. Man,
therefore, is in the beginning the same individual as
woman, but has become differently specialised. In
the man all his powers are concentrated in and on himself,
whereas the woman is not perfect without the child ;
the child represents the force, the strength and the
life man holds in his own individuality. To judge man
and woman fairly you must put against the man the
mother and the child at her breast, beautiful in all the
glory of young life. To judge man and woman unfairly,
put against the man, holding in himself to the very last
of strength all the powers of his being, all the develop-
ments of the ages, the woman who, by every law of
nature, should have divided her animal and her spiritual
life, who, instead of shrivelling and fading away at middle
age, should have passed on the standard, and have
clothed herself again in young flesh and blood flesh
of her flesh, bone of her bone. Oh, what a marvellous

184



The Feminine Animal

thing that is that growing up of life within life, of body
within body, of soul within soul ! " Thine eyes did see
my substance, yet being imperfect, and in thy book all
my members were written, which, in continuance, were
fashioned when as yet there was none of them."

Men may well assert their superiority, they who hold
their lives in their own hands, for it is impossible that a
woman, in whom all the forces of a nature meant for
two or more have been cramped into one, shall be as
truly balanced as the man. Men are not superior to the
mother and child ; they are superior to the single woman,
because to the end the power of their nature is theirs
" to create and to destroy," whereas the power of a
woman's nature to develop, to expand, to bear fruit,
has failed in its fulfilment without the child. Nor is
it alone the physical nature that fails ; those stores of
nerve-passion and mother-love that have never been put
to their proper use become as demons to turn in upon her
and rend her. Miss Tynan has expressed it very beauti-
fully in a late volume of poems :

" She will not hear, she sees across
The world with a sick sense of loss
A house that none hath builded well,
A heaven wherein she shall not dwell,
A threshold that she may not pass,
Hearth fires that none hath lit, alas !

"Voices of children, calling her

'Mother' to make her heart strings stir,
Are calling in that lonely house.
Sweet as young birds the dawn will rouse,
The yellow heads against her knee
Flutter and dance untiringly.

"And for that music most forlorn
Voices of children never born,
And the love word* that are not hers,
Even the sweet sky-choristers
Pleasure her not. Oh ! let her be,
She and her dreams are company."
I8 5



The Feminine Animal

We have now come to it that through the classes in
which life is artificial the term " old maid " is no longer
one of reproach, whereas one daily hears teeming mother-
hood lamented almost as a scandal. A woman in herself,
and by herself alone, is required to be as hard and as well
able to combat with the world as man. Half the female
world in London society is running a race with old
maidhood ; half the male world, on the other hand, is
looking on cheerfully and speculating. They say, " It's
a pity, but it can't be helped." Now, I believe that to
a large extent it can be helped, and will be helped, and
that, in the natural course of things, women are being
rapidly compelled to see that the chances of marriage
are becoming fewer and fewer in society ; they are forced
to face the necessity of making their own lives, and I
believe it is the best thing that could possibly happen
them, and that, instead of making them harder and more
manlike, it will restore to them the womanhood they
are in danger of losing, in their present time of waiting
on the men who do not come and that, as every one
knows, shameful though it may be to say, is exactly
what all the idle girls in London and elsewhere are doing.
How can they do it ? idling, amusing themselves, with
their senses perfect and their youth and their education
and strength, and all the work of the world crying to
them. It is enough to make the blood flame to think
of it, and to see what women are making of this society
they create for it is their creation, this artificial society.
A man wants to be well fed and well clothed, and with that
most men are content. But women ! What will satisfy
them ? servants and carriages, silks and satins. The actual
thing they possess is nothing, but they must equal or exceed
their neighbour in every ridiculous display. They make
marriages impossible by their vanity and emulation.

Now, I picture to myself a state of things when a
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The Feminine Animal

young and strong woman shall be ashamed of a life of
idleness and self-indulgence, or even want of definite
work as a man is or ought to be when, instead of the
present division between the sexes, both shall be workers,
going in and out together when men shall meet and
respect women in professional life, when they shall see
women able to live alone and poorly in lodging or
chambers then, once again, the woman will become,
as she is now among the poor, a help-meet for man, not a
burden. Then women will go out to lands where men
are now brutalised by their absence. Then the balance
of the sexes will recover itself as the dangers and hard-
ships of life are shared more equally, for more men are
actually born into the world than women, though boys
are more hard to rear than girls. Every symptom that I can
see of the increasing freedom of the young woman reassures
me that we are only in a transition stage. Would to God
that with their desire of freedom their sense of responsibility
for the gift of life were also increasing ! but freedom is the
first step to ah 1 progress, national or individual.

If my words can carry influence in this Ireland, let
me say to every mother If you wish your girls a happy
life and a happy marriage, teach them that they are
responsible to God for every power of brain or body
they possess ; that idleness is shame in man and woman
alike, and that a girl may be as beautiful in plain and
pure living as she can be decked in every absurd fashion.
Let her make herself as charming as she can, so long
as it does not interfere with her working life. A pretty
picture here comes to my mind of the Italian girls in
peasant costume, all sweet and clean, with bunches of real
flowers in their hair, and carrying on their heads the
lemon baskets or their washing. Take them as examples.
Adorn as much as you like, but let the basis be work
and cleanliness, truth, modesty, and pure womanhood.

187



THE PAINS OF SOLITUDE

U Artiste deperit et s'eteint dans Vobscurite comme le
penseur s'egare et s'exaspere dans la solitude absolue,
comme tout esprit humain se deteriore et se detruit dans
fisolement et la. daustration.

" THE spirit of the artist perishes and is extinguished in
obscurity even as a thinker becomes bewildered and
exasperated in absolute solitude, and as every human
nature deteriorates and is destroyed by isolation and
confinement," George Sand great thinker as she was,
had, no doubt, herself experienced the bewilderment
and exasperation produced by absolute solitude on an
active mind. A man need not necessarily be imprisoned
to taste what solitary confinement means ; deafness
is in itself at all times imbued with that condition^ If,
added to deafness, a life of extreme loneliness is one's
fate, the separation from humanity is so complete that
liberty itself becomes almost a mockery. We all know
how, with the deaf and dumb, part of their malady
consists, as a rule, in a state of tendency to nervous
exasperation sometimes bordering on insanity. Every-
thing sickness, blindness, deafness above all, every loss
of sense that tends to isolate a human life tends to bring
with it the exasperation of nerves which George Sand,
having, no doubt, known what to expect, describes as the
effect of absolute solitude. Solitude is necessary to the
thinker, and solitude is the bane of the thinker. As a re-

188



The Pains of Solitude

lief, as a change, as a time for concentration of thought,
and for the settling process which clears what is often
a very hell-broth of aching mental puzzle and pain,
solitude, or at least a time for retirement, is necessary.
But place a mind which has the necessity of labour in
its being in absolute and prolonged solitude, and it
will grind itself to pieces for default of other grist.
Human souls of that nature have no power of hyberna-
tion. They cannot suck their paws and live on their own
fat as quieter natures seem able to do. Their minds are
as wheels endowed with perpetual motion they go
round and round in everlasting circles from which there
is no escape : from the morning which they greet with re-
newed fears of the terror of its long hours, to the evening
when they cry aloud to God to give them rest, and find
only a drugged pause instead of refreshing sleep, their
mind going through its everlasting toil of rolling
imaginary burdens uphill, only to see them appear
again at the bottom in some new form. My God ! what
a torture it is ; and we of the nineteenth century, who are
too mild and gentle to use the scourge or the axe, we
allow our laws to subject men to it for long spaces of time
with no alleviation. Often, I have thought myself, if
the choice were given me between the stake and solitary
confinement, I should choose death by fire rather than
insanity through mental torture, for it becomes a
conscious and sentient insanity. Better the fool play-
ing with straws and dreaming them to be gold than the
greatest human mind unfed, unnourished, unclothed
in the ghastly isolation of unresponsive silence. Yes,
or in the isolation of communion with unresponsive
minds ; that, too, is terrible, but at least there is some
slight outward relief, A there is some movement to and
fro, there is laughter and there may be tears, there are
small annoyances, greetings and partings. There is not

189



The Pains of Solitude

the perpetual shadowless stillness of the outer world,
the unceasing jar and haunting tumult of that world
that one presses vainly back with stiffened ringers that
world from which the eyes look out in vague burning
despair of rest.

It is not rest that is wanted then, it is work. It is
human communion. It is the fulfilment of some foreseen
task. It is the meeting of some soul that can start
thought on new lines. Prometheus is bound to the rock,
naught between him and heaven but the shadowy dark-
ness of wings wings of the birds of carrion that are
tearing at his heart whilst the fire from heaven is burning
in his brain. Oh ! cut the chains and let him rise up
and he shall fashion you noble things and glorious instead
of lying there prostrate and broken, a horror to man
and to his own soul.

To be bound, chained, unable to escape that makes
of solitude a thing of horror, but in itself it is rest
and confinement. Conceive yourself as married in the
bonds of most perfect union both of flesh and of
spirit, one in soul and one in love ; would not even then
the need of absolute solitude recur, would not the craving
for self-communion make even the most perfect inter-
changes of thought a thing to be shaken off at times ?
Must not the soul go out into the desert alone and con-
front alone the powers of good and of evil ? Must not it
wrestle alone with temptation, and alone be fed by the
angels, before it can be fitted to act miracles of faith
or to lay itself down a sacrifice for burning ? Oh, those
mute myriads that cried aloud to me my hands were
bound, what help was there in me ? Oh, light and love,
and hope and joy, and the communion of the human
mind shadows only passing on the dim surface of
the mirror, while the tides swayed to and fro and brought
uo change! I have known that absolute solitude that

190



The Pains of Solitude

drives the thinker mad, and if any young man said to me
his work was wearisome and dull and his society un-
sympathetic, I would say to him, Thank your God you
have work and you can work : thank God for the humblest
human sounds that come to your ears, for the most
common-place human thought that may surround,
rather than you should be forced to feed on your own
flesh and blood and nerve in solitary and enforced
idleness.

1892.



DAFFODILS AND THE SPRING

I AM a lone woman I do not like winter. Many and
dark are the hours from half-past three to bedtime,
and though they say," Hope springs eternal in the human
breast," I think he hibernates. November and December
I see no sign of him. But, mind you ! he wakes up on
the 21 st December.

After that you may see him any day on the roadside,
the little Leprechaun whom the English call " Hope,"
tap, tap, tapping, cobbling up last year's old shoes to
make them as good as new or better ! Keep your eye on
him, don't let him go, and he'll bribe you with fairy
gold in lashings ! See, he springs up with his red cap,
all bobbed round with holly berries and a knot of mistletoe
atop, a dark green jerkin trimmed with ivy berries, and
a pair of little red-beech leaf breeches that look very
sporting. He likes to have his clothes to match the season.
^ He's a great little knave though, and he'll be off if
you let him, especially if you wear blue, which he hates ;
but see, he is there with his first offering. He catches
Father Christmas by the beard and sticks in his snowy fleece
a long trail of gold j essamine stars ! What a show he makes of
sober old Christmas. Nay, who knows but he may deck
him out with monthly rose and blue-grey Iris (stylosa).
Now, beware of him, for he wants to set your ooting in the
grass after pale, gold, shimmering cups he scatters there even
under the snow (aconite). They are bewitched and dan-
gerous. Let us not reason of them, but gaze and pass on.

What next ? A feast, a noble feast ! Chalices of red gold
and silver, purple and streaked Venetian glass crocus, with
its saffron centre, beautiful as the sunshine it delights in,

192



Daffodils and the Spring

Well to be sure, has the little man the drop taken, or
what is he about at all at all ? He first picks out a little,
grey, dingy, scrubby shrub a very or'nary little affair
then away with him to the cave of the north winds, and
back he comes with a great bagful of snow. He tosses
it over the little tree. Hey ! presto ! The south wind
twitches off the sheet, and there sits hundreds of little birds
along every bough and twig, all wrapped up tight from the
cold in silver-gray fox skin. Sometimes they sit still for near
a month, but one day conies and the sweet wind blows, and
look ! one ! two ! three ! the grey mantles are thrown away,
and out troop all last year's little downy, golden goslings,
clinging, clinging ! We never knew what became of them
last year, yet here they all are back like Bo Peep's sheep.

Now comes in the sweet of the year. Here come the
trumpeters. What care they for the whistling winds of
March. Blow on, March winds, blow us our daffodil trum-
peters ! But they gather up their ranks long before March.

Here is a brave mountaineer a Spaniard " the
Pale Early one " (Pallidus pr&cox). The 26th of January
saw him in the field. He is clad like bluff King Hal, in
creamy white from head to foot. His trumpet is recurved
in lines of perfect loveliness, when the bloom is really
good ; not like my miserable drawing in black and white,
but cut in delicately tinted old ivory Oh ! most beautiful !

After him comes a sturdy, rich, gold Englishman. (He
fancies he is English, but I have a doubt ; I seem to have
read of a colony of Irish monks at Tenby in old times ;
he may have dropped his " Mac.") Anyhow he is a
gallant fellow too, with also a recurved trumpet, and
very solid corolla. Who comes now ! Give place !
give place ! The high king of all Erin ! The Ard Righ !
See him riding along in his splendid saffron shirt and
golden crown. At his side is the Tanist-Princess, gold
vested, with a long flying, creamy cloak. These two ar*

193 N



Daffodils and the Spring

pure Celts ; the world outside knows them as the Irish
daffodils above all others.

Ah ! now, among your pigs and potatoes and creameries
and butter firkins, couldn't you spare a little time to stick
in a few of these cheap bulbs under your meadow grass
up and down the country. They will bring you joy in the
day of sorrow, as they have brought me. They will be joy
to your children and your children's children.

Welcome, darling golden lilies !

Welcome, sunbright daffodillies /

Here in dusters green you grow,

There in masses bright you blow ;

Gladdening winter's wearied eyes

With an ever new surprise ;

Bending low as if to meet

Spring's sweet breath and hastening feet

Bending low as if to hear

Voices from the summer near :

First of all our golden lilies,

Well beloved daffodillies.

Children love your scented beds,
Children fling your golden heads,


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Online LibraryCharlotte Grace O'BrienCharlotte Grace O'Brien; selections from her writings and correspondence → online text (page 13 of 16)