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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/78

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74
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

'Kentucky Cardinal,' an illustration of the influence of literature in idealizing a thing and making it a part of one's emotional assets.

We have nothing in America that quite takes the place of the English skylark and the nightingale. The mockingbird, the thrasher, the bobolink, the wood thrush, the hermit thrush, and the veery are so entirely different in their songs and their surroundings that comparison of any one of them with either of the foreign birds is impossible. Why our great stalking meadow lark ever became a 'lark,' and not a 'starling' as it should be called, is hard to see, unless its liquid spring notes and its nesting in fields appealed to the early settlers in lieu of any other bird better fitted to bear this glorious name. It seems to be a clear case of name transfer for the sake of the name itself. The catbird is damned by such a title. His summer mewings have played an ugly trick on him, for he is a songster of no mean ability. William Bartram quaintly speaks of his endeavors at imitation, 'even in rehearsing the songs, which he attentively listens to, from the shepherdess and rural swain'—words that call up an Arcadian scene that even Theocritus might have loved; a haunt of Pan in days before the smoke and noise of modern industry sullied the sweet air of fields and groves.

The reader may ask—Why all this pother about names? A name is a name, and, though its history be of passing interest, what need further to talk about it? If literature is the reflection of a people's life the words which give it form and substance are a part of the life itself, at least of its emotional and intellectual reactions. Our appreciation of nature comes so largely through literature, and literature has so greatly extended our sympathy toward things natural, both animate and inanimate, that in this world of words we may be said almost to live and move and have our being. This is the plea that is made for the interest in a name; for the better understanding of the really vital part that it plays in human life.

The past fifty years have seen the growth in America of a remarkable interest in nature, not only in its scientific aspects, but in its esthetic appeal as well. The modern cult of l nature study 'is an expression of this interest and as such is altogether salutary. How much this attitude toward nature is fostered by literature is apparent in the mass of matter that has been and is being written upon the subject. Where one person has reached this state of mind through a sort of primitive instinct that takes him out into direct contact with nature, fifty persons have been led into the same happy state through some appreciative writer like Gilbert White, Richard Jefferies, Thoreau or Burroughs. A truly good book, one that makes its appeal to the heart, calls us into the open where the whole man is refreshed by nature at first hand. In order to read understanding and sympathetically, one must know the real thing itself, must have had his senses quickened by the thousand influences of wood and field. Then a name will have