[Three Hundred Animals Contents]
– whose gay train
Adorns him, colour’d with the florid hue
Of rainbows and starry eyes.
————————————————–MILTON’S PARADISE LOST, B. VI.
ASTONISHED at the unparallelled beauty of this bird, the ancients could not help indulging their lively and creative fancy, in accounting for the magnificence of his plumage. They made him the favourite of imperial Juno sister and wife to Jupiter, and not less than the hundred eyes of Argus were pulled out to ornament his tail; indeed there is scarcely any thing in nature that can vie with the transcendant lustre of the Peacock’s feathers. The changing glory of his neck eclipses the deep azure of ultramarine, and, at the least evolution, it assumes the green tint of the emerald and the purple hue of the amethyst. His head, which is small and finely shaped, offers several curious stripes of white and black round the eyes, and is surmounted by an elegant panache, or tuft of feathers, each of which is composed of a slender stem and a small flower at the top. Displayed with conscious pride, for the purpose of expressing his love to his female, and exposed under a variety of angles to the reflections of versatile light, the broad and variegated discus of his tail, of which the neck, head, and breast of the bird become the centre, claims our well-merited admiration. By an extraordinary mixture of the brightest colours, it displays at once the richness of gold, and the paler tints of silver, fringed with bronze-coloured edges, and surrounding eye-like spots of dark brown and sapphire; it is supposed that this bird is conscious of his incomparable beauty, and sensible to the voice of praise. The female does not share these great honours with the cock, and is generally of a light brown. It has been said that both are ashamed of the hoarseness of their voice and ill-shapedness of their feet; and indeed they may, for here we ought again to acknowledge the great system of equity and compensation which pervades the whole of nature. The loud screamings of the Peacock are worse than the harsh croakings of the Raven, and a sure prognostic for bad weather; and his feet, more clumsy than those of the Turkey, make a sad contrast with the elegance of the rest. The spreading of the tail, the swelling of the throat, neck, and breast, and the puffing noise which they emit, at certain times, are proofs that the Turkey and the Peacock stand nearly allied in the family chain of animated beings.
There is a species of Peacocks, now not uncommon in gentlemen’s parks and pleasure grounds, which are of the brightest unmixed white. They participate, with the other breed, the elegance of shape in the head and body, and the widely spreading tail; but they look as a degenerated branch of the family, which the coldness of our northern climate has deprived, by degrees, of its native splendour.
The Peacock’s food is like that of the common cock and hen; and the female hatches her young to the number of five or six, with great attention and patience, while the male, in full rotation and gaudy display, sheds around her nest the glowing radiance of his train. The flesh of the Peacock was anciently a princely dish, and the whole bird used to be served on the table with the feathers of the neck and tail preserved; but few people could now relish such food, as it is much coarser than the flesh of the turkey. The Italians have given this laconic description of the Peacock: “He has the plumage of an angel, the voice of a devil, and the stomach of a thief.” Let us observe that this bird, may be a true moral emblem of those who; with most alluring outward qualities, do not possess the much more valuable ones of the heart and mind, for the Peacock is both cruel and stupid. We have seen instances of the Peahen tossing up her chicks with unnatural barbarity, till they were dead; and out of the several ones which she hatches, she seldom rears more than one or two.
The Latin name Pavo, originates from the clang Pea-hoo, which they repeat in rainy weather.