THERE are two distinct species of this elegantly formed and majestic bird, the wild and the tame; both bearing the general characters of the class which they may be referred to, yet not exactly tallying with each other. The beak of the wild Swan is surmounted with a yellow skin which runs up the eye, in the tame one this appendage (the use of which has not been yet sufficiently explored) is jet black, as well as the feet in both species. The tame Swan is the biggest of all webb-footed water-fowls, some of them weighing about twenty pounds: the whole body is covered with a beautiful lilly-white plumage; the young ones are grey; under the feathers is a thick but soft down, which is of very great use and often made out as a mere ornament. The elegance of form which this bird displays, when with his arched neck and half-displayed wings, he sails along the crystal surface of a tranquil stream, which reflects, as he passes, the snowy beauty of his dress, is worthy of our admiration; the ancient mythologists, struck with astonishment at the sight of this royal and stately bird, have even supposed that a beautiful young prince, cousin to the unfortunate Phaeton was transformed into this creature, and that Jupiter himself chose to assume the shape of the Swan more effectually to seduce the fair Leda, the wife of Tyndarus, king of Lacedemon.
For ages past this bird has been protected on the river Thames as a royal guest. The City of London, as far as the property of that river belongs to the corporation, is entrusted with the care of this bird, and the Lord Mayor, accompanied with the Aldermen, the Liveries of the city, and a band of musicians, proceed at certain times, in the stately barge kept for that purpose, to what is commonly called, “Swan hopping;” when the duty of marking the young birds is performed. These birds are seldom attached to the same place, and often fly from the banks where they were hatched. Thus Milton:
“- the Swan with arched neck,
Between her white wings mant’ling proudly, rows
Her state with oary feet; yet oft they quit
The dank, and rising on stiff pennons, tower
The mid aerial sky -.”
———————————————————-PARADISE LOST, VII. 438.
The Cignet continues longer in the shell than any other bird, and all the stages of his growth are gradual and slow, and it is generally believed that the period of his life is three hundred years. Why the ancient poets should have attributed melody to the voice of the Swan, whilst nothing is more harsh, more disagreeable perhaps than his clang, has not yet been sufficiently explained, although thousands of commentators have exercised their knowledge and wit upon the passages where the dying strains of this bird are mentioned. The Swan lives upon watergrass, and roots, which he finds at the bottom of rivers, and does not disdain now and then to take up a small fish or even a snail. Thomson, in his excellent poem describes him in the following manner:
“- the stately sailing Swan
Gives out his snowy plumage to the gale,
And arching proud his neck, with oary feet,
Bears forward fierce, and guards bis osier isle,
Protective of his young.”