The Bird's-Nest in the Moon,
from the, New
I love to go to the Moon. I never shake off sublunary cares
and sorrows so completely as when I am fairly landed on that
beautiful island.[A] A man in the Moon may see Castle Island, the
city of Boston, the ships in the harbor, the silver waters of our
little archipelago, all lying, as it were, at his feet. There you may
be at once social and solitary,—social, because you see the busy
world before you; and solitary because there is not a single creature
on the island, except a few feeding cows, to disturb your repose.
I was there last summer, and was surveying the scene with my
usual emotions, when my attention was attracted by the whirring
wings of a little sparrow, that, in walking, I had frightened from
This bird, as is well known, always builds its nest on the
ground. I have seen one, often, in the middle of a cornhill, curiously
placed in the centre of the five green stalks, so that it was
difficult, at hoeing time, to dress the hill without burying the
This sparrow had built hers beneath a little tuft of grass more
rich and thickset than the rest of the herbage around it. I cast
a careless glance at the nest, saw the soft down that lined it, the
four little speckled eggs which enclosed the parents' hope. I
marked the multitude of cows that were feeding around it, one
tread of whose cloven feet would crush both bird and progeny into
I could not but reflect on the dangerous condition to which the
creature had committed her most tender hopes. A cow is seeking
a bite of grass; she steps aside to gratify that appetite; she treads
on the nest, and destroys the offspring of the defenceless bird.
As I came away from the island, I reflected that this bird's situation,
in her humble, defenceless nest, might be no unapt emblem
of man in this precarious world. What are diseases, in their countless
forms, accidents by flood and fire, the seductions of temptation,
and even some human beings themselves, but so many huge
cows feeding around our nest, and ready, every moment, to crush
our dearest hopes, with the most careless indifference, beneath their
Sometimes, as we sit at home, we can see the calamity coming
at a distance. We hear the breathing of the monster; we mark
its great wavering path, now looking towards us in a direct line,
now capriciously turning for a moment aside. We see the swing
of its dreadful horns, the savage rapacity of its brutal appetite;
we behold it approaching nearer and nearer, and it passes within a
hairbreadth of our ruin, leaving us to the sad reflection that another
and another are still behind.
Poor bird! Our situations are exactly alike.
The other evening I walked into the chamber where my children
were sleeping. There was Willie, with the clothes half kicked
down, his hands thrown carelessly over his head, tired with play,
now resting in repose; there was Jamie with his balmy breath and
rosy cheeks, sleeping and looking like innocence itself. There was
Bessie, who has just begun to prattle, and runs daily with tottering
steps and lisping voice to ask her father to toss her into the air.
As I looked upon these sleeping innocents, I could not but regard
them as so many little birds which I must fold under my
wing, and protect, if possible, in security in my nest.
But when I thought of the huge cows that were feeding around
them, the ugly hoofs that might crush them into ruin, in short,
when I remembered the bird's-nest in the Moon, I trembled and
But why weep? Is there not a special providence in the fall of
It is very possible that the nest which I saw was not in so dangerous
a situation as it appeared to be. Perhaps some providential
instinct led the bird to build her fragile house in the ranker grass,
which the kine never bite, and, of course, on which they would
not be likely to tread. Perhaps some kind impulse may guide
that species so as not to tread even on a bird's-nest.
There is a merciful God, whose care and protection extend over
all his works, who takes care of the sparrow's children and of
mine. The very hairs of our head are all numbered.