Secur'd from Flight
A young man has two caged doves which he holds up for display.
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University. Copyright, 2009.
SubjectA young man has two caged doves, and holds the cage up to display them.
ThemeIn addition to the interest in flight, the collecting and taxonomizing of birds is of interest in this period.
SignificanceThis image's title, “Secur’d Flight” implies the sense of dominion that the child has over the bird and its ability to fly once it is caught. The fascination with capturing birds is found in several books of the period including two books of instruction for children. In Mental improvement: or, the beauties and wonders of nature and art in a series of instructive conversations, Priscilla Wakefield writes long dialogues about various species of birds, bird habitats, and capturing methods. In this passage, Mr. Harcourt, the older character, tells the young boy about the appropriate relationship to birds while catching them:
“It is with great willingness I comply with your request, since I am certain your tenderness and humanity will never permit you to avail yourself of my information to entrap or destroy a harmless bird wantonly. All creatures are given for our use and are subject to our power, it is therefore allowable to kill them for food, or other necessary purpose, but the boy who is capable of inflicting pain without any other motive...is already hardened to a degree that prepares him for the perpetration of cruelty towards his fellow man...” (P. Wakefield, Mental Improvement 228).
In a second children’s book, The juvenile library, including a complete course of instruction on every useful subject: particularly natural and experimental philosophy, there is a story called “The Hermitage” in which several children are staying at a little place in the country. The teaching character, Joseph, informs them in the narrative about the names of plants, the behavior of bees, and then the methods for catching animals. Here is a passage from the story:
"The three children, impatient to make so interesting a discovery, immediately set out on the search. Several times their ardour was painfully deceived by old birds’ nests, or mere tufts of moss, which they mistook for the object of their search. But at length they were well rewarded for their trouble. In the evening they had the satisfaction of bringing home three new guests, a little squirrel and two young doves.
By care, they soon rendered them very familiar; and the company of these pretty little animals added new charms to their habitation. When they came in the morning, on one side the two young doves hastened to the, clapping their wings, and fluttering from one to another; sometimes on their shoulders and uttering little cries of joy, as if to express their pleasure at seeing them again...They were so tame that, in the absence of their young masters, they did not leave the cabin, though they were at full liberty....the two doves remained side by side on a stick placed across the top of the cabin for a perch.
The children wished to increase still more the population of their little colony; and one day told Joseph how glad they should be to have an aviary full of birds by the side of their cottage. ‘I could easily,’ replied Joseph, ‘shew you how to catch a great number, and of almost all the kinds that inhabit this part of the country; but it is on one condition, that you will not keep them in captivity, and will suffer all those that do not choose to stay with you to return to the woods; for it is a cruel thing, my little friends, for these poor animals, as well as for men, to be deprived of their liberty” ("The Hermitage" 252).
The focus on the importance of liberty in this text in useful to consider when examining the liberty gained by the humans who, with the technology of the air balloon, also learn to fly.
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