Virginia Woolf, from the time of her childhood, opposed the use of bird plumage in fashion. Below is an excerpt from her essay "The Plumage Bill," which originally appeared in Woman's Leader on 23 July 1920, in reply to what Woolf saw as a sexist piece written by H.W. Massingham, editor of the Nation, and active member of the Plumage Bill Group.
And then there comes on foot, so that we may have a good look at
her, a lady of a different class altogether. A silver bag swings from her
wrist. Her gloves are white. Her shoes lustrous. She holds herself upright. As
an object of beauty her figure is incomparably more delightful than any other
object on the street or window. It is her face that one must discount, for,
though discreetly tinted and powdered, it is a stupid face, and the look she
sweeps over the shop windows has something of the greedy petulance of a
pug-dog's face at tea-time. When she comes to the display of egret plumes,
artfully arranged and centrally placed, she pauses. So do many women. For, after
all, what can be more ethereally and fantastically lovely? The plumes seem to
be the natural adornment of spirited and fastidious life, the very symbol of
pride and distinction. The lady of the stupid face and beautiful figure is
going tonight to the opera; Clara Butt is singing Orpheus; Princess Mary will
be present; a lemon-coloured egret is precisely what she wants to complete her
toilet. In she goes; the silver bag disgorges I know not how many notes; and
the fashion writers next day say that Lady So-and-So was 'looking lovely with a
lemon-coloured egret in her hair'.
This essay originally appeared in Woman's Leader on July 23, 1920. The above excerpt is from The Essays of Virginia Woolf 1919-1924, edited by Andrew McNeillie
'Tis the cuckoo's voice! 'Tis the cuckoo's voice
Resounds, and it makes the woods rejoice,
Its startling note wakes hill and dale,
And is lovelier deem'd than the throstle's tale,
For it tells that the genial seasons come,
Of leafy woods and fields of bloom,
Of music and perfume, loves and joys,
Of balmy gales and clear blue skies.
'Tis the cuckoo's voice! 'Tis the cuckoo's voice
Resounds, and it makes my heart rejoice,
For the memory of by-gone days it brings,
Ere youth flew o'er me on downy wings;
Hope's iris gliding my prospect's extent,
Ere I knew what the world or what sorrow meant;
Man's follies and crimes to me yet unshown,
And I liv'd in a bright fairy world of my own.
'Tis the cuckoo's voice! 'Tis the cuckoo's voice
Resounds, and it makes the world rejoice,
Where rings that sound, but with pleasure 'tis heard?
Who but welcomes the visit of spring's sweet bird?
It speaks to the sick one of coming relief,
And beguiles e'en the lonely captive's grief;
'Tis the cuckoo's voice! 'Tis the cuckoo's voice
Resounds, and all nature's realms rejoice.
Feathers in Fashion takes a look at the long history of feather use in fashion, some of which is appalling to conservationists. For more information about the history of feathers in the fashion industry, see Robin W. Doughty's book: Feather Fashions and Bird Preservation: A Study in Nature Protection
While keeping caged birds in the home might not be as popular as it once was, it is something that has a long history in the UK. In the Victorian era there was a large surge in the popularity of exotic animals that would be imported from far and wide; it was not unusual for pet store owners to import exotic animals and this would include birds and parrots, which were then chosen as pets.
It was customary to keep cats, dogs and even monkeys during Victorian times, but it was birds that were the most revered. The caged birds would be treated as pets and there were extremely common in the homes of the wealthy and the middle classes. According to Romanticism and Animal Rights by David Perkins, the owners of these birds would caress and speak to the birds as though they were children. However, birds weren’t just kept as pets; their cages were considered a crucial part of decoration in the Victorian parlour.
Birds would be kept as pets because their owners appreciated their songs and their appearance. In addition, they would also serve as companionship. However, the keeping of caged birds in Victorian times wasn’t just common among householders. Shop workers, weavers and barbers would keep birds to accompany them as they worked. (Perkins).
Songbirds were often kept; canaries and thrushes were favoured for their sweet songs and parrots were not uncommon during Victorian times.
The Gilded Cage
During the reign of Queen Victoria, women would often be compared to birds because of their beauty and elegance, and to some the caged bird very much represents the role of the women in the Victorian era. Women were often confined to the indoors, and it was thought that the role of a female was to stay at home and keep the house. It was considered that being a wife and mother was fulfilling enough for a woman, but attitudes did slowly begin to change.
The Empty Cage
Bird cages would often be kept empty. Victorian cages were ornate and decorative, so much so that they would be used purely as decoration.
To this day, the Victorian bird cages still play a part in beautifying the home; reproductions of these decorative cages are used as part of home décor.
Dozens of swifts swirl around the chimney of an old shop in downtown Hartselle, Alabama at twilight. Some fly down the chimney, while others circle round before departing to their own secret roost. It's a strange sight, bringing to mind John Dryden and his description of swallows in autumn from the poem, "The Hind and the Panther".
This vintage style "I Love Birds" t-shirt is available on multiple styles/colored shirts, as well as with purple, blue, yellow, red, and green design. Also available on other products like mugs, pillows, totes, etc. Find this design and more bird lover designs at the Literature Lyrics store on Zazzle.
Many naturalists are of
opinion, that the animals which we commonly consider as mute, have the power of
imparting their thoughts to one another. That they can express general
sensations is very certain; every being that can utter sounds, has a different voice
for pleasure and for pain. The hound informs his fellows when he scents his
game; the hen calls her chickens to their food by her cluck, and drives them
from danger by her scream.
Birds have the greatest
variety of notes; they have indeed a variety, which seems almost sufficient to
make a speech adequate to the purposes of a life, which is regulated by
instinct, and can admit little change or improvement. To the cries of birds,
curiosity or superstition has been always attentive, many have studied the
language of the feathered tribes, and some have boasted that they understood
The most skilful or most
confident interpreters of the silvan dialogues have been commonly found among
the philosophers of the East, in a country where the calmness of the air, and
the mildness of the seasons, allow the student to pass a great part of the year
in groves and bowers. But what may be done in one place by peculiar
opportunities, may be performed in another by peculiar diligence. A shepherd of
Bohemia has, by long abode in the forests, enabled himself to understand the
voice of birds, at least he relates with great confidence a story of which the
credibility may be considered by the learned.
“As I was sitting, (said
he) within a hollow rock, and watching my sheep that fed in the valley, I heard
two vultures interchangeably crying on the summit of the cliff. Both voices
were earnest and deliberate. My curiosity prevailed over my care of the flock;
I climbed slowly and silently from crag to crag, concealed among the shrubs,
till I found a cavity where I might sit and listen without suffering, or giving
“I soon perceived, that my
labour would be well repaid; for an old vulture was sitting on a naked
prominence, with her young about her, whom she was instructing in the arts of a
vulture's life, and preparing, by the last lecture, for their final dismission
to the mountains and the skies.
“‘My children,’ said the
old vulture, ‘you will the less want my instructions because you have had my
practice before your eyes; you have seen me snatch from the farm the houshold
fowl, you have seen me seize the leveret in the bush, and the kid in the
pasture, you know how to fix your talons, and how to balance your flight when
you are laden with your prey. But you remember the taste of more delicious
food; I have often regaled you with the flesh of man.’ ‘Tell us,’ said the
young vultures, ‘where man may be found, and how he may be known; his flesh is
surely the natural food of a vulture. Why have you never brought a man in your
talons to the nest?’ ‘He is too bulky,’ said the mother; ‘when we find a man,
we can only tear away his flesh and leave his bones upon the ground.’ ‘Since
man is so big,’ said the young ones, ‘how do you kill him. You are afraid of the
wolf and of the bear, by what power are vultures superior to man, is man more
defenseless than a sheep?’ ‘We have not the strength of man,’ returned the
mother, ‘and I am sometimes in doubt whether we have the subtilty; and the
vultures would seldom feast upon his flesh, had not nature, that devoted him to
our uses, infused into him a strange ferocity, which I have never observed in
any other being that feeds upon the earth. Two herds of men will often meet and
shake the earth with noise, and fill the air with fire. When you hear noise and
see fire which flashes along the ground, hasten to the place with your swiftest
wing, for men are surely destroying one another; you will then find the ground
smoaking with blood and covered with carcasses, of which many are dismembered
and mangled for the convenience of the vulture.’ ‘But when men have killed
their prey,’ said the pupil, ‘why do they not eat it? When the wolf has killed
a sheep he suffers not the vulture to touch it till he has satisfied himself.
Is not man another kind of wolf?’ ‘Man,’ said the mother, ‘is the only beast
who kills that which he does not devour, and this quality makes him so much a
benefactor to our species.’ ‘If men kill our prey and lay it in our way,’ said
the young one, ‘what need shall we have of labouring for ourselves.’ ‘Because
man will, sometimes,’ replied the mother, ‘remain for a long time quiet in his
den. The old vultures will tell you when you are to watch his motions. When you
see men in great numbers moving close together, like a flight of storks, you
may conclude that they are hunting, and that you will soon revel in human
blood.’ ‘But still,’ said the young one, ‘I would gladly know the reason of
this mutual slaughter. I could never kill what I could not eat.’ ‘My child,’ said
the mother, ‘this is a question which I cannot answer, tho' I am reckoned the
most subtile bird of the mountain. When I was young I used frequently to visit
the ayry of an old vulture who dwelt upon the Carpathian rocks; he had made
many observations; he knew the places that afforded prey round his habitation,
as far in every direction as the strongest wing can fly between the rising and
setting of the summer sun; he had fed year after year on the entrails of men.
His opinion was, that men had only the appearance of animal life, being really
vegetables with a power of motion; and that as the boughs of an oak are dashed
together by the storm, that swine may fatten upon the falling acorns, so men
are by some unaccountable power driven one against another, till they lose
their motion, that vultures may be fed. Others think they have observed
something of contrivance and policy among these mischievous beings, and those
that hover more closely round them, pretend, that there is, in every herd, one
that gives directions to the rest, and seems to be more eminently delighted
with a wide carnage. What it is that intitles him to such pre-eminence we know
not; he is seldom the biggest or the swiftest, but he shews by his eagerness
and diligence that he is, more than any of the others, a friend to vultures.’”
there, the robin shook her tail and fluffed up her body feathers before letting
everything settle back into place. Then she began to preen, turning and dipping
her beak to lift and comb individual quills and vanes, like a fussy housekeeper
arranging and rearranging the furniture. I smiled, but who could begrudge her
perfectionism? Those feathers impacted every aspect of her life. They protected
her from the weather, warding off the sun, wind, rain, and cold. They helped
her find a mate, broadcasting her femininity to any male in the neighborhood.
They kept out thorns, thwarting insects, and, above all, gave her the skies,
allowing a flight so casually efficient that our greatest machines seem clumsy
in caparison. Abruptly satisfied with her plumes, the robin dropped from the
branch and set off over the field, wings parting the air in quick, certain
strokes. I lowered my binoculars, far behind the Audubon group now, but glad to
have been reminded of a natural miracle, feathers, as common around us as a
robin preening and taking flight.
Vinkensport traces its origins to competitions held by Flemish merchants in 1596, and is considered part of traditional Flemish culture. As of 2007, it was estimated that there are over 13,000 enthusiasts, called vinkeniers ("finchers"), breeding 10,000 birds every year. Animal rights activists have opposed the sport for much of its history." READ MORE HERE.
was interrupted in the heyday of this soliloquy, with a voice which I took to
be of a child, which complained “it could not get out.”—I look’d up and down
the passage, and seeing neither man, woman, or child, I went out without
my return back through the passage, I heard the same words repeated twice over;
and looking up, I saw it was a starling hung in a little cage.—“I can’t get out—I
can’t get out,” said the starling.
stood looking at the bird: and to every person who came through the passage it
ran fluttering to the side towards which they approach’d it, with the same
lamentation of its captivity.—“I can’t get out,” said the starling.—God help
thee! said I, but I’ll let thee out, cost what it will; so I turn’d about the
cage to get to the door; it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire,
there was no getting it open without pulling the cage to pieces.—I took both
hands to it.
bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting
his head through the trellis, press’d his breast against it, as if impatient.—I
fear, poor creature! said I, I cannot set thee at liberty.—“No,” said the
starling—“I can’t get out—I can’t get out,” said the starling.
vow I never had my affections more tenderly awakened; or do I remember an
incident in my life, where the dissipated spirits, to which my reason had been
a bubble, were so suddenly call’d home. Mechanical as the notes were, yet so
true in tune to nature were they chanted, that in one moment they overthrew all
my systematic reasonings upon the Bastille; and I heavily walk’d up-stairs,
unsaying every word I had said in going down them.
"In early medieval times the cormorant was named 'sea raven' --that is, in Latin, corvus marinus. This passed into Old French first as cormareng, which later became cormaran. English adopted it and added a final t. The word's origins are still evident in Portuguese corvo marinho 'cormorant.'"
Ayto, John., Dictionary of Word Origins (New York, 1990)