It is almost universally held to be unlucky to kill a robin. A correspondent of Notes and Queries (Fourth Series, vol. viii, p. 505) remarks:
“I took the following down from the mouth of a young miner:
“’My father killed a robin and had terrible bad luck after it. He had at that time a pig which was ready for pipping; she had a litter of seven, and they all died. When the pig was killed the two hams went bad; presently three of the family had a fever, and my father himself died of it. The neighbours said it was all through killing the robin.’”
George Smith, in his Six Pastorals (1770), says:
“I found a robin’s
nest within our shed,
And in the barn a wren has young ones bred;
I never take away their nest, nor try
To catch the old ones, lest a friend should die.
Dick took a wren’s nest from the cottage side,
And ere a twelvemonth pass’d his mother dy’d!”
In Yorkshire it was once firmly believed that if a robin were killed, the cows belonging to the family of the destroyer of the bird would, for some time, only give bloody milk. At one time—and, perhaps, even now—the robin and wren, out of sheer pity, used to cover the bodies of those that died in the woods with leaves.
Webster, in his Tragedy of Vittoria Corombona (1612), refers to this touching habit of these birds thus:
“Call for the
robin redbreast and the wren,
Since o’er the shady groves they hover,
And with leaves and flowers do cover
The friendless bodies of unburied men.”
Not so harmless is the stormy petrel, whose advent is looked upon by sailors as a sure sign of an impending storm, accompanied by much loss of life.
The vulture and eagle, obviously on account of their ferocious dispositions, often remain earth-bound after death, and usually select as their haunts, spots little frequented by man. From what I have heard they are by far the most malignant of all bird ghosts, and have even been known to inflict physical injury on those who have had the misfortune to pass the night within their allotted precincts.
A BRIEF RETROSPECT
If I have failed to convince my readers as to the reality of a future existence for all species of mammalia, I trust I have at least suggested to them the idea of probability in such a theory; for did the belief that all animals possess imperishable spirits similar to mankind only become general, I feel quite sure that a marked improvement in our treatment of all the so-called “brute” creation—and God alone knows how much such an improvement is needed—would speedily result. It is still only the comparative few who are kind to animals—the majority are either wholly indifferent or absolutely cruel. But if children were made to realize that even insects have spirits, they, at least, let us hope, would cease to take delight in pulling off the wings and legs of flies.