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( Originally Published 1894 )
The Canary, as its name implies, comes from the Canary Islands, but it has been so crossed in breeding that it differs very considerably from its original ancestors. Buffon says:-" If the nightingale is the chauntress of the woods, the canary is the musician of the chamber; the first owes all to nature, the second something to art. With less strength of organ, less compass of voice, and less variety of note, the canary has a better ear, greater facility of imitation, and a more retentive memory; and as the difference of genius, especially among the lower animals, depends in a great measure on the perfection of their senses, the canary, whose organ of hearing is more susceptible of receiving foreign impressions, becomes more social, tame, and familiar; is capable of gratitude and even attachment; its caresses are endearing, its little humours innocent, and its anger neither hurts nor offends. Its education is easy; we hear it with pleasure, because we are able to instruct it. It leaves the melody of its own natural note, to listen to the melody of our voices and instruments. It applauds, it accompanies us, and repays the pleasure it receives with interest; while the nightingale, more proud of its talent, seems desirous of preserving it in all its purity, at least it appears to attach very little value to ours and it is with great difficulty it can be taught any of our airs. The canary can speak and whistle; the nightingale despises our words, as well as our airs, and never fails to return to its own wild-wood notes. Its pipe is a masterpiece of nature, which human art can neither alter nor improve; while that of the canary is a model of more pliant materials, which we can mould at pleasure; and therefore it contributes in a much greater degree to the comforts of society. It sings at all seasons, cheers us in the dullest weather, and adds to our happiness, by amusing the young, and delighting the recluse, charming the tediousness of the cloister, and gladdening the soul of the innocent and captive."
The canary is easily tamed, and has been taught to perform many little tricks, indeed groups of them have been trained to act little plays, firing cannons and driving coaches. The canary shows a humane disposition, has been known to foster the young of other birds, to make friends with other pets, even cats; to show great affection for its master and to die of grief on the loss of its mate. Dr. Darwin tells of "a canary bird which always fainted away when its cage was cleaned. Having desired to see the experiment," says Dr. Darwin, "the cage was taken from the ceiling, and the bottom drawn out. The bird began to tremble, and turned quite white about the root of the bill; he then opened his mouth as if for breath, and respired quickly; stood up straighter on his perch, hung his wing, spread his tail, closed his eyes, and appeared quite stiff for half an hour, till at length, with trembling and deep respirations, he came gradually to himself."