Food for lovers, meat for lords'
many people Christmas would have seemed incomplete without a turkey, that large and portly bird that relies largely on tradition and its stuffing for its enduring reputation. But two hundred years ago that tradition did not exist.
It was the peacock, " food for lovers and meat for lords" that, after the boar's head, graced the Christmas table and that, throughout the year. would appear when ever any particular V.I.P. was to be entertained,
Shocked as modern ears may be at the though( of eating this rare and beautiful bird.
our forebears were at least not guilty of the vandalism of those Roman Emperors who favoured a special delicacy made of peacock's tongues and brains.
IT is curious, considering all the superstitions attached to this bird, and the legends, odd beliefs and customs that have grown up around it, that it should ever have been used as an article of food. To the Greeks it was sacred" the Bird of Juno "; Hindus regarded it as under the special protection of intim (a friend of mine was once pursued by art angry mob because he had, in all innocence, shot a wild peacock and was taking it home for his dinner).
King Solomon's ships plied to and from Tarshish, bringing back peacocks among the most precious of their cargo; and early Christians, practising in secret their new religion, adopted the peacock as an emblem of the glorified body.
There are. too, instances in the early 17th century of " Liars and Abusers" being crowned with a garland of peacock's feathers to indicate that here MIS one who had sinned through pride.
THERE are numberless stories of this sort for those who are interested in the curiosities of legend and superstition. What is of greater interest to us today is the knowledge that has been gradually acquired by those who have met with peafowl in the jungle, of the actual habits of these birds who live and move about in flocks and are so frequently accompanied by tigers that it is supposed that this beast relies upon the finer perceptions and shrill cries of the fowl to give warning of approaching danger.
The more one reads about peacocks the greater does one's respect become for these birds that for so many generations have been hunted chiefly for their beauty.
Miss Ion Godden, who has recently written a novel with the jungle as its setting.* shows us peafowl leading the free and untrammelled lives that seem so alien to the proud, bored creatures that, before tee World Wars shattered the stately. sheltered life of many European countries, might be seen spreading their tails on the grey stone terraces or close kept lawns of country houses.
Living in their vicinity was not entirely pleasurable. I once spent a summer in a country home on the shores of the Lake of Geneva and was awakened almost every day by
the strident cries of three of the most had-tempered, though beauti
ful, birds that it has ever been my lot to meet with; and I came home later to my humbler way of life, relieved that certain luxuries were not for me.
MISS Godden's book is a novel,
not a book on natural history. It has a slight, neatlyhandled plot running through it ; but what is really absorbing in the book is the skill with which she presents her knowledge of the Jungle and its natural inhabitants.
She writes of chital and elephants; of the hunting and killing of tiger and the curing of their skins; of fishing, and small game, and the birds of the jungle.
She tells of peacock returning to their trees in the evening, several cocks with their hens, " running on their powerful grey legs as only peacock can run. . . peacock colours moving against the bright, canary-yellow of the flowers, an astonishing, unbelievable, unforgettable display of colour."
Peacock seldom take to the wing unless hard pressed; they run as swiftly as deer; and when the thunder rolls before an oncoming
storm, they dance, "strutting and quivering before their admiring hens."
THERE is an unforgettable ac
count of the shooting of a peacock as it stood on an anthill, every feather glowing in the evening light, its gleaming neck turned towards the forest. And then, as in anger the jungle took its revenge : "The wind came in a fierce gust. . . a flash of lightning tore the grey darkness apart. The trees across the river lifted astonished dark arms to the sky, and the rain came down."
With its storm the whole story works up to its climax.
Miss Godden is an artist, and she leaves us with a shivering respect for this "royal bird, the companion of kings. . . a vehicle of the gods."
*The Peacock, by Jon Godden. (Michael Joseph. 9s. 6d.)