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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

James Thomas Fields (1817–1881)

The Owl-Critic

A Lesson to Fault-finders

“WHO stuffed that white owl?” No one spoke in the shop:

The barber was busy, and he couldn’t stop;

The customers, waiting their turns, were all reading

The Daily, the Herald, the Post, little heeding

The young man who blurted out such a blunt question;

Not one raised a head or even made a suggestion;

And the barber kept on shaving.

“Don’t you see, Mister Brown,”

Cried the youth, with a frown,

“How wrong the whole thing is,

How preposterous each wing is,

How flattened the head is, how jammed down the neck is—

In short, the whole owl, what an ignorant wreck ’tis!

I make no apology;

I’ve learned owl-eology.

I’ve passed days and nights in a hundred collections,

And cannot be blinded to any deflections

Arising from unskilful fingers that fail

To stuff a bird right, from his beak to his tail.

Mister Brown! Mister Brown!

Do take that bird down,

Or you’ll soon be the laughing-stock all over town!”

And the barber kept on shaving.

“I’ve studied owls,

And other night fowls,

And I tell you

What I know to be true:

An owl cannot roost

With his limbs so unloosed;

No owl in this world

Ever had his claws curled,

Ever had his legs slanted,

Ever had his bill canted,

Ever had his neck screwed

Into that attitude.

He can’t do it, because

’Tis against all bird-laws

Anatomy teaches,

Ornithology preaches

An owl has a toe

That can’t turn out so!

I’ve made the white owl my study for years,

And to see such a job almost moves me to tears!

Mister Brown, I’m amazed

You should be so gone crazed

As to put up a bird

In that posture absurd!

To look at that owl really brings on a dizziness;

The man who stuffed him don’t half know his business!”

And the barber kept on shaving.

“Examine those eyes.

I’m filled with surprise

Taxidermists should pass

Off on you such poor glass;

So unnatural they seem

They’d make Audubon scream,

And John Burroughs laugh

To encounter such chaff.

Do take that bird down;

Have him stuffed again, Brown!”

And the barber kept on shaving.

“With some sawdust and bark

I would stuff in the dark

An owl better than that;

I could make an old hat

Look more like an owl

Than that horrid fowl,

Stuck up there so stiff like a side of coarse leather.

In fact, about him there’s not one natural feather.”

Just then, with a wink and a sly normal lurch,

The owl, very gravely, got down from his perch,

Walked round, and regarded his fault-finding critic

(Who thought he was stuffed) with a glance analytic,

And then fairly hooted, as if he should say:

“Your learning’s at fault this time, anyway;

Don’t waste it again on a live bird, I pray.

I’m an owl; you’re another. Sir Critic, good-day!”

And the barber kept on shaving.