An Hour with About the year 18—I was Signor Blitz, in Philadelphia, and, seeing a poster declaring the wonders to be exhibited that evening by Signor Blitz, the prestidigitator, I decided to go. Arriving, I found myself in a large room, among four or five hundred others, and witnessed many curious illusions or tricks of sleight of hand. But what most interested me were his cages of wonderful little canary birds, that seemed endowed with marvelous intelligence, and I concluded to wait until the crowd dispersed, and have a little chat with the signor, privately. So I sat in my seat, and when the last one had gone I walked down tlie aisle to the platform.
Signor Blitz eyed me a trifle suspiciously, perhaps, but my first question arrested his attention and interested him, for he loved to talk of his little friends. I said, “ Signor, I should like very much to have you tell me how you ever managed to teach these little chaps such wonderful tricks.”
He turned about and opened a small cage, and the bird within hopped out upon the floor. “ There,” he said, “is my most intelligent bird.” I looked at him. He was apparently a common canary with black wings, but he seemed a very vigorous fellow. The signor remarked, “ I have had much trouble in teaching him, but when he once learns his lesson he never forgets it ; and this,” he added, “ is generally true of all the family of canaries. But the teaching must be continued from day to day, and, if possible, at the same hour each day ; above all things, it requires patience, patience. You must be mild, but firm and exacting, with the little chaps. Now, Dicky, here, was an apt scholar, bright, quick, and knowing, more so than many others, but determined he would not learn his lesson. I began by grasping him in my hand and laying him upon the table on his back. Of course he flew away. I caught him, and did with him just as before. Again he flew away. I caught him, and once more placed him upon the table on his back. Again he flew ; but his lesson continued, until the hundredth time he lay gasping on his back, quite still, and looking at me intently. I took him gently in my hand, and, pleased as I was, I pressed him to my face and caressed him for a moment, then returned him to his cage. The next day Dicky maintained his unteachable conduct until about the fiftieth or sixtieth trial, when he lay still. Again I caressed him and made much of him, gently returning him to his cage. The third day he yielded at about the twenty-fifth trial, when I gave him some sweetmeats for reward. In a week’s time I could pick him up anywhere and lay him on his back, and he would lie there while I walked about the room engaged in other duties, his beady black eyes following me all the time.”
You may be sure I was much interested in the signor’s story, and I wish I could recall all his delightful talk ; for he sat with me until midnight, telling of his experience with birds. Among other things, he spoke of the training required in teaching canaries to sing. “ Suppose,” he said, “ I desire to teach Dicky a new song. I decide carefully, first, just what I wish to teach him, not making it too difficult, but measuring his ability as I would a child’s. I whistle the tune over softly to myself for days, or perhaps take my violin and play five or six bars of it. When I have so trained myself as to be sure of my own tone and continuance, I take the little chap in his cage into my parlor (and that means a talking or gossiping room), and quietly setting him on the table and darkening the room, so that nothing shall distract his attention, I whistle or play the notes I have myself first learned, gently and with but little sound. Then, waiting a moment, I repeat the notes. So I go on, quietly, persistently, for a half hour. The bird, in the mean time, hops about a little in the semilight, or perhaps sings a short note or two. But before I am through my lesson he sits quite still. I put up the curtain, hang him up in his place, and go about my affairs. The next day, at the same hour, I repeat exactly the lesson of the day before, and quietly remove him again to his place. After a month of instruction, I hear, among his other notes, a new effort, and recognize it at once as part of his lesson. I am very patient with the little fellow, and repeat daily this same strain, until he has adopted the notes and tone of his lesson, and sings them as joyously as if born with no other song. But this one thing must be remembered : during all the time that he is under training he must be kept where he can never even once hear the song of another bird.”