Birds have always figured conspicuously in pagan superstitions, and it is possible that the superstitions which still linger among us, in some places at least, with regard to certain English birds, may be an echo of the older variety. Robins are held in high esteem by most people, except gardeners and farmers, an esteem which is partly accounted for by their coloured breasts and partly by the song-powers of the male bird. Probably, too, this esteem arises out of the old time superstition referred to in ancient ballads, beginning with "The Babes in the Wood." Percy says:--
"No burial this pretty pair
Of any man receives,
Till Robin Redbreast painfully,
Did cover them with leaves."
From this fancy seems to have grown the notion that it is unlucky to kill or keep a robin, and this is alluded to in the following lines of an eighteenth century poet, which occur in an ode to the Robin:
"For ever from his threshold fly,
Who, void of honour, once shall try,
With base inhospitable breast,
To bar the freedom of his guest;
O rather seek the peasant's shed,
For he will give thee wasted bread,
And fear some new calamity,
Should any there spread snares for thee."
J. H. Pott's Poems, 1780.
Whatever fancy and superstition may do by way of investing the robin with a glory that does not belong to him, the plain truth is that there is no more impertinent or mischievous thief in the whole tribe of feathers.