The original artwork used in The Blackbird diaries was drawn by an artist called FW Keyl. Very little information about the artist is available, but it seems that he \ she was a prolific illustrator of wildlife and birds.
In 1869, a book called Friends In Fur and Feathers was authored by Gwynfryn. The book was partly illustrated by FW Keyl, and the image that the Blackbird Diaries album artwork is based on was used to illustrate the story, The Biography of A Blackbird.
Here’s the original artwork, and the story itself below.
Click the artwork for a larger image.
Friends in Fur and Feathers – Biography of a Blackbird
Biography of A Blackbird
A good little bird, who never did anything wrong, and lived for one, out of the two years of his life, a captive in a cage, had not many ways of distinguishing himself, except by becoming the tamest and most loving of birdies. And he was all that, and very beautiful besides. He came, like the squirrel, a present, brought by a school-child, and from the same oak wood on the hill-side; so his parents and the old squirrels may have been neighbours.
The child said, when she brought him, her mother had been nursing the young pig-felyn for many days for my sister and myself. That queer word was his name in Welsh. Perhaps you’ll think we call our blackbirds pigs in Wales; but say the first ugly word long and ever so soft, and it sounds as near as possible the very word you English have made it into peak, or beak; so pig-felyn is yellow-beak. In English, the bird takes his name from his satin black coat, in Welsh, from his golden bill. But my blackbird had neither golden bill nor black coat when he came to me. He was all spots and speckles, just like a thrush. The blackbirds are thrushes, only their branch of the family wear black turned up with yellow as soon as they are of age; but the first few weeks of their lives they wear the thrush livery of spots and speckles, and nobody at that time could tell whether they were young thrushes or young blackbirds. Our bird grew tame directly.
All day his wicker cage swung in the trees, and at night it was put in a kitchen or hall. But that fatal cat used to lay such deep stratagems for his murder, that at last no place was thought safe at night but the corner of a bedroom, where it would have been as much as pussy’s life was worth to come and look after him. Then, whoever’s room the birdie was in was awoke in the summer dawn by a reveille of sweet singing; and if the door of the cage had been left open a soft flight would come, and the black wings, fluttering on the pillow and drooping with the delight of his own music – the merle, as the old ballads call him – would sit and sing his hymn to the. morning, till the room seemed filled with the jubilant gladness of his singing.
If any one pretended to sleep through the singing – which must have been a very extreme piece of make-believe indeed with that song in their ears – and resolutely kept their eyes shut, the birdie would stop his singing, and give two or three gentle pecks with his golden bill on the closed eyelids; and when, as he thought, he had opened them, and the sleeper looked at him he sang on, louder than ever, with quivering throat and drooping wings, pouring out all his delight in song. But this was the second spring of his little life. For the first year, he used to pipe away at a few notes, over and over again, like a child learning its notes. He practised a good deal, and very steadily, and .the tones were sweet and low, but it was nothing to the song of his last summer.
It is so very wrong and cruel to keep any of God’s free-born creatures poor prisoners for one’s own pleasure, that I never could bear to keep any pets, if they liked to turn wild again, any longer than was necessary to save them from being starved if they got loose, before they knew how to take care of themselves. They were welcome to stay as guests, but not as slaves. Birdie would never have known how to feed himself through the winter, if he had been let loose then, but he got the full use of his wings by flights about the rooms. When the spring came, his cage was hung in the wood, with the little door open. At first he was timid of coming out into the wide, wide world; but very soon he flitted in and out, and sat singing on the trees, and flew in at the open windows of the house. Whenever we went to the hall-door, and called him, he came flying from the trees, and would alight on our fingers, and sit there singing. There never was so tame a birdie, but his career was nearly over.
That black and bloody murderer, that tabby cat, what had she not to answer for? The last sad part of his history is soon told. One night, his cage had been hung in an open window in my bed-room, and birdie had flown out as usual at day-dawn. I remember, between waking and sleeping, hearing him singing on the grass-plot below the window, as he got his own breakfast of worms and seeds. Suddenly I was roused by hearing a sharp cry of fear – that strange metallic note a blackbird makes when he is frightened. I leant from the window, but all was silent. If the murder was done then, it was over. Nothing was to be seen or heard. When I went out soon afterwards, there was no birdie on the grass or in the trees; and we never saw the fluttering of his wings or heard his sweet singing again, and I can never tell you how sorry we were for our pet. The woods were searched, but not a feather was ever found; but there can be no doubt he was dead. He would have been sure to have come back if he had been alive.
And though the evidence against puss was not strong enough to hang her upon, it came out very clearly that she had been seen that morning at that very hour stealing in her tiger-walk round the front of the house, where the birdie was singing at his breakfast. But pussy did not prosper, though she escaped hanging that time. They say murderers never do; and I am sure her troubles would make a three-volume novel; and they ended by a tragical death in a ditch, where she had crawled away to die, and where she probably made a dinner and a half for the ancestors of some other pets of mine, whose history is next to be told.