« AnteriorContinuar »
CALENDAR OF NATURE.
Then came old January, wrapped well
Upon a huge great earth-pot steane he stood,
Spenser's Faerie Queene, Book vii. Canto 7.
JANUARY is so called from the Latin god Janus, the doorkeeper of heaven, and presider over peace,- probably, because the earth is at leisure in this month, as well as from its being the gate of the year. The Greek months were named after different festivals in honour of the gods, as the present one, for instance, 'Anthesterion, or the Flowery, from the quantity of flowers displayed at the festival of Bacchus.
The modern use of ancient terms on occasions of this kind produces some amusing inconsistencies, especially among the Celtic nations. Thus, in our House of Commons, there shall be a call of the members for Wednesday, or the day of the gothic deity Woden, which their Journal translates into Dies Martis, or the day of the Roman deity Mars; and this day of Gothic and Roman divinity-ship is commenced with the reading of Christian prayers.
January is the coldest month of the year, the winter having now strengthened by continuance. To those, however, who cultivate their health and imaginations, life has always enjoyments, and nature is full of beauties. The frost sets our victorious fire-sides sparkling; and with our feet upon a good warm rug, we may either doubly enjoy the company of friends, or get into summer landscapes in our books, or sit and hear
The excluded tempest idly rave along.–Tuomson.
Our wisest ancestors,—those of Shakspeare's time,-who
understood most things better than we, and whom we begin to understand better than any of their posterity,-knew how to take the roughly kind hint of nature, and kept up their Christmas festivities through the whole of this month. They got a little, and enjoyed every thing, instead of getting every thing and enjoying a little. In the day they made leisure for healthy sport out of doors, and in the evening they were at their books and pastimes within.
Even to observe nature is to enjoy her. He is infinitely mistaken, who thinks there is nothing worth seeing in wintertime out of doors, because the sun is not warm, and the streets are muddy. Let him get by dint of good exercise, out of the streets, and he shall find enough. In the warm neighbourhood of towns he may still watch the field-fares, thrushes, and blackbirds; the titmouse seeking its food through the straw-thatch; the red-wings, field-fares, sky-larks, and titlarks, upon the same errand, over wet meadows; the sparrows, and yellow-hammers, and chaffinches, still beautiful though mute, gleaning from the straw and chaff in farmyards; and the ring-dove, always poetical, coming for her meal to the ivy-berries. About rapid streams he may see the various habits and movements of herons, wood-cocks, wild-ducks, and other water-fowl, who are obliged to quit the frozen marshes to seek their food there. The red-breast comes to the windows, and often into the house itself, to be rewarded for its song, and for its far-famed “ painful” obsequies to the Children in the Wood.
The fruits still in season, which are the same also for two months more, are almonds, apples, chesnuts, pears, and walnuts. In the gardens and hedges beautiful colours are still peeping for the eye that seeks them : among flowers,—the cyclamen, hazel-wort, the crocus or saffron-flower that dyed the garments of Aurora and Hymen, the periwinkle, the polyanthus, yellow-aconite, Alpine alysson, anemone, hellebore, the fiery glow of the wall-flower, the snowdrop with its little hints of green, and the primrose, or rose of the prime : -among trees and shrubs, the Glastonbury-thorn, whose flourishing at Christmas used to be counted miraculous, laurustinus with its delicate clumps of white, laureola or spurgelaurel, pyracantha, arbutus or strawberry-tree, a favourite with Virgil, which looks like strawberries growing on a bay, and the alaternus, which Englishmen in gratitude should call the Evelyn, after that excellent rural patriot who first “ had the honour,” he says, “ to bring it into use and reputation in this kingdom, and propagated it from Cornwall even to Cumberland *.” Then, as to berries, what can be desired beyond the holly alone, which made this friend of Cowley burst out into a poetical rapture:-“We still dress up both our churches and houses,” says he, “ on Christmas and other festival days, with its cheerful green, and rutilant berries. Is there under heaven a more glorious and refreshing object of the kind, than an impregnable hedge of about four hundred foot in length, nine foot high, and five in diameter, which I can now shew in my ruined gardens at Say's Court (thanks to the Czar of Muscovy) at any time of the year, glittering with its armed and varnished leaves, the taller standards at orderly distances, blushing with their natural coral + ?" · But what was thought enchantment in old times, may be practised now by every body who chooses to force flowers. These may be had all the winter-time, though they are best in every respect where they can be taken care of in a greenhouse, or seen through a glass partition at the end of a large room, as in some of the houses of the rich. The truth is, that many flowers in a room are not wholesome, unless they can have air and light to enable them to give out properly that oxygen or vital air, which they exhale in genial situations during the day-time. During the night, they are always unwholesome, as they throw out hydrogen and absorb the oxygen. And yet perhaps our excessively artificial and in-door habits, in helping to enervate us, render unwholsome what would be otherwise perceptible only as a pleasure. At all events, a few flowers on a shelf, such as hyacinths and jonquils, can do no harm, and are very beautiful with their curling or down-looking buds, and their ivory roots seen through the water. The rest of the flowers that may be forced in winter are lilacs, lilies of the valley (an exquisite intermixture of leaves and bells), mignionette, or the little darling, pinks, polyanthus, narcissus, roses, tulips, and violets; in fact, a whole summer anticipated. It is worth adding, that artificial flowers were never, perhaps, so well
made as they are now, and that they may be put in pots and glasses like real ones, or hung up in wreaths and crowns over pictures, door-ways, or the middle of a pier, where they form at once a summer picture of their own, a memorial of classical times, and a beautiful contrast to the squareness of the compartment. It was pleasantly said by somebody on seeing a real rose after one of these manufactured ones," Very lovely, indeed! It is almost as good as artificial.”
Those who cultivate a few flowers for their particular amusement (we do not, of course, address ourselves to gardeners) should now occasionally take in their best ranunculuses, and protect their choice carnations, hyacinths, and tulips, with hoops, mats, or glasses. It is time also, in mild dry weather, to plant ranunculuses, anemones, tulips, and bulbous flowers; and, for early blowing, crocusses and snowdrops. The bulbous flowers in glasses within doors should have their water kept clean; and it is better for all flowers in a house to have as much light and sunshine as possible, which some of them seem absolutely to yearn and strain after.
But the very frost itself is a world of pleasure and fairy beauty. The snow dances down to earth, filling all the airy vacancy with a giddy whiteness; and minutely inspected, every particle is a chrystal star, the delight perhaps of myriads of invisible eyes. The ice (hereafter destined to - temper dulcet creams” for us in the heat of summer) affords a new and rare pastime for the skaiter, almost next to flying; or suddenly succeeding to rain, strikes the trees and the grasses into silver. But what can be more delicately beautiful than the spectacle which sometimes salutes the eye at the breakfast-room window, occasioned by the hoar-frost or frozen dew? If a jeweller had come to dress every plant over night to surprise an Eastern sultan, he could not produce any thing like the “ pearly drops,” or the “ silvery plumage.” An ordinary bed of greens, to those who are not at the mercy of their own vulgar associations, will sometimes look like crisp and corrugated emerald, powdered with diamonds.
Under the apparent coldness of the snow, the herbaceous plants, which die down to the root in autumn, lie nourishing their shoots for the spring. Nor is much done by the animal creation, man included, during this period. Many birds and reptiles make a long night-time of the hard season, and are awake only in finer weather. The domestic cattle are mostly lodged in the homestead. The farmer lops and cuts timber, mends thorn hedges, and draws manure to his fields. Many trades, especially those connected with water, are at a stand during the frost. The thresher's time is the merriest as well as most industrious, for he works away his flail in the barn. In the merrier days of our ancestors, it was customary for every village and town-hall to have its great top, which the poorer inhabitants emulated each other in lashing, a practice well worth revival.
For those of the wealthier classes, who can afford leisure (and all could if they were wise), walking, or riding, according as the surface of the earth permits, is so much healthy wine to the blood. A good dinner, well earned, will then do no harm; and then again the long snug evening returns, with the “ sopha wheeled round,” and the “ curtains” down; or balls and theatres invite them to hurry betwixt house and house-the one sending them with perfect digestion to sleep, or the other helping to remind them of the common rights of humanity, a lesson now peculiarly seasonable. If the farmer thinks it his duty, as well as his interest, to take care of his very cattle, and see them well housed, how much more incumbent is it upon the rich to look after their poor fellowcreatures, and see what can be done to secure them the common necessaries of “ meat, clothes, and fire.” Let those who give no pleasure be assured, that their toils and possessions are in vain, for they can receive none;-no!-and least of all from Nature, notwithstanding her ever-ready and exuberant treasures.
FEBRUARY is so called from the Roman custom of burning