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more strongly impressed on my mind because the impression may be almost confined to myself. The full flush of violets, which about the middle of March seldom fail to perfume the whole earth, always brings to my recollection one solitary and silent coadjutor of the husbandman's labours, as unlike a violet as possible-Isaac Bint the mole-catcher.
I used to meet him every spring when we lived at our old house, whose park-like paddock, with its finely-clumped oaks and elms, and its richly-timbered hedge-rows, edging into wild, rude, and solemn fir-plantations, dark, and rough, and hoary, formed for so many years my constant and favourite walk. Here, especially under the great horsechestnut, and where the bank rose high and naked above the lane, crowned only with a tuft of golden brown; here the sweetest and prettiest of wild flowers, whose very name hath a charm, grew like a carpet under one's feet, enamelling the young green grass with their white and purple blossoms, and loading the air with their delicious fragrance; here I used to come almost every morning during the violet-tide; and here almost every morning I was sure to meet Isaac Bint.
I think that he fixed himself the more firmly in my memory by his singular discrepancy with the beauty and cheerfulness of the scenery and the season. Isaac is a tall, lean, gloomy personage, with whom the clock of life seems to stand still. He has looked sixty-five for these last twenty years; although his dark hair and beard, and firm, manly stride, almost contradict the evidence of his sunken cheeks and deeply-lined forehead. The stride is awful; he hath the stalk of a ghost. His whole air and demeanour savour of one that comes from underground. His appearance is 'of the earth earthy.' His clothes, hands, and face, are of the colour of the mould in which he delves. The little round traps which hang behind him over one shoulder, as well as the string of dead moles which embellish the other, are encrusted with dirt like a tombstone; and the staff which he plunges into the little hillocks, by which he traces the course of his small quarry, returns a hollow sound as of tapping on the lid of a coffin. Images of the churchyard come, one does not know how, with his presence. Indeed he does officiate as assistant to the sexton in his capacity of gravedigger, chosen, as it should seem, from a natural
DERIVATION OF "MARCH."
fitness; a fine sense of congruity in good Joseph Reed, the functionary in question, who felt, without knowing why, that, of all men in the parish, Isaac Bint was best fitted to that solemn office.
His remarkable gift of silence adds much to the impres sion produced by his remarkable figure. I don't think that I ever heard him speak three words in my life. An approach of that bony hand to that earthy leathern cap was the greatest effort of courtesy that my daily salutation could extract from him. For this silence Isaac has good reasons. He hath a reputation to support. His words are too precious to be wasted. Our mole-catcher, ragged as he looks, is the wise man of the village, the oracle of the village inn."
March was called by the Saxons Rhedmonath, which some have derived from the deity Rheda, to whom sacrifices were offered in this month; but others maintain that it comes from the Saxon ræd, i. e. council, March being the time when the Goths usually met in council, previous to their wars and expeditions. It had also the name of Klydmonath, from Klyd, meaning "stormy," an epithet which March may seem to have fairly deserved from its high winds. Finally it was known as Lenct-monat. "The month of March," says Verstegan, "they [the Saxons] called Lenctmonat, that is, according to our new orthography, Lengthmonth, because the days did then first begin in length to exceed the nights. And this month being by our ancestors so called when they received Christianity, and consequently therewith the ancient Christian custom of fasting, they called this chief season of fasting the fast of LENCT, because of the lenct monat, werein the most part of the time of fasting always fell; and hereof it cometh that we now call it Lent, it being rather the fast of Lent, though the former name of Lent-monah be long since lost, and the name of March borrowed instead thereof." So far Verstegan; and it is only necessary to add that its present name of March is borrowed from the Romans, with whom it was the first month of the year, and who dedicated it therefore to Mars, as being, in their opinion, the father of their founder Romulus.
Without disputing the claim of Mars to stand godfather to this month, or of the Romans, if they liked it, to be his children, there are good astronomical reasons for March being the commencement of the year, while January would seem to have been chosen only from caprice. So thought our ancestors, as well as the Romans, and so too thought the Israelites in obedience to the divine command,* which enjoined that this should be the commencement of their sacred year, as their civil year began in September. The change with us is, comparatively speaking, of recent date; for, prior to the September of 1752, our civil or legal year began on the Day of the Annunciation, i. e., on the 25th of March. Now this was coming much nearer to astronomical truth; but unfortunately the so-called historical year had for a long time begun on the Day of the Circumcision, i.e. the 1st of January; and to avoid the confusion arising between the two, it was enacted that both should date from the same period. The change, no doubt, removed a cause of some confusion in the calendar, but it was at the expense of incongruity.
Independent of all other considerations, spring appeared to be the natural beginning of the year, as winter is the fitting close of it.
ST. DAVID'S DAY opens the month, taking its appellation from the saint of that name, who flourished in the fifth and sixth ages of the Christian era, and died, it is said, at the age of a hundred and forty years. Perhaps this longevity ought to be set down amidst the other miracles recorded of St. David.
The custom of wearing the leek upon this day has been variously accounted for. In the Festa Anglo-Romana we are told "that the Britons on this day constantly wear a leek in memory of a notable and famous victory obtained by them over the Saxons, they during the battle having leeks
"And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying; This month shall be unto you the beginning of months, it shall be the first month of the year to you." Exodus xii. 1, 2.
It is curious to see how closely the Passover of the Jews agrees with the time when the sun crosses or passes over the equator, an event that could hardly fail to be celebrated with appropriate rites and ceremonies amongst a people so devoted to astronomy as the Egyptians, who had educated Moses.
ST. PATRICK'S DAY.
in their hats for their military colours and distinction of themselves, by persuasion of St. David. "Other accounts add that they were fighting under their king Cadwallo, near a field in which that vegetable was growing, at Hethfield or Hatfield Chase, in Yorkshire, A.D. 633. King James informs us that the "Welshmen in commemoration of the great fight by the Black Prince of Wales do wear leeks as their chosen ensigns." Owen flatly disowns the saint, imagining that the custom arose from the Cymhortha, a neighbourly aid of various kinds afforded by the farmers to any one of their class who was not able to help himself. The manner of it in some districts was thus; at an appointed time they all met to assist him in ploughing, or in whatever other agricultural service their help was needed; on which occasion they each brought with them a portion of leeks to be used in making a general mess of pottage. But not one of these accounts appears more satisfactory than the other; and, though it might be difficult to disprove them, it is no less difficult to believe them. There seems, however, to be a glimpse of truth dawning upon us from another quarter. The onion was sacred amongst the Egyptians; and, however we may account for it, there is scarcely a rite or ceremony amongst any people without a precedent in one of earlier date. Keeping this fact steadily in view, it would seem probable that the leek, like the misletoe among the Druids, or the bean among the Pythagoreans, had at one time a mystic and religious meaning, and that the custom has survived although its origin has been forgotten.
The next day of note is ST. PATRICK'S DAY, which falls upon the 17th. Though he is held by the Irish to be their patron saint, he was either a Scot or a Welshman, his original name being Maenwyn. Even the date of his birth is doubtful, nothing being known for certain in this respect except that he was born some time towards the end of the fourteenth century. The ecclesiastical name of Patricius was given to him by Pope Celestine, when he consecrated him a bishop, and sent him over to Ireland for the purpose of bringing the wild natives within the pale of the Church. Upon landing at Wicklow, in 433, he immediately commenced his task of preaching and converting; but his hearers took in very ill part this attack upon their old
religion, and were nigh stoning him to death, when he plucked up a trefoil by the root and asked, "Is it not as feasible for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as for these three leaves thus to grow upon a single stalk ?" So convinced, they tell us, were the Irish by this happy illustration, that they at once renounced their paganism and allowed the good bishop to baptise them on the spot.
If such indeed were the case, it must be allowed they had a marvellous proneness to conviction. We fear, however, the legend may be disputed by the incredulous, who happen to recollect that the Druids used the trefoil for medical purposes, and that they held the mystic number, three, in high veneration, deeming the misletoe sacred because its leaves and berries grew in clusters of three united to one stem. Not being gifted with the proper degree of faith, such sceptics might be inclined to infer that the wearing of the shamrock on a particular day, like the Welshman's badge of the leek, was merely the Christian adoption of some forgotten pagan custom, or else that it proceeded from the regard in which the herb was held for its medicinal properties. The two suppositions are so far from being inconsistent with each other, that they might be considered as cause and effect, this triad of leaves being one reason for attributing to the herb its sanative virtues.
In Ireland this day is one of national rejoicing, the saint being in high odour for his numerous miracles, the most useful of which was unquestionably his driving all noxious reptiles out of the country, and forbidding them to return, under penalty it may be presumed, of spiritual censure. Even spiders were included in the general ban; nor is it any impeachment of the truth of the record that the prohibition has long since ceased to have effect except in the eyes of the faithful, who are gifted with a clearness of vision unfortunately denied to the Sassenach and the unbeliever.
Another feature of this day remains to be noticed. In February 1783, a brotherhood was created by letters patent, under the name of "Knights of the Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick; " and for the more grace of the new institution the sovereign of the day was to be its head, under whom were fifteen knights companions, while "the lieutenant