Imagini ale paginilor

mild, in spite of the thermometer; no perceptible air, but a stillness that might almost be felt; the sky rather grey than blue, throwing out in bold relief the snow-covered roofs of our village, and the rimy trees that rise above them, and the sun shining dimly as through a veil, giving a pale, fair light, like the moon, only brighter. There was a silence, too, that might become the moon, as we stood at our gate looking up the quiet street; a Sabbath-like pause of work and play, rare on a work day; nothing was audible but the pleasant hum of frost, that low, monotonous sound which is perhaps the nearest approach that life and nature can make to absolute silence. The very wagons as they came down the hill along the beaten track of crisp yellowish frost-dust, glide along like shadows; even May's bounding footsteps, at her height of glee and of speed, fall like snow upon snow.

“These murmuring cogitations have brought us up the hill, and halfway across the light and airy common, with its bright expanse of snow and its clusters of cottages, whose turf-fires send such wreaths of smoke sailing up the air, and diffuse such aromatic fragrance around. And now comes the delightful sound of childish voices, ringing with glee and merriment almost from beneath our feet. There is a shouting from the deep, irregular pool, all glass now, where on two long, smooth, slides, half a dozen ragged urchins are slipping along in tottering triumph. Half a dozen steps bring us to the bank just above them. May can hardly resist the temptation of joining her friends, for most of the varlets are her acquaintance.

But 'come, May !' and up she springs as light as a bird. The road is gay now; carts and post-chaises, and girls in red cloaks, and afar off, looking almost like a toy, the coach. It meets us fast and soon. How much bappier the walkers look than the riders, especially the frost-bitten gentleman, and the shivering lady with the invisible face, sole passengers of that commodious machine! Hooded, veiled, and bonneted as she is, one sees from her attitude how miserable she would look uncovered.

“Now we have reached the trees,—the beautiful trees! never so beautiful as to-day. Imagine the effect of a straight and regular double avenue of oaks, nearly a mile



long, arching over head, and closing into perspective, like the roofs and columns of a cathedral, every tree and branch encrusted with the bright and delicate congelation of hoarfrost, white and pure as snow, delicate and defined as carved ivory. How beautiful it is, how uniform, how various, how filling, how satiating to the mind-above all, how melancholy! There is a thrilling awfulness, an intense feeling of simple power in that naked and colourless beauty, which falls on the earth like the thoughts of death-death, pure and glorious and smiling—but still death. Sculpture has always the same effect on my imagination, and painting never. Colour is life.

“We are now at the top of this magnificent avenue, and at the top of a steep eminence commanding a wide view over four counties—a landscape of snow. A deep lane leads abruptly down the hill; a mere narrow cart track, sinking between high banks clothed with fern and furze, and broom, crowned with luxuriant hedgerows, and famous for their summer smell of thyme. How lovely these banks are now—the tall weeds and the gorse fixed and stiffened in the hoar-frost, which fringes round the bright prickly holly, the pendant foliage of the bramble, and the deep orange-leaves of the pollard oak. Oh, this is rime in its loveliest form! And there is still a berry here and there on the holly, 'blushing in its natural coral' through the delicate tracery; still a stray hip or haw for the birds, who abound always here. The poor birds, how tame they are, how sadly tame! There is the beautiful and rare crestedwren, that shadow of a bird, as White of Selborne calls it, perched in the middle of the hedge, nestling as it were amongst the cold bare boughs, seeking, poor pretty thing, for the warmth it will not find. And there, further on, just under the bank by the slender rivulet, which still trickles between its transparent fantastic margin of thin ice, as if it were a thing of life,—there, with a swift, scudding motion, flits, in short low flights, the gorgeous king-fisher, its magnificent plumage of scarlet and blue flashing in the sun like the glories of some tropical bird. He is come for water to this little spring by the hill side,-water which even his long bill and slender head can hardly reach, su nearly do the fantastic forms of those garland-like icy margins meet

over the tiny stream beneath. It is rarely that one sees the shy beauty so close or so long; and it is pleasant to see him in the grace and beauty of his natural liberty, the only way to look at a bird. We used, before we lived in a street, to fix a little board outside the parlour-window, and cover it with bread crumbs in the hard weather. It was quite delightful to see the pretty things come and feed, to conquer their shyness, and do away their mistrust.

First came the more social tribes, the robin-redbreast and the wren, cautiously and suspiciously picking up a crumb on the wing, with the little keen bright eye fixed on the window: then they would stop for two pecks; then stay till they were satisfied. The shyer birds, tamed by their example, came next; and at last one saucy fellow of a blackbird-a sad glutton, he would clear the board in two minutes—used to tap his yellow bill against the window for

How we loved the fearless confidence of that fine, frank-hearted creature! And surely he loved us. I wonder the practice is not more general."


THAW. January 28th.-" We have had rain, and snow, and frost, and rain again : four days of absolute confinement. Now it is a thaw and a flood; but our light gravelly soil and country boots, and country hardihood, will carry us through. What a dripping, comfortless day it is ! just like the last days of November; no sun, no sky, grey or blue; one low, overhanging, dark, dismal cloud, like London smoke. Mayflower is out coursing, too. Never mind. Up the hill again! Walk we must. Oh, what a watery world to look back upon! Thames, Kennet, Loddon-all overflowed; our famous town, inland once, turned into a sort of Venice. C. Park converted into an island ; and a long range of meadows, from B. to W., one huge, unnatural lake, with trees growing out of it. Oh what a watery world !—I will look at it no longer. I will walk on.

“The road is alive again. Noise is reborn. Wagons creak, horses splash, carts rattle, and pattens paddle through the dirt with more than their usual clink. The common has its fine old tints of green and brown, and its old

[blocks in formation]

variety of inhabitants-horses, cows, sheep, pigs, and donkeys. The ponds are unfrozen, except when some melancholy piece of melting ice floats sullenly on the water; and cackling geese and gabbling ducks have replaced the sliders and skaters. The avenue is chill and dark, the hedges are dripping, the lanes knee-deep, and all nature is in a state of dissolution and thaw."

For the reader curious in antiquarian lore, we make some gleanings from Mr. Soane's learned and singular work, the “ New Curiosities of Literature.”

January takes its name from the Latin Januarius, which itself was derived from Janus, the two-faced God, who looked both before and behind, and hence was chosen by Numa as typifying the New Year, that stood between the past and the future, and might thus be said to look both ways at once. Prior to the time of this monarch the Roman year had but ten months, and commenced with March; but he added January and February, making it begin with January, though the months still retained their old numerical designations, as if no change had taken place in the Roman calendar.

It may seem strange that Romulus should have made the year begin with winter, and not with spring. Ovid has given an ingenious, though perhaps not a very satisfactory explanation, through the mouth of his God, Janus :-" The Winter Solstice is the first of the new sun, and the last of the old; the year and the sun have the same origin.” It may be permitted to us to doubt whether the office, which Ovid himself has assigned to Janus, would not better account for his being placed at the head of the months; he was the door-keeper of heaven and earth. Jupiter himself could not go in or out unless he opened the door for him, and thus he seems naturally enough to have been the porter, opening the gates of time to the New Year. Plutarch, however, has adduced other reasons. He firsts suggests that Numa, who was a lover of peace and its attendant arts, might have dedicated the beginning of the year to Janus, as being a God more favourable to civil institutions and the cultivation of the soil than to war; at the same time he is more inclined to believe Numa made this choice from the fact that the sun, having completed his advance and now retrograding, there is also a certain change in nature, the nights being diminished in duration and the days increased.

If it be difficult to choose amongst these reasons, it seems yet harder to say why the Christians should have chosen this month in the early ages as the commencement of their year. Baronius, in his Martyrology, supposes that they did so because about this time Christ was born, and by his rising illuminated as it were the world, till then obscured by darkness.

But though in the first instance the Roman mode of computation prevailed, yet this was far from being fixed or general. The New Year has at different times and places commenced on Christmas Day, i.e., the 25th of December; on the Day of the Circumcision, i.e., the 1st of January; on the Day of the Conception, i.e., the 25th of March; and on Easter Day, or the day of the Resurrection; nor was it till a comparatively recent period that a general rule was adopted.

By the Anglo-Saxons this month was named Wolfmonat, and Aefter-Yula. The first of these names it received “ because people are wont always in that month to be in more danger to be devoured of wolves than in any season else of the year; for that through the extremity of cold and snow these ravenous creatures could not find of other beasts sufficient to feed upon.” It was called, Aefter-Yula, as being immediately after, or second to, Christmas.

CIRCUMCISION; New YEAR's Day.-January 1st.

New Year's Day has in all ages, and among all people, been a time of rejoicing. Libanius, the rhetorician, has left us a vivid account of the manner in which it was celebrated among the Romans, and as the greater part of our New Year's customs have come to us from that source, a brief epitome of his amusing pages will scarcely be thought irrelevant to our present purpose.

He sets out with informing us that all men love holidays, an assertion which few will be inclined to dispute; and then adds, that there are four kinds of festivals—the first, peculiar to families, the second, to cities; the third, to nations; and a fourth, common to all the people living under the Roman empire, and which takes place when the old year has ended, and the new one has begun. On the

« ÎnapoiContinuați »