Imagens das páginas

other. The distinctions between them do not appear to be so marked and impassable as in the cities. The manner in which property has been distributed into small estates and farms, has established a regular gradation from the nobleman, through the classes of gentry, small landed proprietors, and substantial farmers, down to the labouring peasantry ; and while it has thus banded the extremes of society together, has infused into each intermediate rank a spirit of independence. This, it must be confessed, is not so universally the case at present as it was formerly, the larger estates having, in late years of distress, absorbed the smaller, and, in some parts of the country, almost annihilated the sturdy race of small farmers. These, however, I believe, are but casual breaks in the general system I have mentioned.

In rural occupation there is nothing mean and debasing. It leads a man forth among scenes of natural grandeur and beauty ; it leaves him to the workings of his own mind, operated upon by the purest and most elevating of external influences. Such a man may be simple and rough, but he cannot be vulgar. The man of refinement, therefore, finds nothing revolting in an intercourse with the lower orders in rural life, as he does when he casually mingles with the lower orders of cities. He lays aside his distance and reserve,

and is glad to waive the distinctions of rank, and to enter into the honest, heartfelt enjoyments of common life. Indeed, the very amusements of the country bring men more and more together; and the sound of hound and horn blend all feelings into harmony. I believe this is one great reason why the nobility and gentry are more popular among the inferior orders in England than they are in any other country; and why the latter have endured so many excessive pressures and extremities, without repining more generally at the unequal distribution of fortune and privilege.

To this mingling of cultivated and rustic society may also be attributed the rural feeling that runs through British literature ; the frequent use of illustrations from rural life ; those incomparable descriptions of nature, that abound in the British poets,—that have continued down from “The Flower and the Leaf' of Chaucer, and have brought into our closets all the freshness and fragrance of the dewy landscape. The pastoral writers of other countries appear as if they had paid nature an occasional visit, and became acquainted with her general charms; but the British poets have lived and revelled with her,—they have wooed her in her most secret haunts, they have watched her minutest caprices. A spray could not tremble in the breeze, a leaf could not rustle to the ground, a diamond drop could not patter in the stream, a fragrance could not exhale from the humble violet, nor a daisy unfold its crimson tints to the morning, but it has been noticed by these impassioned and delicate observers, and wrought up into some beautiful morality.

The effect of this devotion of elegant minds to rural occupations has been wonderful on the face of the country. A great part of the island is level, and would be monotonous were it not for the charms of culture; but it is studded and gemmed, as it were, with castles and palaces, and embroidered with parks and gardens. It does not abound in grand and sublime prospects, but rather in little home scenes of rural repose and sheltered quiet. Every antique farmhouse and moss-grown cottage is a picture ; and as the roads are continually winding, and the view is shut in by groves and hedges, the eye is delighted by a continual succession of small landscapes of captivating loveliness.

The great charm, however, of English scenery is the moral feeling that seems to pervade it. It is associated in the mind with ideas of order, of quiet, of sober, well-established principles, of hoary usage and reverend custom. Everything seems to be the growth of ages of regular and peaceful exist

The old church of remote architecture, with its low massive portal ; its Gothic tower; its windows rich with tracery and painted glass, in scrupulous preservation ; its stately monuments of warriors and worthies of the olden time, ancestors of the present lords of the soil ; its tombstones, recording successive generations of sturdy yeomanry, whose progeny still plough the same fields, and kneel at the same altar. The parsonage, a quaint irregular pile, partly antiquated, but repaired and altered in the tastes of various ages and occupants. The stile and footpath leading from the church, across pleasant fields, and along shady hedgerows, according to an immemorial right of way. The neighbouring village, with its venerable cottages, its public green, sheltered by trees, under which the forefathers of the present race have sported. The antique family mansion, standing apart in some little rural domain, but looking down with a protecting air on the surrounding scene.


All these common features of English landscape evince a calm and settled security, an hereditary transmission of home-bred virtues and local attachments, that speak deeply and touchingly for the moral character of the nation.



WITHIN a thick and spreading hawthorn bush,
That overhung a mole-hill large and round,
I heard from morn to morn a merry thrush
Sing hymns of rapture, while I drank the sound
With joy; and oft, an unintruding guest,
I watched her secret toils from day to day,--
How true she warped the moss to form her nest,
And modelled it within with wood and clay.
And by and by, like heath-bells gilt with dew,
There lay her shining eggs as bright as flowers,
Ink-spotted over, shells of green and blue;
And there I witnessed, in the summer hours,
A brood of nature's minstrels chirp and fly,
Glad as the sunshine and the laughing sky.



As the swift or black martin is the largest of the British hirundines, so is it undoubtedly the latest comer. For I remember but one instance of its appearing before the last week in April ; and in some of our late frosty, harsh springs, it has not been seen till the beginning of May. This species usually arrives in pairs.

The swift, like the sand-martin, is very defective in architecture, making no crust, or shell, for its nest ; but forming it of dry grasses and feathers, very rudely and inartificially put together. With all my attention to these birds, I have never been able once to discover one in the act of collecting or carrying in materials : so that I have suspected (since their nests are exactly the same) that they sometimes usurp upon the house-sparrows, and expel them, as sparrows do the houseand sand-martin; well remembering that I have seen them squabbling together at the entrance of their holes ; and the sparrows up in arms, and much disconcerted at these intruders. And yet I am assured by a nice observer in such matters, that they do collect feathers for their nests in Andalusia ; and that he has shot them with such materials in their mouths.

Swifts, like sand-martins, carry on the business of nidification quite in the dark, in crannies of castles, and towers, and steeples, and upon the tops of the walls of churches under the roof; and therefore cannot be so narrowly watched as those species that build more openly : but from what I could ever observe, they begin nesting about the middle of May ; and I have remarked, from eggs taken, that they have set hard by the 9th of June. In general they haunt tall buildings, churches, and steeples, and breed only in such : yet in this village some pairs frequent the lowest and meanest cottages, and educate their young under those hatched roofs. I remember but one instance where they bred out of buildings ; and that was in the sides of a deep chalk-pit near the town of Odiham in this county, where I have seen many pairs entering the crevices, and skimming and squeaking round the precipices.

As the swift eats, drinks, and collects materials for its nest on the wing, it appears to live more in the air than any other bird, and to perform all functions there save those of sleeping and incubation.

This hirundo differs widely from its congeners, in laying invariably but two eggs at a time, which are milk-white, long, and peaked at the small end ; whereas the other species lay at each brood from four to six. It is a most alert bird, rising very early, and retiring to roost very late; and is on the wing in the height of summer at least sixteen hours. In the longest days it does not withdraw to rest till a quarter before nine in the evening, being the latest of all day birds. Just before they retire, whole groups of them assemble high in the air and squeak, and shoot about with wonderful rapidity. But this bird is never so much alive as in sultry, thundery weather, when it expresses great alacrity, and calls forth all its powers. In hot mornings, several, getting together in little parties, dash round the steeples and churches, squeaking as they go in a very clamorous manner : these, by nice ol)servers, are supposed to be males serenading their sitting hens; and not without reason, since they seldom squeak till they come close to the walls or eaves, and since those within utter at the same time a little inward note of complacency.

When the hen has sat hard all day, she rushes forth for a few minutes, just as it is almost dark, to stretch and relieve her weary limbs, and snatch a scanty meal, and then returns to her duty of incubation. Swifts, when wantonly and cruelly shot while they have young, discover a little lump of insects in their mouths, which they pouch and hold under their tongue. In general they feed in a much higher district than the other species ; a proof that gnats and other insects do also abound to a considerable height in the air: they also

« AnteriorContinuar »