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The shearing is no less lively and picturesque, and no less attended by all the idlers of the village as spectators. The shearers, seated in rows beside the crowded pens, with the seemingly inanimate load of fleece in their laps, and bending intently over their work; the occasional whetting and clapping of the shears; the neatly-attired housewives, waiting to receive the fleeces; the smoke from the tar-kettle, ascending through the clear air ; the shorn sheep, escaping one by one from their temporary bondage, and trotting away towards their distant brethren, bleating all the while for their lambs, that do not know them in their altered state:-all these, with a ground of universal green, and finished everywhere by its leafy distances, except where the village spire intervenes, forms together a living picture, pleasanter to look upon than words can speak, but still pleasanter to think of, when that is the nearest approach you can make to it.”
Sheep-shearing is an ancient festival, and we read, in the Book of Samuel, of Nabal, a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel, who had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats : and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. And David heard in the wilderness that Nabal did shear his sheep. And when David's
young men came, they said to Nabal, We come in a good day. And Nabal said, Shall I then take my bread, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men whom I know not whence they be ? Then Abigail (the wife of Nabal) made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred bunches of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs—[to take to David]. And Nabal held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken."—We read again, in the same book, of Absalom having sheep-shearers, and inviting all the king's sons to the feast. And David was afraid to let all his sons go, lest they should cause Absalom too great an expense. There too they made merry with wine.
We also read, as in Exodus, that the feast of harvest shall be kept,—of their rejoicing according to the joy of harvest, of their shouting when the harvest had fallen, &c. It is very painful to think that we are living in an age when such customs as these are daily decaying,—customs that have lived nearly four thousand years, and have gladdened the hearts of the peasantry in many countries, and are almost as old as the harvest itself, should be allowed to die in this enlightened age. English landowners, —ye wealthy squires and rich farmers, holders of ancient manors--men who live in the heart of poetry-step forth and revive these honest, harmless, ancient merry-makings — reprint and get up afresh these beautiful scraps of poetry ere they are altogether lost! Were I a farmer or a wealthy landowner, it would be my delight to sit at the head of such a feast. To think that Abraham may have presided at such a scene !--that David, the beautiful poet, may have lifted up his voice in the valleys of Palestine, and joined in the shouts of sheep-shearing feasts or harvest-homes!--that Solomon may have sat in all his glory at such entertainments !that even Saul may have thrown off his armour for the night and made merry at such seasons !-But more of this anon.
The following lines are by John Clare, a poet who has written many very beautiful things on rural customs.
“ There with the scraps of songs, and laugh and tale,
He lightens annual toil, while merry
the ancient swains, in uncouth rhymes,
Thus will the old man ancient ways bewail,
I remember well, when a boy, going over the hills with several others to eat the furmety, “ streaked with sugar, and spotted with plums," at Park-house, an old solitary building adjoining the woods, where the ancient sheep-shearing feast was well kept up. We all ate from one immense wooden bowl, which was placed upon a round table, that we might have equal access to it. We were also furnished with wooden spoons; and it was truly laughable to see us smeared up to the very forehead with milk and plums, or jostling the contents from each other's spoons. The elder branches of the visitors were in another room; and while they were singing and feasting, we boys were turned into the gardens and orchards, to swing, or eat fruit, or make merry as we could. I am proud of being a native of Lincolnshire, only because May-games, and sheep-shearing feasts, and harvest-homes, and many other good old customs, are yet kept up in that county. A goodly Maypole yet rears its honoured head within a short distance of the spot where I was born ; and when I last passed by it there were still hanging the proud trophies of the preceding
May-day, and my heart blessed them for still keeping the good old custom.
“ This privilege, above all others, makes the countryman happy, that he hath always something at hand which is both useful and pleasant ; a blessing which has never been granted either to a courtier or a citizen : they have enemies enough, but few friends that desire their love, or that they dare trust to, either for counsel or action. Who can ever fully express the pleasures and happiness of the country life, with the various and delightful sports of fishing, hunting, and fowling with guns, greyhounds, spaniels, and several sorts of nets! What refreshment it is to behold the green shades, the beauty and majesty of the tall and ancient groves ; to be skilled in planting and draining of orchards, flowers, and pot-herbs; to temper and allay these harmless employments with some innocent and merry song ; to ascend sometimes to the fresh and healthful hills; to descend into the bosom of the valleys, and the fragrant, dewy meadows; to hear the music of birds, the murmur of bees, the falling of springs, and the pleasant discourses of the old ploughman !-where, without any impediment or trouble, a man may walk and (as Cato Censorinus used to say) discourse with the dead,—that is, read the pious works of learned men, who, departing this life, left behind them their noble thoughts for the benefit of posterity, and the preservation of their own worthy names; where the pious Christian countryman may walk with the learned, religious minister of the parish, or converse with his familiar faithful friends, avoiding the dissimulation and windiness of those that are blown up with the spirit, and, under the pretence of religion, commit all villanies. These are the blessings which only a countryman is ordained to, and are in vain wished for by citizens and courtiers.”
So says an old writer whose works have survived for many years, and are yet read with as much pleasure as the scenes he so beautifully describes are viewed. Here, then, are the moral pleasures of a country life: to live quietly, to contem
plate, to become acquainted with God's wonderful works, to se mark the changes of the seasons, and to feel comfortable amid little or no splendour, saving such as man cannot produce
“ The song of birds, the shade of trees,
The sound of streams, and hum of bees.”
The following beautiful extracts are from a work entitled “The Floral Telegraph,” which for its singular beauty and originality (if throughout equal to the following) is undoubtedly one of the sweetest productions that has yet appeared on flowers. Witness this description of an ancient garden :
“ Fair daughters of Eve, at once so glorious in your perfections, and so graceful in the use you make of them, would that I could give you an adequate idea of the beauty of the scene that was thus suddenly disclosed to me! Were it in my power, you would gain an adequate idea of that paradise that man lost for your first mother, and which, in so many thousand ways, her fair daughters have given back to him. It is true that your sex have lost us one Eden; but you have given us in return a long succession of mortal angels, that it is now man's fault if he cannot find an Eden everywhere. Goldsmith’s lines,
• Where once a garden smiled,
would not be at all applicable to the spot in which I found myself. It united the wildness of the jungle with the rich beauties of cultivation. Never before had I seen roses of a form so perfect, or of a size so magnificent. The garden had been laid out in the old-fashioned style of parterres, stone terraces, and avenues of clipped trees, the whole rather populous with statues, and there were still thirsty Tritons looking down wistfully upon long-dried-up fountains. Honeysuckle and jessamine had so wound their elegant and flower-bearing tendrils round Apollo's lyre, that its classic shape was hardly visible