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July is the month of hay-making; and there are very few rural sights more pleasant than that which the hay-field presents at this season. Although the hay-harvest commenced last month in several counties, it is not general until this. Even the Saxons called July Heu-monath, or Hay-month. A silence now reigns in the villages : if you knock at fifty doors, you are likely to receive no answer, for old and young are in the fields; even the “wee things” toddle along the smoothshaven green, or roll happily among the wind-rows. First is the stout mower: he rises early in the morning, and long before the heat of the day comes on he has levelled many a beautiful flower and healing herb to the earth : you hear him sharpening his scythe long before you can see him—the clear “rasp rasp," rings far and wide over the valleys; then you catch a glimpse of his white shirt-sleeves through some vista in the hedge, moving in regular measure, like the pendulum of a clock, or the wings of a bird-you cannot distinguish clearly for the mists. At length you near him. What havoc has he made! what fair daughters of the field has he prostrated! what hidden homes has he laid bare!-haunts of the bird and fieldmouse, -unroofing the snug dwelling, and leaving their little ones exposed to the covetous glances of the nesting-boys. How like life are the flowers of the field ! what images have they furnished for the holy writers ! -we gaze upon them as they fall before the scythe, and exclaim “Man cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down ; his days are as grass ; as a flower of the field so he flourisheth, for the wind passeth over it, and it is gone!”
Hay-making is both a pleasant and healthful occupation ;it is the very life of an English summer. The sweet smell of the new hay excels every other fragrance, as it is tossed about in the sunshine, to allow the drying wind to pass through. It is also a labour of pleasure: where will you find happier faces than in the hay-field? The farmer is there, moving like a father amongst his children, smiling occasionally
at the innocent jest, or prophesying the wedding-day between Jane and John, who are following each other with the rake and fork. Then there is all the village gossip, - what hours it takes telling! And there is the blushing damsel with her gown thrown off, and stripped to the stays, showing all the symmetry of her fine figure while raking round the haycock which her lover has reared, forgetful of the heat and labour in the enjoyment of his conversation. How proud he also seems who is mounted on the top of the waggon to arrange the load !- but still prouder he who forms the haystack in the farm-yard ! he will boast of its roundness, firmness, and regularity for many a night over his ale, and appeal to the old men, who, instead of answering him, will enter into a long narrative of the large stacks which they have formed when young men.
“ The grateful sweetness of the new-mown hay,
Breathing refreshment, fans the toiling swain.
Moves slowly onward with its fragrant load.” There is a charm in scenes like these — a something that rushes upon the heart like the joyousness of boyhood – happiness felt, not seen. How beautifully has honest Izaak Walton dwelt upon the repose of country scenery!
“ Turn out of the way a little, good scholar, towards yonder high honeysuckle-hedge; there we'll sit and sing, while this shower falls so gently upon the teeming earth, and gives yet a sweeter smell to the lovely flowers that adorn these verdant meadows. Look! under that broad beech-tree I sat down when I was last this way a-fishing; and the birds in the
adjoining grove seemed to have a friendly contention with an echo whose dead voice seemed to live in a hollow tree, near to the brow of that primrose-hill ;—there I sat, viewing the silver streams glide silently towards their centre, the tempestuous sea ; yet sometimes opposed by rugged roots and pebble-stones, which broke their waves and turned them into foam : and sometimes I beguiled the time by viewing the harmless lambs, some leaping securely in the cool shade, while others sported themselves in the cheerful sun, and saw others craving comfort from the woollen udders of their bleating dams. As I thus sat, these and other sights had so fully possest my soul with content, that I thought, as the poet has happily expressed it,
"I was for that time lifted above earth,
As I left this place and entered into the next field, a second pleasure entertained me: 'twas a handsome milkmaid, that had not yet attained so much age and wisdom as to load her mind with
any fears of many things that will never be, as too many men too often do; but she cast away all care, and a nightingale. Her voice was good, and the ditty fitted for it; it was that smooth song which was made by Kit Marlowe now at least fifty years ago : and the milkmaid's mother sung an answer to it, which was made by Sir Walter Raleigh in his younger days. They were old-fashioned poetry, and choicely good—I think much better than the strong lines now in fashion in this critical age."
Is not this beautiful ? What a smell of green fields ! Seem we not borne away by the honest old man under the honeysucklehedge ? This is indeed poetry, drawn from the simple inspiration of Nature ; for, as Leigh Hunt says,
" Not oaks alone are trees, nor roses flowers ;
Much humble wealth makes rich this world of ours.
And truth she makes so precious, that to paint
"July,” says Aikin, “ is the hottest month of the year. The direct influence of the sun is continually diminishing after the summer solstice ; but the earth and air have been so thoroughly heated, that the warmth which they retain more than compensates, for a time, the diminution of solar rays. The effects of this weather upon the face of Nature soon become manifest: the flowers of the former month diminish in beauty, shrivel and fall; at the same time their leaves and stalks lose their verdure, and the whole plant hastens to decay. Sometimes the animal creation seem oppressed with languor during this hot season, and either seek the recesses of woods, or resort to pools and streams, to cool their bodies and quench their thirst.
“ The insect tribe are peculiarly active and vigorous in the hottest weather. These minute creatures are for the most part annual, being hatched in the spring, and dying at the approach of winter. Fowls moult or lose their feathers during this month; the smaller birds do not moult so early—but all renew their plumage before winter, when they are in their finest and warmest clothing. Young partridges and pheasants are found at this time among the corn. The effects of great heat on the human body are agreeably allayed by the various wholesome fruits which Providence offers at this season for the use of man : those which are now ripe, are of all the most cooling and refreshing, as currants, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, and cherries.”
What delight is there in such a solitude as Wilson has described in his Address to a Wild Deer!
“ 'Mid the fern and the heather kind Nature doth keep
Where the creature at rest can his image behold,
Has not this borne us away into the fastnesses of Nature, where an eternal Sabbath ever reigns, holy as the silence by which it is surrounded ?
What a beautiful study is that of flowers ! “The fragrance of a carnation,” says Hill, “led me to enjoy it frequently and near. While inhaling the powerful scent, I heard an extremely soft but agreeable murmuring sound: it was easy to know that some animal within the covert must be the musician, and that the little noise must come from some little body suited to produce it. I am furnished with apparatuses of a thousand kinds for close observation. I instantly distended the lower part of the flower, and placing it in a full light, could discover troops of little insects frisking and capering with wild jollity among the narrow pedestals that supported its leaves, and the little