Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

This is apt

[ocr errors]

which the untaught and unoccupied mind is most anxious to pry), that science has always found them much more obstinate than any other

species of folly.

Natural appearances, as has been said, are in themselves proofs of what has been, and not of what is to be; though man may, by careful and continued observation, make them such, if he does not, which we are all but too apt to do, connect the consequent with the wrong antecedent. to be the case both with the thoughtless and the thinking. The thoughtless join in the order of cause and effect those events that make the deepest impression upon themselves, in all cases where they are not familiar with ihe connexion ; and the thinking too often come with some theory, which as they find, or fancy, is of great use in what they are acquainted with, they use as a sort of talisman for opening the unknown. Even those very superstitions and mistakes are, as has been hinted, however, double inducements to examine. We should do it to get rid of the superstition, and we should do it for a higher reason. The field where neglect produces the rankest weeds, is always that from which culture may obtain the most valuable crop. If ignorance or cunning fix a superstition upon any thing, there must be something attractive about it, and therefore some professional naturalist, who had the requisite information and leisure, could not render a greater service to society than by drawing up a “ PhiJosophy of Popular Superstitions," as connected with the seasons and their productions, and disentangling the facts from the fables, which would be at once eradicating the evil, and eliminating the good.-pp. 240—243.

We must not devote all our attention to the spring, particularly as it is to be hoped that we are now somewhat nearer to a summer than we were last Christmas. Let us hear what our naturalist has to say upon this inviting season.

*As in the spring, we feel the freshness of young existence, and, while every thing is awakening into life around us, involuntary wonder and wish to know what may be the nature of that singular principle which, after having lain as still as though it had been dead for a season, is beginning to mould creation into so many forms, and elaborate out of the same common store, and by the agency of the same stimulating sun, plants and animals in all their tribes, amounting, probably, in the whole, in Britain and the surrounding sea, to more than twenty thousand species, and certainly more than twenty thousand millions of individuals, in the course of one season ; so, in the summer, when the catalogue seems full, and the rth, the air, and the waters are literally alive, when, before we have had time to give one object the slightest attention, another comes in to claim the preference, we feel disposed to throw ourselves under the shade, suspend our inquiry, and devote the whole of our time to admiration.

And the summer is so transcendently rich in being and in action, that, if it were to come upon one all at once, it would be almost too much for the mind. It comes, as we have said, more rapidly in those regions where the winter holds its dominion for the greater part of the year; and those who have noted the conduct of the people there, have seen that the breasts of men are thawed and warmed as well as the fields and the floods: that the peasantry of Lapland sing in chorus with the birds; and that when the Esquimaux quit their habitations of ice, and their messes of seal's fat, and betake themselves to the cranberry swamps and pine forests, even they feel

a

a blitheness and hold a jubilee. And amid all the arts, the elegancies, the information, of the most polished and happy artificial life, there is a feeling of restraint when the summer comes, a wish to leare those inanimate fabrications of man, which, however curious or costly they may be, the same energies that are giving life and growth to the whole rural world, are mouldering and consuming. That which is a fact with the rest of living nature, may always be in some manner found as a feeling with man; he wishes to hybernate in the cold months, but to have “ free range" when they are gone; but fashion stilles the voice of nature, and rules that the first day of partridge shooting should also be the first of the summer:

• In Britain, at least in the southern and more genial parts of it, the progress towards summer is so gentle, that it steals upon us before we are aware, and the first fruit is ripe before the last blossom be gone—the early cherry before the mulberry be completely in leaf. The progress, though

, thus slow, and therefore to many imperceptible, is not on that account the less extensive, or the less worthy of study. It is from the small spiculæ of ice which, whether they ride firm and solid upon the mountain blast, and strike like so many needles, or dissolving in the warm stratum of air over the city, form a literal “paste of fog." with the floating particles of charcoal contained in the smoke, to an atmosphere of living rainbows that are all in motion and in music; from the single chirp of the little wren, as feeling the influence of an occasional mid-day glimmer, it hops out of the heap of withered sticks to hop in again whenever the cloud conies; to that full chorus of nature which swells, and rings, and reverberates from field to hedge, from hedge to coppice, from coppice to forest, from forest to wild, and from wild to the sea-beaten promontory—where the voice of the angry waves is lost in that of the ten thousand water fowl that nestle on the rock; and from that first effort of the returning sun which just softens the surface of the snow, or blackens the southern side of the furrows' ridge, to the full beam and blaze which drinks a rain-storm in a day, and sickens or fatigues, by the very excess of its bounty, those creatures which it has called into life. This wonderful progress, this production of myriads which no man could count, and yet the most minute or the most common of which has a beauty of structure, and an adaptation of parts, that no art of man can imitate, is begun and completed in the short space or three or four months, without noise or without effort, but what appear to be the song and sport of the creatures themselves.'—pp. 257-260.

In the description of an evening walk' during this fragrant portion of the year, our author has made an approximation towards the plan which we took the liberty to sketch out for a commentary on the volume of nature. The reader will regret that a greater number of the pages of this work have not been written in the following engaging style :

One of the most favourable places in England for hearing the song of the petty chaps, and, indeed, the songs of those birds, generally, that frequent the richer districts, is the left bank of the Thames, from Hampton Court to Richmond Bridge; and it is not very easy to imagine a finer treat to the lover of freshness, and sound, and evening scenery, than a walk (wheels and hoofs jar mightily in a concert of birds) between those places on a fine pight in the end of May; and if moonlight, so much the better. Until the

a

[graphic]

sun be down, there is a great deal of noise and chirping, but not much music ; but when the evening softens the air, and the lime and the walnut take the lead among the perfumes of the evening, as you pass the lee of them in that gentle motion of the air which wafts sweetness, but does not wave leaves, the song of the night-the real vesper of nature begins ; and though broken in upon at times by the baying of a watch dog, the bellowing of an ox, the bleating of a sheep, or the tinkle of a sheep bell, it is none the worse; no

do the monitor sounds of the clock, as they come muttered through the trees, at all diminish the interest, but rather mingle with it the melancholy momento, that, fine as it is, you can enjoy it but for a time; or the more useful one, that

you

should seize the phenomena of every moment for instruction, according to the mood you may be in. The freshness, the chequered light through the trees, the occasional glimpse of the river dancing in the reflected moonbeam, like living silver, put you in mind that it is not a pond that stagnates and mantles, and scatters miasma and infection, but a rolling flood which wafts riches, and scatters fertility and health; the lights from palace, and villa, and cottage, and those joyous sounds which come ever and anon, to remind you that for all that has been done and suffered, it is “merry England” still; the dark shadow of some thick and stately tree that throws you, your path, and all around, into a momentary eclipse, or the trailing mark of some limber poplar, as though it were the tail of a comet, lustreless and flung dark, yet unsubstantial upon the earth :—But you are in no humour to look even at the half-revealed beauties of one of the richest districts in the world, rendered doubly rich by the Rembrandt shades of the greater masses of matter, in contrast with the “silver orb," seen at intervals, through the upper sprays and leaves, or its more retiring reflection from the water, in the openings among the thick stems and dark foliage below; for the nightingale is on the topmost bough in the coppice, and small as he is, his voice is heard as far as that of a muezzin from the top of a minaret. There he does not sing alone, for in that thickly-wooded and well-watered district-a district which is the land of Goshen to the insect-derouring birds—he has a rival in every coppice, and, in some places, almost upon every tree; and as though the note of each comes to the ear of a listener differently pitched and toned, according to the mass of air through which its pulsations have to be propagated, the two which are in strife which shall “ win the dame," or charm her the most after she is won, are equally loud to each other. No combination of the letters of the alphabet can give even a notion of the song of the nightingale-of any of the songs, for he has not only more notes than any other bird, but has absolutely a cabinet of music; and though there be a wonderful melody in them all, some are so unlike the others, that one could with difficulty believe that they are uttered by the same bird. It is vain, however, to attempt describing the music of that minstrel; those who are familiar with it, would, of course, laugh at the most laboured delineation ; and to those who are not, description is little better than playing an air to the deaf, or painting a rose-bud to the blind.

• Each strives with the other, and if foiled in one key or in one expression of notes, he instantly strikes into another, till all the trees around are in one musical contest. The females, too, come in with their murmuring notes in the pauses, as if they were eulogizing the victors; and at this the whole take courage, and repeat the competition. Nor do they sing alone;

son.

the petty chaps roosted for the night in the tree nearest to the home of his family, catches the alarm. He, too, won his mate by song,

and

may lose her in the same way. Accordingly he flies to a higher perch, and contributes all that he can to the melody; and that is not a little, for though his notes be few as compared with those of the nightingale, there is a native wildness in them which the nighitingale cannot equal, and which is exceeded by no bird but the lark. The nightingale is an instrument of great compass, and volume, and tone; but in all its varied notes and cadences, it is but one instrument. The petty chap's is but a note or so upon each, but it is a whole band. One note shivers in the ear with all the piercing sharpness of the fife, and the very next, which is prolonged and drawn out with a swelling modulation, is as soft as could be breathed from flute or flageolet. Then there is the expanse and richness of the orchestra, heard in the soft hour, when the mind is tuned to meditation.' - pp. 336–339.

In a similar vein is the too brief notice which our naturalist takes of the hay-field.

We have no space for visiting the hay-field, which is so joyous in rustic life; or, indeed, any of the localities of man in this delightful sea

Yet the hay-field is one of the most delightful scenes in England, we say in England, for that is the chosen land of fragrant hay; and a freshness is diffused over the fields, quite unknown in regions where they are obliged to have recourse to artificial grasses. The scented vernal grass (Anoxanthum Odoratum), at once outdoes all the odours both of the toilette and the garden ; and like the kindred perfume of the woodruff, it comes out when

the plant begins to dry, and remains till the following season, The glee of the haymakers, too, to whom the epithet “merry" is always applied, and the rich brown of solstitial health which they acquire while carrying on this delightful labour—the cleanest, the freshest, and the healthiest of the field--are highly interesting. Even the sight of a hayfield when the grasses approach maturity, and the glumes dance upon their elastic scapes to every piping of the wind, or even to its gentlest motion, whether it pipe or not, is one of the most pleasant in nature; and one in which the wonderful versatility of the wind, and the slight causes that produce momentary changes in its direction and velocity, can be much more clearly understood than by contemplating the ripple on the most limpid water. But the summer has so many characteristics, in the atmosphere, on the earth, and in the waters; and their changes are so many with change of place, and their succession so rapid with the lapse of time, that no words can convey any thing like an adequate idea of them; and therefore all that can be attempted is to excite in those, who “ have

but see not,” a desire to look around them at that which is produced without the art and labour of man, and they will find a resource, which while, by the spring and impulse it gives to the mind, it makes the business and the duty of life go smoothly on, is a citadel amid misfortune, an inheritance which none of the contingencies of life can impair, —an enjoyment which is, as it were, intermediate between that of the world of possession, and that brighter world of hope, to which it is so delightful to look forward. pp. 382-383.

eyes

The above extracts will convince the reader that he will find in

а.

[graphic]

this volume a fund of amusement of the purest and most engaging description. Loving nature and her varied productions as we do, from the cedar to the lily, from the sun to the glow-worm, from the image of the Creator down to the butterfly, we may, perhaps, be inclined to place a greater value upon such books as these, than may be consistent with the general rules of criticism. praise can do no harm if it beguile even one wanderer from the busy haunts of the world, and convert him to the religion of the fields, the worship of the skies.

But our

N

ART. VII.--The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculp

tors, and Architects. Vol. iii. British Sculptors. By Allan Cunningham, Esq.-(Being vol. xiii. of the Family Library). London: Murray,

1830. It used to be a pretty general opinion, that a highly improved state of

any branch of the arts in a given country was connected with a peculiarity in its social and political condition. Thus the sources of the Grecian achievements in sculpture are referred to the consequences of a long enjoyment of independence; it being argued that a consciousness of moral superiority gives a permanent tone to the mind of the people who possess it; that their thoughts are more than usually elevated, and their imaginations stimulated, and that they are most likely, of course, to give birth to works of sublime and beautiful conception. But this theory is inconsistent with the whole mass of facts of which the history of sculpture consists.

Canova and Thorswalden were born in countries subject to despotism, whilst America, the only modern rival of the Grecian republics, has made but little progress in any department of the fine arts. Great Britain, throughout the whole of her excited career, produced scarcely a single name worth remembering in painting and sculpture, until that state of commotion, to which a struggle for domestic freedom gives rise, and which is supposed to be so favourable to genius, had entirely subsided. Indeed, the faculty which ensures success in sculpture seems to be the most whimsical of all others in its developement; it observes no laws--it rejects all invitation, and as readily selects for the site of its achievements the barren sands of the Northern zone, as the cultivated plains of the sunny South.

The earliest English sculptors flourished at no more remote a period than the beginning of the last century. Gibbons is the name of the patriarch of our sculpture. With him,' says Mr. Cunningham, ornamental carving rose to its highest excellence in this country: No one has since approached him in the happy

; boldness and natural freedom of such productions. Under his chisel stone seemed touched with vegetable life, and wood became as lilies of the valley and fruit from the tree.' The works of Gibbons chiefly are,—The carvings in St. Paul's choir; the wooden

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »