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It is a little sheltered scene, retiring, as it were, from the village; sunk amidst higher lands—hills would be almost too grand a word—edged on one side by ourjjay high-road, and intersected by another; and surrounded by a most picturesque confusion of meadows, cottages, farms, and orchards; and with a great pond in one corner, unusually bright and clear, giving a delighful cheerfulness and day-light to the picture. The swallows haunt that pond; so do the children. There is a merry group round it now; I have seldom seen it without one. Children love water, clear, bright, sparkling water; it excites and feeds their curiosity; it is motion and life.
* * * A turn in the lane, and we come to the old house standing amongst the high elms,—the old farm house, which always, I don't know why, carries back my imagination to Shakespeare's days. It is a long low, irregular building, with one room at an angle from the house, covered with ivy, fine, white-veined ivy ; the first floor of the main building projecting, and supported by oaken beams, and one of the windows below with its old casement and long narrow frames, forming the half of a shallow hexagon. A porch, with seats in it, surrounded by a pinnacle, pointed roofs and clustered chimneys, complete the picture! The very walls are crumbling to decay under a careless landlord and a ruined tenant.
Now a few yards farther and I reach the bank. Ah! I smell them already, most exquisite perfume steams and lingers in this moist heavy air. Through this little gate, and along the green south bank of this green wheat-field, and they burst upon me, the lovely violets, in tenfold loveliness. The ground is covered with them, white and purple, enamelling the short dewy grass, looking but the moro vividly coloured under the dull, leaden sky. There they lie by hundreds, by thousands. In former years I have been used to watch them from the tiny green bud, till one or two stole into bloom. They never came on mo before in such a sudden and luxuriant glory of simple beauty —and I do really owe one pure and genuine pleasure to feverish London. How beautifully they are placed too, on this sloping bank, with the palm branches waving above them, full of early bees, and mixing their honeyed scent THE MOLE-CATCHEB.
with the more delicate violet odour. How transparent and smooth and lusty are the bunches, full of sap and life. And there, just by the old mossy root, is a superb tuft of primroses, with a yellow butterfly hovering over them, like a flower floating on the air. What happiness to sit in this tufty knoll and fill my basket with the blossoms. What a renewal of heart and mind. To inhabit such a scene of peace and sweetness, is again to be fearless, gay, and gentle as a child. Then it is that thought becomes poetry and feeling religion. Then it is that we are happy and good. Oh that my whole life could pass so, floating in blissful and innocent sensation, enjoying in peace and gratitude the common blessings of nature, thankful above all for the simple habits, the healthful temperament, which render them so dear. Alas! who may dare expect a life of such happiness? But I can at least snatch and prolong the fleeting pleasure—can fill my basket with pure flowers, and my heart with pure thoughts—can gladden my little home with their sweetness—can divide my treasures with one, a dear one, who cannot seek them—can see them when I shut my eyes, and dream of them when I fall asleep."
"There are no more delightful or unfailing associations," says again our favourite Miss Mitford, "than those afforded by the various operations of the husbandman, and the changes on the fair face of nature. We all know that busy troops of reapers come with the yellow corn; whilst the yellow leaf brings a no less busy train of ploughmen and seedsmen preparing the ground for fresh harvests; that woodbines and wild roses, flaunting in the sloping hedge-rows, give token of gay bands of haymakers which enliven the meadows; and that the primroses, which begin to unfold their pale stars by the sides of green lanes, bear marks of the slow and weary female processions, the gangs of tired yet talkative bean-setters, who defile twice a day through the intricate mazes of our cross-country roads. These are general associations, as well known and as universally recognised as union of mince-pies and Christmas. T have one more private and peculiar—one perhaps the more strongly impressed on my mind because the impression may be almost confined to myself. The full flush of violets, which about the middle of March seldom fail to perfume the whole earth, always brings to my recollection one solitary and silent coadjutor of the husbandman's labours, as unlike a violet as possible—Isaac Bint the mole-catcher.
I used to meet him every spring when we lived at our old house, whose park-like paddock, with its finely-clumped oaks and elms, and its richly-timbered hedge-rows, edging into wild, rude, and solemn fir-plantations, dark, and rough, and hoary, formed for so many years my constant and favourite walk. Here, especially under the great horsechestnut, and where the bank rose high and naked above the lane, crowned only with a tuft of golden brown; here the sweetest and prettiest of wild flowers, whose very name hath a charm, grew like a carpet under one's feet, enamelling the young green grass with their white and purple blossoms, and loading the air with their delicious fragrance; here I used to come almost every morning during the violet-tide; and here almost every morning I was sure to meet Isaac Bint.
I think that he fixed himself the more firmly in my memory by his singular discrepancy with the beauty and cheerfulness of the scenery and the season. Isaac is a tall, lean, gloomy personage, with whom the clock of life seems to stand still. He has looked sixty-five for these last twenty years; although his dark hair and beard, and firm, manly stride, almost contradict the evidence of his sunken cheeks and deeply-lined forehead. The stride is awful; he hath the stalk of a ghost. His whole air and demeanour savour of one that comes from underground. His appearance is 'of the earth earthy.' His clothes, hands, and face, are of the colour of the mould in which he delves. The little round traps which hang behind him over one shoulder, as well as the string of dead moles which embellish the other, are encrusted with dirt like a tombstone; and the staff which he plunges into the little hillocks, by which he traces the course of his small quarry, returns a hollow sound as of tapping on the lid of a coffin. Images of the churchyard come, one does not know how, with his presence. Indeed he does officiate as assistant to the sexton in his capacity of gravedigger, chosen, as it should seem, from a natural DEETVATION OF "MAECH."
fitness; a fine sense of congruity in good Joseph Reed, the functionary in question, who felt, without knowing why, that, of all men in the parish, Isaac Bint was best fitted to that solemn office.
His remarkable gift of silence adds much to the impression produced by his remarkable figure. I don't think that I ever heard him speak three words in my life. An approach of that bony hand to that earthy leathern cap was the greatest effort of courtesy that my daily salutation could extract from him. For this silence Isaac has good reasons. He hath a reputation to support. His words are too precious to be wasted. Our mole-catcher, ragged as he looks, is the wise man of the village, the oracle of the village inn."
March was called by the Saxons ffliedmonath, which some have derived from the deity Rheda, to whom sacrifices were offered in this month; but others maintain that it comes from the Saxon reed, i. e. council, March being the time when the Goths usually met in council, previous to their wars and expeditions. It had also the name of Klydmonath, from Klyd, meaning "stormy," an epithet which March may seem to have fairly deserved from its high winds. Tinally it was known as Lenct-monat. "The month of March," says Verstegan, "they [the Saxons] called Lenctmonat, that is, according to our new orthography, Lengthmonth, because the days did then first begin in length to exceed the nights. And this month being by our ancestors so called when they received Christianity, and consequently therewith the ancient Christian custom of fasting, they called this chief season of fasting the fast of Lenct, because of the lenct monat, werein the most part of the time of fasting always fell; and hereof it cometh that we now call it Lent, it being rather the fast of Lent, though the former name of Lent-monah be long since lost, and the name of March borrowed instead thereof." So far Verstegan; and it is only necessary to add that its present name of March is borrowed from the Romans, with whom it was the first month of the year, and who dedicated it therefore to Mars, as being, in their opinion, the father of their founder Romulus.
Without disputing the claim of Mars to stand godfather to this month, or of the Romans, if they liked it, to be his children, there are good astronomical reasons for March being the commencement of the year, while January would seem to have been chosen only from caprice. So thought our ancestors, as well as the Romans, and so too thought the Israelites in obedience to the divine command,* which enjoined that this should be the commencement of their sacred year, as their civil year began in September. The change with us is, comparatively speaking, of recent date; for, prior to the September of 1752, our civil or legal year began on the Day of the Annunciation, i. e., on the 25th of March. Now this was coming much nearer to astronomical truth; but unfortunately the so-called historical year had for a long time begun on the Day of the Circumcision, i. e. the 1st of January; and to avoid the confusion arising between the two, it was enacted that both should date from the same period. The change, no doubt, removed a cause of some confusion in the calendar, but it was at the expense of incongruity.
Independent of all other considerations, spring appeared to be the natural beginning of the year, as winter is the fitting close of it.
St. David's Day opens the month, taking its appellation from the saint of that name, who flourished in the fifth and sixth ages of the Christian era, and died, it is said, at the age of a hundred and forty years. Perhaps this longevity ought to be set down amidst the other miracles recorded of St. David.
The custom of wearing the leek upon this day has been variously accounted for. In the Festa Anglo-Romana we are told "that the Britons on this day constantly wear a leek in memory of a notable and famous victory obtained by them over the Saxons, they during the battle having leeks
* u And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying; This month shall be unto you the beginning of months, it shall be the first month of the year to you." Exodus xii. 1, 2.
It is curious to see how closely the Passover of the Jews agrees with the time when the sun crosses or passes over the equator, an event that could hardly fail to be celebrated with appropriate rites and ceremonies amongst a people so devoted to astronomy as the Egyptians, who had educated Moses.