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Where the Rhine
The great law of congregation during cold weather, which affects birds and several classes of quadrupeds, exerts its influence also on man. The Greenlanders and Samoiedes retire to their large under-ground habitations, each of which is occupied by five or six families; and in the more civilised parts of the north of Europe, plays, balls, visitings, and social amusements of various kinds, contribute to raise the spirits and cheer the heart, in spite of the dead, desolate scenes, which nature at every step presents to our view.
A winter such as when birds die
Let us now illustrate the text of our author by a few quotations from other writers. Here is a winter picture by William Howitt:—
"And who does not remember, even with delight, the stern long winters of twenty or thirty years ago, when early in November the snows began to fall; when they came down first merrily dancing in minute flakes, then larger, heavier, more abundant, till the whole air was dark with them, and the earth was lost in the soft covering, and was shrouded in a wonderful stillness? When, as the season advanced, day after day, the snowy deluge still descended; the streets were filled, the garden and shrubberies were several feet deep with snow, and it lay on the shrubs in vast masses, and covered all the roofs of houses with actual avalanches, and in the first gleam of sunshine came sweeping down, threatening to bury the passer-by beneath? When men with straw bands round their ankles were aloft on houses, shoveling down the dazzling burden, lest it should suddenly melt, and filling spout and gutter, penetrate under the tiles into the houses; when, below, others were cutting pathways to your doors, and you had to march between huge walls from your dwelling to the highway? When all cattle and sheep were congregated in the straw-yard, in warmly-sheltered paddocks, and in still warmer stalls and stables, lest they should be smothered in the plentiful snows? when there was a noise of straw-cutting and turnip-cutting in the farmyards, mingled with the sound of flails? When, in fact, all domestic life was gathered round the house at noon, and was
doubly domestic? When the pigeons and the fowls flew down to the bounteous barn-door, and were joined by scores of the fowls of heaven,' whose pantry doors were locked, and the key lost?' When, far and near, the whole landscape lay under a white sheet, on which the black swarm of rooks and
starlings looked doubly black, as a momentary clearing of the sky gave you a view abroad? When the lanes and highways were full, with drifts here and there, perhaps twenty feet deep, and tossed by the winds into grand or fantastic features, swelling over hedgetops, and even over trees and rocks; and there were no snow-ploughs, as on the continent, attended by troops of shovel-armed men, going constantly to and fro, to keep all A Winter's Night.
great roads clear? When therefore the mails were stopped, the carriers' carts, which were anxiously looked for, bringing work and food from the towns, were also frost-bound, and there were dismal stories circulating round all firesides of travellers lost in the great drifts on the wild moorlands, and the wanderers that had perished there or in deep snow-laded woods?
"When, anon, the snows ceased, and there came out skies as blue as lapis-lazuli, and the winds began to pipe shrewd and shrill, tossing the light surface of the snow in fine spray, and then binding the whole down in hardness that admitted you to walk on it; then was it a new and wonderful feeling to go over hedge-tops and across deep valleys, now filled and levelled up, the frozen mass crunching under your feet, to find only the rivers showing themselves by their wintry hues, amid the trees and rocks."
.During such an old-fashioned winter as the above must Burns' tender, loving heart, with its sympathies keenly alive to the suffering of man and beast, have improvised the following lines:—
A WINTER'S NIGHT..
Listening the doors an' winnocks rattle,
0' winter war,
Beneath a sear.
Ilk happing bird, wee, helpless thing,
What comes o' thee J
An' close thy e'e?
Ev'n you on murd'ring errands toil'd,
Lone from your savage homes exil'd,
The blood-stain'd roost, and sheep-cote spoil'd,
My heart forgets;
Sore on you beats. The shepherds of Scotland hand down from father to son the terrors of the "Thirteen Drifty days," a term applied to a period when Scotland was visited by a fearful snowstorm, in the year 1660: indeed, it is said that even now, the mention of this period to an old shepherd, on a stormy winter's night, seldom fails to impress his mind with religious awe, and often sets him on his knees before that Being, who alone can avert such another calamity. For thirteen days and nights the falling and drifting of the snow never abated: the ground was covered with frozen snow when it commenced, and during all the time of its continuance, the sheep were without food. The shepherds had the pain of seeing their poor helpless flocks die off, without having the power to shield them either from cold or from hunger. About the fifth day of the storm, the younger sheep became sleepy and torpid, which was generally followed by death in the course of a few hours ; or, if exposed to the cutting wind, they were sometimes deprived of life almost immediately after the torpor commenced. By the tenth day of the storm, so many sheep had died, that the shepherds began to build up large semicircular walls of the frozen dead bodies, in order to afford some sort of shelter for the sheep which still remained alive. But these began by this time to suffer so much from want of food, that they tore one another's wool with their teeth.
At the termination of the storm, on the thirteenth day, there were many farms on which not a single sheep was left alive. Misshapen walls of dead bodies, surrounding a central knot of other sheep, also dead, was the sight which in too many instances met the eye of the ruined shepherd or farmer. On those farms, which were situated in the glens between mountains, many of the sheep survived the storm, but their constitutions suffered so severely, that few ultimately recovered. Nine-tenths of all the sheep in the south of Scotland are supposed to have perished by this snowstorm. In the pastoral district of Eskdale Muir, out of twenty thousand sheep, only forty young wethers and five old ewes were preserved. Many of the farms were so utterly ruined, as to become tenantless and valueless for several years.
About sixty or seventy years after this event, one single