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Think not that our old woods, and venerable cathedrals, and hoary castles, and free hills, have been forgotten by our peasants when they have thrown aside the ploughshare and taken up the sword. No! I doubt not but many an arm has been nerved, and many a blow dealt home to the hearts of our enemies in full consciousness that it was for the defence of some little village, where the trysting-tree was well remembered, and where the vows of love had first been plighted -a spot too holy for the foot of an invader to press.
I reverence the classic lands of Italy and Greece, but not so much as I do my own country; for I may to-morrow traverse the plains where Julius Cæsar encamped—where Alfred overthrew the Danes, or perhaps tread upon the spot where the rival banners of York or Lancaster have proudly waved. Alone ! there is no solitude on the hills ! You may walk in company with thousands there, although alone; throngs of armed men, and the deeds of other days are around you ! Nay, even while musing, you may be standing upon the grave of some one whose deeds have changed the destinies of a kingdom.
I had often thought that the labour of our peasantry during the summer months was the most fatiguing that man could endure. I knew but little of cities then-I had not seen artisans working in cellars not larger than the kennel kept for a mastiff in the country. But since that time I have seen the dim lamp burning at midnight in dirty, unhealthful streets, where, by the papered window, the poor mechanic was labouring for the common necessaries of life, without having even the pure air of heaven to comfort him. Nearly all my pity for the poor peasant vanished: I thought of the healthful labourers in the balmy hay-field, amid the free winds, under a clear sky—of their meal by the fragrant haycock, or under the shadow of some goodly oak, cheered by a concert of birds. How different to the dark alleys of cities! Shakspeare could put no greater wish into the mouth of a monarch wearied by ambition and courtly cares, than to make him exclaim,
"O God! methinks it were a happy life
Some have wrongly fancied that a life passed in the country must be devoid of interest. Such would be the case with those whose days had been spent in a constant state of excitement; but how happily and usefully life may be passed even in apparent solitude, let the works of Gilbert White and Bewick testify. To watch the progress of flowers, their periods of appearing, their different forms and qualities, the numerous insect tribes that hover around and within them; the habits of birds, the various forms of their nests, their departure and return; the different customs of animals, and the variety of trees, -are, in my estimation, far more continual sources of amusement and delight than either criticising an actor or applauding an opera-dancer. The latter grow irksome,—they are always or nearly the same-if they vary it is but in attitude or voice; while the former are daily revealing some new wonder-something is discovered that adds
to our knowledge—we gain another triumph over Nature, we progress in wisdom, and are led to admire and understand more the productions of the Omnipotent. We bring a bird into a city, imprison it in a cage-it sings--we are delighted with its music; and what more should we know respecting its habits had there not been men who, having watched it in its secret haunts, can tell us its food, how it builds, what time it visits our country, and when it departs ? But, even in spite of all this close investigation, we are in ignorance, and volumes have been written, and wise men puzzled, to discover the hiding-place of the swallow, a bird that resides with us during the summer, and then departs we know not whither even now. What is it but an acquaintance with Nature that has prevented us from worshipping the forms of animals, and kneeling down to the sun, moon, and stars, like the heathen of old ? Even in England our ancestors offered adoration to the oak, and paid reverence to the misletoe. I believe that religion is strengthened by contemplating Nature; that an investigation of its wonders, and a knowledge of the order and harmony which reign throughout the whole, have done much to prove the great goodness and wisdom of God—and that when we have once begun to admire this wonderful creation, we shall not fail to reverence the Creator.
What stores of beautiful poetry have been written about the country! Old Chaucer knew no greater pleasure than to walk forth into the fields in spring, and watch the opening flowers, and listen to the song of birds. In what lovely language has he embodied his adoration of the daisy :
When that the month of May
my book and my devotion,
And leaning on my elbow and my side,
All day looking upon the fair daisy." Shakspeare loved the country at all times and at all seasons ; there was nothing beautiful in Nature that
He who painted morning in such rich colours as the following must have often been upon the hill-tops when the sun arose.
“ The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,
Checkering the eastern clouds with streaks of light;
From forth day's pathway, made by Titan's wheels." He had also walked forth in the moonlight among old woods, and exclaimed,
“The moon shines bright ;-in such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees,
-Look how the floor of heaven
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubim.” Spenser too loved “the salvage woods” and flowery valleys, and there is no poet who has described the lovely and solitary beauties of Nature in a more admirable manner. Witness his description of May.
“ Then came fair May, the fairest maid on ground,
Deck'd all with dainties of her season's pride,
His description of a natural arbour also shows how closely he observed the minutest forms of Nature:
“ And in the thickest covert of that shade,
There was a pleasant arbour, not by art,
Fashion'd above within their inmost part.” There is a smell of fields over Milton's writings ; and when he became blind he only lamented that he could no longer view the lovely aspect of Nature. He knew
6. Each lane, and every alley green,
Dingle and bushy dell of the wild wood,
And every bosky bourn from side to side.”
The side of some hoar hill,
How beautifully does he scatter the fragrance of meadows over the senses in his description of a citizen sallying forth to enjoy the beauties of the country!
“ As one who long in populous city pent,
Where houses thick and sewers annoy the air,