Page images

tone of sympathy may we affirm that in the climate of England there are, for the lover of Nature, days which are worth whole months — I might say even years. One of these favored days sometimes occurs in springtime, when that soft air is breathing over the blossoms and new-born verdure which inspired Buchanan with his beautiful . Ode to the First of May’; the air which, in the luxuriance of his fancy, he likens to that of the golden age — to that which gives motion to the funereal cypresses on the banks of Lethe ; to the air which is to salute beatified spirits when expiatory fires shall have consumed the earth, with all her habitations. But it is in autumn that days of such affecting influence most frequently intervene. The atmosphere becomes refined, and the sky rendered more crystalline, as the vivifying heat of the year abates; the lights and shadows are more delicate ; the coloring is richer and more finely harmonized; and, in this season of stillness, the ear being unoccupied, or only gently excited, the sense of vision becomes more susceptible of its appropriate enjoyments. A resident in a country like this we are treating of will agree with me that the presence of a lake is indispensable to exhibit in perfection the beauty of one of these days; and he must have experienced, while looking on the unruffled waters, that the imagination by their aid is carried into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable. The reason of this is that the heavens are not only brought down into the bosom of the earth, but that the earth is mainly looked at, and thought of, through the medium of a purer element. The happiest time is when the equinoctial gales

are departed; but their fury may probably be called to mind by the sight of a few shattered boughs, whose leaves do not differ in color from the faded foliage of the stately oaks from which these relics of the storm depend; all else speaks of tranquillity; not a breath of air, no restlessness of insects, and not a moving object perceptible, except the clouds gliding in the depth of the lake, or the traveller passing along, an inverted image, whose motion seems governed by the quiet of a time to which its archetype, the living person, is perhaps insensible; or it may happen that the figure of one of the larger birds — a raven or a heron - is crossing silently among the reflected clouds, while the voice of the real bird, from the element aloft, gently awakens in the spectator the recollection of appetites and instincts, pursuits and occupations, that deform and agitate the world, yet have no power to prevent Nature from putting on an aspect capable of satisfying the most intense cravings for the tranquil, the lovely, and the perfect, to which man, the noblest of her creatures, is subject.”

His description of the Cumbrian cottages —

“ Clustered like stars some few, but single most,

And lurking dimly in their shy retreats,
Or glancing on each other cheerful looks,
Like separated stars with clouds between "

is exceedingly happy.

“The dwelling-houses and contiguous outhouses are, in many instances, of the color of the native rock, out of which they have been built ; but frequently the

dwelling, or fire-house as it is ordinarily called, has been distinguished from the barn or byre by roughcast and whitewash, which, as the inhabitants are not hasty in renewing it, in a few years acquires, by the influence of weather, a tint at once sober and variegated. As these houses have been, from father to son, inhabited by persons engaged in the same occupations, yet necessarily with changes in their circumstances, they have received without incongruity additions and accommodations adapted to the needs of each successive occupant, who, being for the most part proprietor, was at liberty to follow his own fancy; so that these humble dwellings remind the contemplative spectator of a production of Nature, and may (using a strong expression) rather be said to have grown than to have been erected — to have risen, by an instinct of their own, out of the native rock — so little is there of formality, such is their wildness and beauty. Among the numerous recesses and projections in the walls, and in the different stages of their roofs, are seen bold and harmonious effects of contrasted sunshine and shadow. It is a favorable circumstance that the strong winds which sweep down the valleys induced the inhabitants, at a time when the materials for building were easily procured, to furnish many of these dwellings with substantial porches; and such as have not this defence are seldom unprovided with a projection of two large slates over their thresholds. Nor will the singular beauty of the chimneys escape the eye of the attentive traveller. Sometimes a low chimney, almost upon a level with the roof, is overlaid with a slate, supported upon four slender pillars, to prevent the wind from driving the smoke down the chimney. Others are of a quadrangular shape, rising one or two feet above the roof; which low square is often surmounted by a tall cylinder, giving to the cottage chimney the most beautiful shape in which it is ever seen. Nor will it be too fanciful or refined to remark that there is a pleasing harmony between a tall chimney of this circular form, and the living column of smoke, ascending from it through the still air. These dwellings, mostly built, as has been said, of rough unhewn stone, are roofed with slates, which were rudely taken from the quarry before the present art of splitting them was understood; and are, therefore, rough and uneven in their surface, so that both the coverings and sides of the houses have furnished places of rest for the seeds of lichens, mosses, ferns, and flowers. Hence buildings, which in their very form call to mind the processes of Nature, do thus, clothed in part with a vegetable garb, appear to be received into the bosom of the living principle of things, as it acts and exists among the woods and fields; and, by their color and their shape, affectingly direct the thoughts to that tranquil course of Nature and simplicity, along which the humbleminded inhabitants have, through so many generations, been led. Add the little garden with its shed for beehives, its small bed of pot-herbs, and its borders and patches of flowers for Sunday posies, with sometimes a choice few too much prized to be plucked; an orchard of proportioned size; a cheese-press, often supported by some tree near the door; a cluster of embowering sycamores for summer shade ; with a tall fir through which the winds sing when other trees are leafless; the little rill, or household spout, murmuring in all seasons; combine these incidents and images together, and you have the representative idea of a mountain cottage in this country so beautifully formed in itself, and so richly adorned by the hand of Nature.

“Till within the last sixty years' there was no communication between any of these vales by carriageroads; all bulky articles were transported on packhorses. Owing, however, to the population not being concentrated in villages, but scattered, the valleys themselves were intersected, as now, by innumerable lanes and pathways leading from house to house and from field to field. These lanes, where they are fenced by stone walls, are mostly bordered with ashes, hazels, wild roses, and beds of tall fern, at their base ; while the walls themselves, if old, are overspread with mosses, small ferns, wild strawberries, the geranium, and lichens; and if the wall happen to rest against a bank of earth, it is sometimes almost wholly concealed by a rich facing of stone-fern. It is a great advantage to a traveller or resident, that these numerous lanes and paths, if he be a zealous admirer of Nature, will lead him on into all the recesses of the country, so that the hidden treasures of its landscapes may, by an ever-ready guide, be laid open to his eyes.”

A much more recent writer, Mrs. E. Lynn Linton, in her charming work, full of graceful description and

1 This was written in 1810.

« PreviousContinue »