The heather is very important as an article of food to bees. They are exceedingly fond of the heather-bells; and, notwithstanding the assertion of Gerarde that "of these flowers bees do gather bad honie," access to the plant enables them to make a very large quantity of honey of the finest flavour; so that in the neighbourhood of a mountain or heath there need seldom be any anxiety as to the sufficiency of the supply of flowers for them. In Berwickshire, when garden flowers become scarce in the months of August and September, the peasants carry their bee-hives to the moor-lands for an autumn pasture; just as in Greece and Egypt they are placed in boats and taken up the rivers by night, to give them fresh feeding-grounds; the boat being moored by day, to afford the bees an opportunity of seeking the flowers on the banks. There is something very poetical in the idea of tribute being thus levied on the very flowers of the field; and though I do not know that any poet has actually made use of it, very many have recorded how well the bee loves the heather,
"The tiny heath-flowers now begin to blow; The russet moor assumes a richer glow; The powdery bells, that glance in purple bloom, Fling from their scented cups a sweet perfume. While from their cells, still moist with morning dew, The wandering wild bee sips the honied glue;" says Leyden; whom Scott, entitles the possessor of:
"Many-languaged lore;" and another takes up the burden thus:-
* * * "The Erica here, That o'er the Caledonian hills sublime Spreads its dark mantle, where the bees delight To seek their purest honey".
The Berwickshire naturalist, so often quoted, re-marks that the heather (and I suspect very many other plants) appears to be affected in the quantity of its saccharine secretions by the geological nature of the soil on which it grows; observing, that in the neighbourhood of Wooler, in Berwickshire, there is a sandstone, and a porphyritic soil, and that on the latter the bees produce much larger quantities of honey than on the former.
Thus we see that heather has other economic uses than those recorded in the well-known lines;
"Sweet flower! from nature's indulgence thou'rt cast, Thy home's on the cold heath, thy nurse is the blast; No shrub spreads its branches to shelter thy form, Thou art torn by the winds, thou art bent by the storm: But the bird of the moor on thy substance is fed, And thou giv'st to the hare of the mountain a bed".
And yet, even in pointing out these uses, it is well to record an earnest caution against that weak and vain enthusiasm which gratifies its own microscopic feelings with the belief that it does all that is need-ful, when it yields up the incense of its gratitude for the mighty works of God "whose thoughts are very deep," because it discovers in them an adap-tion to some petty need, some inconsiderable or ephemeral want, and deems that for its pleasure all was made. It is in the mighty unity of Creation that we must learn to look for the comprehensive-ness of His power and love. It is in the oneness of His universe that we must seek to trace the "cause of every cause," never forgetting that while we humbly but heartily acknowledge the beneficence of Him, without whom "not a sparrow falleth to the ground," yet we must never pause in gratified self-contemplation as if we had fathomed and ex-pounded His mighty works when we have, in truth, but learned to apply some created thing to our own requirements, and when we have no more sounded its appointed office in the "course of nature" than the savage, who makes the woods his abode, has comprehended the manner in which the trees of the forest act as chemical and mechanical preservators of the balance of atmospheric purity, or as the ame-liorators of climate.
The doctrine of final causes can never act practically on our minds while we are content with the "adaption of means to end" which we fancy we perceive when we see that the dust which annoyed us in some summer's walk is laid by the thunder-shower that fell upon the path! I speak this, not to discourage the spirit which sees, and seeks to see, the hand of God in every event of life, believing as I do, that the study of His works is, and ever will be, inductive, - leading us from the less, up to the greater, even to the Creator of all; but I do so on account of the growing inclination* to limit His power to the level of our conceptions; and to deem an object fulfilled, if it be but subservi-ent to some trifling comfort of our own. The habit is one pre-eminently tending to discontent, for it un-duly exalts our personal pretensions; and tending to discontent, it too frequently leads on to disbelief. If we gaze with self-complacent gratitude on the shower which freshens and bedews our path, only because it does so, our danger is, that when we learn that the lightning flash which accompanied it laid down in death some parent's only child, the late spirit of petty and selfish gratulation mingling, almost unconsciously, with the awe and sympathy we feel, will give rise first to a questioning, then to a repining, and next - if carried to its last extreme - to an unbelieving feeling.
The man for whose private convenience the physical laws of the universe are - as he thinks - so wonderfully altered, is not he who bends with the most undoubting submission before the blow, when the hand of God gathers sorrow darkly around him; and the joy, or the stay, or the very hope, of his life is taken from him; nor will he be prepared to say in earnestness, "Thy will be done." We know that He who covers himself "with light as with a garment; who stretcheth out the heavens like a curtain; who layeth the beams of his cham-bers in the waters; who maketh the clouds his chariot; who walketh upon the wings of the wind;" is also He who "causeth grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring food out of the earth." We know .
* I need not mention the works to which I allude.
"That not a flower can fade, or die Unnoticed by His watchful eye;" and from that knowledge we gather our sweetest consolation, our most certain hope, and in that hope we humbly, yet confidently strive to trace His hand in every visible thing which spreads in beauty before our eyes, His love in every occurrence of life, even though to our dimmed eyes it be utterly inscrutable, and in this knowledge, this endeavour, every one ought to partake; as a thing wholly different from the too arrogant, too positive spirit to which I have alluded.
Mention has been made of the general effect of beauty produced by the heather, but not less is that which we perceive on a minuter examination of the different species; some blooming:
* * " With bells like amethyst, and then.
Pale and shaded, like a maiden's cheek "With gradual blushes, other-while as white As rime that hangs upon the frozen spray".