This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
"Fan pledges of a fruitful tree,
Why do ye fall so last?
Your date is not so post But ye may stay yet here awhile, To blush, and sweetly smile,
And go at last
"What were ye born to be? An hour or half's delight, And so to bid good night?
Tis a pity Nature bro't ye form
Merely to shew your worth-Then lose ye quite.
"But ye hare lovely leaves, where we
May read how soon things have
Their end; none e'er so brave But after they have shewn their pride, Like us, awhile, they glide
Into the grave." - Rob't Enrrick.
The freshness and spirit of old Izaak Walton seems to breathe through these lines - and then his rural poetry recalls the time when maids went Maying, and fairies danced the lea.
In this work-day, money-making world, we have east aside, as old fashioned garments are thrown by, all taste for the simple habits and rural pleasures that marked our ancestors. The dead go to the grave undecked with the flowers which the hand of duteous affection used formerly to lay upon the pulseless heart and clay cold brow. The wreath that used to be suspended in the church - that pure and emblematic hatchment which even yet is hung up by the peasant children of France and Italy - is no longer displayed to tell that one bud or one blossom has dropped from the family tree to wither in the duet The green turf that covers the remains of the loved one is no more strewn with flowers. Is our love less warm, or has fashion forbidden the exercise of the kindly feelings of our hearts, that we no longer "Bring flowers for the brow of the early dead".
The artist decks our brides and brides-maidens with roses and orange blossoms, but the fragrance of nature is wanting - the dewey freshness of buds and flowers from the garden and field.
Where now are our May Queens ? How lovely is the remembrance of May-day in the meadows, on the banks of the river Daveny in Suffolk, where I passed my Happy childhood. What weeks of joyful anticipation that day gave birth to. My father's family came from the North of England, where still among the fells and lakes many of the rural sports and primitive customs of the people prevail, and he encouraged in us a love for May-day sports.
I was one of the youngest and a pet, and so my sisters always conferred on me the May crown and sceptre; and truly, for the time being, no queen could be more happy. My crown, a flowery chaplet - my sceptre, a flower-encircled wand of fresh cut hazel from the copswood - and my throne, a green mole hill in the meadow by the clear flowing river, while all the sisterhood danced round and sung the old pastoral song of "Kate of Aberdeen." The crown was worn till night and then cast aside to wither in the dust.
I have often heard my mother tell how she was frightened on the night of May eve by one of my sisters walking in her sleep. The children wore in the habit; on May morning, of rising up by sunrise to go Maying, and to gather laps full and baskets fall of cowslips, primroses, blue bells, and other spring flowers, to make garlands with. My mother was in bed but not asleep, when the door of her bedroom slowly opened and a little figure in a long white night-dress came in; passing the night light and the table, it came to the side of the bed and held up the full folds of the night gown in its little hands, saying, as it did so, "Fowers Lila, Powers Lila - more towers." Her dark eyes were rayless and wide open; but she was sleeping, though her spirit was abroad gathering flowers for the coming festival of May-day.
Not more than half a mile from the old house where I passed my childhood, there was a deep, sandy road called the St. Margaret's road; from this there branched off a little narrow lane, which we called the little lane; on one side it was shut in by steep sand banks, and on the other by a high grassy slope, the boundary of some upland meadow; on this grew a wild, irregular growth of shrubbery and tall oak trees. Among this jungle, the woodbine and wild briar rose entwined themselves, mixed with brambles and briars, forming luxuriant bowers all carpeted beneath with wood strawberries and wild flowers of every hue. A little tinkling rill that a child might step across, run down on either side this sylvan lane; from this slender streamlet we drank the most limpid water from nature's own chalice - the hollow of our hands - or sipped it like the fairies we had read so much about, from the acorn cups that strewed the grass. The banks of the rill were lined with violets - deep purple, fragrant violets - pale primroses, and the little sunbright's celandine, with that graceful meadow saxifrage, (known in olden time by the homely name of ladies' 6mocks), all silver white, as Siukebfkabe calls them.
What stores of ripe strawberries we gathered in that little lane, and threaded, like crimson beads, upon a stalk of dried grass - a little peace offering for our mother when we returned with soiled frocks, or our leave of absence out-stayed.
This little lane was our childish paradise - our garden of Eden - and in it we laid out and planted a garden for ourselves. Like Canadian squatters, we took to ourselves right of soil and made a free settlement sans ceremonie.
Our garden was laid out right daintily with a grotto of green moss decorated with striped snail shells, the walks were sanded, and the parterres planted with double daisies and violets, polyanthuses and sweet Williams, daffodils, snowdrops, and cloth of gold crocusses. Our trowel was an old rusty iron ladle and a broken bladed carving knife, while we daily watered our garden with an old bettered tin tea-pot and a leaky japaned mug; and yet, in defiance of these rude imple-mentis our flowers grew and the garden blossomed in the wilderness; and there, sheltered from sun and shower, among the bowery honeysuckles, we sat reclined on the green turf bank, listen-ing to the poems and tales that my two eldest sisters used to relate. Even then history was the theme that most delighted those two most remarkable sisters,* and many was the tale of thrilling interest that was recited to the juvenile auditors, who little thought that those talents were at a more distant date to claim the approbation of an applauding public.
Many years after this, I revisited the little lane. A few crocusses and daffodils, choked with long grass and weeds, were the only flowers that remained to "mark where a garden bad been," I stooped and drank of the little rill and picked a nosegay of sweet violets as a memento of the haunts of my childhood.
Tell me, ye who sigh for the crowded ball-room and gay theatre, what are the pleasures of the world compared to the memory of days spent in early youth among the Flowers of May.
Several articles (among them the proceedings of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society) prepared for this number are crowded out. We shall endeavor to meet all demands upon our pages next month.