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Chambers, Robert, 1802-1871 / Chambers's book of days, a miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, including anecdote, biography & history, curiosities of literature and oddities of human life and character
Vol. I (1879)

May,   pp. [unnumbered]-714 PDF (97.6 MB)


Page 568

THE BOOK OF DAYS.
looks at least a portion of it. From this he
will catch glimpses of glen and glade, and see the
deer trooping through the long avenues, standing
under some broad-branched oak, or, with their
high antlers only visible, couching among the
cool fan-leaved fern. They cannot prosecute
him for looking through the great iron gates,
which are aptly mounted with grim stone griffins,
who ever stand rampant on the tall pillars, and
seem to threaten with their dead eyes every in-
truder, nor prevent him from admiring the long
high avenue of ancient elms, through which the
sunshine streams and quivers on the broad
carriage way as if it were canopied with a waving
network of gold. He sees the great lake glim-
mering far down, and making a light behind the
perspective of dark branches, and knows that
those moving specks of silver which are ever
crossing his vision are the stately swans sailing
to and fro; the cawing of rooks falls with a
pleasant sound upon his ear, as they hover around
the old ancestral trees, which have been a rookery
for centuries. Once there were pleasant footpaths
between those aged oaks, and beside those old
hawthorns-still covered with May-buds-that
led to neighbouring villages, which can only now
be reached by circuitous roads, that lie without the
park: alas, that no 'village Hampden' rose up to
do battle for the preservation of the old rights of
way ! Here and there an old stile, which forms
a picturesque object between the heavy trunks
to which it was claniped, is allowed to remain,
and that is almost all there is left to point out
the pleasant places through which those obli-
terated footpaths went winding along.
We have now a great increase of flowers, and
amongst them the graceful wood-sorrel-the true
Irish shamrock-the trefoil leaves of which are
heart-shaped, of a bright green, and a true
weather-glass, as they always shut up at the
approach of rain. The petals, which are beauti-
fully streaked with lilac, soon fade when the
flower is gathered, while the leaves yield the
purest oxalic acid, and are much sourer than the
common sorrel. Buttercups are now abundant,
and make the fields one blaze of gold, for they
grow higher than the generality of our grasses,
and so overtop the green that surrounds them.
Children may now be seen in country lanes and
suburban roads carrying them home by armfuls,
heads and tails mixed together, and trailing on
the ground. This common flower belongs to that
large family of plants which come under the
ranunculus genus, and not a better flower can be
found to illustrate botany, as it is easily taken to
pieces, and readily explained; the number five
being that of the sepals of calyx, petals, and
nectar-cup, which a child can remember. Sweet
woodroof now displays its small white flowers,
and those who delight in perfuming their ward-
robes will not fail to gather it, for it has the
smell of new hay, and retains its scent a length
of time, and is by many greatly preferred before
lavender. This delightful fragrance is hardly
perceptible when the plant is first gathered,
unless the leaves are bruised or rubbed between
the fingers; then the powerful odour is inhaled.
The sweet woodroof is rather a scarce plant, and
must be sought for in woods, about the trunks
568
of oaks-oak-leaf mould being the soil it most
delights in; though small, the white flowers are
as beautiful as those of the star-shaped jessamine.
Plentiful as red and white campions are, it is
very rare to find them both together, though
there is hardly a hedge in a sunny spot under
which they are not now in bloom. Like the
ragged robin, they are in many places still called
cuckoo-flowers, and what the ' cuckoo buds of
yellow hue' are, mentioned by Shakspere, has
never been satisfactorily explained.  We have
little doubt, when the names of flowers two
or three centuries ago were known to but few,
that many which bloomed about the time the
cuckoo appeared, were called cuckoo-flowers;
we can find at least a score bearing that name in
our old herbals. Few, when looking at the greater
stitchwort, now in flower, would fancy that that
large-shaped bloom was one of the family of
chickweeds ; as for the lesser stitchwort, it is
rarely found excepting in wild wastes, where
gorse and heather abound ; and we almost
wonder why so white and delicate a flower should
choose the wilderness to flourish in, and never
be found in perfection but in lonely places.
Several of the beautiful wild geraniums, com-
monly called crane's-bill, dove's-bill, and other
names, are now in flower, and some of them bear
foliage as soft and downy as those that are culti-
vated. Some have rich rose-coloured flowers,
others are dashed with deep purple, like the
heart's-ease, while the one known as herb Robert
is as beautiful as any of our garden flowers.
But it would make a long catalogue only to give
the names of all these beautiful wild geraniums
which are found in flower in May. But the
most curious of all plants now in bloom are the
orchises, some of which look like bees, flies,
spiders, and butterflies; for when in bloom you
might, at a distance, fancy that each plant was
covered with the insects after which it is named.
An orchis has only once to be seen, and the eye
is for ever familiar with the whole variety, for it
resembles no other flower, displaying nothing
that would seem capable of forming a seed vessel,
as both stamen and style are concealed. Like
the violet, it has a spur, and the bloom rises from
a twisted stalk.   The commonest, which is
hawked about the streets of London in April, is
the Early Purple, remarkable for the dark purple
spots on the leaves, but it seldom lives long.
Kent is the county for orchises, where several
varieties may now be found in flower.
(HISTORICAL.)
'May was the second month in the old Alban
calendar, the third in that of Romulus, and the
fifth in the one instituted by Numa Pompilius-
a station it has held from that distant date to
the present period. It consisted of twenty-two
days in the Alban, and of thirty-one in Romulus's
calendar; Numa deprived it of the odd day,
which Julius Cesar restored, since which it has
remained undisturbed.'-Brady. The most re-
ceivable account of the origin of the name of the
month is that which represents it as being
assigned in honour of the Majores, or Maiores,
the senate in the original constitution of Rome.
June being in like manner a compliment to the


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