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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 567

song where the first ceases, when they are far
beyond our power of hearing, as has been proved
by persons placed midway, and close to the rival
songsters, who have timed the intervals between,
and found that, to a second, one bird began the
instant the other was silent; though the distance
between was too far apart for human ears to
catch a note of the bird farthest from the listener,
the hands which marked the seconds on the
watches showed that one bird had never begun
to sing until the other had ended. You may
throw a stone among the foliage where the
nightingale is singing, and it will only cease for
a few moments, and move away a few feet, then
resume its song. At the end of this month, or
early in June, its nest, which is generally formed
of old oak leaves, may be found, lined only with
grass-a poor home for so sweet a singer, and not
unlike that in which many of our sweetest poets
were first cradled. As soon as the young are
hatched the male ceases to sing, losing his voice,
and making only a disagreeable croaking noise
when danger is near, instead of giving utterance
to the same sweet song
' That found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for
She stood in tears amid the alien corn.'
How enraptured must good old Izaak Walton
have been with the song of the nightingale, when
he exclaimed, 'Lord, what music hast Thou pro-
vided for the saints in heaven, when Thou
affordest bad men such music on earth.'
Butterflies are now darting about in every
direction, here seeming to play with one another
-a dozen together in places-there resting with
folded wings on some flower, then setting off in
that zig-zag flight which enables them to escape
their pursuers, as few birds can turn sudden
enough, when on the wing, to capture them.
What is that liquid nourishment, we often
wonder, which they suck up through their tiny
p robosces; is it dew, or the honey of flowers?
Examine the exquisite scales of their wings
through a glass, and then you will say that,
poetical as many of the names are by which
they are known, they are not equal to the
beauty they attempt to designate. Rose-shaded,
damask-dyed,    garden-carpet,  violet-spotted,
green-veined, and many another name beside,
conveys no notion of the jewels of gold and
silver, and richly-coloured precious stones, set
in the forms of the most beautiful flowers,
which adorn their wings, heads, and the under
part of their bodies, some portions of which
appear like plumes of the gaudiest feathers. Our
old poet Spenser calls the butterfly 'Lord of all
the works of Nature,' who reigns over the air
and earth, and feeds on flowers, taking
' Whatever thing doth please the eye.'
What a poor name is Red Admiral for that beau-
tiful and well-known butterfly which may be
driven out of almost any bed of nettles, and is
richly banded with black, scarlet, and blue!
Very few of these short-lived beauties survive
the winter; such as do, come out with a sad,
tattered appearance on the following spring,
and with all their rich colours faded. By the
end of this month most of the trees will have
donned their new attire, nor will they ever
appear more beautiful than now, for the foliage
of summer is darker; the delicate spring-green
is gone by the end of June, and the leaves then
no longer look fresh and new. Nor is the foliage
as yet dense enough to hide the traces of the
branches, which, like graceful maidens, still show
their shapes through their slender attire-abeauty
that will be lost when they attain the full-bour-
geoned matronliness of summer. But trees are
rarely to be seen to perfection in woods or
forests, unless it be here and there one or two
standing in some open space, for in these places
they are generally too crowded together. When
near, if not over close, they show best in some
noble avenue, especially if each tree has plenty
of room to stretch out its arms, without too
closely elbowing its neighbour; then a good
many together can be taken in by the eye at
once, from the root to the highest spray, and
grand do they look as the aisle of some noble
cathedral. In clumps they are 'beautiful ex-
ceedingly,' scattered as it were at random, when
no separate branch is seen, but all the foliage is
massed together like one immense tree, resting
on its background of sky. Even on level ground
a clump of trees has a pleasing appearance, for
the lower branches blend harmoniously with the
grass, while the blue air seems to float about the
upper portions like a transparent veil. Here,
too, we see such colours as only a few of our
first-rate artists succeed in imitating; the sun-
shine that falls golden here, and deepens into
amber there, touched with bronze, then the dark
green, almost black in the shade, with dashes of
purple and emerald-green as the first sward of
showery April. We have often fancied, when
standing on some eminence that overlooked a
wide stretch of woodland, we have seen such
terraces along the sweeps of foliage as were too
beautiful for anything excepting angels to walk
upon. While thus walking and musing through
the fields and woods at this pleasant season of
the year, a contented and imaginative man can
readily fancy that all these quiet paths and
delightful prospects were made for him, or that
he is a principal shareholder in Nature's great
freehold. He stops in winter to see the hedger
and ditcher at work, or to look at the men repair-
ing the road, and it gives him as much pleasure
to see the unsightly gal) filled up with young
quicksets,' the ditch embankment repaired, and
the hole in the high road made sound, as it does the
wealthy owner of the estate, who has to pay the
men thus employed for their labour. And when
he passes that way again, he stops to see how
much the quicksets have grown, or whether the
patch on the embankment is covered with grass
and wild flowers, or if the repaired hollow in the
road is sound, and has stood the drying winds
of March, the heavy rains of April, and is glad
to find it standing level and hard in the sunshine
of May. If it is a large enclosed park, and the
proprietor has put up warnings that within there
are steel traps, spring guns, and ' most biting
laws' for trespassers, still the contented wanderer
is sure to find some gentle eminence that over-

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