Snippets 61. A Country Book: for the field, the forest, and the fireside by William Howitt was published in 1859. This charming book contains one chapter per month, each focussing on country life at the relevant time of the year. You can read more quotes from this book about November in Snippets 38 and January in Snippets 51. For this Snippet let’s take a look at what Howitt had to say about April in the British countryside, with its unpredictable weather but own special beauty and hope for better things to come…
March yet lingers with us in reality, though he is gone in name. We have the presence of his east winds, which so much prevail through the English springs, and are, indeed, the great drawbacks to their pleasantness. April and May, the months which the poets have so much delighted to paint as everything delicious and poetical, suffer too frequently from the tyranny of the east wind. We are never, in this country, sure of steady, genial weather till well advanced in June. But fickleness and uncertainty have always been the character of our climate; and who shall blame the seasons for standing up for their ancient character? Who shall even blame the climate that has produced such men as Englishmen? The men whose science, literature, and enterprise have become the great monuments of human progress over three-quarters of the globe.
If our springs be uncertain, no doubt we enjoy the more the fine days and the occasional fine seasons when we do get them. There is a feeling about the spring months after all, be they bad as they may, which is peculiar — which can never be annihilated — and which, therefore, amid all shivering winds, sleet, and snow, and fitting sunshine, has something pleasant in it. Thus, in April, the country-people often wonder why we have not April weather, and then they explain it very satisfactorily to themselves — it is still little more than old March. It is still the time of the year which was the March of our ancestors during the old style; and the April of the poets is but just beginning. Others tell us that it is now Blackthorn Winter; that is, the time when the blackthorn is about to blossom; which, say they, has always been notorious for cold weather, easterly and north-easterly winds, sleet, hail, and sometimes snow. The blackthorns, and the plums, too, in our orchards, show themselves thickly clustered with buds, which are ready to burst open, the whiteness of the blossom half revealed, like the smile of an arch cottage damsel, who says, spite of dangers abroad, “I have half a mind to sally out.”
Cold as the winds are, the buds of many trees are daily swelling and growing more conspicuous, as if they must come forward, be the weather what it will. The lilac looks really green; it presents itself an object of bushy thickness; it is no longer clustered with mere buds, but flushed with half-unclosed leaves, and the bunches of the future blossoms are conspicuous amongst them. The yellow rose is nearly as forward, but its leaf-clusters are more thinly scattered. The bursting blossoms of the pear stand with a lavish promise of beauty and plenty along every bough; the rose-bushes have sent forth not merely leaves, but long crimson shoots; the syringa is perfectly clothed with its pale-green leaves, amongst which its buds hang abundantly; the taccamahac is studded with its yellow masses of aromatic and gummy leaves; and as you walk along your plantations and in your fields, you are struck with the large, pale-green, gummy buds of the chestnut, which are swelling and bursting forth impatiently, and brightening up the woodside in every passing gleam of the sun.
They seem to say, as plainly as possible, “Let us have but one day’s warmth, and we shall all rush out like a pack of schoolboys for their noonday play.” The hedges are nearly as vigorously impatient, and even patches of thorough green show themselves here and there; you cannot tell why, for there is no more sun and no less east wind there than anywhere else.
Such is often the opening of April. It is not winter — it is not summer — it is spring, the fickle and chilly spring of dear Old England; and it is accompanied by its peculiar objects and aspects. Spite of all the coldness and the backwardness — spite of the prognostications that the summer dare not come, and the cuckoo will this year have “to sing on a bare thorn” — besides those buds and unwrapping leaves which we have already noticed, a greenness will steal along the sheltered hedgesides of fields, will overrun the southern banks, and flourish in the bowery lanes.
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