Snippets 68. 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, January in Snippets 51 and April in Snippets 61. For this snippet let’s look at Howitt’s thoughts on the month of May, a month he felt was full of joy and free from care:
Go out all ye who can into the country and see the great festival of May! See the village greens, where the maypoles once collected about them all the population of the place to rejoice. See the woods to which the young people used to go out before daylight, a-maying. See the fields, deep with richest grass and flowers, where children, in this beautiful holiday of Nature, have from age to age run and gathered pinaforesful of perishable beauty and fragrance. Pace the river-sides, where poets have walked and mused on songs in honour of May. Sit on stiles where lovers have sat, and dreamt that life was a May month, to be followed by no autumn of care, no winter of death. Gaze on the clear sky, where, spite of death and care, the word “Immortality” is written in the crystal dome of Heaven. Enjoy that beauty which can come only from an eternal source of beauty; listen to that joy singing from the throats of birds and the hum of insect wings — joy that must come from an eternal source of joy; and let the holiday heart strengthen itself in the assurance that all this scene of enjoyment is meant to be enjoyed, and not in vain.
The young people going out “a-maying” is an expression that might require some explanation. As part of the May Day celebrations, young people would go out picking flowers. Robert Herrick (1591-1674) wrote the poem Corinna’s Going A-Maying which gives a good example of the phrase:
Come, we’ll abroad; and let’s obay
The Proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying.
If you enjoyed this “snippet” please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.