Glorious August

Dedham ValeSnippets 86. 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. For this snippet let’s look at Howitt’s thoughts on the month of August. He clearly had a low opinion of lawyers and politicians, which is far from being a modern phenomenon!

There is no month more glorious than August. It has a serene splendour and maturity about it that are delightful. The soil is dry, the sky is bright and beautiful, witb scattered and silvery clouds. The foliage is full and luxuriant; the hayfields, mown in June and July, are now full of the richest grass, and cattle wander through them in finest condition, or lie in groups worthy of a painter’s hand. There is a sort of second spring in trees, the oak and the elm especially putting forth new shoots of a lighter tint. The hedges put on the same vernal-looking hue; and the heather on the moors, and scabiouses, blue chicory, and large white convolvulus, hawkweeds, honeysuckles, and the small blue campanula, make the fields gay. The nuts, still green, hang in prodigal clusters on the tall old hedges of woodland lanes. Young frogs, in thousands, are issuing from the waters, and traversing the roads; and birds, having terminated their spring cares, are out enjoying their families in the sunny and plentiful fields…

Towards the end of the month symptoms of the year’s decline begin to press upon our attention. The morning and evening air has an autumnal freshness. The hedge-fruit has acquired a tinge of ruddiness. The berries of the mountain-ash have assumed their beautiful orange hue; and swallows twitter as they fly, or sit perched in a row upon a rail, or the dead bough of a tree. The swift has taken its departure. That beautiful phenomenon, the white fog, is again beheld rolling its snowy billows along the valleys; the dark tops of trees emerging from it as from a flood.

Happy are they who have not had their holidays. Many a school has had its day of relaxation, and is again collected. The weary teachers have flown to seaside, and mountain, and foreign scene, and have come back refreshed for another five months’ exertion. Many a boy and girl have enjoyed the sweets of home, and are once more at home in their tasks. But, lucky fellows! the lawyers and law-makers are now let loose from their courts and offices, from their midnight debates and their manufacture of bad laws, and are the biggest boys in the country. Never for the last six months have they been half so rational. The lawyers, instead of entangling poor human dupes in their webs, are catching flies on the banks of Highland streams; instead of hooking poor-devil clients, they are hooking trout and salmon. Pray Heaven that they might stick to that innocent sport for ever! And the law-makers — good luck to their grouse-shooting and deer-stalking! How sensible, compared with making mile-long speeches that nobody reads, and growing crops of midnight mushrooms, called acts of Parliament!

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