Snippets 103. 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 February. Although he acknowledges that it can be a bleak month, he goes on to describe all the subtle changes that indicate the approach of spring.
Various signs of returning spring occur at different times in February. The woodlark, one of our earliest and sweetest songsters, often begins his note at the very entrance of the month; the thrush now commences his song, and tomtits are seen hanging, on the eaves of barns and thatched outhouses, particularly if the weather be snowy and severe; rooks now revisit their breeding-trees, and arrange the stations of their future nests. The harsh, loud voice of the missel thrush is now heard towards the end of the month; and, if the weather be mild, the hedge-sparrow renews its chirping-note; turkey-cocks now strut and gobble; partridges begin to pair; the house-pigeon has young; field-crickets open their holes, and owls hoot; gnats play about, and insects swarm under sunny hedges; the stone-curlew clamours, and frogs croak. By the end of February, the raven, too, generally lays its eggs, and begins to sit. About this time the green woodpecker is heard in the woods making a loud noise; the elder-tree discloses its flower-buds; the catkins of the hazel become very conspicuous in the hedges, and young leaves are seen budding on the gooseberry and currant bushes about the end of the month.
The winter, in fact, spite of occasional frosts and frowns, is over and gone, and the voice of the turtle-dove and the singing-bird is heard once more in our land…
What a country this used to be for jollity and heart’s ease; what a change there must have been! We see the ruins of old castles and old abbeys standing, and we think them beautiful. And we read of old feasts and festivals, and days on which the people of England came out into the sun, and the heart of gladness and kindly good fellowship was as one great dancing heart throughout the throng.
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