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- The Recreations of A Country Parson - 20/63 -


yards of your door; and the green shady little spot that comes up to your very window. The former is no very great temptation to the busy scholar of rural tastes; the latter is almost irresistible. A hundred yards are a long way to go, with purpose prepense of enjoying something so simple as the green earth. After having walked even a hundred yards, you feel that you need a more definite aim. And the grass and trees seem very far away, if you see them at the end of a vista of washing your hands, and putting on another coat and other boots, and still more of putting on gloves and a hat. Give me the little patch of grass, the three or four shady trees, the quiet corner of the shrubbery, that comes up to the study window, and which you can reach without even the formality of passing through the hall and out by the front door. If you wish to enjoy nature in the summer-time, you must attend to all these little things. What stout old gentleman but knows that when he is seated snugly in his easy chair by the winter evening fireside, he would take up and read many pages in a volume which lay within reach of his arm, though he would do without the volume, if in order to get it he had to take the slight trouble of rising from his chair and walking to a table half a dozen yards off? Even so must nature be brought within easy reach of even the true lover of nature; otherwise on a hundred occasions, all sorts of little, fanciful hindrances will stand between him and her habitual appreciation. A very small thing may prevent your doing a thing which you even wish to do; but which you do not wish with any special excitement, and which you may do at any time. I daresay some reader would have written months since to a friend in India to whom he promised faithfully to write frequently, but that when he sat down once or twice to write, and pulled out his paper-drawer, lie found that all the thin Indian paper was done. And so the upshot is, that the friend has been a year out; and you have never written to him at all.

But to return to the point from which this deviation proceeded, I repeat, that on a fine summer morning in the country it is excessively difficult to take to your work. Apart from the repellent influence which is in work itself, you think that you will miss so much. You go out after breakfast (with a wide-awake hat, and no gloves) into the fresh atmosphere. You walk round the garden. You look particularly at the more eminent roses, and the largest trees. You go to the stable-yard, and see what is doing there. There are twenty things to think of: numberless little directions to give. You see a weedy corner, and that must not be suffered: you see a long spray of a climbing rose that needs training. You look into the corn-chest: the corn is almost finished. You have the fact impressed upon you that the old potatoes are nearly done, and the new ones hardly ready for use. These things partake of the nature of care: if you do not feel very well, you will regard them as worries. But it is no care nor worry to walk down to your gate, to lean upon it, and to look at the outline of the hills: nor to go out with your little children, and walk slowly along the country lane outside your gate, relating for the hundredth time the legend of the renowned giant-killer, or the enchanted horse that flew through the air; to walk on till you come to the bridge, and there sit down, and throw in stones for your dog to dive after, while various shouts (very loud to come from such little mouths) applaud his success. How crystal-clear the water of the river! It is six feet deep, yet you may see every pebble of its bed. An undefined laziness possesses you. You would like to sit here, and look, and think, all day. But of course you will not give in to the temptation. Slowly you return to your door: unwillingly you enter it: reluctantly you take to your work. Until you have got somewhat into the spirit of your task, you cannot help looking sometimes at the roses which frame your window, and the green hill you see through it, with white sheep. And even when you have got your mind under control, and the lines flow more willingly from your pen, you cannot but look out occasionally into the sunshiny, shady corner in your view, and think you should be there. And when the prescribed pages are at length completed, how delightful to lock them up, and be off into the air again! You are far happier now than you were in the morning. The shadow of your work was upon you then: now you may with a pleased conscience, and under no sense of pressure, saunter about, and enjoy your little domain. Many things have been accomplished since you went indoors. The weeds are gone from the corner: the spray of the rose lias been trained. The potato-beds have been examined: the potatoes will be all ready in two days more. Sit down in the shade, warm yet cool, of a great tree. Now is the time to read the Saturday Review, especially the article that pitches into you. What do you care for it? I don't mean that you despise it: I mean that it causes you no feeling but one of amusement and pleasure. You feel that it is written by a clever man and a gentleman: you know that there is not a vestige of malice in it. You would like to shake hands with the writer, and to thank him for various useful hints. As for reviewing which is truly malignant--that which deals in intentional misrepresentation and coarse abuse--it is practically unknown in respectable periodicals. And wherever you may find it (as you sometimes may) you ought never to be angry with the man who did it: you ought to be sorry for him. Depend upon it, the poor fellow is in bad health or in low spirits: no one but a man who is really unhappy himself will deliberately set himself to annoy any one else. It is the misery, anxiety, poverty, which are wringing the man's heart, that make their pitiful moan in that bitter article. Make the poor man better off, and he will be better natured.

And so, my friend, now that our task is finished, let us go out in this kindly temper to enjoy the summer day. But you must first assure your mind that your work is really finished. You cannot thus simply enjoy the summer day, if you have a latent feeling rankling at your heart that you are neglecting something that you ought to do. The little jar of your moral being caused by such a feeling, will be like the horse-hair shirt, will be like the peas in the pilgrim's shoes. So, clerical reader, after you have written your allotted pages of sermon, and answered your few letters, turn to your tablet-diary, or whatever contrivance you have for suggesting to your memory the work you have to do. If you have marked down some mere call to make, that may fairly enough be postponed on this hot day. But look at your list of sick, and see when you visited each last, and consider whether there be any you ought to visit to-day. And if there be, never mind though the heat be sweltering and the roads dusty and shadeless: never mind though the poor old man or woman lives five miles off, and though your horse is lame: get ready, and walk away as slowly as you can, and do your duty. You are not the reader I want: you are not the man with whom I wish to think of summer days: if you could in the least enjoy the afternoon, or have the faintest pleasure in your roses and your grass, with the thought of that neglected work hanging over you. And though you may return four hours hence, fagged and jaded, you will sit with a pleased heart down to dinner, and you will welcome the twilight when it comes, with the cheerful sense of duty done and temptation resisted. But upon my ideal summer day, I suppose that after looking over your sick-list, and all your memoranda, you find that there is nothing to do that need take you to-day beyond your own little realm. And so, with the delightful sense of leisure to breathe and think, you walk forth into the green shade to spend the summer afternoon. Bring with you two or three books: bring the Times that came that morning: you will not read much, but it is pleasant to know that you may read if you choose: and then sit down upon a garden-seat, and think and feel. Do you not feel, my friend of even five-and-thirty, that there is music yet in the mention of summer days? Well, enjoy that music now, and the vague associations which are summoned up by the name. Do not put off the enjoyment of these things to some other day. You will never have more time, nor better opportunity. The little worries of the present cease to sting in the pensive languor of the season. Enjoy the sunshine and the leaves while they last: they will not last long. Grasp the day and hold it and rejoice in it: some time soon you will find of a sudden that the summer time has passed away. You come to yourself, and find it is December. The earth seems to pause in its orbit in the dreary winter days: it hurries at express speed through summer. You wish you could put on a break, and make time go on more slowly. Well, watch the sandgrains as they pass. Remark the several minutes, yet without making it a task to do so. As you sit there, you will think of old summer days long ago: of green leaves long since faded: of sunsets gone. Well, each had its turn: the present has nothing more. And let us think of the past without being lackadaisical. Look now at your own little children at play: that sight will revive your flagging interest in life. Look at the soft turf, feel the gentle air: these things are present now. What a contrast to the Lard, repellent earth of winter! I think of it like the difference between the man of sternly logical mind, and the genial, kindly man with both head and heart! I take it for granted that you agree with me in holding such to be the true type of man. Not but what some people are proud of being all head and no heart. There is no flummery about them. It is stern, severe sense and principle. Well, my friends, say I to such, you are (in a moral sense) deficient of a member. Fancy a mortal hopping through creation, and boasting that he was born with only one leg! Or even if you have a little of the kindly element, but very little when compared with the logical, you have not much to boast of. Your case is analogous to that of the man who has two legs indeed, but one of them a great deal longer than the other.

It is pleasanter to spend the summer days in an inland country place, than by the seaside. The sea is too glaring in sunshiny weather; the prospects are too extensive. It wearies eyes worn by much writing and reading to look at distant hills across the water. The true locality in which to enjoy the summer time is a richly-wooded country, where you have hedges and hedge-rows, and clumps of trees everywhere: where objects for the most part are near to you; and, above all, are green. It is pleasant to live in a district where the roads are not great broad highways, in whose centre you feel as if you were condemned to traverse a strip of arid desert stretching through the landscape; and where any carriage short of a four-in-hand looks so insignificantly small. Give me country lanes: so narrow that their glare does not pain the eye upon even the sunniest day: so narrow that the eye without an effort takes in the green hedges and fields on either side as you drive or walk along.

And now, looking away mentally from this cool shady verdure amid which we are sitting, let us think of summer days elsewhere. Let us think of them listlessly, that we may the more enjoy the quiet here: as a child on a frosty winter night, snug in his little bed, puts out a foot for a moment into the chilly expanse of sheet that stretches away from the warm nest in which he lies, and then pulls it swiftly back again, enjoying the cozy warmth the more for this little reminder of the bitter chill. Here, where the air is cool, pure, and soft, let us think of a hoarding round some old house which the labourers are pulling down, amid clouds of the white, blinding, parching dust of lime, on a sultry summer day. I can hardly think of any human position as worse, if not intended directly as a position of torture. I picture, too, a crowded wharf on a river in a great town, with ships lying alongside. There is a roar of passing drays, a cracking of draymen's whips, a howling of the draymen. There is hot sunshine; there are clouds of dust; and I see several poor fellows wheeling heavy casks in barrows up a narrow plank into a ship. Their faces are red and puffy with the exertion: their hair is dripping. Ah, the summer day is hard upon these poor fellows! But it would be pleasant to-day to drive a locomotive engine through a fine agricultural country, particularly if one were driving an express train, and so were not worried by perpetual stoppages.


The Recreations of A Country Parson - 20/63

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