June

June01.jpg

     —– After her came jolly JUNE, arrayed 
All in green leaves, as he a player were; 
     Yet in his time he wrought as well as played, 
That by his plough-irons mote right well appear. 
     Upon a crab he rode, that did him bear, 
With crooked crawling steps, an uncouth pace, 
     And backward rode, as bargemen wont to fare, 
Bending their force contrary to their face; 
Like that ungracious crew which feigns demurest grace. 
SPENSER.

 

DESCRIPTIVE.

JUNE has now come, bending beneath her weight of roses, to ornament the halls and bowers which summer has hung with green. For this is the Month of Roses, and their beauty and fragrance conjure up again many in poetical creation which Memory had buried. We think of Herrick’s Sappho, and how the roses were always white until they tried to rival her fair complexion, and, blushing for shame because they were vanquished, have ever since remained red; of Shakspeare’s Juliet, musing as she leant over the balcony in the moonlight, and thinking that the rose ‘by any other name would smell as sweet.’ This is the season to wander into the fields and woods, with a volume of sterling poetry for companionship, and compare the descriptive passages with the objects that lie around. We look up at the great network of branches, and think how silently they have been fashioned. Through many a quiet night, and many a golden dawn, and all day long, even when the twilight threw her grey veil over them, the work advanced; from when the warp was formed of tender sprays and tiny buds, until the woof of leaves was woven with a shuttle of sunshine and showers, which the unseen wind sent in and out through the branches. No human eye could see how the work was done, for the pattern of leaves was woven motionless – here a brown bud came, and there a dot of green was thrown in; yet no hand was visible during the workmanship, though we know the great Power that stirred in that mysterious loom, and wove the green drapery of summer. Now in the woods, like a fair lady of the olden time peeping through her embowered lattice, the tall woodbine leans out from among the leaves, as if to look at the procession that is every passing, of golden-belted bees, and gauze-winged dragonflies, birds that dart by as if sent with hasty messages, and butterflies, the gaudy outriders, that make for themselves a pathway between the overhanging blossoms. All these she sees from the green turret in which she is imprisoned, while the bees go sounding their humming horns through every flowery town in the forest. The wild roses, compelled to obey the commands of summer, blush as they expose their beauty by the wayside, and hurry to hide themselves again amid the green when the day is done, seeming as if they tried ‘to shut, and become buds again.’ Like pillars of fire, the foxgloves blaze through the shadowy green of the underwood, as if to throw a light on the lesser flowers that grow around their feet. Pleasant is it now after a long walk to sit down on the slope of some hill, and gaze over the outstretched landscape, from the valley at our feet to where the river loses itself in the distant sunshine. In all those widely-spread farmhouses and cottages – some so far away that they appear but little larger than mole-hills – the busy stir of every-day life is going on, though neither sound nor motion are audible or visible from this green slope. From those quiet homes move christening, marrying, and burying processions. Thousands who have tilled the earth within the space our eye commands, ‘now sleep beneath it.’ There is no one living who ever saw yonder aged oak look younger than it does now. The head lies easy which erected that grey old stile, that has stood bleaching so many years in sun and wind, it looks like dried bones; the very step is worn hollow by the feet of those who have passed away for ever. How quiet yonder fields appear through which the brown footpath stretches; there those that have gone walked and talked, and played, and made love, and through them led their children by the hand, to gather the wild roses of June, that still flower as they did in those very spots where their grandfathers gathered them, when, a century back, they were children. And yet it may be that these fields, which look so beautiful in our eyes, and awaken such pleasant memories of departed summers, bring back no such remembrances to the unlettered hind; that he thinks only of the years he has toiled in them, of the hard struggle he has had to get bread for his family, and the aching bones he has gone home with at night. Perhaps, when he walks out with his children, he thinks how badly he was paid for plashing that hedge, or repairing that flowery embankment; how long it took him to plough or harrow that field; how cold the days were then, and, when his wants were greatest, what little wages he received. The flaunting woodbine may have no charms for his eye, nor the bee humming round the globe of crimson clover; perhaps he pauses not to listen to the singing of the birds, but, with eyes bent on the ground, he ‘homeward plods his weary way.’ Cottages buried in woodbine or covered with roses are not the haunts of peace and homes of love which poets so often picture, nor are they the gloomy abodes which some cynical politicians magnify into dens of misery. 

How peaceably yonder village at the foot of this hill seems to sleep in the June sunshine, beneath the overshadowing trees, above which the blue smoke ascends, nothing else seeming to stir! What rich colours some of those thatched roofs present – moss and lichen, and stonecrop which is now one blaze of gold. That white-washed wall, glimmering through the foliage, just lights up the picture where it wanted opening; even the sunlight, flashed back from the windows, lets in golden gleams through the green. That bit of brown road by the red wall, on one side of which runs the brook, spanned by a rustic bridge, is of itself a picture – with the white cow standing by the gate, where the great elder-tree is now covered with bunches of creamy-coloured bloom. Water is always beautiful in a landscape; it is the glass in which the face of heaven is mirrored, in which the trees and flowers can see themselves, for aught we know, so hidden from us in the secret of their existence and the life they live. Now, one of those out-of-door pictures may be seen which almost every landscape painter has tried to fix on canvas – that of cattle standing in water at noon-day. We always fancy they look best in a large pond overhung with trees, that is placed in a retiring corner of rich pasture lands, with their broad sweeps of grass and wild flowers. In a river or a long stream the water stretches too far away, and mars the snugness of the picture, which ought to be bordered with green, while the herd is of various colours. In a pond surrounded with trees we see the sunlight chequering the still water as it streams through the branches, while a mass of shadow lies under the lower boughs – part of it falling on a portion of the cattle, while the rest stand in a warm, green light; and should one happen to be red, and dashed with the sunlight that comes in through the leaves, it shows such flecks of ruddy gold as no artist ever yet painted. We see the shadows of the inverted trees thrown deep down, and below a blue, unfathomable depth of sky, which conjures back those ocean chasms that have never yet been sounded. 

We now hear that sharp rasping sound in the fields which the mower makes every time he whets his scythe, telling us that he has already cut down myriads of those beautiful wild flowers and feathered grasses which the morning sun shone upon. We enter the field, and pick a few fading flowers out of the great swathes; and, while watching him at his work, see how at one sweep he makes a desert, where a moment before all was brightness and beauty. How one might moralize over this globe of white clover, which a bee was rifling of its sweets just before the scythe swept it down, and dwell upon the homes of ground-building birds and earth-burrowing animals and insects, which the destroyer lays bare. But these thoughts have no place in his mind. He may, while whetting his scythe, wonder how many more times he will have to sharpen it before he cuts his way up to the hedge, where his provision basket, beer bottle, and the clothes he has thrown off, lie in the shade, guarded by his dog – and when there slake his thirst. Many of those grasses which he cuts down so thoughtlessly are as beautiful as the rarest flowers that ever bloomed, though they must be examined minutely for their elegant forms and splendid colours. Nothing was ever yet woven in loom to which art could give such graceful colouring as is shown in the luminous pink and dazzling sea-green of the soft meadow-grass; the flowers spread over a panicle of velvet bloom, which is so soft and yielding, that the lightest footed insect sinks into its downy carpeting when passing. 

In the next field we see the haymakers hard at work, turning the grass over, and shaking it up with their forks, or letting it float loose on the wind, to be blown as far as it can go; while the air that passes through it carries the pleasant smell of new-mown hay to the far away fields and villages it sweeps by. How happy haymakers always appear, as if work to them were pleasure; even the little children, while they laugh as they throw hay over one another, are unconsciously assisting the labourers, for it cannot be dispersed too much. What a blessing it would be if all labour could be made so pleasant! Some are gathering the hay into windrows, great long unbroken ridges, that extend from one end of the field to the other, and look like motionless waves in the distance, while between them all the space is raked up tidily. Then comes the last process, to roll those long windrows into haycocks, turning the hay on their forks over and over, and clearing the ground at every turn, as boys do the huge snowball, which it takes four or five of them to move – until the haycock is as high as a man’s head, and not a vestige of a windrow is left when the work is finished by the rakers. Rolling those huge haycocks together is hard work; and when you see it done, you marvel not at the quantity of beer the men drink, labouring as they do in the hot open sunshine of June. We then see the loaded hay wagons leaving the fields, rocking as they cross the furrows, over which wheels but rarely roll, moving along green lanes and between high hedgerows, which take toll from the wains as they pass, until new hay hangs down from every branch. What labour it would save the birds in building, is hay was led two or three months earlier, for nothing could be more soft and downy for the lining of their nests than many of the feathered heads of those dried grasses. Onward moves the rocking wagon towards the rick-yard, where the gate stands open, and we can see the men on the half-formed stack waiting for the coming load. 

When the stack is nearly finished, only a strong man can pitch up a fork full of hay; and it needs some practice to use the long forks which are required when the rick has nearly reached to its fullest height. What a delicious smell of new-mown hay there will be in every room of that old farmhouse for days after the stacks are finished; we almost long to take up our lodging there for a week or two for the sake of the fragrance. And there, in the ‘home close,’ as it is called, sits the milkmaid on her three-legged stool, which she hides somewhere under the hedge, that she may not have to carry it to and fro every time she goes to milk, talking to her cow while she is milking as if it understood her: for the flies make it restless, and she is fearful that it may kick over the contents of her pail. Now she breaks forth into song – unconscious that she is overheard – the burthen of which is that her lover may be true, ending with a wish that she were a linnet, ‘to sing her love to rest,’ which he, wearied with his day’s labour, will not require, but will begin to snore a minute after his tired head presses the pillow.

 

HISTORICAL.

Ovid, in his Fasti, makes Juno claim the honour of giving a name to this month; but there had been ample time before his day for an obscurity to invest the origin of the term, and he lived before it was the custom to investigate such matters critically. Standing as the fourth month in the Roman calendar, it was in reality dedicated à Junioribus – that is, to the junior or inferior branch of the original legislature of Rome, as May was à Majoribus, or to the superior branch. ‘Romulus assigned to this month a complement of thirty days, though in the old Latin or Alban calendar it consisted of twenty-six only. Numa deprived it of one day, which was restored by Julius Cæsar; since which time it has remained undisturbed.’ – Brady.

 

CHARACTERISTICS OF JUNE.

Though the summer solstice takes place on the 21st day, June is only the third month of the year in respect of temperature, being preceded in this respect by July and August. The mornings, in the early part of the month especially, are liable to be even frosty, to the extensive damage of the buds of the fruit-trees. Nevertheless, June is the month of greatest summer beauty – the month during which the trees are in their best and freshest garniture. ‘The leafy month of June,’ Coleridge well calls it, the month when the flowers are at the richest in hue and profusion. Nature is now a pretty maiden of seventeen; she may show maturer charms afterwards, but she can never be again so gaily, so freshly beautiful. Dr Aiken says justly that June is in reality, in this climate, what the poets only dream May to be. The mean temperature of the air was given by an observer in Scotland as 59° Fahrenheit, against 60° for August and 61° for July. 

The sun, formally speaking, reaches the most northerly point in the zodiac, and enters the constellation of Cancer, on the 21st of June; but for several days about that time there is no observable difference in his position, or his hours of rising and setting. At Edinburgh, the longest day is about 17½ hours. At that season, in Scotland, there is a glow equal to dawn, in the north, through the whole of the brief night. The present writer was able at Edinburgh to read the title-page of a book, by the light of the northern sky, at midnight of the 14th of June 1849. In Shetland, the light at midnight is like a good twilight, and the text of any ordinary book may then be easily read. It is even alleged that, by the aid of refraction, and in favourable circumstances, the body of the sun has been seen at that season, from the top of a hill in Orkney, though the fact cannot be said to be authenticated.

 

MARRIAGE SUPERSTITIONS AND CUSTOMS.

JUNE was the month which the Romans considered the most propitious season of the year for contracting matrimonial engagements, especially if the day chosen were that of the full moon or the conjunction of the sun and moon; the month of May was especially to be avoided, as under the influence of spirits adverse to happy households. All these pagan superstitions were retained in the Middle Ages, with many others which belonged more particularly to the spirit of Christianity: people then had recourse to all kinds of divination, love philters, magical invocations, prayers, fastings, and other follies, which were modified according to the country and the individual. A girl had only to agitate the water in a bucket of spring-water with her hand, or to throw broken eggs over another person’s head, if she wished to see the image of the man she should marry. A union could never be happy if the bridal party, in going to church, met a monk, a priest, a hare, a dog, cat, lizard, or serpent; while all would go well if it were a wolf, a spider, or a toad. Nor was it an unimportant matter to choose the wedding day carefully; the feast of Saint Joseph [19th of March] was especially to be avoided, and it is supposed, that as this day fell in mid-Lent, it was the reason why all the councils and synods of the church forbade marriage during that season of fasting; indeed, all penitential days and vigils throughout the year were considered unsuitable for these joyous ceremonies. The church blamed those husbands who married early in the morning, in dirty or negligent attire, reserving their better dresses for balls and feasts; and the clergy were forbidden to celebrate the rites after sunset, because the crows often carried the party by main force to the ale-house, or beat them and hindered their departure from the church until they had paid a ransom. The people always manifested a strong aversion for badly assorted marriages. In such cases, the procession would be accompanied to the altar in the midst of a frightful concert of bells, sauce-pans, and frying-pans, or this tumult was reserved for the night, when the happy couple were settled in their own house. The church [in France] tried in vain to defend widowers and widows who chose to enter the nuptial bonds a second time; a synodal order of the Archbishop of Lyons, in 1577, thus describes the conduct it excommunicated: ‘Marching in masks, throwing poisons, horrible and dangerous liquids before the door, sounding tambourines, doing all kinds of dirty things they can think of, until they have drawn from the husband large sums of money by force.’ 

A considerable sum of money was anciently put into a purse or plate, and presented by the bridegroom to the bride on the wedding-night, as a sort of purchase of her person; a custom common to the Greeks as well as the Romans, and which seems to have prevailed among the Jews and many Eastern nations. It was changed in the Middle Ages, and in the north of Europe, for the morgengabe, or morning present; the bride having the privilege, the morning after the wedding-day, of asking for any sum of money or any estate that she pleased, and which could not in honour be refused by her husband. The demand at times became really serious, if the wife were of an avaricious temper. 

How the ring came to be used is not well ascertained, as in former days it did not occupy its present prominent position, but was given with other presents to mark the completion of a contract. Its form is intended as a symbol of eternity, and of the intention of both parties to keep for ever the solemn covenant into which they have entered before God, and of which it is a pledge. Our marriage service is very nearly the same as that used by our forefathers, a few obsolete words only being changed. The bride was taken ‘for fairer, for fouler, for better, for worse;’ and promised ‘to be buxom and bonny’ to her future husband. The bridegroom put the ring on each of the bride’s left-hand fingers in turn, saying at the first, ‘in the name of the Father;’ at the second, ‘in the name of the Son,’ at the third, ‘in the name of the Holy Ghost;’ and at the fourth, ‘Amen.’ The father presented his son-in-law with one of his daughter’s shoes as a token of the transfer of authority, and the bride was made to feel the change by a blow on her head given with the shoe. The husband was bound by oath to use his wife well, in failure of which she might leave him; yet as a point of honour he was allowed ‘to bestow on his wife and apprentices moderate castigation.’ An old Welsh law tells us that three blows with a broomstick, on any ‘part of the person except the head, is a fair allowance;’ and another provides that the stick be not longer than the husband’s arm, nor thicker than his middle finger.1

The penny weddings, at which each of the guests gave a contribution for the feast, were reprobated by the straiter-laced sort as leading to disorders and licentiousness; but it was found impossible to suppress them. All that could be done was to place restrictions upon the amount allowed to be given; in Scotland five shillings was the limit.

 

CREELING THE BRIDEGROOM.

A curious custom in connexion with marriage prevailed at one time in Scotland, and, from the manner in which it was carried out, was called ‘Creeling the Bridegroom.’ The mode of procedure in the village of Galashiels was as follows. Early in the day after the marriage, those interested in the proceeding assembled at the house of the newly-wedded couple, bringing with them a ‘creel,’ or basket, which they filled with stones. The young husband, on being brought to the door, had the creel firmly fixed upon his back, and with it in this position had to run the round of the town, or at least the chief portion of it, followed by a number of men to see that he did not drop his burden; the only condition on which he was allowed to do so being that his wife should come after him, and kiss him. As relief depended altogether upon the wife, it would sometimes happen that the husband did not need to run more than a few yards; but when she was more than ordinarily bashful, or wished to have a little sport at the expense of her lord and master – which it may be supposed would not unfrequently be the case – he had to carry his load a considerable distance. This custom was very strictly enforced; for the person who was last creeled had charge of the ceremony, and he was naturally anxious that no one should escape. The practice, as far as Galashiels was concerned, came to an end about sixty years ago, in the person of one Robert Young, who, on the ostensible plea of a ‘sore back,’ lay a-bed all the day after his marriage, and obstinately refused to get up and be creeled; he had been twice married before, and no doubt felt that he had had enough of creeling.

 

June

Kalendar for June 1794, Edinburgh Almanack.

 

1  Thrupp.

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