Then came hot JULY, boiling like to fire,
That all his garments he had cast away;
Upon a lion raging yet with ire
He boldly rode, and made him to obey:
(It was the beast that whilom did foray
The Nemæan forest, till the Amphitrionide
Him slew, and with his hide did him array:)
Behind his back a scythe, and by his side
Under his belt he bore a sickle circling wide.
JULY is now what our old poets loved to call ‘sweet summer-time, when the leaves are green and long,’ for in such brief word-painting did they picture this pleasant season of the year; and, during this hot month, we sigh while perusing the ancient ballad-lore, and wish we could recall the past. We feel the harness chafe in which we have hitherto so willingly worked, amid the ‘fever and the fret’ of the busy city, and pine to get away to some place where we can hear the murmur of the sea, or what is nearest the sound – the rustle of the summer leaves. We long to lie down beneath the low-bending, and high overhanging branches beside the stream, that runs dark and bright through shade and sunshine, and watch the blue dragon-flies sport above the bluer forget-me-nots, that nod their tufted heads to every breeze which ripples the water. There fancy floats away, and where the drooping willow gives a white shiver as the underpart of the leaves are turned to the light, and the brook rolls along ‘singing a quiet tune,’ we conjure up the image of sweet Ophelia, ‘her clothes spread wide’ upon the glassy stream, and seem again to hear her warbling ‘snatches of old tunes’ till, mermaid-like, she sinks beneath the ‘weeping-brook.’ Then we hear the bleating of sheep that come down from some hidden bending of the water-course, and journeying along we see an old-world picture, such as the gray patriarchs had often looked on, unaltered through thousands of years; for there we find them washing sheep, just as they did when David and Solomon paused to look at the sheep-washers, beside the brooks that flow through the valleys around Jerusalem. The mind wanders away into the twilight of those ages.
About a week or so after the washing, sheep-shearing commences; the reason why ‘clipping’ is delayed for this length of time is, that the fleece may regain its oily nature, which it can only do through the wool becoming thoroughly dry, when the shears cut through it easily. This also is a busy time, and we have seen half a score sheep-shearers at work at once, the large barn-door having been lifted off its hinges and raised about a foot above the ground, to place the sheep upon, while they were shorn. By night the barn looks like a large wool warehouse, so high rise the piles of rolled up fleeces. It is amusing to watch the lambs after the dams are clipped, the way they go smelling about them, and the pitiful bleating they make, until the mother answers, when they at once recognise her voice, and all doubt in a moment ceases.
At every passing gust which ripples the fields, the corn now makes a husky whisper, and there are white spots on the long ears, which tell that it is fast ripening, and that bending reapers will soon be busy with their crooked sickles in the harvest-field. We now see amid the grass that is powdered with summer-dust, the most beautiful of all our wayside-flowers, the pretty pimpernel, which, though but little larger than the bloom of the common chickweed, fairly dazzles the eye like a gem with its rich crimson petals. By the very rim of the cart-rut, and close by the dent of the horse’s hoof o the brown highway, it blows, a thing of beauty, that has no peer in garden or green-house, whether blood-red, crimson, or scarlet, for nothing but the flashing blaze of the red poppy of the cornfield, can be compared with it a moment for richness of colour. Country-people call this wayside beauty the poor man’s weather-glass, and the shepherd’s clock; and it never errs in announcing the approach of rain, for long before we can discover any sign of the coming shower, we find its deep-dyed petals folded up in its green cup. As a time-keeper, it may be relied upon, always closing at noon, no matter how fine the day may be, and never opening again before seven on the following morning. Its leaves are also very beautiful, of a fine clean oval shape, and on the underpart spotted. Often near to it, on the sunny side of the hedge, may now be found the dull golden-coloured agrimony, with its long spiked head up-coned with little flowers, the favourite ‘tea’ of the poor cottagers, and a thousand times more delicious than some of the rubbish sold as tea in low neighbourhoods, for it makes a most refreshing beverage. Scarcely a leaf can be found on tree, shrub, or plant, to equal in beauty of form that of the agrimony, so deeply and elegantly are the edges cut, and so richly veined, that they carry the eye from the up-piled head of five-petaled golden flowers, which so gracefully overtop the foliage. The fragrance, too, is quite refreshing; only bruise this elegant leaf between the fingers, and it throws out an aroma that can no more be forgotten than the smell of roses. The next favourite as a tea-making herb among our old country-women, is the wood betony, now in bloom, and which forms a winding terrace of flowers, as the whorls rise step above step, a pile of rose-coloured flowers, beautiful to look upon in the sunshine. Nor does the charm of each little bloom diminish, when examined closely, as it is found to belong to the lipped family of flowers, the most exquisite of all the many orders.
Through the long leagues of untrodden flowers the golden-belted bees now go with a pleasant murmuring, over sunny openings in the bowery underwood, which shrub and bramble guard, beneath overhanging branches by the water-courses, where the foot of man cannot tread. Up lanes that lead nowhere, saving to green fields, and over which a wheel seldom passes, saving at hay-time, or during the garnering of harvest, they grow and run. Up the hillsides they climb, over the fences, and into the old woods, where they play at hide-and-seek behind every bank and shaded hollow. Great trees throw their gr4een arms over them, and make a shelter for their beauty under their shadows. From the faces of steep crags, inaccessible to man, they droop and wave in all their beauty; and in their bells the insects find a home, and at the golden entrances they play in the sunshine. They lean over and listen to the singing of the river all day long, and when they are folded, still hear its soothing lullaby go rippling over the reflected stars. The gentle dews alight upon them with silver feet in the moonlight, and hang golden drops about their petals to sparkle in the sun, in hidden nooks which the eye of man never penetrates; for nature leaves no crypt in her great temple undecorated. Place any flower under a microscope, and it becomes a world of wonder: the petals are vast plains, the stamens stately trees, many of them formed of gold; and deep down, on a pavement richer than any that was ever inlaid by the hand of man, move the inhabitants of this beautiful world, winged, and dazzling to look upon – fitting forms to sip nectar, and find a dwelling-place in the fragrant flowers. And what know we of their delights? The marigold may be to them a land of the sun, and its golden petals the beams that ever shine upon them without setting.
What tranquillity reigns around a green secluded village on the Sabbath! There seems a Sunday breath in the very air, so calm and quiet sleeps everything we look upon, compared with the unceasing hum of far-away cities, whose streets are never silent. The very fields are still, and we have often fancied that the flocks and herds take more rest on this old Holy day than at any other time. Not a sound of labour is heard. The creaking wagon, with its shafts turned up, stands under the thatched shed; and the busy wheel of the old water-mill rests, gray, and dry, and motionless, in the summer sun. No far-sounding ring comes from the blacksmith’s forge, at the door of which a few peasants linger in their clean smock-frocks, waiting until the village-bells sound from the hoary tower to summon them to church. Even the bells, as they come and go in the shifting breeze, seem like sounding messengers sent out everyway – up the valley, and over the hill – now heard, then lost – as if they left no nook unvisited, but carried their Sabbath tidings everywhere. The very murmur that Nature makes, in the low rustling of the leaves, and the subdued ripple of the stream, seems – because they are audible – to leave the stillness more profound, as her voice would not be heard if the grit of the wain, the tramp of the hoof on the dry rutted road, and the ring of the anvil, broke the repose which rests here – almost noiseless as the dew falling on the fleece of a sleeping lamb – throughout the Sabbath-day. The very gardens appear asleep, the spade is stuck motionless in the ground, hoe and rake are laid aside, and, saving the murmuring of a bee among the flowers, or the twittering of a bird from the orchard-trees, all around lie images of rest – a land of peace from which brown Labour seems to have retired in silence, and left no sound of his whereabout, but sunk in slumber somewhere, folds his sinewy arms.
How tempting those great ripe round-bellied gooseberries look on a hot July day; we wonder there is one left on the bushes, when we see so many children about! The red currants, too, hang down like drops of rich carnelian; while the black currants look like great ebony beads, half-hidden by their fragrant leaves – for all the early garden-fruits are now ripe to perfection. Down the long rows the pretty strawberries peep out, shewing like red-breasted robins at hide-and-seek under the foliage; while overhead the melting cherries hang down, leading even the very birds to commit trespass, for they cannot resist such a tempting banquet. Sweet Summer has now attained her perfect loveliness; the roses on her cheeks will never look more beautiful than they do now, nor will her sky-blue eyes ever beam with sweeter lustre. She has wreathed her sunny hair with the sweetest and fairest of flowers; and when they have faded, there will be no more found to make a frame of blossoms round her matchless countenance until the leaves of Autumn have fallen, white Winter awakened from his cold sleep, and young Spring gone dancing away, holding up her green kirtle as she trips over the daisies. As yet, there is no sign of decay around her, only a few birds are silent, but they have not yet departed; there are myriads of flowers in bloom, and great armies of insects hurrying along every way, as they go sounding through the warm and fragrant air.
What dreams have we dreamed, and what visions have we seen, lying idly with half-shut eyes in some ‘greenwood shaw,’ sheltering from July’s noonday sun. Golden forms have seemed to spring up in the sun-lighted stems of the trees, whose high heads were buried among the lofty foliage, through which were seen openings to the sky. The deep-dyed pheasant, shooting over the underwood with streaming plumage, became a fair maiden in our eyes; and the skulking fox, from whom she was escaping. The twining ivy, with discoloured leaves, coiled round the stem in the far distance, became the fanged serpent, which we feared would untwine and crush her in its scaly folds. Scouts were sent out after her in the form of bees and butterflies, and seemed not to leave a flowery nook unvisited in which there was room enough for her to hide. Bird called to bird in sweet confusion, from leafy hollows, open glades, and wooded knolls, as if to tell that she had passed this way and that, until their songs became so mingled, we could not tell from which quarter the voices came. Then, as the sun burst out in all its brightness, the grim enchanter seemed to throw a golden net over the whole wood, the meshes of which were formed of the checkered lights that fell through leaf and branch, and, as we closed out eyes, we felt that she could not escape, so lay silent until the shadows around us deepened, and gray twilight stole noiselessly over the scene:
‘A pleasing land of drowsyhead it was,
Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;
And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,
For ever flushing round a summer sky.’
What imaginative mind has not enjoyed these summer dreams, these poetical flashes of purple, gold, and azure, that play on the ‘inward eye’ like colours on a cathedral pavement, streaming through some triple-arched window, richly stained with ‘twilight saints, and dim emblazonings!’
Towards the close of July, most of our birds are silent – even the robin and the wren are but rarely heard again till the end of August. Large flocks of young birds may now be seen flying together, and many think that they have been driven away by the old ones, so congregate for company; their assembling has nothing to do with migration, as it is the case with those that never leave us, as well as with others that will soon migrate. It is just possible that they may have become so numerous in the places where they were hatched as to find food scarce, so set out together in flocks, to seek their living where fare is more plentiful. The chiff-chaff is one of the few birds that neither the heat of summer nor the advance of the season can silence, for it sings better in July than in any of the earlier months; leaving off the two shrill monotonous notes, which in sound resemble its name, and giving a peculiar whistle, unlike that of any other bird. One of the earliest singers in the morning is the chaffinch, which may often be heard before three o’clock during the long days of summer. The clean white on his wings give him a splendid appearance. These birds build their nests with such an eye to the harmony of colour, that they are difficult to distinguish from the branches and leaves amid which they are placed, as they will match the green moss on the bough, and the yellow lichen on the bark, so closely, that only the little bright eyes of the bird betray its whereabout by their glittering. Though most birds display great courage in defending their young, yet hundreds of little nestlings perish during the absence of their parents in search of food. Then their stealthy enemies, who are ever on the watch, pounce upon the little half-naked things, tear them out of their nests, and devour them. It is pitiable to hear the cry of the female on her return, when she finds her nest empty, and parts of the remains of her little ones hanging to the thorns they have been dragged through.
July was originally the fifth month of the Roman year, and thence denominated Quintilis. In the Alban Calendar, it had a complement of thirty-six days. Romulus reduced it to thirty-one, and Numa to thirty days, and it stood thus for many centuries. At length, it was restored to thirty-one days by Julius Cæsar, who felt a personal interest in it as his natal month. After the death of this great reformer of the calendar, Mark Antony changed the name to July, in honour of the family-name of Cæsar. ‘This month he selected for such honorary distinction, when the sun was generally most potent, the more effectually to denote that Julius was the emperor of the world, and therefore the appropriate leader of one-half of the year.’ – Brady.
Saxon’s called July Hey Monath, ‘because therein they usually mowed and made their hay-harvest; and also Maed Monath from the meads being then in their bloom.” – Verstegan.
CHARACTERISTICS OF JULY.
July is allowed all over the northern hemisphere to be the warmest month of the year, notwithstanding that the sun has then commenced his course of recession from the tropic of Cancer. This is owing to the accumulating effect of the heat, while the sun is still so long above the horizon. In a table formed from the careful observations of the Rev. Dr Robert Gordon, at Kinfauns, Perthshire, the mean temperature of the air during the month appears to be 61°.
At Edinburgh, it rises on the 1st at 3.20 and sets at 8.46; on the 31st, the respective times are 4 4, and 8.8. The sun is in Cancer for the greater part of the month, and enters Leo about the 22d.
The great heat of the month led to superstition among the Romans: they conceived that this pre-eminent warmth, and the diseases and other calamities flowing from it, were somehow connected with the rising and setting of the star Canicula – the Little Dog – in coincidence with the sun. They accordingly conferred the name of DOG-DAYS upon the period between the 3d of July and the 11th of August. Horace, it will be remembered, makes allusion to this in his address to the Blandusian Fountain –
‘Te flagrantis atrox hora Caniculæ
[‘The burning fierce time of dog-days
Unable to touch.’]
The fact truly being that a spring necessarily preserves a mean heat all the year round – in Britain, about 47o. The utter baselessness of the Roman superstition has been well shewn by the ordinary process of nature, for Canicula does not now rise in coincidence with the sun till the latter end of August, while, of course, the days between 3d July and 11th August are what they have ever been. Dr Hutton, remarking how the heliacal rising of Canicula is getting later and later every year in all latitudes, says that, on the Roman principle, the star may in time come to be charged with bringing frost and snow. Yet the Dog-days continues to be a popular phrase, and probably will long continue so. It is undoubtedly under some lingering regard for the old notion, as much as from a consideration of the effect of extreme heat upon canine flesh and blood, that magistrates of towns so often order dogs to be muzzled about the beginning of July. The verity of the Roman superstition is brought home to us by an antique garnet gem in the Bessborough Collection, representing the face of a tongue-lolling dog, surrounded by solar rays, as in the accompanying illustration.
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