Then came October full of merry glee;
For yet his noule was totty of the must,
Which he was treading in the wine-fat’s see,
And of the joyous oyle, whose gentle gust
Made him so frolic and so full of lust:
Upon a dreadful Scorpion he did ride,
The same which by Dianæ’s doom unjust
Slew great Orion; and eeke by his side
He had his ploughing-share and coulter ready tyde.
IT is now yellow autumn, no longer divided from summer by the plumy sheaf and lingering flowers, but with features of its own, marked with slow decay. There is a rich hectic red on its cheek, too beautiful to last long, and every wind that blows pales the crimson hue, or scatters its beauty on the empty air, for everywhere around us the leaves are falling. But through the openings autumn makes in the foliage, many new beauties are revealed – bits of landscape, which the long close-woven leaves had shut out, of far-away spots, that look like a new country, so strange do they appear when seen for the first time through the faded and torn curtains which have shaded summer. Hill and valley, spire and thatched grange, winding highways and brown bends, over the meadows – with stiles and hedges – shew fresh footpaths, which we have never walked along, and make us long to look at the unvisited places to which they lead. We see low clumps of evergreens, which the tall trees had hidden; nests in hedges, where we were before unable to find one; and in the orchards a few hardy apples still hang, which only the frost can ripen. The fields seem to look larger, where we saw the grass mown and the corn reaped, for we can now see the bottoms of the hedges. The cherry-trees look as beautiful to the eye as they did when in blossom, such a rich scarlet dyes the leaves, mingled every here and there with golden touches. The elders are still covered with dark purple berries, especially the branches which overhang the water-courses, and are beyond the reach of the villagers. We see flags and rushes and water-plants rocking in the breeze, and reflected in the ripples which were hidden by the entangling grass that now lies matted together, and is beginning to decay. As evening approaches, the landscape seems to assume a sober hue, the colours of the foliage become subdued, and the low sighing of the wind, the call of the partridge, and the few notes uttered by the remaining birds, fall upon the ear with a sad sound at times, and produce a low feeling, which we are seldom sensible of at the change of any other season of the year.
There is still one out-of-door scene beautiful to look at and pleasant to walk through, and that is hop-picking – the last ingathering of autumn that finds employment for the poor; nor are there many prettier pictures to be seen than a well-managed hop-plantation. The smell of the hop is very delightful, so different from that of new hay and hawthorn-buds, yet quite as refreshing. What a beautiful motion there is in the light and shadow when the breeze stirs the vine-shaped leaves, and the golden coloured hops swaying the bine to and fro, and sharp quiverings in the open new-work where they cross each other, and all pervaded with a soothing aroma, that makes the blood stir like the smell of the rising sap in a forest at spring-time! Merry people, too, are the hop-pickers, whether at their work, or when going or returning from the hop-plantations. We see them travelling to the hop-grounds with baby on back, and leading children by the hand, carrying cradle and bed, saucepan and kettle, and no doubt nearly everything their humble home contained. We look on and wonder how those tiny bare feet will ever tramp so far, yet while turning the head and watching them, we see them go pit-pat over the ground, three or four steps to the one or two longer strides of their parents, caring no more for the gravel than if they were shod with iron, and we are astonished to see what a way they have gone while we have been watching. Sometimes, in the hop-grounds, we have seen a cradle with the baby asleep in it, swinging between the tall hop-bines, and thought what a pretty picture it would make, if well painted! Good practised growers fix upon the time for hop-picking when the cones throw out a strong peculiar scent, which they know the moment the air is filled with it, and they pay more regard to this powerful aroma than they do to the looks of the hops. Nor is it at hop-picking-time only that this beautiful plant gives employment to the poor, though that is the chief season, for in spring the ground has to be well stirred and drawn up about the young shoots; then the poles must be placed in the ground about the end of April, when the shoots are generally five or six inches high. And after all this is done, the shoots must be tied to the poles as they grow higher, and this must be done very lightly and carefully, for if fastened too tight, the shoot would decay, come off, and send out fresh ones from below, which would attain no height, be dwindled, and not bear a bunch of cones worth the gathering.
To an observant eye, many little changes are presented, which shew how rapidly autumn is advancing. The flocks are now driven to the fold of an evening, for the nights are becoming too cold and damp for them to remain in the fields, and they will soon be enclosed in ground set apart for their winter-feeding. It is a pleasant sight to see them rush out of the fold of a morning after their confinement, then hurry on and break their closed ranks to feed here and there on the unpalatable and scanty pasturage. Turn wherever we may, we see the face of Nature changing; nowhere does it now wear its old summer-look, the very sound of the falling leaves causes us to feel thoughtful, and many a solemn passage of the Holy Bible passes through the mind, telling us that the time will come when.’ That we shall soon be ‘as oaks when they cast their leaves,’ and at no other season of the year do these solemn truths strike us so forcibly as in autumn. As the fallen leaves career before us – crumbling ruins of summer’s beautiful halls – we cannot help thinking of those who have perished – who have gone before us, blown forward to the grave by the icy blasts of Death. The scenery of spring awakens no such emotions, there is no sign of decay there, for all seems as if fresh springing into life, after the long sleep of winter. But now, even the sun seems to be growing older, he rises later and sets earlier, as if requiring more rest, instead of increasing in heat and brightness, as he did when the butter-cups looked up at him and ‘flashed back gold for gold.’ Yet we know this natural decay is necessary to produce the life and beauty of a coming spring, and it is some solace to know, that for every flower autumn rains and blows upon and buries, a hundred will rise up and occupy their places by the time summer returns again, for it is her work to beautify decay.
Nearly all our singing-birds have departed for sunnier lands far over the sea, and the swallows are now preparing to follow them, while, strange interchange, other birds visit which have been away all spring and summer. Some days before the swallows leave us, they assemble together, at certain places – generally beside a river – where they wait fresh arrivals, until a flock of thousands is mustered; and were not the same gathering going on at other places beside, we might fancy that all the swallows that visit us were assembled in one spot. One place they frequented, which abounded in osier holts, in our younger days, and when up early angling, we have seen them rise in myriads from the willows about six in the morning, and dividing themselves into five or six companies, disperse in contrary directions, when they remained away all day, beginning to return about five, and continuing to come in until it was nearly dark. No doubt this separation took place on account of the scarcity of food, as sufficient could not be found, without flying many miles from the riverside, where they assembled. Every day the flock appeared to augment, and we have no doubt that every division, on its return to this great mustering-ground, brought in many stragglers. We have also often fancied that it was here the young swallows exercised themselves, strengthening their wings for the long journey that lay before them, by circling flights and graceful evolutions, as if trying at times which could come nearest the water at the greatest speed without touching a drop with either breast or pinions. We also came to the conclusion, that all the young ones did not accompany the divisions that went away every day in search of food, but only a portion – as thousands remained – and that those which went out one day rested the next, and had their turn on the second morning, or each alternate day. They seldom remained later than the middle of October, and when they left for good, went away all together, in the direction of the south. A few generally remained for a day or two, then went off in the same direction. Dead swallows were generally picked up among the willows after the flock had migrated. Earliest amongst the fresh arrivals is the wood-cock, who generally reaches the end of his journey in the night, and very weary and jaded he appears. Seldom is he ever seen to land, though he has been found hiding himself near the coast, in so exhausted a state as to be run down, and taken by hand. But he does not remain by the sea-side a day longer than he is compelled, where, having recruited himself a little, he sets off to visit his former haunts. The snipe also arrives about the same time, and is found in the haunts of the wood-cock, on high moors and hills, while the season is mild, and in low, warm, sheltered localities when the weather is severe. In October the redwing reaches us, and if the autumn is fine and warm, its song may often be heard. Its favourite haunts are parks, and secure places, abounding in clumps of trees, where it feeds on worms, and such like soft food, so long as it can be found; never feeding on berries unless they are forced by the frost, then they soon perish. The early arrival of the fieldfare is considered by country-people a sure sign of a hard winter, especially if there is a large crop of heps and haws, which they say, reverentially, Providence has stored up for them beforehand. We think it is a surer sign, that, in the country they have quitted, severe weather has set in earlier than usual. Some naturalists say, that although this bird obtains its food in the hedges, it roosts on the ground; the reason assigned for arriving at this conclusion it, that those who go out at night with nets to capture larks in the field, often find fieldfares amongst the birds thus taken. May not this have been in some neighbourhood where hedges were rare, and caused them to roost where there is plenty of food, but very few trees, compelling them either to fly miles away at night, or take up their lodgings ‘on the cold ground?’
The woods never look more beautiful than from the close of last month to the middle of October, for by that time it seems as if nature had exhausted all her choicest colours on the foliage. We see the rich, burnished bronze of the oak; red of many hues, up to the gaudiest scarlet; every shade of yellow, from the wan gold of the primrose to the deep orange of the tiger-lily; purple, rising from the light lilac to the darkest velvet of the pansy streaked with jet; and all so blended and softened together in parts, that like the colours on a dove’s neck, we cannot tell where one begins and the other ends. And amid this change, the graceful fir-trees seem now to step boldly out, and we are amazed at the quiet beauty we have so long overlooked as we gaze upon these stately and swarthy daughters of autumn, who have been hidden by their fairer sisters of summer. We often wish that a few more of our great landscape-painters had devoted their canvas to the endless tints of ‘the fading and many-coloured woods,’ as they are seen at no other time excepting this season of the year. Nothing can be grander than the autumnal foliage of the oak, with its variety of tints, which are more numerous than can be found on any other tree, where there are greens of every hue, and browns running into shades, that are almost numberless. The beech again – excepting only one or two of our shrubs – is covered with the richest of all autumn colours – an orange that seems almost to blaze again as you look at it in the sunset, recalling the burning bush before which Moses bowed. Nearly one of the first trees to shed its foliage is the walnut; next the ash, if covered with those keys that make such a rattling in the November wind – if these are wanting, the tree remains much longer in leaf. The ash is one of the most graceful of our forest-trees, with its leaves set in pairs as if made to match one another, while its smooth, tough branches have a gray hue, that seems to make a light through every portion of the tree. How beautiful the elm now looks, especially if its changing foliage is seen from some summit that overlooks a wood, for it is the tallest of our forest-trees, and its topmost boughs may then be seen high above all others! What a pattering there is now when the wind blows, as the pale golden acorns come rattling out of their beautifully-carved cups – the drinking-vessels of our old fairy-tales, and often forming the tea-service of our country children in the present day, when they play at giving a tea-party on the floor of some thatched cottage! And how grand is the piping of the great autumn winds, sounding like an organ through the forest, and causing us to feel that we are walking through a temple built by an Almighty hand, for there is no sign of the builder man around us! That trellised roof, where, through the openings made by the fallen leaves, we see only the sky, points to a greater Builder than imitative man.
Beautiful as many of our poetical images are, drawn from the fallen leaves, and sad as the sight is to see them lying around our walks, still the fall of the leaf is not its death, no more than that of one flower fading in a cluster is the death of the blossom. A swelling bus will always be found in autumn above the leaf that is about to fall; and as this bud increases, it pushes down its predecessor, and causes it to break off, or to hang by so loosened leaf. This bud, which forces off the old leaf, forms the future stem or branches, which, during the following summer, will bear many leaves in place of the one it has displaced; and though it will cease to increase during the dead winter-months, will be among the foremost to shew itself in the spring. Evergreens retain their leaves throughout the winter, through the new buds not forcing off the old foliage until spring, instead of putting out above the old foliage in autumn as other trees do. This can be proved by transplanting almost any tree; if it lives, the new buds will come out and push off the old leaves, which soon begin to wither after its removal. But if the tree does not retain life, the leaves will still wither, and instead of falling off, remain on the branches, from whence they are not easily removed though dead. The dead leaf remains on the tree; the live leaf falls before it is dead, pressed down by the swelling bud above it, but still retaining a great portion of its leafy moisture. As for the colouring of autumn leaves, it is supposed that the trees absorb oxygen during the night, which, owing to the coldness of the weather, they have not strength enough to throw out again in the daytime, and that this gives an acidity to the juices of the tree, which changes the colour of the leaf, or, that otherwise, they would be pushed down by the new buds, in all their green summer array. Some admit that this may be the case with leaves that are red, but not with others that are brown and yellow. So the question remains open to many doubts, and as we look at the changing foliage in reverence, we feel satisfied in our own minds, that those beautiful touches have been put in by the wonder-working hand of the Creator.
This month, so called from being the eighth in the year according to the old Alban or Latin calendar, was, by [the Saxons], styled Wyn moneth (modern, Weinmonat), or the wine-month. In allusion to this epithet, and old writer remarks, ‘and albeit they had not anciently wines made in Germany, yet in this season had they them from divers countries adjoining.’ October was called, by the ancient Germans, Winter-fyllith, from the approach of winter with the full moon of the month.
In some of the ancient Saxon calendars, this month is allegorised by the figure of a husbandman carrying a sack on his shoulders and sowing corn, in allusion to the practice of sowing the winter grain, which takes place in October. In other old almanacs, the sport of hawking has been adopted as emblematical of this, the last month of autumn.
CHARACTERISTICS OF OCTOBER.
On the 23d of the month, the sun enters the sign of Scorpio, an astronomical emblem said to typify, in the form of a destructive insect, the increasing power of cold over nature, in the same manner as the equal influence of cold and heat are represented by Libra, or the balance, the sign of the preceding month of September. The average temperature for the middle of the month, throughout the British Islands, is about 50o.
Though a melancholy feeling is associated with October, from the general decay of nature by which it is characterised, there occurs, nevertheless, not infrequently in it, some of the finest and most exhilarating weather of the year. Frosts om the mornings and evenings are common, whilst the middle of the day is often enlivened by all the sunshine of July without its oppressiveness, and the clearness of a frosty day in December or January without its piercing cold.