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But I wish I were Homer to tell you how all
How the codgers got glorious with claret,
While the doctor conversed like a parrot.
But a bride she defied every gazer ;
Playing “God save King Nebuchadnezzar i"
THE MONTHS.-NO. I.
January Those “ Cynthias of a minute," the Months, fleet past us so swiftly, that, though we never mistake them while they are present with us, yet, the moment any one of them is gone by, we begin to blend the recollection of its features with those of the one which preceded it, or that which has taken its place, and thus confuse them together till we know not " which is which.” And then, to mend the matter, when the whole of them have danced their graceful round hand-in-hand before us, not being able to think of either separately, we unite them all together in our imagination, and call them the Past Year ; as we gather flowers into a bunch and call them a bouquet. Now this should not be. Each one of the sweet sisterhood has features sufficiently marked and distinct to entitle her to a place and a name; and if we mistake these features, and attribute those of any one to any other, it is because we look at them with a cold and uninterested, and therefore an inobservant regard. The lover of Julie could trace fifty minute particulars which were wanting in the portrait of his mistress; though to any one else it would have appeared a likeness: for to common observers “ likeness" means merely a something which is not so absolutely unlike but what it is capable of calling up the idea of the original to those who are intimately acquainted with it.
Now I have been, for a long while past, accustomed to feel towards the common portraits of The Months, of which so many are extant, what St. Preux did towards that of his mistress : all I could ever discover in them was the particulars in which they were not like. Still I had never ventured to ask the favour of either of them to sit to me for her picture; having seen that it was the very nature of them to be for ever changing, and that therefore to attempt to fix them would be to trace the outline of a sound or give the colour of a perfume. At length, however, my unwearied attendance on them in their yearly passage past me, and the assiduous court that I have always paid to each and all of their charms, bas met with its reward: for there is this especial difference between them and all other mistresses whatever, -that, so far from being jealous of each other, their sole ground of complaint against their lovers is, that they do not pay equal devotion to each in her turo: the blooming May and the blushing JUNE disdain the vows of those votaries who have not previously wept at the feet of the weeping April, or sighed in unison with the sad breath of March
And it is the same with all the rest. They present a sweet emblem of the ideal of a happy and united human family-o each member of which the best proof you can offer that you are worthy of her love, is, that you have gained that of her sisters ; and to whom the best evidence you can give of being able to love either worthily, is, that you Jove all. his, I say, has been the kind of court that I have paid to them-loving each in all, and all in each. And my reward, in addition to that of the love itself-which is a “virtue," and therefore“ its own reward,” has been that each has condescended to watch over and instruct me while I wrote down the particulars of her brief but immortal life-immortal, because ever renewed, and bearing the seeds of its re newal within itself
. These instructions, however, were accompanied by certain conditions, without complying with which I am not permitted to make the results available to any one but myself. For my own private satisfaction I have liberty to personify the objects of my admiration under any form I please ; but if I speak of them to others, they insist on being treated merely as portions or periods of their beautiful parent The Year—as she is a portion of Time, the great parent of all things; and that the facts and events I may have to refer to shall not be essentially connected with them, but merely be considered as taking place during the period of their sojourn on the earth respectively. I confess that this condition seems to savour a little of the fastidious—not to say the affected. And, what is still more certain, it cuts me off from a most fertile source of the poetical and the picturesque. I will frankly add, however, that I am not without my suspicions that this latter may have been the very reason why the condition was imposed upon me; for I am by no means certain that, if I had been left to myself, I should not have substituted cold abstractions and unintelligible fictions (or what would have seemed such to others) in the place of that simple information which it is my object to convey,
The only other condition imposed on me, with which the reader has any concern, is, that I shall communicate what I have learnt, through the medium of the New Monthly Magazine--that being the favourite godchild of the aforenamed sisterhood, and the one on which they bestow their especial countenance and protection.
Laying aside then, if I can, all ornamental figures of speech, I shall proceed to place before the reader, in plain prose, the principal events which happen, in the two worlds of Nature and of Art, during the life and reign of each month ; beginning with the nominal beginning of the dynasty, and continuing to present, on the birthday of each member of it, a record of the beauties which she brings in her train, and the good deeds which she either inspires or performs.
Hail! then-hail to thee, JanuaRY! all hail! cold and wintry as thou art—if it be but in virtue of thy first day—the day, as the French call it, par excellence—“Le jour de l'an.” Come about me, all ye little school-boys that have escaped from the unnatural thraldom of your taskwork,—come crowding about me, with your untamed hearts shouting in your unmodulated voices, and your happy spirits dancing an untaught measure in your eyes —come and help me to speak the praises of New Year's Day-your day-one of the three which have of late become your's almost exclusively, and which have bettered you and been bettered themselves by the change: Christmas-day-which was; New Year's Day—which is; and Twelfth-day-which is to be ; let us compel them all three into our presence—with a whisk of our imaginative wand convert them into one, as the conjuror does his three glittering balls—and then enjoy them all together,-- with their dressings, and coachings, and visitings, and greetings, and gifts, and “many happy returns!” with their plum-puddings and mince-pies and twelfthcakes and neguses ! with their forfeits and fortune-tellings and blindman's buffs and snap-dragons and sittings up to supper! with their pantomimes and panoramas and new penknives and pastry-cooks shops ! in short, with their endless round of ever new nothings, the absence of a relish for which is but ill supplied in after-life by that feverish hungering and thirsting after excitement which usurp without filling their place. Oh! that I might enjoy those nothings once again in fact, as I can in fancy!—But I fear the wish is worse than an idle one ; for it not only may not be, but it ought not to be. “We cannot have our cake and eat it too,” as the vulgar somewhat vulgarly but not the Jess shrewdly express it : And this is as it should be, for if we could, it would neither be worth the eating nor the having.
If the reader complains that this is not the sober style which I just now promised to maintain, I cannot help it. Besides, it was my subject that spoke then, not myself; and it spoke to those who are too happy to be wise, and to whom, therefore, if it were to speak wisely, it might as well not speak at all. Let them alone for awhile, and they will grow too wise to be happy; and then they may be disposed and at leisure to listen to reason.
In sober sadness, then, if the reader so wills it, and after the approyed manner of modern moral discourses, the subject before us may be regarded under three distinct points of view; namely, January in London— January in the Country-and January in general. And first of the first.
January in London. Now—but before I proceed further let me bespeak the reader's indulgence at least, if not his favour, towards this everlasting monosyllable, now, to which my betters have from time to time been so much indebted, and on which I shall be compelled to place so much dependance in this my present undertaking. It is the pass-word, the "open sesame,” that must remove from before me all lets and impediments it is the charm that will alternately put to silence my imagination when it may be disposed to infringe on the office of my memory, and awaken my memory when it is inclined to sleep-in fact it is a monosyllable of infinite avail, and for which, on this as on many other occasions, no substitute can be found in our own or any other language : and if I approve above all other proverbs that which says "there's nothing like the time present,” it is partly because “the time present” is but a periphrasis for Now!
Now, then, the cloudy canopy of sea-coal smoke that hangs over London, and crowns her queen of capitals, floats thick and threefoldfor fires and feastings are rife, and every body is either “out” or “ at home” every night.—Now schoolboys don't know what to do with themselves till dinner-time--for the good old days of frost and snow, and fairs on the Thames, and furred gloves, and skaiting on the canals, and sliding on the kennels, are gone by; and for any thing in the shape of winter, one might as well live in Italy at once !--Now, (on the evening of twelfth-day) mischievous maid-servants pin elderly people together at the windows of pastry-cooks' shops-thinking them“ weeds that have no business there."—Now, if a frosty day or two does happen to pay us a flying visit on its way home to the North Pole, how the little boys make slides on the pathways for lack of ponds, and, it may be, trip up an occasional housekeeper just as he steps out of his own door ; -who forthwith vows vengeance, in the shape of ashes, on all the slides in his neighbourhood --not, doubtless, out of vexation at his own mishap, and revenge against the petty perpetrators of it, but purely to avert the like from others !-Now Bond-street begins to be conscious of carriages-two or three people are occasionally seen wandering through the Western Bazaar-and the Soho ditto is so thronged, that Mr. Trotter begins to think of issuing another decree against the inroads of single gentlemen.-Now linen-drapers begin to "sell off" their stock at "fifty per cent. under prime cost," and continue so doing all the rest of the year-every article of which will be found on inspection to be of "the last new pattern," and to have been “ only had in that morning !"—Now oranges are eaten in the dresscircle of the great theatres, and enquiries are propounded there whe ther " that gentleman in black," meaning Hamlet, “is Harlequin ?" And laughs and “La! Mama's” resound thence, to the remotest corners of the house; and “ the gods” make merry during the play, in order that they may be at leisure to listen to the pantomime! and Mr. Farley is consequently in his glory, and Mr. Grimaldi is a great man : as, indeed, when is he not ?-Now newspapers teem with twice-tentimes-told-taies of haunted-houses, and great sea-snakes, and mermaids ; and a murder is worth a jew's-eye to them; for “the House does not meet for the dispatch of business till the fifth of February." And great and grievous are the lamentations that are heard in the said newspapers over the lateness of the London season, and its detrimental effects on the interests of the metropolis :"-but they forget to add, “Erratum-for metropolis read newspapers."—Now Moore's Almanack bolds " sole sovereign sway and mastery" among the readers of that class of literature ;—for there has not yet been time to nullify any of its predictions—not even that which says we may expect some frost and snow about this period.”—Finally,-now periodical works put on their best attire—the old ones expressing their determination to become new, and the new ones to become old ; and the New Monthly Magazine in particular-which is both new and old, and which realizes in its performances the pretensions of all the others (!)-makes a point of putting forth the first of some pleasant series of papers (ecce signum!) which cannot fail to fix the wavering propensities of the most periodical of readers, and make him her own for another twelve months at least !
January in the Country. This has but a dreary sound to those who go into the country" only that they may not be seen in “ town." But to those who seek the country for the same reason that they seek London-namely, for the good that is to be found there the one has at least as many attractions as the other, at any given period of the year. Let me add, however, that if there is a particular period when the country puts forth fewer of her attractions than at any other, it is this-probably to try who are her real lovers, and who are only false flatterers, and to treat them accordingly. And yet—now, the trees, denuded of their gay attire, spread forth their thousand branches against the grey sky, and present as endless a variety of form and feature for study and observation as they did when dressed in all the flaunting fashions of midsummer. Now their voices are silent, and their forms are motionless, even when the wind is among them ; so that the low plaintive piping of the robinredbreast can be heard, and his hiding-place detected by the sound of his slim feet alighting on the fallen leaves. Or now, grown bolder as the skies become more inclement, he flits before you from twig to twig silently, like a winged thought, or like the brown and crimson leaf of a cherry-tree blown about by the wind-or perches himself by your side and looks sidelong in your face, pertly, and yet imploringly; as much as to say—though I do need your aid just now, and would condescend to accept a crumb from you, yet I'm still your betters, for I'm still a bird.'—Now one of the most beautiful sights on which the eye can open, occasionally presents itself: we saw the shades of evening fall upon a waste expanse of brown earth, shorn hedge-rows, bare branches, and miry roads, interspersed here and there with a patch of dull melancholy green; but when we are awakened by the late dawning of the morning, and think to look forth upon the same, what a bright pomp greets us ! what a white pageantry! It is as if the fleecy clouds, that float about the sun at Midsummer, had descended upon the earth and clothed it in their beauty! Every object we look upon is strange and yet familiar to us—"another yet the same.” And the whole affects us like a vision of the night, which we are half-conscious is a vision ;-we know that it is there—and yet we know not how long it may remain there; since a motion may change it, or a breath melt it away. And what a mysterious stillness reigns over all! a white silence! Even the “ clouted shoon" of the early peasant is not heard, and the robin, as he hops from twig to twig with undecided wing, and shakes down a feathery shower as he goes, hushes his low whistle, in wonder at the unaccustomed scene.
Now the labour of the husbandman is for once in the year at a stand; and he haunts the alehouse fire, or lolls listlessly over the half-door of the village smithy, and watches the progress of the labour which he unconsciously envies--tasting for once in his life (without knowing it) the bitterness of that ennui which he begrudges to his betters.- Now melancholy-looking men wander "by two's and three's" through market-towns, with thin faces as blue as the aprons that are twisted round their waists--their ineffectual rakes resting on their shoulders-and a withered cabbage hoisted upon a pole,—and sing out their doleful petition, of “Pray remember the poor Gardeners, who can get no work !”—Now the passengers outside the Cheltenham night-coach look wistfully at the Witney Blanket-mills as they pass, and meditate on the merits of a warm bed.-Now people of fashion,—who cannot think of coming to their homes in town so early in the season, and will not think of remaining at their homes in the country so late,-seek out spots on the sea-shore which have the merit of being neither town nor country, and practise patience there (as Timon of Athens did) en attendant the London winter-which is ordered to commence about the first week in Spring, and end at Midsummer!
I scarcely know whether it is worth while to mention that, since the above was written and sent to press, I have seen, in a number of a little work called The Literary Pocket, a paper noticing certain appearances connected with the different seasons, in which the swallows that flit about in search of insects, are compared to "winged thoughts.” The writer of the pleasant paper I allude to is of course entitled to the credit (if credit there be) of priority.