April in England, 1867

April is not summer, it is not winter - it is spring - the fickle and chilly spring of dear old England; and is accompanied by its peculiar objects and aspects. The distinguishing characteristic of the weather during the month is fickleness; shower and sunshine rapidly chasing each other, and the bright green leaves being too frequently obscured by clouds. But fickleness and uncertainty have always been the character of our climate, and who shall blame even the seasons for standing up for their ancient character? If our spring be uncertain, no doubt we enjoy more the fine days and the occasional fine seasons when we do get them; and some of the finest weather of the year does occasionally occur in April. Besides, the showers are wanted; the vicissitudes of warm gleams and gentle rains have the most powerful effect in hastening that universal springing of the vegetable tribes...

Delicate and mysterious is the relation which our bodies bear to the passing light. How our feelings and even our appearance change with every change of the sky! When the sun shines the blood flows freely and the spirits are light and buoyant. When gloom overspreads the heavens, dullness and sober thoughts possess the mind.

Sunlight and shower alternately are best for nature at this season. April greens the ground, making it all one emerald. Spite of the coldness and the backwardness - spite of the prognostications that the swallow dare not come - a verdure will steal along the sheltered hedge-sides of fields, will overrun the southern banks and flourish in the bowery lanes. The little ficary or small celandine, with its brilliant golden disc, will be seen scattered along the banks, and promising that at the first genial change, thousands and tens of thousands in crowding ranks shall come after them. The homely and good-natured little daisy, which is never affronted that we bring other favourites from all quarters of the globe and make our gardens perfectly on flame with the gorgeous tints of lower latitudes, still nods to us smilingly from our lawns, and thinly sprinkles before us in our walks the bare turf of the wind-swept meadows. Violets, blue and white, are found as sweet as ever in their old-established haunts; the primroses in their loveliness are as punctual as daylight itself in the spots where they have appeared as long as we can remember anything; anemones are dancing in the rude breeze; and everywhere is evidence that an outburst is preparing of all the glory of renewing Nature.

In the month now past we met sparsely with some of the flowers just named and their continued appearance serves to remind us that months are artificial divisions of time and that nature's phases shade into one another gradually; yet still, by slow steps and sure, the winter has left us, taking his ornaments with him, and spring herself is here with garlands of her own. Where is the snowdrop? We look, and it is gone - actually gone! Who says, then, that spring is not come?

Let us sally forth into yonder budding wood. Not a greater contrast is presented by some spreading oak in bleak December and the massive foliage with which it is canopied in July, than by the appearance of the ground at this season and that presented two months since, when we hunted here in vain for an early primrose. Then there were leaves everywhere around us, and leaves alone, but brown, shrivelled and lifeless; now, through the whole extent of the wood, the earth is hidden from sight by a tapestry of richest blue. But for the grey stumps of trees rising at intervals, we might imagine ourselves in a sea of bluebells...

The daffodil, with its long azure leaves and its jolly orange countenance is blooming in masses, or in long showy lines. The daffy-down-dilly is the time-honoured companion of rue and wallflower, and rosemary springs up at the foot of box hedges and in neglected arbours and alleys, giving a pensive smile. May it flourish then with all its old friends around it - the polyanthus, the single pale primrose from the woods; the primrose double, white and purple that now give such beauty to our borders; the lively periwinkle; the dog-tooth violet and violets white and blue, single and double, now beginning to be hidden in their leaves.

The delicate lily-of-the-valley may now also be found, one of the most graceful of all our wild flowers. How elegantly its white, ivory-looking bells rise, tier above tier, to the very summit of the flower stalk. Those who have inhaled the perfume from a whole bed of these lilies can fancy what odours were wafted through Eden in the golden mornings of the early world.

Towards the middle of the month, if the wind blow not from the Orient, and April showers fall, what a change! What a greenness in the grass! How the buds and leaves will be advanced! On such days breakfast early and immediately after it, sally forth. The gorse is in full bloom; along the hedge-sides and by the dells and woods, the primoses lie like sunshine and breathe forth their faint but delicious perfume. The wood anomones are in thousands; the turf here and there is actually sewn with violets; and the oxlip, half cowslip, half primrose, is already in bloom. On the purple stems of the woodspurge hang its pale green flowers and in old orchards the ground is actually besnowed with white violets.

Many trees come into blossom during this month and form a most agreeable spectacle. The blackthorn or sloe leads the way and is succeeded by the apricot, peach, nectarine, cherry and plum; but the fairest prospect of a plentiful increase is often blighted by the return of frosty winds...

The elm has a beautiful look, with the pale blue April sky seen through its half-developed foliage. The oak puts out slowly its red buds and bright metallic-looking leaves, as if to show that its hardy limbs require as little clothing as the ancient Britons did in those days when hoary oaks covered long leagues of our forest-studded isle.

"It were a world to set down the worth of this month, for it is Heaven's blessing and the earth's comfort. It is the messenger of many pleasures, the courtier's progress and the farmer's profit, the labourer's harvest and the beggar's pilgrimage. In sum, there is much to be spoken of it, but, to avoid tediousness, I hold it, in all that I can see in it, the jewel of time and the joy of nature."

English, April 1867

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