England the crocus and the snowdrop-neither being probably an indigenous flower, since neither is mentioned by Chaucer—usually open before the first of March; indeed, the snowdrop was formerly known by the yet more fanciful name of Fair Maid of February.
Chaucer's daisy comes equally early; and March brings daffodils, narcissi, violets, daisies, jonquils, hyacinths, and marsh-marigolds.
This is altogether in advance of our season, so far as the wild-flowers give evidence,—though snowdrops are sometimes found in February even here.
But, on the other hand, it would appear that, though a larger number of birds winter in England than in Massachusetts, yet the return of those which migrate is actually earlier among us. From journals which were kept during sixty years in England, and an abstract of which is printed in Hone's Every-Day Book, it appears that only two birds of passage revisit England before the fifteenth of April, and only thirteen more before the first of May; while with u
the equator, so essential to their existence do these wanderings seem.
But in New England, among birds as among men, the roving habit seems unusually strong, and abodes are shifted very rapidly.
The whole number of species observed in Massachusetts is about the same as in England,—some three hundred in all. But of this number, in England, about a hundred habitually winter on the island, and half that number even in the Hebrides, some birds actually breeding in Scotland during January and February, incredible as it may seem.
Their habits can, therefore, be observed through a long period of the year; while with us the bright army comes and encamps for a month or two and then vanishes.
You must attend their dress-parades while they last; for you will have but few opportunities, and their domestic life must commonly be studied during a few weeks of the season, or not at all.
Wonderful as the instinct of migration seems, it is not, perhaps, so altogether amazing in itself as in some
omething is always in bloom.
In the Northern United States, it is said, the active growth of most plants is condensed into ten weeks, while in the mother country the full activity is maintained through sixteen.
But even the English winter does not seem to be a winter, in the same sense as ours, appearing more like a chilly and comfortless autumn.
There is no month in the English year when some special plant does not bloom: the Colt's-foot there opens its fragrant flowers from December to February; the yellowflowered Hellebore, and its cousin, the sacred Christmas Rose of Glastonbury, extend from January to March; and the Snowdrop and Primrose often come before the first of February.
Something may be gained, much lost, by that perennial succession; those links, however slight, must make the floral period continuous to the imagination; while our year gives a pause and an interval to its children, and after exhausted October has effloresced into Witch-Hazel, there is an absolute rese
ard a chalice which distils unceasingly a fine and plashing rain; in summer the spray holds the maidens in a glittering veil, but winter takes the radiant drops and slowly builds them up into a shroud of ice, which creeps gradually about the three slight figures: the feet vanish, the waist is encircled, the head is covered, the piteous, uplifted arms disappear, as if each were a Vestal Virgin entombed alive for her transgression.
They vanishing entirely, the fountain yet plays on unseen; all winter the pile of ice grows larger, glittering organ-pipes of congelation add themselves outside, and by February a great glacier is formed, at whose buried centre stand immovably the patient girls.
Spring comes at last, the fated prince, to free with glittering spear these enchanted beauties; the waning glacier, slowly receding, lies conquered before their liberated feet; and still the fountain plays.
Who can despair before the iciest human life, when its unconscious symbols are so beautiful?