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they have been too apt to view through the medium of gloomy or mysterious abstractions. This is to render it a religious rejoicing in the finest sense of the word; and so was it observed and felt over the west of Europe for a number of happy centuries, a special act having passed in our own country so late as the time of James I. legalising the observance of the usual May-games, Morris-dances, and dancing round the pole, even on a Sunday. Who but must feel his face flush with delight, if he suffer his imagination to run back through all the Mays of antiquity, with their awakening suns, delicious meadows, budding groves, sparkling waters, and rejoicing creatures? Who but must feel his heart sink within him, when he reflects that all this bloom of happiness was blighted by the withering hand of the Puritans, who, after having suppressed the theatres, enacted that all convicted actors should be publicly whipped, and all spectators of plays fined five shillings for every offence, proceeded to denounce May-poles and Morrisdances as "the devil's standards, which all those who follow do it unto damnation." "It is certain," says the historian and apologist of the Puritans, "that the Lord's day was duly observed, neither servants nor children being allowed to walk in the fields, or frequent the public-houses."* What strange notions must these miserable fanatics have entertained, when they deemed it irreligious to pour forth their grateful hearts to the Deity amid the glories of his own creation!
* Neale's History of the Puritans Abridged, chap. 19.
In the fresh fields, his own cathedral meet,
Built by himself-star-roof'd, and hung with green;
Thank Heaven! these wretched tormentors of themselves and others have passed away; at least the rod has been wrenched from their hands, and their successors are but puny whipsters, waging a petty warfare of annoyance against the recreations of the poor and the defenceless. But as if human happiness were for ever to be sacrificed to some fatal mistake, the god of Avarice succeeded to the empire from which the dæmon of Bigotry had been expelled, and we drudged and toiled, and made ourselves slaves, for the base ambition of wearing chains of gold. Then began the period when our children were educated in the faith of "wise saws and modern instances," and Poor Richard's morals, such as"stick to your business, and your business will stick to you," a penny saved is a penny got," "a fool and his money are soon parted," and a thousand similar axioms, until a holiday was considered an enormity, and the expenditure of an unnecessary shilling a profligate abomination. Such were the sordid prostrations that prepared us for the toilsome and anxious delirium of the last twenty or thirty years—the æra of our commercial prosperity, as it is called, when increased taxation excited fresh efforts to defray it, and the enlarged manufactures and trade justified additional imposts; when speculators and capitalists became wholesale slave-masters, and men, women, and children
voluntarily and rapidly wore out their frames by taskwork, until the former were bloated and choaked with their overgrown wealth, and the latter had no more enjoyment of life, or communion with nature, than the steam-engines and spinning-jennies to which they were made subsidiary. This was indeed the propter vitam vivendi perdere causas," an enormous mistake of the means for the end; a desperate struggle to keep our heads above water, which was worse than drowning. But this long fit of Mammonmadness is subsiding; the convulsions are abated: we have time at last to wipe the perspiration from our brows; and though we may emerge from our agonies somewhat poorer and more exhausted than we could wish, we may be ultimate gainers, both in health and happiness, if we dedicate the first fruits of our unaccustomed leisure to the rural duties, and the renewal of that cheerful and cordial intercourse with nature, which exhilarated the lives of our ancestors; but from which we have profanely cut ourselves off by our plodding, sophisticated, and artificial modes of exist
How can we begin this reform better than by recurring to the ancient and heart-refreshing observance of May-day?-C'est le premier pas qui coute.-Who will step out of the dust, and smoke, and anxious turmoil of London, into the green fields, and, with a sprig of blossoming hawthorn in his hand, give up the day to rural rambles and holiday associations? I will, for one; and I hereby invite the reader, whether gentle or simple, to accompany me. What! obey the
call of a stranger ?-Ay, or you will not go at all; for to many of ye Nature is a greater stranger still, and yet she wafts you a perfumed billet, which she dispatches by the breeze; she has decorated her festive halls with boughs and garlands, painted the floor where we are to dance with living buttercups and daisies; and hark! her feathered orchestra has already struck up its music, for I can distinguish the notes of the blackbird and the thrush. Into such oblivion has the celebration of May fallen of late years, that you know not, perchance, the glories and eulogies with which it has been hailed. Old Izaak Walton records a saying of his friend Sir Henry Wootton, that he would rather live ten May months than forty Decembers-a sentiment to which you shall gladly subscribe before we part. Listen to the song of Milton :— "Hail, bounteous May! that dost inspire Mirth, and youth, and warm desire: Woods and groves are of thy dressing, Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing.Thus we salute thee with thy early song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long!"
And mark into what exclamations an Italian poet bursts in his passionate worship of the Spring:-
"O dolce primavera-o fior' novelli,
O aure, o arboscelli-o fresche erbette,
Naiadi ed Ama driadi-o Semidee,
Which Leigh Hunt has thus happily translated, preserving the same recurrence of rhime in the middle of the line :
"O thou delicious Spring-O ye new flowers,
O airs, O youngling bowers-fresh thickening grass,
And ye who warm'd old lays, spirits o' the woods,
Shame on us, sluggards of the South! Although the Scottish breezes have hardly yet been warmed by the sun, and the panting buds and blossoms have scarcely burst their cerements, the country-folks have been out by moon-light waiting the arrival of Maymorning, and singing, in the silent woods, Cunningham's May-eve, or Kate of Aberdeen.
"The silver moon's enamour'd beam
"To beds of state go, balmy Sleep!
('Tis where you' 've seldom been,) May's vigil while the shepherds keep
With Kate of Aberdeen." &c. &c.
* See an admirable paper in the Indicator, No. 29.