Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

silent, invisible agency, cannot but strongly interest the observer. Some of these appearances, indeed, are so familiar to us that we cease to regard them; but it is only their frequency that causes them to be overlooked, as is evident from the surprise and admiration which they excite in persons, who, having been born and brought up in the West Indies or other hot climates, behold these phenomena for the first time.

Here glittering turrets rise, upbearing high
(Fantastic mis-arrangement) on the roof
Large growth of what may seem the sparkling trees
And shrubs of fairy-land. The crystal drops
That trickle down the branches, fast congealed,
Shoot into pillars of pellucid length,
And prop the pile they but adorned before.
Here grotto within grotto, safe defies
The sunbeam. There imbossed and fretted wild
The growing wonder takes a thousand shapes
Capricious, in which Fancy seeks in vain
The likeness of some object seen before.

COWPER, Task, v.

Snow is the water of clouds frozen. On a close examination it is found to be composed of icy darts or stars united to each other, as all crystals of water are, whether they compose ice, snow, or hoar-frost, at angles of 60 or 1200. Its whiteness is owing to the small particles into which it is divided, refracting and reflecting, instead of transmitting all the rays of light that fall upon it. Ice, when pounded, becomes equally white. Snow is useful, by covering the plants, and protecting them from the severity of the frost; keeping them very dry, and at a certain depth under the snow the cold continuing always of the same moderate temperature, namely, at 32°, or just at the freezing point. It is, however, a very fatal enemy to shrubs that grow in a southern aspect, for the heat of the sun at noon partially melts the snow, which by the cold of the following night is converted into a mass of ice, and thus destroys the most flourishing and hardy plants; and it has frequently been found by experience in severe winters, that those vegetables which have been exposed to the rays of the sun have been almost totally cut off, while those under a north shelter have sustained no injury,

HAIL AND HOAR-FROST.

9

Hail-stones are drops of rain suddenly congealed into a hard mass, so as to preserve their figure. They often fall in the warmer seasons of the year, as at all times the upper parts of the atmosphere are very cold. Hoar-frost is dew or mist frozen.

It adheres to every object on which it falls, and produces figures of incomparable beauty and elegance. Every twig and blade of grass is beset by it with innumerable glittering pearly drops, or silvery plumage, beyond the skill of any artist to imitate.

Sometimes it happens that a sudden shower of rain falls during a frost, and immediately turns to ice. A remarkable scene is then produced, which the following lines beautifully describe

Ere yet the clouds let fall the treasured snow,
Or winds begin through hazy skies to blow,
At evening a keen eastern breeze arose,
And the descending rain unsullied froze.
Soon as the silent shades of night withdrew,
The ruddy morn disclosed at once to view
The face of nature in a rich disguise,
And brightened every object to my eyes ;
For every shrub, and every blade of grass,
And every pointed thorn seemed wrought in glass.
In pearls and rubies rich the hawthorns show,
While through the ice the crimson berries glow;
The thick-sprung reeds the watery marshes yield,
Seem polished lances in a hostile field ;
The stag, in limpid currents, with surprise
Sees crystal branches on his forehead rise ;
The spreading oak, the beech, and tow'ring pine,
Glazed over, in the freezing ether shine ;
The frighted birds the rattling branches shun,
That wave and glitter in the distant sun,
When, if a sudden gust of wind arise,
The brittle forest into atoms flies :
The crackling wood beneath the tempest bends,
And in a spangled shower the prospect ends.

PHILIPs, Lett. from Copenhagen. In such a case prodigious mischief has been done in the woods by the breaking down of vast arms of trees, which were overloaded by the weight of the incrusting ice; and even rooks, attempting to fly, have been taken, owing to their wings being frozen together by the sleet that congealed as it fell.

The inclemency of the season is shown by its effects on animals. Those which are called the cold-blooded, that is, where the whole of the blood does not circulate through the lungs, as the frog, the snake, and the lizard, are benumbed by it in their winter quarters, and continue in this death-like state till the return of warm weather. Others, as the dormouse, the marmot, and bear, sleep away the greater part of this uncomfortable period; while others, as the squirrel and field-mouse, which lay up stores of provision during the autumn, keep close in their retreats, sleeping a good deal during the intensity of the frost, but, during the less severe part of the winter, being in an active state, have recourse to their hoards for a supply of subsistence. But animals in a state of sleep require nourishment, though not in such large quantities as those which continue actively alive; the necessity of food being proportioned to the rapidity of the circulation of the blood. Since, however, in a state of torpor it is impossible to take in nourishment, these animals must perish, were it not for a store of food prepared and laid up

within them in the form of fat: for animals of this class become very fat before they retire to their winter habitations, and come out again in the spring lean and emaciated, as is the case with the bear, marmot, etc. With respect to the cold-blooded animals, which accumulate no fat, the continuance of their life is provided for by other

All these animals are capable during their active state, of supporting the want of food for a great length of time; at which period the pulsations of the heart, which is the organ for circulating the blood, amount to about sixty in a minute; but, during their torpid state, do not exceed the same number in the

space of an hour; so that the pulsations of the heart, during the three months of winter that they become insensible, amount to no more than the usual number of thirty-six hours in their active state, and their demand for nourishment is probably diminished in the same proportion.

The other animals, that are not rendered torpid by the cold, yet feel very sensibly its effects, which are a deficiency of food and heat; to obviate these pressing evils, the wild quadrupeds of prey by which this island is inhabited, such as the fox, the weasel, the polecat, and others, rendered bold

means.

[blocks in formation]

by famine, make incursions into the hen-roost and farmyard; happily, however, we are acquainted only by report with those formidable troops of wolves which at this season occasionally attack the villages among the Alps, and in other mountainous and woody parts of the continent : of these ravenous invaders Thomson has given a spirited description.

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

By wintry famine roused, from all the tract
Of horrid mountains which the shining Alps,
And wavy Apennine, and Pyrenees,
Branch out stupendous into distant lands;
Cruel as death, and hungry as the grave !
Burning for blood ! bony, and gaunt and grim !
Assembling wolves in raging troops descend;
And, pouring o'er the country, bear along,
Keen as the north-wind sweeps the glossy snow.
All is their prize. They fasten on the steed,
Press him to earth, and pierce his mighty heart :

Nor can the bull his awful front defend,
Or shake the murdering savages away.
Rapacious, at the mother's throat they fly,
And tear the screaming infant from her breast;
The godlike face of man avails him nought.
But if, apprised of the severe attack,
The country be shut up, lured by the scent,
On churchyards drear (inhuman to relate)
The disappointed prowlers fall, and dig
The shrouded body from the grave; o'er which

Mixed with foul shades, and frighted ghosts, they howl. At this season also hares, forgetting their natural timidity, enter the gardens to browse on the cultivated vegetables, and leaving their tracks in the snow, are frequently hunted down, or caught in snares. Rabbits, pressed with hunger, enter into plantations, where they destroy multitudes of trees by barking them as high as they are able to reach.

The numerous tribes of birds also quit their retreats, congregate in large flocks, and, in search of food approach the habitations of man, Larks, and various other small birds, betake themselves for shelter to the warm stubble, Fieldfares, thrushes, and blackbirds, nestle together under hedges and ditch-banks, and frequent the warm manured fields in the neighbourhood of towns. Sparrows, yellow, hammers, and chaffinches, crowd into the farm-yard, and attend the barn-doors to pick their scanty fare from the straw and chaff. The titmouse pulls straw out of thatch, in search of flies and other insects which have sheltered there. From wet meadows, many birds, such as red-wings, fieldfares, sky-larks, and tit-larks, procure much of their winter subsistence; the latter bird, especially, wades up to its belly in pursuit of the pupæ of insects, and runs along upon the floating grass and weeds. They meet also with many gnats on the snow near water. Graminivorous birds, such as the ring-dove, devour the tender tops of turnips and other vegetables; and the berries of the ivy afford a considerable supply; these do not appear to be at all affected by the most intense frosts, and in this respect are far superior to the hips and haws, that are frequently spoiled before the end of November. The redbreast ventures into the house,

And pays to trusted man
His annual visit.

« ForrigeFortsæt »