A Fortnight after I have gathered the last handful of perfect
flowers from the fading anemones, and looked on the primroses at their
best, I return to the woods.
blue mist steals over the bank running down to the stream. There is a
sheen through the undergrowth, as of beauty in hiding.
an April day, somewhat past the middle of the month, between the leafing
of the sloe and the blossoming of the hawthorn. The walk across the
country by the bursting hedgerows was delightful. A sky broken with
clouds, the fields with shadows, and a sun warm enough to make the
shelter of trees grateful. Just the day when one has only to step into
the shade to be cool, and out into the sunshine to be warm: when one
cheek is in the pleasant sunshine, and the other in the cool shadow.
the way, the birds were alert and busy. The gush of song on either hand
was incessant, ever breaking out afresh and ahead, as if I were passing
along a lane bordered on either side by melody; or, rather, through an
arch, of which the lark’s song was the highest part. Flashes of fresh
colour appeared for a moment, as the greenfinch passed from tree to
tree, and the yellow-hammer from hedge to hedge. Beauty as well as
melody bordered and arched the lanes. One cannot mistake the presence of
spring in April. The
dry slope of woodland bank is inviting.
can drink in the exceeding loveliness of such surroundings better when
he is lying down. The shadows over the current, and up the far bank fall
so pleasantly across the spirit. Only in so far as there are spirit
shadows can we see their beauty. No tracery in Nature is more delicate
than that above, except that shadow tracery of twigs and bursting buds
below. One can scarce help being beautiful in soul while he lies here.
He is only reflecting.
chaffinch, without whose spring note the budding woods would scarcely
seem themselves, is now in full song. If the lay is not sweet, it is
woodland, which is far better, and shows how much music owes to the
scene in which we delight to hear it. No other song would please so
scent as well as the complexion of the den has changed. It is no longer
the spiritual essence— so faintly sweet when diffused through the outer
air—of primrose. At least not altogether; though there, it is hard to
detect. Something heavier— too heavy in the concentrated sweetness into
which it is gathered in the close defile between the banks —overpowers
primroses are still abroad among the wood grasses, or beside the mossy
stump, or under the bole of the fallen tree. Scattered here and there,
according to their wont, they charm the eye that wanders over the
woodland floor, with their picturesque setting and frequent surprises.
No two are placed exactly alike.
habit of the hyacinth is different. With less genius for setting, it
becomes picturesque only when seen at a distance. More prodigal of its
favours, it spreads out in sheets, broken only by the tree boles under
the lights and shadows. Within its areas, nor blade nor leaf of aught
else is suffered to appear. I am crushing scores of them where I lie;
and I am lying here simply because I could find no other place where
they were not.
round about me, within easy reach of my hand, the pendent blossoms hang
down the stalks, so that I can see all I want without pulling or
breaking. When I lay my head back, a flower ripples over either cheek in
hyacinthine locks of blue.
it belongs to the lilies is made plain even by the grass-like leaves.
And, like the rest of that lovely family, it is able, by a certain
natural providence, to make an early start. I cut a little square in the
turf round the stem, and dig the whole plant out. And there, half a foot
down in the brown mould, is the store of food laid up in the past season
against the spring.
Several flowers are so closely woven-in with the name of our country,
that we, who were born here, can scarcely recall the day we thought of
them apart. When we begin “ the blue bells,” we feel as if we had not
said enough till we add “of Scotland.”
blue bell has found its way into song, as blooming more distinctly than
any other wild flower in the author’s mental picture of the land. Others
have had some favourite object chosen from amid the scenes where they
were reared, some symbol of so much combined love of nature and
patriotism as they possessed. An exile passionately recalled Scotland by
“the broom that hung its tassels on the lea,” and, among birds, by the
“lintie’s sang.” Being destitute of imagination or the power of
expression, we borrow from the more gifted. And it is amusing how
fervently some of us, when in poetic vein, sing of what we never saw,
and exult in what we never cared for.
the esteem of this man, the blue bell is not only worthy of Scotland,
but also more to be proud of than the “jasmine bowers and rose-covered dells” of sunnier lands. And we echo the sentiment, without being quite sure
what is meant.
happen to be two bells, or rather bell-like flowers, each of which might
well advance its claims. And the unstinted praise may well lead to a
battle or duel of the flowers. The earlier in the field is the wild
bend one of the stalks gently toward me. The petals close, and turn out
at the tip into a delicate vase shape. It is a Scots bell, although not
distinctively so. And there is no valid reason to be found in the beauty
of the plant, in the charm it lends to hundreds of our dells, in the
character it gives to our spring woodlands, in the delight it yields to
all lovers of nature, and in the gap it would leave if it deserted its
haunts—for what else would fill up the space which divides the primrose
and the summer flowers?—why it should not be the Scottish Blue Bell.
it is not found everywhere. Many countrysides are without it. Many shady
places may be searched without the tell-tale odour revealing its
presence, and guiding to its twilight domain. Many dells as promising as
this have to supply the want as best they can.
wherever it is, it can scarcely escape the attention of the least
observant, or fail to awaken the enthusiasm of the least impressionable.
Every schoolboy on the Saturday half-holiday visits its haunts for the
nests of the rarest birds, and gathers handfuls to scatter on the way
home. Every country maiden from the surrounding cotter houses pushes it
among her locks.
little girl with the golden hair and the soft eyes, what do you like?”
“To be among the wood hyacinths.”
Beyond the margin of the wood, the hyacinths flow over the bank among
the brambles and trailing roses. The white-throat and rose linnet weave
their nests among the scented twigs; and the yellow-hammer builds among
the grasses, where the long pleasant days of sitting may be shaded by
fortnight or so after the blue hyacinths have faded,—say about the end
of June, when already every egg has been chipped, and the birds are busy
feeding their second brood amid the thickening undergrowth,—a second
flower of Scotland makes its appearance.
no longer vase-shaped, but bell-shaped; indeed, it is one of the true
bells, with all its petals joined into one. If there is anything
lovelier than a lily, it is a campanula, which is just another name for
bell. And this is the most delicate of the graceful family to which it
everything is etherealised, only sufficient substance being used to
indicate and preserve the form. If it were not prejudging the case, one
might be disposed to pronounce it the most perfect in shape of all
flowers, either wild or cultivated, in Scotland or elsewhere.
is no stiffness about it, like the other; no stout stem whereon to
suspend heavy-textured blossoms. If ever bell were tremblingly hung,
this one is. It vibrates to the slightest stirring of the air; and when
is the air still in its exposed haunts? It seeks the open wastes, as
pleasanter for the breathless days than the sheltered woodlands.
yet has it been decided how the name arose; and the spelling is left
very much to individual imagination and taste. Where the choice is
between two such names, equally poetic and suggestive, there is really
no hurry. The pity would be to lose either of them.
is hair bell, the reference is to the exquisite poising of the blossom
on the hair-like stem. If hare bell, still fresher associations with the
moorland are conveyed. It must mean that the hare has its form where the
flowers grow; and, on its passage to and fro, rings from the fairy
wandering chimes to vagrant butterflies.
extreme delicacy lends not only grace, but safety as well. Whereas other
moorland plants protect themselves from the unchecked storms, or the
tread of animals, in various coarser ways, this has learned from nature
the gentler art of conquering by knowing when to yield.
E’en the slight hare bell
raised its head Elastic from her airy tread.
meant this as a compliment to the grace of Helen Douglas; but half of it
belongs to the flower. Clumsier feet by far than those of the Lady of
the Lake may tread, and the stem will spring back again uninjured. The
bell, so fragile seeming, has simply sunk among the soft grass or moss,
and will shake itself into perfect form again as soon as the pressure
has passed, and it is lifted into air.
have seen a limb torn from the tough birch, or a moorland pine uprooted,
but I never saw a hare bell crushed—beyond the power of rising and
shaking out its creases again—by anything lighter than a cart-wheel; and
not always by that.
bell has no scent. No second inducement is needed to those vagrant
butterflies. So far, it stands at a disadvantage with its rival. Growing
singly or in clusters, and not in masses, it does not attract the eye
from a distance, as a glow of colour. But it is almost everywhere, which
the other is not. It fringes the edges of the cornfields, climbs the
mountain-sides till it meets the lower alpines, where I have seen it
white as the mountain hares of winter; and runs down to the coast till
it is washed by the salt spray, where I have also seen it white: on
either site, when bleached, it scarcely looks like itself.
Chiefly is it a moorland wildling, companion of the meadow pipit and the
nesting plover. And in such moors Scotland abounds. From June onward,
every golf-ball driven on St. Andrews links rings the wandering chimes
to the blue seaside butterflies. Levelled for a moment, it swiftly rises
again, and, ere the golfer passes, it is already trembling in the light
breeze as if nothing had happened.
gathered by school children, in those delightful autumn weeks spent by
the seaside or on inland moor. It blooms for a while along with the
marguerite, to whose calm beauty it adds fairylike grace. And when the
reign of marguerite is over, it fills the vases of aesthetic maidens,
adding to, and borrowing the delicacy of the lighter grasses which
tremble beside it. Thus it has all the claims of its tenderer
loveliness, of its wider-spread, and its closer sympathy with the genius
of the land to be recalled, whenever Scotland is named.
why worry oneself between two such fair claimants ? Why not, with honest
Cassio, confess each to be more excellent than the other? A queen may
surely reign in Spain while another reigns in England, and the earth
prove large enough for both. In like manner two fairy queens may reign
at once, so long as one holds her court on the moor and the other in the
woods. Why not pay devoirs to the hare bell in the open, and change our
allegiance on passing beneath the branches. Two fairy queens can reign
in different places at the same time, and all beauty is not gathered
into one bell, any more than into one face.
even this is not a full statement of the case. Both are not abroad on
the earth, even in their different scenes, at the same time. Then what
excuse is there for rivalry? Who wants a cessation in the reign of
beauty, or even an interregnum?
us divide the kingdom between them, making the hyacinth queen for life.
All the spring we shall feel at liberty to pay court to her, lying out
among the trembling shadows; changing as the buds open into leaves.
Until the shilfa’s song begins to lose its early freshness, and the
warbler’s lay awakens, we shall make the rocky den echo to our tuneful
song, “The Blue Bells of Scotland.” And when at length the woods become
faint with heat: then on the breezy moor, or near “ the beached margent
of the sea,” where dance our ringlets to the whistling wind, to the
wandering chimes of that other bell we shall finish our song, “The
Scottish Blue Bells.”