ON considering the autumnal quarter in Britain, as indicated by the calendar, we shall find it more various in its character than any of the other seasons of the year. It seems, indeed, if we only regard its temperature, to form a kind of softened epitome of all the rest, in an inverted order. First, we have, in August, the warmth, and gentleness, and brilliancy of summer; in September, the “etherial mildness,” the elasticity, the variety of spring; in October, many of the features of a mitigated winter, - its gloom, its hoar-frosts. its chilling breath, its howling storms, - alternating, however, with days, and even weeks, of the calm repose peculiarly characteristic of the season. For, let it be observed, that although, in a general view, the analogy we have noticed holds good, yet autumn has a remarkable character of its own, which distinguishes it from all the other seasons. It has succeeded a period of intense heat, from which it has only begun to emerge.
Soon after the middle of June, the sun arrives at its highest altitude in the heavens; but although from this period, he begins to recede, the heat ceases not to accumulate till the middle or end of July, after which the effects of the decreasing intensity of his rays, and of the lengthening nights, become slightly perceptible. At the commencement of autumn, therefore, the earth and the atmosphere still remain heated, and although the periodical rains about this time create a copious evaporation, which serves to diminish its fervour, it is still sufficiently powerful to prevent those extremes, which mark the whole of the spring quarter, and sometimes even the commencement of summer.
The peculiar feature of autumnal weather, therefore, making aliowance for numerous exceptions, is that of tranquillity. When we turn from the atmosphere to the surface of the earth, we find a still greater peculiarity. The vegetable tribes, speaking generally, have advanced through the various stages of production and maturity, and, at the commencement of the season, are approaching the verge of old age. The bountiful earth, however, is still full of beauty, and vegetation appears yet to be in its vigour. The hay has been cut, and gathered into the barn-yard, and the young clover has again covered the mown fields with the liveliest green, or adorned them with its various tinted flowers of red, white, and yellow. The crops of corn are beginning to beam with gold, about to invite the joyous labours of the reaper bands. The pastures still teem with a profusion of succulent herbage, on which the flocks and herds luxuriate, without anticipating the coming rigours of wintcr, - happy at once in the protection of man, and in their ignorance of the future. The woods, which have long exchanged the soft green of spring for the more sober shades that indicate maturity, still retain all their leafy pride, and hide in theft shady bosom myriads of the feathered tribes, which have not yet left our shores, to seek for that subsistence in warmer climes, about to be denied them in the land of their birth.
They have, however, in general, ceased to sing; and the little redbreast, and the mellow-toned wood-lark, thrush and blackbird, which, after a period of silence, resume their notes early in this season, continue almost alone to render our groves vocal with their sweet music, while the lark still ascends to meet the coming morning in the uppet air, and sing its cheerful matins to hail the newborn light.
Another peculiarity of autumn is a diminution both in the varieties and the profusion of its flowers. The blossoms of June have long run to seed, under the excessive heat of July, and have been succeeded by other flowers, chiefly of aromatic, thick-leaved, and succulent plants, and of those called compound flowered; but now, even these are in general casting their petals, and taking the form of seed. The meadow-saffiron and Canterbury- bells, however, still ornament our lawns, and the beautiful purple blossoms of the heath shed a rich glow over our uncultivated commons and craggy hills, covered with sheep. This is peculiarly the season of ripeness.
It is true, that, during the whole summer, herbs and fruits of various kinds have in succession been coming to maturity, and have thus diffused labour and enjoyment over a wider space. Several productions of the garden have already been gathered; among which, the strawberry and the gooseberry have yielded their grateful fruits, to add to the pleasures of the summer months. But the vegetable productions capable of being stored for use, have been chiefly reserved for the autumnal season. It was not requisite, and would, in various respects, have been attended with disadvantage, both to man and the lower animals, for Nature to give forth her superabundant productions before that period when it should be necessary to lay them up for future supply.
According to that admirable forethought, which the inquiring mind never ceases to perceive in the arrangements of the Creator, we find that corn and various kinds of fruit come to maturity at the period which immediately precedes the sterility of winter, not only for the purpose of causing seeds fit for the sustenance of the wild tribes of granivorous animals to be more profusely scattered over the surface of the earth, but also to enable man to hoard in his storehouses whatever -is necessary during the unproductive season, for his own subsistence, and that of the animals he domesticates for his use.
It was formerly observed, that labour is most beneficently diffused over the year, so as not to cause too great a pressure of agricultural employment in any one season; and this remark, which is true of the whole year, is equally true of autumn. Harvest, indeed, is the farmer’s busiest season; but he is seldom overwhelmed with his labours, which follow in succession; and many hands, at other times engaged in different kinds of employment, are now found unoccupied, and ready to aid in the useful task. The season of reaping oats succeeds that of reaping barley; and this again is followed by the wheat harvest, while the time for gathering peas and beans, potatoes and turnips, is still later, and seldom interferes with the former important operations.
Thus it happens that, while the farmer is enabled to store his produce in safety, the peasant obtains a desirable share of the toil and emolument arising from the operations of the season. As the season advances, its character changes. At first it is full of enjoyment; an exhilarating softness is in the air; serenity and beauty is in the bright blue sky; the fields, chequered with gold and lively green, speak of plenty and enjoyment; every living thing is glad. The flocks grazing on the hills; the cattle ruminating in the shaded woodlands; the birds silently flitting from bough to bough, or sporting in flocks through the beautifully transparent air, while they prepare their young for the long migrations which instinct teaches them now to ~editate; and not less the bands of reapers plying their task in the harvest field, and the spectators who, emancipated from the din and smoke, and artificial employments of the city, come to breathe health and refreshment in the country ; - all partake of the general joy of Nature in its most joyous season.
Towards the close of autumn, however, a deeper sentiment occupies the mind. The warmth and brightness have gradually diminished; night has stolen slowly, but funsibly, on the day; the bustle and cheerfulness which pervaded the fields have ceased; the yellow grain, which betokened plenty, has been reaped and housed; and the ground, which lately shone in gold, lies withered and bare; the pastures have assumed a darker hue; the woods, although their varied and harmonizing tints are inexpressibly beautiful, speak of decay; and the sober stffluess of an autumnal sky sheds a gentle sadness over the scene. It is impossible for a mind of sensibility to resist the spirit of melancholy which now rests on the land and on the waters, which broods over the forests, which sighs in the air, which sits in silence on the motionless curtain of the gray clouds. Yet it is a melancholy not unmixed with enjoyment, and nearly allied to deep moral and religious feeling. The decay of Nature reminds us of our own. We too must pass into “the sere and yellow leaf” and fall away. The beauty of the woods, even in their fading, the sober grandeur of the earth and sky, the mild serenity which breathes around, on the mountain, the valley, and the placid lake, all speak of the solemn but cheerful hour, in which the dying Christian falls asleep in the arms of his Saviour, - all seem to shadow forth the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, - all fill the soul with sublime musing on Him, the touch of whose finger changes every thing - himself unchanged.

Home | Links | Hall | Writings | Biography