Huddersfield Chronicle (06/Apr/1895) - The Frost, the Snow, and the Wintry Woods
THE FROST, THE SNOW, AND THE WINTRY WOODS.
(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")
Strange to say the nearest church is not visible from this place, though only just in the hollow, I mean the old kirk of the parish in which I stand. As many of my readers preserve the description of my rambles, if they will read what I wrote of the Roundabout in the spring of last year, and then let their imaginations have full play by changing the picture to one of winter, they will in some measure appreciate the scene before me. Instead of the green and myriad tinted earth they will see the soft, glistening wonderment of snow, the earth knitted to adamant, the trees crystalled to the finest lustre, the hedgerows will coruscate with microscopic pearls, and each blade of grass that peeps above the snow will scintillate with diamonds, while the firmament is walled and beautifully arched with the sweetest opaline, and the clouds poise themselves in the height or sail down to the horizon arrayed in robes equalling the white purity that hides the cold nakedness of the earth. Then as they look up, before them, and around until they see nought but a universe of sky and snow, with the god of day illuminating all to surpassing brilliance, they will see in part the marvels of winter from the Roundabout. Who can adequately describe the beautiful snow? Unlike rain the snow invariably presages its advent by sending in advance its fluttering harbingers, and with its excess of whiteness makes the distance whence it comes frown until it has been delivered of its beauty. A sudden rainstorm often envelops you before you are fully aware of its approach, and if far from shelter you are drenched but the fair snow is too courteous to be unkind or deceitful, and too considerate to be rude, so it warns the eye, and the sense of feeling generally, if not the sense of hearing, that it is about to visit us. Yet, ere it arrives the mackerel cloudlets begin to move and coalesce from speckled white and blue to a dull grey. The sun's lightness fades and looses its brilliance, while the sun itself seems to weep in misty mournfulness, until by slow but sure degrees the heavens containing the storm are one mass of heavy dark cloud, and the harbingers on the wings of fluttering ecstasy come on the wind s bosom, now singly and listlessly, then in bunches like wind-driven feathers, until in rapid and increasing succession the sky is filled with winter butterflies. Beneath this thickly feathered rain the dark earth soon changes her aspect, her sombreness is hid away, and her uncouthness or ugly features turned to the comeliest forms, her shadows turned to light, and her brow smoothed to placid and unwrinkled peace by the gentle snow. Then as the storm increases it is grand to watch the wind sculpture the snow into tapering drifts of wondrous forms and geometric accuracy. The trees are also finely and quickly covered and plumed with new drapery and write feathers, until their blissful tracery and laden branches bend beneath the weight, and may-be break of almost touch the laid-out earth, which is also being still more thickly covered by the white pall of love. Then when the sky is emptied, and the sun once more holds disputed sway, light and quietude reign everywhere. What a blessed mystery this snowy carpeting is ! What myriads of flakes are required to weave its unique design and perfect its inimitable pattern! What numberless crystals fit on and mould into its structure ! Yea, what marvellous workmanship is performed in a single storm ! Though each flake is a separate wonder, yet they fit each other with marvellous oneness, which King Frost either more firmly fixes or divides into sparkling dust, both of which can by the breath of warmth be transformed and melted into equally sparkling waters, which at once assume the life of motion, sink from sight, rise again to the light, form into streamlets, and chase each other in silence or in scarcely audible ripplings, until their tricklings become winding streams, and the streams in their meandering merriment and tumbling fun search out the ravine, smile through the vale, join others, are joined by more, and then in increasing majesty and grand stateliness march on and into the full, but never satisfied, restless sea. The Charon of the other day has undergone a marvellous transformation. The Stygian darkness and the Cimmerian gloom of the dead autumn are, from this marvellous mound, out of sight beneath the sheeted snow. The softly alighting snowflakes are. like death, great levelers, assimilating all objects into one. In the all but silent lullaby of winter the earth is beautified and mantled by the frozen feathery vapour. Church spires, battlements, and pinnacles are outlined on one side in white, in striking contrast with the sable reverse, by the skilful hand of nature, while all shades loose their darker hues and blend to gracefulness as far as eye can peer. Mirfield Church is a thing of calm and stately beauty, made delightfully bright by the reflected sunshine, while from the valley upward and beyond to Ossett there is unwonted radiance which contrasts finely with that noble House of God as the central figure. I feel almost overwhelmed by the grandeur of it all. I see clearly enough the snowy outline of familiar highways and bye-ways, and uplands and deep valleys are marked out by dark stone walls, while the sun's glow warms my face and makes my heart glow responsively, and the solemn stillness forces me to self-communion and wordless adoration. What a blessed thing sight is! What would man be without it or its glorious corollary, light ? The western hills are one grand mass of glacier glow ; like a river of ice that is overflowing its hilly banks and flooding Harden Moss, and sliding into the Holme, the Happy, and the Colne Valleys with glistening trend. West Nab and Deerhill remind one of the everlastingly snow-capped mountains of the world, and though less in height nothing could look much finer. The blazing molten sunshine and the glittering snow are almost too much for the sight. They overpower that tender marvel and wondrous entrance to the human brain, the eye, so that it is compelled to steal its glances, and camera-like shut out all further light until the picture is taken and indelibly photographed on the quite as marvellous convolutions of the brain, there to be stored for use in the dark days, or when the sun sinks from view, and the shadows of the night make both earth and sky an impenetrable blank. Yea, to be used in times of gloom, when the heart knows not why it is sad, or whence its sadness comes. To be used in fitful dreams, in partially unconscious hours, and in midnight reveries; be enjoyed as pleasures of memory, of time and circumstance, which the poor can enjoy equally with the rich, the weak with the strong, and which are a fount from which mankind can drink with perfect freedom, unstintedly, but ne'er to satiety, Though not so imposing as the Alps, its hollows are more lightsome, and its undulating ridges less forbidding, while its less gaping chasms invite one to rather than repel one from them. Again, on the high mountains you are compelled to strain your neck when gazing at the zenith, or be in danger, if you look downwards, of tumbling into eternity, or into what seems like the bottomless pit, but on the Roundabout you are at home, and can count the homes of your friends and their friends, while at all seasons you may here enjoy at ease as fine an expanse of earth and sky as would satisfy even a blasé world-trotter. Yes, if you loved your own district, and tried to know it thoroughly, you might stand and from this elevation live over the past, while you in imagination walked over the beautiful bye-ways and scarcely less agreeable highways.
With this clarified vision before me; upon this silvery and expansive circle of hills and vales, and beneath the bluest dome and the fairest cloudland I could sit or walk for hours, did not the biting frost prompt me to necessary action. The wind is fierce and almost cuts me through, and though loth to leave the hill where I played my boyhood pranks, I remember that the Blacksmith's Arms is not far away, so I stride over the snow as the crow strides or flies, and am soon warming myself at the inn in the midst of a noisy, motley company of miners, millhands, labourers, and indescribables, and those who prefer to let others do their share of work, while, with hands deeply thrust in their pockets, they look knowingly on. Ask these latter to have a pint of "common," and they will display far more energy than they would if you offered them work, and so long as your money lasts, and they can raise the mug to their mouths, they will say, "I'll have another pint, lad, if tha'll pay." I have even seen them drink till they were full and it ran out of their mouths, but rather than miss their turns when the glasses came round they would go outside, empty their hog's heads and stomachs into the road, come back smiling, and begin filling themselves again. On the present occasion the room is full of smoke and men, and I have to stand a while before I can get a seat. Drink of various kinds is disappearing quickly, many of the drinkers have attained their noisiest state, and pandemonium seems to prevail, made more what the real Sheol is said to be by the smoke that each black face continually belches, and by the flaming sulphurous matches that are for ever burning. I should say that the fire and brimstone bad-spot doctrine would be liked rather than otherwise by these smoke-swallowing and fire-eating incarnations, so that some other threat of punishment, excessive cold for instance, would have to be made before it had any effect upon them. I hear as much swearing in five minutes as I have heard even in New-street and Buxton-road on a fine Sunday night. In the present case, however, the language is made up of ordinary expletives, which are mostly meaningless and as empty as the wind, expressions which act as a safety-valve to pent up feelings or sudden excitement, to which even the users attach no very bad import. In the other case, there is prurient nastiness and unsuppressed obscenity, full of gross intent and corrupting desires, which to ordinary ears are too shocking to be thought of, and so unutterably vile that they leave their taint on all the senses and sink deep into the soul. Being in no mood to check the present flow of hilarity I sit and listen, and carefully study the varying types of humanity around me, for fully half an hour. When in such company, either from choice or otherwise, I regard nearly all expletives as redundant adjectives, or the Selahs of conversations. By so doing I often enjoy a mixed company like the present better than that of the excessively intellectual or the unco guid, and if I could give what I now hear as interestedly as it strikes me it would even butter the severity of a prowling prog, and soften the asperity of a dyspeptic pulpiteer, although they may have been years without smiling in consequence of brooding ever what they consider to be this wicked world. Not now, however ; perhaps some other time. I leave this moorland inn with a far better opinion of its noisy throng than I had when I entered it. Hearty generosity has prevailed, and I was agreeably compelled to share it, again concluding, as I almost always do, that a lie uttered among a public-house company has but a very short life.
- "The unco guid" meaning "narrow-minded, excessively religious, or self-righteous people".