But sometimes the canons of good taste are astonishingly irrational. Who was it who set Christendom wearing black, sad, hopeless black as the symbol of mourning? The Roman ladies, who had never heard of the doctrine of the Resurrection, clothed themselves in white for mourning. It is left for the Christian world, which looks beyond the grave, to wear the habiliments of despair. If I go to a funeral I am as conventional as anybody else, for I have not the courage of a distinguished statesman whom I saw at his brother’s funeral wearing a blue overcoat, check trousers, and a grey waistcoat, and carrying a green umbrella. I can give you his name if you doubt me—a great name, too. And he would not deny the impeachment. I am not prepared to endorse his idea of good taste; but I hate black. “Why should I wear black for the guests of God?” asked Ruskin. And there is no answer. Perhaps among the consequences of the war there will be a repudiation of this false code of taste.
As I turned into the lane that climbs the hillside to the cottage under the high beech woods I was conscious of a sort of mild expectation that I could not explain. It was late evening. Venus, who looks down with such calm splendour upon this troubled earth in these summer nights, had disappeared, but the moon had not yet risen. The air was heavy with those rich odours which seem so much more pungent by night than by day—those odours of summer eves that Keats has fixed for ever in the imagination:—
I cannot see what flowers
are at my feet.
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs;
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
Ah, that was it. I remembered now. A fortnight ago, when I last came up this lane by night, it was the flash of the white hawthorn in the starlight that burst upon me with such a sudden beauty. I knew the spot. It was just beyond here, where the tall hedgerow leans over the grass side-track and makes a green arbour by the wayside. I should come to it in a minute or two, and catch once more that ecstasy of spring.
And when I reached the spot the white hawthorn had vanished. The arbour was there, but its glory had faded. The two weeks I had spent in Fleet Street had stripped it of its crown, and the whole pageant of the year must pass before I could again experience that sudden delight of the hedgerows bursting into foam. I do not mind confessing that I continued my way up the lane with something less than my former exhilaration. Partly no doubt this was due to the fact that the hill at this point begins its job of climbing in earnest, and is a stiff pull at the end of a long day’s work and a tiresome journey—especially if you are carrying a bag.