Happy the age, and harmless were the dayes,
(For then true love and amity was found,)
When every village did a May-pole raise,
And Whitsun ales and May-games did abound:
And all the lusty yonkers in a rout,
With merry lasses daunc’d the rod about,
Then friendship to their banquets bid the guests,
And poore men far’d the better for their feasts.
The month of April has nearly passed away, and we are fast approaching that poetical day, which was considered, in old times, as the boundary that parted the frontiers of winter and summer. With all its caprices, however, I like the month of April. I like these laughing and crying days, when sun and shade seem to run in billows over the landscape. I like to see the sudden shower coursing over the meadow, and giving all nature a greener smile; and the bright sunbeams chasing the flying cloud, and turning all its drops into diamonds.
I was enjoying a morning of the kind, in company with the Squire, in one of the finest parts of the park. We were skirting a beautiful grove, and he was giving me a kind of biographical account of several of his favourite forest trees, when he heard the strokes of an axe from the midst of a thick copse. The Squire paused and listened, with manifest signs of uneasiness. He turned his steps in the direction of the sound. The strokes grew louder and louder as we advanced; there was evidently a vigorous arm wielding the axe. The Squire quickened his pace, but in vain; a loud crack, and a succeeding crash, told that the mischief had been done, and some child of the forest laid low. When we came to the place, we found Master Simon and several others standing about a tall and beautifully straight young tree, which had just been felled.
The Squire, though a man of most harmonious dispositions, was completely put out of tune by this circumstance. He felt like a monarch witnessing the murder of one of his liege subjects, and demanded, with some asperity, the meaning of the outrage. It turned out to be an affair of Master Simon’s, who had selected the tree, from its height and straightness, for a May-pole, the old one which stood on the village green being unfit for farther service. If any thing could have soothed the ire of my worthy host, it would have been the reflection that his tree had fallen for so good a cause; and I saw that there was a great struggle between his fondness for his groves, and his devotion to May-day. He could not contemplate the prostrate tree, however, without indulging in lamentation, and making a kind of funeral eulogy, like Mark Antony over the body of Caesar; and he forbade that any tree should thenceforward be cut down on his estate, without a warrant from himself; being determined, he said, to hold the sovereign power of life and death in his own hands.