The hindrance to entering fully into the joyousness of a New England winter, except far inland among the mountains, is the south wind. It is a grateful wind, and has done more, I suspect, to demoralize society than any other. It is not necessary to remember that it filled the silken sails of Cleopatra’s galley. It blows over New England every few days, and is in some portions of it the prevailing wind. That it brings the soft clouds, and sometimes continues long enough to almost deceive the expectant buds of the fruit trees, and to tempt the robin from the secluded evergreen copses, may be nothing; but it takes the tone out of the mind, and engenders discontent, making one long for the tropics; it feeds the weakened imagination on palm-leaves and the lotus. Before we know it we become demoralized, and shrink from the tonic of the sudden change to sharp weather, as the steamed hydropathic patient does from the plunge. It is the insidious temptation that assails us when we are braced up to profit by the invigorating rigor of winter.
Perhaps the influence of the four great winds on character is only a fancied one; but it is evident on temperament, which is not altogether a matter of temperature, although the good old deacon used to say, in his humble, simple way, that his third wife was a very good woman, but her “temperature was very different from that of the other two.” The north wind is full of courage, and puts the stamina of endurance into a man, and it probably would into a woman too if there were a series of resolutions passed to that effect. The west wind is hopeful; it has promise and adventure in it, and is, except to Atlantic voyagers America-bound, the best wind that ever blew. The east wind is peevishness; it is mental rheumatism and grumbling, and curls one up in the chimney-corner like a cat. And if the chimney ever smokes, it smokes when the wind sits in that quarter. The south wind is full of longing and unrest, of effeminate suggestions of luxurious ease, and perhaps we might say of modern poetry,—at any rate, modern poetry needs a change of air. I am not sure but the south is the most powerful of the winds, because of its sweet persuasiveness. Nothing so stirs the blood in spring, when it comes up out of the tropical latitude; it makes men “longen to gon on pilgrimages.”
I did intend to insert here a little poem (as it is quite proper to do in an essay) on the south wind, composed by the Young Lady Staying With Us, beginning,—
“Out of a drifting southern
My soul heard the night-bird cry,”
but it never got any farther than this. The Young Lady said it was exceedingly difficult to write the next two lines, because not only rhyme but meaning had to be procured. And this is true; anybody can write first lines, and that is probably the reason we have so many poems which seem to have been begun in just this way, that is, with a south-wind-longing without any thought in it, and it is very fortunate