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PLEASURES OF A COUNTRY HOME,
By Mrs. BRIGHTWEN, Vice-President of the Selborne Society.
Author of “Wild Mature won by Kindness,” “More about Wild AWature,” “Aome Work,” “Practical Thoughts on Bible Study,” etc.
THOSE who already possess a home out of town, and who have possibly lived all their lives in the midst of the beauties of Nature, will know from their own experience the endless sources of pleasure which such a life affords. I would therefore presuppose that my readers will be those who but rarely have the opportunity of seeing trees and fields and enjoying the restfulness of a country life. It will be a pleasant task to try to show them a few of the advantages which may be derived from contact with the things—pure, bright and beautiful— which cluster round one's country dwelling. Parents who live in towns little know how much their children lose by being deprived of the teaching of the oldest Testament of all—i.e., the book of Nature. Deep down in the heart of every child there is, I believe, an innate love of animals, birds and flowers. Witness the joy of town children when they are first permitted the opportunity of gathering flowers for themselves; how eagerly a frog is secured as a wondrous prize; how wide open are the young eyes to the new page of life which has been suddenly opened to them.
It is for parents to guide the minds of their children into life-long friendship with God's works, and to lead them in their early days to cultivate the habit of observation. To be assured that father and mother will meet the little students with ready sympathy and interest as they relate the discoveries they have made, of where a wild bee makes its nest, or a dormouse its tiny home, will do much to lay the foundation of such habits as may be of essential use in after-life. In an admirable chapter on education, in the “Life of Mrs. Sewell,” occurs the following passage:—“It was through the beauty of Nature that God first spoke to my own heart when I was a child of not more than four years old, and I believe if parents can reverently and lovingly turn over the pages of God's book before the charmed eyes of their little ones, they will find a natural and happy response. . . . . When children have once got hold of Nature, and their mother will animate and help them, they want no toys. It is such a delightful task that I really almost envy a mother who has it for her work and duty.” It may be urged that it is not all parents who are themselves well enough acquainted with natural history to be able to guide and instruct their children, but even if that be the case, there are so many helpful books published, giving ample information on every branch of science, that for those living in the country there can be no difficulty in learning the life-histories of the creatures that are met with in our daily walks. I suppose no one would question the superior healthfulness of country life. We have only to contrast the pale face and puny limbs of a little town-bred child, taken from some ill-favoured London slum, with a rosy-cheeked little rustic from a cottage door, to see at once the effect of town and country air in its most marked aspect. Of course in higher life there are mitigations, and the effect would not be quite so apparent, for the children of wellto-do parents are taken from town to the seaside or elsewhere several times in the year, and thus the lack of pure air and light is in a measure supplied; but still there remains the artificial routine of daily life, walking in crowded streets instead of joyous rambles in country lanes, growing up in the midst of society pleasures which may eventually lead to dissipated habits, instead of drinking in the pure delights which the Creator has designed to be our recreation. It is a touching thing that poor town children, as a rule, scarcely know how to play. This speaks volumes about the dreariness of their young lives. There are, doubtless, thousands of people who would live in the country but are tied in town by their daily avocations, and there are thousands more who might live out of the noise and smoke of cities, but who simply know nothing of the exquisite delights of rural life. Walk through a leafy wood towards the end of May or early in June; listen to the happy chorus of birds up in the branches; see on all sides the marvellous variety of tints, the glow of sunlight resting on beds of anemones and bluebells, and feel the fresh, pure breezes which seem to bring health and vigour, in this way through all the senses we are drinking in the purest enjoyment; can a walk in a dusty street compare with such a ramble 2 Autumn, with its rich corn-fields and mellow beauty of colouring; winter, with its fairy frost work and sparkling ice; each and all the seasons bring their pleasures to those hearts that are attuned to the sweet harmonies of Nature. It is of great advantage to children to be taught the habit of close, careful observation, for it leads to accuracy of statement and clear description of anything seen, and surely those qualities are frequently lacking even in grown-up people and need to be enforced in early life. When children are staying with me I am often charmed to see their eager delight in listening to stories of birds and insects, and amused, too, to watch their instant carrying out of suggestions for study; and various are the things brought for my inspection—dead birds or moles, fungi, worms, frogs, etc. I had explained to one clever little naturalist that all raptorial birds threw up pellets of the fur and bones of the creatures they fed upon, as they were indigestible, and showed him the tree where an owl roosted, and beneath which he might possibly find the little dry pellets of mouse's fur. Next morning he ran into my room with sparkling eyes, saying, “The old owl was sick last night, and here are the pellets' " One could excuse the graphic way of stating the case, as it showed the zeal of the young collector. I have heard parents, whose sons had a taste for collecting birds, insects or fossils, rejoice greatly that such tastes were of real value when the lads were pursuing their life-work abroad, for leisure time, instead of being spent in dissipation, was devoted to the special fad which had been taken up, and surely that was no small gain as a result of living in the country in childhood. Intelligent young people will never rest content with merely obtaining specimens in any branch of natural history, they will crave for books which will teach them more about the things they have collected, and in the wide field of Nature they will find life-long interest, for in every place they may happen to visit, something fresh may be discovered. The wise words of Sir James Paget, in an address given at the Egyptian Hall in 1888, may well be borne in mind. He says: “Long ago, when I studied botany, there was a piece of ground scarcely bigger than this hall near my father's house in Yarmouth, and there I found more than fifty species of plants. The origin of such plants, whether from seeds in the ground or from those in the air, how far one can exclude another, the influence of London atmosphere, their attraction of insects, and many other things would be worth observing. At least, in these and the like things, you may learn to observe, and then you will love to observe, and then some good will come of it." One might say much about the facilities the country affords for animal and bird study, and the happiness our children may derive from keeping their various pets, the ponies, dogs, rabbits, etc., which are sure to find favour with young people, and which give excellent opportunities for developing habits of patient care-taking and thoughtfulness. I would suggest that there should be some supervision of the said pets from time to time, for children, however well-intentioned, are often unable to keep animals and birds in health and happiness from lack of knowledge of their requirements, and thus real cruelty is the result, which might easily be avoided by a few wise hints about suitable food and management. Children living in a country home are almost sure to develop an interest in the natural objects around them, and thus they are provided with sources of life-long pleasure. Their experience will be akin to that of the Reverend Charles Kingsley, when he wrote:– “I have so long enjoyed the wonders of Nature; never I can honestly say alone, because when man was not with me I had companions in every bee and flower and pebble; and never idle, because I could not pass a