The Fragrance of Wild Sweet Briar by Francis George Heath

The Fragrance of Wild Sweet Briar by Francis George Heath

HOW delightful to wander into some woodland glade in the early morning of a summer Sunday! It is doubtless a conventional expression to speak of 'early morning' when it is past six o'clock. The luxurious habits of the age cause us to turn day into night and night into day, at a loss "r" to ourselves which is incalculable. Yet it is not all our fault. If this is an age of pleasure, it is also an age of hard work. We are compelled, to a large extent, to work our bodies and our brains far into the night; and the early morning finds us wrapped in slumber when we might, but for our nocturnal labours, have been basking in the glorious rays of the early morning sun. Yet who that has gone to some rural spot away from the town, and arrived at his destination late in the day, has not often felt the strange awakening influence of the summer sun, giving him an intimation that at least for the period of his stay in the country he must conform to country life, take rest at the commencement of summer night, and rise with the birds in the early morning? If he should do this, he may wander out from his headquarters, and find not one solitary inhabitant astir—the whole district—so far as its human population is concerned—being steeped in slumber. But he will find that the woods and fields are ringing with the songs of the birds who have risen long before, and are in full carol.


On some Sunday morning we may start for our early ramble at a later hour than on any one of the weekdays; for the poor inhabitants of a country village seek a change on the Sabbath from their weekday habits, and, wearied with their hard weekday labours, they sleep during the earlier hours of the Sunday morning. To those wanderers from town, therefore, who desire to enjoy in its greatest perfection the calm of a country ramble, there is no time so exquisitely enjoyable as the early summer Sunday.

Where shall we first bend our steps, as we leave our quarters at the 'Crown' Inn, in this charming woodland village? We care to have no other guide than our own fancy. Our bedroom window faces south, fronting the simple village church, placed, with its rustic burying-ground, on the acclivity of a tiny knoll. From the churchyard level we can see a little of the surrounding woodland, but only enough to make us long for further exploration. So we leave the churchyard, and at its western end pass along the winding road, fringed by Beech and Oak, Birch and Elm, which intermingle their varying foliage; and, by taking an upland turn where a sign-post points 'To Minstead,' we soon find ourselves—by diverging from our road to the left, at a point a few yards from the turning where an Oak flings its branches across nearly the whole width of the carriage way— on the wooded hillside. We pass, under shelter of Oak and Beech, through glades of brake, with growth of Hawthorn, blackberry, and dog rose— now surrounded by glorious Trees, anon getting some distant peep of woodland. Now, in the open sun-lit glade, we breathe the sweet fragrance of the Honeysuckle, twining its creeping stem around the contorted body of some stalwart Hawthorn; now, passing for a moment under the deep shelter of Trees, we scent the sweet mysterious perfume of the wild briar. How often have we unavailingly searched for this beautiful shrub, whose fragrance appears to come and go with strange irregularity! Passing through some forest undergrowth, we have been arrested by the exquisite fragrance of the sweet-briar suddenly bursting upon us from what direction we knew not. Some leaves of dogrose have perhaps been near; and, momentarily deceived by the similarity of form, we have handled them to detect, if possible, by pressure the sweet scent which has attracted us. But we discover it is not the perfumed briar which we handle; and though we have searched far and near, the delicious fragrance of the thorny shrub meanwhile coming to us from time to time in sweet spasmodic gusts, we have frequently failed to discover its whereabouts.