Fragrance in the Writings of Richard Jefferies

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Acres of perfume come on the wind from the black and white of the bean-field ; the firs fill the air by the copse with perfume.

At evening, if it be sultry, and on some days, especially before a thunderstorm, the whole mead is full of the fragrance of this plant, which lines the inside ditch almost everywhere.

All the unwritten and inexpressible aspirations of her nature, her noble nature, crowded into this one emotion. In her love was her all, her existence, her breath, her thought, the very expression of her form; as a flower grows and bears its one colour and perfume, so she lived and bore this one feeling. Of all else, of the world and of herself, she was utterly careless and unconcerned.

As there is a bloom upon the peach and grape, so this is the bloom of summer. The air is ripe and rich, full of the emanations, the perfume, from corn and flower and leafy tree. In strictness the term will not, of course, be accurate, yet by what other word can this appearance in the atmosphere be described but as a bloom? Upon a still and sunlit summer afternoon it may be seen over the osier-covered islets in the Thames immediately above Teddington Lock.

Sometimes in early June the bright trifolium, drooping with its weight of flower, brushes against the passer-by—acre after acre of purple. Occasionally the odour of beans in blossom floats out over the river. Again, above the green wheat the larks rise, singing as they soar; or later on the butterflies wander over the yellow ears. Or, as the law of rotation dictates, the barley whitens under the sun. Still, whether in the dry day, or under the dewy moonlight, the plain stretching from the water to the hills is never without perfume, colour, or song.

Nut-tree bushes grow along the bank of the brook on this side — the nuts are a smaller sort than usual; and beside the wet ditch within the mound and on the ' shore,' wherever the scythe has not reached, the meadow-sweet rears its pale flowers. At evening, if it be sultry, and on some days, especially before a thunderstorm, the whole mead is full of the fragrance of this plant, which lines the inside
ditch almost everywhere. So heavy and powerful is its odor that the still motionless air between the thick hedges becomes oppressive, and it is a relief to issue forth into the open fields away from the perfume and the brooding heat. But by day it is pleasant to linger in the shadow and inhale its sweetness — if you are not nervous of snakes, for there is one here and there in the grass gliding away at the jar of the earth under your footstep.

A single flower in a gloomy room will sometimes light it up as with a glory — the eye instantly rests upon it ; a single violet will fill the place with perfume.

As they pushed along they shook the meadowsweet flowers which grew very thickly, and the heavy perfume rose up. In a willow stole or blue gum Mark found the nest of a sedge bird, but empty, the young birds hatched long since.

From the perfume of the growing grasses waving over honey-laden clover and laughing veronica, hiding the greenfinches, baffling the bee.

I will permit him to clasp half his fortune in a diamond bracelet round my arm, and he shall just catch the heavenly odour of perfume which dwells in my alabaster skin; and shall go away drunk, reeling, a king in his own conceit—he has had more of me than others.

He had really pushed much further than that, but he could not hold all the ground he had taken for the following reason: In the spring, as the soft warm weather came, and the sun began to shine, and the rain to fall, and the brook to sing more sweetly, and the wind to breathe gently with delicious perfume, and the green leaves to come forth, the barbarians began to feel the influence of love.

But a sense of wealth, of social station, and refinement — strange and in strong contrast to the rustic scene — lingers behind, like a faint odour of perfume.


But the breeze comes, and ere the rattle of the wheels and cogs has died away, the fragrance of the flowers and green things has reasserted itself. Such a sunny slumber, and such a fragrance of flowers, both wild and cultivated, have dwelt round and over the place these two hundred years, and mayhap before that.

There are many grand roses, but no fragrance — the fragrance is gone out of life.

Here, where the ground slopes gradually, it is entirely covered with the purple bells; a sheen and gleam of purple light plays upon it. A fragrance of sweet honey floats up from the flowers where grey hive-bees are busy.

On her right the hedge came to the sward ; on the left a bank rose, and the hedge went along the summit. The fragrance of the dew, invisibly evaporating, filled the air she breathed.

From the firs came a fragrance, filling the atmosphere with a sweet resinous odour. The sap exuding through the bark formed in white viscous drops upon the trunks.

On, on, over the green meadows, smelling with the new-mown hay, fresh with the fragrance of a thousand flowers. The well-remembered stiles, the hedges covered with the dear dog-roses, her favourite flowers —all passed as in a dream.


From the pines comes a fragrant odour, and thus the character of each group dominates the surrounding ground.

But they do want something more, without which all this expensive spoiling is quite thrown away. They want the unconscious teaching of the country, and without that they will never know the truths of this life. They need to feel—unconsciously—the influence of the air that blows, sun-sweetened, over fragrant hay; to feel the influence of deep shady woods, mile-deep in boughs— the stream—the high hills; they need to revel in long grass. Put away their books, and give them the freedom of the meadows. Do it at any cost or trouble to yourselves, if you wish them to become great men and noble women.

The tea had a fragrant scent, warm and grateful after the moist atmosphere of the meadows, smelling of decaying leaves


Nor do the long-drawn notes of the nightingale, nor even the jolly cuckoo, nor the tree pipit, no, nor even the soft coo of the turtle-dove and the smell of the May flower.

'It's indoors, sir, as kills half the people; being indoors three parts of the day, and next to that taking too much drink and vittals. Eating's as bad as drinking; and there ain't nothing like fresh air and the smell of the woods. You should come out here in the spring, when the oak timber is throwed (because, you see, the sap be rising, and the bark strips then), and just sit down on a stick fresh peeled—I means a trunk, you know—and sniff up the scent of that there oak bark. It goes right down your throat, and preserves your lungs as the tan do leather. And I've heard say as folk who work in the tan-yards never have no illness. There's always a smell from trees,dead or living—I could tell what wood a log was in the dark by my nose; and the air is better where the woods be.

There's the smell of the earth, too—'specially just as the plough turns it up—which is a fine thing; and the hedges and the grass are as sweet as sugar after a shower.

And in those ditches are numerous coarse stems and leaves which, if crushed in the fingers, yield a strong parsnip-like smell.

The flowers were over — they are a peculiar colour, dark and green veined and red, there is no exact term for it, but you may know the plant by the leaves, which, if crushed, smell like those of the black currant.

When it went over me there was a perceptible coolness and a faint smell of damp smoke, and immediately the road, which had been white under the sunshine, took a dim, yellowish hue.

He was in such a hurry he did not mind the thistles or the boughs that whipped him as they sprang back, he scrambled through, meeting the vapour of the gunpowder and the smell of sulphur.

Coming to the same district in summer time, the meadows have a beauty all their own. The hedges are populous with birds, the trees lovely, the brook green with flags, the luxuriantly-growing grass decked with flowers. Nor has haymaking lost all its ancient charm. Though the old-fashioned sound of the mower sharpening his scythe is less often heard, being superseded by the continuous rattle of the mowing machine, yet the hay smells as sweetly as ever. While the mowing machine, the haymaking machine, and horse rake give the farmer the power of using the sunshine, when it comes, to the best purpose, they are not without an effect upon the labouring population.

"Because," said the weasel, "the mouse has found out where your mamma has put it in the cupboard, and there is a little chink through which he can smell it, but he cannot quite get through, nor is he strong enough to gnaw such very hard wood, else you may depend he would have kept the secret to himself. But as he could not creep through he has gone and told Raoul, the jrat, who has such strong teeth he can bite a way through anything, and to-night, when you are all in bed and firm asleep, and everything is quiet, Yish, the mouse, is going to show the rat where the chink is, the rat is going to gnaw a hole, and in the morning there will be very little left of your cake."

The room has a fresh, sweet smell from the open window and the flowers. It tempts almost irresistibly to repose in the noontide heat of a summer's day.


The odour of firs is variable ; sometimes it fills the air, sometimes it is absent altogether, and doubtless depends upon certain conditions of the atmosphere.

Old-world plants and flowers linger still like heirlooms in the farmhouse garden, though their pleasant odor is oft-times choked by the gaseous fumes from the furnaces of the steam-ploughing engines as they pass along the road to their labor. Then a dark vapor rises above the tops of the green elms, and the old walls tremble and the earth itself quakes beneath the pressure of the iron giant, while the atmosphere is tainted with the smell of cotton-waste and oil.

Sometimes a peculiar but not altogether unpleasant odour fills the low-pitched sitting room—it is emitted by the roots burning upon the fire, hissing as the sap exudes and boils in the fierce heat. When the annual fall of timber takes place the butts of the trees are often left in the earth, to be afterwards grubbed and split for firewood, which goes to the great house or is sold. There still remain the roots, which are cut into useful lengths and divided among the upper employes. From elm and oak and ash, and the crude turpentine of the fir, this aromatic odour, the scent of the earth in which they grew, is exhaled as they burn.

The sun at his meridian pours forth his light, forgetting, in all the inspiration of his strength and glory, that without an altar-screen of green his love must scorch. Joy in life; joy in life. The ears listen, and want more: the eyes are gratified with gazing, and desire yet further; the nostrils are filled with the sweet odours of flower and sap. The touch, too, has its pleasures, dallying with leaf and flower. Can you not almost grasp the odour-laden air and hold it in the hollow of the hand?

Wild clematis grew so thickly on one side of the narrow lane that the hedge seemed made of it. Trailing over the low bushes, the leaves hid the hawthorn and bramble, so that the hedge was covered with clematis leaf and flower. The innumerable pale flowers gave out a faint odour, and coloured the sides of the highway.

The fragrance of the dew, invisibly evaporating, filled the air she breathed. From sweet-green hawthorn leaves, from
heavy grasses drooping, the glittering drops dissolving brought with them the odour of leaf and flower. The larks, long since up, had sung the atmosphere clear of the faint white mist left by the night.

Something in the odour of these umbelliferous plants, perhaps, is not quite liked; if brushed or bruised they give out a bitter greenish scent.

There came the odour of many flowers, the hum of bees, and the distant sound of rushing water.

A sweet yet faintly pungent odour came on the light breeze over the next field—a scent like clover, but with a slight reminiscence of the bean-flower. It arose from the yellow flower of the hop-trefoil: honey sometimes has a flavour which resembles it.


And so our wild flowers of the copse, the meadows, and the downs have about each and all of them a human aroma—an odour of the Past. They have with them the associations from our childhood, when we played amongst them, gathered them by multitudes in sport. They bring with them strange tales of centuries since, when knights wore them on their helmets, when ladies rode a-hawking over them. They have a history, or rather a mythology, of their own.