“The Change of the Seasons” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November 1850; pp. 129-134)
By the time that this number of the Museum shall have reached our subscribers, scenes like that represented in the engraving, will have again become familiar to a portion of them. The leaves will have fallen from the trees, and the winds, that for six months have been locked up among the icebergs of the North, will have begun to sigh and whistle among their tattered branches. The
birds will have flown to sunnier skies, and the squirrels and woodchucks rolled themselves up for a long winter’s nap. The flowers will have departed—some, never to blossom again; while others, whose sap conceals itself in the root during the cold months, will come back to life at the return of spring. Everything will betoken that a change is at hand. The boys and girls will put on thicker clothing; the doors and windows will be made tight to exclude the winter air; picnics, blackberry parties, and excursions on the lake, will be laid aside for blind-man’s buff, Merry’s Museum, and other in-door occupations.
Perhaps some of our young friends may be unable to see, at the first glance, the benefit arising from this continual change of season. Why should it not be always summer, or why should there not reign a perpetual winter—that period of skating and sliding, New Year’s holidays and Christmas festivities? If the reader will accompany us for a moment, on a tour of inquiry to those parts of the earth where the season seldom changes, he will, perhaps, come back better satisfied to live in a temperate zone, under a fickle sky, and where nature dresses herself in so many different garbs.
First, let us take a look at the frigid zone—the regions around the north and south pole. Here are Greenland, Iceland, and vast tracts of frozen territory, which have never yet been explored. The ice and snow accumulate on the land and water, and cover a great part of the country throughout the year. The winter lasts ten months, beginning in August. The warm weather of the remaining months is too short to bring brain to maturity; and the cultivation of the soil is very little practised. The earth produces coarse though numerous mosses, very short grass, and some other small plants. In many places, nothing is to be seen but dwarf trees and shrubs. In this region, there lives a race of people called Esquimaux. They are diminutive though well-formed and hardy people. They dress in furs and skins and look like large meal-bags inflated with wind. The children wear fur caps, with the ears and nose of the animal, so that at a distance, they look like the cubs of bears, foxes, &c. Their dwellings are sometimes tents of skins, supported by a single pole in the middle, and sometimes huts of snow and ice. They have no fire, but use lamps instead. The wick is a piece of dry moss, fed by the drippings of whale blubber. They live on the flesh of the seal, walrus, reindeer, and musk ox. This they often eat raw. They have a valuable species of dogs, which are trained to draw their masters on sledges from place to place. The runners of these are usually made of the right and left jawbone of a whale. Grinning and grimacing are the chief amusements of the people, though they sometimes play at blindman’s-buff, and skip the rope. They have no conception of a Supreme Beings, and hardly any belief that may be called religion.
So much for continual winter. The people, under the influence of their rigorous climate, are dwarfs both in body and mind. They have not intelligence
enough to build a house or a ship, or if they had, the churlish soil refuses them the means. There is neither timber for the frame, nor iron to fasten the timbers together. There is no hemp to twist into cables, no tools to fashion the wood into the necessary form. Even if they succeeded in constructing a vessel, they knew nothing of other countries, or of the articles which those countries produce. They live isolated from the rest of the world, ignorant of the existence of other people and in their turn forgotten by them.
Let us now glance at the torrid zone. Here, beneath a vertical sun, reigns perpetual summer, and nature puts on a magnificent array of vegetation. As if enchanted by these regions, birds of brilliant plumage are seen in flocks amid the groves; monkeys are sporting in the trees; and, lurking amid marshes and thickets, are jaguars, cougars, tigers and alligators. The trees and plants common in our latitudes, are exchanged for others; vegetation assumes a more exuberant character. The peach gives place to the orange and fig; and lemons, bananas, and guavas fill the air with their fragrance. The numerous and impenetrable forests, and the mighty streams of these regions swarm with animal life in all its forms: ferocious beasts of prey, huge serpents, flocks of gaudily colored and loquacious birds, and clouds of insects everywhere abound. The earth brings forth her increase unasked, and the inhabitants have nothing to do but to pick and eat. The weather is so warm, that clothing and shelter are almost unnecessary. As an instance of the manner in which nature furnishes the inhabitants of hot countries with the means of satisfying all their wants with little labor, we will mention the cocoa-nut tree. This tree is found in all the tropical parts of the world, and the uses to which it is applicablew are almost innumerable. The young buds are an excellent vegetable, and are much eaten; water-pipes, drums, and the posts of huts, are formed of the trunk; shade is furnished by the leaves while growing, and these, after separation from the tree, are invaluable as thatch for cottages. By a twist and a turn of the hand, they are easily fashioned into baskets, buckets, lanterns, articles of head-dress, and even books, upon which writing may be traced with an iron pen. The stems of these leaves form oars, and brushes are made by bruising the end of a leaf with a portion of the stem adhering to it. From the juice of the stem, is a good substitute for sago; and a coarse, dark-colored sugar is obtained from the sap. The ripe fruit is a wholesome food, and the milk it contains a cooling beverage. The shell is made into drinking vessels; and finally, the white solid matter within, yields, by pressure, an excellent oil; this is used for burning, in the manufacture of torches, and in caulking the seams of boats and ships. Thus, with a cocoa-nut tree or two, a man might set up housekeeping, and be amply provided for the rest of his life.
It is plain, that in a country like this, the effect of the climate, and the bounty with which nature has spread her table,
must be to render the people indolent and indifferent. The main spring to exertion in this world, is the necessity of obtaining a livelihood; and in a land where everything is ready made to one’s hand, what motive is there to induce one to labor? The consequences are just what might have been supposed. The inhabitants of tropical countries remain the same from century to century, making little improvement in the arts and social refinements of life. No invention, no discovery, no science, has ever emanated from the torrid zone. All the great cities of the world, all the great works of art that required energy, invention, and skill, in their construction, lie in the temperate zones. And it is a singular fact that all these, without exception, are in the northern temperate zone. All the cities of the United States and Canada: New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Quebec, and Montreal: all the cities of Europe—London, Paris, Vienna, St. Petersburgh, Venice, Constantinople, Rome, and Naples: by far the greater part of those of Asia—Cabul, Teheran, Bagdad, Pekin, and Canton: together with the only portions of Africa that were ever renowned—Egypt and Carthage—are all in the northern temperate zone. Havana, Rio Janeiro, Mecca, and Calcutta, are on the line separating the two temperate zones from the tropics. The cities of Mexico, Chagres, Caraccas, Quito, Lima, Liberia, Timbuctoo, Bombay, Madras, and Honolulu, are all that the torrid zone has to offer as the work of six thousand years. In the southern temperate zone, there is but little land—the points of the great peninsula of South America, and Africa, and about half of New Holland, only.
In climate, as in everything else, a medium between the two extremes will be found most conducive to happiness, contentment, and advancement. We suppose it hardly necessary now to explain why we who live where the sky changes so frequently, and the winds blow hot and cold almost in the same breath, have done so much while others have done so little. The reason is evident. While the summer is ripening the varied fruits of the earth and bringing the crops to perfection throughout the land, every one knows that it is merely a season, a brief space of three months, which will soon disappear, and give way to another. Every one knows that there is a seed- time and a harvest—that in seed-time he must sow, and in harvest-time he must reap. He knows that the crop once matured, the plant, or the tree, or the bulb, will withhold all further bounty for another year. Therefore, the wheat, the rye, the oats, and the corn, must be garnered, the grass must be cut, the fruits of the orchard and the garden stored. And all this in expectation of a season when nature seems dead, and the earth to have forgotten that her children are dependent on her for food, raiment and shelter. This begets care, caution, prudence, foresight, forethought. Even in winter there is no room for idleness; for again comes seed-time and harvest, and again comes frost and snow, and so on to the end of time.
Besides this reason, there is another. There are many things which do not grow
in the temperate zone, but which the inhabitants nevertheless need. They must therefore go and get them, for there is nobody to bring them from the tropics here. This is the origin of what is called commerce. They build ships, at first clumsy and slow, but soon graceful in form and swift of foot. After groping about the seas for some time, they discover the principle which gives birth to the mariner’s compass and then set off in search of new lands. The world now knows enough to write books, and just in the nick of time, the art of printing steps forward from the mists of the dark ages, and offers to print these books and even newspapers if any one will buy them. But ships still sail slowly, and coaches do little more than crawl from place to place: steam was discovered one day, and a man named Fulton harnessed it to a boat. This steam has done nothing but work ever since, pull, push, drive, tear, smash, turn round, go ahead, go up, go down, but isn’t tired yet. Railroads are lazy contrivances, too, so a gentleman whom we know very well, tackled some lightning to a wire and sent it on an errand. The lightning did as it was bid, without playing truant on the way. All these inventions, and many others that we could mention, were the work of the inhabitants of the temperate zone.
In the engraving above, the artist has endeavored to represent the rotation of the seasons. There is Miss Spring, with a garland of the modest and hardy flowers, which have had the courage to peer above the ground; Miss Summer, with an apron full of roses; Miss Autumn, almost bending under the weight of a load of ripened fruits and grain ready for the flail; last of all, Miss Winter,
dressed in skins, and carrying a load of faggots to enliven her cheerless fireside. In the distance, are the pyramids of Egypt, their heads above the clouds. For thousands of years have they looked down upon the changing seasons, and for many centuries more, in all probability, will they mark, unmoved themselves, the flight of time.
As we said at the beginning of this article, it is now November. Blazing hickory fires will henceforth have more charms for both young and old, than the leafless forests and the brown and withered fields. But we hope that we have said enough to satisfy those who dislike the winter months, and who shiver at the approach of north winds and snow storms, that nothing is without its use, and that to the climate of that part of the world in which we live, to the alternation of heat and cold, to the regular succession of the seasons, spring, summer, autumn, winter, we owe, in a great measure, our happiness, comfort, improvement in the arts, health, and civilization.