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Midsummer Days And Midsummer Nights
by [?]

Soon, with pomp of golden days and silver nights, the dying Summer will wave the world farewell; but the precious time is still with us, and we cherish the glad moments gleefully. When the dawn swirls up in the splendid sky, it is as though one gladsome procession of hours had begun to move. The breeze sighs cool and low, the trees rustle with vast whisperings, and the conquering sun shoots his level volleys from rim to rim of the world. The birds are very, very busy, and they take no thought of the grim time coming, when the iron ground will be swept by chill winds and the sad trees will quiver mournfully in the biting air. A riot of life is in progress, and it seems as if the sense of pure joy banished the very thought of pain and foreboding from all living things. The sleepy afternoons glide away, the sun droops, and the quiet, coloured evening falls solemnly. Then comes the hush of the huge and thoughtful night; the wan stars wash the dust with silver, and the brave day is over. Alas, for those who are pent in populous cities throughout this glorious time! We who are out in the free air may cast a kindly thought on the fate of those to whom “holiday” must be as a word in an unknown tongue. Some of us are happy amid the shade of mighty hills: some of us fare toward the Land of the Midnight Sun, where the golden light steeps all the air by night as well as day; some of us rest beside the sea, where the loud wind, large and free, blows the long surges out in sounding bars and thrills us with fresh fierce pleasure; some of us are able to wander in glowing lanes where the tender roses star the hedges and the murmur of innumerable bees falls softly on the senses. Let us thankfully take the good that is vouchsafed to us, and let those of us who can lend a helping hand do something towards giving the poor and needy a brief taste of the happiness that we freely enjoy.

I do not want to dwell on ugly thoughts; and yet it seems selfish to refrain from speaking of the fate of the poor who are packed in crowded quarters during this bright holiday season. For them the midsummer days and midsummer nights are a term of tribulation. The hot street reeks with pungent odours, the faint airs that wander in the scorching alleys at noonday strike on the fevered face like wafts from some furnace, and the cruel nights are hard to endure save when a cool shower has fallen. If you wander in London byways, you find that the people are fairly driven from their houses after a blistering summer day, and they sit in the streets till early morning. They are not at all depressed; on the contrary, the dark hours are passed in reckless merriment, and I have often known the men to rest quite contentedly on the pavement till the dawn came and the time of departure for labour was near. Even the young children remain out of doors, and their shrill treble mingles with the coarse rattle of noisy choruses. Some of those cheery youngsters have an outing in the hopping season, and they come back bronzed and healthy; but most of them have to be satisfied with one day at the most amid the fields and trees. I have spoken of London; but the case of those who dwell in the black manufacturing cities is even worse. What is Oldham like on a blistering midsummer day? What are Hanley and St. Helen’s and the lower parts of Manchester like? The air is charged with dust, and the acrid, rasping fumes from the chimneys seem to acquire a malignant power over men and brain. Toil goes steadily on, and the working-folk certainly have the advantage of starting in the bright morning hours, before the air has become befouled; but, as the sun gains strength, and the close air of the unlovely streets is heated, then the torment to be endured is severe. In Oldham and many other Lancashire towns a most admirable custom prevails. Large numbers of people club their money during the year and establish a holiday-fund; they migrate wholesale in the summertime, and have a merry holiday far away from the crush of the pavements and the dreary lines of ugly houses. A wise and beneficent custom is this, and the man who first devised it deserves a monument. I congratulate the troops of toilers who share my own pleasure; but, alas, how many honest folk in those awful Midland places will pant and sweat and suffer amid grime and heat while the glad months are passing! Good men who might be happy even in the free spaces of the Far West, fair women who need only rest and pure air to enable them to bloom in beauty, little children who peak and pine, are all crammed within the odious precincts of the towns which Cobbett hated; and the merry stretches of the sea, the billowy roll of the downs, the peace of soft days, are not for them. Only last year I looked on a stretch of interminable brown sand, hard and smooth and broad, with the ocean perpetually rolling in upon it with slow-measured sweep, with rustle and hiss and foam, and many a thump as of low bass drums. There before me was Whitman’s very vision, and in the keen mystic joy of the moment I could not help thinking sadly of one dreadful alley where lately I had been. It seemed so sad that the folk of the alley could not share my pleasure; and the murmur of vain regrets came to the soul even amid the triumphant clamour of the free wind. Poor cramped townsfolk, hard is your fate! It is hard; but I can see no good in repining over their fortune if we aid them as far as we can; rather let us speak of the bright time that comes for the toilers who are able to escape from the burning streets.