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Sit thee by the ingle, when
Rustle of the reaped corn;
The crocus in the shrewd March morn
Thrusts up its saffron spear; And April dots the sombre thorn
With gems and loveliest cheer.
While slowly swells the pod,
The mushroom bursts the sod.
Is bound with silver bars;
YEAR is not only an astronomical, but a natural period, and the first imperfect year of ancient times must, no doubt, have originated from observing the regular vicissitudes of heat and
cold, of the leafing, flowering, and fruiting of the various tribes of vegetables; and the coincidence of these appearances with the laying and hatching of birds, and the production of the young of quadrupeds. This way of reckoning, however, was subject to so many variations, that it was soon necessary to make choice of some more constant periodical occurrence by which to mark the annual revolution.
The ancient year began in the month of March, and it may appear singular, that modern civilised nations should choose to commence their year at a period when nature lies almost dormant, in preference to that season when the race of vegetables and animals is actually renewed. In defence of the present custom it may, however, be said, that the time of the renovation of nature varies in different countries,
and is affected so much by accidental circumstances, as to preclude the possibility of an exact calculation ; that now
does not commence till ten days after the winter solstice, and that the lengthening of the day, as it is the chief cause, so it is in fact the commencement of spring.
So little influence, however, has this change at first, that the month of January is usually found to be that in which the cold is most intense ; there being little or no frost in this country before the shortest day, conformably to the old saying, " as the days begin to lengthen, the frost begins to strengthen.” The weather is commonly either bright dry frost, or fog and snow, with cold showers about the close of the month.
It used formerly to be a subject of much dispute among natural philosophers, whether frost was a particular substance, or merely the absence of a certain degree of heat. Thomson in his Seasons seems to be of the former opinion.
What art thou, Frost ? and whence are thy keen stores
Through water, earth, and ether? Modern philosophers have, however, very generally embraced the opposite side of the question; the little hooked salts, or spiculæ, which in frosty mornings are found floating in the atmosphere, or adhering to the surfaces of bodies, being found by experiment to be nothing more than small crystals of ice, capable of being resolved by heat into pure water.
The principal difficulty in the theory is, that if frost be only the absence of heat, how comes it to pass that water, when deprived of its heat, should occupy more space than it did before ? for water, when frozen, is expanded, and hence ice is lighter than water, and swims upon it. The following explanation, however, will sufficiently account for this fact, without supposing that frost is a substance, which by an union with water increases the bulk of it. If any one will observe the process of the formation of ice, he will perceive that it is composed of a number of needle-like crystals that unite to each other at angles of a certain size ; hence the
space between these crystals is much more considerable than between the particles of water; and on this account water, when frozen, occupies more space than before, though it receives no increase of weight. It may also be mentioned that, in the act of congelation, a quantity of air is intercepted and fixed in the ice, which generally appears to be full of bubbles. It is from this disposition in water to crystalise at angles of a particular measurement that, if a bottle full of water hard corked be set to freeze, the bottle will be broken for want of room for the expansion of the water while assuming its solid form. Water-pipes often burst from the same cause, and hoops fly off from barrels; and in the intense frosts of Canada it has been found from experiments made at Quebec that cannons and bomb-shells filled with water, and the apertures strongly plugged up, have in the course of a few hours been burst. This same property of water, when frozen, tends every year to diminish the bulk and height of the Alps and other lofty mountains ; the different fissures and crevices become filled with water during the summer, either from rain or the melting of the snow, which is frozen during the winter, and by its irresistible expansive power detaches huge masses of rock from the summits of the mountains, and rolls them into the valleys below to the terror of the inhabitants; for nothing but a wood is able to stop their impetuous and accelerated progress. In its more moderate and minute effects the operation of this general law is productive of a very beneficial consequence to the husbandman ; for the hard clods of the ploughed fields are loosened and broken to pieces by the swelling of the water within them when frozen: hence the earth is crumbled and prepared for receiving the seed in spring.
Nothing can be conceived more wonderful and striking than the effects of frost. To behold the liquid surface of the lake changed into a firm marble-like pavement; to see the rapid river arrested in the midst of his course, the headlong cascade, “whose idle torrents only seem to roar," converted into a cluster of translucid pillars of the most grotesque forms; or to view the intricate, varied, and beautiful crystalisations that form on our windows during a winter's night ;--and all these effects produced by a rapid,