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The sun, besides its diurnal motion, which appears to convey it from east to west, and occasions the revolution of day and night, seems evidently to have another motion from west to east; by this means, at the end of 365 days, it comes again near the same stars from which it had removed for six months, and to which it was drawing near the other six months. On this account, the ancient astronomers divided the seasons according to the stars which the sun meets in its annual course. They divided this course into twelve constellations, which are the twelve signs of the Zodiac; called the twelve houses of the sun, because it seems to dwell a month in each of them. The summer begins with us when the sun enters the sign of Cancer, which happens the 21st or 22d of June. It is then that the sun is raised at the highest above our horizon, and darts its rays almost directly upon us; and of course at that time begins the heat of summer, which always increases in the following month, by degrees, as our globe is more heated by the rays of the sun. This is the reason that for a month or six weeks after Midsummer, it is generally the hottest part of the year. Now, of all the stars in conjunction with the sun, the dog-star is the brightest; lost in the rays of the sun, it disappears from us for a month, as is the case with every star which the sun meets in its course, and the month of its disappearing is the time called the dog-days. These observations would be of little importance, were it not to remove a rooted prejudice among many people. An ancient tradition attributes the heat usually felt at this time to the influence of the dog-star upon the earth and its inhabitants. This opinion is proved to be absurd, from this circumstance alone, that the concealment of the dog-star in the rays of the sun, does not take place in the time we call dog-days. Those days, properly speaking, do not in reality begin till one month after, and they terminate towards the end of the next month. When, therefore, in the supposed dog-days, things liable to ferment turn sour; when stagnated waters dry up as well as the springs; when dogs and other animals are seized with madness; when we are attacked with disorders, which imprudence in hot weather draws upon us: this does not happen because a star conceals itself behind the sun; it is the extreme heat of the air, at that season, which is the cause of all those effects.
Whoever can suppose, that certain figures, which the imagination forms to itself in the sky, can have any influence on our globe, and on the health and reason of man, discovers great want of judgment. It is not the stars, it is generally ourselves, which we ought to accuse of the evils' we suffer. Can we suppose an infinitely good being, the Ruler of the world, to have created any thing in the heavens or in the earth, to be a torment and misery to his creatures? If we believe in such, as an inevitable fatality, we cannot admit or acknowledge a Creator, the essence of wisdom and goodness. Instead of being guilty of such an error, let us glorify God, and secure our peace, by believing ourselves to be under the protection of a merciful Father, contrary to whose will not even a hair can fall from our heads.
Contemplation of a Meadow.
DARK and majestic woods, where the fir-tree raises its stately head, where the tufted oaks spread their shade: ye rivers, which roll your silver waves through the grey mountains; it is not you I now mean to praise: it is the verdure and enamel of the plains which are the objects of my contemplation. How many beauties present themselves to the sight, and how varied they are! Some insects fly from flower to flower, while others creep and crawl in the tufted grass. How soft the murmur of the limpid stream, whose banks are covered with thick grass, intermixed with flowers, which, bending over the water, trace their image in it. Behold that forest of waving herbs. What a mild lustre the sun casts on those different shades of green. Those delicate plants, interwoven with grass, mix their tender foliage, or proudly raise their heads above their companions, and display flowers without perfume; whilst the humble violet grows on barren hills, exhaling its sweets around. Thus one often sees the useful, virtuous man in poverty, whilst the rich and great are clothed in sumptuous habits, wasting in idleness the blessings of the earth. Winged insects pursue each other in the grass. Sometimes I lose sight of them in the verdure, and then again I see a swarm of them flying in the air, and sporting in the rays of the sun. What buzzing is this I hear? It is a swarm of young bees. They have lately flown from their distant home, and dispersed over the gardens and fields. They are now gathering sweet nectar from the flowers, in order to carry it to their cells. There is not an idle one among them. They fly from flower to flower; and, in seeking their stores, they conceal their velvet heads in the cup of the flower, or else with labour penetrate into those that are not yet unfolded. O how beautiful is nature! The grass and flowers grow luxurious; the trees are covered with foliage; the gentle zephyr salutes us; the flocks seek their pasture; the tender bleating lambs skip and rejoice in their existence; innumerable blades of grass rise up in the field, and to each point hangs a drop of dew. How many primroses with their trembling leaves are here! What harmony in the notes of various birds from yonder hill! Every thing expresses joy. It reigns in the hills and dales, in woods and groves. Happy he whose innocent life passes away in performing his duty to his Maker, and in the enjoyment of the beauties of nature! The whole creation smiles upon him, and joy attends him wherever he goes; his mind is serene as a calm summer-day; his affections are gentle and pure as the perfume of the flowers around him. Happy he who in the beauties of nature traces the Creator, and devotes himself wholly to him.
Voracious Animals and Insects.
It is easier to exterminate lions, wolves, and other wild beasts, than to extirpate insects, when they swarm over a whole country. At Peru, a sort of ant called chakoe, is very injurious to the inhabitants, and whose lives would even be in danger, if they did not use precautions to deliver themselves from these dreadful insects. It is well known what caterpillars do to fruit-trees, and mice to the fields. But however real these inconveniences may be, they do not authorise such complaints as we allow ourselves to make; complaints in which self-love has too great a part. We are pleased at observing that the creatures hurtful to us destroy one another. We think we have a right to take away the lives of animals, either for our food, or for any other purpose, but cannot bear that they should take any thing from us. We expect they should serve for our subsistence, and will give up nothing to them. In reality, however, have we more right over the life of a gnat, than it has to a drop of our blood? Besides, in complaining of the 'voracity of animals, we do not consider that this plan of nature is not as disadvantageous as it appears. In order to be convinced of this, we have only to consider the animal kingdom in the whole. Such species as appear noxious to us are of real use; and it would be very dangerous to attempt to destroy the race of them.
A few years ago, some inhabitants of the English colonies in America attempted to extirpate the jays, or jackdaws, because they fancied that these birds did much mischief to the corn: but in proportion as the number of jays diminished, the people were struck with the havock made by an enormous multitude of worms, caterpillars, and particularly the May-bugs. They ceased to persecute the jays; and as soon as those multiplied again, they put an end to the insects which had increased in consequence of their destruction.
Some time ago a plan was formed in Sweden to destroy the rooks; but they were observed in time, not only to fix on corn and plants, but also that they devoured the worms and caterpillars, which destroy the leaves or roots of vegetables.
In North America they pursued the sparrow violently: but it happened from thence, that the gnats increased to such a degree in the marshy countries, that they were obliged to leave a great deal of land uncultivated..
Pheasant-hunting is so considerable in the Isle