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Under The Harvest Moon Post by :katym Category :Essays Author :Maurice Hewlett Date :November 2011 Read :3445

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Under The Harvest Moon

She is at her full, and even as I write rising red and heavy in the south-west. All night long she will look down upon at least one corner of the earth satiate with the good things of life. I don't remember such a September as this has been for many years past. Misty, gossamered mornings, a day all blue and pale gold, bees in the ivy bloom, sprawling overblown flowers, red apples, purpling vine-clusters, clear evenings: then this smouldering moon to go to bed by! It is all like a great Veronese wall-picture, or the Masque in The Tempest--"Rich scarf to my proud earth!"--and summons from me more adjectives than I have needed this twelvemonth. It is indeed adjectival weather; for Nature is still adding, not discarding stores. The last act of the "maturing sun" is to ingerminate the flowers and fruit which will bless or tantalise us next year.

Now is the time when maids get up at six and hunt for mushrooms in the dew; now the good wives of the village make wine of all sorts of unlikely fruits, blackberries, elderberries, peaches, pears, and, of all things in the world, parsnips. I have lately been given of this wine to taste. It is a cordial rather than a wine and on the good rather than the bad side. The addition of spices is admitted; nevertheless out of a particularly mawkish vegetable is made a palatable drink. "Out of the strong come forth sweetness." After it I shall be prepared to find a potable in the banana, which is favoured by many people, of whom I am not one. But I don't find it nastier than the parsnip, and it is evident that fermentation can work miracles.

In such a year as this I, too, shall have a vintage. For the first time in my life I shall tread my own winepress, vat my own must, and (I hope) need no sugar for it. I don't know why it is, but I can conceive no more romantic rural adventure than that of growing and drinking your own wine. But there are yet many things to happen. The grapes must get ripe and the wasps be kept off; and then there are problems connected with vinification which I have not yet solved. The Marquis of Bute could tell me all about it, and I wish he would. He has made wine at Castle Coch these many years, and of the most excellent. Unfortunately I have not his acquaintance, so I invite advice, and shall be grateful for it. The chief of my perplexities are concerned with the beginning of fermentation and the end of it. For the first, should I use yeast? My neighbours here say, yes; the French tell me that I don't need it, the grapes having enough of their own. Pass that and consider the second point. Having started your ferment, how do you stop it?(A) Fermentation in Italy goes on in the barrel, after the liquor has left the vat. That gives you a peculiar prickly wine which the Italians call "Frizzante" and profess to like. Our word for it is "beastly."

(Footnote A: Since that was written I have learned the answer. It stops itself--why, I don't know, unless by the grace of God.)

My village gossips tell me that fermentation will stop of itself when I draw the wine off the lye; but the French practice certainly seems to be to burn sulphur matches in the vat and so kill the vinegar germs there latent. And then plâtrage? You sprinkle the must with plaster of Paris before fermentation begins. Is that done in England? It is not done in this part of England at least. Nor do I know why it is done in France. Probably before I have solved my problems by stomach-ache and other experiences of a biliary kind, prohibition will be in the air over here, wafted upon some newspaper breeze from America. There will be no difficulty in starting a fermentation out of that sweeping doctrine, that's for certain. I don't say that we need take prohibition seriously; but we think about it, naturally, and talk about it out here.

If it were put to the local vote in this village, it would be lost. We have many total abstainers, yet one of them, I know, and several of them, I believe, would vote against it. Says the one I am sure of: "If I abstain from strong drink, as I do, it is my own doing; and if I were tempted to a fall and withstood it, that is to my credit. But if the law cuts me off it, and I am a criminal if I drink, it cuts me off a good part of my credit too--and I am against that." My friend has there put his finger upon a sharp little dilemma. If alcohol is a bad thing, then prohibition is a good thing. But if temperance is a good thing, then prohibition is a bad thing. You cannot be temperate in the use of alcohol if you have none. Nor is sobriety a virtue in you if you lock up the wine-cellar and throw the keys down the well. Very well; then will you do without alcohol or without temperance? There is the choice; and I have made mine.

Besides, we are all for liberty down here, individualists to a man. Give us a loophole to avoid compulsion and we use it. One of the most frequently exercised of my magisterial functions is to certify conscientious objections to the Vaccination Act. I do it against the grain. A doctor told me the other day that he believed smallpox had reached the end of its tether, and was on the ebb. I am sure I hope so, lest there should be one day a bad outbreak among these liberty men. I must have signed away the chances of hundreds of children, who, by the way, are not of an age to consent. I never fail to point out the risk; but the Court awards it and the law allows it; so I sign.

There is much to be said for Anarchy in the abstract, nothing at all in the concrete. Mr. Smillie, however, appears to favour it, raw, rough and ready. In that he is precocious, and, like the rathe primrose, will "forsaken die." He will rend the Labour party in twain from the top to the bottom, and will see the agricultural vote drop off his industrials just as it had begun to adhere to them. I know the peasantry. They will never strike for political ends, for though they are not quick to see the consequences of hypothetical actions, they do see that if you make Parliamentary government impossible you make a Labour majority not worth having.

And another thing: Mr. Smillie and his friends may want a revolution, but Hodge and his most certainly do not. They want to earn their livelihood, pay their way, and dig their plots of ground. No more warfare for them. I dare say I shall be sorry for Mr. Smillie when the time comes; but I may have to be still more sorry for my country first. I can't help hoping, however, when it comes to the point that his feet will be a little colder than his head seems to be just now.


(The end)
Maurice Hewlett's essay: Under The Harvest Moon

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