The other day a butterfly came into our room and began beating himself against the upper panes of a window half open, thinking to get back. It is a nice point—relieving your butterfly—he is a creature so delicate. If you handle him without ceremony, you bring away on your fingers something which you take to be down, but which is plumes of feathers.
There was he, beating, fluttering, floundering—wondering that he could not get through so clear a matter (for so glass appears to be to insects as well as to men), and tearing his silken little soul out with ineffectual energy. What plumage he must have left upon the pane! What feathers and colours, strewed about, as if some fine lady had gone mad against a ball—room door, for not being let in!
Hereupon we contrived to get him downwards—and forth out into the air sprang he—first against the lime-trees, and then over them into the blue ether.
Bees appear to take it more patiently, out of a greater knowledge; and slip about with a strange air of hopelessness. They seem to “give it up.” These things, as Mr. Pepys said of the humanities at Court, “it is pretty to observe.” Glass itself is a phenomenon that might alone serve a reflecting observer with meditation for a whole morning—so substantial and yet so air-like, so close and compact to keep away the cold, yet so transparent and facile to let in light, the gentlest of all things—so palpably something, and yet to the eye and the perceptions a kind of nothing! It seems absolutely to deceive insects in this respect, which is remarkable, considering how closely they handle it, and what microscopic eyes we suppose them to have. We should doubt (as we used to do) whether we did not mistake their ideas on the subject, if we had not so often seen their repeated dashings of themselves against the panes, their stoppings (as if to take breath), and then their recommencement of the same violence. It is difficult to suppose that they do this for mere pleasure, for it looks as if they must hurt themselves. Observe in particular the tremendous thumps given himself by that great hulking fellow of a fly, that Ajax of the Diptera, the blue-bottle.
Gamblers, for want of a sensation, have been known to start up from their wine, and lay a bet upon two rain-drops coming down a pane of glass. How poor are those gentry, even when they win, compared with observers whose resources never need fail them! To the latter, if they please, the rain-drop itself is a world—a world of beauty and mystery and aboriginal idea, bringing before them a thousand images of proportion, and reflection, and the elements, and light, and colour, and roundness, and delicacy, and fluency, and beneficence, and the refreshed flowers, and the growing corn, and dew-drops on the bushes, and the tears that fall from gentle eyes, and the ocean and the rainbow, and the origin of all things. In water we behold one of the old primeval mysteries of which the world was made. Thus, the commonest rain-drop on a pane of glass becomes a visitor from the solitudes of time.
A window, to those who have read a little in Nature’s school, thus becomes a book, or a picture, on which her genius may be studied, handicraft though the canvas be, and little as the glazier may have thought of it.
But a window is a frame for other pictures besides its own; sometimes for moving ones, as in the instance of a cloud going along, or a bird, or a flash of lightning; sometimes for the distant landscape, sometimes the nearer one, or the trees that are close to it, with their lights and shades; often for the passing multitude. A picture, a harmony, is observable, even in the drapery of the curtains that invest it; much more in the sunny vine-leaves or roses that may be visible on the borders, or that are trailed against it, and which render many a poor casement so pleasant. There are few windows anywhere which might not be used to better advantage than they are, if we have a little money, or can procure even a few seeds. We have read an art of blowing the fire. There is an art even in the shutting and opening of windows. People might close them more against dull objects, and open them more to pleasant ones, and to the air. For a few pence they might have beautiful colours and odours, and a pleasing task, emulous of the showers of April, beneficent as May; for they who cultivate flowers in their windows are led instinctively to cultivate them for others as well as themselves; nay, in one respect they do it more so; for you may observe that wherever there is this “fenestral horticulture” (as Evelyn would have called your window-gardening), the flowers are turned with their faces towards the street.
For while hustlers have sung hymns in praise of the bee, and have recommended the sluggard to the ant, no one has yet done justice to the tireless life of the cricket.
Quotidiana is an online anthology of "classical" essays, from antiquity to the early twentieth century. All essays and images are in the public domain. Commentaries are copyrighted, but may be used with proper attribution. Special thanks to the BYU College of Humanities and English Department for funding, and to Joey Franklin and Lara Burton, for tireless research assisting.