Spenser’s August

August 1, 2007

…from the Cantos of Mutibilitie.

The sixt was August, being rich arrayd
In garment all of gold downe to the ground:
Yet rode he not, but led a louely Mayd
Forth by the lilly hand, the which was cround
With eares of corne, and full her hand was found;
That was the righteous Virgin, which of old
Liv’d here on earth, and plenty made abound;
But, after Wrong was lov’d and Iustice solde,
She left th’vnrighteous world and was to heauen extold.

The Every-Day Book expounds further:

August is the eighth month of the year. It was called Sextilis by the Romans, from its being the sixth month in their calendar, until the senate complimented the emperor Augustus by naming it after him, and through them it is by us denominated August.

Our Saxon ancestors called it “Arnmonat, (more rightly barn-moneth,) intending thereby the then filling of their barnes with corne.”* Arn is the Saxon word for harvest. According to some they also called it Woedmonath, as they likewise called June.

The sign of the zodiac entered by the sun this month is Virgo, the Virgin. Spenser’s personation of it above is pencilled and engraved by Mr. Samuel Williams.

“Admire the deep beauty of this allegorical picture,” says Mr. Leigh Hunt. “Spenser takes advantage of the sign of the zodiac, the Virgin, to convert her into Astrea, the goddess of justice, who seems to return to earth awhile, when the exuberance of the season presents enough for all.”

Mr. Leigh Hunt notes in his Months, that,—”this is the month of harvest. The crops usually begin with rye and oats, proceed with wheat, and finish with peas and beans. Harvest-home is still the greatest rural holiday in England, because it concludes at once the most laborious and most lucrative of the farmer’s employments, and unites repose and profit. Thank heaven there are, and must be, seasons of some repose in agricultural employments, or the countryman would work with as unceasing a madness, and contrive to be almost as diseased and unhealthy as the citizen. But here again, and for the reasons already mentioned, our holiday-making is not what it was. Our ancestors used to burst into an enthusiasm of joy at the end of harvest, and appear even to have mingled their previous labour with considerable merry-making, in which they imitated the equality of the earlier ages. They crowned the wheat-sheaves with flowers, they sung, they shouted, they danced, they invited each other, or met to feast, as at Christmas, in the halls of rich houses; and what was a very amiable custom, and wise beyond the commoner wisdom that may seem to lie on the top of it, every one that had been concerned, man, woman, and child, received a little present—ribbons, laces, or sweatmeats.

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