There is something attractive in the character of a gentleman when you apply the word emphatically, and yet in that sense of the term which is more easy to feel than to define. The secret of the matter I believe to be this – we feel the gentlemanly character present to us; whenever under all the circumstances of social intercourse, the trivial not less than the important, through the whole detail of his manners and deportment, and with the ease of a habit, a person shows respect to others in such a way, as at the same time implies in his own feelings an habitual and assured anticipation of reciprocal respect from them to himself.

In short, the gentlemanly character arises out of the feeling of equality acting, as a habit, yet flexible to the varieties of rank, and modified without being disturbed or superceded by them.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned, Shakespeare discovered a most intimate knowledge of human nature. He shows you a gentleman worn out with sickness and so weak that he faints. He saw his son given up to debauchery; he was anxious and vexed to think of the anarchy that would ensue at his death, and his anger animates him so much that he throws aside his distemper.

Their tragic scenes were meant to affect us indeed, and in union with the activity both of our understanding and imagination – time makes more converts than reason.

For whilst a gentleman of our days is one who has money enough to do what every fool would do if he could afford it: that is, consume without producing it remains only to expound that the sphere of observation determines the extent of the mind.

James Boswell 1763 Thomas Paine 1776 Mary Wollstonecraft 1796
Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1815-17 George Bernard Shaw 1908


The time of the apple-bloom is the most delicious season in the village. It is scarcely possible to obtain a view of the place, although it is built on the last slope of the downs, because just where the ground drops and the eye expects an open space plantations of fir and the tops of tall poplars and elms intercept the glance.

In ascending from the level meadows of the vale thick double mounds, heavily timbered with elm, hide the houses until you are actually in their midst. Those only know a country who are acquainted with its footpaths. By the roads, indeed, the outside may be seen; but the footpaths go through the heart of the land.

There are routes by which mile after mile may be travelled without leaving the sward. So you may pass from village to village; now crossing green meads, now cornfields, over brooks, past woods, through farmyard and rick. But such tracks are not mapped, and a stranger misses them altogether unless under the guidance of an old inhabitant.

Why were you born when the snow was falling?
You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling,
Or when grapes are green in the cluster,
Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster
For their far off flying From summer dying


He walked under the elm trees while the sun was going down; they were bursting into blossom and covered with a rufous haze, as though the spirit of sunlight were loath to leave the bloom it had called forth. High above the ploughlands a lark was singing, for he too felt happy, and a small flock of great titmice, a family of six, were searching for grubs in the elms.

He did not know why the lark sang, but, it was for the same reason that the lambs on the hillside jumped into the air and flung their heads about as thought they were mazed.

The birds around me hopp’d and play’d;
Their thoughts I cannot measure
But the least motion which they made It seem’d a thrill of pleasure


Here the bloom is rosy, there white prevails: the young green is hidden under the petals that are far more numerous than leaves. Though the path really is in shadow as the branches shut out the sun, yet it seems brighter here than in the open, as if the place were illuminated by a million tiny lamps shedding the softest lustre.

On the cool flowery lap of earth;
Smiles broke from us and we had ease,
The hills were round us, and the breeze
Went o’er the sun-lit fields again


A robin sang on a dull brown furrow in the field behind the elms. The lark had dived to earth, and was chasing a crested rival, the tomtits were silent. Alone sang the robin on his dull brown furrow. The genius of the woodland was expressed in birdsong; and like genius in this too, it told the dreamer of sad beauty, of the drifted sorrow of centuries in spite of the willingness of the earth to give all that man required.


So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist; the female ivy so
Enrings the barky fingers of the elm


With the loss of the once widespread elm the large tortoiseshell butterfly is a noted casualty for its caterpillars feed on this tree. Dutch elm disease was first recognised in 1930 but made catastrophic in-roads into the English elm population notably since 1970.



The pleasures of the imagination are not wholly confined to such particular artists as are conversant in material objects, but often are to be met with speculations abstracted from matter who, though they do not directly treat of the visible parts of nature, often draw from them their similitudes, metaphors and allegories.

Recollect that as man can live in one society at a time – his enjoyment in the different states of human society must depend upon the powers of his mind.

By these allusions a truth in the understanding is as it were reflected by the imagination; we are able to see something like colour and shape in a notion, and to discover a scheme of thoughts traced out upon matter. Allegories when well chosen, are like so many tracks of light in a discourse, that make everything about them clear and beautiful.

A noble metaphor, when it is placed to an advantage casts a kind of glory round it. These different kinds of allusion are but so many different manners of similitude and they may please the imagination.

To do this is within the compass of man’s wit and therefore I will attempt the doing of it.

It is very certain, there may be found an infinite variety of very agreeable allusions but for the generality, the most entertaining ones lie in the works of nature, which are obvious to all capacities, and more delightful than what is to be found in sciences.




To represent familiar objects as to awaken in the minds of others a kindred feeling concerning them.


When making a study of the natural world it is rare to find that the perpetrator of such an undertaking had an idea apropos of nothing before. There was never a definitive beginning; it all began imperceptibly at a very early age when the family holiday was spent staying with my grandmother. An enamel dish of water set down in the garden and table scraps saved – this from a person who did not believe in waste of any kind and, moreover, could ill afford any – made space in her life for birds. With a treasured copy of a dull brown Observer’s book and a shy child with an inquisitive outlook, a life-long interest in the avian world was thus set in motion.

As the time has passed and the hunger to identify more and more of not only that which is feathered but also the flora and fauna – all that bejewels and beguiles man’s living space – there has been an expansion of a small library of field guides and, perhaps more importantly, the keeping of notebooks.

Maintaining a nature diary when the subject is vast and ever changing has never been an onerous task, for what may have seemed an unusual event one month could simply be the start of a new pattern set within a greater matrix, revealed invariably as more data is collected with the passing of the months and the years.

As with most things, practice while it may not necessarily make perfect, does at the very least change perceptions. In the early period whilst birds and butterflies warranted a sighting of the whole to make a positive identification, with experience, knowledge and understanding (habitat, time of year) partial sightings can now be relied upon for correct authentication.

In theory, therefore, the catalogue of species should be ever increasing but as can be seen by the information here assembled, there is a natural ceiling that obviates this.

Indeed by spotting birds and more, without artificial aids and a developed instinct – much as the early naturalists did – species recognition is regulated by the capacity of the human eye.

Experience proves that the longer a single locality is studied the more is found in it.


By way of instruments, however, I have used the same wire-less digital thermometer in the same location together with the same aneroid barometer. Outside of the measured period of this book 2001-2015 the use of a second wire-less digital thermometer, made by a different manufacturer, and installed a mere eighteen feet distant to the former has identified no meaningful difference but simply revealed an anomaly of 0.1 degrees celsius.

The (Voices) period recorded is arbitrary.

Fifteen years of information gathered from one location, however, should provide a sample big enough to show the seasonal trends in both birds and butterfly appearances and also the shifting patterns as to when a season – winter, spring and so on – takes place across the calendar. The much awaited arrival of the summer migrants and the day they are first sighted bears as much relevance to the number of daylight hours at a given point in any given year, as the type of weather encountered during their passage from foreign climes. Despite considering what was once the unfathomable it still remains a great source of wonder that some of the visitors to these shores seem to arrive within days of their arrival recorded on previous years.

One has a strange propensity to fix upon some point of time whence a better course of life may begin.


Nature and/or the natural world never ceases to amaze and the more it is studied the more delights and fascinations it reveals to the enquiring eye and mind.

At the time of writing no doubt some record or other has been cast into the public domain by the meteorological office who seem to want us to believe that imminent catastrophe can be read into their statistics and the oft vaunted “since records began” sounds doom laden until the records thus challenged have only been in existence a hundred years or so. Even whilst acknowledging that some weather records commenced three hundred plus years ago, in the wider perception of the earth’s history even a thousand years is but a trifling measure.

Men thus circumstanced soon come to soothe the fervour of their zeal by an ingenious distinction between theory and practice, between that which is eternally true, and that which, though eternally false, they conceive to be the best that can be adapted to the corruptions of mankind.


To collect information, however, through observation and diligent writing of the same allows anyone to capture and make their own records within the parameters of their chosen locality. This is the excitement of being a nature watcher. On the one side it is the expectation that a certain occurrence will take place at a certain time of the month or year and the obverse that something unusual/different/perplexing will appear, that makes men foolish in believing in always.

This then is VOICES TO THE CLOUDS, not merely a study with a fifteen year compass but a collection of gathered nature notes set in context with the writings of arguably England’s greatest naturalists Gilbert White, John Clare and Richard Jefferies.

Perhaps it may best be described as another slice of the natural world that has been extrapolated from the “toilsome drudgery of amassing observations.”

The absence of the singing of birds, the hum of insects – invisible in the brilliant beams above, vast legions of insects crowd the sky, but the product of their restless motion is a slumberous hum – and that noiseless noise among the leaves, born of the very sigh that silence heaves, which lives in the summer air.



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There is a kind of writing, wherein the poet quite loses sight of nature, and entertains his reader’s imagination with the characters and actions of such persons as have many of them no existence, but what he bestows on them.

Such are fairies, witches, magicians, demons and departed spirits. This Mr Dryden calls “The fairy way of writing” which is, indeed, more difficult than any other that depends on the poet’s fancy, because he has no pattern to follow in it, and must work altogether out of his own invention.

The excellence of every Art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate. JOHN KEATS 1818

There is a very odd turn of thought required for this sort of writing, and it is impossible for a poet to succeed in it, who has not a particular cast of fancy, and an imagination naturally fruitful and superstitious.

Spirits must not be confined to speak sense, but it is certain their senses ought to be a little discoloured, that it may seem particular and proper to the person and the condition of the speaker.

We must be delighted and surprised when we are led, as it were, into a new creation, and see the persons and manners of another species.

Men of cold fancies, and philosophical dispositions, object to this kind of poetry that it has not the probability enough to affect the imagination.

I lay and watch the lonely gloom And watched the moonlight creep From wall to basin, around the room All night I could not sleep.  RUPERT BROOKE 1913

To this it may be answered, that we are sure, in general, there are many intellectual beings in the world besides our selves, and several species of spirits, who are subject to different laws and economies from those of mankind; when we see, therefore, any of these represented naturally, we cannot look upon the representation as altogether impossible.

Many are prepossessed with such false opinions, as dispose them to believe these particular delusions; at least, we have all heard so many pleasing relations in favour of them, that we do not care for seeing through falsehood, and willingly give ourselves up to so agreeable an imposture.

Our forefathers looked upon nature with more reverence and horror, before the world was enlightened by learning and philosophy, and loved to astonish themselves with the apprehensions of witchcraft, prodigies, charms and enchantments.

There was not a village in England, that had not a ghost in it, the church-yards were all haunted, every large common had a circle of fairies belonging to it, and there was scarce a shepherd to be met with who had not seen a spirit.

Among the English Shakespeare has incomparably excelled all others. That noble extravagance of fancy which he had in so great perfection, thoroughly qualified him to touch this weak superstitious part of his reader’s imagination; and made him capable of succeeding, where he had nothing to support him besides the strength of his own genius.

If there are such beings in the world, it looks highly probable that they should talk and act as he has represented them.


Among the shadows that pass by
Ghosts of all things that are, some shade of thee,
Some phantom, some faint image; till the breast
From which they fled recalls them, thou art there



The real path, the path through the wood, lies lower down the road. It goes through the heart of the birches, a wide bracken-flanked track that switchbacks up and down and is cut by deep tracks of timber wagons that have been fetching out the sweet chestnut thinnings during the winter.

After about fifty yards the path splits – the timber track goes straight on whilst the public path veers left and goes downhill. It is at this pointng, standing on the crest of the hill that the wood is seen at its very best.

The wood is not very big, neither ancient nor primeval but it lies all around and as its boundaries are invisible it is an overpowering sense of the tree that envelops all.

The birches close in thickly behind, shutting out the lane except perhaps for a yard or two. Before the flat and down the slope the big oaks and sweet chestnuts and a few distant pines and wych-elms thicken just enough to curtail a view of the river and its meadows and, indeed so too the summer sky.

On the map a narrow lane, quite unfit for wheeled traffic, winds around one end of the ridge. There is nothing to suggest great antiquity or any special interest, scientific or otherwise but attention is drawn to it by the fact that it obviously serves no modern purpose. It is, in reality the north eastern boundary of a tenth century estate and runs like a rampart cut half way up the side of a steep high bank.

In the heart of Somerset another similar construction survives, undoubtedly a boundary bank of an estate long gone.

When we stray far away from the old pleasant village We love it the fonder further away The sweet pleasant songs of the ploughman o’er their tillage Are more pleasant sounds than the strange calls today That sweet little homestead with pollard ash and pond Leads back a hundred miles wherever I may roam.

When England was stilll thickly wooded it was generally with thick oak and ash especially on the clays, but on the chalk and limestone the beech woods extended for miles. The oak was so much more common in medieval England in tens of thousands rather than the few hundreds of today.

The now seemingly characteristic tree of the upland farmstead, the sycamore so familiar to William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy and latterly Matthew Arnold only made its appearance in the closing years of the sixteenth century. From rising ground England would have seemed as one arboreal sea.

The wood echoes with the sounds peculiar to itself with the furtive treading of pheasants among the big papery chestnut leaves, the staccato clap of wings of the rising woodpigeon, the pink-pink of blackbirds, the squerking rabbit and the harsh scolding of the jays.

Again a storm encroaches round Thick clouds are darkening deep behind And through the arches hoarsely sound The risings of the hollow wind Springs early hopes seem half resigned And silent for a while remain Till sunbeams broken clouds can find And brighten all to life again.

A winter’s thinning has opened out the whole wood for the first time in years, some great birches now stand visible and in May a bluebell carpet will be unfurled, a garland of pathless blue.

H E BATES 1936  JOHN CLARE 1812-1864  W G HOSKINS 1955


A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth. There is this difference between a story and a poem, that a story is a catalogue of detached facts, which have no other connection than time, place, circumstance, cause and effect.

A poem is the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator which is itself the image of all other minds.

The one is partial, and applies only to a definite period of time and a certain combination of events which can never again recur; the other is universal and contains within itself the germ of a relation to whatever motives or actions have place in the possible varieties of human nature.

Time, which destroys the beauty and the use of the story of particular facts, stripped of the poetry which should invest them, augments that of poetry and for ever develops new and wonderful applications of the eternal truth which it contains.

Hence epitomes* have been called the moths of just history – they eat out the poetry of it.

A story of particular facts is as a mirror which obscures and distorts that which should be beautiful – poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.

*Who did the whole worlds soul contract, and drove  Into the glasses of your eyes  So made such mirrors, and such spies,  That they did all to you epitomise.


A single sentence may be considered as a whole, though it may be found in the midst of a series of unassimilated portions; a single word even may be a spark of inextinguishable thought.

And thus all the great historians, Herodotus, Plutarch, Livy were poets – they made copious and ample amends for their subjection, by filling all the interstices of their subjects with living images.



HERODOTUS was called the Father of History because his work was subjected to evaluation and research. A Greek historian circa484-circa425BC he was exiled for political reasons.

PLUTARCH wrote both essays and biographies and was a citizen of Athens and Rome during the period circa46-circa120AD. His work Parallel Lives was translated into English by Sir Thomas North in 1579.

LIVY or TITUS LIVIUS circa59BC-17AD was a Roman historian. His populist style of the time was an immediate success but only a quarter of his work survives.

The extract by John Donne is from a Song or Sonnet entitled The Canonization.


Man is said to be a sociable animal, and, as an instance of it, we may observe, that we take all occasions and pretences of forming ourselves into those little Nocturnal Assemblies, which are commonly known by the name of ‘clubs’.

When a set of men find themselves agree in any particular, though never so trivial, they establish themselves into a kind of fraternity, and meet once or twice a week, upon the account of such a Fantastic-Resemblance.

The Corpulent Club did not meet as you may well suppose to entertain one another with sprightliness and wit but to keep one another in countenance. The room where the club met, was something of the largest and had two entrances, the one by a door of moderate size, and the other by a pair of folding-doors. If a candidate for this club could make his entrance through the first he was looked upon as unqualified; but if he stuck in the passage and could not force his way through it, the folding-doors were immediately thrown open for his reception, and he was saluted as a brother.

In opposition to this society there sprang up another composed of scare-crows and skeletons, who being very meagre and envious did all they could to thwart the designs of their bulky brethren, whom they represented as men of dangerous principles.

The Hum-Drum Club, of which I was formerly an unworthy member, was made up of very honest gentlemen, of peacable dispositions, that used to sit together, smoke their pipes and say nothing till midnight.

Our modern celebrated clubs are founded upon eating and drinking, which are points wherein most men agree, and in which learned and illiterate, the dull and the airy, the philsopher and the buffoon, can all of them bear a part.

The Kit-Cat Club met at a Mutton-Pie house in Shire Lane by Temple Bar. The house was kept by Christopher Cat, after whom his pies were called Kit-Cats; with The Beef-Steak Club and October Club neither being averse to eating and drinking.

When men are thus knit together, by love of society, not a spirit of faction, and do not meet to censure or annoy those that are absent, but to enjoy one another, there may be something very useful in these little institutions and establishments.



It is an endless and frivolous pursuit to act by any other rule, than the care of satisfying our own minds in what we do. One would think a silent man, who concerned himself with no one breathing, should be very liable to misinterpretation and yet I remember I was once taken up for a Jesuit, for no other reason but my profound taciturnity.

It is from this misfortune, to be out of harm’s way, I have ever since affected crowds. He who comes into assemblies only to gratify his curiosity, and not to make a figure, enjoys the pleasure of retirement in a more exquisite degree, than he possibly could in his closet; the lover, the ambitious and the miser are followed thither by a worse crowd than any they can withdraw from.

There are so many gratifications attend this public sort of obscurity, that some little distastes I daily receive have lost their anguish.

It is remarkable, that those who want any one sense, possess the others with greater force and vivacity. Thus my want of, or rather resignation of speech, gives me all the advantage of a dumb man.

Those who converse with the dumb, know from the turn of their eyes and the changes of their countenance their sentiments of the objects before them. I have indulged my silence to such an extravagance, that the few who are intimate with me, answer my smiles with concurrent sentences and argue to the very point I shook my head at, without my speaking.

Thus the working of my own mind, is the general entertainment of my life; I never enter into the commerce of discourse with any but my particular friends, and not in public even with them.

This and all other matters loosely hinted at now and in my former papers, shall have their proper place in my following discourses: the present writing is only to admonish the world, that they shall not find me an idle but a very busy spectator.



Between us and the sea, there are continual mountains, hill behind hill, which some-how divert the storms, and give them a different direction. High promontories and elevated grounds, have always been observed to attract clouds and disarm them of their mischievous contents, which are discharged into the trees and summits as soon as they came in contact with these turbulent meteors; while the humble vales escape, because they are so far beneath them.

On June 5th 1784, the thermometer in the morning being at 64, and at noon at 70, I observed a blue mist, smelling strongly of sulphur, and seeming to indicate that thunder was at hand. It began with vast drops of rain, which were soon succeeded by round hail, and then by convex pieces of ice which measured three inches in girth. Had it been extensive as it was violent, and of any continuance, it must have ravaged all the neighbourhood.

The hail broke my north windows, and all my garden-lights and hand-glasses, and many of my neighbours windows. The extent of the storm was about two miles in length and one in breadth. There fell at the same time prodigious torrents of rain, which occasioned a flood as violent as it was sudden, doing great damage to the meadows and fallows, by deluging one and washing away the soil of the other.