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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
By Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834–1894)
From ‘The Sylvan Year’

THERE is a corner of a neglected old garden at the Val Ste. Veronique in which grows a certain plant very abundantly, that inevitably reminds us of an ancient philosopher. Towards the end of March it is all carpeted with young hemlock, which at this stage of its existence lies almost perfectly flat upon the ground, and covers it with one of the most minutely beautiful designs that can possibly be imagined; the delicate division of the fresh green leaves making a pattern that would be fit for some room, if a skillful manufacturer copied it. Our own hemlock is believed to be identical with that which caused the death of Socrates, but its action in northern countries is much feebler than in the warmer climate of the Mediterranean….  1
  In the same old abandoned garden where the hemlock grows on the walls there remain a few fruit-trees, and amongst these some peaches and apricots. They are in full bloom towards the end of March; and of all the beautiful sights to be seen at this time of the year, I know of none to be compared to these old peach-trees with their wreath of rosy bloom, which would be beautiful in any situation but is especially in this, because there happen to be some mellow-tinted walls behind them, the very background that a painter would delight in. There is some pretty coloring in the apricot blossoms, on account of the pink calyx and the pinkish brown of the young twigs, which has an influence on the effect; but the peach is incomparably richer. And after the grays of wintry trees and wintry skies, the sight is gladdened beyond measure by the flush of peach-blossom and the blue of the clear spring heaven. But to enjoy these two fresh and pure colors to the utmost we need some quiet coloring in the picture, and nothing supplies this better than such old walls as those of the monastic buildings at the Val Ste. Veronique; walls that Nature has been painting in her own way for full four hundred years, with the most delicate changes of gray and brown and dark gleamings of bronze and gold. There is something, too, which gratifies other feelings than those of simple vision in the renewal of the youth of Nature, contrasting with the steady decay of any ancient human work; and in the contrast between her exquisiteness, her delicacy, her freshness, as exhibited in a thing so perfect as a fresh peach-blossom, with its rosy color, its almond perfume, its promise of luscious fruit,—and the roughness of all that man can do, even at his best.  2

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