If a statement is untrue, it is not the more respectable because it has been said in Latin. We owe the war, directly, no doubt, to the Kaiser, but indirectly to the Roman idiot who said, “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” Having mislaid my Dictionary of Quotations I cannot give you his name, but I have my money on him as the greatest murderer in history.
Yet there have always been people who would quote this classical lie as if it were at least as authoritative as anything said in the Sermon on the Mount. It was said a long time ago, and in a strange language–that was enough for them. In the same way they will say, “De mortuis nil nisi bonum.” But I warn them solemnly that it will take a good deal more than this to stop me from saying what I want to say about the recently expired month of February.
I have waited purposely until February was dead. Cynics may say that this was only wisdom, in that a damnatory notice from me might have inspired that unhappy month to an unusually brilliant run, out of sheer wilfulness. I prefer to think that it was good manners which forbade me to be disrespectful to her very face. It is bad manners to speak the truth to the living, but February is dead. De mortuis nil nisi veritas.
The truth about poor February is that she is the worst month of the year. But let us be fair to her. She has never had a chance. We cannot say to her, “Look upon this picture and on this. This you might have been; this you are.” There is no “might have been” for her, no ideal February. The perfect June we can imagine for ourselves. Personally I do not mind how hot it be, but there must be plenty of strawberries. The perfect April–ah, one dare not think of the perfect April. That can only happen in the next world. Yet April may always be striving for it, though she never reach it. But the perfect February–what is it? I know not. Let us pity February, then, even while we blame her.
For February comes just when we are sick of winter, and therefore she may not be wintry. Wishing to do her best, she ventures her spring costume, crocus and primrose and daffodil days; days when the first faint perfume of mint is blown down the breezes, and one begins to wonder how the lambs are shaping. Is that the ideal February? Ah no! For we cannot be deceived. We know that spring is not here; that March is to come with its frosts and perchance its snows, a worse March for the milder February, a plunge back into the winter which poor February tried to flatter us was over.
Such a February is a murderer–an accessory to the murders of March. She lays the ground-bait for the victims. Out pop the stupid little flowers, eager to be deceived (one could forgive the annuals, but the perennials ought to know better by now), and down comes March, a roaring lion, to gobble them up.
And how much lost fruit do we not owe to February! One feels–a layman like myself feels–that it should be enough to have a strawberry-bed, a peach-tree, a fig-tree. If these are not enough, then the addition of a gardener should make the thing a certainty. Yet how often will not a gardener refer one back to February as the real culprit. The tree blossomed too early; the late frosts killed it; in the annoyance of the moment one may reproach the gardener for allowing it to blossom so prematurely, but one cannot absolve February of all blame.
It is no good, then, for February to try to be spring; no hope for her to please us by prolonging winter. What is left to her? She cannot even give us the pleasure of the hairshirt. Did April follow her, she could make the joys of that wonderful month even keener for us by the contrast, but–she is followed by March. What can one do with March? One does not wear a hair-shirt merely to enjoy the pleasure of following it by one slightly less hairy.
Well, we may agree that February is no good. “Oh, to be out of England now that February’s here,” is what Browning should have said. One has no use for her in this country. Pope Gregory, or whoever it was that arranged the calendar, must have had influential relations in England who urged on him the need for making February the shortest month of the year. Let us be grateful to His Holiness that he was so persuaded. He was a little obstinate about Leap Year; a more imaginative pontiff would have given the extra day to April; but he was amenable enough for a man who only had his relations’ word for it. Every first of March I raise my glass to Gregory. Even as a boy I used to drink one of his powders to him at about this time of the year.
February fill-dyke! Well, that’s all that can be said for it.