Sun-Dial Mottoes

THE poets of all ages view the rapid flight of time with much anxiety and despair.

“Eheu fugaces labuntur anni! ”
“ A moment’s Halt — a momentary taste
Of Being from the Well amid the Waste —
And Lo ! the phantom Caravan has reached
The Nothing it set out from —Oh make haste! ”
“ Art is long and time is fleeting.”

Did they never attend a church sociable ? Did they never pass hours at the dentist’s, or take interminable ocean voyages ? Why should they not occasionally consider the subject in its more cheerful aspects ?”

However, so long as such melancholy sentiments are found “only in some rotten book,” — to quote Harold in The Golden Age, — it does not much matter. But when they appear as mottoes on sundials one is surely justified in protesting. The breathless, desperate feeling of haste induced by the average sun-dial motto, the feeling that there is much to do, with little or no time in which to do it, is one which the true garden lover should never allow to penetrate within his garden walls. Are not the walls there to keep out the rush and worry of the busy world ? Why disturb the peace and quiet within by voluntarily introducing so severe and threatening an atmosphere? “Vigilate et orate,” “Tempus fugit,” or “Ex hoc momento pendet æternitas,” are hardly ideas conducive to mental and physical relaxation. Lying idly on your back under some spreading tree, watching the summer clouds drift by lazily, listening to the hum of bees among your mignonette and lilies, is it possible to enjoy yourself completely while you have staring you in the face the solemn warning, “Volat irrevocabilis hora,” “Memento mori,” or the like ? The cynical country friend who, in the throes of despair over an appropriate motto, ornamented his dial with the inscription, “The train goes at 8.20,” hit the mark as well as most people, I think, by supplying each guest with the knowledge necessary to suburban life, and at the same time introducing that agitated atmosphere which he felt precedent had established around sun-dials.

Since no two gardeners are ever quite alike, and their gardens all differ in plan and conception, their mottoes should be chosen with more individuality than is usually the case, and not follow so imitatively the lines of convention. You may, for instance, take your garden as a place in which to be reminded of the irrevocable flight of time. Or perhaps you may find it the spot where you first learned the “joy of work.” Or you may count your garden the best spot in which, after the day’s work, to dream and rest and gain strength for the next day’s problems. There are mottoes enough to fit all these different frames of mind. Which shall we choose ?

It would seem as if only a morbid pessimist would give standing room in the garden to a dial with a motto fitting the first mood. Yet in how many gardens at home and abroad do the dials, covered with vines and moss, bear half obliterated inscriptions like “Volani l’ ori, i giorni, gl’ anni, e i mesi,” and

“ Life’s but a shadow, man ’s bat dust
This diall says, dy all we must.”

And instead of being depressed we are charmed at this archaic, uncompromising sentiment, put there by some shadowy man long since become the dust he anticipated. Perhaps some modern gardeners copy the stern mottoes of their forebears more from sentiment and a love of the antique than because of any really despondent outlook on life.

Of quite another class is the ardent worker who has been up before sunrise, pursuing on his hands and knees the wily and insidious weed, and is still found at sundown, exhausted but brave of heart, making his final rounds with the hose and watering-pot. To him there may be added stimulus in the strenuous motto, “Deus adest laborantibus.” “Qui laborat orat.” “Time wasted is existence, used is life.” How little should the crick in the back weigh against such high rewards! How could he long refrain from hunting cut-worms or plying the hellebore spray with such an incentive before him! And yet the gardener who burns with the real fire should need no incentive to work in his own garden. To such as he, the day should be all too short in which to care for his treasures. An extra spur to activity should indeed be a mockery.

No, most of us are of the third class, and it is the restful motto that brings us the truest happiness in the end. “ L’ heure passe, l’amitié reste.” What matters it whether time slips away if our friends stay by us ?

“ How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers ? ”

Is not the air redolent writh thyme and lavender? And does not “Datur hora quieti” call up long shadows, birds going to bed and a general air of peace ? Even the misleading optimism of the wellworn “Horas non numero nisi serenas” is quite in place here. The garden is without doubt the field of all others for work while you must work; but the garden that produces only the effect of activity and toil defeats its own end. You must remember, too, that no one except yourself wants to work in your garden, and for the rest of the world you must provide happy, peaceful, sweet-scented surroundings.

“ Here shall ye see no enemie
But winter and rough weather,”

was over the gate of a garden that I went into the other day. And once inside you felt that the entrance had indeed been carefully guarded. Roses, lilies, larkspurs, foxgloves, all your best friends, did their bravest and prettiest to make life bright and sweet for you, and help you to forget for the time being your cares and problems. Here, at peace with the world and your surroundings, you came at last upon the sun-dial, and found your contentment quite complete as you read its motto—quiet, sunny, and cheerful,—

“ Noiseless falls the foot of time
Which only treads on flowers.”