THE Rev. Sydney Smith, that urbane and witty clergyman who lived in England at the beginning of the last century, wrote in a letter to his friend Miss Harcourt: ''I have no relish for the country, it is a kind of healthy grave.'' Most of my life I have subscribed to this view, my tastes being exclusively metropolitan, but in recent years circumstances have propelled me into a verdant landscape for several days at a time, and I am beginning to notice a slight slackening in my resistance to ''all ye green things.''
I could not live in the place - I am certain of that - for, although it is true there is a great deal going on in the country, and if a person had a mind to it he could be as busy as that proverbial bee, to a Londoner none of the social, economic, or benevolent attractions are quite as appealing as those provided by a big city. Besides which the silence is rather ghastly. And there are many days in an English winter when the bare trees swathed in dank fog standing in dripping fields depress the spirits to their nadir. No bright lights or tooting horns to distract the senses, only the patriotic robin chirping on the mud-clogged spade.
Come the first snowdrop, though - and that is a foolhardy plant if ever there was one - the country, if visited briefly but frequently, can begin to root itself in the heart: simply because, if one happens to be looking (which one has never done before), there is so much going on. Made aware of buds on a Saturday, and fatter buds the following Saturday, one develops a proprietary interest in the tree or bush or plant that bears them, so that, arriving down from London, laden with comestibles (for, like Hazlitt, who wrote, ''There is nothing good in the country, or, if there is, they will not let you have it,'' I endorse the theory that you cannot get any decent food there, it having been sent last Wednesday to the cities), before unpacking the cauliflower, one has to race down the garden path, coattail flying, to see how the buds are getting on. If they have broken into blossom, the heart swells with pride like that of a parent before his brilliant children, in this case children who have rewarded all those hours spent weeding on all fours by being absolutely, perfectly beautiful.
Gradually, as the months and then the years go by, I become more and more emotionally involved with my little bit of the countryside. I mourn the daffodils blown flat by the wind, rejoice that the azaleas have withstood the frost, remember that the blackberries were better in 1980, and get to know a cow well enough to call her Daisy. And when I go back to London on Sunday night I find myself, surprisingly enough, worrying a bit about the Viburnum carlesii, which is not doing well.
It's a slow process, but insidious.