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´╗┐Title: Field and Hedgerow: Being the Last Essays of Richard Jefferies
Author: Jefferies, Richard, 1848-1887
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Field and Hedgerow: Being the Last Essays of Richard Jefferies" ***

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   FIELD AND HEDGEROW

         BEING

    THE LAST ESSAYS

          OF

   RICHARD JEFFERIES

_COLLECTED BY HIS WIDOW_



PREFACE.



For permission to reprint my husband's latest Essays my sincere thanks
are due to the Editors of the following publications:--

  _The Fortnightly Review._
  _Manchester Guardian._
  _Pall Mall Gazette_.
  _Standard._
  _English Illustrated Magazine._
  _Longman's Magazine._
  _St. James's Gazette._.
  _Art Journal._
  _Chambers's Journal._
  _Magazine of Art._
  _Century Illustrated Magazine._

           J.J.



CONTENTS.



HOURS OF SPRING

NATURE AND BOOKS

THE JULY GRASS

WINDS OF HEAVEN

THE COUNTRY SUNDAY

THE COUNTRY-SIDE: SUSSEX

SWALLOW-TIME

BUCKHURST PARK

HOUSE-MARTINS

AMONG THE NUTS

WALKS IN THE WHEAT-FIELDS

JUST BEFORE WINTER

LOCALITY AND NATURE

COUNTRY PLACES

FIELD WORDS AND WAYS

COTTAGE IDEAS

APRIL GOSSIP

SOME APRIL INSECTS

THE TIME OF YEAR

MIXED DAYS OF MAY AND DECEMBER

THE MAKERS OF SUMMER

STEAM ON COUNTRY ROADS

FIELD SPORTS IN ART: THE MAMMOTH HUNTER

BIRDS' NESTS

NATURE IN THE LOUVRE

SUMMER IN SOMERSET

AN ENGLISH DEER-PARK

MY OLD VILLAGE

MY CHAFFINCH



HOURS OF SPRING.



It is sweet on awaking in the early morn to listen to the small bird
singing on the tree. No sound of voice or flute is like to the bird's
song; there is something in it distinct and separate from all other
notes. The throat of woman gives forth a more perfect music, and the
organ is the glory of man's soul. The bird upon the tree utters the
meaning of the wind--a voice of the grass and wild flower, words of the
green leaf; they speak through that slender tone. Sweetness of dew and
rifts of sunshine, the dark hawthorn touched with breadths of open bud,
the odour of the air, the colour of the daffodil--all that is delicious
and beloved of spring-time are expressed in his song. Genius is nature,
and his lay, like the sap in the bough from which he sings, rises without
thought. Nor is it necessary that it should be a song; a few short notes
in the sharp spring morning are sufficient to stir the heart. But
yesterday the least of them all came to a bough by my window, and in his
call I heard the sweet-briar wind rushing over the young grass. Refulgent
fall the golden rays of the sun; a minute only, the clouds cover him and
the hedge is dark. The bloom of the gorse is shut like a book; but it is
there--a few hours of warmth and the covers will fall open. The meadow is
bare, but in a little while the heart-shaped celandine leaves will come
in their accustomed place. On the pollard willows the long wands are
yellow-ruddy in the passing gleam of sunshine, the first colour of spring
appears in their bark. The delicious wind rushes among them and they bow
and rise; it touches the top of the dark pine that looks in the sun the
same now as in summer; it lifts and swings the arching trail of bramble;
it dries and crumbles the earth in its fingers; the hedge-sparrow's
feathers are fluttered as he sings on the bush.

I wonder to myself how they can all get on without me--how they manage,
bird and flower, without me to keep the calendar for them. For I noted it
so carefully and lovingly, day by day, the seed-leaves on the mounds in
the sheltered places that come so early, the pushing up of the young
grass, the succulent dandelion, the coltsfoot on the heavy, thick clods,
the trodden chickweed despised at the foot of the gate-post, so common
and small, and yet so dear to me. Every blade of grass was mine, as
though I had planted it separately. They were all my pets, as the roses
the lover of his garden tends so faithfully. All the grasses of the
meadow were my pets, I loved them all; and perhaps that was why I never
had a 'pet,' never cultivated a flower, never kept a caged bird, or any
creature. Why keep pets when every wild free hawk that passed overhead in
the air was mine? I joyed in his swift, careless flight, in the throw of
his pinions, in his rush over the elms and miles of woodland; it was
happiness to see his unchecked life. What more beautiful than the sweep
and curve of his going through the azure sky? These were my pets, and all
the grass. Under the wind it seemed to dry and become grey, and the
starlings running to and fro on the surface that did not sink now stood
high above it and were larger. The dust that drifted along blessed it and
it grew. Day by day a change; always a note to make. The moss drying on
the tree trunks, dog's-mercury stirring under the ash-poles, bird's-claw
buds of beech lengthening; books upon books to be filled with these
things. I cannot think how they manage without me.

To-day through the window-pane I see a lark high up against the grey
cloud, and hear his song. I cannot walk about and arrange with the buds
and gorse-bloom; how does he know it is the time for him to sing? Without
my book and pencil and observing eye, how does he understand that the
hour has come? To sing high in the air, to chase his mate over the low
stone wall of the ploughed field, to battle with his high-crested rival,
to balance himself on his trembling wings outspread a few yards above the
earth, and utter that sweet little loving kiss, as it were, of song--oh,
happy, happy days! So beautiful to watch as if he were my own, and I felt
it all! It is years since I went out amongst them in the old fields, and
saw them in the green corn; they must be dead, dear little things, by
now. Without me to tell him, how does this lark to-day that I hear
through the window know it is his hour?

The green hawthorn buds prophesy on the hedge; the reed pushes up in the
moist earth like a spear thrust through a shield; the eggs of the
starling are laid in the knot-hole of the pollard elm--common eggs, but
within each a speck that is not to be found in the cut diamond of two
hundred carats--the dot of protoplasm, the atom of life. There was one
row of pollards where they always began laying first. With a big stick in
his beak the rook is blown aside like a loose feather in the wind; he
knows his building-time from the fathers of his house--hereditary
knowledge handed down in settled course: but the stray things of the
hedge, how do they know? The great blackbird has planted his nest by the
ash-stole, open to every one's view, without a bough to conceal it and
not a leaf on the ash--nothing but the moss on the lower end of the
branches. He does not seek cunningly for concealment. I think of the
drift of time, and I see the apple bloom coming and the blue veronica in
the grass. A thousand thousand buds and leaves and flowers and blades of
grass, things to note day by day, increasing so rapidly that no pencil
can put them down and no book hold them, not even to number them--and how
to write the thoughts they give? All these without me--how can they
manage without me?

For they were so much to me, I had come to feel that I was as much in
return to them. The old, old error: I love the earth, therefore the earth
loves me--I am her child--I am Man, the favoured of all creatures. I am
the centre, and all for me was made.

In time past, strong of foot, I walked gaily up the noble hill that leads
to Beachy Head from Eastbourne, joying greatly in the sun and the wind.
Every step crumbled up numbers of minute grey shells, empty and dry, that
crunched under foot like hoar-frost or fragile beads. They were very
pretty; it was a shame to crush them--such vases as no king's pottery
could make. They lay by millions in the depths of the sward, and I
thought as I broke them unwillingly that each of these had once been a
house of life. A living creature dwelt in each and felt the joy of
existence, and was to itself all in all--as if the great sun over the
hill shone for it, and the width of the earth under was for it, and the
grass and plants put on purpose for it. They were dead, the whole race of
them, and these their skeletons were as dust under my feet. Nature sets
no value upon life neither of minute hill-snail nor of human being.

I thought myself so much to the earliest leaf and the first meadow
orchis--so important that I should note the first zee-zee of the
titlark--that I should pronounce it summer, because now the oaks were
green; I must not miss a day nor an hour in the fields lest something
should escape me. How beautiful the droop of the great brome-grass by the
wood! But to-day I have to listen to the lark's song--not out of doors
with him, but through the window-pane, and the bullfinch carries the
rootlet fibre to his nest without me. They manage without me very well;
they know their times and seasons--not only the civilised rooks, with
their libraries of knowledge in their old nests of reference, but the
stray things of the hedge and the chiffchaff from over sea in the ash
wood. They go on without me. Orchis flower and cowslip--I cannot number
them all--I hear, as it were, the patter of their feet--flower and bud
and the beautiful clouds that go over, with the sweet rush of rain and
burst of sun glory among the leafy trees. They go on, and I am no more
than the least of the empty shells that strewed the sward of the hill.
Nature sets no value upon life, neither of mine nor of the larks that
sang years ago. The earth is all in all to me, but I am nothing to the
earth: it is bitter to know this before you are dead. These delicious
violets are sweet for themselves; they were not shaped and coloured and
gifted with that exquisite proportion and adjustment of odour and hue for
me. High up against the grey cloud I hear the lark through the window
singing, and each note falls into my heart like a knife.

Now this to me speaks as the roll of thunder that cannot be denied--you
must hear it; and how can you shut your ears to what this lark sings,
this violet tells, this little grey shell writes in the curl of its
spire? The bitter truth that human life is no more to the universe than
that of the unnoticed hill-snail in the grass should make us think more
and more highly of ourselves as human--as men--living things that think.
We must look to ourselves to help ourselves. We must think ourselves into
an earthly immortality. By day and by night, by years and by centuries,
still striving, studying, searching to find that which shall enable us to
live a fuller life upon the earth--to have a wider grasp upon its violets
and loveliness, a deeper draught of the sweet-briar wind. Because my
heart beats feebly to-day, my trickling pulse scarcely notating the
passing of the time, so much the more do I hope that those to come in
future years may see wider and enjoy fuller than I have done; and so much
the more gladly would I do all that I could to enlarge the life that
shall be then. There is no hope on the old lines--they are dead, like the
empty shells; from the sweet delicious violets think out fresh petals of
thought and colours, as it were, of soul.

Never was such a worshipper of earth. The commonest pebble, dusty and
marked with the stain of the ground, seems to me so wonderful; my mind
works round it till it becomes the sun and centre of a system of thought
and feeling. Sometimes moving aside the tufts of grass with careless
fingers while resting on the sward, I found these little pebble-stones
loose in the crumbly earth among the rootlets. Then, brought out from the
shadow, the sunlight shone and glistened on the particles of sand that
adhered to it. Particles adhered to my skin--thousands of years between
finger and thumb, these atoms of quartz, and sunlight shining all that
time, and flowers blooming and life glowing in all, myriads of living
things, from the cold still limpet on the rock to the burning, throbbing
heart of man. Sometimes I found them among the sand of the heath, the sea
of golden brown surging up yellow billows six feet high about me, where
the dry lizard hid, or basked, of kin, too, to old time. Or the rush of
the sea wave brought them to me, wet and gleaming, up from the depths of
what unknown Past? where they nestled in the root crevices of trees
forgotten before Egypt. The living mind opposite the dead pebble--did you
ever consider the strange and wonderful problem there? Only the thickness
of the skin of the hand between them. The chief use of matter is to
demonstrate to us the existence of the soul. The pebble-stone tells me I
am a soul because I am not that that touches the nerves of my hand. We
are distinctly two, utterly separate, and shall never come together. The
little pebble and the great sun overhead--millions of miles away: yet is
the great sun no more distinct and apart than this which I can touch.
Dull-surfaced matter, like a polished mirror, reflects back thought to
thought's self within.

I listened to the sweet-briar wind this morning; but for weeks and weeks
the stark black oaks stood straight out of the snow as masts of ships
with furled sails frozen and ice-bound in the haven of the deep valley.
Each was visible to the foot, set in the white slope, made individual in
the wood by the brilliance of the background. Never was such a long
winter. For fully two months they stood in the snow in black armour of
iron bark unshaken, the front rank of the forest army that would not
yield to the northern invader. Snow in broad flakes, snow in semi-flakes,
snow raining down in frozen specks, whirling and twisting in fury, ice
raining in small shot of frost, howling, sleeting, groaning; the ground
like iron, the sky black and faintly yellow--brutal colours of
despotism--heaven striking with clenched fist. When at last the general
surface cleared, still there remained the trenches and traverses of the
enemy, his ramparts drifted high, and his roads marked with snow. The
black firs on the ridge stood out against the frozen clouds, still and
hard; the slopes of leafless larches seemed withered and brown; the
distant plain far down gloomy with the same dull yellowish blackness. At
a height of seven hundred feet the air was sharp as a scythe--a rude
barbarian giant wind knocking at the walls of the house with a vast club,
so that we crept sideways even to the windows to look out upon the world.
There was everything to repel--the cold, the frost, the hardness, the
snow, dark sky and ground, leaflessness; the very furze chilled and all
benumbed. Yet the forest was still beautiful. There was no day that we
did not, all of us, glance out at it and admire it, and say something
about it. Harder and harder grew the frost, yet still the forest-clad
hills possessed a something that drew the mind open to their largeness
and grandeur. Earth is always beautiful--always. Without colour, or leaf,
or sunshine, or song of bird and flutter of butterfly's wing; without
anything sensuous, without advantage or gilding of summer--the power is
ever there. Or shall we not say that the desire of the mind is ever
there, and _will_ satisfy itself, in a measure at least, even with the
barren wild? The heart from the moment of its first beat instinctively
longs for the beautiful; the means we possess to gratify it are
limited--we are always trying to find the statue in the rude block. Out
of the vast block of the earth the mind endeavours to carve itself
loveliness, nobility, and grandeur. We strive for the right and the true:
it is circumstance that thrusts wrong upon us.

One morning a labouring man came to the door with a spade, and asked if
he could dig the garden, or try to, at the risk of breaking the tool in
the ground. He was starving; he had had no work for two months; it was
just six months, he said, since the first frost started the winter.
Nature and the earth and the gods did not trouble about _him_, you see;
he might grub the rock-frost ground with his hands if he chose--the
yellowish black sky did not care. Nothing for man! The only good he found
was in his fellow-men; they fed him after a fashion--still they fed him.
There was no good in anything else. Another aged man came once a week
regularly; white as the snow through which he walked. In summer he
worked; since the winter began he had had no employment, but supported
himself by going round to the farms in rotation. They all gave him a
trifle--bread and cheese, a penny, a slice of meat--something; and so he
lived, and slept the whole of that time in outhouses wherever he could.
He had no home of any kind. Why did he not go into the workhouse? 'I be
afeared if I goes in there they'll put me with the rough uns, and very
likely I should get some of my clothes stole.' Rather than go into the
workhouse he would totter round in the face of the blasts that might
cover his weak old limbs with drift. There was a sense of dignity and
manhood left still; his clothes were worn, but clean and decent; he was
no companion of rogues; the snow and frost, the straw of the outhouses,
was better than that. He was struggling against age, against nature,
against circumstance; the entire weight of society, law, and order
pressed upon him to force him to lose his self-respect and liberty. He
would rather risk his life in the snowdrift. Nature, earth, and the gods
did not help him; sun and stars, where were they? He knocked at the doors
of the farms and found good in man only--not in Law or Order, but in
individual man alone.

The bitter north wind drives even the wild fieldfare to the berries in
the garden hedge; so it drives stray human creatures to the door. A third
came--an old gipsy woman--still stout and hearty, with green fresh brooms
to sell. We bought some brooms--one of them was left on the kitchen
floor, and the tame rabbit nibbled it; it proved to be heather. The true
broom is as green and succulent in appearance in January as June. She
would see the 'missis.' 'Bless you, my good lady, it be weather, bean't
it? I hopes you'll never know what it be to want, my good lady. Ah, well,
you looks good-tempered if you don't want to buy nothing. Do you see if
you can't find me an old body, now, for my girl--now do'ee try; she's
confined in a tent on the common--nothing but one of our tents, my good
lady--that's true--and she's doing jest about well' (with briskness and
an air of triumph), 'that she is! She's got twins, you see, my lady, but
she's all right, and as well as can be. She wants to get up; and she says
to me, "Mother, do'ee try and get me a body; 'tis hard to lie here abed
and be well enough to get up, and be obliged to stay here because I've
got nothing but a bedgown." For you see, my good lady, we managed pretty
well with the first baby; but the second bothered us, and we cut up all
the bits of things we could find, and there she ain't got nothing to put
on. Do'ee see if 'ee can't find her an old body.' The common is an open
piece of furze and heath at the verge of the forest; and here, in a tent
just large enough to creep in, the gipsy woman had borne twins in the
midst of the snow and frost. They could not make a fire of the heath and
gorse even if they cut it, the snow and whirling winds would not permit.
The old gipsy said if they had little food they could not do without
fire, and they were compelled to get coke and coal somehow--apologising
for such a luxury. There was no whining--not a bit of it; they were
evidently quite contented and happy, and the old woman proud of her
daughter's hardihood. By-and-by the husband came round with straw
beehives to sell, and cane to mend chairs--a strong, respectable-looking
man. Of all the north wind drove to the door, the outcasts were the best
off--much better off than the cottager who was willing to break his spade
to earn a shilling; much better off than the white-haired labourer, whose
strength was spent, and who had not even a friend to watch with him in
the dark hours of the winter evening--not even a fire to rest by. The
gipsy nearest to the earth was the best off in every way; yet not even
for primitive man and woman did the winds cease. Broad flakes of snow
drifted up against the low tent, beneath which the babes were nestling to
the breast. Not even for the babes did the snow cease or the keen wind
rest; the very fire could scarcely struggle against it. Snow-rain and
ice-rain; frost-formed snow-granules, driven along like shot, stinging
and rattling against the tent-cloth, hissing in the fire; roar and groan
of the great wind among the oaks of the forest. No kindness to man, from
birth-hour to ending; neither earth, sky, nor gods care for him, innocent
at the mother's breast. Nothing good to man but man. Let man, then, leave
his gods and lift up his ideal beyond them.

Something grey and spotted and puffy, not unlike a toad, moved about
under the gorse of the garden hedge one morning, half hidden by the
stalks of old grasses. By-and-by it hopped out--the last thrush, so
distended with puffed feathers against the frost as to be almost
shapeless. He searched about hopelessly round the stones and in the
nooks, all hard and frostbound; there was the shell of a snail, dry and
whitened and empty, as was apparent enough even at a distance. His keen
eye must have told him that it was empty; yet such was his hunger and
despair that he took it and dashed it to pieces against a stone. Like a
human being, his imagination was stronger than his experience; he tried
to persuade himself that there might be something there; hoping against
hope. Mind, you see, working in the bird's brain, and overlooking facts.
A mere mechanism would have left the empty and useless shell
untouched--would have accepted facts at once, however bitter, just as the
balance on the heaviest side declines immediately, obeying the fact of an
extra grain of weight. The bird's brain was not mechanical, and therefore
he was not wholly mastered by experience. It was a purely human
action--just what we do ourselves. Next he came across to the door to see
if a stray berry still remained on a creeper. He saw me at the window,
and he came to the window--right to it--and stopped and looked full at me
some minutes, within touch almost, saying as plainly as could be said, 'I
am starving--help me.' I never before knew a thrush make so unmistakable
an appeal for assistance, or deliberately approach so near (unless
previously encouraged). We tried to feed him, but we fear little of the
food reached him. The wonder of the incident was that a thrush should
still be left--there had not been one in the garden for two months.
Berries all gone, ground hard and foodless, streams frozen, snow lying
for weeks, frost stealing away the vital heat--ingenuity could not devise
a more terrible scene of torture to the birds. Neither for the thrushes
nor for the new-born infants in the tent did the onslaught of the winter
slacken. No pity in earth or heaven. This one thrush did, indeed, by some
exceptional fortune, survive; but where were the family of thrushes that
had sung so sweetly in the rainy autumn? Where were the blackbirds?

Looking down from the stilts of seven hundred feet into the deep coombe
of black oaks standing in the white snow, day by day, built round about
with the rugged mound of the hills, doubly locked with the key of
frost--it seemed to me to take on itself the actuality of the ancient
faith of the Magi. How the seeds of all living things--the germs--of bird
and animal, man and insect, tree and herb, of the whole earth--were
gathered together into a four-square rampart, and there laid to sleep in
safety, shielded by a spell-bound fortification against the coming flood,
not of water, but of frost and snow! With snow and frost and winter the
earth was overcome, and the world perished, stricken dumb and dead, swept
clean and utterly destroyed--a winter of the gods, the silence of snow
and universal death. All that had been passed away, and the earth was
depopulated. Death triumphed. But under the snow, behind the charmed
rampart, slept the living germs. Down in the deep coombe, where the dark
oaks stood out individually in the whiteness of the snow, fortified round
about with immovable hills, there was the actual presentment of
Zoroaster's sacred story. Locked in sleep lay bud and germ--the
butterflies of next summer were there somewhere, under the snow. The
earth was swept of its inhabitants, but the seeds of life were not dead.
Near by were the tents of the gipsies--an Eastern race, whose forefathers
perhaps had seen that very Magian worship of the Light; and in those
tents birth had already taken place. Under the Night of winter--under the
power of dark Ahriman, the evil spirit of Destruction--lay bud and germ
in bondage, waiting for the coming of Ormuzd, the Sun of Light and
Summer. Beneath the snow, and in the frozen crevices of the trees, in the
chinks of the earth, sealed up by the signet of frost, were the seeds of
the life that would replenish the air in time to come. The buzzing crowds
of summer were still under the snow.

This forest land is marked by the myriads of insects that roam about it
in the days of sunshine. Of all the million million heathbells--multiply
them again by a million million more--that purple the acres of rolling
hills, mile upon mile, there is not one that is not daily visited by
these flying creatures. Countless and incalculable hosts of the
yellow-barred hover-flies come to them; the heath and common, the moor
and forest, the hedgerow and copse, are full of insects. They rise under
foot, they rise from the spray brushed by your arm as you pass, they
settle down in front of you--a rain of insects, a coloured shower. Legion
is a little word for the butterflies; the dry pastures among the woods
are brown with meadow-brown; blues and coppers float in endless
succession; all the nations of Xerxes' army were but a handful to these.
In their millions they have perished; but somewhere, coiled up, as it
were, and sealed under the snow, there must have been the mothers and
germs of the equally vast crowds that will fill the atmosphere this year.
The great bumble-bee that shall be mother of hundreds, the yellow wasp
that shall be mother of thousands, were hidden there somewhere. The food
of the migrant birds that are coming from over sea was there dormant
under the snow. Many nations have a tradition of a former world destroyed
by a deluge of water, from the East to the West, from Greece to Mexico,
where the tail of a comet was said to have caused the flood; but in the
strange characters of the Zend is the legend of an ark (as it were)
prepared against the snow. It may be that it is the dim memory of a
glacial epoch. In this deep coombe, amid the dark oaks and snow, was the
fable of Zoroaster. For the coming of Ormuzd, the Light and Life Bringer,
the leaf slept folded, the butterfly was hidden, the germ concealed,
while the sun swept upwards towards Aries.

There is nothing so wearying as a long frost--the endless monotony, which
makes one think that the very fault we usually find with our climate--its
changeableness--is in reality its best quality. Rain, mist,
gales--anything; give us anything but weary, weary frost. But having once
fixed its mind, the weather will not listen to the usual signs of
alteration.

The larks sang at last high up against the grey cloud over the
frost-bound earth. They could not wait longer; love was strong in their
little hearts--stronger than the winter. After a while the
hedge-sparrows, too, began to sing on the top of the gorse-hedge about
the garden. By-and-by a chaffinch boldly raised his voice, ending with
the old story, 'Sweet, will you, will you kiss--me--dear?' Then there
came a hoar-frost, and the earth, which had been black, became white, as
its evaporated vapours began to gather and drops of rain to fall. Even
then the obstinate weather refused to quite yield, wrapping its cloak, as
it were, around it in bitter enmity. But in a day or two white clouds lit
up with sunshine appeared drifting over from the southward, and that was
the end. The old pensioner came to the door for his bread and cheese:
'The wind's in the south' he said, 'and I hopes she'll stay there' Five
dull yellow spots on the hedge--gorse bloom--that had remained unchanged
for so many weeks, took a fresh colour and became golden. By the constant
passing of the waggons and carts along the road that had been so silent
it was evident that the busy time of spring was here. There would be
rough weather, doubtless, now and again, but it would not again be
winter.

Dark patches of cloud--spots of ink on the sky, the 'messengers'--go
drifting by; and after them will follow the water-carriers, harnessed to
the south and west winds, drilling the long rows of rain like seed into
the earth. After a time there will be a rainbow. Through the bars of my
prison I can see the catkins thick and sallow-grey on the willows across
the field, visible even at that distance; so great the change in a few
days, the hand of spring grows firm and takes a strong grasp of the
hedges. My prison bars are but a sixteenth of an inch thick; I could snap
them with a fillip--only the window-pane, to me as impenetrable as the
twenty-foot wall of the Tower of London. A cart has just gone past
bearing a strange load among the carts of spring; they are talking of
poling the hops. In it there sat an old man, with the fixed stare, the
animal-like eye, of extreme age; he is over ninety. About him there were
some few chairs and articles of furniture, and he was propped against a
bed. He was being moved--literally carted--to another house, not home,
and he said he could not go without his bed; he had slept on it for
seventy-three years. Last Sunday his son--himself old--was carted to the
churchyard, as is the country custom, in an open van; to-day the father,
still living, goes to what will be to him a strange land. His home is
broken up--he will potter no more with maize for the chicken; the gorse
hedges will become solid walls of golden bloom, but there will never
again be a spring for him. It is very hard, is it not, at ninety? It is
not the tyranny of any one that has done it; it is the tyranny of
circumstance, the lot of man. The song of the Greeks is full of sorrow;
man was to them the creature of grief, yet theirs was the land of violets
and pellucid air. This has been a land of frost and snow, and here too,
it is the same. A stranger, I see, is already digging the old man's
garden.

How happy the trees must be to hear the song of birds again in their
branches! After the silence and the leaflessness, to have the birds back
once more and to feel them busy at the nest-building; how glad to give
them the moss and fibres and the crutch of the boughs to build in!
Pleasant it is now to watch the sunlit clouds sailing onwards; it is like
sitting by the sea. There is voyaging to and fro of birds; the strong
wood-pigeon goes over--a long course in the air, from hill to distant
copse; a blackbird starts from an ash, and, now inclining this way and
now that, traverses the meadows to the thick corner hedge; finches go by,
and the air is full of larks that sing without ceasing. The touch of the
wind, the moisture of the dew, the sun-stained raindrop, have in them the
magic force of life--a marvellous something that was not there before.
Under it the narrow blade of grass comes up freshly green between the old
white fibres the rook pulled; the sycamore bud swells and opens, and
takes the eye instantly in the still dark wood; the starlings go to the
hollow pollards; the lambs leap in the mead. You never know what a day
may bring forth--what new thing will come next. Yesterday I saw the
ploughman and his team, and the earth gleam smoothed behind the share;
to-day a butterfly has gone past; the farm-folk are bringing home the
fagots from the hedgerows; to-morrow there will be a merry, merry note in
the ash copse, the chiffchaffs' ringing call to arms, to arms, ye leaves!
By-and-by a bennet, a bloom of the grass; in time to come the furrow, as
it were, shall open, and the great buttercup of the waters will show a
broad palm of gold. You never know what will come to the net of the eye
next--a bud, a flower, a nest, a curled fern, or whether it will be in
the woodland or by the meadow path, at the water's side or on the dead
dry heap of fagots. There is no settled succession, no fixed and formal
order--always the unexpected; and you cannot say, 'I will go and find
this or that.' The sowing of life in the spring time is not in the set
straight line of the drill, nor shall you find wild flowers by a foot
measure. There are great woods without a lily of the valley; the
nightingale does not sing everywhere. Nature has no arrangement, no plan,
nothing judicious even; the walnut trees bring forth their tender buds,
and the frost burns them--they have no mosaic of time to fit in, like a
Roman tesselated pavement; nature is like a child, who will sing and
shout though you may be never so deeply pondering in the study, and does
not wait for the hour that suits your mind. You do not know what you may
find each day; perhaps you may only pick up a fallen feather, but it is
beautiful, every filament. Always beautiful! everything beautiful! And
are these things new--the ploughman and his team, the lark's song the
green leaf? Can they be new? Surely they have been of old time! They are,
indeed, new--the only things that are so; the rest is old and grey, and a
weariness.



NATURE AND BOOKS.



What is the colour of the dandelion? There are many dandelions: that
which I mean flowers in May, when the meadow-grass has started and the
hares are busy by daylight. That which flowers very early in the year has
a thickness of hue, and is not interesting; in autumn the dandelions
quite change their colour and are pale. The right dandelion for this
question is the one that comes about May with a very broad disc, and in
such quantities as often to cover a whole meadow. I used to admire them
very much in the fields by Surbiton (strong clay soil), and also on the
towing-path of the Thames where the sward is very broad, opposite Long
Ditton; indeed, I have often walked up that towing-path on a beautiful
sunny morning, when all was quiet except the nightingales in the Palace
hedge, on purpose to admire them. I dare say they are all gone now for
evermore; still, it is a pleasure to look back on anything beautiful.
What colour is this dandelion? It is not yellow, nor orange, nor gold;
put a sovereign on it and see the difference. They say the gipsies call
it the Queen's great hairy dog-flower--a number of words to one stalk;
and so, to get a colour to it, you may call it the yellow-gold-orange
plant. In the winter, on the black mud under a dark, dripping tree, I
found a piece of orange peel, lately dropped--a bright red orange speck
in the middle of the blackness. It looked very beautiful, and instantly
recalled to my mind the great dandelion discs in the sunshine of summer.
Yet certainly they are not red-orange. Perhaps, if ten people answered
this question, they would each give different answers. Again, a bright
day or a cloudy, the presence of a slight haze, or the juxtaposition of
other colours, alters it very much; for the dandelion is not a glazed
colour, like the buttercup, but sensitive. It is like a sponge, and adds
to its own hue that which is passing, sucking it up.

The shadows of the trees in the wood, why are they blue? Ought they not
to be dark? Is it really blue, or an illusion? And what is their colour
when you see the shadow of a tall trunk aslant in the air like a leaning
pillar? The fallen brown leaves wet with dew have a different brown from
those that are dry, and the upper surface of the green growing leaf is
different from the under surface. The yellow butterfly, if you meet one
in October, has so toned down his spring yellow that you might fancy him
a pale green leaf floating along the road. There is a shining, quivering,
gleaming; there is a changing, fluttering, shifting; there is a mixing,
weaving--varnished wings, translucent wings, wings with dots and veins,
all playing over the purple heath; a very tangle of many-toned lights and
hues. Then come the apples: if you look upon them from an upper window,
so as to glance along the level plane of the fruit, delicate streaks of
scarlet, like those that lie parallel to the eastern horizon before
sunrise; golden tints under bronze, and apple-green, and some that the
wasps have hollowed, more glowingly beautiful than the rest; sober leaves
and black and white swallows: to see it you must be high up, as if the
apples were strewn on a sward of foliage. So have I gone in three steps
from May dandelion to September apple; an immense space measured by
things beautiful, so filled that ten folio volumes could not hold the
description of them, and I have left out the meadows, the brooks, and
hills. Often in writing about these things I have felt very earnestly my
own incompetence to give the least idea of their brilliancy and
many-sided colours. My gamut was so very limited in its terms, and would
not give a note to one in a thousand of those I saw. At last I said, I
will have more words; I will have more terms; I will have a book on
colour, and I will find and use the right technical name for each one of
these lovely tints. I was told that the very best book was by Chevreul,
which had tinted illustrations, chromatic scales, and all that could be
desired.

Quite true, all of it; but for me it contained nothing. There was a good
deal about assorted wools, but nothing about leaves; nothing by which I
could tell you the difference between the light scarlet of one poppy and
the deep purple-scarlet of another species. The dandelion remained
unexplained; as for the innumerable other flowers, and wings, and
sky-colours, they were not even approached. The book, in short, dealt
with the artificial and not with nature. Next I went to science--works on
optics, such a mass of them. Some I had read in old time, and turned to
again; some I read for the first time, some translated from the German,
and so on. It appeared that, experimenting with physical colour, tangible
paint, they had found out that red, yellow, and blue were the three
primary colours; and then, experimenting with light itself, with colours
not tangible, they found out that red, green, and violet were the three
primary colours; but neither of these would do for the dandelion. Once
upon a time I had taken an interest in spectrum analysis, and the theory
of the polarisation of light was fairly familiar; any number of books,
but not what I wanted to know. Next the idea occurred to me of buying all
the colours used in painting, and tinting as many pieces of paper a
separate hue, and so comparing these with petals, and wings, and grass,
and trifolium. This did not answer at all; my unskilful hands made a very
poor wash, and the yellow paper set by a yellow petal did not agree, the
scientific reason of which I cannot enter into now. Secondly, the names
attached to many of these paints are unfamiliar to general readers; it is
doubtful if bistre, Leitch's blue, oxide of chromium, and so on, would
convey an idea. They might as well be Greek symbols: no use to attempt to
describe hues of heath or hill in that way. These, too, are only distinct
colours. What was to be done with all the shades and tones? Still there
remained the language of the studio; without doubt a master of painting
could be found who would quickly supply the technical term of anything I
liked to show him; but again no use, because it would be technical. And a
still more insurmountable difficulty occurs: in so far as I have looked
at pictures, it seems as if the artists had met with the same obstacle in
paints as I have in words--that is to say, a deficiency. Either painting
is incompetent to express the extreme beauty of nature, or in some way
the canons of art forbid the attempt. Therefore I had to turn back, throw
down my books with a bang, and get me to a bit of fallen timber in the
open air to meditate.

Would it be possible to build up a fresh system of colour language by
means of natural objects? Could we say pine-wood green, larch green,
spruce green, wasp yellow, humble-bee amber? And there are fungi that
have marked tints, but the Latin names of these agarics are not pleasant.
Butterfly blue--but there are several varieties; and this plan is
interfered with by two things: first, that almost every single item of
nature, however minute, has got a distinctly different colour, so that
the dictionary of tints would be immense; and next, so very few would
know the object itself that the colour attached to it would have no
meaning. The power of language has been gradually enlarging for a great
length of time, and I venture to say that the English language at the
present time can express more, and is more subtle, flexible, and, at the
same time, vigorous, than any of which we possess a record. When people
talk to me about studying Sanscrit, or Greek, or Latin, or German, or,
still more absurd, French, I feel as if I could fell them with a mallet
happily. Study the English, and you will find everything there, I reply.
With such a language I fully anticipate, in years to come, a great
development in the power of expressing thoughts and feelings which are
now thoughts and feelings only. How many have said of the sea, 'It makes
me feel something I cannot say'! Hence it is clear there exists in the
intellect a layer, if I may so call it, of thought yet dumb--chambers
within the mind which require the key of new words to unlock. Whenever
that is done a fresh impetus is given to human progress. There are a
million books, and yet with all their aid I cannot tell you the colour of
the May dandelion. There are three greens at this moment in my mind: that
of the leaf of the flower-de-luce, that of the yellow iris leaf, and that
of the bayonet-like leaf of the common flag. With admission to a million
books, how am I to tell you the difference between these tints? So many,
many books, and such a very, very little bit of nature in them! Though we
have been so many thousand years upon the earth we do not seem to have
done any more as yet than walk along beaten footpaths, and sometimes
really it would seem as if there were something in the minds of many men
quite artificial, quite distinct from the sun and trees and
hills--altogether house people, whose gods must be set in four-cornered
buildings. There is nothing in books that touches my dandelion.

It grows, ah yes, it grows! How does it grow? Builds itself up somehow of
sugar and starch, and turns mud into bright colour and dead earth into
food for bees, and some day perhaps for you, and knows when to shut its
petals, and how to construct the brown seeds to float with the wind, and
how to please the children, and how to puzzle me. Ingenious dandelion! If
you find out that its correct botanical name is _Leontodon taraxacum_ or
_Leontodon dens-leonis_, that will bring it into botany; and there is a
place called Dandelion Castle in Kent, and a bell with the inscription--

 John de Dandelion with his great dog
 Brought over this bell on a mill cog

--which is about as relevant as the mere words _Leontodon taraxacum_.
Botany is the knowledge of plants according to the accepted definition;
naturally, therefore, when I began to think I would like to know a little
more of flowers than could be learned by seeing them in the fields, I
went to botany. Nothing could be more simple. You buy a book which first
of all tells you how to recognise them, how to classify them; next
instructs you in their uses, medical or economical; next tells you about
the folk-lore and curious associations; next enters into a lucid
explanation of the physiology of the plant and its relation to other
creatures; and finally, and most important, supplies you with the ethical
feeling, the ideal aspiration to be identified with each particular
flower. One moderately thick volume would probably suffice for such a
modest round as this.

Lo! now the labour of Hercules when he set about bringing up Cerberus
from below, and all the work done by Apollo in the years when he ground
corn, are but a little matter compared with the attempt to master botany.
Great minds have been at it these two thousand years, and yet we are
still only nibbling at the edge of the leaf, as the ploughboys bite the
young hawthorn in spring. The mere classification--all plant-lore was a
vast chaos till there came the man of Sweden, the great Linnaeus, till
the sexes were recognised, and everything was ruled out and set in place
again. A wonderful man! I think it would be true to say it was Linnaeus
who set the world on its present twist of thinking, and levered our
mental globe a little more perpendicular to the ecliptic. He actually
gathered the dandelion and took it to bits like a scientific child; he
touched nature with his fingers instead of sitting looking out of
window--perhaps the first man who had ever done so for seventeen hundred
years or so, since superstition blighted the progress of pagan Rome. The
work he did! But no one reads Linnaeus now; the folios, indeed, might
moulder to dust without loss, because his spirit has got into the minds
of men, and the text is of little consequence. The best book he wrote to
read now is the delightful 'Tour in Lapland,' with its quaint pen-and-ink
sketches, so realistically vivid, as if the thing sketched had been
banged on the paper and so left its impress. I have read it three times,
and I still cherish the old yellow pages; it is the best botanical book,
written by the greatest of botanists, specially sent on a botanical
expedition, and it contains nothing about botany. It tells you about the
canoes, and the hard cheese, and the Laplander's warehouse on top of a
pole, like a pigeon-house; and the innocent way in which the maiden
helped the traveller in his bath, and how the aged men ran so fast that
the devil could not catch them; and, best of all, because it gives a
smack in the face to modern pseudo-scientific medical cant about hygiene,
showing how the Laplanders break every 'law,' human and 'divine',
ventilation, bath, and diet--all the trash--and therefore enjoy the most
excellent health, and live to a great old age. Still I have not succeeded
in describing the immense labour there was in learning to distinguish
plants on the Linnaean system. Then comes in order of time the natural
system, the geographical distribution; then there is the geological
relationship, so to say, to Pliocene plants, natural selection and
evolution. Of that let us say nothing; let sleeping dogs lie, and
evolution is a very weary dog. Most charming, however, will be found the
later studies of naturalists on the interdependence of flowers and
insects; there is another work the dandelion has got to do--endless,
endless botany! Where did the plants come from at first? Did they come
creeping up out of the sea at the edge of the estuaries, and gradually
run their roots into the ground, and so make green the earth? Did Man
come out of the sea, as the Greeks thought? There are so many ideas in
plants. Flora, with a full lap, scattering knowledge and flowers
together; everything good and sweet seems to come out of flowers, up to
the very highest thoughts of the soul, and we carry them daily to the
very threshold of the other world. Next you may try the microscope and
its literature, and find the crystals in the rhubarb.

I remember taking sly glances when I was a very little boy at an old
Culpepper's Herbal, heavily bound in leather and curiously illustrated.
It was so deliciously wicked to read about the poisons; and I thought
perhaps it was a book like that, only in papyrus rolls, that was used by
the sorceress who got ready the poisoned mushrooms in old Rome. Youth's
ideas are so imaginative, and bring together things that are so widely
separated. Conscience told me I had no business to read about poisons;
but there was a fearful fascination in hemlock, and I recollect tasting a
little bit--it was very nasty. At this day, nevertheless, if any one
wishes to begin a pleasant, interesting, unscientific acquaintance with
English plants, he would do very well indeed to get a good copy of
Culpepper. Grey hairs had insisted in showing themselves in my beard
when, all those weary years afterwards, I thought I would like to buy the
still older Englishman, Gerard, who had no Linnaeus to guide him, who
walked about our English lanes centuries ago. What wonderful scenes he
must have viewed when they were all a tangle of wild flowers, and plants
that are now scarce were common, and the old ploughs, and the curious
customs, and the wild red-deer--it would make a good picture, it really
would, Gerard studying English orchids! Such a volume!--hundreds of
pages, yellow of course, close type, and marvellously well printed. The
minute care they must have taken in those early days of printing to get
up such a book--a wonderful volume both in bodily shape and contents.
Just then the only copy I could hear of was much damaged. The cunning old
bookseller said he could make it up; but I have no fancy for patched
books, they are not genuine; I would rather have them deficient; and the
price was rather long, and so I went Gerardless. Of folk-lore and
medicinal use and history and associations here you have hints. The
bottom of the sack is not yet; there are the monographs, years of study
expended upon one species of plant growing in one locality, perhaps; some
made up into thick books and some into broad quarto pamphlets, with most
beautiful plates, that, if you were to see them, would tempt you to cut
them out and steal them, all sunk and lost like dead ships under the
sand: piles of monographs. There are warehouses in London that are choked
to the beams of the roof with them, and every fresh exploration furnishes
another shelf-load. The source of the Nile was unknown a very few years
ago, and now, I have no doubt, there are dozens of monographs on the
flowers that flourish there. Indeed, there is not a thing that grows that
may not furnish a monograph. The author spends perhaps twenty years in
collecting his material, during which time he must of course come across
a great variety of amusing information, and then he spends another ten
years writing out a fair copy of his labours. Then he thinks it does not
quite do in that form, so he snips a paragraph out of the beginning and
puts it at the end; next he shifts some more matter from the middle to
the preface; then he thinks it over. It seems to him that it is too big,
it wants condensation. The scientific world will say he has made too much
of it; it ought to read very slight, and present the facts while
concealing the labour. So he sets about removing the superfluous--leaves
out all the personal observations, and all the little adventures he has
met with in his investigations; and so, having got it down to the dry
bones and stones thereof and omitted all the mortar that stuck them
together, he sends for the engraver, and the next three years are
occupied in working up the illustrations. About this time some new
discovery is made by a foreign observer, which necessitates a complete
revision of the subject; and so having shifted the contents of the book
about hither and thither till he does not know which is the end and which
is the beginning, he pitches the much-mutilated copy into a drawer and
turns the key. Farewell, no more of this; his declining days shall be
spent in peace. A few months afterwards a work is announced in Leipsic
which 'really trenches on my favourite subject, and really after spending
a lifetime I can't stand it.' By this time his handwriting has become so
shaky he can hardly read it himself, so he sends in despair for a lady
who works a type-writer, and with infinite patience she makes a clean
manuscript of the muddled mass. To the press at last, and the proofs come
rapidly. Such a relief! How joyfully easy a thing is when you set about
it! but by-and-by this won't do. Sub-section A ought to be in a
foot-note, family B is doubtful; and so the corrections grow and run over
the margin in a thin treble hand, till they approach the bulk of the
original book--a good profit for the printer; and so after about forty
years the monograph is published--the work of a life is accomplished.
Fifty copies are sent round to as many public libraries and learned
societies, and the rest of the impression lies on the shelves till dust
and time and spiders' webs have buried it. Splendid work in it too.
Looked back upon from to-day with the key of modern thought, these
monographs often contain a whole chest of treasure. And still there are
the periodicals, a century of magazines and journals and reviews and
notices that have been coming out these hundred years and dropping to the
ground like dead leaves unnoticed. And then there are the art
works--books about shape and colour and ornament, and a naturalist lately
has been trying to see how the leaves of one tree look fitted on the
boughs of another. Boundless is the wealth of Flora's lap; the ingenuity
of man has been weaving wreaths out of it for ages, and still the bottom
of the sack is not yet. Nor have we got much news of the dandelion. For I
sit on the thrown timber under the trees and meditate, and I want
something more: I want the soul of the flowers.

The bee and the butterfly take their pollen and their honey, and the
strange moths so curiously coloured, like the curious colouring of the
owls, come to them by night, and they turn towards the sun and live their
little day, and their petals fall, and where is the soul when the body
decays? I want the inner meaning and the understanding of the wild
flowers in the meadow. Why are they? What end? What purpose? The plant
knows, and sees, and feels; where is its mind when the petal falls?
Absorbed in the universal dynamic force, or what? They make no shadow of
pretence, these beautiful flowers, of being beautiful for my sake, of
bearing honey for me; in short, there does not seem to be any kind of
relationship between us, and yet--as I said just now--language does not
express the dumb feelings of the mind any more than the flower can speak.
I want to know the soul of the flowers, but the word soul does not in the
smallest degree convey the meaning of my wish. It is quite inadequate; I
must hope that you will grasp the drift of my meaning. All these
life-laboured monographs, these classifications, works of Linnaeus, and
our own classic Darwin, microscope, physiology, and the flower has not
given us its message yet. There are a million books; there are no books:
all the books have to be written. What a field! A whole million of books
have got to be written. In this sense there are hardly a dozen of them
done, and these mere primers. The thoughts of man are like the
foraminifera, those minute shells which build up the solid chalk hills
and lay the level plain of endless sand; so minute that, save with a
powerful lens, you would never imagine the dust on your fingers to be
more than dust. The thoughts of man are like these: each to him seems
great in his day, but the ages roll, and they shrink till they become
triturated dust, and you might, as it were, put a thousand on your
thumb-nail. They are not shapeless dust for all that; they are organic,
and they build and weld and grow together, till in the passage of time
they will make a new earth and a new life. So I think I may say there are
no books; the books are yet to be written.

Let us get a little alchemy out of the dandelions. They were not precise,
the Arabian sages, with their flowing robes and handwriting; there was a
large margin to their manuscripts, much imagination. Therein they failed,
judged by the monograph standard, but gave a subtle food for the mind.
Some of this I would fain see now inspiring the works and words of our
great men of science and thought--a little alchemy. A great change is
slowly going forward all over the printing-press world, I mean wherever
men print books and papers. The Chinese are perhaps outside that world at
present, and the other Asian races; the myriads, too, of the great
southern islands and of Africa. The change is steadily, however,
proceeding wherever the printing-press is used. Nor Pope, nor Kaiser, nor
Czar, nor Sultan, nor fanatic monk, nor muezzin, shouting in vain from
his minaret, nor, most fanatic of all, the fanatic shouting in vain in
London, can keep it out--all powerless against a bit of printed paper.
Bits of printed paper that listen to no command, to which none can say,
'Stand back; thou shalt not enter.' They rise on the summer whirlwinds
from the very dust of the road, and float over the highest walls; they
fall on the well-kept lawns--monastery, prison, palace--there is no
fortress against a bit of printed paper. They penetrate where even
Danae's gold cannot go. Our Darwins, our Lyalls, Herschels, Faradays--all
the immense army of those that go down to nature with considering
eye--are steadfastly undermining and obliterating the superstitious past,
literally burying it under endless loads of accumulated facts; and the
printing-presses, like so many Argos, take these facts on their voyage
round the world. Over go temples, and minarets, and churches, or rather
there they stay, the hollow shells, like the snail shells which thrushes
have picked clean; there they stay like Karnac, where there is no more
incense, like the stone circles on our own hills, where there are no more
human sacrifices. Thus men's minds all over the printing-press world are
unlearning the falsehoods that have bound them down so long; they are
unlearning, the first step to learn. They are going down to nature and
taking up the clods with their own hands, and so coming to have touch of
that which is real. As yet we are in the fact stage; by-and-by we shall
come to the alchemy, and get the honey for the inner mind and soul. I
found, therefore, from the dandelion that there were no books, and it
came upon me, believe me, as a great surprise, for I had lived quite
certain that I was surrounded with them. It is nothing but unlearning, I
find now; five thousand books to unlearn.

Then to unlearn the first ideas of history, of science, of social
institutions, to unlearn one's own life and purpose; to unlearn the old
mode of thought and way of arriving at things; to take off peel after
peel, and so get by degrees slowly towards the truth--thus writing, as it
were, a sort of floating book in the mind, almost remaking the soul. It
seems as if the chief value of books is to give us something to unlearn.
Sometimes I feel indignant at the false views that were instilled into me
in early days, and then again I see that that very indignation gives me a
moral life. I hope in the days to come future thinkers will unlearn us,
and find ideas infinitely better. How marvellous it seems that there
should be found communities furnished with the printing-press and fully
convinced they are more intelligent than ants, and yet deliberately
refusing by a solid 'popular' vote to accept free libraries! They look
with scorn on the mediaeval times, when volumes were chained in the
college library or to the desk at church. Ignorant times those! A good
thing it would be if only three books were chained to a desk, open and
free in every parish throughout the kingdom now. So might the wish to
unlearn be at last started in the inert mind of the mass. Almost the only
books left to me to read, and not to unlearn very much, are my first
books--the graven classics of Greece and Rome, cut with a stylus so
deeply into the tablet they cannot be erased. Little of the monograph or
of classification, no bushel baskets full of facts, no minute dissection
of nature, no attempt to find the soul under the scalpel. Thoughts which
do not exactly deal with nature direct in a mechanical way, as the
chemist labels all his gums and spices and earths in small boxes--I
wonder if anybody at Athens ever made a collection of the coleoptera? Yet
in some way they had got the spirit of the earth and sea, the soul of the
sun. This never dies; this I wish not to unlearn; this is ever fresh and
beautiful as a summer morning:--

           Such the golden crocus,
  Fair flower of early spring; the gopher white,
  And fragrant thyme, and all the unsown beauty
  Which in moist grounds the verdant meadows bear;
  The ox-eye, the sweet-smelling flower of love,
  The chalca, and the much-sung hyacinth,
  And the low-growing violet, to which
  Dark Proserpine a darker hue has given.

They come nearest to our own violets and cowslips--the unsown beauty of
our meadows--to the hawthorn leaf and the high pinewood. I can forget all
else that I have read, but it is difficult to forget these even when I
will. I read them in English. I had the usual Latin and Greek
instruction, but I read them in English deliberately. For the inflexion
of the vowel I care nothing; I prize the idea. Scholars may regard me
with scorn. I reply with equal scorn. I say that a great classic thought
is greater to an English mind in English words than in any other form,
and therein fits best to this our life and day. I read them in English
first, and intend to do so to the end. I do not know what set me on these
books, but I began them when about eighteen. The first of all was
Diogenes Laertius's 'Lives of the Philosophers.' It was a happy choice;
my good genius, I suppose, for you see I was already fairly well read in
modern science, and these old Greek philosophies set me thinking
backwards, unwinding and unlearning, and getting at that eidolon which is
not to be found in the mechanical heavens of this age. I still read him.
I still find new things, quite new, because they are so very, very old,
and quite true; and with his help I seem in a measure to look back upon
our thoughts now as if I had projected myself a thousand years forward in
space. An imperfect book, say the critics. I do not know about that; his
short paragraphs and chapters in their imperfect state convey more
freshness to the mind than the thick, laboured volumes in which modern
scholarship professes to describe ancient philosophy. I prefer the
imperfect original records. Neither can I read the ponderous volumes of
modern history, which are nothing but words. I prefer the incomplete and
shattered chronicles themselves, where the swords shine and the armour
rings, and all is life though but a broken frieze. Next came Plato (it
took me a long time to read Plato, and I have had to unlearn much of him)
and Xenophon. Socrates' dialectic method taught me how to write, or
rather how to put ideas in sequence. Sophocles, too; and last, that
wonderful encyclopaedia of curious things, Athenaeus. So that I found,
when the idea of the hundred best books came out, that between seventy
and eighty of them had been my companions almost from boyhood, those
lacking to complete the number being chiefly ecclesiastical or
Continental. Indeed, some years before the hundred books were talked of,
the idea had occurred to me of making up a catalogue of books that could
be bought for ten pounds. In an article in the 'Pall Mall Gazette' on
'The Pigeons at the British Museum' I said,' It seems as if all the books
in the world--really books--can be bought for 10_l_. Man's whole thought
is purchasable at that small price--for the value of a watch, of a good
dog.' The idea of making a 10_l_. catalogue was in my mind--I did make a
rough pencil one--and I still think that a 10_l_. library is worth the
notice of the publishing world. My rough list did not contain a hundred.
These old books of nature and nature's mind ought to be chained up, free
for every man to read in every parish. These are the only books I do not
wish to unlearn, one item only excepted, which I shall not here discuss.
It is curious, too, that the Greek philosophers, in the more rigid sense
of science, anticipated most of the drift of modern thought. Two chapters
in Aristotle might almost be printed without change as summaries of our
present natural science. For the facts of nature, of course, neither one
hundred books nor a 10_l_. library would be worth mentioning; say five
thousand, and having read those, then go to Kew, and spend a year
studying the specimens of wood only stored there, such a little slice
after all of the whole. You will then believe what I have advanced, that
there are no books as yet; they have got to be written; and if we pursue
the idea a little further, and consider that these are all about the
crude clods of life--for I often feel what a very crude and clumsy clod I
am--only of the earth, a minute speck among one hundred millions of
stars, how shall we write what is _there_? It is only to be written by
the mind or soul, and that is why I strive so much to find what I have
called the alchemy of nature. Let us not be too entirely mechanical,
Baconian, and experimental only; let us let the soul hope and dream and
float on these oceans of accumulated facts, and feel still greater
aspiration than it has ever known since first a flint was chipped before
the glaciers. Man's mind is the most important fact with which we are yet
acquainted. Let us not turn then against it and deny its existence with
too many brazen instruments, but remember these are but a means, and that
the vast lens of the Californian refractor is but glass--it is the
infinite speck upon which the ray of light will fall that is the one
great fact of the universe. By the mind, without instruments, the Greeks
anticipated almost all our thoughts; by-and-by, having raised ourselves
up upon these huge mounds of facts, we shall begin to see still greater
things; to do so we must look not at the mound under foot, but at the
starry horizon.



THE JULY GRASS.



A July fly went sideways over the long grass. His wings made a burr about
him like a net, beating so fast they wrapped him round with a cloud.
Every now and then, as he flew over the trees of grass, a taller one than
common stopped him, and there he clung, and then the eye had time to see
the scarlet spots--the loveliest colour--on his wings. The wind swung the
bennet and loosened his hold, and away he went again over the grasses,
and not one jot did he care if they were _Poa_ or _Festuca_, or _Bromus_
or _Hordeum_, or any other name. Names were nothing to him; all he had to
do was to whirl his scarlet spots about in the brilliant sun, rest when
he liked, and go on again. I wonder whether it is a joy to have bright
scarlet spots, and to be clad in the purple and gold of life; is the
colour felt by the creature that wears it? The rose, restful of a dewy
morn before the sunbeams have topped the garden wall, must feel a joy in
its own fragrance, and know the exquisite hue of its stained petals. The
rose sleeps in its beauty.

The fly whirls his scarlet-spotted wings about and splashes himself with
sunlight, like the children on the sands. He thinks not of the grass and
sun; he does not heed them at all--and that is why he is so happy-any
more than the barefoot children ask why the sea is there, or why it does
not quite dry up when it ebbs. He is unconscious; he lives without
thinking about living; and if the sunshine were a hundred hours long,
still it would not be long enough. No, never enough of sun and sliding
shadows that come like a hand over the table to lovingly reach our
shoulder, never enough of the grass that smells sweet as a flower, not if
we could live years and years equal in number to the tides that have
ebbed and flowed counting backwards four years to every day and night,
backward still till we found out which came first, the night or the day.
The scarlet-dotted fly knows nothing of the names of the grasses that
grow here where the sward nears the sea, and thinking of him I have
decided not to wilfully seek to learn any more of their names either. My
big grass book I have left at home, and the dust is settling on the gold
of the binding. I have picked a handful this morning of which I know
nothing. I will sit here on the turf and the scarlet-dotted flies shall
pass over me, as if I too were but a grass. I will not think, I will be
unconscious, I will live.

Listen! that was the low sound of a summer wavelet striking the uncovered
rock over there beneath in the green sea. All things that are beautiful
are found by chance, like everything that is good. Here by me is a
praying-rug, just wide enough to kneel on, of the richest gold inwoven
with crimson. All the Sultans of the East never had such beauty as that
to kneel on. It is, indeed, too beautiful to kneel on, for the life in
these golden flowers must not be broken down even for that purpose. They
must not be defaced, not a stem bent; it is more reverent not to kneel on
them, for this carpet prays itself I will sit by it and let it pray for
me. It is so common, the bird's-foot lotus, it grows everywhere; yet if I
purposely searched for days I should not have found a plot like this, so
rich, so golden, so glowing with sunshine. You might pass by it in one
stride, yet it is worthy to be thought of for a week and remembered for a
year. Slender grasses, branched round about with slenderer boughs, each
tipped with pollen and rising in tiers cone-shaped--too delicate to grow
tall--cluster at the base of the mound. They dare not grow tall or the
wind would snap them. A great grass, stout and thick, rises three feet by
the hedge, with a head another foot nearly, very green and strong and
bold, lifting itself right up to you; you must say, 'What a fine grass!'
Grasses whose awns succeed each other alternately; grasses whose tops
seem flattened; others drooping over the shorter blades beneath; some
that you can only find by parting the heavier growth around them;
hundreds and hundreds, thousands and thousands. The kingly poppies on the
dry summit of the mound take no heed of these, the populace, their
subjects so numerous they cannot be numbered. A barren race they are, the
proud poppies, lords of the July field, taking no deep root, but raising
up a brilliant blazon of scarlet heraldry out of nothing. They are
useless, they are bitter, they are allied to sleep and poison and
everlasting night; yet they are forgiven because they are not
commonplace. Nothing, no abundance of them, can ever make the poppies
commonplace. There is genius in them, the genius of colour, and they are
saved. Even when they take the room of the corn we must admire them. The
mighty multitude of nations, the millions and millions of the grass
stretching away in intertangled ranks, through pasture and mead from
shore to shore, have no kinship with these their lords. The ruler is
always a foreigner. From England to China the native born is no king; the
poppies are the Normans of the field. One of these on the mound is very
beautiful, a width of petal, a clear silkiness of colour three shades
higher than the rest--it is almost dark with scarlet. I wish I could do
something more than gaze at all this scarlet and gold and crimson and
green, something more than see it, not exactly to drink it or inhale it,
but in some way to make it part of me that I might live it.

The July grasses must be looked for in corners and out-of-the-way places,
and not in the broad acres--the scythe has taken them there. By the
wayside on the banks of the lane, near the gateway--look, too, in
uninteresting places behind incomplete buildings on the mounds cast up
from abandoned foundations where speculation has been and gone. There
weeds that would not have found resting-place elsewhere grow unchecked,
and uncommon species and unusually large growths appear. Like everything
else that is looked for, they are found under unlikely conditions. At the
back of ponds, just inside the enclosure of woods, angles of corn-fields,
old quarries, that is where to find grasses, or by the sea in the
brackish marsh. Some of the finest of them grow by the mere road-side;
you may look for others up the lanes in the deep ruts, look too inside
the hollow trees by the stream. In a morning you may easily garner
together a great sheaf of this harvest. Cut the larger stems aslant, like
the reeds imitated deep in old green glass. You must consider as you
gather them the height and slenderness of the stems, the droop and degree
of curve, the shape and colour of the panicle, the dusting of the pollen,
the motion and sway in the wind. The sheaf you may take home with you,
but the wind that was among it stays without.



WINDS OF HEAVEN.



The window rattled, the gate swung; a leaf rose, and the kitten chased
it, 'whoo-oo'--the faintest sound in the keyhole. I looked up, and saw
the feathers on a sparrow's breast ruffled for an instant. It was quiet
for some time; after a while it came again with heavier purpose. The
folded shutters shook; the latch of the kitchen door rattled as if some
one were lifting it and dropped it; indefinite noises came from upstairs:
there was a hand in the house moving everything. Another pause. The
kitten was curled up on the window-ledge outside in the sunshine, just as
the sleek cats curled up in the warmth at Thebes of old Egypt five or six
thousand years ago; the sparrow was happy at the rose tree; a bee was
happy on a broad dandelion disc. 'Soo-hoo!'--a low whistle came through
the chink; a handful of rain was flung at the window; a great shadow
rushed up the valley and strode the house in an instant as you would get
over a stile. I put down my book and buttoned my coat. Soo-hoo! the wind
was here and the cloud--soo-hoo! drawing out longer and more plaintive in
the thin mouthpiece of the chink. The cloud had no more rain in it, but
it shut out the sun; and all that afternoon and all that night the low
plaint of the wind continued in sorrowful hopelessness, and little sounds
ran about the floors and round the rooms.

Still soo-hoo all the next day and sunlessness, turning the mind, through
work and conversation, to pensive notes. At even the edge of the cloud
lifted over the forest hill westwards, and a yellow glow, the great
beacon fire of the sun, burned out, a conflagration at the verge of the
world. In the night, awaking gently as one who is whispered to--listen!
Ah! all the orchestra is at work--the keyhole, the chink, and the
chimney; whoo-hooing in the keyhole, whistling shrill whew-w-w! in the
chink, moaning long and deep in the chimney. Over in the field the row of
pines was sighing; the wind lingered and clung to the close foliage, and
each needle of the million million leaflets drew its tongue across the
organ blast. A countless multitude of sighs made one continued distant
undertone to the wild roar of the gable close at hand. Something seemed
to be running with innumerable centipede feet over the mouth of the
chimney, for the long deep moan, as I listened, resolved itself into a
quick succession of touches, just as you might play with your
finger-tips, fifty times a second tattooing on the hollow table. In the
midst of the clangour the hearing settled down to the sighing of the
pines, which drew the mind towards it, and soothed the senses to sleep.

Towards dawn, awake again--another change: the battering-ram at work now
against the walls. Swinging back, the solid thickness of the wind came
forward--crush! as the iron-shod ram's head hanging from its chains
rushed to the tower. Crush! It sucked back again as if there had been a
vacuum--a moment's silence, and crush! Blow after blow--the floor heaved;
the walls were ready to come together--alternate sucking back and heavy
billowy advance. Crush! crush! Blow after blow, heave and batter and
hoist, as if it would tear the house up by the roots. Forty miles that
battering-ram wind had travelled without so much as a bough to check it
till it struck the house on the hill. Thud! thud! as if it were iron and
not air. I looked from the window, and the bright morning star was
shining--the sky was full of the wind and the star. As light came, the
thud, thud sunk away, and nothing remained but the whoo-hoo-hoo of the
keyhole and the moan of the chimney. These did not leave us; for four
days and nights the whoo-hoo-hoo-whoo never ceased a moment. Whoo-hoo!
whoo! and this is the wind on the hill indoors.

Out of doors, sometimes in the morning, deep in the valley, over the
tree-tops of the forest, there stays a vapour, lit up within by sunlight.
A glory hovers over the oaks--a cloud of light hundreds of feet thick,
the air made visible by surcharge and heaviness of sunbeams, pressed
together till you can see them in themselves and not reflected. The cloud
slants down the sloping wood, till in a moment it is gone, and the beams
are now focussed in the depth of the narrow valley. The mirror has been
tilted, and the glow has shifted; in a moment more it has vanished into
space, and the dream has gone from the wood. In the arms of the wind,
vast bundles of mist are borne against the hill; they widen and slip, and
lengthen, drawing out; the wind works quickly with moist colours ready
and a wide brush laying broadly. Colour comes up in the wind; the thin
mist disappears, drunk up in the grass and trees, and the air is full of
blue behind the vapour. Blue sky at the far horizon--rich deep blue
overhead--a dark-brown blue deep yonder in the gorge among the trees. I
feel a sense of blue colour as I face the strong breeze; the vibration
and blow of its force answer to that hue, the sound of the swinging
branches and the rush--rush in the grass is azure in its note; it is
wind-blue, not the night-blue, or heaven-blue, a colour of air. To see
the colour of air it needs great space like this--a vastness of concavity
and hollow--an equal caldron of valley and plain under, to the dome of
the sky over, for no vessel of earth and sky is too large for the
air-colour to fill. Thirty, forty, and more miles of eye-sweep, and
beyond that the limitless expanse over the sea--the thought of the eye
knows no butt, shooting on with stellar penetration into the unknown. In
a small space there seems a vacuum, and nothing between you and the hedge
opposite, or even across the valley; in a great space the void is filled,
and the wind touches the sight like a thing tangible. The air becomes
itself a cloud, and is coloured--recognised as a thing suspended;
something real exists between you and the horizon. Now full of sun, and
now of shade, the air-cloud rests in the expanse.

It is summer, and the wind-birds top the furze; the bright stonechat,
velvet-black and red and white, sits on the highest spray of the gorse,
as if he were painted there. He is always in the wind on the hill, from
the hail of April to August's dry glow. All the mile-long slope of the
hill under me is purple-clad with heath down to the tree-filled gorge
where the green boughs seem to join the purple. The corn-fields and the
pastures of the plain--count them one by one till the hedges and squares
close together and cannot be separated. The surface of the earth melts
away as if the eyes insensibly shut and grew dreamy in gazing, as the
soft clouds melt and lose their outline at the horizon. But dwelling
there, the glance slowly finds and fills out something that interposes
its existence between us and the further space. Too shadowy for the
substance of a cloud, too delicate for outline against the sky, fainter
than haze, something of which the eye has consciousness, but cannot put
into a word to itself. Something is there. It is the air-cloud adhering
like a summer garment to the great downs by the sea. I cannot see the
substance of the hills nor their exact curve along the sky; all I can see
is the air that has thickened and taken to itself form about them. The
atmosphere has collected as the shadow collects in the distant corner of
a room--it is the shadow of the summer wind. At times it is so soft, so
little more than the air at hand, that I almost fancy I can look through
the solid boundary. There is no cloud so faint; the great hills are but a
thought at the horizon; I _think_ them there rather than see them; if I
were not thinking of them, I should scarce know there was even a haze,
with so dainty a hand does the atmosphere throw its covering over the
massy downs. Riding or passing quickly perhaps you would not observe
them; but stay among the heathbells, and the sketch appears in the south.
Up from the sea over the corn-fields, through the green boughs of the
forest, along the slope, comes a breath of wind, of honey-sweetened air,
made more delicate by the fanning of a thousand wings.

The labour of the wind: the cymbals of the aspen clashing, from the
lowest to the highest bough, each leaf twirling first forwards and then
backwards and swinging to and fro, a double motion. Each lifts a little
and falls back like a pendulum, twisting on itself; and as it rises and
sinks, strikes its fellow-leaf. Striking the side of the dark pines, the
wind changes their colour and turns them paler. The oak leaves slide one
over the other, hand above hand, laying shadow upon shadow upon the white
road. In the vast net of the wide elm-tops the drifting shadow of the
cloud which the wind brings is caught for a moment. Pushing aside the
stiff ranks of the wheat with both arms, the air reaches the sun-parched
earth. It walks among the mowing-grass like a farmer feeling the crop
with his hand one side, and opening it with his walking-stick the other.
It rolls the wavelets carelessly as marbles to the shore; the red cattle
redden the pool and stand in their own colour. The green caterpillar
swings as he spins his thread and lengthens his cable to the tide of air,
descending from the tree; before he can slip it the whitethroat takes
him. With a thrust the wind hurls the swift fifty miles faster on his
way; it ruffles back the black velvet of the mole peeping forth from his
burrow. Apple bloom and crab-apple bloom have been blown long since
athwart the furrows over the orchard wall; May petals and June roses
scattered; the pollen and the seeds of the meadow-grasses thrown on the
threshing-floor of earth in basketfuls. Thistle down and dandelion down,
the brown down of the goat's-beard; by-and-by the keys of the sycamores
twirling aslant--the wind carries them all on its back, gossamer web and
great heron's vanes--the same weight to the wind; the drops of the
waterfall blown aside sprinkle the bright green ferns. The voice of the
cuckoo in his season travels on the zephyr, and the note comes to the
most distant hill, and deep into the deepest wood.

The light and fire of summer are made beautiful by the air, without whose
breath the glorious summer were all spoiled. Thick are the hawthorn
leaves, many deep on the spray; and beneath them there is a twisted and
intertangled winding in and out of boughs, such as no curious ironwork of
ancient artist could equal; through the leaves and metal-work of boughs
the soft west wind wanders at its ease. Wild wasp and tutored bee sing
sideways on their course as the breeze fills their vanes; with broad
coloured sails boomed out, the butterfly drifts alee. Beside a brown
coated stone in the shadowed stream a brown trout watches for the puffs
that slay the May-flies. Their ephemeral wings were made for a more
exquisite life; they endure but one sun; they bear not the touch of the
water; they die like a dream dropping into the river. To the amethyst in
the deep ditch the wind comes; no petal so hidden under green it cannot
find; to the blue hill-flower up by the sky; it lifts the guilty head of
the passionate poppy that has sinned in the sun for love. Sweet is the
rain the wind brings to the wallflower browned in the heat, a-dry on the
crumbling stone. Pleasant the sunbeams to the marigold when the wind has
carried the rain away and his sun-disc glows on the bank. Acres of
perfume come on the wind from the black and white of the bean-field; the
firs fill the air by the copse with perfume. I know nothing to which the
wind has not some happy use. Is there a grain of dust so small the wind
shall not find it out? Ground in the mill-wheel of the centuries, the
iron of the distant mountain floats like gossamer, and is drunk up as dew
by leaf and living lung. A thousand miles of cloud go by from morn till
night, passing overhead without a sound; the immense packs, a mile
square, succeed to each other, side by side, laid parallel, book-shape,
coming up from the horizon and widening as they approach. From morn till
night the silent footfalls of the ponderous vapours travel overhead, no
sound, no creaking of the wheels and rattling of the chains; it is calm
at the earth, but the wind labours without an effort above, with such
case, with such power. Grey smoke hangs on the hill-side where the
couch-heaps are piled, a cumulus of smoke; the wind comes, and it draws
its length along like the genii from the earthen pot; there leaps up a
great red flame shaking its head; it shines in the bright sunlight; you
can see it across the valley.

A perfect summer day with a strong south wind; a cloudless blue sky blown
pale, a summer sun blown cool, deep draughts of refreshing air to man and
horse, clear definition of red-tile roof and conical oast, perfect colour
of soft ash-green trees. In the evening, fourteen black swifts rushing
together through the upper atmosphere with shrill cries, sometimes aside
and on the tip of one wing, with a whirl descending, a black trail, to
the tiled ridge they dwell in. Fine weather after this.

A swooning August day, with a hot east wind, from which there is no
escape, which gives no air to the chest--you breathe and are not
satisfied with the inspiration; it does not fill; there is no life in the
killed atmosphere. It is a vacuum of heat, and yet the strong hot wind
bends the trees, and the tall firs wrestle with it as they did with
Sinis, the Pine-bender, bowed down and rebounding as if they would whirl
their cones away like a catapult. Masses of air are moving by, and yet
there is none to breathe. No escape in the shadow of hedge or wood, or in
the darkened room; darkness excludes the heat that comes with light, but
the heat of the oven-wind cannot be shut out. Some monstrous dragon of
the Chinese sky pants his fiery breath upon us, and the brown grass
stalks threaten to catch flame in the field. The grain of wheat that was
full of juice dries hard in the ears, and water is no more good for
thirst. There is not a cloud in the sky; but at night there is heavy
rain, and the flowers are beaten down. There is a thunder-wind that blows
at intervals when great clouds are visibly gathering over the hayfield.
It is almost a calm; but from time to time a breath comes, and a low
mournful cry sounds in the hollow farmhouse--the windows and doors are
open, and the men and women have gone out to make hasty help in the hay
ere the storm--a mournful cry in the hollow house, as unhappy a note as
if it were soaked February.

In April, six miles away in the valley, a vast cloud came down with
swan-shot of hail, black as blackest smoke, overwhelming house and wood,
all gone and mixed with the sky; and behind the mass there followed a
white cloud, sunlit, dragging along the ground like a cumulus fallen to
the earth. At sunset the sky cleared, and under the glowing rim of the
sun a golden wind drove the host of vapour before it, scattering it to
the right and left. Large pieces caught and tore themselves in the trees
of the forest, and one curved fragment hurled from the ridge fell in the
narrow coombe, lit up as it came down with golden sunset rays, standing
out bright against the shadowed wood. Down it came slowly as it were with
outstretched arms, both to fall, carrying the coloured light of the sky
to the very surface of the earth.



THE COUNTRY SUNDAY.



Roses bloomed on every bush, and some of the great hawthorns up which the
briars had climbed seemed all flowers. The white and pink-white petals of
the June roses adhered all over them, almost as if they had been
artificially gummed or papered on so as to hide the leaves. Such a
profusion of wild-rose bloom is rarely seen. On the Sunday morning, as on
a week-day morning, they were entirely unnoticed, and might be said in
their turn to take no heed of the sanctified character of the day. With a
rush like a sudden thought the white-barred eave-swallows came down the
arid road and rose again into the air as easily as a man dives into the
water. Dark specks beneath the white summer clouds, the swifts, the black
albatross of our skies, moved on their unwearied wings. Like the
albatross that floats over the ocean and sleeps on the wing, the swift's
scimitar-like pinions are careless of repose. Once now and then they came
down to earth, not, as might be supposed, to the mansion or the church
tower, but to the low tiled roof of an ancient cottage which they fancied
for their home. Kings sometimes affect to mix with their subjects; these
birds that aspire to the extreme height of the air frequently nest in the
roof of a despised tenement, inhabited by an old woman who never sees
them. The corn was green and tall, the hops looked well, the foxglove was
stirring, the delicious atmosphere of summer, sun-laden and scented,
filled the deep valleys; a morning of the richest beauty and deepest
repose. All things reposed but man, and man is so busy with his vulgar
aims that it quite dawns upon many people as a wonderful surprise how
still nature is on a Sunday morning. Nature is absolutely still every day
of the week, and proceeds with the most absolute indifference to days and
dates.

The sharp metallic clangour of a bell went bang, bang, bang, from one
roof; not far distant a harsher and deeper note--some Tartar-like bell of
universal uproar--hammered away. At intervals came the distant chimes of
three distinct village churches--ding dong, dong ding, pango, frango,
jango--very much jango--bang, clatter, clash--a humming vibration and
dreadful stir. The country world was up in arms, I was about to say--I
mean in chimney-pot hat and pomade, _en route_ to its various creeds,
some to one bell, some to another, some to ding dong, and some to dong
ding; but the most of them directed their steps towards a silent chapel.
This great building, plain beyond plainness, stood beside a fir copse,
from which in the summer morning there floated an exquisite fragrance of
pine. If all the angles of the architects could have been put together,
nothing could have been designed more utterly opposite to the graceful
curve of the fir tree than this red-bricked crass building. Bethel Chapel
combined everything that could be imagined contrary to the spirit of
nature, which undulates. The largest erection of the kind, it was
evidently meant for a large congregation.

Of all the people in this country there are none so devout as the
cottagers in the lanes and hamlets. They are as uncompromising as the
sectaries who smashed the images and trampled on the pride of kings in
the days of Charles I. The translation of the Bible cut off Charles I.'s
head by letting loose such a flood of iron-fisted controversy, and to any
one who has read the pamphlets of those days the resemblance is
constantly suggested. John Bunyan wrote about the Pilgrim. To this chapel
there came every Sunday morning a man and his wife, ten miles on foot
from their cottage home in a distant village. The hottest summer day or
the coldest winter Sunday made no difference; they tramped through dust,
and they tramped through slush and mire; they were pilgrims every week. A
grimly real religion, as concrete and as much a fact as a stone wall; a
sort of horse's faith going along the furrow unquestioning. In their own
village there were many chapels, and at least one church, but these did
not suffice. The doctrine at Bethel was the one saving doctrine, and
there they went. There were dozens who came from lesser distances quite
as regularly, the men in their black coats and high hats, big fellows
that did not look ungainly till they dressed themselves up; women as red
as turkey-cocks, panting and puffing; crowds of children making the road
odorous with the smell of pomade; the boys with their hair too long
behind; the girls with vile white stockings, all out of drawing, and
without a touch that could be construed into a national costume--the
cheap shoddy shop in the country lane. All with an expression of Sunday
goodness: 'To-day we are good, we are going to chapel, and we mean to
stay till the very last word. We have got our wives and families with us,
and woe be to any of them if they dare to look for a bird's nest! This is
business.' Besides the foot people there come plenty in traps and
pony-carriages, and some on horseback, for a certain class of farmers
belong to the same persuasion, and there are well-to-do people in the
crowd. It is the cast of mind that makes the worshipper, not the worldly
position.

It is written, but perhaps it is not true, that in old times--not very
old times--the parish clergyman had a legal right, by which every person
in the parish was compelled to appear once on a Sunday in the church.
Those who did not come were fined a shilling.

Now look at the Shillings this Sunday morning flowing of their own
freewill along the crooked lanes, and over the stiles, and through the
hops, and down the hill to the chapel which can offer no bribe and can
impose no fine.

Old women--wonder 'tis how they live on nothing a day--still manage to
keep a decent black dress and come to chapel with a penny in their
pockets in spite of their age and infirmities. The nearest innkeeper,
himself a most godly man, has work enough to do to receive the horses and
traps and pony-carriages and stow them away before service begins, when
he will stride from the stable to the pew. Then begins the hollow and
flute-like modulation of a pitch-pipe within the great building. One of
the members of the congregation who is a musician is setting the ears of
the people to the tune of the hymn that is about to be given forth. The
verse is read, and then rises the full swell of hundreds of voices; and
while they sing let us think what a strange thing the old pitch-pipe--no
organ, no harmonium--what a strange thing the whole scene is, with its
Cromwellian air in the midst of the modern fields.

This is a picture, and not a disputation: as to what they teach or preach
inside Bethel, it is nothing to me; this paper has not the slightest
theological bias.

You may tell when the service is nearly over by the stray boys who steal
out and round the walls to throw stones at the sparrows in the roads;
they need a little relaxation; nature gets even into Bethel. By-and-by
out come some bigger lads and tie two long hop-poles together with which
to poke down the swallows' nests under the chapel eaves. The Book inside,
of which they almost make an idol, seemed to think the life of a
sparrow--and possibly of a swallow--was of value; still it is good fun to
see the callow young come down flop on the hard ground.

When the church doors are thrown open by the noiseless vergers, and
patchouli and macassar, and the overpowering, rich smell of silks and
satins rushes out in a volume of heated air, in a few minutes the whole
place is vacant. Bethel is not deserted in this manner. All those who
have come from a distance have brought with them their dinner in a black
bag or basket, and quietly settle themselves down to take their dinner in
the chapel. This practice is not confined to the pilgrims who have walked
a long way; very many of those who live the other side of the village
shut up their cottages, bring their provisions, and spend the whole day
at their devotions. Now the old woman spends her Sunday penny. At the
back of the chapel there is a large room where a person is employed to
boil the kettle and supply cups of tea at a halfpenny each. Here the old
lady makes herself very comfortable, and waits till service begins again.
Halfpenny a cup would not, of course, pay the cost of the materials, but
these are found by some earnest member of the body, some farmer or
tradesman's wife, who feels it a good deed to solace the weary
worshippers. There is something in this primitive hospitality, in this
eating their dinners in the temple, and general communion of humanity,
which to a philosopher seems very admirable. It seems better than incense
and scarlet robes, unlit candles behind the altar, and vacancy. Not long
since a bishop addressed a circular to the clergy of his diocese,
lamenting in solemn tones the unhappy position of the labourer in the
village churches. The bishop had observed with regret, with very great
regret, that the labourer seemed in the background. He sat in the back
seats behind the columns, and near the door where he could hardly hear,
and where he had none of the comfort of the stove in winter. The bishop
feared his position was cold and comfortless, that he did not feel
himself to be a member of the Church, that he was outside the pale of its
society. He exhorted the country clergy to bring the labourer forward and
make him more comfortable, to put him in a better seat among the rest,
where he would feel himself to be really one of the congregation.

To those who have sat in country churches this circular read as a piece
of most refined sarcasm, so bitter because of its truth. Where had been
the clerical eye all these years that Hodge had sat and coughed in the
draughts by the door? Was it merely a coincidence that the clerical eye
was opened just at the moment when Hodge became a voter?

At Bethel Chapel between the services the cottagers, the farmers, and the
tradesmen break their bread together, and converse, and actually seem to
recognise one another; they do not turn their backs the instant the organ
ceases and return each to his house in proud isolation. There is no
dining together, no friendly cup of tea at the parish church. This Bethel
is, you see, the church of the poor people, most emphatically _their_
church. If the word church means not a building, but a society, then this
is the true country church. It is the society of all those who, for want
of a better expression, I may term the humble-minded, those who have no
aristocratic or exclusive tastes, very simple in their reading and
studies even if well-to-do, and simple in their daily habits, rising
early and retiring early, and plebeian in their dinner-hour. It is a
peculiar cast of mind that I am trying to describe--a natural frame of
mind; these are 'chapel people'--perhaps a phrase will convey the meaning
better than explanation. This is _their_ church, and whatever the
theology may be there is undoubtedly a very strong bond of union among
them.

Not only the old women with their Sunday pennies, but great numbers
beside, young and old of both sexes, take their cup of tea, for these
people take tea with every meal, dinner and supper as well as breakfast
and five o'clock, and if they don't feel well they will rise at two in
the morning to get a cup of tea. They are as Russian as the Russians in
this particular; they have cheese on the table, too, at every meal. The
pastor has, meantime, been entertained with a good dinner at some house
adjacent, where he goes every Sunday; by-and-by the flute begins to tune
again, the hymns resound, and the labour of the day is resumed. Somewhere
about four o'clock the summer-dusty roads are full again of the returning
pilgrims, and the crowd gradually sinks away by footpath and stile. The
black albatross is still wheeling in the upper atmosphere, the
white-barred swallow rushes along the road and dives upwards, the
unwearied roses are still opened to the sun's rays, and calm, indifferent
Nature has pursued her quiet course without heed of pitch-pipe or organ,
or bell or chalice. Perhaps if you chance to be resting by a gate you may
hear one of the cottage women telling her children to let the ants alone
and not tease them, for 'thaay be God's creeturs.' Or possibly the pastor
himself may be overheard discoursing to a bullet-headed woman, with one
finger on the palm of his other hand, 'That's their serpentine way;
that's their subtlety; that's their casuistry; which arguments you may
imagine to refer, as your fancy pleases, to the village curate, or the
tonsured priest of the monastery over the hill. For the tonsured priest,
and the monastery, and the nunnery, and the mass, and the Virgin Mary,
have grown to be a very great power indeed in English lanes. Between the
Roman missal and the chapel hymn-book, the country curate with his good
old-fashioned litany is ground very small indeed, and grows less and less
between these millstones till he approaches the vanishing-point. The
Roman has the broad acres, his patrons have given him the land; the
chapel has the common people, and the farmers are banding together not to
pay tithes. So that his whole soul may well go forth in the apostrophe,
'Good Lord, deliver us!'

There is no man so feasted as the chapel pastor. His tall and yet rotund
body and his broad red face might easily be mistaken for the outward man
of a sturdy farmer, and he likes his pipe and glass. He dines every
Sunday, and at least once a week besides, at the house of one of his
stoutest upholders. It is said that at such a dinner, after a large
plateful of black currant pudding, finding there was still some juice
left, he lifted the plate to his mouth and carefully licked it all round;
the hostess hastened to offer a spoon, but he declined, thinking that was
much the best way to gather up the essence of the fruit. So simple were
his manners, he needed no spoon; and, indeed, if we look back, the
apostles managed without forks, and put their fingers in the dish. After
dinner the cognac bottle is produced, and the pastor fills his tumbler
half full of spirit, and but lightly dashes it with water. It is cognac
and not brandy, for your chapel minister thinks it an affront if anything
more common than the best French liquor is put before him; he likes it
strong, and with it his long clay pipe. Very frequently another minister,
sometimes two or three, come in at the same time, and take the same
dinner, and afterwards form a genial circle with cognac and tobacco, when
the room speedily becomes full of smoke and the bottle of brandy soon
disappears. In these family parties there is not the least approach to
over-conviviality; it is merely the custom, no one thinks anything of a
glass and a pipe; it is perfectly innocent; it is not a local thing, but
common and understood. The consumption of brandy and tobacco and the good
things of dinner, tea, and supper (for the party generally sit out the
three meals), must in a month cost the host a good deal of money, but all
things are cheerfully borne for the good of the church. Never were men
feasted with such honest good-will as these pastors; and if a budding
Paul or Silas happens to come along who has scarce yet passed his
ordination, the youthful divine may stay a week if he likes, and lick the
platter clean. In fact, so constant is this hospitality, that in certain
houses it is impossible to pay a visit at any time of the year without
finding one of these young brothers reposing amid the fat of the land,
and doubtless indulging in pleasant spiritual communion with the
daughters of the mansion. Something in this system of household ministers
of religion reminds one of the welcome and reverence said to be extended
in the East to the priests, who take up their residence indefinitely, and
are treated as visible incarnations of the Deity whose appetites it is
meritorious to satisfy. Indeed, these young men, who have perhaps been
trained as missionaries, often discourse of Buddha with a very long and
unctuous 'Boo.'

The ancient Roman censor who tried by laws and persuasions to induce the
inhabitants of Rome to marry, yet could not succeed in inducing them to
submit to what they considered a sacrifice for the benefit of the state,
would have been delighted with the marrying tendencies of the chapel
people. A venerable old gentleman--a great pillar of the body--after the
decease of his first wife married her sister, and again, upon her
removal, married his cook. Another great prop--elderly indeed, but still
upright and iron-grey, a most powerfully made man, who always spoke as if
his words were indeed law--rule-of-thumb law--has married three sisters
in succession, and has had offspring by all. Their exact degrees of
consanguinity I cannot tell you, or whether they call each other brothers
and sisters, or cousins. This is certain, however, that whether such
marriages be legal or not, they are as such regarded and as such accepted
in every sense by the society to which these gentlemen belong. Another
gentleman now has his fourth wife, and he, too, is a most strenuous
believer, and not his bitterest enemy can rake up the smallest accusation
against his character. He, too, is a strong and upright man, fully
capable of another wife if time should chance to bring it about. Now, the
odd part of it is that, having married four times, and each time in the
same village, where all the families are more or less connected, he is
more or less related to every single individual in the parish. First,
there are his own blood relations and his wives' blood relations, and
then there are their relations' relations, and next his sons and
daughters have married and introduced a fresh roll, and I really do not
think either he or anybody else knows exactly where the list ends. This
is nothing uncommon. Though clans and tribes no longer settle under their
respective chiefs in villages, the families of the same name and blood
still present a very close representation of the clan system. They have
all the tribal relationship without any of its feeling. Instead of
forming a strong body and helping each other, these people seemed to
detest one another, and to lose no opportunity of snatching some little
advantage or telling some scandalous tale. In fact, this in-and-in
breeding seems one of the curses of village life, and a cause of
stagnation and narrowness of mind. This marrying and giving in marriage
is not singular to well-to-do leaders of chapel society, but goes on with
equal fervour among the lower members. The cottage girls and cottage boys
marry the instant they get a chance, and it is not at all uncommon to
find comparatively young labourers who have had two wives. There is
nothing in this to reproach: it is a peculiarity of the cast of mind
which I am endeavouring to describe--a cast of mind perhaps not much
marked by sentimentality. Something in this practice reminds one of the
Mormons. Certainly the wives are not taken together, but they are sealed
as fast as circumstances permit. Something in it has a Mormonite aspect
to an observer, and perhaps the existence of this cast of mind may assist
in explaining the inexplicable growth of that strange religion. Doubtless
they would repudiate the suggestion with loud outcries and indignation,
for people are always most vigorous in denouncing themselves
unconsciously. These numerous wives (who are quite willing), the marrying
of sisters, the primitive gatherings at the chapel, so like the religious
camps of the Far West, the general relationship, have a distinct flavour
of Salt Lake. Add to this the immense working power of these pluralist
giants, for you will generally find that the well-to-do chapeller with
his third wife, or more, is a man who has raised himself from very much
nothing to very much something. By sheer force of labour and push he has
lifted himself head and shoulders above the village--a career, too,
conspicuous by strict integrity. Did he live in a London suburb he would
be pointed out to the rising generation by anxious fathers as the very
model for them to follow. The village ought to be proud of them, but the
village secretly and aside hates them, being practical commentaries on
the general sloth and stupidity. This energy of work, too, is like the
saints of Utah, who have made an oasis and a garden where was a desert.
After labouring from morning till night they like the sound of a feminine
voice and the warmth of a feminine welcome in the back parlour of rest.

This four times married elder--what work, what a pyramid of work, his
life represents! The young labourer left with his mother and brothers and
sisters to keep, learning carpentering, and bettering his wages--learning
mason-work, picking up the way to manage machinery, inspiring men with
confidence, and beginning to get the leverage of borrowed money, getting
a good name at the bank, managing a little farm, contracting for
building, contracting for hauling--onwards to a larger farm, larger
buildings, big contracts in rising towns, somehow or other grinding money
out of everything by force of will, bending everything to his purpose by
stubborn sinew, always truthful, straightforward, and genuine. Consider
what immense labour this represent! I do not think many such men can be
found, rude and unlettered, yet naturally gentleman-like, to work their
way in the world without the aid of the Lombard Street financiers; in
village life, remember, where all is stagnant and dull--no golden
openings such as occur near great towns. On work-days still wearing the
same old hat--I wonder what material it was originally?--tough leather
probably--its fibres soaked with mortar, its shine replaced by lime, its
shape dented by bricks, its rotundity flattened by timber, stuck about
with cow's hair--for a milker leans his head against the animal--sodden
with rain, and still the same old hat. The same old hat, that Teniers
might have introduced, a regular daub of a hat: pity it is that it will
never be painted. On Sundays the high silk hat, the glossy black coat of
the elder, but there are no gloves to be got on such hands as those; they
are too big and too real ever to be got into the artificiality of kid.
Everything grew under those hands; if there was a rabbit-hutch in the
back yard it became a shed, and a stable sprang up by the shed, and a
sawpit out of the stable, and a workshop beyond the sawpit, and cottages
to let beyond that; next a market garden and a brick-kiln, and a
hop-oast, and a few acres of freehold meadow, and by-and-by some villas;
all increasing and multiplying, and leading to enterprises in distant,
places--such a mighty generation after generation of solid things! A most
earnest and conscientious chapel man, welcoming the budding Paul and
Silas, steadily feeding the resident apostle, furnishing him with garden
produce and a side of bacon when the pig was killed, arranging a vicarage
for him at a next-to-nothing rent; lending him horse and trap, providing
innumerable bottles of three-star brandy for these men of God, and
continual pipes for the prophets; supplying the chapel fund with credit
in time of monetary difficulty--the very right arm and defender of the
faith.

Let the drama shift a year in one sentence in true dramatic way, and now
imagine the elder and his family proceeding down the road as the Bethel
congregation gather. As he approaches they all ostentatiously turn their
backs. One or two of the other elders walk inside; being men of some
education, they soften down the appearance of their resentment by getting
out of the way. Groups of cottage people, on the contrary, rather come
nearer the road, and seem to want to make their sentiments coarsely
visible. Such is the way with that layer of society; they put everything
so very very crudely; they do not understand a gentle intimation, they
express their displeasure in the rudest manner, without any consciousness
that gruffness and brutality of manner degrades the righteous beneath the
level of the wicked who is accused. The women make remarks to each other.
Many of them had been visitors at the elder's house, yet now they will
not so much as say good morning to his wife and family; their children
look over the wall with stolid stare. Farther down the road the elder
meets the pastor on his road to chapel. The elder looks the pastor
straight in the face; the pastor shuffles his eyes over the hedge; it is
difficult to quite forget the good dinners, the bottles, and the pipes.
The elder goes on, and he and his family are picked up by a conveyance at
the cross-ways and carried to a place of worship in a distant village.
This is only a specimen, this is only the Sunday, but the same process
goes on all the week. The elder's house, that was once the resort of half
the people in the village, is now deserted; no one looks in in passing;
the farmers do not stop as they come back from market to tell how much
they have lost by their corn, or to lament that So-and-so is going to
grub his hops--bad times; the women do not come over of an afternoon with
news of births and rumours of marriages. One family, once intimate
friends, sent over to say that they liked the elder very much, but they
could not call while he was on such terms with their 'dear pastor.' Two
or three of the ministers who came by invitation to preach in the chapel,
and who had been friendly, did indeed call once, but were speedily given
to understand by the leading members of the congregation that dinners and
sleeping accommodation had been provided elsewhere, and they must not do
so again. The ministers, being entirely in the power of the
congregations, had to obey. In short, the elder and his family were
excommunicated, spiritually boycotted, interdicted, and cut off from
social intercourse; without any of the magical ceremonies of the Vatican,
they were as effectually excommunicated as if the whole seventy cardinals
and the Pope in person had pronounced the dread sentence. In a great town
perhaps such a thing would not be so marked or so much felt; in a little
village where everybody knows everybody, where there are no strangers,
and where you must perforce come in contact constantly with persons you
have known for years, it is a very annoying process indeed. There are no
streets of shops to give a choice of butchers and bakers, no competition
of tea merchants and cheesemongers, so that if one man shows a dislike to
serving you, you can go on to the next and get better attention. 'Take it
or go without it' is village law; no such thing as independence; you must
walk or drive into the nearest town, five miles away perhaps, if you wish
to avoid a sour face on the other side of the counter. No one will
volunteer the smallest service for the excommunicant of the chapel;
nothing could more vividly illustrate the command to 'love one another.'
No one can imagine the isolation of a house in a country place
interdicted like this. If the other inhabitants could find any possible
excuse for not doing anything they were asked they would not do it--not
for money: they were out of what was wanted, or they had promised it, or
they couldn't find it, or they were too busy, and so all through the
whole course of daily life.

Now the most remarkable part of this bitter persecution was the fact that
the elder had lent money to almost all the principal members of the
congregation. The bold speculator had never been appealed to in vain by
any one in difficulty. Some had had a hundred, some fifty, some twenty,
some ten--farmers whose corn had been a loss instead of a profit, whose
hops had sold for less than the cost of picking them, little tradesmen
who had a bill to meet, handicraft men who could not pay the men who
worked side by side with them, cottagers who needed an outhouse built,
and others who lacked the means to pay for a funeral. There seemed no one
to whom he had not lent money for some purpose, besides the use of his
name as security. Fortune had given to him, and he had given as freely to
others, so that it was indeed a bitter trial to the heart:--

  Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
  Thou art not so unkind
    As man's ingratitude.
  Thy tooth is not so keen,
  Because thou art not seen,
    Although thy breath be rude.

In his stern pride he did not condescend to put in motion any revenge
against these petty poltroons, but went on his way with absolute
indifference to all outward seeming. His family, who were perhaps more
nearly touched in the affairs of daily life than he was, consoled
themselves with the old country proverb, 'Ah, well, we shall live till we
die, if the pigs don't eat us, and then we shall go acorning'--a clear
survival of the belief in transmigration, for he who is eaten by a pig
becomes a pig, and goeth forth with swine to eat acorns.

There had been some very strong language and straightforward observations
at the chapel meetings, the private vestry of the managers; the elder
being one of the founders, and his name on the deed could not be
excluded--gall and wormwood--without his signature nothing could be done.
Bitterer still, the chapel was heavily in debt to him. Had he chosen, in
American phrase, he could have 'shut up the shebang in mighty sudden
time.' The elder was tall; the elder was strong; the elder was grim; the
elder was a man who could rule hundreds of the roughest labourers; the
elder was a man who would have his say, and said it like throwing down a
hod full of bricks. With the irresistible logic of figures and documents
he demonstrated the pastor to be a liar, and told him so to his face.
With the same engines he proved that two or three of the other managers
were hypocrites, and told them so. Neither could pastor nor managers
refute it, but stood like sheep. Then he told them what he had done for
the chapel and for its minister, and no one could deny him. Indeed, the
minister had been heard to weakly confess that the elder had once been a
good friend to him. Perhaps his partisans, as is often the case, had
taken up the pastor's cause with more violence than he himself desired,
and by their vehemence had driven him into a position which he himself
would have avoided. Most likely he would have made peace himself; but the
blot on all chapel systems of government is that the minister is but the
mouthpiece of his congregation. Having thrown down his load of bricks
thump, the elder stalked out with his memoranda and with his cheque-book,
leaving them to face the spectre of bankruptcy. At least once a week the
elder, out of sheer British determination to claim his rights, stepped
into the chapel rooms with his private key, just to walk round. They put
another lock which his key did not fit, but he heaved the door open with
a crowbar, and their case must have been feeble indeed when they could
not even bring an action for trespass against him.

The historian knoweth not all things, and how this schism arose is hidden
from view. Very likely, indeed, it may have arisen out of the very
foundation of the chapel itself, such buildings and land being usually
held in some manner by a body of managers or trustees--a sort of
committee, in fact--a condition which may easily afford opportunities for
endless wrangling. In this particular the Established Church has a great
advantage, the land and building being dedicated 'for ever,' so that no
dispute is possible. Tales there were of some little feminine
disagreement having arisen between the wives of the two men, magnified
with the assistance of a variety of tabbies, a sort of thing by no means
impossible among two hundred relations. Such affairs often spring from a
grain of mustard seed, and by-and-by involve all the fowls of the air
that roost in the branches. Idle tales circulated of a discussion among
the ministers (visitors) which happened one evening over the pipes and
three-star bottles, when the elder, taking down a celebrated volume of
sermons, pointed out a passage almost word for word identical with what
the pastor had said in his sermon on the previous Sunday--a curious
instance of parallel inspiration. Unkind people afterwards spread the
gloss that the elder had accused the minister of plagiarism. Mere
fiction, no doubt. After a thing has happened people can generally find
twenty causes. The excommunication, however, was real enough, and ten
times more effectual because the sentence was pronounced not by the
pastor but by the congregation.

Still nothing disturbed the dignity of the elder. He worked away as
usual, always with tools in his hands. He would tear away with a plane at
a window-frame or a coffin-lid, and tell the listener his wrongs, and how
he had been scorned and insulted by people whom he had helped for years,
and how they had reversed the teaching of the gospel in their bearing
towards him--heavier blows and longer shavings--as if there were no such
thing as true religion. And, indeed, he would say, in his business
transactions, he had over and over again found that men who were not
'professors'--_i.e._ who did not claim to be 'saved'--were more truthful
and more to be depended on in their engagements than those who constantly
talked of righteousness. For all that--with a tremendous shaving--for all
that, the gospel was true.

So he planed and hammered, and got a large contract on a building estate
near a great town, busy as busy, where it was necessary to have a tramway
and a locomotive, or 'dirt-engine,' to drag the trucks with the earth
from the excavations. This engine was a source of never-failing amusement
to the steady, quiet farmers whose domains were being invaded; very
observant people, but not pushing. One day a part of the engine was tied
up with string; another day it was blowing off steam like a volcano, the
boiler nearly empty and getting red-hot, while the men rushed to fetch
water with a couple of buckets; finally, the funnel rusted off and a
wooden one was put up--a merry joke! But while they laughed the
contractor pushed ahead in Yankee style, using any and every expedient,
and making money while they sighed over the slow plough. They must have
everything perfect, else they could do nothing; he could do much with
very imperfect materials. He would make a cucumber frame out of a church
window, or a church window out of a cucumber frame. One of the residents
on the new building estate found his cupboard doors numbered on the
panels two, six, eight, in gilt figures inside, and in fact they were
made of pew doors which the contractor had got out of some old church he
had ransacked and turned topsy-turvy to the order of the vicar. He would
have run up a new Salt Lake City cheap, or built a new Rome at five per
cent. in a few days.

Meantime, at the little village, various incidents occurred; the sternly
virtuous cottagers, for one thing, had collected from their scattered
homes and held a 'Horn Fair.' Some erring barmaid at the inn, accused of
too lavish a use of smiles, too much kindness--most likely a jealous tale
only--aroused their righteous ire. With shawm and timbrel and ram's-horn
trumpet--_i.e._ with cow's horns, poker and tongs, and tea-trays--the
indignant and high-toned population collected night after night by the
tavern, and made such fearful uproar that the poor girl, really quite
innocent, had to leave her situation. Nothing could be more charitable,
more truly righteous, after the model of the Man who would not even so
much as _say_ a harsh word to the woman taken in adultery. One poor man
shut up his house and went away with his wife and family, and not being
heard of for a little while these backbiters told each other that he had
not paid his rent, that his furniture was only on loan, and not a single
instalment had been met; he owed the butcher half a crown, the baker
discovered there was one and twopence on his book, the tavern could show
a score, everybody knew the wretch was a drunkard and beat his wife, and
many knew his wife was no better than she should be. Nothing was too base
to be laid to the charge of the scoundrel who had run away. At the end of
a few weeks the wretch and his family returned, looking very healthy and
well supplied with money, having been picking in a distant hop-garden. It
was common for people to shut their houses and do this at that season of
the year, but their blind malice was too eager to remember this. Another
person by continually dunning a poor debtor to pay him half a sovereign
had driven him to commit suicide! So ran their bitter tongues. Backbiting
is the curse of village life, and seems to keep people by its effects
upon the mind far more effectually in the grip of poverty than the
lowness of wages. They become so saturated with littleness that they
cannot attempt anything, and have no enterprise. To transplant them to
the freer atmosphere of a great city, or of the Far West, is the only
means of cure. At this particular village they were exceptionally given
to backbiting, perhaps because everybody was more than usually related to
everybody; they hated each other and vilified each other with pre-eminent
energy. The poorest man, half starving, would hardly do a job for a
farmer because--because--because he did not know why, except that nothing
was too bad to be said of him; the poorest washerwoman with hungry
children would not go and do a day's work for Mrs. So-and-so, because
'she beant nobody, she beant no better than we; beant a-going to work for
her.' This malice was not directed towards strangers, against whom it is
natural to heave half a brick, but against their own old neighbours. They
tore each other to pieces, they were perfect cannibals with the tongue,
perfect Lestrigonians. They never said 'good morning' to an equal, or
lifted their hats to a lady; a jerk of the head, say about half an inch
from the perpendicular, was their utmost greeting; their manners were
about as pleasant as those of cattle might be could they be dressed like
human beings. True, Bethel was of modern date, but they had had resident
vicars for centuries; and where had they been, and where was the
humanising tendency of much-vaunted Christianity? Could not three
centuries soften a little village? I will do something for them if I can,
for the credit of the race at large; they shall not be without an excuse
if I can help it. Perhaps it was because there were no resident squires,
perhaps because a good many of them had little plots of land; still they
were Lestrigonians, and no doubt the row between the elder and the pastor
was really due to this malice and uncharitableness. How curious it seems
to a philosopher that so much religion should be accompanied by such
bitter ill-feeling!--true religion, too, for these Lestrigonians were
most seriously in earnest in their chapelling. Yet no doubt they fomented
the row, for the pastor himself was much too clever a man to proceed to
such extremities. By nature he was a fluent speaker, rising to eloquence
as eloquence is understood among that kind of audience. He carried them
with him, quite swept them away. They came to hear him from miles round
about; there were plenty of other chapels, but no one like the man at
Bethel. Once they came they always came. Who can name a country clergyman
with university training who can do this? The man at Bethel also
possessed a natural talent of personally impressing and gaining the
good-will of every person with whom he came in contact; it was
astonishing with what tenacity people clung to him, so that there must
have been something exceptional in his character. His origin was of the
humblest; he was drawn from the same class as the apostles, as the great
Fisherman, and the great Tentmaker, a man of manual labour lifted
entirely by his wit to be a very great power indeed in the community
where he was stationed.

Too much credit must not be put upon cottagers' tales: one day they are
all so bitter, hanging would not be sufficient, and you would suppose
they were going to show a lifelong enmity; in a week or two it is all
forgotten, and next month they are taking tea together. Those who know
them best say you should never believe anything a cottager tells you.
There is sure to be exaggeration, or they tell you half the story, and
they catch up the wildest rumour and repeat it as unquestioned truth. No
doubt after a while all this sound and fury signifying nothing will blow
off, and there will be a reconciliation; the pastor and the elder will be
bosom friends, all the congregation will be calling, and eating and
drinking; there will be pipes and three-star bottles, and the elect will
be made perfect. If the fourth wife disappears in time there will be a
fifth, and Christian Mormonism will flourish exceedingly. Very likely the
furious fall-out is over before now; there is no stability in this
peculiar cast, the chapel mind.

Another curious reflection suggests itself to any one who has seen the
fervour of Bethel. Within an easy walk of each other there are eight
chapels and three churches and the Salvation Army barracks; a thinly
populated country district, too; no squires, the farmers all depressed
and ruined, the cottagers howling about starvation wages. One would have
thought all of them together could hardly maintain a single spiritual
teacher. All this for chapel and church; but no cottage hospital, either
for accidents or diseases. If any one fell ill he had to be content with
the workhouse doctor; if they required anything else they must go to the
clergyman and get a letter of introduction or some kind of certificate
for a London hospital, or any infirmary to which he happened to
subscribe. The chapellers made no bones about utilising the clergyman in
this way; they considered it their right; as he was the parish clergyman,
it was his place to supply them with such certificates. There was no
provision for the aged labourer or his wife when strength failed--nothing
for them but parish relief. There was no library. There was no institute
for the teaching of science, or for lectures disseminating the knowledge
of the nineteenth century. Every now and then the children died from
drinking bad water--ditch water; the women took tea, the men took beer,
the children drank water. Good water abounded, but then there was the
trouble and expense of digging wells; individuals could not do it, the
community did not care. Does it not seem strange? All this fervour and
building of temples and rattling of the Salvation Army drum and loud
demands for the New Jerusalem, and not a single effort for physical
well-being or mental training!

While these pranks are played at Bethel let us glance a moment in another
direction down the same green country lane on the same bright summer day.
Let it be late in the afternoon of the Sunday, the swifts still wheeling,
the roses still blooming, blue-winged jays slipping in and out of the
beech trees. These hazel lanes were once the scene of Puritan marchings
to and fro, of Fifth Monarchy men who likened the Seven-hilled City to
the Beast; furious men with musket and pike, whose horses' hoofs had
defaced the mosaic pavements of cathedral. These hazel lanes, lovely
nut-tree boughs, with 'many an oak that grew thereby,' have been the
scene of historic events down from the days of St. Dunstan. In the quiet
of the Sunday afternoon, when the clashing of the bells was stilled,
there walked in the shade of the oaks a young priest and a lady. His
well-shaped form seemed the better shown by his flowing cassock; his
handsome face was refined by its air of late devotion. The lady, dressed
in the highest style of aristocratic fashion, that is to say with grace,
was evidently a member of good society. A little picture certainly: only
two figures, no pronounced action, no tragedy, yet what a meaning in that
cassock! It spoke of confession, of ritual, of transubstantiation, of all
the great historic romance of Rome ecclesiastical. The great romance of
Rome: its holy footsteps of St. Peter, its aerial dome of Michael Angelo,
its Vatican of ancient manuscripts, of beauteous statue and chariot--the
great romance of Rome, its Borgia, its dungeons and flames of the
Inquisition. A picture of two figures only, but consider the background.
Consider the thousands of broad English acres that now support great
monasteries and convents in quiet country places where one could scarce
expect to find a barn. The buildings are there; that is a solid fact,
take what view you like of them, or take none at all. There are men about
country roads with shaven crown and cassock whose dark Continental faces
have an unmistakable stamp of priesthood; faces that might be pictured
with those of the monks of old Spain. Women in long black cloaks, black
hoods and white coif, women with long black rosaries hanging from the
girdle, go to and fro among the wheat and the clover. One rubs one's
eyes. Are these the days of Friar Laurence and Juliet? Shall we meet the
mitred abbot with his sumpter mule? Shall we meet the mailed knights? In
some places whole villages belong to English monks, and there is not a
man or woman in them who is not a Catholic; there are even small country
towns which by dint of time, money, and territorial influence have been
re-absorbed, and are now as completely Catholic as they were before Henry
VIII. In these half-village half-towns you may chance on a busy market
day to come across a great building abutting on the street, and may
listen to the organ and the chant; there is incense and gorgeous
ceremony, the golden tinkle of the altar-bell. Bow your head, it is the
host; cross yourself, it is the mass. The butcher and the dealer are busy
with the sheep, but it is a saint's day. By-and-by no doubt we shall have
a village Lourdes at home, and miracles and pilgrimages and offerings and
shrines: the village will be right glad to see the pilgrims, if only they
come from the West End and have money in the purse. The village would be
very glad indeed of a miracle to bring it a shower of gold.



THE COUNTRY-SIDE: SUSSEX.


I

On the wall of an old barn by the great doors there still remains a
narrow strip of notice-board, much battered and weather-beaten: 'Beware
of steel ----' can be read, the rest has been broken off, but no doubt it
was 'traps.' 'Beware of steel traps,' a caution to thieves--a
reminiscence of those old days which many of our present writers and
leaders of opinion seem to think never existed. When the strong labourer
could hardly earn 7_s_. a week, when in some parishes scarcely half the
population got work at all, living, in the most literal sense, on the
parish, when bread was dear and the loaf was really life itself, then
that stern inscription had meaning enough. The granaries were full, the
people half starved. The wheat was threshed by the flail in full view of
the wretched, who could gaze through the broad doors at the golden grain;
the sparrows helped themselves, men dare not. At night men tried to steal
the corn, and had to be prevented by steel traps, like rats. To-day wheat
is so cheap, it scarcely pays to carry it to market. Some farmers have it
ground, and sell the flour direct to the consumer; some have used it for
feeding purposes--actually for hogs. The contrast is extraordinary.
Better let the hogs eat the corn than that man should starve. To-day the
sparrows are just as busy as ever of old, chatter, chirp around the old
barn, while the threshing machine hums, and every now and then lowers its
voice in a long-drawn descending groan of seemingly deep agony. Up it
rises again as the sheaves are cast in--hum, hum, hum; the note rises and
resounds and fills the yard up to the roof of the barn and the highest
tops of the ricks as a flood fills a pool, and overflowing, rushes abroad
over the fields, past the red hop-oast, past the copse of yellowing
larches, onwards to the hills. An inarticulate music--a chant telling of
the sunlit hours that have gone and the shadows that floated under the
clouds over the beautiful wheat. No more shall the tall stems wave in the
wind or listen to the bees seeking the clover-fields. The lark that sang
above the green corn, the partridge that sheltered among the yellow
stalks, the list of living things delighting in it--all have departed.
The joyous life of the wheat is ended--not in vain, for now the grain
becomes the life of man, and in that object yet more glorified. Outwards
the chant extending, reaches the hollows of the valley, rolling over the
shortened stubble, where the plough already begins the first verse of a
new time. A pleasant sound to listen to, the hum of the threshing, the
beating of the engine, the rustle of the straw, the shuffle shuffle of
the machine, the voices of the men, the occupation and bustle in the
autumn afternoon! I listened to it sitting in the hop-oast, whose tower,
like a castle turret, overlooks and domineers the yard. In the loft the
resounding hum whirled around, beating and rebounding from the walls, and
forcing its way out again through the narrow window. The edge, as it
were, of a sunbeam lit up the rude chamber crossed with unhewn beams and
roofed above with unconcealed tiles, whose fastening pegs were visible. A
great heap of golden scales lay in one corner, the hops fresh from the
drying. Up to his waist in a pocket let through the floor a huge giant of
a man trod the hops down in the sack, turning round and round, and now
his wide shoulders and now his red cheeks succeeded. The music twirled
him about as a leaf by the wind. Without the rich blue autumn sky; within
the fragrant odour of hops, the hum of the threshing circling round like
the buzz of an immense bee. As the hum of insects high in the atmosphere
of midsummer suits and fits to the roses and the full green meads, so the
hum of the threshing suits to the yellowing leaf and drowsy air of
autumn. The iteration of hum and monotone soothes, and means so much more
in its inarticulation than the adjusted chords and tune of written music.
Laughing, the children romped round the ricks; they love the threshing
and flock to it, they watch the fly-wheel rotating, they look in at the
furnace door when the engine-driver stokes his fire, they gaze
wonderingly at the gauge, and long to turn the brass taps; then with a
shout they rush to chase the unhappy mice dislodged from the corn. The
mice hide themselves in the petticoats of the women working at the
'sheening,' and the cottager when she goes home in the evening calls her
cat and shakes them out of her skirts. By a blue waggon the farmer stands
leaning on his staff. He is an invalid, and his staff, or rather pole, is
as tall as himself; he holds it athwart, one end touching the ground
beyond his left foot, the other near his right shoulder. His right hand
grasps it rather high, and his left down by his hip, so that the pole
forms a line across his body. In this way he is steadied and supported
and his whole weight relieved, much more so than it would be with an
ordinary walking-stick or with one in each hand. When he walks he keeps
putting the staff, which he calls a bat, in front, and so poles himself
along. There is an invalid boy in the yard, who walks with a similar
stick. The farmer is talking with a friend who has looked in from the
lane in passing, and carries a two-spean spud, or Canterbury hoe, with
points instead of a broad blade. They are saying that it is a 'pretty
day,' 'pretty weather'--it is always 'pretty' with them, instead of fine.
Pretty weather for the hopping; and so that leads on to climbing up into
the loft and handling the golden scales. The man with the hoe dips his
brown fist in the heap and gathers up a handful, noting as he does so how
the crisp, brittle, leaf-life substance of the hops crackles, and yet
does not exactly break in his palm. They must be dry, yet not too dry to
go to powder. They cling a little to the fingers, adhering to the skin,
sticky. He looks for rust and finds none, and pronounces it a good
sample. 'But there beant nothen' now like they old Grapes used to be,' he
concludes. The pair have not long gone down the narrow stairs when a
waggon stops outside in the lane, and up comes the carter to speak with
the 'drier'--the giant trampling round in the pocket--and to see how the
hops 'be getting on.' In five minutes another waggoner looks in, then a
couple of ploughboys, next a higgler passing by; no one walks or rides or
drives past the hop-kiln without calling to see how things are going on.
The carters cannot stay long, but the boys linger, eagerly waiting a
chance to help the 'drier,' even if only to reach him his handkerchief
from the nail. Round and round in the pocket brings out the perspiration,
and the dust of the hops gets into the air-passages and thickens on the
skin of his face. One of the lads has to push the hops towards him with a
rake. 'Don't you step on 'em too much, that'll break 'em.' On the light
breeze that comes now and then a little chaff floats in at the open
window from the threshing. A crooked sort of face appears in the doorway,
the body has halted halfway up--a semi-gipsy face--and the fellow thrusts
a basket before him on the floor. 'Want any herrings?' 'No, thankie--no,'
cries the giant. 'Not to-day, measter; thusty enough without they.'
Herrings are regularly carried round in hop-time to all the gardens, and
there is a great sale for them among the pickers. By degrees the 'drier'
rises higher in the pocket, coming up, as it were, through the floor
first his shoulders, then his body, and now his knees are visible. This
is the ancient way of filling a hop pocket; a machine is used now in
large kilns, but here, where there is only one cone, indicative of a
small garden, the old method is followed.

The steps on which I sit lead up to the door of the cone. Inside, the
green hops lie on the horsehair carpet, and the fumes of the sulphur
burning underneath come up through them. A vapour hangs about the surface
of the hops; looking upwards, the diminishing cone rises hollow to the
cowl, where a piece of blue sky can be seen. Round the cone a strip of
thin lathing is coiled on a spiral; could any one stand on these steps
and draw the inside of the cone? Could perspective be so managed as to
give the idea of the diminishing hollow and spiral? the side opposite
would not be so difficult, but the bit this side, overhead and almost
perpendicular, and so greatly foreshortened, how with that? It would be
necessary to make the spectator of the drawing feel as if this side of
the cone rose up from behind his head; as if his head were just inside
the cone. Would not this be as curious a bit of study as any that could
be found in the interior of old Continental churches, which people go so
many miles to see? Our own land is so full of interest. There are
pictures by the oldest Master everywhere in our own country, by the very
Master of the masters, by Time, whose crooked signature lies in the
corner of the shadowy farmhouse hearth.

Beneath the loft, on the ground-floor, I found the giant's couch. The bed
of a cart had been taken off its wheels, forming a very good bedstead,
dry and sheltered on three sides. On the fourth the sleeper's feet were
towards the charcoal fire. Opening the furnace door, he could sit there
and watch the blue and green tongues of sulphur flame curl round about
and above the glowing charcoal, the fumes rising to the hops on the
horsehair high over. The 'hoppers' in the garden used to bring their
kettles and pots to boil, till the practice grew too frequent, and was
stopped, because the constant opening of the furnace wasted the heat. The
sulphur comes in casks. A sulphur cask sawn down the middle, with a bit
left by the head for cover, is often used by the hoppers as a cradle.
Another favourite cradle is made from a trug basket, the handle cut off.
It is then like half a large eggshell, with cross pieces underneath to
prevent it from canting aside. This cradle is set on the bare ground in
the garden; when they move one woman takes hold of one end and a second
of the other, and thus carry the infant. If you ask them, they will find
you a 'hop-dog,' a handsome green caterpillar marked with black velvet
stripes and downy bands between. Their labour usually ends early in the
afternoon.

The giant at the kiln must watch and bide his time the night through till
the hops are ready to be withdrawn from the cone. He is alone. Deep
shadows gather round the farmstead and the ricks, and there is not a
sound, nothing but the rustle of a leaf falling from the hollow oak by
the gateway. But at midnight, just as the drier is drawing the hops, a
thunderstorm bursts, and the blue lightning lights up the red cone
without, blue as the sulphur flames creeping over the charcoal within. It
is lonely work for him in the storm. By day he has many little things to
do between the greater labours, to make the pockets (or sacks) by sewing
the sackcloth, or to mark the name of the farmer and the date with
stencil plates. For sewing up the mouth of the pocket when filled there
is a peculiar kind of string used; you may see it hanging up in any of
the country 'stores;' they are not shops, but stores of miscellaneous
articles. He must be careful not to fill his pockets too full of hops,
not to tread them too closely, else the sharp folk in the market will
suspect that unfair means have been resorted to to increase the weight,
and will cut the pocket all to pieces to see if it contains a few bricks.
Nor must it be too light; that will not do.

In this district, far from the great historic hop-fields of Kent, the
hops are really grown in gardens, little pieces often not more than half
an acre or even less in extent. Capricious as a woman, hops will only
flourish here and there; they have the strongest likes and dislikes, and
experience alone finds out what will suit them. These gardens are always
on a slope, if possible in the angle of a field and under shelter of a
copse, for the wind is the terror, and a great gale breaks them to
pieces; the bines are bruised, bunches torn off, and poles laid
prostrate. The gardens being so small, from five to forty acres in a
farm, of course but few pickers are required, and the hop-picking becomes
a 'close' business, entirely confined to home families, to the cottagers
working on the farm and their immediate friends. Instead of a scarcity of
labour, it is a matter of privilege to get a bin allotted to you. There
are no rough folk down from Bermondsey or Mile End way. All staid,
stay-at-home, labouring people--no riots; a little romping no doubt on
the sly, else the maids would not enjoy the season so much as they do.
But there are none of those wild hordes which collect about the greater
fields of Kent. Farmers' wives and daughters and many very respectable
girls go out to hopping, not so much for the money as the pleasant
out-of-door employment, which has an astonishing effect on the health.
Pale cheeks begin to glow again in the hop-fields. Children who have
suffered from whooping-cough are often sent out with the hop-pickers;
they play about on the bare ground in the most careless manner, and yet
recover. Air and hops are wonderful restoratives. After passing an
afternoon with the drier in the kiln, seated close to a great heap of
hops and inhaling the odour, I was in a condition of agreeable excitement
all the evening. My mind was full of fancy, imagination, flowing with
ideas; a sense of lightness and joyousness lifted me up. I wanted music,
and felt full of laughter. Like the half-fabled haschish, the golden
bloom of the hops had entered the nervous system; intoxication without
wine, without injurious after-effect, dream intoxication; they were wine
for the nerves. If hops only grew in the Far East we should think wonders
of so powerful a plant. At hop-picking a girl can earn about 10_s_. a
week, so that it is not such a highly paid employment as might be
supposed from the talk there is about it. The advantages are sideways, so
to say; a whole family can work at the same time, and the sum-total
becomes considerable. Hopping happily comes on just after corn harvest,
so that the labourers get two harvest-times. The farmers find it an
expensive crop. It costs 50_l_. or 60_l_. to pick a very small garden,
and if the Egyptian plague of insects has prevailed the price at market
will not repay the expenditure. The people talk much of a possible duty
on foreign hops. The hop farmer should have a lady-bird on his seal ring
for his sign and token, for the lady-bird is his great friend. Lady-birds
(and their larvae) destroy myriads of the aphides which cause rust, and a
flight of lady-birds should be welcomed as much as a flight of locusts is
execrated in other countries.


II.

One of the hop-picking women told me how she went to church and the
parson preached such a curious sermon, all about our 'innerds' (inwards,
insides), and how many 'boanes' we had, and by-and-by 'he told us that we
were the only beasts who had the use of our hands.' Years since at
village schools the girls used to swallow pins; first one would do it,
then another, presently half the school were taking pins. Ignorant of
physiology! Yet they did not seem to suffer; the pins did not penetrate
the pleura or lodge in the processes. Now Anatomy climbs into the pulpit
and shakes a bony fist at the congregation. That is the humerus of it, as
Corporal Nym might say. At the late election--the cow election--the
candidates were Brown, Conservative, and Stiggins, Liberal. The day after
the polling a farm labourer was asked how he filled up his voting paper.
'Oh,' said he full of the promised cow, 'I doan't care for that there
Brown chap, he bean't no good; zo I jest put a cross agen he, and voted
for Stiggins.' The dream of life was accomplished, the labourer had a
vote, and--irony--he voted exactly opposite to his intent.

Too-whoo! ooo!--the sound of a horn,--the hunt was up; but this was not
the hunting season. Looking out of the kiln door I saw a boy running at
full speed down the lane with a small drain-pipe tucked under his arm. He
stopped, put the pipe to his mouth, and blew a blast on this 'dread
horn,' then jumped through a gap in the hedge and disappeared. They were
playing fox and hounds; who but a boy would have thought of using a
drain-pipe for a horn? It gave a good note, too. In and about the kiln I
learned that if you smash a frog with a stone, no matter how hard you hit
him, he cannot die till sunset. You must be careful not to put on any new
article of clothing for the first time on a Saturday, or some severe
punishment will ensue. One person put on his new boots on a Saturday, and
on Monday broke his arm. Some still believe in herbs, and gather
wood-betony for herb tea, or eat dandelion leaves between slices of dry
toast. There is an old man living in one of the villages who has reached
the age of a hundred and sixty years, and still goes hop-picking. Ever so
many people had seen him, and knew all about him; an undoubted fact, a
public fact; but I could not trace him to his lair. His exact whereabouts
could not be fixed. I live in hopes of finding him in some obscure 'Hole'
yet (many little hamlets are 'Holes,' as Froghole, Foxhole). What an
exhibit for London! Did he realise his own value, he would soon come
forth. I joke, but the existence of this antique person is firmly
believed in. Sparrows are called 'spadgers.' The cat wandering about got
caught in the rat-clams--_i.e._ a gin. Another cat was the miller's
favourite at the windmill, a well-fed, happy, purring pussy, fond of the
floury miller--he as white as snow, she as black as a coal. One day pussy
was ingeniously examining the machinery, when the wind suddenly rose, the
sails revolved, and she was ground up, fulfilling the ogre's
threat--'I'll grind his bones to make my bread.' This was not so sad as
the fate of the innkeeper's cow. You have read the 'Arabian Nights'--that
book of wisdom, for in truth the stories are no stories; they are the
records of ancient experience, the experience of a thousand years, and
some of them are as true and as deeply to be pondered on as anything in
the holiest books the world reverences. You remember the Three Calenders,
each of whom lost an eye--struck out in the most arbitrary and cruel
fashion. The innkeeper had a cow, a very pretty, quiet cow, but in time
it came about that her left horn, turning inwards, grew in such a manner
that it threatened to force the point into her head. To remedy this the
top of the horn was sawn off and a brass knob fastened on the tip, as is
the custom. The cow passed the summer in the meadows with the rest, till
by-and-by it was found that she had gone blind in the left eye. It
happened in this way: the rays of the sun heated the brass knob and so
destroyed the sight. Unable to call attention to its suffering, the poor
creature was compelled to endure, and could not escape. Now the Three
Calenders could speak, and had the advantage of human intelligence, and
yet each lost an eye, and they were as helpless in the hands of fate as
this poor animal.

Down in one of the hamlets there was a forge to which all the workpeople
who wanted any tools sharpened carried their instruments, the smith being
able to put a better edge on. Other blacksmiths or carpenters, if they
required a particularly good edge for some purpose, came to him. This art
he had acquired from his grandfather as a sort of heirloom or secret. The
grandfather while at work used to trouble and puzzle himself how to get a
very sharp edge, and at length one night he dreamed how to do it. From
that time he became prosperous. If a celebrated sonata was revealed in a
dream, why not the way to sharpen a chisel?

When he was tired the drier said he was 'dreggy.' They were talking of
the lambs, and how that dry season they had scarcely any sweetbreads. The
sweetbreads were so scanty, the butchers did not even offer them for
sale; the lambs had fed on dry food. In seasons when there was plenty of
grass and green food they had good large sweetbreads, white as milk. The
character of the food does thus under some circumstances really alter the
condition of an organ. The sweetbread is the pancreas; now a deficient
pancreatic action is supposed to play a great part in consumption and
other wasting diseases. Have we here, then, an indication that when the
pancreas may be suspected plenty of succulent food and plenty of liquid
are nature's remedies? We looked over at the pigs in the sty. They were
rooting about in a mess of garbage. 'Oh, what dirty things pigs are!'
said a lady. 'Yes, ma'am; they're rightly named,' said he. Some
scientific gentleman in the district had a large telescope with which he
made frequent observations, and at times would let a labouring man look
at the moon. 'Ah,' said our friend, shaking his head in a solemn,
impressive way, 'my brother, he see through it; he see great rocks and
seas up there. He say he never want to see through it no more. He wish he
never looked through him at all.' The poor man was dreadfully frightened
at what he had seen in the moon. At first I laughed at the story and the
odd idea of a huge, great fellow being alarmed at a glance through a
telescope. Since then, however, on reflection, it seems to me perfectly
natural. He was illiterate; he had never read of astronomy; to him it was
really like a sudden peep into another world, for the instrument was
exceptionally powerful, and the view of the sunlight on the peaks and the
shadows in the valleys must have been extraordinary to him. There was
nothing to laugh at; the incident shows what a great and wonderful thing
it is that rocks and mountains should be whirled along over our heads.
The idea has become familiarised to us by reading, but the fact is none
the less marvellous. This man saw the fact first, before he had the idea,
and he had sufficient imagination to realise it. At the village post
office they ask for 'Letterhead, please, sir,' instead of a stamp, for it
is characteristic of the cottager that whatever words he uses must be
different from those employed by other people. Stamp is as familiar to
him as to you, yet he prefers to say 'letterhead'--because he does. There
are many curious old houses, some of them timbered, still standing in
these parts. The immense hearths which were once necessary for burning
wood are now occupied with 'duck's-nest' grates, so called from the bars
forming a sort of nest. In one of the hamlets the women touched their
hats to us.

Not far from the hop-kiln I found a place where charcoal-burning was
carried on. The brown charcoal-burner, upright as a bolt, walked slowly
round the smouldering heap, and wherever flame seemed inclined to break
out cast damp ashes upon the spot. Six or seven water-butts stood in a
row for his use. To windward he had built a fence of flakes, or wattles
as they are called here, well worked in with brushwood, to break the
force of the draught along the hill-side, which would have caused too
fierce a fire. At one side stood his hut of poles meeting in a cone,
wrapped round with rough canvas. Besides his rake and shovel and a short
ladder, he showed me a tool like an immense gridiron, bent half double,
and fitted to a handle in the same way as a spade. This was for sifting
charcoal when burned, and separating the small from the larger pieces.
Every now and then a puff of smoke rose from the heap and drifted along;
it has a peculiar odour, a dense, thick smell of smothered wood coal, to
me not disagreeable, but to some people so annoying that they have been
known to leave their houses and abandon a locality where charcoal-burning
was practised. Dim memories of old days come crowding round me, invisible
to him, to me visible and alive, of the kings, great hunters, who met
with the charcoal-burners in the vast forests of mediaeval days, of the
noble knights and dames whom the rude charcoal-burners guided to their
castles through trackless wastes, and all the romance of old. Scarcely is
there a tale of knightly adventure that does not in some way or other
mention these men, whose occupation fixed them in the wildernesses which
of yore stretched between cultivated places. I looked at the modern
charcoal-burner with interest. He was brown, good-looking, upright, and
distinctly superior in general style to the common run of working men. He
spoke without broad accent and used correct language; he was well
educated and up to the age. He knew his own mind, and had an independent
expression; a very civil, intelligent, and straightforward man. No rude
charcoal-burner of old days this. We stood close to the highway road; a
gentleman's house was within stone's throw; the spot, like the man, was
altogether the reverse of what we read in ancient story. Yet such is the
force of association that I could not even now divest myself of those dim
memories and living dreams of old; there seemed as it were the clank of
armour, a rustic of pennons in the leaves; it would have been quite
natural to hold bow and arrow in the hand. The man was modern, but his
office was ancient. The descent was unbroken. The charcoal-burner traced
back to the Norman Conquest. That very spot where we stood, now
surrounded with meadows and near dwellings, scarcely thirty years since
had formed part of one of the largest of the old forests. It was forest
land. Woods away on the slope still remained to witness to traditions. As
the charcoal-burner worked beside the modern highway, so his trade had
come down and was still practised in the midst of modern trades, in these
times of sea-coal and steam. He told me that he and his brothers were
maintained by charcoal-burning the year through, and, it appeared, in a
very comfortable position. They only burned a small quantity here; they
moved about from place to place in the woods, according as the timber was
thrown. They often stopped for weeks in the woods, watching the fires all
night. A great part of the work was done in the winter, beginning in
October--after the hop-picking. Now resting in his lonely hut, now
walking round and tending the smoking heap, the charcoal-burner watched
out the long winter nights while the stars drifted over the leafless
trees, till the grey dawn came with hoar-frost. He liked his office, but
owned that the winter nights were very long. Starlight and frost and slow
time are the same now as when the red deer and the wild boar dwelt in the
forest. Much of the charcoal was prepared for hop-drying, large
quantities being used for that purpose. At one time a considerable amount
was rebaked for patent fuel, and the last use to which it had been put
was in carrying out some process with Australian meat. It was still
necessary in several trades. Goldsmiths used charcoal for soldering. They
preferred the charcoal made from the thick bark of the butts of birch
trees. At the foot or butt of the birch the bark grows very thick, in
contrast to the rind higher, which is thinner than on other trees. Lord
Sheffield's mansion at Fletching was the last great house he knew that
was entirely warmed with charcoal, nothing else being burnt. Charcoal was
still used in houses for heating plates. But the principal demand seemed
to be for hop-drying purposes--the charcoal burned in the kiln where I
had been resting was made on the spot. This heap he was now burning was
all of birch poles, and would be four days and four nights completing. On
the fourth morning it was drawn, and about seventy sacks were filled, the
charcoal being roughly sorted.

The ancient forest land is still wild enough, there is no seeming end to
the heath and fern on the ridges or to the woods in the valleys. These
moor-like stretches bear a resemblance to parts of Exmoor. The oaks that
once reached from here to the sea-shore were burned to smelt the iron in
the days when Sussex was the great iron land. For charcoal the vast
forests were cut down; it seems strange to think that cannon were once
cast--the cannon that won India for us--where now the hops grow and the
plough travels slowly, so opposite as they are to the roaring furnace and
the ringing hammer. Burned and blasted by the heat, the ground where the
furnaces were still retains the marks of the fire. But to-day there is
silence; the sunshine lights up the purple heather and the already
yellowing fern; the tall and beautiful larches stand graceful in the
stillness. Their lines always flow in pleasant curves; they need no wind
to bend them into loveliness of form: so quiet and deserted is the place
that the wide highway road is green with vegetation, and the impression
of our wheels is the only trace upon them. Looking up, the road--up the
hill--it appears green almost from side to side. It is well made and
firm, and fit for any traffic; but a growth of minute weeds has sprung
up, and upon these our wheels leave their marks. Of roads that have
become grass--grown in war--desolated countries we have all read, but
this is our own unscathed England.

The nature of the ancient forest, its quiet and untrodden silence,
adheres to the site. Far down in the valley there is more stirring, and
the way is well pulverised. In the hollow there is an open space, backed
by the old beech trees of the park, dotted with ashes, and in the midst a
farmhouse partly timbered. Here by the road-side they point out to you a
low mound, at the very edge of the road, which could easily be passed
unnoticed as a mere heap of scrapings overgrown with weeds and thistles.
On looking closer it appears more regularly shaped; it is indeed a grave.
Of old time an unfortunate woman committed suicide, and according to the
barbarous law of those days her body was buried at the cross-roads and a
stake driven through it. That was the end so far as the brutal law of the
land went. But the road-menders, with better hearts, from that day to
this have always kept up the mound. However beautiful the day, however
beautiful the beech trees and the ashes that stand apart, there is always
a melancholy feeling in passing the place. This thistle-grown mound
saddens the whole; it is impossible to forget it; it lies, as it were,
under everything, under the beeches, the sunlit sward and fern. The mark
of death is there. The dogs and the driven cattle tread the spot; a human
being has passed into dust. The circumstance of the mound having been
kept up so many years bears curious testimony to the force of tradition.
Many writers altogether deny the value of tradition. Dr. Schliemann's
spade, however, found Troy. Perhaps tradition is like the fool of the
saying, and is sometimes right.



SWALLOW-TIME



The cave-swallows have come at last with the midsummer-time, and the hay
and white clover and warm winds that breathe hotly, like one that has
been running uphill. With the paler hawkweeds, whose edges are so
delicately trimmed and cut and balanced, almost as if made by cleft human
fingers to human design, whose globes of down are like geometrical
circles built up of facets, instead of by one revolution of the
compasses. With foxglove, and dragon-fly, and yellowing wheat; with green
cones of fir, and boom of distant thunder, and all things that say, 'It
is summer.' Not many of them even now, sometimes only two in the air
together, sometimes three or four, and one day eight, the very greatest
number--a mere handful, for these cave-swallows at such times should
crowd the sky. The white bars across their backs should be seen gliding
beside the dark fir copse a quarter of a mile away. They should be seen
everywhere, over the house, and to and fro the eaves, where half last
year's nest remains; over the meadows and high up in the blue ether.
White breasts should gleam in the azure height, appearing and
disappearing as they climb or sink, and wheel and slide through those
long boomerang-like flights that suddenly take them a hundred yards
aside. They should crowd the sky together with the ruddy-throated
chimney-swallows, and the great swifts; but though it is hay-time and the
apples are set, yet eight eave-swallows is the largest number I have
counted in one afternoon. They did not come at all in the spring. After
the heavy winter cleared away, the delicate willow-wrens soon sang in the
tops of the beautiful green larches, the nightingale came, and the
cuckoo, the chimney-swallow, the doves softly cooing as the oaks came
into leaf, and the black swifts. Up to May 26 there were no eave-swallows
at the Sussex hill-side where these notes were taken; that is more than a
month later than the date of their usual arrival, which would be about
the middle of April. After this they gradually came back. The
chimney-swallows were not so late, but even they are not so numerous as
usual. The swifts seem to have come more in their accustomed numbers.
Now, the swallows are, of all others, the summer birds. As well suppose
the trees without leaves as the summer air without swallows. Ever since
of old time the Greeks went round from house to house in spring singing
the swallow song, these birds have been looked upon as the friends of
man, and almost as the very givers of the sunshine.

  The swallow's come, winging
   His way to us here;
  Fair hours is he bringing,
   And a happy new year!

They had a song for everything, the mill song, the reapers' song, just as
in Somerset, the apple country, they still have a cider song, or perhaps,
rather, an orchard song. Such rhymes might well be chanted about the hay
and the wheat, or at the coming of the green leaf, or the yellowing of
the acorns, when the cawing of the rooks is incessant, a kind of autumn
festival. It seems so natural that the events of the year should be met
with a song. But somehow a very hard and unobservant spirit has got
abroad into our rural life, and people do not note things as the old folk
did. They do not mark the coming of the swallows, nor any of the dates
that make the woodland almanack. It is a pity that there should be such
indifference--that the harsh ways of the modern town should press so
heavily on the country. This summer, too, there seems a marked absence of
bees, butterflies, and other insects in the fields. One bee will come
along, calling at every head of white clover. By-and-by you may see one
more calling at the heathbells, and nothing else, as in each journey they
visit only the flower with which they began. Then there will be quite an
interval before a third bee is seen, and a fourth may be found dead
perhaps on the path, besides which you may not notice any more. For a
whole hour you may not observe a humble-bee, and the wasp-like
hover-flies, that are generally past all thought of counting, are
scarcely seen. A blue butterfly we found in the dust of the road, without
the spirit to fly, and lifted him into a field to let him have a chance
of life; a few tortoiseshells, and so on--even the white butterflies are
quite uncommon, the whites that used to drift along like snowflakes.
Where are they all? Did the snow kill them? Is there any connection
between the absence of insects and the absence of swallows? If so, how
did the swallows know beforehand, without coming, that there were no
insects for them? Yet the midsummer hum, the deep humming sound in the
atmosphere above, has been loud and persistent over the hayfields, so
that there must have been the usual myriads of the insects that cause
this sound. While I was thinking in this way a swallow alighted on the
turf, picked up a small white moth from among the short grass, and went
off with it. In gloomy overcast weather the swallows at the sea-side
frequently alight on the pebbles of the beach to pick up the insects
which will not rise and fly. Some beaches and sandbanks are much
frequented by insects, and black clouds of them sometimes come drifting
along, striking the face like small hail.

When swallows fly low, just skimming the ground, it is supposed to be a
sign of rain. During the frequent intervals of heavy, overcast weather
which have marked this summer, they might have been observed flying low
for a week together without a spot of rain falling. Chilly air drives
insects downwards, and, indeed, paralyses a great many of them
altogether. It is a fall of temperature, and not wet, that makes the
swallows chase their prey low down. Insects are not much afraid of rain
if it is warm and soft, so that in the midst of showers, if there is
sunshine too, you may see the swallows high in the atmosphere. It is when
they fly low, but just missing the grass, that their wonderful powers of
flight appear. In the air above there are no obstacles, and if you shoot
an arrow it travels to the end of its journey without let or hindrance;
there are no streets there to turn corners, no narrow lanes, no trees or
hedges. When the shallow comes down to the earth his path is no longer
that of the immortals, his way is as the way of men, constantly
obstructed, and made a thousandfold more difficult by the velocity of his
passage. Imagine shooting an arrow from the strongest bow in such a
manner that it might travel about seven inches above the ground--how far
would it go before it would strike a tall buttercup, a wiry bennet, or
stick into a slight rise of the turf? You must imagine it given the power
to rise over hedges, to make short angles about buildings, slip between
the trunks of trees, to avoid moving objects, as men or animals, not to
come in contact with other animated arrows, and by some mysterious
instinct to know what is or what is not out of sight on the other side of
the wall. I was sitting on a log in the narrowest of narrow lanes, a
hedge at the back, in front thick fir trees, whose boughs touched the
ground, almost within reach, the lane being nothing more than a broader
footpath. It was one of those overcast days when the shelter of the hedge
and the furze was pleasant in July. Suddenly a swallow slid by me as it
seemed underneath my very hands, so close to the ground that he almost
travelled in the rut, the least movement on my part would have stopped
him. Almost before I could lift my head he had reached the end of the
lane and rose over the gate into the road--not a moments pause before he
made that leap over the gate to see if there was a waggon or not in the
way; a waggon-load of hay would have blocked the road entirely. How did
he know that a man or a horse would not step into his course at the
instant he topped the bar?

A swallow never hesitates, never looks before he leaps, threads all day
the eyes of needles, and goes on from half-past two in the morning till
ten at night, without so much as disturbing a feather. He is the
perfection of a machine for falling. His round nest is under the eaves,
he throws himself out of window and begins to fall, and keeps on fall,
fall, for twenty hours together. His head is bullet-shaped, his neck
short, his body all thickened up to the shoulders, tailing out to the
merest streak of feather. His form is like a plummet--he is not unlike
the heavily weighted minnow used in trolling for pike. Before the bend of
the firmly elastic rod, the leaded minnow slides out through the air,
running true and sinking without splash into the water. It is
proportioned and weighted so that its flight, which is a long fall, may
be smooth, and perfectly under control. If wings could be put to the
minnow, it would somewhat resemble the swallow. For the swallow is made
to fall, and his wings to catch him, and by resisting his descent these
outstretched planes lift him again into the sky. He does not fall
perpendicularly, the angle of his fall is prolonged and very low, and the
swifter he goes the more nearly it approximates to the horizontal. I
think he goes swifter when flying just over the ground than when lounging
in the easy hammock of the atmosphere. My swallow that came down the
lane, in twenty yards opened his wings twenty times and checked his fall,
almost grazing the earth, and imperceptibly rose a little, like a flat
stone thrown by a boy which suddenly runs up into the air at the end of
its flight. He made no blow with his wings; they were simply put out to
collect the air in the hollow of their curves, and so prolong his fall.
Falling from morn till night, he throws himself on his way, a machine for
turning gravity into a motive force. He fits to the circumstances of his
flight as water fits to the circumstances of the vessel into which it is
poured. No thought, no stop, no rest. If a waggon had been in the way,
still he would have got left or right through the very eye of the needle.
If a man had been passing, the rush of his wings would not have disturbed
the light smoke from his cigar. Farther up the lane there are two
gateways opposite without gates. Through these swallows are continually
dashing, and I have often felt when coming up the lane as if I must step
on them, and half checked myself. I might as well try to step on
lightning. A swallow came over the sharp ridge of a slate roof and met a
slight current of wind which blew against that side of the shed and rose
up it. The bird remained there suspended with outstretched wings, resting
on the up-current as if the air had been solid, for some moments. He rode
there at anchor in the air. So buoyant is the swallow that it is no more
to him to fly than it is to the fish to swim; and, indeed, I think that a
trout in a swift mountain stream needs much greater strength to hold
himself in the rapid day and night without rest. The friction of the
water is constant against him, and he never folds his fins and sleeps.
The more I think the more I am convinced that the buoyancy of the air is
very far greater than science admits, and under certain conditions it is
superior to water as a supporting medium. Swift and mobile as is the
swallow's wing, how much swifter and how much more mobile must be his
eye! This rapid and ever-changing course is not followed for pleasure as
if it were a mazy dance. The whole time as he floats, and glides, and
wheels, his eye is intent on insects so small as to be invisible to us at
a very short distance. These he gathers in the air, he sees what we
cannot see, his eyes are to our eyes as his wings are to our limbs. If
still further we were to consider the flow of the nerve force between the
eye, the mind, and the wing, we should be face to face with problems
which quite upset the ordinary ideas of matter as a solid thing. How is
it that dull matter becomes thus inexpressibly sensitive? Is not the
swallow's eye a miracle? Then his heart, for he sings as he flies; he
makes love and converses, and all as he rushes along--his hopes, his
fears, his little store of knowledge, and his wonderful journey by-and-by
to Africa. Remember, he carries his life in his wings as we should say in
our hands, for if by chance he should strike a solid object, his great
speed renders the collision certain death. It stuns him, and if he
recovers from that his beak is usually broken so that he must starve.
Happily such accidents are rare. The great rapidity of a bird's heart
beating so fast seems to render it peculiarly susceptible to death from
shock. Great fright will sometimes kill a bird, as for instance, when
they have wandered inside a room, and been thoughtlessly held in some
one's hand. Without visible injury, the heart, after beating excessively
violently, almost as rapidly slows, the nictitating membrane is drawn
over the eyes, the head falls to one side, and the bird becomes lifeless
from nervous exhaustion. The beautiful swallows, be tender to them, for
they symbol all that is best in nature and all that is best in our
hearts.



BUCKHURST PARK.



An old beech tree had been broken off about five feet from the ground,
and becoming hollow within, was filled with the decay of its own
substance. In this wood-sorrel had taken root, and flower and leaf
covered the space within, white flower and green leaf flourishing on old
age. The wood-sorrel leaf, the triune leaf, is perhaps more lovely even
than the flower, like a more delicately shaped clover of a tenderer
green, and it lasts far on into the autumn. When the violet leaves are no
more looked for, when the cowslips have gone, and the bluebells have left
nothing behind them but their nodding seed-cases, still the wood-sorrel
leaf stays on the mound, in shape and colour the same, and as pleasantly
acid to the taste now under the ripening nuts as in May. At its coming it
is folded almost like a. green flower; at Midsummer, when you are
gathering ferns, you find its trefoil deep under the boughs; it grows,
too, in the crevices of the rock over the spring. The whortleberry
leaves, that were green as the myrtle when the wood-sorrel was in bloom,
have faded somewhat now that their berries are ripening. Another beech
has gone over, and lies at full length, a shattered tube, as it were, of
timber; for it is so rotten within, and so hollow and bored, it is little
else than bark. Others that stand are tubes on end, with rounded
knot-holes, loved by the birds, that let air and moisture into the very
heart of the wood. They are hardly safe in a strong wind. Others again,
very large and much shorter, have sent up four trunks from one root, a
little like a banyan, quadruple trees built for centuries, throwing
abroad a vast roof of foliage, whose green in the midst of summer is made
brown by sacks and sacks of beech nuts. These are the trees to camp by,
and that are chosen by painters. The bark of the beech is itself a panel
to study, spotted with velvet moss brown-green, made grey with
close-grown lichen, stained with its own hues of growth, and toned by
time. To these add bright sunlight and leaf shadow, the sudden lowering
of tint as a cloud passes, the different aspects of the day and the
evening, and the changes of rain and dry weather. You may look at the
bark of a beech twenty times and always find it different. After crossing
Virgil's Bridge in the deep coombe at the bottom of Marden Hill these
great beeches begin, true woodland trees, and somehow more forest-like
than the hundreds and hundreds of acres of fir trees that are called
forest. There is another spirit among the beech trees; they look like
deer and memories of old English life.

The wood cooper follows his trade in a rude shed, splitting poles and
making hoops the year through, in warm summer and iron-clad winter. His
shed is always pitched at the edge of a great woodland district. Where
the road has worn in deeply the roots of the beeches hang over, twisted
in and out like a giant matting, a kind of cave under them. Dark yew
trees and holly trees stand here and there; a yew is completely barked on
one side, stripped clean. If you look close you will see scores in the
wood as if made with a great nail. Those who know Exmoor will recognise
these signs in a moment; it is a fraying-post where the stags rubbed the
velvet from their horns last summer. There are herds of red deer in the
park. At one time there were said to be almost as many as run free and
wild over the expanse of Exmoor. They mark the trees very much,
especially those with the softer bark. Wire fencing has been put round
many of the hollies to protect them. A stag occasionally leaps the
boundary and forages among the farmers' corn, or visits a garden, and
then the owner can form some idea of what must have been the difficulties
of agriculture in mediaeval days. Deer more than double the interest of a
park. A park without deer is like a wall without pictures. However well
proportioned the room, something is lacking if the walls be blank.
However noble the oaks and wide the sweep of sward, there is something
wanting if antlers do not rise above the fern. The pictures that the deer
make are moving and alive; they dissolve and re-form in a distant frame
of tree and brake. Lately the herd has been somewhat thinned, having
become too numerous. One slope is bare of grass, a patch of yellow sand,
which if looked at intently from a distance seems presently to be all
alive like mites in cheese, so thick are the rabbits in the warren. Under
a little house, as it were, built over a stream is a chalybeate fountain
with virtues like those of Tunbridge Wells.

The park is open to visitors--here comes a gay four-in-hand heavily
loaded sweeping by on its road to that summer town. There is much
ironstone in the soil round about. At the edge of the park stands an old
farmhouse of timber and red tile, with red oast-house beside it, built
with those gables which our ancestors seemed to think made such excellent
rooms within. Our modern architects try to make their rooms
mathematically square, a series of brick boxes, one on the other like
pigeon-holes in a bureau, with flat ceilings and right angles in the
corners, and are said to go through a profound education before they can
produce these wonderful specimens of art. If our old English folk could
not get an arched roof, then they loved to have it pointed, with polished
timber beams in which the eye rested as in looking upwards through a
tree. Their rooms they liked of many shapes, and not at right angles in
the corners, nor all on the same dead level of flooring. You had to go up
a step into one, and down a step into another, and along a winding
passage into a third, so that each part of the house had its
individuality. To these houses life fitted itself and grew to them; they
were not mere walls, but became part of existence. A man's house was not
only his castle, a man's house was himself. He could not tear himself
away from his house, it was like tearing up the shrieking mandrake by the
root, almost death itself. Now we walk in and out of our brick boxes
unconcerned whether we live in this villa or that, here or yonder. Dark
beams inlaid in the walls support the gables; heavier timber, placed
horizontally, forms, as it were, the foundation of the first floor. This
horizontal beam has warped a little in the course of time, the alternate
heat and cold of summers and winters that make centuries. Up to this beam
the lower wall is built of brick set to the curve of the timber, from
which circumstance it would appear to be a modern insertion. The beam, we
may be sure, was straight originally, and the bricks have been fitted to
the curve which it subsequently took. Time, no doubt, ate away the lower
work of wood, and necessitated the insertion of new materials. The slight
curve of the great beam adds, I think, to the interest of the old place,
for it is a curve that has grown and was not premeditated; it has grown
like the bough of a tree, not from any set human design. This, too, is
the character of the house. It is not large, nor overburdened with
gables, not ornamental, nor what is called striking, in any way, but
simply an old English house, genuine and true. The warm sunlight falls on
the old red tiles, the dark beams look the darker for the glow of light,
the shapely cone of the hop-oast rises at the end; there are swallows and
flowers, and ricks and horses, and so it is beautiful because it is
natural and honest. It is the simplicity that makes it so touching, like
the words of an old ballad. Now at Mayfield there is a timber house which
is something of a show place, and people go to see it, and which
certainly has many more lines in its curves and woodwork, but yet did not
appeal to me, because it seemed too purposely ornamental. A house
designed to look well, even age has not taken from it its artificiality.
Neither is there any cone nor cart-horses about. Why, even a tall
chanticleer makes a home look homely. I do like to see a tall proud
chanticleer strutting in the yard and barely giving way as I advance,
almost ready to do battle with a stranger like a mastiff. So I prefer the
simple old home by Buckhurst Park.

The beeches and oaks become fewer as the ground rises, there are wide
spaces of bracken and little woods or copses, every one of which is
called a 'shaw.' Then come the firs, whose crowded spires, each touching
each, succeed for miles, and cover the hill-side with a solid mass of
green. They seem so close together, so thickened and matted, impenetrable
to footsteps, like a mound of earth rather than woods, a solid block of
wood; but there are ways that wind through and space between the taller
trunks when you come near. The odour of firs is variable; sometimes it
fills the air, sometimes it is absent altogether, and doubtless depends
upon certain conditions of the atmosphere. A very small pinch of the
fresh shoot is pleasant to taste; these shoots, eaten constantly, were
once considered to cure chest disease, and to this day science endeavours
by various forms of inhalations from fir products to check that malady.
Common rural experience, as with the cow-pox, has often laid the basis of
medical treatment. Certain it is that it is extremely pleasant and
grateful to breathe the sweet fragrance of the fir deep in the woods,
listening to the soft caressing sound of the wind that passes high
overhead. The willow-wren sings, but his voice and that of the wind seem
to give emphasis to the holy and meditative silence. The mystery of
nature and life hover about the columned temple of the forest. The secret
is always behind a tree, as of old time it was always behind the pillar
of the temple. Still higher, and as the firs cease, and shower and
sunshine, wind and dew, can reach the ground unchecked, comes the tufted
heath and branched heather of the moorland top. A thousand acres of
purple heath sloping southwards to the sun, deep valleys of dark heather;
further slopes beyond of purple, more valleys of heather--the heath shows
more in the sunlight, and heather darkens the shadow of the hollows--and
so on and on, mile after mile, till the heath-bells seem to end in the
sunset. Round and beyond is the immense plain of the air---you feel how
limitless the air is at this height, for there is nothing to measure it
by. Past the weald lie the South Downs, but they form no boundary, the
plain of the air goes over them to the sea and space.

This wild tract of Ashdown Forest bears much resemblance to Exmoor; you
may walk, or you may ride, for hours and meet no one; and if black game
were to start up it would not surprise you in the least. There seems room
enough to chase the red stag from Buckhurst Park with horn and hound
till, mayhap, he ended in the sea at Pevensey. Buckhurst Park is the
centre of this immense manor. Of old time the deer did run wild, and were
hunted till the pale was broken in the great Civil War. The 'Forest' is
still in every one's mouth--'on the Forest,' 'by the Forest,' 'in' it, or
'over' it, everything comes from the 'Forest,' even stone to mend the
roads, or 'through the Forest,' as up from Brighton. People say this farm
used to be forest, or this garden or this house was the first built on
the forest. The enclosures are small, and look as if they had been hewn
out of wood or stubbed out of heather, and there are numbers of small
owners or settlers. Here and there a house stands, as it seems, alone in
the world on the Forest ridge, thousands of acres of heather around, the
deep weald underneath--as at Duddleswell, a look-out, as it were, over
the earth. Forest Row, where they say the courtiers had their booths in
ancient hunting days; Forest Fold, Boar's-head Street, Greenwood
Gate--all have a forest sound; and what prettier name could there be than
Sweet-Haws? Greybirchet Wood, again; Mossbarn, Highbroom, and so on.
Outlying woods in every direction are fragments of the forest, you cannot
get away from it; and look over whatever gate you will, there is always a
view. In the vale, if you look over a gate you only see that field and
nothing beyond; the view is bounded by the opposite hedge. Here there is
always a deep coombe, or the top of a wood underneath, or a rising slope,
or a distant ridge crowned with red-tiled farmstead, red-coned
oast-house, and tall spruce firs. Or far away, miles and miles, the
fields of the weald pushed close together by distance till in a surface
no larger than the floor of a room there are six or seven farms and a
village. Clouds drift over; it is a wonderful observatory for cloud
studies; they seem so close, the light is so strong, and there is nothing
to check the sight as far as its powers will reach. Clouds come up no
wider than a pasture-field, but in length stretching out to the very
horizon, dividing the blue sky into two halves; but then every day has
its different clouds--the fleets of heaven that are always sailing on and
know no haven.



HOUSE-MARTINS.



Of five houses, a stable, and chapel wall, much frequented by martins,
the aspects were as follows:--House No. 1, nests on the north side, south
side, and east, both the south and east very warm; No. 2, on the south
and east walls--these walls met in an angle, and as it were enclosed the
sunbeams, making it very heated sometimes; No. 3, on the south and west
walls, the warmest sides of the building; No. 4, all along under the
southern eaves, a very warm wall; No. 5, also under the southern eaves,
and not elsewhere. The stable fronted south; there were nests front and
back, north and south; the chapel eave that was frequented faced towards
the west. In the case of several other houses the nests were on the sunny
side; but I am not so well acquainted with the localities. So far as my
observation goes, I think the house-martin--with all the swallow
tribe--prefers warmth, and, if possible, chooses the sunny side of a
building. A consideration, however, that weighs much with this bird is
the character of the take-off; he likes a space immediately in front of
his nest, free of trees or other obstructions, so that when rushing out
from his little doorway he may not strike against anything. For ages it
has also been remarked that the house-martin likes the proximity of man,
and will build by choice in or over a porch or doorway, whether of house
or stable, or over a window--somewhere where man is about. It is curious
that in this country, so subject to cold and cold winds, so many houses
are built to face north or east, and this fact often compels the
house-martin to build that side, the back of a house being frequently
obstructed. In the case of house No. 1 there was a clear take-off on the
north side, also with the stable. Houses are generally built to face the
road, quite irrespective of the aspect, which custom is the origin of
many cheerless dwellings. I think that house-martin fledglings and eggs
are capable of enduring the utmost heat of our English summer, and the
nests found deserted were abandoned for some other reason. More likely
that the deficiency of insect food caused by the inclement weather
weakened the parent. Sometimes these harmless and useful birds are
cruelly shot. I have never seen a nest injured by heats; on the contrary,
I should imagine that heat would cause the mortar to cohere more firmly,
and that damp would be much more likely to make it unsafe. At house No. 2
the heat in the angle of the two walls was scarcely bearable on a July
day. If a nest were taken down and put in an oven I should doubt if it
would crack. In nature, however, everything depends on locality. The
roads in that locality were mended with flint, and the mortar from
puddles appeared to make good cement. Possibly in some districts there
may be no lime or silicon, and the mortar the birds use may be less
adherent. The more one studies nature the more one becomes convinced that
it is an error to suppose things proceed by a regular rule always
applicable everywhere. All creatures change their habits with
circumstances; consequently no observation can be accepted as final.



AMONG THE NUTS.



The nuts are ripening once more, and it is almost the time to go
a-gipsying--the summer passes like the shadow of a cloud which strikes
the edge of the yellow wheat and comes over and is gone; it does not give
you time to rub out a single ear of corn. Before it is possible to gather
the harvest of thought and observation the summer has passed, and we must
bind the hastily stitched book with the crimson leaves of autumn. Under
these very hazel boughs only yesterday, _i.e._ in May, looking for
cuckoo-sorrel, as the wood-sorrel is called, there rolled down a brown
last year's nut from among the moss of the bank. In the side of this
little brown nut, at its thicker end, a round hole had been made with a
sharp tool which had left the marks of its chiselling. Through this hole
the kernel had been extracted by the skilful mouse. Two more nuts were
found on the same bank, bored by the same carpenter. The holes looked as
if he had turned the nut round and round as he gnawed. Unless the nut had
shrunk, the hole was not large enough to pull the kernel out all at once;
it must have been eaten little by little in many mouthfuls. The same
amount of nibbling would have sawn a circle round the nut, and so,
dividing the shell in two, would have let the kernel out bodily--a plan
more to our fancy; but the mouse is a nibbler, and he preferred to
nibble, nibble, nibble. Hard by one afternoon, as the cows were lazily
swishing their tails coming home to milking, and the shadow of the thick
hedge had already caused the anemones in the grass to close their petals,
there was a slight rustling sound. Out into the cool grass by some
cowslips there came a small dark head. It was an adder, verily a snake in
the grass and flowers. His quick eye--you know the proverb, 'If his ear
were as quick as his eye, No man should pass him by'--caught sight of us
immediately, and he turned back. The hedge was hollow there, and the
mound grown over with close-laid, narrow-leaved ivy. The viper did not
sink in these leaves, but slid with a rustling sound fully exposed above
them. His grey length and the chain of black diamond spots down his back,
his flat head with deadly tooth, did not harmonise as the green snake
does with leaf and grass. He was too marked, too prominent--a venomous
foreign thing, fit for tropic sands and nothing English or native to our
wilds. He seemed like a reptile that had escaped from the glass case of
some collection.

The green snake or grass snake, with yellow-marked head, fits in
perfectly with the floating herbage of the watery places he frequents.
The eye soon grows accustomed to his curves, till he is no more startling
than a frog among the water-crowfoot you are about to gather. To the
adder the mind never becomes habituated; he ever remains repellent. This
adder was close to a house and cowshed, and, indeed, they seem to like to
be near cows. Since then a large silvery slowworm was killed just
there--a great pity, for they are perfectly harmless. We saw, too, a very
large lizard under the heath. Three little effets (efts) ran into one
hole on the bank yesterday. Some of the men in spring went off into the
woods to 'flawing,' _i.e._ to barking the oak which is thrown in May--the
bark is often used now for decoration, like the Spanish cork bark. Some
were talking already of the 'grit' work and looking forward to it, that
is, to mowing and haymaking, which mean better wages. The farmers were
grumbling that their oats were cuckoo oats, not sown till the cuckoo
cried, and not likely to come to much. So, indeed, it fell out, for the
oats looked very thin and spindly when the nuts turned rosy again. At
work hoeing among the 'kelk' or 'kilk,' the bright yellow charlock, the
labourers stood up as the cuckoo flew over singing, and blew cuckoo back
to him in their hollow fists. This is a trick they have, something like
whistling in the fist, and so naturally done as to deceive any one. The
children had been round with the May garland, which takes the place of
the May-pole, and is carried slung on a stick, and covered with a white
cloth, between two little girls. The cloth is to keep the dust and sun
from spoiling the flowers--the rich golden kingcups and the pale anemones
trained about two hoops, one within the other. They take the cloth off to
show you the garland, and surely you must pay them a penny for thought of
old England. Yet there are some who would like to spoil this innocent
festival. I have heard of some wealthy people living in a village who do
their utmost to break up the old custom by giving presents of money to
all the poor children who will go to school on that day instead of
a-Maying. A very pitiful thing truly! Give them the money, and let them
go a-Maying as well. The same bribe they repeat at Christmas to stay the
boys from going round mumming. It is in spring that the folk make most
use of herbs, such as herb tea of gorse bloom. One cottage wife exclaimed
that she had no patience with women so ignorant they did not know how to
use herbs, as wood-sage or wood-betony. Most of the gardens have a few
plants of the milky-veined holy thistle--good, they say, against
inflammations, and in which they have much faith. Soon after the May
garlands the meadow orchis comes up, which is called 'dead men's hands,'
and after that the 'ram's-horn' orchis, which has a twisted petal; and in
the evening the bat, which they call flittermouse, appears again.

The light is never the same on a landscape many minutes together, as all
know who have tried, ever so crudely, to fix the fleeting expression of
the earth with pencil. It is ever changing, and in the same way as you
walk by the hedges day by day there is always some fresh circumstance of
nature, the interest of which in a measure blots out the past. This
morning we found a bramble leaf, something about which has for the moment
put the record of months aside. This bramble leaf was marked with a grey
streak, which coiled and turned and ran along beside the midrib, forming
a sort of thoughtless design, a design without an idea. The Greek fret
seems to our eyes in its regularity and its repetition to have a human
thought in it. The coils and turns upon this leaf, like many other
markings of nature, form a designless design, the idea of which is not
traceable back to a mind. They are the work of a leaf-boring larva which
has eaten its way between the two skins of the leaf, much like boring a
tunnel between the two surfaces of a sheet of paper. If you take a needle
you can insert the point in the burrow and pass it along wherever the
bore is straight, so that the needle lies between the to sides of the
leaf. Off-hand, if any one were asked if it were possible to split a
leaf, he would say no. This little creature, however, has worked along
inside it, and lived there. The upper surface of the leaf is a darker
green, and seems to the touch of firmer texture than the lower; there are
no marks on the under surface, which does not seem touched, so that what
the creature has really done is to split one surface. He has eaten along
underneath it, raising it no doubt a little by the thickness of his body,
as if you crept between the carpet and the floor. The softer under
surface representing the floor is untouched. The woodbine leaves are
often bored like this, and seem to have patterns traced upon them. There
is no particle of matter so small but that it seems to have a living
thing working at it and resolving it into still more minute atoms;
nothing so insignificant but that upon examination it will be found to be
of the utmost value to something alive. Upon almost every fir branch near
the end there are little fragments like cotton, so thick in places as to
quite hang the boughs with threads; these gossamer-like fragments appear
to be left by some insect, perhaps an aphis; and it is curious to note
how very very busy the little willow-wrens are in the fir boughs. They
are constantly at work there; they sing in the firs in the earliest
spring, they stay there all the summer, and now that the edge of autumn
approaches their tiny beaks are still picking up insects the whole day
long. The insects they devour must be as numerous as the fir needles that
lie inches thick on the ground in the copse.

Across a broad, dry, sandy path, worn firm, some thousands of ants
passing to and fro their nest had left a slight trail. They were hurrying
on in full work, when I drew the top of my walking-stick across their
road, obliterating about an inch of it. In an instant the work of the
nest was stopped, and thousands upon thousands of factory hands were
thrown out of employment. The walking-stick had left two little ridges of
sand like minute parallel earthworks drawn across their highway. Those
that came out of the nest on arriving at the little ridge on their side
immediately stopped, worked their antennae in astonishment, then went up
to the top of it, and seemed to try to look round. After a moment they
ran back and touched those that were coming on to communicate the
intelligence. Every ant that came did exactly the same thing; not one of
them passed the little ridge, but all returned. By-and-by the head of the
column began to spread out and search right and left for the lost track.
They scouted this way and they scouted that, they turned and doubled and
went through every possible evolution, hundreds of them, sometimes a
score at once, yet not one of them attempted to go straight forward,
which would have brought them into their old path. It was scarcely thrice
the length of an ant's body to where their path began again; they could
not see or scent, or in any way find out what was so short a distance in
front of them. The most extraordinary thing was that not one ventured to
explore straight forward; it was as if their world came to an end at that
little ridge, and they were afraid to step into chaos. The same actions
were going on behind the other ridge of sand just opposite, an inch away.
There the column of ants that had been out foraging was met with a like
difficulty, and could not find their way. There, too, hundreds of ants
were exploring right and left in every direction except straight forward,
in a perfect buzz of excitement. Once or twice an ant from either party
happened to mount on the parallel ridges at the same time, and if they
had strained forward and stretched out their antennae they could have
almost touched each other. Yet they seemed quite unconscious of each
other's presence. Unless in a well-worn groove a single ant appears
incapable of running in a straight line. At first their motions searching
about suggested the action of a pack of hounds making a cast; hounds,
however, would have very soon gone forward and so picked up the trail.

If I may make a guess at the cause of this singular confusion, I think I
should attribute it to some peculiarity in the brain of the ant, or else
to some consideration of which we are ignorant, but which weighs with
ants, and not to any absence of the physical senses. Because they do not
do as we should do under similar circumstances is no proof that they do
not possess the power to hear and see. Experiments, for instance, have
been made with bees to find out if they have any sense of hearing, by
shouting close to a bee, drawing discordant notes on the violin, striking
pieces of metal together, and so on, to all of which the bee remained
indifferent. What else could she do? Neither of these sounds hurt if she
heard them, nor seemed to threaten danger; they simply conveyed no
impression at all to her mind. Observe your favourite pussy curled up in
the arm-chair at such time as she knows the dishes have been cleared
away, and there is no more chance of wheedling a titbit from you. You may
play the piano, or the violin, or knock with a hammer, or shout your
loudest, she will take no notice, no more than if she actually had no
ears at all. Are you, therefore, to conclude she does not hear you? As
well conclude that people do not hear the thunder because they do not
shout in answer to it. Such noises simply do not concern her, and she
takes no notice. Now, though her eyes be closed, let a strange dog run
in, and at the light pad pad of his feet, scarcely audible on the carpet,
she is up in a moment, blazing with wrath. That is a sound that interests
her. So, too, perhaps, it may be with ants and bees, who may hear and
see, and yet take no apparent notice because the circumstances are not
interesting, and the experiment is to them unintelligible. Fishes in
particular have been often, I think, erroneously judged in this way, and
have been considered deaf, and to have little intelligence, while in
truth the fact is we have not discovered a way of communicating with them
any more than they have found a way of talking with us. Fishes, I know,
are keener of sight than I am when they are interested, and I believe
they can hear equally well, and are not by any means without mind. These
ants that acted so foolishly to appearance may have been influenced by
some former experience of which we know nothing; there may be something
in the past history of the ant which may lead them to profoundly suspect
interference with their path as indicative of extreme danger. Once,
perhaps, many ant-generations ago, there was some creature which acted
thus in order to destroy them. This, of course, is merely an illustration
put forward to suggest the idea that there may be a reason in the brain
of the ant of which we know nothing. I do not know that I myself am any
more rational, for looking back along the path of life I can see now how
I turned and twisted and went to the right and the left in the most
crooked manner, putting myself to endless trouble, when by taking one
single step straight forward in the right direction, if I had only known,
I might have arrived at once at the goal. Can any of us look beyond the
little ridge of one day and see what will happen the day after? Some
hours afterwards, towards evening, I found the ants were beginning to get
over their difficulty. On one side an ant would go forward in a
half-circle, on the other another ant would advance sideways, and meeting
together they would touch their antennae, and then the first would travel
back with the second, and so the line was reestablished. It was very much
as if two batsmen at opposite wickets should run forward each halfway,
and after shaking hands and conversing, one of them should lead the other
safely over.



WALKS IN THE WHEAT-FIELDS.


I.

If you will look at a grain of wheat you will see that it seems folded
up: it has crossed its arms and rolled itself up in a cloak, a fold of
which forms a groove, and so gone to sleep. If you look at it some time,
as people in the old enchanted days used to look into a mirror, or the
magic ink, until they saw living figures therein, you can almost trace a
miniature human being in the oval of the grain. It is narrow at the top,
where the head would be, and broad across the shoulders, and narrow again
down towards the feet; a tiny man or woman has wrapped itself round about
with a garment and settled to slumber. Up in the far north, where the
dead ice reigns, our arctic explorers used to roll themselves in a
sleeping-bag like this, to keep the warmth in their bodies against the
chilliness of the night. Down in the south, where the heated sands of
Egypt never cool, there in the rock-hewn tombs lie the mummies wrapped
and lapped and wound about with a hundred yards of linen, in the hope, it
may be, that spices and balm might retain within the sarcophagus some
small fragment of human organism through endless ages, till at last the
gift of life revisited it. Like a grain of wheat the mummy is folded in
its cloth. And I do not know really whether I might not say that these
little grains of English corn do not hold within them the actual flesh
and blood of man. Transubstantiation is a fact there.

Sometimes the grains are dry and shrivelled and hard as shot, sometimes
they are large and full and have a juiciness about them, sometimes they
are a little bit red, others are golden, many white. The sack stands open
in the market--you can thrust your arm in it a foot deep, or take up a
handful and let it run back like a liquid stream, or hold it in your palm
and balance it, feeling the weight. They are not very heavy as they lie
in the palm, yet these little grains are a ponderous weight that rules
man's world. Wherever they are there is empire. Could imperial Rome have
only grown sufficient wheat in Italy to have fed her legions Caesar would
still be master of three-fourths of the earth. Rome thought more in her
latter days of grapes and oysters and mullets, that change colour as they
die, and singing girls and flute-playing, and cynic verse of
Horace--anything rather than corn. Rome is no more, and the lords of the
world are they who have mastership of wheat. We have the mastership at
this hour by dint of our gold and our hundred-ton guns, but they are
telling our farmers to cast aside their corn, and to grow tobacco and
fruit and anything else that can be thought of in preference. The gold is
slipping away. These sacks in the market open to all to thrust their
hands in are not sacks of corn but of golden sovereigns, half-sovereigns,
new George and the dragon, old George and the dragon, Sydney mint
sovereigns, Napoleons, half-Napoleons, Belgian gold, German gold, Italian
gold; gold scraped and scratched and gathered together like old rags from
door to door. Sacks full of gold, verily I may say that all the gold
poured out from the Australian fields, every pennyweight of it, hundreds
of tons, all shipped over the sea to India, Australia, South Africa,
Egypt, and, above all, America, to buy wheat. It was said that Pompey and
his sons covered the great earth with their bones, for each one died in a
different quarter of the world; but now he would want two more sons for
Australia and America, the two new quarters which are now at work
ploughing, sowing, reaping, without a month's intermission, growing corn
for us. When you buy a bag of flour at the baker's you pay fivepence over
the counter, a very simple transaction. Still you do not expect to get
even that little bag of flour for nothing, your fivepence goes over the
counter in somebody else's till. Consider now the broad ocean as the
counter and yourself to represent thirty-five millions of English people
buying sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen million quarters of wheat from the
nations opposite, and paying for it shiploads of gold.

So that these sacks of corn in the market are truly filled with gold
dust; and how strange it seems at first that our farmers, who are for
ever dabbling with their hands in these golden sands, should be for ever
grumbling at their poverty! 'The nearer the church the farther from God'
is an old country proverb; the nearer to wheat the farther from mammon, I
may construct as an addendum. Quite lately a gentleman told me that while
he grew wheat on his thousand acres he lost just a pound an acre per
annum, _i.e._ a thousand a year out of capital, so that if he had not
happily given up this amusement he would now have been in the workhouse
munching the putty there supplied for bread.

The rag and bone men go from door to door filling an old bag with scraps
of linen, and so innumerable agents of bankers and financiers, vampires
that suck gold, are for ever prowling about collecting every golden coin
they can scent out and shipping it over sea. And what does not go abroad
is in consequence of this great drain sharply locked up in the London
safes as reserves against paper, and cannot be utilised in enterprises or
manufacture. Therefore trade stands still, and factories are closed, and
ship-yards are idle, and beautiful vessels are stored up doing nothing by
hundreds in dock; coal mines left to be filled with water, and furnaces
blown out. Therefore there is bitter distress and starvation, and cries
for relief works, and one meal a day for Board school children, and the
red flag of Socialism is unfurled. All because of these little grains of
wheat.

They talked of bringing artillery, with fevered lips, to roar forth
shrapnel in Trafalgar Square; why not Gatling guns? The artillery did not
come for very shame, but the Guards did, and there were regiments of
infantry in the rear, with glittering bayonets to prod folk into moving
on. All about these little grains of wheat.

These thoughts came into my mind in the winter afternoon at the edge of a
level corn-field, with the copper-sheathed spire of the village church on
my right, the sun going down on the left. The copper did not gleam, it
was dull and brown, no better than discoloured wood, patched with pieces
of later date and another shade of dulness. I wish they would glitter,
some of these steeples or some of our roofs, and so light up the reddish
brown of the elms and the grey lichened oaks. The very rooks are black,
and the starlings and the wintry fieldfares and redwings have no colour
at a distance. They say the metal roofs and domes gleam in Russia, and
even in France, and why not in our rare sunshine? Once now and then you
see a gilded weathercock shine like a day-star as the sun goes down three
miles away, over the dark brown field, where the plough has been going to
and fro through the slow hours. I can see the plough and the horses very
well at three miles, and know what they are doing.

I wish the trees, the elms, would grow tall enough and thick enough to
hide the steeples and towers which stand up so stiff and stark, and bare
and cold, some of them blunted and squab, some of them sharp enough to
impale, with no more shape than a walking-stick, ferrule upwards--every
one of them out of proportion and jarring to the eye. If by good fortune
you can find a spot where you cannot see a steeple or a church tower,
where you can see only fields and woods, you will find it so much more
beautiful, for nature has made it of its kind perfect. The dim sea is
always so beautiful a view because it is not disfigured by these
buildings. In the ships men live; in the houses among the trees they
live; these steeples and towers are empty, and no spirit can dwell in
that which is out of proportion. Scarcely any one can paint a picture of
the country without sticking in one of these repellent structures. The
oast-houses, whose red cones are so plentiful in Kent and Sussex, have
quite a different effect; they have some colour, and by a curious
felicity the builders have hit upon a good proportion, so that the shape
is pleasant; these, too, have some use in the world.

Westward the sun was going down over the sea, and a wild west wind, which
the glow of the sun as it touched the waves seemed to heat into fury,
brought up the distant sound of the billows from the beach. A line of
dark Spanish oaks from which the sharp pointed acorns were dropping,
darkest green oaks, shut out the shore. A thousand starlings were flung
up into the air out of these oaks, as if an impatient hand had cast them
into the sky; then down they fell again, with a ceaseless whistling and
clucking; up they went and down they came, lost in the deep green foliage
as if they had dropped in the sea. The long level of the wheat-field
plain stretched out from my feet towards the far-away Downs, so level
that the first hedge shut off the fields beyond; and every now and then
over these hedges there rose up the white forms of sea-gulls drifting to
and fro among the elms. White sea-gulls--birds of divination, you might
say--a good symbol of the times, for now we plough the ocean. The barren
sea! In the Greek poets you may find constant reference to it as that
which could not be reaped or sowed. Ulysses, to betoken his madness, took
his plough down to the shore and drew furrows in the sand--the sea that
even Demeter, great goddess, could not sow nor bring to any fruition. Yet
now the ocean is our wheat-field and ships are our barns. The sea-gull
should be painted on the village tavern sign instead of the golden
wheatsheaf.

There could be no more flat and uninteresting surface than this field, a
damp wet brown, water slowly draining out of the furrows, not a bird that
I can see. No hare certainly, or partridge, or even a rabbit--nothing to
sit or crouch--on that cold surface, tame and level as the brown cover of
a book. They like something more human and comfortable; just as we creep
into nooks and corners of rooms and into cosy arm-chairs, so they like
tufts or some growth of shelter, or mounds that are dry, between hedges
where there is a bite for them. I can trace nothing on this surface, so
heavily washed by late rain. Let now the harriers come, and instantly the
hounds' second sense of smell picks up the invisible sign of the hare
that has crossed it in the night or early dawn, and runs it as swiftly as
if he were lifting a clue of thread. The dull surface is all written over
with hieroglyphics to the hound, he can read and translate to us in
joyous tongue. Or the foxhounds carry a bee-line straight from hedge to
hedge, and after them come the hoofs, prospecting deeply into the earth,
dashing down fibre and blade, crunching up the tender wheat and battering
it to pieces. It will rise again all the fresher and stronger, for there
is something human in wheat, and the more it is trampled on the better it
grows. Despots grind half the human race, and despots stronger than
man--plague, pestilence, and famine--grind the whole; and yet the world
increases, and the green wheat of the human heart is not to be trampled
out.

The starlings grew busier and busier in the dark green Spanish oaks,
thrown up as if a shell had burst among them; suddenly their clucking and
whistling ceased, the speeches of contention were over, a vote of
confidence had been passed in their Government, and the House was silent.
The pheasants in the park shook their wings and crowed 'kuck, kuck--kow,'
and went to roost; the water in the furrows ceased to reflect; the dark
earth grew darker and damper; the elms lost their reddish brown; the sky
became leaden behind the ridge of the Downs; and the shadow of night fell
over the field.

Twenty-five years ago I went into a camera obscura, where you see
miniature men and women, coloured photographs alive and moving, trees
waving, now and then dogs crossing the bright sun picture. I was only
there a few moments, and I have never been in one since, and yet so
inexplicable a thing is memory, the picture stands before me now clear as
if it were painted and tangible. So many millions of pictures have come
and gone upon the retina, and yet I can single out this one in an
instant, and take it down as you would a book from a shelf. The millions
of coloured etchings that have fixed themselves there in the course of
those years are all in due order in the portfolio of the mind, and yet
they cannot occupy the space of a pin's point. They have neither length,
breadth, nor thickness, none of the qualifications of mathematical
substance, and yet they must in some way be a species of matter. The fact
indicates the possibility of still more subtle existences. Now I wish I
could put before you a coloured, living, moving picture, like that of the
camera obscura, of some other wheat-fields at a sunnier time. They were
painted on the surface of a plain, set round about with a margin of green
downs. They were large enough to have the charm of vague, indefinite
extension, and yet all could be distinctly seen. Large squares of green
corn that was absorbing its yellow from the sunlight; chess squares,
irregularly placed, of brown furrows; others of rich blood-red trifolium;
others of scarlet sainfoin and blue lucerne, gardens of scarlet poppies
here and there. Not all of these, of course, at once, but they followed
so quickly in the summer days that they seemed to be one and the same
pictures, and had you painted them altogether on the same canvas,
together with ripe wheat, they would not have seemed out of place. Never
was such brilliant colour; it was chalk there, and on chalk the colours
are always clearer, the poppies deeper, the yellow mustard and charlock a
keener yellow; the air, too, is pellucid. Waggons going along the tracks;
men and women hoeing; ricks of last year still among clumps of trees,
where the chimneys and gables of farmhouses are partly visible; red-tiled
barns away yonder; a shepherd moving his hurdles; away again the black
funnel of an idle engine, and the fly-wheel above hawthorn bushes--all so
distinct and close under that you might almost fear to breathe for fear
of dimming the mirror. The few white clouds sailing over seemed to belong
to the fields on which their shadows were now foreshortened, now
lengthened, as if they were really part of the fields, like the crops,
and the azure sky so low down as to be the roof of the house and not at
all a separate thing. And the sun a lamp that you might almost have
pushed along his course faster with your hand; a loving and interesting
sun that wanted the wheat to ripen, and stayed there in the slow-drawn
arc of the summer day to lend a hand. Sun and sky and clouds close here
and not across any planetary space, but working with us in the same
field, shoulder to shoulder, with man. Then you might see the white doves
yonder flutter up suddenly out of the trees by the farm, little flecks of
white clouds themselves, and everywhere all throughout the plain an
exquisite silence, a delicious repose, not one clang or harshness of
sound to shatter the beauty of it. There you might stand on the high down
among the thyme and watch it, hour after hour, and still no interruption;
nothing to break it up. It was something like the broad folio of an
ancient illuminated manuscript, in gold, gules, blue, green; with
foliated scrolls and human figures, somewhat clumsy and thick, but
quaintly drawn, and bold in their intense realism.

There was another wheat-field by the side of which I used to walk
sometimes in the evenings, as the grains in the cars began to grow firm.
The path ran for a mile beside it--a mile of wheat in one piece--all
those million million stalks the same height, all with about the same
number of grains in each car, all ripening together. The hue of the
surface travelled along as you approached; the tint of yellow shifted
farther like the reflection of sunlight on water, but the surface was
really much the same colour everywhere. It seemed a triumph of culture
over such a space, such regularity, such perfection of myriads of plants
springing in their true lines at the same time, each particular ear
perfect, and a mile of it. Perfect work with the plough, the drill, the
harrow in every detail, and yet such breadth. Let your hand touch the
ears lightly as you walk--drawn through them as if over the side of a
boat in water--feeling the golden heads. The sparrows fly out every now
and then ahead; some of the birds like their corn as it hardens, and some
while it is soft and full of milky sap. There are hares within, and many
a brood of partridge chicks that cannot yet use their wings. Thick as the
seed itself the feathered creatures have been among the wheat since it
was sown. Finches more numerous than the berries on the hedges; sparrows
like the finches multiplied by finches, linnets, rooks, like leaves on
the trees, wood-pigeons whose crops are like bushel baskets for capacity;
and now as it ripens the multitude will be multiplied by legions, and as
it comes to the harvest there is a fresh crop of sparrows from the nests
in the barns, you may see a brown cloud of them a hundred yards long.
Besides which there were the rabbits that ate the young green blades, and
the mice that will be busy in the sheaves, and the insects from
spring-time to granary, a nameless host uncounted. A whole world, as it
were, let loose upon the wheat, to eat, consume, and wither it, and yet
it conquers the whole world. The great field you see was filled with gold
corn four feet deep as a pitcher is filled with water to the brim. Of
yore the rich man is said, in the Roman classic, to have measured his
money, so here you might have measured it by the rood. The sunbeams sank
deeper and deeper into the wheatears, layer upon layer of light, and the
colour deepened by these daily strokes. There was no bulletin to tell the
folk of its progress, no Nileometer to mark the rising flood of the wheat
to its hour of overflow. Yet there went through the village a sense of
expectation, and men said to each other, 'We shall be there soon.' No one
knew the day--the last day of doom of the golden race; every one knew it
was nigh. One evening there was a small square piece cut at one side, a
little notch, and two shocks stood there in the twilight. Next day the
village sent forth its army with their crooked weapons to cut and slay.
It used to be an era, let me tell you, when a great farmer gave the
signal to his reapers; not a man, woman, or child that did not talk of
that. Well-to-do people stopped their vehicles and walked out into the
new stubble. Ladies came, farmers, men of low degree, everybody--all to
exchange a word or two with the workers. These were so terribly in
earnest at the start they could scarcely acknowledge the presence even of
the squire. They felt themselves so important, and were so full, and so
intense and one-minded in their labour, that the great of the earth might
come and go as sparrows for aught they cared. More men and more men were
put on day by day, and women to bind the sheaves, till the vast field
held the village, yet they seemed but a handful buried in the tunnels of
the golden mine: they were lost in it like the hares, for as the wheat
fell, the shocks rose behind them, low tents of corn. Your skin or mine
could not have stood the scratching of the straw, which is stiff and
sharp, and the burning of the sun, which blisters like red-hot iron. No
one could stand the harvest-field as a reaper except he had been born and
cradled in a cottage, and passed his childhood bareheaded in July heats
and January snows. I was always fond of being out of doors, yet I used to
wonder how these men and women could stand it, for the summer day is
long, and they were there hours before I was up. The edge of the
reap-hook had to be driven by force through the stout stalks like a
sword, blow after blow, minute after minute, hour after hour; the back
stooping, and the broad sun throwing his fiery rays from a full disc on
the head and neck. I think some of them used to put handkerchiefs doubled
up in their hats as pads, as in the East they wind the long roll of the
turban about the head, and perhaps they would have done better if they
had adopted the custom of the South and wound a long scarf about the
middle of the body, for they were very liable to be struck down with such
internal complaints as come from great heat. Their necks grew black, much
like black oak in old houses. Their open chests were always bare, and
flat, and stark, and never rising with rounded bust-like muscle as the
Greek statues of athletes.

The breast-bone was burned black, and their arms, tough as ash, seemed
cased in leather. They grew visibly thinner in the harvest-field, and
shrunk together--all flesh disappearing, and nothing but sinew and muscle
remaining. Never was such work. The wages were low in those days, and it
is not long ago, either--I mean the all-year-round wages; the reaping was
piecework at so much per acre--like solid gold to men and women who had
lived on dry bones, as it were, through the winter. So they worked and
slaved, and tore at the wheat as if they were seized with a frenzy; the
heat, the aches, the illness, the sunstroke, always impending in the
air--the stomach hungry again before the meal was over, it was nothing.
No song, no laugh, no stay--on from morn till night, possessed with a
maddened desire to labour, for the more they could cut the larger the sum
they would receive; and what is man's heart and brain to money? So hard,
you see, is the pressure of human life that these miserables would have
prayed on their knees for permission to tear their arms from the socket,
and to scorch and shrivel themselves to charred human brands in the
furnace of the sun.

Does it not seem bitter that it should be so? Here was the wheat, the
beauty of which I strive in vain to tell you, in the midst of the flowery
summer, scourging them with the knot of necessity; that which should give
life pulling the life out of them, rendering their existence below that
of the cattle, so far as the pleasure of living goes. Without doubt many
a low mound in the churchyard--once visible, now level--was the sooner
raised over the nameless dead because of that terrible strain in the few
weeks of the gold fever. This is human life, real human life--no rest, no
calm enjoyment of the scene, no generous gift of food and wine lavishly
offered by the gods--the hard fist of necessity for ever battering man to
a shapeless and hopeless fall.

The whole village lived in the field; a corn-land village is always the
most populous, and every rood of land thereabouts, in a sense, maintains
its man. The reaping, and the binding up and stacking of the sheaves, and
the carting and building of the ricks, and the gleaning, there was
something to do for every one, from the 'olde, olde, very olde man,' the
Thomas Parr of the hamlet, down to the very youngest child whose little
eye could see, and whose little hand could hold a stalk of wheat. The
gleaners had a way of binding up the collected wheatstalks together so
that a very large quantity was held tightly in a very small compass. The
gleaner's sheaf looked like the knot of a girl's hair woven in and bound.
It was a tradition of the wheat field handed down from generation to
generation, a thing you could not possibly do unless you had been shown
the secret--like the knots the sailors tie, a kind of hand art. The
wheatstalk being thick at one end makes the sheaf heavier and more solid
there, and so in any manner of fastening it or stacking it, it takes a
rounded shape like a nine-pin; the round ricks are built thick in the
middle and lessen gradually toward the top and toward the ground. The
warm yellow of the straw is very pleasant to look at on a winter's day
under a grey sky; so, too, the straw looks nice and warm and comfortable,
thrown down thickly in the yards for the roan cattle.

After the village has gone back to its home still the work of the wheat
is not over; there is the thatching with straw of last year, which is
bleached and contrasts with the yellow of the fresh-gathered crop. Next
the threshing; and meantime the ploughs are at work, and very soon there
is talk of seed-time.

I used to look with wonder when I was a boy at the endless length of wall
and the enormous roof of a great tithe barn. The walls of Spanish
convents, with little or no window to break the vast monotony, somewhat
resemble it: the convent is a building, but does not look like a home; it
is too big, too general. So this barn, with its few windows, seemed too
immense to belong to any one man. The tithe barn has so completely
dropped out of modern life that it may be well to briefly mention that
its use was to hold the tenth sheaf from every wheat-field in the parish.
The parson's tithe was the real actual tenth sheaf bodily taken from
every field of corn in the district. A visible tenth, you see; a very
solid thing. Imagine the vast heap they would have made, imagine the
hundreds and hundreds of sacks of wheat they filled when they were
threshed. I have often thought that it would perhaps be a good thing if
this contribution of the real tenth could be brought back again for
another purpose. If such a barn could be filled now, and its produce
applied to the help of the poor and aged and injured of the village, we
might get rid of that blot on our civilisation--the workhouse. Mr.
Besant, in his late capital story, 'The Children of Gibeon,' most truly
pointed out that it was custom which rendered all men indifferent to the
sufferings of their fellow-creatures. In the old Roman days men were
crucified so often that it ceased even to be a show; the soldiers played
at dice under the miserable wretches: the peasant women stepping by
jested and laughed and sang. Almost in our own time dry skeletons creaked
on gibbets at every cross-road:--

  When for thirty shillings men were hung,
   And the thirst for blood grew stronger,
  Men's lives were valued then at a sheep's--
   Thank God that lasts no longer.

So strong is custom and tradition, and the habit of thought it weaves
about us, that I have heard ancient and grave farmers, when the fact was
mentioned with horror, hum, and ah! and handle their beards, and mutter
that 'they didn't know as 'twas altogether such a bad thing as they was
hung for sheep-stealing.' There were parsons then, as now, in every rural
parish preaching and teaching something they called the Gospel. Why did
they not rise as one man and denounce this ghastly iniquity, and demand
its abolition? They did nothing of the sort; they enjoyed their pipes and
grog very comfortably.

The gallows at the cross-roads is gone, but the workhouse stands, and
custom, cruel custom, that tyrant of the mind, has inured us (to use an
old word) to its existence in our midst. Apart from any physical
suffering, let us only consider the slow agony of the poor old reaper
when he feels his lusty arm wither, and of the grey bowed wife as they
feel themselves drifting like a ship ashore to that stony waiting-room.
For it is a waiting-room till the grave receives them. Economically, too,
the workhouse is a heavy loss and drag.

Could we, then, see the tithe barn filled again with golden wheat for
this purpose of help to humanity, it might be a great and wonderful good.
With this tenth to feed the starving and clothe the naked; with the tenth
to give the little children a midday meal at the school--that would be
natural and true. In the course of time, as the land laws lessen their
grip, and the people take possession of the earth on which they stand, it
is more than probable that something of this kind will really come about.
It would be only simple justice after so many centuries--it takes so many
hundreds of years to get even that.

'Workhouse, indeed!' I have heard the same ancient well-to-do greybeards
ejaculate, 'workhouse! they ought to be very thankful they have got such
a place to go to!'

All the village has been to the wheat-field with reaping-hooks, and
waggons and horses, the whole strength of man has been employed upon it;
little brown hands and large brown hands, blue eyes and dark eyes have
been there searching about; all the intelligence of human beings has been
brought to bear, and yet the stubble is not empty. Down there come again
the ever-increasing clouds of sparrows; as a cloud rises here another
cloud descends beyond it, a very mist and vapour as it were of wings. It
makes one wonder to think where all the nests could have been; there
could hardly have been enough caves and barns for all these to have been
bred in. Every one of the multitude has a keen pair of eyes and a hungry
beak, and every single individual finds something to eat in the stubble.
Something that was not provided for them, crumbs that have escaped from
this broad table, and there they are every day for weeks together, still
finding food. If you will consider the incredible number of little
mouths, and the busy rate at which they ply them hour by hour, you may
imagine what an immense number of grains of wheat must have escaped man's
hand, for you must remember that every time they peck they take a whole
grain. Down, too, come the grey-blue wood-pigeons and the wild
turtle-doves. The singing linnets come in parties, the happy
greenfinches, the streaked yellow-hammers, as if any one had delicately
painted them in separate streaks, and not with a wash of colour, the
brown buntings, chaffinches--out they come from the hazel copses, where
the nuts are dropping, and the hedge berries turning red, and every one
finds something to his liking. There are the seeds of the charlock and
the thistle, and a hundred other little seeds, insects, and minute
atom-like foods it needs a bird's eye to know. They are never still, they
sweep up into the hedges and line the boughs, calling and talking, and
away again to another rood of stubble without any order or plan of
search, just sowing themselves about like wind-blown seeds. Up and down
the day through with a zest never failing. It is beautiful to listen to
them and watch them, if any one will stay under an oak by the nut-tree
boughs, here the dragon-flies shoot to and fro in the shade as if the
direct rays of the sun would burn their delicate wings; they hunt chiefly
in the shade. The linnets will suddenly sweep up into the boughs and
converse sweetly over your head. The sunshine lingers and grows sweeter
as the autumn gives tokens of its coming in the buff bryony leaf, and the
acorn filling its cup. They are so happy, the birds, yet there are few to
listen to them. I have often looked round and wondered that no one else
was about hearkening to them. Altogether, perhaps, they lead safer lives
in England than anywhere else. We do not shoot them; the fowlers do
mischief, still they make but little impression; there are few birds of
prey, and there is not that fearful bloodthirstiness that makes a
tropical forest so terrible in fact, under its outward show of glowing
colour. There, with cruel hawks and owls, and serpents, and beasts of
prey, a bird's life is one long terror. They are ever on the watch here,
but they are not so fearfully harassed, and are not certain as it were
beforehand to be torn to pieces. The land is well cultivated, and the
more the culture the more the food for them. Frost and snow are their
greatest enemies, but even these do not often last a great while. It is a
land of woods, and above all of hedges, which are much more favourable to
birds than forests, so that they are better off in England than in other
countries. From the sowing to the reaping, the wheat-field gives a
constant dole like the monasteries of old, only here it is no crust, but
a free and bountiful largess. Then the stubble must be broken up by the
plough, and again there is a fresh helping for them. Brown partridge, and
black rook, and yellowhammer, all hues and degrees, come to the
wheat-field.


II.

Every day something new is introduced into farming, and yet the old
things are not driven out. Every one knows that steam is now used on the
farm for ploughing and threshing and working machinery at the farmstead,
and one would have thought that by this time it would have superseded all
other motive powers. Yet this very day I counted twenty great cart-horses
at work in one ploughed field. They were all in pairs, harnessed to
harrows, rollers, and ploughs, and out of the twenty, nineteen were
dark-coloured. Huge great horses, broad of limb, standing high up above
the level surface of the open field, great towers of strength, almost
prehistoric in their massiveness. Enough of them to drag a great cannon
up into a battery on the heights. The day before, passing the same
farm--it was Sunday--a great bay cart-horse mare standing contentedly in
a corner of the yard looked round to see who it was going by, and the sun
shone on the glossy hair, smooth as if it had been brushed, the long
black mane hung over the arching neck, the large dark eyes looked at us
so quietly--a real English picture. The black funnel of the steam-engine
has not driven the beautiful cart-horses out of the fields. They have
been there for centuries, and there they stay; the notched, broad wheel
of the steam-plough has but just begun to leave its trail on the earth.
New things come, but the old do not go away. One life is but a summer's
day compared with the long cycle of years of agriculture, and yet it
seems that a whole storm, as it were, of innovations has burst upon the
fields ever since I can recollect, and, as years go, I am still in the
green leaf. The labouring men used to tell me how they went reaping, for
although you may see what is called reaping still going on at
harvest-time, it is not reaping. True reaping is done with a hook alone
and the hand; all the present reaping is 'vagging,' with a hook in one
hand and a bent stick in the other, and instead of drawing the hook
towards him and cutting it, the reaper chops at the straw as he might at
an enemy. Then came the reaping machines, that simply cut the wheat, and
left it lying flat on the ground, which were constantly altered and
improved. Now there are the wire and string binders, that not only cut
the corn, but gather it together and bind it in sheaves--a vast saving in
labour. Still the reaping-hook endures and is used on all small farms,
and to some extent on large ones, to round off the work of the machine;
the new things come, but the old still remains. In itself the
reaping-hook is an enlarged sickle, and the sickle was in use in Roman
times, and no man knows how long before that. With it the reaper cut off
the ears of the wheat only, leaving the tall straw standing, much as if
it had been a pruning-knife. It is the oldest of old implements--very
likely it was made of a chip of flint at first, and then of bronze, and
then of steel, and now at Sheffield or Birmingham in its enlarged form of
the 'vagging' hook. In the hand of Ceres it was the very symbol of
agriculture, and that was a goodly time ago. At this hour they say the
sickle is still used in several parts of England where the object is more
to get the straw than the ear.

On the broad page of some ancient illuminated manuscript, centuries old,
you may see the churl, or farmer's man, knocking away with his flail at
the grain on the threshing-floor. The knock knocking of the flail went on
through the reigns of how many kings and queens I do not know, they are
all forgotten, God wot, down to the edge of our own times. The good old
days when there was snow at Christmas, and fairs were held and pamphlets
printed on the frozen Thames, when comets were understood as fate, and
when the corn laws starved half England--those were the times of the
flail. Every barn--and there were then barns on every farm, think of the
number--had its threshing-floor opposite the great open doors, and all
the dread winter through the flail resounded. Men looked upon it as their
most cherished privilege to get that employment in the bitter dark hours
of the hungry months. It was life itself to them: to stand there swinging
that heavy bit of wood all day meant meat and drink, or rather cheese and
drink, for themselves and families. It was a post as valued as a civil
list pension nowadays, for you see there were crowds of men in these corn
villages, but only a few of them could get barns to snop away in.

The flail is made of two stout staves of wood jointed with leather. They
had flails of harder make than that, harder than the iron nails used in
the wars of old times, _i.e._ Hunger, Necessity, Fate, to beat them on
the back, and thresh them on the floor of the earth. The corn laws are
gone, half the barns are gone, our granaries now are afloat, steam
threshes our ricks--in a few days doing what used to take months, and you
would think that this simple implement would have disappeared for ever.
Instead of which flails are still in use on small farms--which it is now
the cry to multiply--for knocking out little quantities of grain for
feeding purposes. The gleaners used to use them to thresh out their
collections. There would be no difficulty in getting a flail if anybody
had a mind to make a museum of such things; and if the force of modern
ideas should succeed in dividing the land among small occupiers, the
flail will become as common as ever.

There was an old waggon shown at the Royal Agricultural Show in London
said to be two hundred years old; probably it had had so many new wheels,
and shafts, and sides, as to have physiologically changed its
constitution--still there were waggons in those days, and there are
waggons now. Express trains go by in a great hurry--the slow waggons
gather up the warm hay and the yellow wheat, just as they did hundreds of
years since. The broad-browed oxen guided by the ancient goad draw the
old wooden plough over the slopes of the Downs, though the telegraph
wires are in sight. You may see men sowing broadcast just as they did a
thousand years ago on the broad English acres. Yet the light iron plough,
and the heavy drill with its four horses, the steam-plough, winnowing
machines, root-pulpers, are manufactured and cast out into the fields,
and machinery, machinery, machinery, still increases.

If I were a painter I should like to paint all this; I should like to
paint a great steam-ploughing engine and its vast wheels, with its sweep
of smoke, sometimes drifting low over the fallow, sometimes rising into
the air in regular shape, like the pine tree of Pliny over Pompeii's
volcano. A wonderful effect it has in the still air; sweet white violets
in a corner by the hedge still there in all their beauty. For I think
that the immense realism of the iron wheels makes the violet yet more
lovely; the more they try to drive out Nature with a fork the more she
returns, and the soul clings the stronger to the wild flowers. I should
like to paint the lessening square of the wheat-field, the reaping
machine continually cutting the square smaller, as if it traversed the
Greek fret. People of the easel would not find it easy to depict the
half-green, half-made hay floating in the air behind a haymaking machine.
Sunlight falls on the modern implements just the same as on the old
wooden plough and the oxen. To be true, pictures of our fields should
have them both, instead of which all the present things are usually
omitted, and we are presented with landscapes that might date from the
first George. Turner painted the railway train and made it at once ideal,
poetical, and classical. His 'Rain, Steam, and Speed,' which displays a
modern subject, is a most wonderful picture. If a man chose his hour
rightly, the steam-plough under certain atmospheric conditions would give
him as good a subject as a Great Western train. He who has got the sense
of beauty in his eye can find it in things as they really are, and needs
no stagey time of artificial pastorals to furnish him with a sham nature.
Idealise to the full, but idealise the real, else the picture is a sham.

All the old things remain on the farm, but the village is driven out--the
village that used to come as one man to the reaping. Machinery has not
altered the earth, but it has altered the conditions of men's lives, and
as work decreases, so men decrease. Some go the cities, some emigrate;
the young men drift away, and there is none of that home life that there
used to be. They are going to try to re-settle our land by altering the
laws. Most certainly the laws ought to be altered, and must be altered,
still it is evident to any one of dispassionate thought, while such
immense quantities of gold are sent away from us, profit cannot be made
in farming either small or great. The crop is the same in either case,
and if there is no sale for the produce, it matters very little whether
you farm four acres or four hundred.

New hats and jackets, but the same old faces. A stout old farmer sat at
the side of his barn door on the hatch leaning against the post. His body
was as rotund as a full sack of wheat, his great chin and his great
checks were full; a man very solidly set as it were, and he eyed me, a
stranger, as I passed down the lane, with mistrust and suspicion in every
line of his face. Out of the hunting season a stranger might perhaps have
been seen there once in six months, and this was that once. The British
bull-dog growled in his countenance--very likely pleasantness itself to
those he knew, grimness itself to others. The sunlight fell full into the
barn, the great doors wide open; there were sacks on the other side of
the door piled up inside, a heap of grain, and two men turning the
winches of a winnowing machine. New hats, but old faces. Could his
great-great-grandfather have been dug up and set in that barn door, he
would have looked just the same, so would the sacks, and the wheat, and
the sunshine. At the market town, where the auctioneer's hammer goes tap
tap over bullocks and sheep, crowds of men gather together,--farmers, and
bailiffs, and shepherds, drovers and labourers--and their clothes are
different, but there are the same old weather-beaten faces. Faces that
you may see in the ancient illuminated manuscripts, in the realistic wood
engravings of early printed books, in the etchings of last century, the
same lines and expression. The earth has marked them all. In a modern
country sketch or picture you would _not_ find them, they would be
smoothed away--drawing-room faces, made transparent, in attitudes like
easy-limbed girls delicately proportioned These are not country people.
Country people are the same now in appearance as when the old artists
honestly drew them; sturdy and square, bulky and slow, no attitudes, no
drawing-room grace, no Christmas card glossiness; somewhat stiff of limb,
with a distinct flavour of hay and straw about them, and no enamel. In
the villages cottagers have no ideas of tastefully disposing their
mantles about their shoulders, or of dressing for the occasion. I do not
know how to describe the form of a middle-aged cottage woman on a stormy
day with a large, greenish umbrella, a round bonnet, huge and enclosing
all the head, back, and sides, like the vast helm of the knights, a sort
of circular cloak, stout ankles well visible, and sometimes pattens; the
wearer inside all this decidedly bulky, and the whole apparatus coming
along through mud and rain with great deliberation. Inside the round
bonnet a ruddy, apple-checked face, just such a one as used to go to mass
in Sir John the priest's time, before the images were knocked out of the
rood-loft at the church there. The boys and girls play in the ditches
till they go to school, and they play in the hedges and ditches every
hour they can get out of school, and the moment their time is up they go
to work among the hedges and ditches, and though they may have had to
read standard authors at school, no sooner do they get among the furrows
than they talk hedge and ditch language. They do not talk Pope, or
Milton, or Addison; they 'knaaws,' 'they be a-gwoin thur,' it's a 'geat,'
and a 'vield,' and a 'vurrow.' These are the old faces you see, the same
old powers are at work to fashion them. Heavy, blind blows of the Wind,
the Rain, Frost, and Heat, have beaten up their faces in rude _repousse_
work. They have nails in their boots, but new hats on their heads; he who
paints them aright should paint the old nailed boots, but also the new
hats and the Waltham watches. Why do they not read? All have been taught,
and curious as the inconsistency may seem, they all value the privilege
of being _able_ to read and write, and yet they do not exercise it,
except in a casual, random way. I for one, when the public schools began
all through the rural districts, thought that at last the printing-press
was going to reach the country people. In a measure it has done so, but
in a flickering, uncertain manner; they read odd bits which come drifting
to their homes in irregular ways, just as people on the coast light their
fires with fragments of wreck, chance-thrown by the stormy spring-tides
on the beach. So the fire of the mind in country places is fed with chips
and splinters, and shapeless pieces that do not fit together, and no one
sits down to read. I think I see two reasons why country people do not
read, the first of which, thanks be to Allah, will endure for ever; the
second may perhaps disappear in time, when those who make books come to
see what is wanted.

First, nature has given them so much to read out of doors, such a vast
and ever-changing picture-book, that white paper stained with black type
indoors seems dry and without meaning. A barnyard chanticleer and his
family afford more matter than the best book ever written. His coral red
comb, his silvery scaled legs, his reddened feathers, and his fiery
attitudes, his jolly crow, and all his ways--there's an illustrated
pamphlet, there's a picture-block book for you in one creature only!
Reckon his family, the tender little chicks, the enamelled eggs, the
feeding every day, the roosting, the ever-present terror of the red
wood-dog (as the gipsies call the fox)--here's a Chronicon Nurembergense
with a thousand woodcuts; a whole history. This seems a very simple
matter, and yet it is true that people become intensely absorbed in
watching and living with such things. Add to these the veined elms, whose
innumerable branches divide like the veins or the nerves of a
physiological diagram, or like sprays of delicate seaweed slow turning
from their winter outline to the soft green shading of summer; add to
these the upspringing of the wheat and its slow coming to that maturity
of gold which marks the fulness of the year; consider, then, the
incomparable beauty of the mowing grass. Now remember that they live
among these things, and by daily iteration the dullest mind becomes
wrapped up in and welded to them. Black type on white paper is but a flat
surface after these. Secondly, the books and papers themselves, made and
printed in such enormous quantities, do not touch a country mind. They
have such a cityfied air. Very correct, very scientific, and extremely
well edited, but thin in the matter. Something so stagey--you may see it,
for instance, in the books for children introducing fairies, which
fairies have short skirts, and caper about exactly like a pantomime among
stage frogs and stage mushrooms, and it is quite clear that the artist
who drew them, and the author who wrote of them, actually drew their
inspiration from the boards of a theatre. They have never dreamed among
the cowslips of the real fields, they have never watched the ways of the
birds from under an oak. Children instinctively see that these toy-books
are not natural, and do not care for them; they may be illustrated in
gold and colours, sumptuously got up, and yet they are failures. Children
do not take these to bed with them. I have seen this myself; I bought so
many books to please children, but could never do it till by chance some
one sent a little American toy-book, 'The History of the Owl and his
Little One, and the Manoeuvres of the Fox.' This had a little of the
spirit of the woods in it, and was read and re-read for a year. Only the
other day a lady was telling me much the same thing, how she had bought
book after book but could never hit on anything to please her little boy,
till at last she found an American publication, roughly illustrated,
which he always had by him. It is very strange that the art of the
old-fashioned book for children has gone over to New York, which seems to
us the land of newness.

For grown-up people the modern books which are sent out in such numbers,
often very cheap, have likewise an artificial cityfied air so obviously
got up and theatrical, such a mark of machinery on them, all stamped and
chucked out by the thousand, that they have no attraction for a people
who live with nature, and even in old age retain a certain childlike
faith in honesty and genuine work. The reprints of good old authors, too,
which may be had for a few pennies now, are so edited away that all the
golden ring of the metal is clipped out of them. Overlaid with notes, and
analyses, and critical exegesis, the original throb of the author's heart
has disappeared from these polished bones. Just to suggest the book that
would please the country reader, look for a moment at those works which
came into existence at the very first dawn of printing--those volumes
with strongly drawn and Durer-like illustrations, very rough, and without
perspective, but whose meaning is at once understood, and which somehow
convey what I may call a genuine impression. Any countryman would tell
you at once that the illustrations of half the books of the present day
are mere vamped-up shallowness, drawn from a city man's mind in a city
room by gaslight. You must consider that the countryman who lives out of
doors, and always with nature, is, as regards his reading, very much in
the same mental position as the people who lived four hundred years
ago--in the days when costly and rare manuscripts, few and far between,
chained to the desk, were just being superseded by printed books at a
fifth the price, which could be actually bought and carried home. Till
quite lately so few books have circulated in country places that they may
be said to have been like these old manuscripts. The early printed books
were simply the manuscripts printed, and that is why they remain to this
day the finest specimens of typography, quite incomparable and not to be
approached by present-day printers. The art of the scribe, elaborated
through centuries, had reached a marvellous perfection; the first printer
copied them--the magic Fust actually sold his first books as manuscripts.
Since printers have only copied printers, books have steadily declined in
excellence. I have been obliged to use the outside to suggest the
inside--country readers want that which is genuine, honest, and, in a
word, really good; you cannot please them with vamped-up book-making. Two
books occur to me at this moment which would be greatly appreciated in
every country home, from that of the peasant who has just begun to read
to the houses of well-educated and well-to-do people, if they only knew
of their existence and their contents--of course provided they were cheap
enough, for country people have to be careful of their money nowadays. I
allude to Darwin's 'Climbing Plants' and to his 'Earthworms;' these are
astonishing works of singular patience and careful observation. The first
gives most fascinating facts about such a common plant, for example, as
the hedge bryony and the circular motion of its tendrils. Any farmer, for
instance, will tell you that the hop-bine will insist upon going round
the pole in one direction, and you cannot persuade it to go the other.
These circular movements seem almost to resemble those of the planets
about their centre, all things down to the ether seem to have a rotatory
motion; and some foreign plants which he grew send their far-extended
tendrils round and round with so patent a movement that you can see it
hour by hour like the hand of a clock. Perhaps the little book on
earthworms is a yet more wonderful achievement of this great genius, who
had not only untiring patience to observe and verify, but also possessed
imagination, and could thereby see the motive idea at work behind the
facts. At first it has a repellent sound, but we quickly learn how clumsy
and prejudiced have been our views of the despised worm thrown up by
every ploughshare.

I have spoken of the veined elms and their thousand thousand branches
that divide like the nerves; from each of these nerves of living wood
there has fallen its breathing lungs of leaf. Where are these million
leaves? By night the worm has drawn them into his gallery beneath the
surface, and they have formed his food to again become the richest guano,
to help the succulent growth of green grass and corn. Merely for profit
alone, the profit of this digested food for plants, the agriculturist
should preserve some trees that their leaves may thus be applied. The
despised worm, the lowly worm, is actually so exquisitely organised that
the whole of its body is sensitive to light, and is as conscious of the
ray as the pupil of your own eye. Here is great and good work like that
of those classics, the manuscripts of which were the first to be copied
by the early printers, and books like this would be well thumbed of the
country reader.

In a degree the interior of the country bears a certain resemblance to
the state of Spain. Of that sunny land, travellers tell us the strangest
inconsistencies of the people and natural products. It is an arid land,
without verdure, nothing but prickly aloes and scattered orange groves,
mere dots in a sunburnt expanse. Silver and gold abound, and every other
metal, yet none of the mines pay except the quicksilver. A rich soil is
uncultivated, and every natural advantage thrown away. There are
railways, and engines, and telegraphs, and books, but the populace are
still Spaniards, conservative in traditions, and wedded to old customs;
often nominally Republican, but in fact of the ancient creeds and ways.
Like this in lesser degree, everything among our green leaves and golden
wheat is in a confused mixture, at once backwards and forwards,
progressive and retrograde. Here is some of the best soil in the world,
numerous natural advantages, close proximity to immense markets, such as
London. There seem mines of gold and silver in every acre, yet there is a
crushing poverty among the farmers, and exacting poverty among their
dependants the labourers. Every farm may be said to be within reach of
railway communication, yet the producers know nothing of their customers.
The country wishes new land laws to abolish the last vestiges of
feudalism, and is beginning to unite against tithes, and in the same
breath votes Conservative and places a Conservative Government in office.
It would break down the monopoly of the railways, and at the same time
would like a monopoly of protection for itself. It has learned to read
and does not buy books. Science has been shouted over the length and
breadth of the land, and chemistry, and I know not what, called to the
assistance of the farmer, and every day we are drifting more and more
backwards into the rule-of-thumb methods of our forefathers. No anarchy,
happily--omitting that there is a strong resemblance to Spain. For an
instance, in the daily papers it has become as common as possible to see
an advertisement of farm-house apartments to let. Numbers of farm people
look forward to their letting season in the same way as at the sea-side
and in London. This is an immense breach in the ancient isolated manners
of country life. The old farmers, and only a very little time ago, would
as soon have thought of flying as of opening their doors to strangers,
and indeed their rooms were scarcely furnished in a way to receive them.
On the other hand, many farmhouses are empty altogether, and the land is
un-tilled, because it cannot be let at any price, and lapsing backwards
into barbarism. Everything used to be so fixed: there was a sort of caste
of farmers. A man born in a farmhouse never thought of anything else but
farming, and waited and waited, perhaps till he was grey, to get a farm;
now there are few who have such fixed ideas, they are ready to take a
chance at home or abroad. Yet it is the same old country, and with the
new ways and science, and learning, and civilisation, it is as with the
machinery, they are all sunk and lost in the firm old lines. It is all
changed and just the same. What a clamour there used to be about the
damage done by the hares and rabbits to the crops! By-and-by Parliament
said, 'Shoot the hares and rabbits.' To work they went and demolished
them, and now, lo! there is a feeling getting about that we don't want to
be rid of all the hares and rabbits. Hares are almost formed on purpose
to be good sport, and make a jolly good dish, a pleasant addition to the
ceaseless round of mutton and beef to which the dead level of
civilisation reduces us. Coursing is capital, the harriers first-rate.
Now every man who walks about the fields is more or less at heart a
sportsman, and the farmer having got the right of the gun he is not
unlikely to become to some extent a game preserver. When they could not
get it they wanted to destroy it, now they have got it they want to keep
it. The old feeling coming up again--the land reasserting itself, Spain
you see--down with feudalism, but let us have the game. Look down the
long list of hounds kept in England, not one of which could get a run
were it not for the good-will of the farmers, and indeed of the
labourers. Hunting is a mimicry of the mediaeval chase, and this is the
nineteenth century of the socialist, yet every man of the fields loves to
hear the horn and the burst of the hounds. Never was shooting, for
instance, carried to such perfection, perfect guns made with scientific
accuracy, plans of campaign among the pheasants set out with diagrams as
if there was going to be a battle of Blenheim in the woods. To be a
successful sportsman nowadays you must be a well-drilled veteran, never
losing presence of mind, keeping your nerve under fire--flashes to the
left of you, reports to the right of you, shot whistling from the second
line--a hero amid the ceaseless rattle of musketry and the 'dun hot
breath of war.' Of old time the knight had to go through a long course of
instructions. He had to acquire the _manege_ of his steed, the use of the
lance and sword, how to command a troop, and how to besiege a castle.
Till perfect in the arts of war and complete in the minutiae of falconry
and all the terms of the chase, he could not take his place in the ranks
of men. The English country gentleman who now holds something the same
position socially as the knight, is not a sportsman till he can use the
breechloader with terrible effect at the pheasant-shoot, till he can
wield the salmon-rod, or ride better than any Persian. Never were
people--people in the widest sense--fonder of horses and dogs, and every
kind of animal, than at the present day. The town has gone out into the
country, but the country has also penetrated the mind of the town. No
sooner has a man made a little money in the city, than away he rushes to
the fields and rivers, and nothing would so deeply hurt the pride of the
_nouveaux riches_ as to insinuate that he was not quite fully imbued with
the spirit and the knowledge of the country. If you told him he was
ignorant of books he might take that as a compliment; if you suggested in
a sidelong way that he did not understand horses he would never more be
friends with you again.

Nothing has died out, but everything has grown stronger that appertains
to the land. Heraldry, for instance, and genealogy, county
history--people don't want to be sheriffs now, but they would very much
like to be able to say one of their ancestors was sheriff so many
centuries ago. The old crests, the old coats of arms, are more thought of
than ever; every fragment of antiquity valued. Almost everything old is
of the country, either of the mansion or of the cottage; old silver
plate, and old china, and works of the old masters in the one, old books,
old furniture, old clocks in the other.

The sweet violets bloom afresh every spring on the mounds, the cowslips
come, and the happy note of the cuckoo, the wild rose of midsummer, and
the golden wheat of August. It is the same beautiful old country always
new. Neither the iron engine nor the wooden plough alter it one iota, and
the love of it rises as constantly in our hearts as the coming of the
leaves. The wheat as it is moved from field to field, like a quarto
folded four times, gives us in the mere rotation of crops a fresh garden
every year. You have scented the bean-field and seen the slender heads of
barley droop. The useful products of the field are themselves beautiful;
the sainfoin, the blue lucerne, the blood-red trifolium, the clear yellow
of the mustard, give more definite colours, and all these are the merely
useful, and, in that sense, the plainest of growths. There are, then, the
poppies, whose wild brilliance in July days is not surpassed by any hue
of Spain. Wild charlock--a clear yellow--pink pimpernels, pink-streaked
convolvulus, great white convolvulus, double-yellow toadflax, blue
borage, broad rays of blue chicory, tall corn-cockles, azure
corn-flowers, the great mallow, almost a bush, purple knapweed--I will
make no further catalogue, but there are pages more of flowers, great and
small, that grow at the edge of the plough, from the coltsfoot that
starts out of the clumsy clod in spring to the white clematis. Of the
broad surface of the golden wheat and its glory I have already spoken,
yet these flower-encircled acres, these beautiful fields of peaceful
wheat, are the battle-fields of life. For these fertile acres the Romans
built their cities and those villas whose mosaics and hypocausts are
exposed by the plough, and formed straight roads like the radii of a
wheel or the threads of a geometrical spider's web. Thus like the spider
the legions from their centre marched direct and quickly conquered. Next
the Saxons, next the monk-slaying Danes, next the Normans in
chain-mail--one, two, three heavy blows--came to grasp these golden
acres. Dearly the Normans loved them; they gripped them firmly and
registered them in 'Domesday Book.' They let not a hide escape them; they
gripped also the mills that ground the corn. Do you think such blood
would have been shed for barren wastes? No, it was to possess these
harvest-laden fields. The wheat-fields are the battle-fields of the
world. If not so openly invaded as of old time, the struggle between
nations is still one for the ownership or for the control of corn. When
Italy became a vineyard and could no more feed the armies, slowly power
slipped away and the great empire of Rome split into many pieces. It has
long been foreseen that if ever England is occupied with a great war the
question of our corn supply, so largely derived from abroad, will become
a weighty matter. Happy for us that we have wheat-growing colonies! As
persons, each of us, in our voluntary or involuntary struggle for money,
is really striving for those little grains of wheat that lie so lightly
in the palm of the hand. Corn is coin and coin is corn, and whether it be
a labourer in the field, who no sooner receives his weekly wage than he
exchanges it for bread, or whether it be the financier in Lombard Street
who loans millions, the object is really the same--wheat. All ends in the
same: iron mines, coal mines, factories, furnaces, the counter, the
desk--no one can live on iron, or coal, or cotton--the object is really
sacks of wheat. Therefore to the eye of the mind they are not sacks of
wheat, but filled to the brim, like those in the magic caves of the
'Arabian Nights,' with gold.



JUST BEFORE WINTER.



A rich tint of russet deepened on the forest top, and seemed to sink day
by day deeper into the foliage like a stain; riper and riper it grew, as
an apple colours. Broad acres these of the last crop, the crop of leaves;
a thousand thousand quarters, the broad earth will be their barn. A warm
red lies on the hill-side above the woods, as if the red dawn stayed
there through the day; it is the heath and heather seeds; and higher
still, a pale yellow fills the larches. The whole of the great hill glows
with colour under the short hours of the October sun; and overhead, where
the pine-cones hang, the sky is of the deepest azure. The conflagration
of the woods burning luminously crowds into those short hours a
brilliance the slow summer does not know.

The frosts and mists and battering rains that follow in quick succession
after the equinox, the chill winds that creep about the fields, have
ceased a little while, and there is a pleasant sound in the fir trees.
Everything is not gone yet. In the lanes that lead down to the 'shaws' in
the dells, the 'gills,' as these wooded depths are called, buckler ferns,
green, fresh, and elegantly fashioned, remain under the shelter of the
hazel-lined banks. From the tops of the ash wands, where the linnets so
lately sang, coming up from the stubble, the darkened leaves have been
blown, and their much-divided branches stand bare like outstretched
fingers. Black-spotted sycamore leaves are down, but the moss grows thick
and deeply green; and the trumpets of the lichen seem to be larger, now
they are moist, than when they were dry under the summer heat. Here is
herb Robert in flower--its leaves are scarlet; a leaf of St. John's-wort,
too, has become scarlet; the bramble leaves are many shades of crimson;
one plant of tormentil has turned yellow. Furze bushes, grown taller
since the spring, bear a second bloom, but not perhaps so golden as the
first. It is the true furze, and not the lesser gorse; it is covered with
half-opened buds; and it is clear, if the short hours of sun would but
lengthen, the whole gorse hedge would become aglow again. Our trees, too,
that roll up their buds so tightly, like a dragoon's cloak, would open
them again at Christmas; and the sticky horse-chestnut would send forth
its long ears of leaves for New Year's Day. They would all come out in
leaf again if we had but a little more sun; they are quite ready for a
second summer.

Brown lie the acorns, yellow where they were fixed in their cups; two of
these cups seem almost as large as the great acorns from abroad. A red
dead-nettle, a mauve thistle, white and pink bramble flowers, a white
strawberry, a little yellow tormentil, a broad yellow dandelion, narrow
hawkweeds, and blue scabious, are all in flower in the lane. Others are
scattered on the mounds and in the meads adjoining, where may be
collected some heath still in bloom, prunella, hypericum, white yarrow,
some heads of red clover, some beautiful buttercups, three bits of blue
veronica, wild chamomile, tall yellowwood, pink centaury, succory, dock
cress, daisies, fleabane, knapweed, and delicate blue harebells. Two York
roses flower on the hedge: altogether, twenty-six flowers, a large
bouquet for October 19, gathered, too, in a hilly country.

Besides these, note the broad hedge-parsley leaves, tunnelled by
leaf-miners; bright masses of haws gleaming in the sun; scarlet hips;
great brown cones fallen from the spruce firs; black heart-shaped
bindweed leaves here, and buff bryony leaves yonder; green and scarlet
berries of white bryony hanging thickly on bines from which the leaves
have withered; and bunches of grass, half yellow and half green, along
the mound. Now that the leaves have been brushed from the beech saplings
you may see how the leading stem rises in a curious wavy line; some of
the leaves lie at the foot, washed in white dew, that stays in the shade
all day; the wetness of the dew makes the brownish red of the leaf show
clear and bright. One leaf falls in the stillness of the air slowly, as
if let down by a cord of gossamer gently, and not as a stone falls--fate
delayed to the last. A moth adheres to a bough, his wings half open, like
a short brown cloak flung over his shoulders. Pointed leaves, some
drooping, some horizontal, some fluttering slightly, still stay on the
tall willow wands, like bannerets on the knights' lances, much torn in
the late battle of the winds. There is a shower from a clear sky under
the trees in the forest; brown acorns rattling as they fall, and rich
coloured Spanish chestnuts thumping the sward, and sometimes striking you
as you pass under; they lie on the ground in pocketfuls. Specks of
brilliant scarlet dot the grass like some bright berries blown from the
bushes; but on stooping to pick them, they are found to be the heads of a
fungus. Near by lies a black magpie's feather, spotted with round dots of
white.

At the edge of the trees stands an old timbered farmstead, whose gables
and dark lines of wood have not been painted in the memory of man, dull
and weather-beaten, but very homely; and by it rises the delicate cone of
a new oast-house, the tiles on which are of the brightest red. Lines of
bluish smoke ascend from among the bracken of the wild open ground, where
a tribe of gipsies have pitched their camp. Three of the vans are
time-stained and travel-worn, with dull red roofs; the fourth is brightly
picked out with fresh yellow paint, and stands a marked object at the
side. Orange-red beeches rise beyond them on the slope; two hoop-tents,
or kibitkas, just large enough to creep into, are near the fires, where
the women are cooking the gipsy's _bouillon_, that savoury stew of all
things good: vegetables, meat, and scraps, and savouries, collected as it
were in the stock-pot from twenty miles round. Hodge, the stay-at-home,
sturdy carter, eats bread and cheese and poor bacon sometimes; he looks
with true British scorn on all scraps and soups, and stock-pots and
_bouillons_--not for him, not he; he would rather munch dry bread and
cheese for every meal all the year round, though he could get bits as
easy as the other and without begging. The gipsy is a cook. The man with
a gold ring in his ear; the woman with a silver ring on her finger,
coarse black snaky hair like a horse's mane; the boy with naked olive
feet; dark eyes all of them, and an Oriental, sidelong look, and a
strange inflection of tone that turns our common English words into a
foreign language--there they camp in the fern, in the sun, their Eastern
donkeys of Syria scattered round them, their children rolling about like
foals in the grass, a bit out of the distant Orient under our Western
oaks.

It is the nature of the oak to be still, it is the nature of the hawk to
roam with the wind. The Anglo-Saxon labourer remains in his cottage
generation after generation, ploughing the same fields; the express train
may rush by, but he feels no wish to rush with it; he scarcely turns to
look at it; all the note he takes is that it marks the time to 'knock
off' and ride the horses home. And if hard want at last forces him away,
and he emigrates, he would as soon jog to the port in a waggon, a week on
the road, as go by steam; as soon voyage in a sailing ship as by the
swift Cunarder. The swart gipsy, like the hawk, for ever travels on, but,
like the hawk, that seems to have no road, and yet returns to the same
trees, so he, winding in circles of which we civilised people do not
understand the map, comes, in his own times and seasons, home to the same
waste spot, and cooks his savoury _bouillon_ by the same beech. They have
camped here for so many years that it is impossible to trace when they
did not; it is wild still, like themselves. Nor has their nature changed
any more than the nature of the trees.

The gipsy loves the crescent moon, the evening star, the clatter of the
fern-owl, the beetle's hum. He was born on the earth in the tent, and he
has lived like a species of human wild animal ever since. Of his own free
will he will have nothing to do with rites or litanies: he may perhaps be
married in a place of worship--to make it legal, that is all. At the end,
were it not for the law, he would for choice be buried beneath the
'fireplace' of their children's children. He will not dance to the pipe
ecclesiastic, sound it who may--Churchman, Dissenter, priest, or laic.
Like the trees, he is simply indifferent. All the great wave of teaching
and text and tracts and missions and the produce of the printing-press
has made no impression upon his race any more than upon the red deer that
roam in the forest behind his camp. The negroes have their fetich, every
nation its idols; the gipsy alone has none--not even a superstitious
observance; they have no idolatry of the Past, neither have they the
exalted thought of the Present, It is very strange that it should be so
at this the height of our civilisation, and you might go many thousand
miles and search from Africa to Australia before you would find another
people without a Deity. That can only be seen under an English sky, under
English oaks and beeches.

Are they the oldest race on earth? and have they worn out all the gods?
Have they worn out all the hopes and fears of the human heart in tens of
thousands of years, and do they merely live, acquiescent to fate? For
some have thought to trace in the older races an apathy as with the
Chinese, a religion of moral maxims and some few joss-house
superstitions, which they themselves full well know to be nought,
worshipping their ancestors, but with no vital living force, like that
which drove Mohammed's bands to zealous fury, like that which sent our
own Puritans over the sea in the _Mayflower_. No living faith. So old, so
very, very old, older than the Chinese, older than the Copts of Egypt,
older than the Aztecs; back to those dim Sanskrit times that seem like
the clouds on the far horizon of human experience, where space and chaos
begin to take shape, though but of vapour. So old, they went through
civilisation ten thousand years since; they have worn it all out, even
hope in the future; they merely live acquiescent to fate, like the red
deer. The crescent moon, the evening star, the clatter of the fern-owl,
the red embers of the wood fire, the pungent smoke blown round about by
the occasional puffs of wind, the shadowy trees, the sound of the horses
cropping the grass, the night that steals on till the stubbles alone are
light among the fields--the gipsy sleeps in his tent on mother earth; it
is, you see, primeval man with primeval nature. One thing he gains at
least--an iron health, an untiring foot, women whose haunches bear any
burden, children whose naked feet are not afraid of the dew.

By sharp contrast, the Anglo-Saxon labourer who lives in the cottage
close by and works at the old timbered farmstead is profoundly religious.

The gipsies return from their rambling soon after the end of hop-picking,
and hold a kind of informal fair on the village green with cockshies,
swings, and all the clumsy games that extract money from clumsy hands. It
is almost the only time of the year when the labouring people have any
cash; their weekly wages are mortgaged beforehand; the hop-picking money
comes in a lump, and they have something to spend. Hundreds of pounds are
paid to meet the tally or account kept by the pickers, the old word tally
still surviving, and this has to be charmed out of their pockets. Besides
the gipsies' fair, the little shopkeepers in the villages send out
circulars to the most outlying cottage announcing the annual sale at an
immense sacrifice; anything to get the hop-pickers' cash; and the packmen
come round, too, with jewelry and lace and finery. The village by the
forest has been haunted by the gipsies for a century; its population in
the last thirty years has much increased, and it is very curious to
observe how the gipsy element has impregnated the place. Not only are the
names gipsy, the faces are gipsy; the black coarse hair, high
cheek-bones, and peculiar forehead linger; even many of the shopkeepers
have a distinct trace, and others that do not show it so much are known
to be nevertheless related.

Until land became so valuable--it is now again declining--these forest
grounds of heath and bracken were free to all comers, and great numbers
of squatters built huts and inclosed pieces of land. They cleared away
the gorse and heath and grubbed the fir-tree stumps, and found, after a
while, that the apparently barren sand could grow a good sward. No one
would think anything could flourish on such an arid sand, exposed at a
great height on the open hill to the cutting winds. Contrary, however, to
appearances, fair crops, and sometimes two crops of hay are yielded, and
there is always a good bite for cattle. These squatters consequently came
to keep cows, sometimes one and sometimes two--anticipating the three
acres and a cow; and it is very odd to hear the women at the hop-picking
telling each other they are going to churn to-night. They have, in fact,
little dairies. Such are the better class of squatters. But others there
are who have shown no industry, half-gipsies, who do anything but
work--tramp, beg, or poach; sturdy fellows, stalking round with
toy-brooms for sale, with all the blackguardism of both races. They keep
just within the law; they do not steal or commit burglary; but decency,
order, and society they set utterly at defiance. For instance, a
gentleman pleased with the splendid view built a large mansion in one
spot, never noticing that the entrance was opposite a row of cottages, or
rather thinking no evil of it. The result was that neither his wife nor
visitors could go in or out without being grossly insulted, without rhyme
or reason, merely for the sake of blackguardism. Now, the pure gipsy in
his tent or the Anglo-Saxon labourer would not do this; it was the
half-breed. The original owner was driven from his premises; and they are
said to have changed hands several times since from the same cause. All
over the parish this half-breed element shows its presence by the
extraordinary and unusual coarseness of manner. The true English rustic
is always civil, however rough, and will not offend you with anything
unspeakable, so that at first it is quite bewildering to meet with such
behaviour in the midst of green lanes. This is the explanation--the gipsy
taint. Instead of the growing population obliterating the gipsy, the
gipsy has saturated the English folk.

When people saw the red man driven from the prairies and backwoods of
America, and whole states as large as Germany without a single Indian
left, much was written on the extermination of the aborigines by the
stronger Saxon. As the generations lengthen, the facts appear to wear
another aspect. From the intermarriage of the lower orders with the
Indian squaws the Indian blood has got into the Saxon veins, and now the
cry is that the red man is exterminating the Saxon, so greatly has he
leavened the population. The typical Yankee face, as drawn in _Punch_, is
indeed the red Indian profile with a white skin and a chimney-pot hat.
Upon a small scale the same thing has happened in this village by the
forest; the gipsy half-breed has stained the native blood. Perhaps races
like the Jew and gipsy, so often quoted as instances of the permanency of
type, really owe that apparent fixidity to their power of mingling with
other nations. They are kept alive as races by mixing; otherwise one of
two things would happen--the Jew and the gipsy must have died out, or
else have supplanted all the races of the globe. Had the Jews been so
fixed a type, by this time their offspring would have been more numerous
than the Chinese. The reverse, however, is the case; and therefore we may
suppose they must have become extinct, had it not been for fresh supplies
of Saxon, Teuton, Spanish, and Italian blood. It is, in fact, the
inter-marriages that have kept the falsely so-called pure races of these
human parasites alive. The mixing is continually going on. The gipsies
who still stay in their tents, however, look askance upon those who
desert them for the roof. Two gipsy women, thorough-bred, came into a
village shop and bought a variety of groceries, ending with a pound of
biscuits and a Guy Fawkes mask for a boy. They were clad in dirty jackets
and hats, draggle-tails, unkempt and unwashed, with orange and red
kerchiefs round their necks (the gipsy colours). Happening to look out of
window, they saw a young servant girl with a perambulator on the opposite
side of the 'street;' she was tidy and decently dressed, looking after
her mistress's children in civilised fashion; but they recognised her as
a deserter from tribe, and blazed with contempt. 'Don't _she_ look a
figure!' exclaimed these dirty creatures.

The short hours shorten, and the leaf-crop is gathered to the great barn
of the earth; the oaks alone, more tenacious, retain their leaves, that
have now become a colour like new leather. It is too brown for buff--it
is more like fresh harness. The berries are red on the holly bushes and
holly trees that grow, whole copses of them, on the forest slopes--'the
Great Rough;' the half-wild sheep have polished the stems of these holly
trees till they shine, by rubbing their fleeces against them. The farmers
have been drying their damp wheat in the oast-houses over charcoal fires,
and wages are lowered, and men discharged. Vast loads of brambles and
thorns, dead firs, useless hop-poles and hop-bines, and gorse are drawn
together for the great bonfire on the green. The 5th of November bonfires
are still vital institutions, and from the top of the hill you may see
them burning in all directions, as if an enemy had set fire to the
hamlets.



LOCALITY AND NATURE.



By the side of the rivers of Exmoor there grows a great leaf, so large it
almost calls to mind those tropical leaves of which umbrellas and even
tents are made. This is of a rounder shape than those of the palm, it is
an elephant's ear among the foliage. The sweet river slips on with a
murmuring song, for these are the rivers of the poets, and talk in verse
for ever. Purple-tinted stones are strewn about the shallows flat like
tiles, and out among the grass and the white orchis of the meadow. The
floods carried them there and left them dry in the sun. Among these grows
a thick bunch of mimulus or monkey-plant, well known in gardens, here
flourishing alone beside the stream. These two plants greatly interested
me: the last because it had long been a favourite in an old garden and I
had not before seen it growing wild; the other because though I knew its
large leaf by repute, this was the first time I had come upon it. Now
that little spot in the bend of the river by means of these two plants is
firmly impressed in my memory, and is a joy to me whenever I think of it.
The sunshine, the song of the water, the pleasant green grass, the white
orchis, and the purplish stones were thereby rendered permanent to me.
Such is the wonderful power of plants. To any one who takes a delight in
wild flowers some spot or other of the earth is always becoming
consecrated.

There is, however, something curious about this butterbur. It is related
to the coltsfoot of the arable fields, and the coltsfoot sends up a stalk
without a leaf, and flowers before any green appears. So, too, the
butterbur of the river flowers before its great leaf comes. Nothing is
really common either, for everything is so local that you may spend
years, and in fact a lifetime, in a district and never see a flower
plentiful enough in another. Just where I am staying now the pennywort
grows on every wall attached to the mortar between the cobbles. In some
places you may search the roads in vain for this little plant, which has
this merit, that its rounded leaf presents a fresh green in February. It
does not die away, it appears as green as spring, and pieces of the wall
are ornamented with it as thickly as the iron-headed nails in old doors.
One plant grows out of the hard stem of a hawthorn tree, as if it were a
parasite like the mistletoe; probably there is some crack which the plant
itself has hidden. If every plant and every flower were found in all
places the charm of locality would not exist. Everything varies, and that
gives the interest. These purplish stones, where they lie in the water,
seem to have a kind of growth upon them--small knobs on the surface. On
examination each small roughness or knob will be found composed of a
number of very minute fragments of stone. It is a sort of cell, probably
built by a species of caddis. There was hardly a stone in the rivers that
was not dotted with these little habitations, so that it seemed difficult
to overlook them; but upon showing one to a mighty hunter to know the
local name, he declared he had never noticed it before, and added that he
did not care for such little things. It is of such little things that
great nature is made.

On the highest part of the Forest Ridge in Sussex, where the soil is
sandy and covered with heath, fern, and fir trees, there never seemed to
be any rooks. These birds, so very characteristic of the country,
appeared to be almost absent over several miles. They went by sometimes,
sailing down into the vale, but never stopped on the hill, not even to
walk the furrows behind the plough. This would seem to indicate a
remarkable absence of the food they like, for it is very rare indeed for
a piece of ground to be fresh ploughed without rooks coming to it. There
were rookeries beneath in the plains where the elms and beeches grew
tall, but the birds never came up to forage. Crows could be found, and
stopped on the hill all the year. Wood-pigeons, like the rooks, went
over, but did not stay. Starlings were not at all plentiful; blackbirds
and thrushes were there, but not nearly so numerous as is usually the
case; fieldfares and redwings drifted by in the winter, but never
stopped. Slow-worms lived in the sand under the heath, and lizards, but
no snakes and only a few adders. Inquiring of an old man if there were
many snakes about, he said no; the soil was too poor for them; but in
some places down in the vale he had dug up a gallon of snakes' eggs in
the 'maxen.' The word was noticeable as a survival of the old English
'mixen' for manure heap. Swallows, martins, and swifts abounded; and as
for insects, they were countless--honey-bees, wild bees, humble-bees,
varieties of wasps, butterflies--an endless list. So common a plant as
the arum did not seem to exist; on the other hand, ferns literally made
up the hedges, growing in such quantities as to take the place of the
grasses. There was, too, a great variety of moss and fungi. The soil
looked black and fertile, and new-comers thought they were going to have
good crops, but when these failed they found, upon examining the earth,
that it was little more than black sand, and the particles of silica
glittered if a handful were held in the sun. Such a sand would give the
impression of dryness, instead of which it was extremely damp--damp all
the year round.

For contrast, a place on the coast just opposite, as it were, and almost
within view, at the same time of year seemed to have no bees. A great
field of clover in flower was silent; there was no hum, nor glistening of
wings. Butterflies rarely came along. Swallows were not common. In the
rich loam it was curious to note mussel-shells, quite recent, in good
preservation, and a geologist might wonder at the layers of them in such
an earth; the farmer would smile, and say the mussels were carted there
for manure. Another place, again, in the same county is full of rooks,
and the arum is green on the banks. These items in a small area show how
different places are, and if you move from locality to locality
everything you have read about is by degrees seen in reality. In an old
book, the History of Northampton, which I chanced to look at, among other
curiosities, the author a hundred years ago mentioned a substance called
star shot, which appeared in the meadows overnight, and seemed to have
dropped from the sky. This I had not then seen, but many years afterwards
came suddenly, by a copse, on a quantity of jelly-like substance with a
most unpleasant aspect, but which did not in any other way offend the
senses. It had shot up in the night, and was gone next day. It is a
fungus unnoticed till it suddenly swells; I suppose this was the old
chronicler's star shot. Nor do I think it too small a thing that the
common snail makes a straight track over everything; if he comes to the
wall of a house he goes straight up without the smallest hesitation, and
explores a good height before he comes down again; if he finds a loaf of
bread in the cellar he never thinks of going round it, but travels in a
Roman road up and over. So do the armies of ants in warmer climates, and
this proceeding in an invariable line irrespective of obstacles seems to
be peculiar to many creatures, and is the reason why such 'plagues' were
and are so dreaded. Nothing could divert the straight march of the
locusts; nothing could divert the course of the millions of butterflies
that sometimes cross the Channel and arrive here from the Continent.

The tenacity of insects in anything they have once begun is shown in many
ways; you cannot drive away a fly or a gnat, and if a colony of ants take
up their home in the garden they will hardly move till all are destroyed.
Aristotle mentions the diseases of swine, so it will not be amiss to
record that in the country swine are supposed to suffer from water-brash,
and to relieve themselves by eating dry earth, for which purpose those
that run loose are continually tearing up the ground. Human beings so
affected show a similar tendency for dry food, as oatmeal. Sometimes the
liver of calves and bullocks is small and dry, of very little use for
food; this is found to be due to the neglect of providing them with dry
standing-ground when fattening. To ensure their fattening properly they
should stand on dry and high ground, and they should be plentifully
supplied with dry litter. This fact may be of value to some suffering
person; it points to the necessity of dry warm feet, dry subsoil, and
drainage if the liver is to be in good order. Popular suspicion, if not
science, attaches many other diseases besides those that actually consume
that organ to the abnormal action of the liver, possibly lung disease.
Such trifling circumstances are not so trifling as they appear. A case
came under my notice quite recently when a person had been helpless from
paralysis for several years. Chance compelled removal to another house,
and very soon the paralysis began to disappear. The first house may have
been damp, or there may have been some minute conditions besides. It
certainly is a marked fact that in the country, at all events, one house
is noted for its healthiness and another close by for its unhealthiness,
and the cause is not traceable to the usual and obvious reason of
drainage or water. Any one who has noticed the remarkable influence of
locality in the more evident vegetation--such, for instance, as
lichens--will be able to suppose the possibility of minute
organisms--microbe, bacteria, whatever you like to call them--being more
persistent in one spot than in another. I have often thought of the
half-magical art of the Chinese, Feng-shui, by which they discover if a
place be fortunate and fit for a house. It seems to suggest something of
this kind, and I think there is a great deal yet to be discovered by the
diligent observation of localities. The experience of the rudest country
rustic is not to be despised; an observation is an observation, whoever
makes it; there has been an air of too much science in the affected
derision of our forefathers' wisdom.



COUNTRY PLACES.


I.

High up and facing every one who enters a village there still remains an
old notice-board with the following inscription:--'All persons found
wandering abroad, lying, lodging, or being in any barn, outhouse, or in
the open air, and not giving a good account of themselves, will be
apprehended as rogues and vagabonds, and be either publicly whipt or sent
to the house of correction, and afterwards disposed of according to law,
by order of the magistrates. Any person who shall apprehend any rogue or
vagabond will be entitled to a reward of ten shillings.' It very often
happens that we cannot see the times in which we actually live. A thing
must be gone by before you can see it, just as it must be printed before
it is read. This little bit of weather-stained board may serve, perhaps,
to throw up the present into a picture so that it may be visible. For
this inhuman law still holds good, and is not obsolete or a mere relic of
barbarism. The whipping, indeed, is abrogated for very shame's sake; so
is the reward to the informer; but the magistrate and the imprisonment
and the offence remain. You must not sleep in the open, either in a barn
or a cart-house or in a shed, in the country, or on a door-step in a
town, or in a boat on the beach; and if you have no coin in your pocket
you are still more diabolically wicked--you are a vagrom man, and the
cold cell is your proper place. This is the Jubilee year, too, of the
mildest and best reign of the Christian era. Something in this
weather-beaten board to be very proud of, is it not? Something human and
comforting and assuring to the mind that we have made so much progress.
The pagan Roman Empire reached from the wall of Severus in the north of
England to Athens of the philosophers; it included our islands, France,
Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Turkey in Europe and Asia,
Egypt--the whole world of those days. No one could escape from it,
because it enclosed all; you could not take refuge in Spain on account of
the absence of an extradition treaty; no forger, no thief, no political
offender could get out of it. A crushing power this, quite unknown in our
modern world, with all our engines, steamers, and telegraphs. A man may
hide himself somewhere now, but from the power of old Rome there was no
running away. And all this, too, was under the thumb of one irresponsible
will, in an age when human life was of no value, and there was no State
institution preaching gentleness in every village. Yet even then there
was no such law as this, and in this respect we are more brutal than was
the case nineteen centuries ago. This weather-beaten board may also serve
to remind us that in this Jubilee year the hateful workhouse still
endures; that people are imprisoned for debt under the mockery of
contempt of court; that a man's household goods, down to the bed on which
he sleeps, and the tools warm from his hand, may be sold. In the West End
of London a poor woman, an ironer, being in debt, her six children's
clothes were seized. What a triumph for the Jubilee year! Instead of
building a Church House to add another thousand tons to the enormous
weight of ecclesiastical bricks and mortar that cumbers the land, would
it not be more human to signalise the time by the abolition of these
cruel laws, and by the introduction of some system to gradually
emancipate the poor from the workhouse, which is now their master?

In the gathering dusk of the afternoon I saw a mouse rush to a wall--a
thick stone wall,--run up it a few inches, and disappear in a chink under
some grey lichen. The poor little biter, as the gipsies call the mouse,
had a stronghold wherein to shelter himself, and close by there was a
corn-rick from which he drew free supplies of food. A few minutes
afterwards I was interested in the movements of a pair of wrens that were
playing round the great trunk of an elm, flying from one to another of
the little twigs standing out from the rough bark. First one said
something in wren language, and then the other answered; they were
husband and wife, and after a long consultation they flew to the
corn-rick and crept into a warm hole under the thatch. So both these, the
least of animals and the least of birds, have a resource, and man is the
only creature that punishes his fellow for daring to lie down and sleep.

Up in the plain there were some mounds, or _tumuli_, about which nothing
seemed to be known, though they had evidently been cut into and explored.
At last, however, a farmer--Mr. Nestor Hay, who knew everything--told me
something about them. He cut them open. He had an old county history and
several other volumes which had somehow accumulated in the Manor-house
Farm, and, like many country people, he was extremely fond of studying
the past. He fancied there might have been a battle in that locality, and
hence these mounds, but could find no reference to them anywhere, so he
dug through one or two of them himself, without success; the soil did not
seem to have ever been disturbed, consequently they might have been
natural. 'Perhaps I should have found out something though,' he said,
with a smile,'if it had not been for that there old dog as we used to
keep in the tub at the back of the house. Such a lot of folk used to come
to our back door all day long after victuals, some out of the village,
and some from the next parish, and some as went round regular, and gipsy
chaps, and chaps as pretended to come from London--you never saw such a
crowd,--just because the old man and the missus was rather good to 'em.
So there they was a-clacking at that door all day long. But this 'ere dog
in the tub used to sarve 'em out sometimes if they didn't mind.
(Chuckle.) She never barked, or nothing of that sort, never let 'em know
as there was a dog there at all; there she'd lie as quiet till they was
just gone by a little--then out she'd slip without a word behind them,
and solp 'em by the leg. Lord, how they did jump and holler! (Chuckle.)
See, they had the pinch afore they knowed as she was there. Lord, what a
lot she did bite to be sure! (thoughtfully); I can't tell 'e how many,
her did it so neat. That kept folk away a little, else I suppose we
shouldn't have had anything to eat ourselves. None of 'em never went
wrong, you know, never went mad or anything of that sort--never had to
send nobody to Paris in them days to be dog-vaccinated. Curious, wasn't
it? Must have been something different about folk then. However, this
here dog was desperate clever at it. As I was telling you, I dug through
them mounds; couldn't find no coins or anything; so I heard of a big
archaeologist chap that was writing a new book about the antiquities of
the country, and I wrote to him about it, and he said he would come and
see them. The day he come was rather roughish and cold: he seemed sort of
bad when he come into the house, and had to have some brandy. By-and-by
he got better, and out we started; but just as we was going through the
yard this old dog nips him by the hand--took him right through his
hand--made him look main straight. However, washed his hand and bound it
up, and started out again. (Chuckle.) Hadn't gone very far, and was
getting through a hedge, and dalled if he didn't fall into the pond,
flop! (Chuckle.) I suppose he didn't like it, for he never said nothing
about the mounds in his book when it come out--left'em out altogether.'

This pond still exists, and Mr. Nestor Hay had noted a curious thing
about it. Across the middle of the pond a tree had fallen; it was just on
a level with the surface of the water. A pair of water-rats always ate
their food on this tree. They would go out into the grass of the meadow,
bite off the vegetation that suited their taste, and carry it back in
their mouths to the tree, and there eat it in safety, with water, as it
were, all round them like a moat. This they did a hundred times--in fact,
every day. 'But,' said Mr. Hay, 'you can't watch nothing now a minute
without some great lout coming along with a stale baccy pipe in his
mouth, making the air stink; they spoils everything, these here
half-towny fellows; everybody got a neasty stale pipe in their mouths,
and they gets over the hedges anywhere, and disturbs everything.' It is
common on the banks of a stream or a pond to see half a dozen of these
little beaver-like water-voles out feeding in the grass, and they eat it
when they find it. At this particular pond the two rats diverged from the
custom of their race, and always took their food to a place of safety
first. If he is alarmed the water-rat instantly dives, and his idea of
security is a spot where he can drop like a stone under the surface
without a moment's reflection. Mr. Hay could not understand why the
water-rats were so timid at this pond till he recollected that the
preceding summer two schoolboys used to get up in an oak that overhung
the water, each with a catapult, and, firing bullets from these
india-rubber weapons on the water-rats underneath, slew nearly every one
of them. The few left had evidently learnt extreme caution from the
misfortune of their friends, and no longer trusted themselves away from
the water, into which they could slip at the movement of a shadow.

Mr. Hay disliked to see the slouching fellows making tracks across his
fields, every one of which he looked on with as much jealousy as if it
had been a garden--a wild garden they were too, strewn sometimes with the
white cotton of the plane tree, hung about with roses and sweet with
mowing grass. Those who love fields and every briar in the hedge dislike
to see them entered irreverently. I have just the same feeling myself
even of fields and woods in which I have no personal interest; it jars
upon me to see nature profaned. These fellows were a 'Black George' lot,
in hamlet language. Nestor Hay knew everybody in the village round about,
their fathers and grandfathers, their politics and religious opinions,
and whether they were new folk or ancient inhabitants--an encyclopaedic
knowledge not written, an Homeric memory. For I imagine in ancient days
when books were scarce that was how men handed down the history of the
chiefs of Troy. An Homeric memory for everything--superstitions,
traditions, anecdotes; the only difficulty was that you could not command
it. You could not turn to letter A or B and demand information direct
about this or that; you must wait till it came up incidentally in
conversation. In one of the villages there was a young men's club, and,
among other advantages, when they were married they could have a cradle
for nothing. A cottager had a child troubled with a slight infirmity; the
doctor ordered the mother to prepare a stew of mice and give him the
gravy. There happened to be some threshing going on, and one of the men
caught her nine mice, which she skinned and cooked. She did not much like
the task, but she did it, and the child never knew but that it was beef
gravy. It cured him completely. This is the second time I have come
across this curious use of mice. I had heard of it as a traditional
resource among the country people, but in this case it seemed to have
been ordered by a medical practitioner. Perhaps, after all, there may be
something in the strange remedies and strange mixtures of remedies so
often described in old books, and what we now deride may not have been
without its value. If an empirical remedy will cure you, it is of more
use than a scientific composition which ought to cure you but does not.
How much depends on custom! The woman felt a repugnance to skinning the
mice, yet they are the cleanest creatures, living on grain; she would
have skinned a hare or rabbit without hesitation, and have cooked and
eaten bacon, though the pig is not a cleanly feeder. It is a country
remark that the pig's foot--often seen on the table--has as many bones as
there are letters of the alphabet. The grapnel kept at every village
draw-well is called the grabhook; the plant called honesty (because both
sides of the flower are alike) is old woman's penny. If you lived in the
country you might be alarmed late in the evening by hearing the tramp of
feet round your house. But it is not burglars; it is young fellows with a
large net and a lantern after the sparrows in the ivy. They have a
prescriptive right to enter every garden in the village. They cry
'sparrow catchers' at the gate, and people sit still, knowing it is all
right. In the jealous suburb of a city the dwellers in the villas would
shrink from this winter custom, the constable would soon have orders to
stop it; in the country people are not so rigidly exclusive. Now it is
curious that the sparrows and blackbirds, yellowhammers and greenfinches,
that roost in the bushes, fly into the net and are easily captured, but
the starlings--thanks to their different ways in daylight--always fly out
at the top of the bush, and so escape.


II.

A black cannon ball lies in a garden, an ornament like a shell or a
fossil, among blue lobelia and green ferns. It is about as big as a
cricket ball--a mere trifle to look at. What a contrast with the immense
projectiles thrown by modern guns! Yet it is very heavy--quite out of
proportion to its size. Imagine iron cricket balls bounding along the
grass and glancing at unexpected angles, smashing human beings instead of
wickets. This cannon ball is not a memorial of the Civil War. It was shot
at a carter with his waggon. Our grandfathers had no idea of taking care
of other people's lives. Every man had to look out for himself; if you
got in the way, that was your fault. A battery was practising, and they
did not trouble themselves about the highway road which skirted the
range; and as the carter was coming home with his waggon one of the balls
ricocheted and rolled along in front of his horses. He picked it up and
brought it home, and there it has lain many a long year, a silent
witness, like the bricks Jack Cade put in the chimney, to the
extraordinary change of ideas which has taken place. We are all expected
nowadays to think not only of ourselves but of others, and if a man fires
a gun without due precautions, and injures or even might have injured
another, he is liable. All our legislation and all the drift of public
opinion goes in this direction. Men were the same then as now; the change
in this respect shows the immense value of ideas. They were then quite
strangers to the very idea of taking any thought for those who might
chance to be in the way. That has been inculcated of recent years. Those
were the days when there was an irresponsible tyrant in every village,
who could not indeed hang men at his castle gate by feudal right of
gallows, but who could as effectually silence them by setting in motion
laws made by the rich for the rich. It is on record how a poor carrier,
whose only fortune was a decrepit horse, dared presumptuously, against
the will of the lord of the manor, to water his horse at a roadside pond.
For this offence he was taken before the justices and fined, his goods
seized,--

  And the knackers had his silly old horse,
  And so John Harris was bowled out!

Then there was a still more terrible offence--a hungry man picked up a
rabbit. 'How dared John Bartlett for to venture for to go for to grab
it?' But they put him in gaol and cured him of 'that there villanous
habit,' which rhymes, and the tale thereof may be found by the student of
old times in the 'Punch' of the day--a good true honest manly Punch, who
brought his staff down heavily on the head of abuses and injustice. We do
things every day in the present age equally unjust and cruel, only we
cannot see them; as some one observed, one cannot see the eye because it
is so close to the sight. In the almost sacred name of education
tyrannies are being enacted surpassing anything recorded in the most
outlying village in the most outlying time. One constantly sees cases of
poor people sent to prison because they happen to have children. No other
reason can be detected.

Our great-grandfathers' doctors never used to trouble themselves to write
prescriptions for their poorer patients; they used to keep two or three
mixtures always made up ready in great jars, and ladle them out. There
was the bread and cheese mixture, very often called for, as the ailments
of the labourers are commonly traceable to a heavy diet of cheese. As an
old doctor used to say when he was called to a cottage, 'Hum; s'pose
you've been eating too much fat bacon and cabbage!' Another was the club
mixture, called for about May, when the village clubs are held and extra
beer disturbs the economy. In factory towns, where the mechanics have
dispensaries and employ doctors, something of the same sort of story has
got about at the present day. The women are constantly coming for physic,
and the assistants are stated to gravely measure a little peppermint and
colour it pink or yellow, which does as well. Great invalids with long
pockets, who have paid their scores of guineas and gone the round of
fashionable physicians, do not seem to have received much more benefit
than if they had themselves chosen the yellow or pink hue of their tinted
water. It is wonderful what value the country poor set on a bottle of
physic; they are twice as grateful for it as for a good dinner. Some of
the doctors of old are said to have had an eye for an old book, or an old
clock, or an old bit of furniture or china in the cottage, and when the
patient was recovering they would take a fancy to it and buy it at their
own valuation, for of course the humble labourer was obliged to regard
such a wish as a command. The workhouse system puts the labourer
completely under the thumb of the clergyman and the doctor. It was in
this way that many good old pieces of work gradually found their
destination in great London collections. Once now and then, however, the
eager collector would come across some one independent, and meet with a
sharp refusal to part with the old china bowl. The wife of a small farmer
naively remarked about the tithes, 'You know it is such a lot to pay, and
we never go there to church; you know it is too far to walk.' It was not
the doctrine to which she objected--it was the paying for nothing; paying
and never having anything. The farmers, staunch upholders of Church and
State, are always grumbling because the clergy are constantly begging.
One man took a deep oath that if the clergyman ever came to his house
without asking for money he would cut a deep notch with his knife in the
oaken doorpost. Ten years went by, still more years, and still no notch
was cut. Odd things happen in odd places. There is a story of an old
mansion where a powerful modern stove was put in an ancient hearth under
a mantelpiece supported by carved oak figures of knights. The unwonted
heat roasted the toes of these martyrs till their feet fell off. Another
story relates how in our grandfathers' days a great man invited his
friends to dinner, promising them a new dish that had never before been
set upon the table. The fillet came in on the shoulders of several men,
and when the cover was removed, lo an actress in a state of nature! One
farmer lent his friend his dogcart. Time went on, and the dogcart was not
returned; a year went by, still no cart. Country people are very peculiar
in this respect, and do not like to remind their friends of obligations.
Two years went by, and still no return, though the parties were in
constant intercourse. I have known people borrow a hundred pounds in the
country, and debtor and creditor meet several times a week for years, and
nothing said about it on either side. No strained relations were
caused--it seemed quite forgotten till executors came. Three years went
by, still no dogcart, though it was seen daily on the roads in use. I was
driving with a man once when we met a woman walking, and as we passed she
put up her umbrella so as not to be able to see us. 'That's So-and-so,'
said he; 'they borrowed some money from me a long time ago; they have
never said anything about it. Whenever she meets me she always puts up
her umbrella so as not to see me.' Four years went by, and still no
dogcart. By this time it was looking shabby and getting shaken by rough
usage; perhaps they did not like to return it in such a condition. Five
years went by, and after that they seem to have lost all count of the
dogcart, which faded away like a phantom. One farmer had been telling
another something which his companion seemed to consider doubtful, and
disputed; however, he finished up by saying, 'That's no lie, I can assure
you.' 'Well, no; but I should certainly have taken it as such.' One
fellow happening by chance in the hunting-field to come across the Prince
of Wales, took off his hat with _both_ hands to express his deep
humility. Here is a cottage nursery rhyme, genuinely silly:--

  Right round my garden
  There I found a farden,
  Gave it to my mother
  To buy a little brother,
  Brother was so cross
  Sat him on a horse,
  Horse was so randy
  Gave him some brandy,
  Brandy was so strong
  Put him in the pond,
  Pond was so deep
  Put him in the cradle and
   rocked him off to sleep.

It is curious that there seems to be a distinct race of flat heads among
the cottagers; the children look as if the front part of the head had
been sat upon and compressed. Straw hats, the common sort, seem to be
made to fit these shallow crowns. In some parts they cook dates; others
cook oranges, making them into dumplings and also stewing them. These are
favourite sweets. To go out singing from door to door at Christmas is
called wassailing--a relic of the ancient time when wassail was a common
word. When I was a boy, among other out-of-the-way pursuits, I took an
interest in astrology. The principal work on astrology, from which all
the others have been more or less derived, is Ptolemy's 'Tetrabiblos,'
and there, pointing out the mysterious influence of one thing upon
another, it mentions that the virtues of the magnet may be destroyed by
rubbing it with garlic. This curious statement has been thrown against
Ptolemy and held to invalidate his theories, because upon experiment
garlic is not found to affect the magnet. Possibly, however, the plant
Ptolemy meant may not have been the plant we now call garlic, for there
is nothing so uncertain as the names of plants. There is a great
confusion, and it is difficult to identify with certainty apparently
well-known herbs with those used by the ancients. Possibly, too, the
experiment was performed in a different manner. It happened one day, many
years after reading this, I chanced to be talking to a village clockmaker
about watches. We were discussing what a difficulty it was sometimes to
get a watch to go right. I said I had heard that watches sometimes got
magnetised, and went on in the most erratic manner until the magnetism
was counteracted. Ah yes, he said, he recollected a case in the shop
where he learnt his trade; they had a watch brought to them which had got
magnetised, and he believed the influence was at last removed by the use
of onions. Instantly memory ran back to Ptolemy's garlic; perhaps after
all there was something in his statement; at all events, it is very
curious that the subject should come up again in this unexpected way, in
the darkness, as it were, of a village where the very name of the great
mathematician was unknown. The clockmaker fumbled with an anecdote, and
tried to tell me of another sort of magnetism which had got into a watch.
The watch would not keep time, nothing would make it; till by-and-by it
occurred to him to suggest to the owner to wind it up at breakfast-time
instead of at night. For he fancied the owner became a little magnetised
himself at night over the genial bowl, and so was irregular in winding
his watch.



FIELD WORDS AND WAYS.



The robin, 'jolly Robin!' is an unlucky bird in some places. When the
horse-chestnut leaves turn scarlet the redbreast sings in a peculiarly
plaintive way, as if in tone with the dropping leaves and the chill air
that follows the early morning frost. You may tell how much moisture
there is in the air in a given place by the colours of the autumn leaves;
the horse-chestnut, scarlet near a stream, is merely yellowish in drier
soils. Cock robin sings the louder for the silence of other birds, and if
he comes to the farmstead and pipes away day by day on a bare cherry tree
or any bough that is near the door, after his custom, the farmer thinks
it an evil omen. For a robin to sing persistently near the house winter
or summer is a sign that something is about to go wrong. Yet the farmer
will not shoot him. The roughest poaching fellows who would torture a dog
will not kill a robin; it is bad luck to have anything to do with it.
Most people like to see fir boughs and holly brought into the house to
brighten the dark days with their green, but the cottage children tell
you that they must not bring a green fir branch indoors, because as it
withers their parents will be taken ill and fade away. Indeed the
labouring people seem in all their ways and speech to be different,
survivals perhaps of a time when their words and superstitions were the
ways of a ruder England. The lanes and the gateways in the fields, as
they say, are 'slubby' enough in November, and those who try to go
through get 'slubbed' up to their knees. This expresses a soft, plastic,
and adhesive condition of the mud which comes on after it has been
'raining hop-poles' for a week. The labourer has little else to do but to
chop up disused hop-poles into long fagots with a hand-bill--in other
counties a bill-hook. All his class bitterly resent the lowering of wages
which takes place in winter; it is a shame, they say, and they evidently
think that the farmers ought to be forced to pay them more--they are
starvation wages. On the other hand, the farmer, racked in every
direction, and unable to sell his produce, finds the labour bill the most
difficult to meet, because it comes with unfailing regularity every
Saturday. A middle-aged couple of cottagers left their home, and the wife
told us how they had walked and walked day after day, but the farmers
said they were too poor to give them a job. So at last the man, as they
went grumbling on the highway, lost his temper, and hit her a 'clod' in
the head, 'and I never spoke to him for an _hour_ afterwards; no, that I
didn't; not for an hour.' A clod is a heavy, lumping blow. Their home was
'broad' of Hurst--that is, in the Hurst district, but at some little
distance.

'There a' sets' is a constant expression for there it lies. A dish on the
table, a cat on the hearth, a plough in the field, 'there a' sets,' there
it is. 'No bounds' is another. It may rain all day long, 'there's no
bounds;' that is, no knowing. 'I may go to fair, no bounds,' it is
uncertain, I have not made up my mind. A folk so vague in their ideas are
very fond of this 'no bounds;' it is like the 'Quien sabe?' of the
Mexicans, who knows? and accompanies every remark. An avaricious person
is very 'having;' wants to have everything. What are usually called
dog-irons on the hearth are called brand-irons, having to support the
brand or burning log. Where every one keeps fowls the servant girls are
commonly asked if they can cram a chicken, if they understand how to
fatten it by filling its crop artificially. 'Sure,' pronounced with great
emphasis on the 'su,' like the 'shure' of the Irish, comes out at every
sentence. 'I shan't do it all, sure;' and if any one is giving a
narration, the polite listener has to throw in a deep 'sure' of assent at
every pause. 'Cluttered up' means in a litter, surrounded with too many
things to do at once. Of a little girl they said she was pretty, but she
had 'bolted' eyes; a portrait was a good one, but 'his eyes bolt so,
meaning thereby full, staring eyes, that seem to start out of the head. A
drunken man, says the poor wife, is not worth a hatful of crab apples.
The boys go hoop-driving, never bowling. If in any difficulty they say,
'I hope to match it out to the end of the week,' to make the provisions
last, or fit the work in. Most difficult of all to express is the way
they say yes and no. It is neither yes nor no, nor yea nor nay, but a
cross between it somehow. To say yes they shut their lips and then open
them as if gasping for breath and emit a sort of 'yath' without the 'th,'
more like 'yeah,' and better still if to get the closing of the lips you
say 'em' first--'em-yeah.' The no is 'nah' with a sort of jerk on the h;
'na-h,' This yeah and nah is most irritating to fresh ears; you do not
seem to know if your servant has taken any notice of what you said, or is
making a mouth at you in derision.

The farmers are always complaining that the men crawl through their work
and put no energy into anything, just as if they were afraid to use their
hands. More particularly, if there is any little extra thing to be done,
they could not possibly do it. A wheat rick was threshed one day, and
when it was finished in the afternoon there were the sacks in a great
heap about twenty or thirty yards from the barn. So soon as the rick was
finished, the men asked for their money as usual, when the farmer said he
wanted them to carry the sacks into the barn before they left. Oh no,
they couldn't do that. 'Well, then,' said he, 'I can't pay you till you
have done it.' No, they couldn't do it, couldn't be expected to carry
sacks of wheat across the rickyard and into the barn like that, it was
too much for any man to do; why couldn't he send for the cart? The farmer
replied that the cart was two miles away, engaged in other labour; the
night was coming on, and if it rained in the night the wheat would be
damaged. No, they couldn't do it. The farmer would not pay them, and so
the dispute continued for a long time. At length the farmer said, 'Well,
if you won't do it, perhaps you will at least help me as far as this:
will you lift up a sack and place it on another high enough for me to get
it on my back, and I will myself carry them to the barn?' So small a
favour they could not refuse, and having raised up a sack for him in this
manner, he took it on his back and made off with it to the barn. He was
anything but a strong man--far less able to carry a sack of wheat than
the labourers--but determined not to be beaten. He carried one sack, then
another and another, till he had got eight safely housed, when on coming
back for the ninth he met a labourer with a sack on his back, shamed into
giving assistance. After him a second man took a sack, and one by one
they all followed, till in about half an hour all the wheat was in the
barn. This is the spirit in which they work if the least little
difficulty occurs, or they are asked to do anything that varies from what
they did yesterday or the day before, they cannot possibly accomplish it.

Since, however, the farmers have been unable to sell their produce and
winter wages have gone down, and work is scarce, the position of the
labourer is a very dull one, and it is feared the present winter will be
a hard time for many homes. Numbers talk of emigrating, and some have
taken the first step, and will sell their furniture and leave a land
where neither farmer nor labourer has any hope. One middle-aged cottage
woman, married, kept harping upon the holiday they should have during the
voyage to America. That seemed to her the great beauty of emigration, the
great temptation. For ten days, while the voyage lasted, she would have
nothing to do, but could rest! She had never had such a holiday in all
her life. How hard must be the life which makes such a trifling
circumstance as a week's rest appear so heavenly!



COTTAGE IDEAS.



Passing by the kitchen door, I heard Louisa, the maid, chanting to a
child on her knee:

  Feyther stole th' Paason's sheep;
  A merry Christmas we shall keep;
  We shall have both mutton and beef--
  _But we won't say nothing about it_.

To rightly understand this rhyme you must sing it with long-drawn
emphasis on each word, lengthening it into at least two syllables; the
first a sort of hexameter, the second a pentameter of sound:

  Fey-ther sto-ole th' Paa-son's sheep.

The last line is to come off more trippingly, like an 'aside.' This old
sing-song had doubtless been handed down from the times when the
labourers really did steal sheep, a crime happily extinct with cheap
bread. Louisa was one of the rare old sort--hard-working, and always
ready; never complaining, but satisfied with any food there chanced to
be; sensible and sturdy; a woman who could be thoroughly depended on. Her
boxes were full of good dresses, of a solid, unassuming kind, such as
would wear well--a perfect wardrobe. Her purse was always well supplied
with money; she had money saved up, and she sent money to her parents:
yet her wages, until late years, had been small. In doing her duty to
others she did good to herself. A duchess would have been glad to have
her in her household. She had been in farmhouse service from girlhood,
and had doubtless learned much from good housewives; farmers' wives are
the best of all teachers: and the girls, for their own sakes, had much
better be under them than wasting so much time learning useless knowledge
at compulsory schools.

  Freckles said, when he came in,
  He never would enter a tawny skin,

was another of her rhymes. Freckles come in with summer, but never appear
on a dark skin, so that the freckled should rejoice in these signs of
fairness.

  Your father, the elderberry,
  Was not such a gooseberry
  As to send in his bilberry
  Before it was dewberry.

Some children are liable to an unpleasant complaint at night; for this
there is a certain remedy. A mouse is baked in the oven to a 'scrump,'
then pounded to powder, and this powder administered. Many ladies still
have faith in this curious medicine; it reminds one of the powdered
mummy, once the great cure of human ills. Country places have not always
got romantic names--Wapse's Farm, for instance, and Hog's Pudding Farm.
Wapse is the provincial for wasp.

Country girls are not all so shrewd as Louisa: we heard of two--this was
some time since--who, being in service in London, paid ten shillings each
to Madame Rachel for a bath to be made beautiful for ever. Half a
sovereign out of their few coins! On the other hand, town servants are
well dressed and have plenty of finery, but seldom have any reserve of
good clothing, such as Louisa possessed. All who know the country regret
the change that has been gradually coming over the servants and the class
from which they are supplied. 'Gawd help the pore missis as gets hold of
_you_!' exclaimed a cottage woman to her daughter, whose goings on had
not been as they should be: 'God help the poor mistress who has to put up
with you!' A remark that would be most emphatically echoed by many a
farmer's wife and country resident. 'Doan't you stop if her hollers at
'ee,' said another cottage mother to her girl, just departing for
service--that is, don't stop if you don't like it; don't stop if your
mistress finds the least fault. 'Come along home if you don't like it.'
Home to what? In this instance it was a most wretched hovel, literally
built in a ditch; no convenience, no sanitation; and the father a
drunkard, who scarcely brought enough money indoors to supply bread.

You would imagine that a mother in such a position would impress upon her
children the necessity of endeavouring to do something. For the sake of
that spirit of independence in which they seem to take so much pride, one
would suppose they would desire to see their children able to support
themselves. But it is just the reverse; the poorer folk are, the less
they seem to care to try to do something. 'You come home if you don't
like it;' and stay about the hovel in slatternly idleness, tails
bedraggled and torn, thin boots out at the toes and down at the heels,
half starved on potatoes and weak tea--stay till you fall into disgrace,
and lose the only thing you possess in the world--your birthright, your
character. Strange advice it was for a mother to give.

Nor is the feeling confined to the slatternly section, but often
exhibited by very respectable cottagers indeed.

'My mother never would go out to service--she _wouldn't_ go,' said a
servant to her mistress, one day talking confidentially.

'Then what did she do?' asked the mistress, knowing they were very poor
people.

'Oh, she stopped at home.'

'But how did she live?'

'Oh, her father had to keep her. If she wouldn't go out, of course he had
to somehow.'

This mother would not let her daughter go to one place because there was
a draw-well on the premises; and her father objected to her going to
another because the way to the house lay down a long and lonely lane. The
girl herself, however, had sense enough to keep in a situation; but it
was distinctly against the feeling at her home; yet they were almost the
poorest family in the place. They were very respectable, and thought well
of in every way, belonging to the best class of cottagers.

Unprofitable sentiments! injurious sentiments--self-destroying; but I
always maintain that sentiment is stronger than fact, and even than
self-interest. I see clearly how foolish these feelings are, and how they
operate to the disadvantage of those whom they influence. Yet I confess
that were I in the same position I should be just as foolish. If I lived
in a cottage of three rooms, and earned my bread by dint of arm and hand
under the sun of summer and the frost of winter; if I lived on hard fare,
and, most powerful of all, if I had no hope for the future, no
improvement to look forward to, I should feel just the same. I would
rather my children shared my crust than fed on roast beef in a stranger's
hall. Perhaps the sentiment in my case might have a different origin, but
in effect it would be similar. I should prefer to see my family about
me--the one only pleasure I should have--the poorer and the more unhappy,
the less I should care to part with them. This may be foolish, but I
expect it is human nature.

English folk don't 'cotton' to their poverty at all; they don't cat
humble-pie with a relish; they resent being poor and despised. Foreign
folk seem to take to it quite naturally; an Englishman, somehow or other,
always feels that he is wronged. He is injured; he has not got his
rights. To me it seems the most curious thing possible that well-to-do
people should expect the poor to be delighted with their condition. I
hope they never will be; an evil day that--if it ever came--for the
Anglo-Saxon race.

One girl prided herself very much upon belonging to a sort of club or
insurance-if she died, her mother would receive ten pounds. Ten pounds,
ten golden sovereigns was to her such a magnificent sum, that she really
appeared to wish herself dead, in order that it might be received. She
harped and talked and brooded on it constantly. If she caught cold it
didn't matter, she would say, her mother would have ten pounds. It seemed
a curious reversal of ideas, but it is a fact that poor folk in course of
time come to think less of death than money. Another girl was describing
to her mistress how she met the carter's ghost in the rickyard; the
waggon-wheel went over him; but he continued to haunt the old scene, and
they met him as commonly as the sparrows.

'Did you ever speak to him?'

'Oh no. You mustn't speak to them; if you speak to them they'll fly at
you.'

In winter the men were allowed to grub up the roots of timber that had
been thrown, and take the wood home for their own use; this kept them in
fuel the winter through without buying any. 'But they don't get _paid_
for that work.' She considered it quite a hardship that they were not
paid for taking a present. Cottage people do look at things in such a
curious crooked light! A mother grumbled because the vicar had not been
to see her child, who was ill. Now, she was not a church-goer, and cared
nothing for the Church or its doctrines--that was not it; she grumbled so
terribly because 'it was his place to come.'

A lady went to live in a village for health's sake, and having heard so
much of the poverty of the farmer's man, and how badly his family were
off, thought that she should find plenty who would be glad to pick up
extra shillings by doing little things for her. First she wanted a stout
boy to help to draw her Bath chair, while the footman pushed behind, it
being a hilly country. Instead of having to choose between half a dozen
applicants, as she expected, the difficulty was to discover anybody who
would even take such a job into consideration. The lads did not care
about it; their fathers did not care about it; and their mothers did not
want them to do it. At one cottage there were three lads at home doing
nothing; but the mother thought they were too delicate for such work. In
the end a boy was found, but not for some time. Nobody was eager for any
extra shilling to be earned in that way. The next thing was somebody to
fetch a yoke or two of spring water daily. This man did not care for it,
and the other did not care for it; and even one who had a small piece of
ground, and kept a donkey and water-butt on wheels for the very purpose,
shook his head. He always fetched water for folk in the summer when it
was dry, never fetched none at that time of year--he could not do it.
After a time a small shopkeeper managed the yoke of water from the spring
for her--_his_ boy could carry it; the labourer's could not. He was
comparatively well-to-do, yet he was not above an extra shilling.

This is one of the most curious traits in the character of cottage
folk--they do not care for small sums; they do not care to pick up
sixpences. They seem to be _afraid of obliging people_--as if to do so,
even to their own advantage, would be against their personal honour and
dignity. In London the least trifle is snapped up immediately, and there
is a great crush and press for permission to earn a penny, and that not
in very dignified ways. In the country it is quite different. Large
fortunes have been made out of matches; now your true country cottager
would despise such a miserable fraction of a penny as is represented by a
match. I heard a little girl singing--

  Little drops of water, little grains of sand.

It is these that make oceans and mountains; it is pennies that make
millionaires. But this the countryman cannot see. Not him alone either;
the dislike to little profits is a national characteristic, well marked
in the farmer, and indeed in all classes. I, too, must be humble, and
acknowledge that I have frequently detected the same folly in myself, so
let it not be supposed for an instant that I set up as a censor; I do but
delineate. Work for the cottager must be work to please him; and to
please him it must be the regular sort to which he is accustomed, which
he did beside his father as a boy, which _his_ father did, and _his_
father before him; the same old plough or grub-axe, the same milking, the
same identical mowing, if possible in the same field. He does not care
for any new-fangled jobs: he does not recognise them, they have no _locus
standi_--they are not established. Yet he is most anxious for work, and
works well, and is indeed the best labourer in the world. But it is the
national character. To understand a nation you must go to the cottager.

The well-to-do are educated, they have travelled, if not in their ideas,
they are more or less cosmopolitan. In the cottager the character stands
out in the coarsest relief; in the cottager you get to 'bed-rock,' as the
Americans say; there's the foundation. Character runs upwards, not
downwards. It is not the nature of the aristocrat that permeates the
cottager, but the nature of the cottager that permeates the aristocrat.
The best of us are polished cottagers. Scratch deep enough, and you come
to that; so that to know a people, go to the cottage, and not to the
mansion. The labouring man cannot quickly alter his ways. Can the
manufacturer? All alike try to go in the same old groove, till disaster
visits their persistence. It is English human nature.



APRIL GOSSIP



The old woman tried to let the cuckoo out of the basket at Heathfield
fair as usual on the 14th; but there seems to have been a hitch with the
lid, for he was not heard immediately about the country. Just before that
two little boys were getting over a gate from a hop-garden, with handfuls
of Lent lilies--a beautiful colour under the dark sky. They grow wild
round the margin of the hop garden, showing against the bare dark loam;
gloomy cloud over and gloomy earth under. 'Sell me a bunch?' 'No, no,
can't do that; we wants these yer for granmer.' 'Well, get me a bunch
presently, and I will give you twopence for it.' 'I dunno. We sends the
bunches we finds up to Aunt Polly in Lunnon, and they sends us back
sixpence for every bunch.' So the wild flowers go to Lunnon from all
parts of the country, bushels and bushels of them. Nearly two hundred
miles away in Somerset a friend writes that he has been obliged to put up
notice-boards to stay the people from tearing up his violets and
primroses, not only gathering them but making the flowery banks waste;
and notice-boards have proved no safeguard. The worst is that the roots
are taken, so that years will be required to repair the loss. Birds are
uncertain husbandmen, and sow seeds as fancy leads their wings. Do the
violets get sown by ants? Sir John Lubbock says they carry violet seeds
into their nests.

The lads, who still pelt the frogs in the ponds, just as they always did,
in spite of so much schooling, call them chollies. Pheasants are often
called peacocks. Bush-harrows, which are at work in the meadows at this
time of year, are drudges or dredges. One sunny morning I noticed the
broken handle of a jug on the bank of the road by the garden. What
interested me was the fine shining glaze of this common piece of red
earthenware. And how had the potter made that peculiar marking under the
surface of the glaze? I touched it with my stick, when the pot-handle
drew itself out of loop shape and slowly disappeared under some dead
furze, showing the blunt tail of a blindworm. I have heard people say
that the red ones are venomous, but the grey harmless. The red are
spiteful, and if you see them in the road you should always kill them. It
is curious that in places where blindworms are often seen their innocuous
nature should not be generally known. They are even called adders
sometimes. At the farm below, the rooks have been down and destroyed the
tender chickens not long hatched; they do not eat the whole of the
chicken, but disembowel it for food. Rooks are very wide feeders,
especially at nesting-time. They are suspected of being partial to the
young of partridge and pheasant, as well as to the eggs.

Looking down upon the treetops of the forest from a height, there seemed
to come from day to day a hoariness in the boughs, a greyish hue,
distinct from the blackness of winter. This thickened till the eye could
not see into the wood; until then the trunks had been visible, but they
were now shut out. The buds were coming; and presently the surface of the
treetops took a dark reddish-brown tint. The larches lifted their
branches, which had drooped, curving upwards as a man raises his arms
above his shoulders, and the slender boughs became set with green buds.
At a distance the corn is easily distinguished from the meadows beside it
by the different shade of green; grass is a deep green, corn appears
paler and yet brighter--perhaps the long winter has given it the least
touch of yellow. Daisies are up at last--very late indeed. Big
humble-bees, grey striped, enter the garden and drone round the banks,
searching everywhere for a fit hole in which to begin the nest. It is
pleasant to hear them; after the dreary silence the old familiar burr-rr
is very welcome. Spotted orchis leaves are up, and the palm-willow bears
its yellow pollen. Happily, the wild anemones will not bear the journey
to London, they wither too soon; else they would probably be torn up like
the violets. Neither is there any demand for the white barren strawberry
blossom, or the purplish ground-ivy among the finely marked fern moss.

The rain falls; and in the copses of the valley, deep and moist, where
grey lichen droops from the boughs, the thrushes sing all day--so
delighted are they to have the earth soft again, and so busy with the
nesting. At four o'clock in the morning the larks begin to sing: they
will be half an hour earlier next month, adjusting their time nicely by
the rising of the sun. They sing on till after the lamps are lit in the
evening. Far back in the snow-time a pair of wagtails used to come
several times a day close to the windows, their black markings showing up
singularly well against the snow on the ground. They seemed to have just
arrived. But now the weather is open and food plentiful they have left
us. The wagtails appear to be the first of the migrant birds to return,
long before the hail of April rattles against the windows and leaps up in
the short grass. Out in the hop-gardens the poles are placed ready for
setting, in conical heaps--at a distance resembling the tents of an army.
Never were the labouring men so glad to see the spring, for never have so
many of them been out of work or for longer periods. Yet, curiously
enough, even if out of work and suffering, every sort of job will not
suit them. One applicant for work was offered hop-pole shaving at 3_s_. a
hundred--said to be a fair price; but the work did not please him, and he
would not do it. On the other hand, a girl sent out 'to service' turned
her back on domestic duties, ran away from her mistress, and joined her
father and brother in the woods where they were shaving hop-poles. There
she worked with them all the winter--the roughest of rough
winters--preferring the wild freedom of the snow-clad woods, with hard
food, to the indoor employment. No mistress there in the snow: one woman
does not like another over her. A man stood idling at the cross-roads in
the village for weeks, hands in pockets, waiting for work. Some one took
pity on him, and said he could come and dig up an acre of grassland to
make a market garden; 15_s_. a week was the offer, with spade found, and
not long hours. 'Thank you, sir; I'll go and look at it,' said the
labourer. He went; and presently returned to say that he did not care
about it. In some way or other it did not fall in with his notions of
what work for him ought to be. I do not believe he was a bad sort of
fellow at all; but still there it is. No one can explain these things. A
distinct line, as it were, separates the cottager, his ways and thoughts,
from others. In a cottage with which I am acquainted an infant recently
died. The body was kept in the parents' bedroom close to their bed, day
and night, until burial. This is the custom. The cottage wife thinks that
not to have the body of her child by her bed would be most
unfeeling--most cruel to lay it by itself in a cold room away from her.



SOME APRIL INSECTS.



A black humble-bee came to the white hyacinths in the garden on the sunny
April morning when the yellow tulip opened, and as she alighted on the
flower there hovered a few inches in the rear an eager attendant, not
quite so large, more grey, and hovering with the shrillest vibration
close at hand. The black bee went round the other side of a bunch of
hyacinths, and was hidden in the bell of a purple one. At thus
temporarily losing sight of her, the follower, one might say, flew into a
state of extreme excitement, and spun round and round in the air till he
caught sight of her again and resumed his steady hovering. Then she went
to the next bunch of hyacinths; he followed her, when, with a furious,
shrill cry of swiftly beating wings, a second lover darted down, and then
the two followed the lady in black velvet--buzz, buzz, buzz, pointing
like hounds stationary in the air--buzz, buzz--while she without a
moment's thought of them worked at the honey. By-and-by one rushed at
her--a too eager caress, for she lost her balance and fell out of the
flower on to the ground. Up she got and pursued him for a few angry
circles, and then settled to work again. Presently the rivals darted at
each other and whirled about, and in the midst of the battle off went the
lady in velvet to another part of the garden, and the combatants
immediately rushed after her. Every morning that the tulip opened its
great yellow bell, these black humble-bees came, almost always followed
by one lover, sometimes, as on the first occasion, by two. A bright row
of polyanthus and oxlips seemed to be the haunt of the male bees. There
they waited, some on the leaves and some on the dry clods heated by the
sun, in ambush till a dark lady should come. The yellow tulip was a
perfect weather-meter; if there was the least bit of harshness in the
air, the least relic of the east wind, it remained folded. Sunshine alone
was not sufficient to tempt it, but the instant there was any softness in
the atmosphere open came the bell, and as if by a magic key all the bees
and humble-bees of the place were unlocked, and forth they came with
joyous note--not to visit the tulip, which is said to be a fatal cup of
poison to them.

Any one delicate would do well to have a few such flowers in spring under
observation, and to go out of doors or stop in according to their
indications. I think there were four species of wild bee at these early
flowers, including the great bombus and the small prosopis with
orange-yellow head. It is difficult to scientifically identify small
insects hastily flitting without capturing them, which I object to doing,
for I dislike to interfere with their harmless liberty. They have all
been named and classified, and I consider it a great cruelty to destroy
them again without special purpose. The pleasure is to see them alive and
busy with their works, and not to keep them in a cabinet. These wild
bees, particularly the smaller ones, greatly resented my watching them,
just the same as birds do. If I walked by they took no heed; if I stopped
or stooped to get a better view they were off instantly. Without doubt
they see you, and have some idea of the meaning of your various motions.
The wild bees are a constant source of interest, much more so than the
hive bee, which is so extremely regular in its ways. With an explosion
almost like a little bomb shot out of a flower; with an immense hum,
almost startling, boom! the great bombus hurls himself up in the air from
under foot; well named--boom--bombus. Is it correct or is it only a
generalisation, that insects like ants and hive bees, who live in great
and well-organised societies, are more free from the attacks of parasites
than the comparatively solitary wild bees? Ants are, indeed, troubled
with some parasites, but these do not seem to multiply very greatly, and
do not seriously injure the populousness of the nest. They have enemies
which seize them, but an enemy is not a parasite. On the other hand, too,
they have mastered a variety of insects, and use them for their
delectation and profit. Hive bees are likewise fairly free from
parasites, unless, indeed, their so-called dysentery is caused by some
minute microbe. These epidemics, however, are rare. Take it altogether,
the hive bee appears comparatively free of parasites. Enemies they have,
but that is another matter.

Have these highly civilised insects arrived in some manner at a solution
of the parasite problem? Have they begun where human civilisation may be
said to have ended, with a diligent study of parasitic life? All our
scientific men are now earnestly engaged in the study of bacteria,
microbes, mycelium, and yeast, infinitesimally minute fungi of every
description, while meantime the bacillus is eating away the lives of a
heavy percentage of our population. Ants live in communities which might
be likened to a hundred Londons dotted about England, so are their nests
in a meadow, or, still more striking, on a heath. Their immense crowds,
the population of China to an acre, do not breed disease. Every ant out
of that enormous multitude may calculate on a certain average duration of
life, setting aside risks from battle, birds, and such enemies. Microbes
are unlikely to destroy her. Now this is a very extraordinary
circumstance. In some manner the ants have found out a way of
accommodating themselves to the facts of their existence; they have
fitted themselves in with nature and reached a species of millennium. Are
they then more intelligent than man? We have certainly not succeeded in
doing this yet; they are very far ahead of us. Are their eyes, divided
into a thousand facets, a thousand times more powerful than our most
powerful microscopes, and can they see spores, germs, microbes, or
bacilli where our strongest lenses find nothing? I have some doubts as to
whether ants are really shut out of many flowers by hairs pointing
downwards in a fringe and similar contrivances. The ant has a singularly
powerful pair of mandibles: put one between your shirt and skin and try;
the nip you will get will astonish you. With these they can shear off the
legs or even the head of another ant in battle. I cannot see, therefore,
why, if they wished, they could not nip off this fringe of hairs, or even
sever the stem of the plant. Evidently they do not wish, and possibly
they have reasons for avoiding some plants and flowers, which besides
honey may contain spores--just as they certainly contain certain larvae,
which attach themselves to the bodies of bees.

Possibly we may yet use the ants or some other clever insects to find out
the origin of the fatal parasite which devours the consumptive. Some
reason exists for imagining that this parasite has something to do with
the flora, for phthisis ceases at a certain altitude, and it is very well
known that the floras have a marked line of demarcation. Up to a certain
height certain flowers will grow, but not beyond, just as if you had run
a separating ditch round the mountain. With the flora the insects cease;
whether the germ comes from the vegetation or from the insect that
frequents the vegetation does not seem known. Still it would be worth
while to make a careful examination of the plant and insect life just at
the verge of the line of division. The bacillus may spring from a spore
starting from a plant or starting from an insect. Most of England had an
Alpine climate probably once, and some Alpine plants and animals have
been stranded on the tops of our highest hills and remain there to this
day. In those icy times English lungs were probably free of disease. Has
formic acid ever been used for experiments on bacilli? It is the ant
acid; they are full of it, and it is extracted and used for some purposes
abroad. Perhaps its strong odour is repellent to parasites. To return:
while the honey-bees live in comparative safety, the more or less
solitary wild bees have a great struggle to repel various creatures that
would eat them or their young, and, be as watchful as they may, all their
efforts at nest-building are often rendered nugatory by the success of a
parasite. So it is not worth while to catch them just for the purpose of
identification, for they have enough enemies in the field without man and
his heartless cabinets. The collector is the most terrible parasite of
all. Let them go on with a happy hum, while the tulip opens in the
sunshine.



THE TIME OF YEAR.



The Emperor moth came out on the 2nd of April, and suddenly filled the
cardboard box like the noonday phantom in the sunshine, so unexpected and
wonderful. His wings, which as he rests are spread open, stretched from
one side of the box to the other, hovering over his old home, a beautiful
grey tipped with pink, and peacock-eyed, ring within ring. He clung to
the piece of heather upon which the caterpillar was found seven months
before, and which he had fixed in the threads of his cocoon. The immense
dark green caterpillar banded with black and spotted with gold was found
on the 29th of August among the heather on the hill-side; the sun
burning, the air all alight with the fire of the beams, a day of
flame--as if the keen tips of the pine needles would take fire in the
glow. The caterpillar in its colour and size seemed almost tropical;
those who have not seen it would scarcely believe that a caterpillar
could be so magnificent; but indoors in the cardboard box he lost his
sun-burnished colour and half his glory. Immediately afterwards he spun
his cocoon, and there he stayed for seven long months, so that the moth
thus suddenly appearing, without any cracking or opening of the cocoon,
appeared to be created on the spot. At first, indeed, some thought it was
a moth that had entered by the window, there being no rent or place of
exit from the perfect case. Within, however, was the broken and blackened
skin of the caterpillar and the detached thorax: the cocoon is like the
baskets for taking fish at weirs, only the willows merely touch at the
tip, and through these he had crept out, and they closed behind him.

The pale purple heather bloom still lies in the bottom of the box. Never
again shall I see a day of such glory of light, of air burning with
light; the very ferns in the shade were bright with the glow, despite
their soft green. A sad hour it was to me, yet I could see all its
beauty; sad, too, to think it will never return. So the Emperor moth came
out on the 2nd of April, and the same day there was a yellow and a white
butterfly in the garden. There had come a gleam of sunshine after two
months of bitter north wind, and the insects took life immediately. Early
in the morning the greenfinches were screaming at each other in the
elm--they were in such a hurry to get out their song, they screamed; the
chaffinches were challenging, and the starlings fluttering their wings at
the high window, and all this excitement at one gleam of sun. A friend
asked me what bird it was that always finished up its song with a loud
call for 'ginger-beer'--whatever he sang he always said 'ginger-beer' at
the end of it; it is the chaffinch, and a very good rendering of the
notes. 'Quawk! Quoak!' the rooks as they went by were so contented
enjoying the sunshine, they took out the harsh 'c' or 'k' and substituted
the softer 'q'--'quawk! quowk!' Another perched on a tree made a short
speech, perhaps he thought it was a song. Sea-gulls have curiously
rook-like habits in some respects, following the plough like them, and in
spring wheeling for hours round and round in the sky as the rooks do.

The blackbirds and thrushes that had been singing freely previously
suddenly ceased singing about December 15, and remained silent for a
month, and as suddenly began singing again about January 15. Where they
all came from I cannot think, there seemed such an increase in their
numbers; one wet morning in a small meadow there were forty-five feeding
in sight that could be easily counted. They say the thrushes dig up and
eat the roots of the arum, yet they are not root-eaters. Possibly it may
have a medicinal effect; the whole plant has very strong properties, and
is still much gathered, I suppose for the herbalists. The root is set
rather deep, quite a dig with a pocket knife sometimes; one would fancy
it was only those which had become accidentally exposed that are eaten by
the thrushes. I have never seen them do it, and some further testimony
would be acceptable. The old naturalists said the bear on awakening from
its winter sleep dug up and ate the roots of the arum in order to open
the tube of the intestine which had flattened together during
hibernation. The blackbirds are the thrushes' masters, and drive them
from any morsel they fancy. There is very little humanity among them: one
poor thrush had lost the joint of its leg, and in order to pick up
anything had to support itself with one wing like a crutch. This bird was
hunted from every spot he chose to alight on; no sooner did he enter the
garden than one of the stronger birds flew at him--'so misery is trodden
on by many.' There was a drone-fly on a sunny wall on January 20, the
commonest of flies in summer, quite a wonder then; the same day a
house-sparrow was trying to sing, for they have a song as well as a
chirp; on January 22 a tit was sharpening his saw and the gnats were
jumping up and down in crowds--this up-and-down motion seems peculiar to
them and may-flies. Then the snowdrops flowered and a hive-bee came to
them; next the yellow crocus; bees came to these, too, and so eager were
they that one bee would visit the same flower five or six times before
finally going away. Bees are very eager for water in the early year; you
may see them in crowds on the wet mud in ditches; there was a wild bee
drowning in a basin of water the other day till I took him out.

Before the end of January the woodbine leaf was out, always the first to
come, and never learning that it is too soon; whether the woodbine came
over with 'Richard Conqueror' or the Romans, it still imagines itself ten
degrees further south, so that some time seems necessary to teach a plant
the alphabet. Immediately afterwards down came a north wind and put
nature under its thumb for two months; the drone-fly hid himself, the
bees went home, everything became shrivelled, dry, inhuman. The local
direction of the wind might vary, but it was still the same polar
draught, the blood-sucker; for, like a vampire, it sucks the very blood
and moisture out of delicate human life, just as it dries up the sap in
the branch. While this lasted there were no notes to make, the changes
were slower than the hour hand of a clock; still it was interesting to
see the tree-climber come every morning at eleven o'clock to the
cobble-stone wall and ascend it exactly as he ascends trees, peering into
chinks among the moss and the pennywort. He seemed almost as fond of
these walls as of his tree trunks. He came regularly at eleven and again
at three in the afternoon, and a barn owl went by with a screech every
evening a little after eight. The starlings told the time of the year as
accurately as the best chronometer at Whitehall. When I saw the last
chimney swallow, November 30, they went by to their sleeping-trees about
three o'clock in the afternoon--a long night, a short day for them. So
they continued till in January the day had grown thirty minutes longer,
when they went to roost so much the later; in February, four o'clock; in
March, by degrees their time for passing by the window _en route_ drew on
to five o'clock. Let the cold be never so great or the sky so clouded,
the mysterious influence of the light, as the sun slowly rises higher on
the meridian, sinks into the earth like a magic rain. It enters the
hardest bark and the rolled-up bud, so firm that its point will prick the
finger like a thorn; it stirs beneath the surface of the ground. A
magnetism that is not heat, and for which there is no exact name, works
out of sight in answer to the sun. Seen or unseen, clouded or not, every
day the sun lifts itself an inch higher, and let the north wind shrivel
as it may, this invisible potency compels the bud to swell and the flower
to be ready in its calyx. Progress goes on in spite of every
discouragement. The birch trees reddened all along their slender boughs,
and when the sunlight struck aslant, the shining bark shone like gossamer
threads wet with dew.

The wood-pigeon in the fir trees could not be silent any longer.
Whoo--too--whoo--ooe! then up he flew with a clatter of his wings and
down again into the trees. 'Take two cows, Taffy,' he could not be silent
any longer--whoo--too--whoo--ooe! The blackthorn bloom began to faintly
show the tiniest white studs, and the boys in great triumph brought in
the first blue thrush's eggs. Nature would go on though under the thumb
of the north wind. Poor folk came out of the towns to gather ivy leaves
for sale in the streets to make button-holes. Many people think the ivy
leaf has a pleasant shape; it was used of old time among the Greeks and
Romans to decorate the person at joyous festivals. The ivy is frequently
mentioned in the classic poets. Not so with the countrywomen in the
villages to-day, ground down in constant dread of that hateful workhouse
system of which I can find no words to express my detestation. They tell
their daughters never to put ivy leaves in their hair or brooch, because
'they puts it on the dead paupers in the unions and the lunatics in the
'sylums.' Such an association took away all the beauty of the ivy leaf.
There is nature in their hearts, you see, although they are under the
polar draught of poverty. At last there came a little warmth and the
Emperor moth appeared, yellow and white butterflies came out, flowers
bloomed, buds opened--ripened by the mystic magnetism of the sun in their
sheaths and cocoons--great humble-bees came with a full-blown buzz, all
before the swallow, the nightingale, and cuckoo. It was but for a day,
and then down fell the bitter polar draught again.



MIXED DAYS OF MAY AND DECEMBER



In a sheltered spot the cuckoo was first heard on April 29, but only for
one day; then, as the wind took up its accustomed northerly drift again,
he was silent. The first chimney swallows (four) appeared on April 25,
and were quickly followed by a number. They might be said to be about
three weeks behind time, and the cuckoo a fortnight. The chiffchaff
uttered his clear yet rather sad notes on April 26. The same morning at
five o'clock there had been a slight snow shower, but it was a sunny day.
On May 1 a stitchwort was in flower, a plant that marks the period
distinctly. A swift appeared on May 2; I should not consider this late. A
whitethroat was catching insects in the garden on May 6. The cuckoo sang
again on May 8; the same day a Red Admiral butterfly was seen, and the
turtle-dove heard cooing. Next day, the 9th, the cave swallow appeared,
and also the bank martin. With the cooing of the turtledove the spring
migrants are generally complete; a warm summer bird, he is usually the
last, and if the others had not been seen they are probably in the
country somewhere. The chimney swallows had been absent five months all
but five days (last seen November 30), so that reckoning the first and
the last, they may be said to stay in England seven months--much longer
than one would think without taking the dates. Up till April 20 the
hedges seemed as bare as they were in January, a most dreary spectacle of
barren branches, and the great elms gaunt against the sky. After that the
hedges gradually filled with leaf, and were fully coloured when the
turtle-dove began to sing, but still the elms were only just budding, and
but faintly tinted with green.

Chaucer was right in singing of the 'floures' of May notwithstanding the
northern winds and early frosts and December-like character of our Mays.
That the cycle of weather was warmer in his time is probably true, but
still even now, under all the drawbacks of a late and wintry season, his
description is perfectly accurate. If any one had gone round the fields
on old May-day, the 13th, _his_ May-day, they might have found the deep
blue bird's-eye veronica, anemones, star-like stitchworts, cowslips,
buttercups, lesser celandine, daisies, white blackthorn, and gorse in
bloom--in short, a list enough to make a page bright with colour, though
the wind might be bitter. In the coldest and most exposed place I ever
lived in, and with a spring as cold as this, the May garlands included
orchids, and the meadows were perfectly golden with marsh-marigolds. For
some reason or other the flowers seem to come as near as they can to
their time, let the weather be as hard as it may. They are more regular
than the migrant birds, and much more so than the trees. The elm, oak,
and ash appear to wait a great deal on the sun and the atmosphere, and
their boughs give much better indications of what the weather has really
been than birds and flowers. The migrant birds try their hardest to keep
time, and some of them arrive a week or more before they are noticed.
Elm, oak, and ash are the surest indicators; the horse-chestnut is very
apt to put forth its broad succulent leaves too soon; the sycamore, too,
is an early tree in spite of everything. It has been said that of late
years we have not had any settled, soft, warm weather till after
midsummer. There has been a steady continual cold draught from the
northward till the sun reached the solstice, so that the summers, in
fact, have not commenced till the end of June. There is a good deal of
general truth in this observation; certainly we seem to have lost our
springs. I do not think I have heard it thunder this year up to the time
of writing. The absence of electrical disturbance shows a peculiar state
of atmosphere unfavourable to growth, so that the corn will not hide a
partridge, and in some places hardly a sparrow. Where did the painters
get their green leaves from this year in time for the galleries? Not from
the trees, for they had none.

A flock of rooks was waddling about in a thinly grown field of corn which
scarcely hid their feet, and a number of swallows, flying very low,
scarcely higher than the rooks' breasts, wound in and out among them. The
day was cloudy and cold, and probably the insects had settled on the
ground. The rooks' feet stirred them up, and as they rose they were taken
by the swallows. All over the field there were no other swallows, nor in
the adjacent fields, only in that one spot where the rooks were feeding.
On another occasion swallows flying low over a closely cropped grass
field alighted on the sward to try and catch their prey. There seems a
scarcity of some kinds of insect life, due doubtless to the wind. Out of
a dozen butterfly chrysalids collected, six were worthless; they were
stiff, and when opened were stuffed full of small white larvae, which had
eaten away the coming butterfly in its shell. They were the offspring of
a parasite insect, which thus provided for the sustenance of its young by
eating up other young, after the cruel way of nature. Why does one robin
carefully choose a thatched cave for its nest, out of reach except by a
ladder, and safe from all beasts of prey, and another place its nest on a
low grassy bank scarcely hidden by a plant of wild parsley, and easily
taken by the smallest boy? At first it looks like a great difference in
intelligence, but probably each bird acted as well as could be under the
circumstances. Each robin has to fight for his locality, and he has to
make the best of his territory; if he trespassed on another bird's
premises he would be driven away. You must build your house where you
happen to possess a plot of land. It is curious to see the male bird
feeding the female, not only while on the nest, but when she comes away
from it; the female perches on a branch and utters a little call, and the
male brings her food. He was feeding her the other evening on the bare
boughs of a fig tree some distance from the nest. The warmth of the sun,
although we could not feel it, must have penetrated into the earth some
time since, for a slowworm came forth on a mound for the first time on
April 16. He coiled up on the eastern side every morning for some hours,
but was never seen in the afternoon. His short, thick body and unfinished
tail, more like a punch or the neck of a stumpy bottle, was turned in a
loop, the head nearly touching the tail, like a pair of sugar-tongs.
Coming out from the stitchwort and grasses, the spiders often ran over
his shining dark brown surface, something the colour of glazed
earthenware. A snake or an adder would have begun to move away the moment
any one stopped to look at it; but the slowworm takes no notice, and
hence it is often said to be blind. He seems to dislike any sharp noise,
and is really fully aware of your presence. Close by the mound, which
stands in a corner of the garden, there is a great bunch of blue comfrey,
to which the bees and humble-bees come in such numbers as to seem to
justify the idea that these insects prefer blue. Or perhaps the blue
flowers secrete sweeter honey. Every kind of wild bee as yet flying
visits this plant, tiny bees barely a quarter of an inch long, others as
big as two filberts, some a deep amber, some striped like wasps. A little
of Chaucer's May has come; now and then a short hour or two of sunshine
between the finger and thumb of the north wind. Most pleasant it is to
see the eave swallow dive down from the roof and rush over the scarcely
green garden--a household sign of summer. In the lane if you gather them
the young leaves of the sycamore have a fragrant scent like a flower, and
low down ferns are unrolling. On the low wall sits a yellow-hammer, just
brightly touched afresh with colour. Happy greenfinches go by, and it is
curious to note how the instant they enter the hedge they are lost now
under the leaves; so few days ago they would have been unconcealed. So
near is it to summer that the first thrush begins to sing at three
o'clock in the morning.



THE MAKERS OF SUMMER.



The leaves are starting here and there from green buds on the hedge, but
within doors a warm fire is still necessary, when one day there is a
slight sound in the room, so peculiar, and yet so long forgotten, that
though we know what it is, we have to look at the object before we can
name it. It is a house-fly, woke up from his winter sleep, on his way
across to the window-pane, where he will buzz feebly for a little while
in the sunshine, flourishing best like a hothouse plant under glass.
By-and-by he takes a turn or two under the centrepiece, and finally
settles on the ceiling. Then, one or two other little flies of a
different species may be seen on the sash; and in a little while the
spiders begin to work, and their round silky cocoons are discovered in
warm corners of the woodwork. Spiders run about the floors and spin
threads by the landing windows; where there are webs it is certain the
prey is about, though not perhaps noticed. Next, some one finds a moth.
Poor moth! he has to suffer for being found out.

As it grows dusk the bats flitter to and fro by the house; there are
moths, then, abroad for them. Upon the cucumber frame in the sunshine
perhaps there may be seen an ant or two, almost the first out of the
nest; the frame is warm. There are flowers open, despite the cold wind
and sunless sky; and as these are fertilised by insects, it follows that
there must be more winged creatures about than we are conscious of. How
strange it seems, on a bleak spring day, to see the beautiful pink
blossom of the apricot or peach covering the grey wall with
colour--snowflakes in the air at the time! Bright petals are so
associated with bright sunshine that this seems backward and
inexplicable, till it is remembered that the flower probably opens at the
time nearest to that which in its own country brings forth the insects
that frequent it. Now and again humble-bees go by with a burr; and it is
curious to see the largest of them all, the big bombus, hanging to the
little green gooseberry blossom. Hive-bees, too, are abroad with every
stray gleam of sun; and perhaps now and then a drone-fly--last seen on
the blossoms of the ivy in November. A yellow butterfly, a white one,
afterwards a tortoiseshell--then a sudden pause, and no more butterflies
for some time. The rain comes down, and the gay world is blotted out. The
wind shifts to the south, and in a few days the first swallows are seen
and welcomed, but, as the old proverb says, they do not make a summer.
Nor do the long-drawn notes of the nightingale, nor even the jolly
cuckoo, nor the tree pipit, no, nor even the soft coo of the turtle-dove
and the smell of the May flower. It is too silent even now: there are the
leading notes; but the undertone--the vibration of the organ--is but just
beginning. It is the hum of insects and their ceaseless flitting that
make the summer more than the birds or the sunshine. The coming of summer
is commonly marked in the dates we note by the cuckoo and the swallow and
the oak leaves; but till the butterfly and the bee--one with its colour,
and one with its hum--fill out the fields, the picture is but an outline
sketch. The insects are the details that make the groundwork of a summer
day. Till the humble-bees are working at the clover it is too silent; so
I think we may begin our almanack with the house-fly and the moth and the
spider and the ant on the cucumber frame, and so on, till, finally, the
catalogue culminates with the great yellow wasp. He is the final sign of
summer; one swallow does not make it, one wasp does. He is a connoisseur
of the good things of the earth, and comes not till their season.

On the top of an old wall covered with broad masses of lichen, the
patches of which grew out at their edges as if a plate had taken to
spreading at its rim, the tits were much occupied in picking out minute
insects; the wagtails came too, sparrows, robins, hedge-sparrows, and
occasionally a lark; a bare blank wall to all appearance, and the bare
lichen as devoid of life to our eyes. Yet there must have been something
there for all these eager bills--eggs or pupae. A jackdaw, with iron-grey
patch on the back of his broad poll, dropped in my garden one morning, to
the great alarm of the small birds, and made off with some large dark
object in his beak--some beetle or shell probably, I could not
distinguish which, and should most likely have passed the spot without
seeing it. The sea-kale, which had been covered up carefully with
seaweed, to blanch and to protect it from the frost, was attacked in the
cold dry weather in a most furious manner by blackbirds, thrushes, and
starlings. They tore away the seaweed with their strong bills, pitching
it right and left behind them in as workmanlike style as any miner, and
so boring deep notches into the edge of the bed. When a blackbird had
made a good hole he came back to visit it at various times of the day,
and kept a strict watch. If he found any other blackbird or thrush
infringing on his diggings, he drove him away ferociously. Never were
such works carried on as at the edge of that seaweed; they moved a bushel
of it. To the eye there seemed nothing in it but here and there a small
white worm; but they found plenty, and the weather being so bitter, I let
them do much as they liked; I would rather feed than starve them.

Down at the sea-shore in the sunny hours, out from the woodwork of the
groynes or bulwarks, there came a white spotted spider, which must in
some way have known the height to which the tide came at that season,
because he was far below high-water mark. The moles in an upland field
had made in the summer a perfect network of runs. Out of curiosity we
opened some, and found in them large brown pupae. In the summer-house,
under the wooden eaves, if you look, you will find the chrysalis of a
butterfly, curiously slung aslant. Coming down Galley Hill, near
Hastings, one day, a party was almost stopped by finding they could only
walk on thousands of caterpillars, dark with bright yellow bands, which
had sprung out of the grass. The great nettles--now, nothing is so common
as a nettle--are sometimes festooned with a dark caterpillar, hundreds
upon each plant, hanging like bunches of currants. Could you find a spot
the size of your watch-seal without an insect or the germ of one?

The agriculturists in some southern counties give the boys in spring
threepence a dozen for the heads of young birds killed in the nest. The
heads are torn off, to be produced, like the wolves' of old times, as
evidence of extinction. This--apart from the cruelty of the practice--is,
I think, a mistake, for, besides the insects that injure crops, there are
some which may be suspected of being inimical to human life, if not
directly, indirectly; and if it were not for birds, we should run a very
good chance of being literally eaten up. The difficulty is that people
cannot believe what they cannot immediately see, and there are very few
who have the patience or who feel sufficient interest to study minute
things.

I have taken these instances haphazard; they are large instances, as it
were, of big and visible things. They only give the rudest idea of the
immensity and complexity of insect life in our own country. My friend the
sparrow is, I believe, a friend likewise to man generally. He does a
little damage, I admit; but if he were to resort to living on damage
solely in his enormous numbers, we should not have a single flower or a
single ear of wheat. He does not live by doing mischief alone evidently.
He is the best scavenger the Londoners have got, and I counsel them to
prize their sparrows, unless they would be overrun with uncomfortable
creatures; and possibly he plays his part indirectly in keeping down
disease. They say in some places he attacks the crocus. He does not
attack mine, so I suspect there must be something wrong with the
destroyed crocuses. Some tried to entice him from the flower with crumbs;
they would perhaps have succeeded better if they had bought a pint of
wheat at the seedsman's and scattered it. In spring, sparrows are not
over-fond of crumbs; they are inordinately fond of wheat. During the
months of continued dry, cold, easterly winds, which we have had to
endure this season, all insect-eating birds have been almost as much
starved as they are in winter when there is a deep snow. Nothing comes
forth from the ground, nothing from the deep crannies which they cannot
peck open; the larva remains quiescent in the solid timber. Not a speck
can they find. The sparrow at such a time may therefore be driven to
opening flower-buds. Looked at in a broad way, I am convinced he is a
friend. I have always let them build about the house, and shall not drive
them away.

If you do not know anything of insects, the fields are somewhat barren to
you. The buttercups are beautiful, still they are buttercups every day.
The thrush's song is lovely, still one cannot always listen to the
thrush. The fields are but large open spaces after a time to many, unless
they know a little of insects, when at once they become populous, and
there is a link found between the birds and the flowers. It is like
opening another book of endless pages, and coloured illustrations on
every page.

Blessings on the man, said Sancho Panza, who first invented sleep.
Blessings on the man who first invented the scarlet geranium, and thereby
brought the Hummingbird moth to the window-sill; for, though seen ever so
often, I can always watch it again hovering over the petals and taking
the honey, and away again into the bright sunlight. Sometimes, when
walking along, and thinking of everything else but it, the beautiful
Peacock butterfly suddenly floats by the face like a visitor from another
world, so highly coloured, and so original and unlike and unexpected. In
bright painters' work like the wings of butterflies, which often have
distinct hues side by side, I think nature puts very little green; the
bouquet is not backed with maiden-hair fern; the red and the blue and so
on have no grass or leaves as a ground colour; nor do they commonly
alight on green. The bright colours are left to themselves unrelieved.
None of the butterflies, I think, have green on the upper side of the
wing; the Green Hairstreak has green under wings, but green is not put
forward.

Something the same may be noticed in flowers themselves: the broad
surface, for instance, of the peach and apricot, pink without a green
leaf; the pear tree white, but the leaves come quickly; the apple, an
acre of pink and white, with the merest texture of foliage. Nor are there
many conspicuous green insects-the grasshopper; some green flies; the
lace-fly, a green body and delicate white wings. With the wild flowers,
on the contrary, there seems to come a great deal of green. There is
scarcely a colour that cannot be matched in the gay world of wings. Red,
blue, and yellow, and brown and purple--shaded and toned, relieved with
dots and curious markings; in the butterflies, night tints in the pattern
of the under wings, as if these were shaded with the dusk of the evening,
being in shadow under the vane. Gold and orange, red, bright scarlet, and
ruby and bronze in the flies. Dark velvet, brown velvet, greys, amber,
and gold edgings like military coats in the wild bees. If fifteen or
twenty delicate plates of the thinnest possible material, each tinted
differently, were placed one over the other, and all translucent, perhaps
they might produce something of that singular shadow-painting seen on the
wings of moths. They are the shadows of the colours, and yet they are
equally distinct. The thin edges of the flies' wings catch the sunbeams,
and throw them aside. Look, too, at the bees' limbs, which are sometimes
yellow, and sometimes orange-red with pollen. The eyes, too, of many
insects are coloured. They know your shadow from that of a cloud. If a
cloud comes over, the instant the edge of the shadow reaches the Grass
moths they stop, so do some of the butterflies and other insects, as the
wild bees remain quiescent. As the edge of your shadow falls on them they
rise and fly, so that to observe them closely it must not be allowed to
overlap them.

Sometimes I think insects smell the approaching observer as the deer wind
the stalker. The Gatekeeper butterfly is common; its marking is very
ingenious, may I say? regular, and yet irregular. The pattern is
complete, and yet it is incomplete; it is finished, and yet it suggests
to the mind that the lines ought to go on farther. They go out into space
beyond the wing. If a carpet were copied from it, and laid down in a
room, the design would want to run through the walls. Imagine the
flower-bird's wing detached from some immense unseen carpet and set
floating--it is a piece of something not ended in itself, and yet
floating about complete. Some of their wings are neatly cut to an edge
and bordered; of some the edge is lost in colour, because no line is
drawn along it. Some seem to have ragged edges naturally, and look as if
they had been battered. Towards the end of their lives little bits of the
wing drop out, as if punched. The markings on the under wings have a
tendency to run into arches, one arch above the other. The tendency to
curve may be traced everywhere in things as wide apart as a flower-bird's
wing and the lines on a scallop-shell.

I own to a boyish pleasure in seeing the clouds of brown chafers in early
summer clustering on the maple hedges and keeping up a continual burring.
They stick to the fingers like the bud of a horse-chestnut. Now the fern
owl pitches himself over the oaks in the evening as a boy might throw a
ball careless whither it goes; the next moment he comes up out of the
earth under your feet. The night cuckoo might make another of his many
names; his colour, ways, and food are all cuckoo-like; so, too, his
immense gape--a cave in which endless moths end their lives; the eggs are
laid on the ground, for there is no night-feeding bird into whose nest
they could be put, else, perhaps, they would be. There is no
night-feeding bird to feed the fern owl's young. Does any one think the
cuckoo could herself feed two young cuckoos? How many birds would it take
to feed three young cuckoos? Supposing there were _five_ young cuckoos in
the nest, would it not take almost all the birds in a hedge to feed them?
For the incredible voracity of the young cuckoo--swallow, swallow,
swallow, and gape, gape, gape--cannot be computed. The two robins or the
pair of hedge-sparrows in whose nest the young cuckoo is bred, work the
day through, and cannot satisfy him; and the mother cuckoo is said to
come and assist in feeding him at times. How, then, could the cuckoo feed
two or three of its offspring and itself at the same time? Several other
birds do not build nests--the plover, the fern owl. That is no evidence
of lack of intelligence. The cuckoo's difficulty, or one of its
difficulties, seems to be in the providing sufficient food for its
ravenous young. A half-fledged cuckoo is already a large bird, and needs
a bulk of soft food for its support. Three of them would wear out their
mother completely, especially if--as may possibly be the case--the male
cuckoo will not help in feeding. This is the simplest explanation, I
think; yet, as I have often said before, we must not always judge the
ways of birds or animals or insects either by strict utility, or by
crediting them with semi-supernatural intelligence. They have their
fancies, likes and dislikes, and caprices. There are circumstances--perhaps
far back in the life-history of their race--of which we know nothing, but
which may influence their conduct unconsciously still, just as the
crusades have transmitted a mark to our minds to-day. Even though an
explanation may satisfy us, it is by no means certain that it is the true
one, for they may look at matters in an entirely different manner from
what we do. The effect of the cuckoo's course is to cause an immense
destruction of insects, and it is really one of the most valuable as well
as the most welcome of all our birds.

The thin pipe of the gnat heard at night is often alluded to, half in
jest, by our older novelists. It is now, I think, dying out a good deal,
and local where it stays. It occurred to me, on seeing some such allusion
the other day, that it was six years since I had heard a gnat in a
bedroom--never since we left a neighbourhood where there had once been
marshy ground. Gnats are, however, less common generally--exclusive, of
course, of those places where there is much water. All things are local,
insects particularly so. On clay soils the flies in summer are most
trying; black flies swarm on the eyes and lips, and in the deep lanes
cannot be kept off without a green bough. It requires the utmost patience
to stay there to observe anything. In a place where the soil was sand,
with much heath, on elevated ground, there was no annoyance from flies.
There were crowds of them, but they did not attack human beings. You
might sit on a bank in the fields with endless insects passing without
being irritated; but everywhere out of doors you must listen for the
peculiar low whir of the stoat-fly, who will fill his long grey body with
your blood in a very few minutes. This is the tsetse of our woods.



STEAM ON COUNTRY ROADS.



Losses year after year and increasing competition indicate that the crops
now grown are not sufficient to support the farmer. When he endeavours,
however, to vary his method of culture, and to introduce something new,
he is met at the outset by two great difficulties which crush out the
possibility of enterprise. The first of these--the extraordinary
tithe--has already come into prominent notice; the second is really even
more important--it is the deficiency of transit. An extensive use of
steam on common roads appears essential to a revival of agricultural
prosperity, because without it it is almost impossible for delicate and
perishable produce to be quickly and cheaply brought to market. Railways,
indeed, now connect nearly every town of any size whatever throughout the
country with the large cities or London; but railways are necessarily
built as lines of communication between towns, and not in reference to
scattered farms. Upon the map the spaces between the various rails do not
look very broad, but those white bands when actually examined would be
found to be six, eight, ten, or even twenty miles wide. Nor are there
stations everywhere, so that a farm which may be only six miles from the
metals may be ten from the nearest platform. Goods trains do not, as in
the United States, stop to pick up wherever there is material or produce
waiting to be loaded; the produce has to be taken where the railway
chooses, and not where it would suit the farmer's convenience. When at
last the farmer's waggon reaches the station he finds no particular
trouble taken to meet his needs; his horse and carters are kept hours and
hours, perhaps far into the night, for a mere matter of a ton or two, nor
is there any special anxiety shown to deliver his consignment early,
though if it should not be moved from the companies' premises demurrage
is charged. In short, the railway companies, knowing that the
agriculturists until the formation of the 'Farmers' Alliance' were
incapable of united action, have used them much as they liked. As for the
rates charged, the evidence recently taken, and which is to be continued,
shows that they are arbitrary and often excessive. The accommodation is
poor in the extreme, the charges high, the speed low, and every condition
against the farmer. This, in its turn, drives the farmer more into the
hands of the middleman. The latter makes a study of the rail and its
awkward ways, and manages to get the goods through, of course adding to
their cost when they reach the public. Without the dealer, under present
circumstances, the farmer would often find it practically impossible to
get to markets not in his immediate neighbourhood. The rail and its
awkward, inconvenient ways actually shut him off. In manufacturing
districts the transit of iron and minerals and worked-up metal is managed
with considerable ability. There are appointed to manage the goods
traffic men who are alert to the conditions of modern requirements and
quick to meet them. In agricultural districts the question often arises
if there be really any responsible local goods managers at all. It seems
to be left to men who are little more than labourers, and who cannot
understand the patent fact that times are different now from what they
were thirty years since, when they first donned their uniforms. The
railways may bring their books and any number of their officers to prove
that everything is perfectly satisfactory, but the feeling remains,
nevertheless, that it is exactly the contrary.

Look at the map, and place the finger on any of the spaces between the
lines of rail. Take, then, the case of a farmer in the midst of that
space, not more than five or six miles from the metals, and able at times
to hear the distant whistle of the engines, but not less than eight from
a station. This present season he finds his wheat damaged by the rain
after it was cut, and he comes to the conclusion that he must supplement
his ordinary crops by some special culture in order to make his way. On
the last occasion he was in a large city he was much struck by the
quantity of fruit which he found was imported from abroad. The idea
naturally occurs to him of setting aside some ten or twenty acres of his
holding of four hundred or five hundred for the culture of fruit. He goes
to his landlord, who is only too willing to give him every facility,
provided that no injury be done to the soil. He faces the monstrous
injustice of the extraordinary tithes, and expends fresh capital in the
planting of various kinds of fruit.

In places at that distance from a station labour is dear relative to the
low profit on the ordinary style of farming, but very cheap relative to
the possible profits on an improved and specialised system. The amount of
extra labour he thus employs in the preparation of the ground, the
planting, cleaning, picking, and packing, is an inestimable boon to the
humbler population. Not only men, but women and children can assist at
times, and earn enough to add an appreciable degree of comfort to their
homes. In itself this is a valuable result. But now suppose our
enterprising farmer has the fortune to have a good season, and to see his
twenty acres teeming with produce. He sets as many hands on as possible
to get it in; but now what is he to do with it? Send it to London. That
is easily said; but trace the process through. The goods, perishable and
delicate, must first be carted to the railway station and delivered
there, eight miles from the farm, at most inconvenient hours. They must
be loaded into slow goods trains, which may not reach town for
four-and-twenty hours. There is not the slightest effort to accelerate
the transit, and the rates are high. By the time the produce reaches the
market its gloss and value are diminished, and the cost of transit has
eaten away the profit. The thing has been tried over and over again and
demonstrated. One need only go to the nearest greengrocer's to obtain
practical proof of it. The apples he sells are American. The farmers in
New York State or Massachusetts can grow apples, pack them in barrels,
despatch them two thousand eight hundred miles to Liverpool, and they can
then be scattered all over the country and still sold cheaper than the
fruit from English orchards. This is an extraordinary fact, showing the
absolute need of speedy and cheap transit to the English farmer if he is
to rise again. Of what value is his proximity to the largest city in the
world--of what value is it that he is only ninety miles from London, if
it costs him more to send his apples about ninety miles than it does his
American kinsman very nearly three thousand?

As we have in this country no great natural waterways like the rivers and
lakes of the United States, our best resource is evidently to be found in
the development of the excellent common roads which traverse the country,
and may be said practically to pass every man's door. Upon these a goods
train may be run to every farm, and loaded at the gate of the field. This
assertion is not too bold. The thing, indeed, is already done in a manner
much more difficult to accomplish than that proposed. Traction engines,
weighing many tons--so heavy as to sometimes endanger bridges, and
drawing two trucks loaded with tons of coal, chalk, bricks, or other
materials--have already been seen on the roads, travelling considerable
distances, and in no wise impeded by steep gradients; so little, indeed,
that they ascend the downs and supply farms situated in the most elevated
positions with fuel. What is this but a goods train, and a goods train of
the clumsiest, most awkward, and, consequently, unprofitable description?
Yet it is run, and it would not be run were it not to some extent useful.
Anything more hideous it would be hard to conceive, yet if the world
patiently submits to it for the welfare of the agricultural community,
what possible objection can there be to engines so formed as to avoid
every one of the annoyances caused by it? It may be asserted without the
slightest fear of contradiction that there are at least fifty engineering
firms in this country who could send forth a road locomotive very nearly
noiseless, very nearly smokeless, certainly sparkless, capable of running
up and down hill on our smooth and capital roads, perfectly under
control, not in the least alarming to horses, and able to draw two or
more trucks or passenger cars round all their devious windings at a speed
at least equal to that of a moderate trot--say eight miles an hour. Why,
then, do we not see such useful road trains running to and fro? Why,
indeed? In the first place, progress in this direction is absolutely
stopped by the Acts of Parliament regulating agricultural engines. The
Act in question was passed at a time when steam was still imperfectly
understood. It was in itself a perfectly judicious Act, which ought to be
even more strictly enforced than it is. But it was intended solely and
wholly for the regulation of those vast and monstrous-looking engines
which it was at once foreseen, if left to run wild, would frighten all
horse traffic off the roads. The possibility of road locomotives in the
reasonable sense of the term was not even in the minds of the framers.
Yet, by a singular perversity, this very Act has shut off steam from one
of its most legitimate functions.

It is quite possible that the depression of agriculture may have the
effect of drawing attention to this subject, and if so it will be but
tardy justice to the rest of society that the very calling whose engines
now block the roads should thus in the end open them. We should then see
goods trains passing every farm and loading at the gate of the field.
Such a road goods train would not, of course, run regularly to and fro in
the same stereotyped direction, but would call as previously ordered, and
make three or four journeys a day, sometimes loading entirely from one
farm, sometimes making up a load from several farms in succession.
Besides the quick communication thus opened up with the railway station
and the larger towns, the farmer would be enabled to work his tenancy
with fewer horses. He would get manures, coal, and all other goods
delivered for him instead of fetching them. He would get his produce
landed for him instead of sending his own teams, men, and boys. In a
short time, as the railways began to awaken to the new state of things,
they would see the advantage of accommodating their arrangements, and
open their yards and sidings to their competitor. In the case of long
journeys, and with some kinds of goods, in order to save the cost of
transhipment, it would be possible to transfer the bed of the road truck
from its frame on to the frame of the railroad truck, so that the goods,
with one loading, might pass direct to London. Our American cousins are
quite capable of inventing a transferable truck of this kind. In return,
goods loaded in London would never leave the same bottom till unloaded at
the farmyard or in the midst of the village. For all long journeys the
rails would probably always remain the great carriers, and the road
trains serve as their most valuable feeders. When farmers found it
possible to communicate with the cities at reasonable rates, and at
reasonable speed, they would be encouraged to put forth fresh efforts, to
plant vegetables, to grow fruit, to supplement their larger crops with
every species of lesser produce. This, in its turn, would bring new
traffic to the lines; for instead of one or two crops in the year only,
there would be three or four requiring carriage. There would be then
speedy results of such improved communication. One would be an increased
value of land; the second, an increase in the number of small areas
occupied and cultivated; the third, an increase in the rural population.
A fourth would be that the incredible amount of money which is now
annually transferred to the Continent and America for the purchase of
every kind of lesser produce would remain in this country to the
multiplication of the accounts at Post Office savings banks. Every one
who possibly could would grow or fatten something when he could just put
it on a road train, and send it off to market.

Two through passenger road trains a day, one in each direction, carrying
light parcels as well, and traversing say forty or fifty miles or less,
would probably soon obtain sufficient support, as they ran from village
to village and market town to market town. At present, those who live in
villages are practically denied locomotion unless they are well enough
off to keep a horse and trap and a man to look after them. A person
residing in a village must either remain in the village, or walk, or go
by carrier. The carrier stops at every inn, and takes a day to get over
ten miles. The exposure in the carrier's cart has been the cause of
serious illness to many and many a poor woman obliged to travel by it,
and sit in the wind and rain for hours and hours together. Unless they
ride in this vehicle, or tramp on foot, the villagers are simply shut off
from the world. They have neither omnibus, tramway, nor train. Those who
have not lived in a village have no idea of the isolation possible even
in this nineteenth century, and with the telegraph brought to the local
post office. The swift message of the electric wire, and the slow transit
of the material person--the speed of the written thought, and the
slowness of the bodily presence--are in strange contrast.

When people do not move about freely commerce is practically at a
standstill. But if two passenger road trains, travelling at an average
speed of not more than eight miles an hour, one going up and the other
down, and connecting two or more market towns and lines of railway,
passed through the village, how different would be the state of things!
Ease of transit multiplies business, and, besides passengers, a large
amount of light material could thus be conveyed. There would be depots at
the central places, but such trains could stop to pick up travellers at
any gate, door, or stile. If the route did not go through every hamlet,
it would pass near enough to enable persons to walk to it and join the
carriages. No one objects to walk one mile if he can afterwards ride the
other ten. Besides these through trains, special trains could run on
occasions when numbers of people wanted to go to one spot, such as sheep
or cattle fairs and great markets. Large tracts of country look to one
town as their central place, not by any means always the nearest market
town; to such places, for instance, as Gloucester and Reading, thousands
resort in the course of the year from hamlets at a considerable distance.
Such road trains as have been described would naturally converge on
provincial towns of this kind, and bring them thrice their present trade.
Country people only want facilities to travel exactly like city people.
It is, indeed, quite possible that when villages thus become accessible
many moderately well-to-do people will choose them for their residence,
in preference to large towns, for health and cheapness. If any number of
such persons took up their residence in villages, the advantage to
farmers would of course be that they would have good customers for all
minor produce at their doors. It is not too much to say that three parts
of England are quite as much in need of opening up as the backwoods of
America. When a new railroad track is pushed over prairie and through
primeval woods, settlements spring up beside it. When road trains run
through remote hamlets those remote hamlets will awake to a new life.

Many country towns of recent years have made superhuman efforts to get
the railway to their doors. Some have succeeded, some are still trying;
in no case has it been accomplished without an immense expenditure, and
for the most part these railroad branches are completely in the control
of the main line with which they are connected. In one or two cases
progress has been effected by means of tramways, notably one at
Wantage--an excellent idea and highly to be commended. All these are
signs that by slow degrees matters are tending towards some such scheme
as has been here sketched out. While local railroads are extremely
expensive, slow in construction, and always dominated by main lines, and
while tramways need rails, with the paraphernalia rails require, they
have this drawback--they are not flexible. The engines and cars that run
upon them must for ever adhere to the track: there may be goods, produce,
ricks, cows, fruit, hops, and what not, wanting to be landed only a
quarter of a mile distant, but the cars cannot go to the crops. The
railroad is rigid, everything must be brought to it. From town to town it
answers well, but it cannot suit itself and wind about from village to
hamlet, from farm to farm, up hill and down dale. The projected road
train is flexible and capable of coming to the crops. It can call at the
farmer's door, and wait by the gate of the field for the load. We have
lately seen France devote an enormous sum to the laying down of rails in
agricultural districts, to the making of canals, and generally to the
improvement of internal communication in provinces but thinly populated.
The industrious French have recognised that old countries, whose area is
limited, can only compete with America, whose area is almost unlimited,
by rendering transit easy and cheap. We in England shall ultimately have
to apply the same fact.



FIELD SPORTS IN ART.

THE MAMMOTH HUNTER.



The most ancient attempt to delineate the objects of sport in existence
is, I think, the celebrated engraving of a mammoth on a portion of a
mammoth's tusk. I call it an engraving because the figure is marked out
with incised lines such as the engraver makes with his tool, and it is
perfect enough to print from. If it were inked and properly manipulated
it would leave an impression--an artist's proof the most curious and
extraordinary in the world, for the block was cut with flint instruments
by the Cave-men an incredible number of years ago, perhaps before England
was separated from the Continent by the sea, while the two were still
connected, and it was dry land where now the _Calais-Douvres_ steams so
steadily over the waves. But it would be an artist's proof with the
lights and shades reversed, the lines that sketch the form of the mammoth
would be white and the body dark, yet for all that lifelike, since the
undulating indentations that represent the woolly hide of the immense
creature would relieve the ground. This picture of a prehistoric animal,
drawn by a prehistoric artist, shows that Art arose from the chase.
Traced to the den of primeval man, who had no Academy to instruct him, no
Ruskin to guide, and no gallery to exhibit in, it appears that Art sprang
from nature, and not from science. His life was occupied with the hunt,
and he represented that which filled his thoughts. Those who understand
wild sports will not for a moment doubt that the mammoth was taken in
pits or otherwise destroyed despite its huge strength; no matter if it
had been twice as large, the cunning of man would have been equal to the
difficulty. The mind is the arrow that slays the monster. The greater the
danger the greater the interest, and consequently the more the
imagination would dwell upon the circumstances of the chase. Afterwards
resting in the cave round about the fire and thinking of the mighty work
of sport which had been accomplished, the finger of the savage would
involuntarily describe the outline of the creature so laboriously
captured. His finger might describe it upon the scattered ashes whitening
the ground beside him. Or it might describe the outline simply in the
air. Speech in its inception was as much expressed by the finger as the
tongue; perhaps the fingers talked before the mouth, and in a sense
writing preceded language. Uttering the unpolished sound which in their
primitive society indicated the mammoth, the savage drew rapidly a figure
with his finger, and his companions read his meaning written in the air.
To this day it is common for the Italian peasantry to talk with their
fingers; a few syllables suffice, illustrated and emphasised by those
dexterous hands. A more subtle meaning is thus conveyed than could be put
in words. Some of the most ancient languages seem bald and incomplete,
too rigid; they need intonation, as it were, to express passion or
changes of emotion, and when written the letters are too far apart to
indicate what is meant. Not too far apart upon the page, but far apart in
their sense, which has to be supplied as you supply the vowels. In actual
use such languages must have required much gesture and finger-sketching
in the air. The letters of the Egyptians largely consist of animals and
birds, which represent both sounds and ideas. Dreaming over the embers of
his fire, the Cave-man saw pass before his mental vision all the
circumstances of the chase, ending with the crash when the mammoth
crushed into the pit, at which he would start and partially awake.
Intentness of mind upon a pursuit causes an equivalent intentness of
dream, and thus wild races believe their dreams to be real and
substantial things, and not mere shadows of the night. To those who do
not read or write much, even in our days, dreams are much more real than
to those who are continuously exercising the imagination. If you use your
imagination all day you will not fear it at night. Since I have been
occupied with literature my dreams have lost all vividness and are less
real than the shadows of trees, they do not deceive me even in my sleep.
At every hour of the day I am accustomed to call up figures at will
before my eyes, which stand out well defined and coloured to the very hue
of their faces. If I see these or have disturbed visions during the night
they do not affect me in the least. The less literary a people the more
they believe in dreams; the disappearance of superstition is not due to
the cultivation of reason or the spread of knowledge, but purely to the
mechanical effect of reading, which so perpetually puts figures and
aerial shapes before the mental gaze that in time those that occur
naturally are thought no more of than those conjured into existence by a
book. It is in far-away country places, where people read very little,
that they see phantoms and consult the oracles of fate. Their dreams are
real.

The mammoth came through his cave before the embers of his fire--the
sleeping savage could touch it with his flint-headed spear--there was the
crash as it fell into the prepared pit; he awakes, the dying embers cast
shadows on the walls, and in these he traces the shape of the vast
creature hastening away. The passing spirit has puffed the charred brands
into a second's flame, and thus shadowed itself in the hollow of the
cavern.

Deeper than the excitement of the chase lies that inner consciousness
which dwells upon and questions itself--the soul of the Cave-man pondered
upon itself; the question came to him, as he crouched in the
semi-darkness, over the fire which he had stirred, 'Will my form and
aerial shadow live on after my death like that which passed but now?
Shall I, too, be a living dream?' The reply was, 'Yes, I shall continue
to be; I shall start forth from my burial-mound upon the chase in the
shadow-land just as now I start forth from my cave. I shall entrap the
giant woolly elephant--I shall rejoice at his capture; we shall triumph
yet again and again. Let then my spear and knife be buried with me, but
chip them first--kill them--that I may use their spirit likenesses in the
dream-chase.'

With a keen-edged splinter of flint in the daylight he incised the
outlines of the mammoth upon a smooth portion of its tusk--its image was
associated with his thoughts of a future life, and thus Art in its
earliest inception represented the highest aspirations of man.

But could the ignorant savage of that long-lost day have been capable of
such work? The lowest race of savages in Southern Africa--the Bushmen--go
about with festoons of entrails wound around their loins. After a
successful hunt--with the pit or poisoned arrows--they remove the
entrails of the slain animal and wear them like coronals for present
ornament and future regalement. These creatures are nevertheless artists.
On the walls of caves they have painted the antelope and the lion in
bright colours; they have not only caught the shape and hue of the
animals about them, but their action and movement. The figures are in
motion, skilfully drawn and full of spirit.

If any one asks, is the application of Art to the chase really so old, so
very very old, as this? I refer them to the stars. How long ago is it
since the constellations received their names? At what date were they
first arranged in groups? Upon the most ancient monuments and in the most
ancient writings they have the same forms assigned to them as at this
day, and that too in countries remote from each other. The signs of the
Zodiac are almost as old as the stars themselves; that is, as old as the
time when the stars were first beheld of human eyes. Amongst them there
is the Archer--Sagittarius--the chase in the shape of man; greatest and
grandest of all the constellations is Orion, the mighty hunter, the giant
who slew the wild beasts by strength. There is no assemblage of stars so
brilliant as those which compose the outline of Orion; the Hunter takes
the first place in the heavens. Art exists in the imagination--imagination
drew lines from star to star, and repeated its life on earth in the sky.

So it is true that the first picture--whether drawn by the imagination
alone in the constellations, on the walls of the cave with ochre and
similar materials, or engraved with keen splinters of flint on the
mammoth's tusk--the first picture was of the chase. Animals are earliest,
the human form next, flowers and designs and stories in drawings next,
and landscape last of all. Landscape is peculiarly the art of the
moderns--it is the art of _our_ civilisation; no other civilisation seems
to have cared for it. Towers and castles are indeed seen on the
bas-reliefs of Assyria, and waving lines indicate rivers, but these are
merely subsidiary, and to give place and locality to the victories the
king is achieving. The battle is the interest, the landscape merely the
stage. Till the latter days of European life the artist took no notice of
landscape.

The painting of hills and rocks and rivers, woods and fields, is of
recent date, and even in these scenes the artist finds it necessary to
place some animals or birds. Even now he cannot ignore the strong love of
human beings for these creatures; if they are omitted the picture loses
its interest to the majority of eyes. Every one knows how wonderfully
popular the works of Landseer have been, and he was an animal painter,
and his subjects chiefly suggested by sport. The same spirit that
inspired the Cave-dweller to engrave the mammoth on the slab of ivory
still lives in the hearts of men.

There is a beautiful etching of "The Poacher" (to which I shall have to
recur); he is in the wood, and his dog is watching his upraised finger.
From that finger the dog learns everything. He knows by its motion when
to start, which way to go, what to do, whether to be quick or slow, to
return or to remain away. He understands his master quite as well as if
they conversed in human speech. He enters into the spirit of the
enterprise. 'If you want your business done, go; if not, send' is true
only of men. The poacher wants his business done, and he sends his
agent--his dog--certain that it will be done for him better than he could
do it himself. The dog is conscientious, he will omit nothing, he will
act as if his master's eye was on him the whole time. Now this attitude
of the dog's mind is so exquisitely rendered in the picture that he seems
verily to speak with intelligence. I love that dog though he does but
exist in ink; he is the true image of a real dog, and his mind shines
through his body. This effect upon me as the spectator is produced by a
clever arrangement of lines upon the plate from which the etching was
printed, thin lines cut into the copper with curious sharp tools, behind
a screen of tissue-paper to shield the eyes from the light, done in the
calm of the studio, thoughtfully, with artistic skill. Given the original
genius to conceive such a dog, the knowledge how to express the ideas,
and the tools to work with, and we see how it became possible to execute
the etching. But suppose the artist supplied with a piece of smooth ivory
for his plate, and a sharp penknife for his etching needle, and set
behind a boulder to watch the mammoth and sketch it by incision on the
ivory, and there would be produced very much the same kind of picture as
the Cave-man made. It could not have the delicate shading, the fine edge,
the completion and finish of the dog; it could not visibly think as that
dog thinks. It would consist of a few quick strong dashes, conveying the
weight and force and image of the elephant in as few strokes as possible.
It would be a charcoal sketch; broad and powerful lines that do not
themselves delineate, but compel your imagination to do the picture in
your mind, so that you see a great deal more than is drawn. So that the
Cave-man was really a great artist--his intense interest in the chase
supplied the lack of academics and scientific knowledge and galleries to
copy from. This primeval picture thus tells you that the highly educated
artist of the present day, removed from his accessories, away from his
liquid colours, easels, canvas, prepared paper, and so frith, can only do
what the Cave-man did. But still further, he can only do that if he
possesses great natural genius--only a man who could draw the poacher's
dog could do it. Those who depend altogether on the prepared paper and
liquid colours, patent easel and sketching stool, could simply do
nothing.

It is nearly certain that if the primeval man sketched the mammoth he
likewise carved his spear-shaft, the haft of his knife, the handle of his
'celt,' that chisel-like weapon whose shape so closely resembles the
front teeth. The 'celt' is a front tooth in flint or bronze, enlarged and
fitted to a handle for chipping, splitting, and general work. In museums
celts are sometimes fitted to a handle to show how they were used, but
the modern adapter has always overlooked the carving. Wild races whose
time is spent in sport or war--very nearly synonymous terms--always carve
or ornament their weapons, their canoes, the lintels of their doors, the
posts of their huts. There is in this the most singular difference from
the ways of landscape civilisation. Things that we use are seldom
ornamented--our tables, our chairs, our houses, our carriages, our
everything is as plain as plain can be. Or if ornamented, it is
ornamented in a manner that seems to bear no kind of relation to the
article or its uses, and to rouse no sympathies whatever. For instance,
our plates--some have the willow pattern, some designs of blackberry
bushes, and I really cannot see what possible connection the bushes or
the Chinese summerhouses have with the roast beef of old England or the
_cotellette_ of France. The last relic of Art carving is visible round
about a bread platter, here and there wreaths of wheatears; very suitable
these to a platter bearing bread formed of corn. Alas! I touched one of
these platters one day to feel the grain of the wood, and it was cold
earthenware--cold, ungenial, repellent crockery, a mockery, sham! Now the
original wooden platter was, I think, true Art, and the crockery copy is
not Art. The primeval savage, without doubt, laboriously cut out a
design, or at least gave some curve and shape to the handle of his celt
or the shaft of his spear, and the savages at this clay as laboriously
carve their canoes. The English sportsman, however, does not cut, or
carve, or in any way shape his gun-stock to his imagination. The stock is
as smooth and as plain as polished wood can be. There is a sort of
speckling on the barrels, and there is a conventional design on the
lock-plate; conventional, indeed, in the most _blase_ sense of the
word--quite _blase_ and worn out, this scratch of intertwisted lines, not
so much as a pheasant even engraved on the lock-plate; it is a mere
killing machine, this gun, and there is no Art, thought or love of nature
about it. Sometimes the hammers are filed, little notches crossing,
and there imagination stops. The workman can get no farther than his
file will go, and you know how that acts to and fro in a straight groove.
A  pheasant or hare at full speed, a few trees--firs as most
characteristic--could be put on the plate, and something else on the
trigger guard; firs are easily drawn, and make most appearance for a few
touches; pheasants roost in them. Even a coat of arms, if it were the
genuine coat-of-arms of the owner's family, would look well. Men have
their book-plates and stamp their library volumes, why not a gun design?
As many sportsmen scarcely see their guns for three-fourths of the year,
it is possible to understand that the gun becomes a killing machine
merely to them, to be snatched up and thrown aside the instant its office
is over. But the gamekeeper carries his gun the year through, and sits in
the room with it when indoors, still he never even so much as scratches
an outline of his favourite dog on it. In these landscape days we put our
pictures on the walls only, and no imagination into the things we handle
and use. A good deal of etching might be done on a gun, most of it being
metal, while more metal could be easily inlaid for the purpose. Etching,
I suppose, is the right word; at all events, designs, records of actual
sporting feats, or outlines of favourite sporting places--nooks in the
woods, falls of the stream, deep combes of the hills--could be cut in
with aquafortis. So many draw or paint nowadays, and in this manner they
could make some use of their skill, drawing perhaps for those who only
understand the use of cartridge-paper when it has gunpowder inside it.
Sportsmen see the very best of scenery, and come across old hollow trunks
and curious trees, effects, and 'bits' of every kind, from a twisted
hawthorn to an antlered stag; if they could get an artistic friend to see
these, there would be some good gun-etchings done.



BIRDS' NESTS



'Perfectly lovely!' 'Such pretty colours!' 'So neat; isn't it wonderful
how the little things do it with their beaks?' 'The colours are so
arranged as to conceal it; the instinct is marvellous;' and so on. These
comments were passed on a picture of a bird's nest--rather a favourite
subject with amateur painters. The nest was represented among grass, and
was tilted aside so as to exhibit the eggs, which would have rolled out
had they been real. It was composed of bright-green moss with flowers
intertwined, and tall bluebells, rising out of the grass, overhung it.
Nothing could be more poetical. In reality, the flowers--if ever actually
used by a bird--would have faded in a day, and the moss would never have
had so brilliant and metallic a tint. The painter had selected the
loveliest colours of the mead and gathered them into a bouquet, with the
nest in the centre. This is not exactly like nature: a robin's nest for
instance, the other day was discovered in an old shoe, discarded by a
tramp and thrown over the wall into the shrubbery. Nests are not always
made where flowers grow thickest, and birds have the oddest way of
placing them--a way which quite defeats rational search. After looking
into every nook, and places where if built a nest would be hidden from
passers-by, suddenly it is found right in front of you and open to view.
You have attributed so much cunning to the bird that you have deceived
yourself. In fact, it sometimes happens that the biggest fool is the best
bird's-nester, and luck in eggs falls to those who have no theory. But
December throws doubt even on the fool's capacity, for as the leaves fall
there appear nests by the dozen in places never suspected, and close to
people's faces. For one that has been taken ten have escaped.

The defect of nest-building lies in the absence of protection for the
young birds. When they grow large and feel strong they bubble, as it
were, over the edge of the cup-shaped nest. Their wings, though not yet
full-grown, save them from injury in descent by spreading out like a
parachute, but are powerless to assist them after reaching the ground. In
the grass they are the prey of rooks, crows, magpies, jackdaws, snakes,
rats, and cats. They have no means of escape whatever: they cannot fly
nor run--the tall grass stops running--and are frequently killed for
amusement by their enemies, who do not care to eat them. Numbers die from
exposure in the wet grass, or during rain, for they are not able to fly
up and perch on a branch. The nest requires a structure round it like a
cage, so that the fledglings might be prevented from leaving it till
better able to save themselves. Those who go to South Kensington to look
at the bird's-nest collection there should think of this if they hear any
one discoursing on infallible instinct on the one hand, or evolution on
the other. These two theories, the infallible instinct and that of
evolution, practically represent the great opposing lines of thought--the
traditional and the scientific. An examination of birds' nests, if
conducted free of prejudice, will convince any independent person neither
that the one nor the other explains these common hedge difficulties.
Infallible instinct has not supplied protection for the young birds, nor
has the experience of hundreds of years of nest-building taught the
chaffinch or the missel-thrush to give its offspring a fair start in the
famous 'struggle for existence.' Boys who want linnets or goldfinches
watch till the young are almost ready to bubble over, and then place them
in a cage where the old birds come and feed them. There is, then, no
reason why the nest itself should not be designed for the safety of the
fledgling as well as of the egg. Birds that nest in holes are frequently
very prolific, notably the starling, which rears its brood by thousands
in the hollow trees of forests. Though not altogether, in part their vast
numbers appear due to the fact that their fledglings escape decimation.

Country boys set some value on the eggs of the nettle-creeper or
whitethroat because the nest is difficult to find, and the eggs curiously
marked. They want the eggs as soon as laid, when they blow well; and it
is just at this stage that the nest is most difficult to discover, as the
bird gives little evidence of its presence. The nest is placed among the
thick grasses and plants that grow at the verge or down the sides of dry
ditches, and is frequently overshadowed by nettles. But there does not
appear to be any conscious effort at concealment. The bird spends the day
searching for food in such places--hence its name nettle-creeper--creeping
along the hedges, under brambles and thorns, and builds its nest in the
locality to which it is accustomed. It may appear to be cunning to a
superficial human observer, but it is certain that the bird does not
think itself cunning. Men who live by fishing build their houses near the
sea; those who cultivate wheat, in open plains; artisans, by factories.
The whitethroat frequents the hedge and ditch, and there weaves its
slender nest. So much has been attributed to birds of which they are
really quite unconscious. It has even been put forward that the colours
of their eggs are intended to deceive; and those of the dotterel, laid on
the open beach, are often mentioned as an instance. The resemblance of
the dotterel's egg to a pebble is no greater than the resemblance between
many eggs laid in nests and pebbles. If the whitethroat eggs were taken
from the nest and placed among particoloured pebbles such as are common
on some shores, it would need care to distinguish them. If the dotterel's
eggs were put down among grass, or even among the clods of ploughed land,
they would be equally difficult to find. You might as well suppose that
the whitethroat is aware that nettles will sting the human hand
approaching its nest as that eggs are especially adjusted in colour to
deceive human eyes. As for deceiving the eyes of those birds that are
fond of eating eggs, the thing is impossible; the size of the egg is
alone sufficient: how conceal an object of that size from an eye that can
distinguish insects? The egg takes its chance, coloured or not. Sportsmen
would be very glad if pheasants would kindly learn by experience, and lay
eggs of a hue invisible to the poaching rook or crow. Nor is this nest,
that seems so slender and so delicately made, really so slender to the
bird itself. To a man or woman, so many times larger than the nest, its
construction appears intricate. Suppose a lady stands five feet four
inches high, and the nest placed in her hand measures two inches across:
the difference is immense. The bird who built it is smaller than the
nest. The thing is reversed, and it does not look tiny to the bird. The
horsehair or fibre, which to us is an inch or two long, to the bird is a
bamboo or cane three or four feet in length. No one would consider it
difficult to weave cane or willow wands as tall as himself. The girls at
Luton perform much more difficult feats in weaving straw-plait for
bonnets than any bird accomplishes. A rook's nest looked at in the same
way is about as large to the bird as a small breakfast-parlour, and is
composed of poles. To understand birds you must try and see things as
they see them, not as you see them. They are quite oblivious of your
sentiments or ideas, and their actions have no relation to yours. A whole
system of sentiment and conduct has been invented for birds and animals
based entirely upon the singular method of attributing to them plans
which might occur to a human being. The long-tailed tit often builds its
nest in the midst of blackthorn thickets (which afford it the lichen it
uses), or in deep hawthorn bushes. A man comes along, sees the nest, and
after considerable exertion--having to thrust himself into the hedge--and
after some pain, being pricked by the thorns, succeeds, with bleeding
hands, in obtaining possession of it. 'Ah,' he moralises, 'what wonderful
instinct on the part of this little creature to surround itself with a
zareba like the troops after Osman Digma! Just look at my hands.' Proof
positive to him; but not to any one who considers that through the
winter, up till nesting-time, these little creatures have been creeping
about such thorns and thickets, and that they had no expectation whatever
of a hand being thrust into the bushes. The spot which is so difficult of
access to a man is to them easy of entrance. They look at the matter from
the very opposite point of view. The more thoroughly the artificial
system of natural history ethics is dismissed from the mind the more
interesting wild creatures will be found, because while it is adhered to
a veil is held before the eyes, and nothing useful can ever be
discovered. Put it aside, and there is always something new and as
interesting as a fresh nest to a boy.



NATURE IN THE LOUVRE.



Turning to the left on entering the Louvre, I found myself at once among
the sculpture, which is on the ground-floor. Except that the Venus of
Milo was in the collection, I had no knowledge of what I was about to
see, but stepped into an unknown world of statuary. Somewhat
indifferently I glanced up and then down, and instantly my coolness was
succeeded by delight, for there, in the centre of the gallery, was a
statue in the sense in which I understand the word--the beautiful made
tangible in human form. I said at once, 'That is _my_ statue. There lies
all Paris for me; I shall find nothing further.' I was then at least
thirty yards distant, with the view partly broken, but it was impossible
to doubt or question lines such as those. On a gradual approach the limbs
become more defined, and the torso grows, and becomes more and more
human--this is one of the remarkable circumstances connected with the
statue. There is life in the wide hips, chest, and shoulders; so
marvellous is the illusion that not only the parts that remain appear
animated, but the imagination restores the missing and mutilated pieces,
and the statue seems entire. I did not see that the hand was missing and
the arms gone; the idea of form suggested by the existing portions was
carried on over these, and filled the vacant places.

Going nearer, the large hips grow from stone to life, the deep folds of
the lower torso have but this moment been formed as she stooped, and the
impulse is to extend the hands to welcome this beautiful embodiment of
loving kindness. There, in full existence, visible, tangible, seems to be
all that the heart has imagined of the deepest and highest emotions. She
stoops to please the children, that they may climb her back; the whole of
her body speaks the dearest, the purest love. To extend the hands towards
her is so natural, it is difficult to avoid actually doing so. Hers is
not the polished beauty of the Venus de Medici, whose very fingers have
no joints. The typical Venus is fined down from the full growth of human
shape to fit the artist's conception of what beauty should be. Her frame
is rounded; her limbs are rounded; her neck is rounded; the least
possible appearance of fulness is removed; any line that is not in exact
accordance with a strict canon is worked out--in short, an ideal is
produced, but humanity is obliterated. Something of the too rounded is
found in it--a figure so polished has an air of the bath and of the
mirror, of luxury; it is _too_ feminine; it obviously has a price payable
in gold. But here is a woman perfect as a woman, with the love of
children in her breast, her back bent for their delight. An ideal indeed,
but real and human. Her form has its full growth of wide hips, deep
torso, broad shoulders. Nothing has been repressed or fined down to a
canon of art or luxury. A heart beats within her bosom; she is love; with
her neither gold nor applause has anything to do; she thinks of the
children. In that length of back and width of chest, in that strong
torso, there is just the least trace of manliness. She is not all, not
too feminine; with all her tenderness, she can think and act as nobly as
a man.

Absorbed in the contemplation of her beauty, I did not for some time
think of inquiring into material particulars. But there is a tablet on
the pedestal which tells all that is known. This statue is called the
'Venus Accroupie,' or Stooping Venus, and was found at Vienne, France.
The term 'Venus' is conventional, merely to indicate a female form of
remarkable beauty, for there is nothing in the figure to answer to what
one usually understands as the attributes of the goddess. It is simply a
woman stooping to take a child pick-a-back, the child's little hand
remaining upon the back, just as it was placed, in the act of clinging.
Both arms are missing, and there appears to be some dispute as to the
exact way in which they were bent across the body. The right arm looks as
if it had passed partly under the left breast, the fingers resting on the
left knee, which is raised; while the left arm was uplifted to maintain
the balance. The shoulders are massive rather than broad, and do not
overshadow the width of the hips. The right knee is rounded, because it
is bent; the left knee less so, because raised. Bending the right knee
has the effect of slightly widening the right thigh. The right knee is
very noble, bold in its slow curve, strong and beautiful.

Known of course to students, this wonderful work seems quite overlooked
by the mass of visitors to the Louvre, and its fame has not spread. Few
have even heard its name, for it has not been written and lectured into
the popular mind like the Venus de Medici. While I was studying it
several hundred visitors went straight past, without so much as a casual
glance, on their way direct to the Venus of Milo, of which they had read
in their guide-books, and of which they had seen splendid photographs in
every window. One came along, on the contrary, very slowly, carefully
examining the inscriptions upon the altars and various figures; he
appeared to understand the Latin and Greek, and it might have been
expected that he would stay to look at the Accroupie. He did not; he
worked all round the statue, reading every word legible on the base of
the insignificant figures against the wall, and so onwards down the
_salon_. One of the most complete of the guide-books dismisses the
Accroupie in a single line, so it is not surprising that people do not
seek it. But what is surprising is that in a city so artistic as Paris
there should be so few photographs of this statue. I could get but
two--these were duplicates, and were all the proprietor of the shop
possessed; there was some trouble to find them. I was told that, as they
were so seldom asked for, copies were not kept, and that there was only
this one particular view--a very bad one. Other shops had none. The Venus
of Milo is in every shop--in every size, and from every point of view; of
the Accroupie these two poor representations were hunted out from the
bottom of a portfolio. Of course, these remarks apply only to Paris as
the public know it; doubtless the studios have the Accroupie, and could
supply representations of every kind: casts, too, can be obtained at the
Louvre. But to those who, like myself, wander in the outer darkness of
common barbarian life, the Accroupie is unknown till we happily chance
upon it. Possibly the reason may be that this statue infinitely surpasses
those fixed ideals of art which the studios have for so many centuries
resolutely forced upon the world. It seems that after a certain length of
art study the natural eyesight is lost. But I hope and believe there are
thousands of people in the world in full possession of their natural
eyesight, and capable of appreciating the Accroupie when once their
attention is called to it.

I knew it was useless to search further among the galleries of the
Louvre, for there could not be two such works in existence anywhere, much
less in one collection. Therefore I did not go a step beyond, but sat
down to enjoy it, and when I had gazed enough for one morning I turned to
leave the place. There are never two works of equal beauty of any kind,
just as there are never two moments of equal pleasure: seize the one you
have, and make much of it, for such a moment will never return. In
walking away I frequently looked back--first at three or four yards',
then at ten yards' distance; gradually the proportions diminished, but
the great sweep of outline retained its power. At about thirty yards it
is remarkable how this noble work entirely overshadows the numerous
figures close to it. Upon each side of the gallery the wall is lined with
ranks of statuary, but they are quite lost as statuary, and seem nothing
more than wall decorations, merely curious castings put there to conceal
the monotony of the surface. Cleverly executed they may be, but there is
no other merit, and they appear commonplace. They have no meaning; the
eye glances along them without emotion. It always returns to, and rests
upon, the Accroupie--the living and the beautiful. Here is the difference
between genius and talent. Talent has lined the walls with a hundred
clever things, and could line miles of surface; genius gives us but one
example, and the clever things are silenced. Here is the difference
between that which expresses a noble idea, and that which is dexterously
conventional. The one single idea dominates the whole. Here is the
difference, again, between the secret of the heart, the aspiration of the
soul, and that which is only the workmanship of a studio ancient or
modern. The Accroupie is human, loving tender; how poor are goddesses
beside her! At forty, fifty, sixty yards, still looking back, though the
details now disappeared, the wonderful outline of the torso and hips was
as powerful as ever. Ascending the steps which lead from the gallery I
paused once more, standing close against the wall, for other figures
interfere with a distant view, and even at that distance (eighty yards or
more) the same beauty was recognisable. Yet there is no extended arm, no
attitude to force attention--nothing but the torso is visible; there is
no artificial background (as with the Venus of Milo) to throw it into
relief; the figure crouches, and the love expressed in the action is
conveyed by the marvel of the work as far as it can be seen.

Returning next morning I took the passage on the left (not as before on
the right), and so came at once to the top of the steps, and to a spot
whence a view can with little trouble be obtained. Perhaps it is more
than eighty yards away, but the effect is the same despite the distance.
The very best place to view the statue is exactly in front of it, two or
three yards away, or as close as you like, but precisely in front. It
requires no careful choice of position so as to give a limb more
prominence, or render the light more effective (the light just there is
bad, though it is near a window). The sculptor did not rely upon
'artistic' and selected attitudes--something made up for the occasion. No
meretricious aid whatever has been called in--no trick, no illusion of
the eye, nothing theatrical. He relied solely and simply upon a true
representation of the human body--the torso, the body itself--as he
really saw it in life. When we consider that the lines of the body seen
in front are gentle, and in no way prominent, it is apparent how
beautiful the original must have been, and how wonderfully the form has
been rendered in marble for this to be the best position to view it.

Three large folds, marked by deep lines, cross the lower part of the
torso, and it is these creases that give the work its life. They are but
just made in stooping, and will disappear as she rises from that
position. These three grooves cross the entire front of the torso; the
centre one is forked at its extremity near the right hip, and the fork of
this groove encloses a smaller crease. Immediately under the right breast
there is a short separate groove caused by the body leaning to the right;
this is a fold of the side, not of the front. Under these folds there
must be breath, there must be blood; they indicate a glowing life. The
immense vitality of the form appears in them, and even as an athlete's
muscles are exhibited in relief at his exercises, so exceeding strength
of life is evident in these grooves. A heart throbbing steadily and
strong, veins full of rich, pure blood, a warm touch, an eager wish to be
affectionate, and self lost in the desire to love--this is the expression
of the folds. Full of the energy of exceptional vitality, she gladly
gives that energy for the delight of the little one.

There are no grooves on the torso of the Venus de Medici or of the Venus
of Cnidus; they are sculptured in attitudes chosen to allow of the body
and the limbs presenting an unbroken smoothness. They have the roundness
of the polished column. They are ideals, but do not live. Here the deep
grooves and the large folds are life.

As we move slowly around the statue from left to right, after observing
it in front, the right breast gradually advances, and its outline
appears. The act of stooping and leaning to one side causes the right
breast to be lower than the left. By degrees the right breast recedes and
the left advances, and, standing at the full left of the figure, there
are three chief lines to notice--that of the back seen in profile, of the
torso, and of the left thigh. The thigh is raised, and, so stretched,
seems slightly compressed near the knee. It is more rotund than thick or
heavy; it is not so much size as roundness; it is not mere plumpness, but
form.

A step farther and the back begins to appear, and the outline of its
right edge. Standing exactly at the back, there is a remarkable flatness
at the lower end of the mesial groove. This flatness is somewhat in the
shape of an elongated diamond; it is rather below the loins, and is, I
think, caused by the commencement or upper part of the pelvis. In
stooping and at the same time leaning to one side, the flesh at this spot
is drawn tightly against the firm structure under the skin, so that the
flatness is almost, if not quite, hollow. Had the sculptor been
representing a goddess he would have concealed this flatness in some way
or other, or selected a position which did not cause it, for the
conventional art--beauty must be equally rounded everywhere. Had he been
poorer in conception he would have slurred it over, or not even observed
it. The presence of this flatness or slightly hollow surface demonstrates
how true the work is to reality. The statue is a personality, a living
thing. As the line of the horizon recedes at sea, and that which now
appears the edge or boundary is presently sailed over, so the edge or
outline of the body recedes as you move around it. Another step, and the
right thigh and the right breast are in sight, with the ends of the
grooves. Lines that look almost straight are changed, as you approach,
into curves. The action of the limbs is most apparent when viewed from
the right side of the statue; but its most beautiful aspect is exactly in
front. In moving round, it is very striking to observe how the least
change of position--if you do but move an inch--alters the outline and
curve of the work; the breast, not visible before, is now apparent as the
bust rises; another inch and it becomes a demi-lune, till it swells to
its full undulation. At every step the figure alters, but no matter at
how many angles it is looked at, it always has beautiful curves. They
adapt themselves, these curves, to the position of the eye, and wherever
the eye is placed they satisfy its demands for beauty. Examine any part,
and it is found perfect; for instance, the inside of the right knee
(visible from the left of the statue) slightly bulges, being pressed out
by the stooping position.

At a third visit it seemed to me that the statue had grown much more
beautiful in the few days which had elapsed since I first saw it.
Pondering upon the causes of this increasing interest, I began to see
that one reason was because it recalled to my memory the loveliness of
nature. Old days which I had spent wandering among deep meadows and by
green woods came back to me. In such days the fancy had often occurred to
me that, besides the loveliness of leaves and flowers, there must be some
secret influence drawing me on as a hand might beckon. The light and
colour suspended in the summer atmosphere, as colour is in stained but
translucent glass, were to me always on the point of becoming tangible in
some beautiful form. The hovering lines and shape never became
sufficiently defined for me to know what form it could be, yet the
colours and the light meant something which I was not able to fix. I was
now sitting in a gallery of stone, with cold marbles, cold floors, cold
light from the windows. Without there were only houses, the city of
Paris--a city above all other cities farthest from woods and meads. Here,
nevertheless, there came back to me this old thought born in the midst of
flowers and wind-rustled leaves, and I saw that with it the statue before
me was in concord. The living original of this work was the human
impersonation of the secret influence which had beckoned me on in the
forest and by running streams. She expressed in loveliness of form the
colour and light of sunny days; she expressed the deep aspiring desire of
the soul for the perfection of the frame in which it is encased, for the
perfection of its own existence.

The sun rolls on in the far dome of heaven, and now day and now night
sweeps with alternate bands over the surface of hill, and wood, and sea;
the sea beats in endless waves, which first began to undulate a thousand
thousand years ago, starting from the other rim of Time; the green leaves
repeat the beauty that gladdened man in ancient days. But for themselves
they are, and not for us. Their glory fills the mind with rapture but for
a while, and it learns that they are, like carven idols, wholly careless
and indifferent to our fate. Then is the valley incomplete, and the void
sad! Its hills speak of death as well as of life, and we know that for
man there is nothing on earth really but man; the human species owns and
possesses nothing but its species. When I saw this I turned with
threefold concentration of desire and love towards that expression of
hope which is called beauty, such as is worked in marble here. For I
think beauty is truthfully an expression of hope, and that is why it is
so enthralling--because while the heart is absorbed in its contemplation,
unconscious but powerful hope is filling the breast. So powerful is it as
to banish for the time all care, and to make this life seem the life of
the immortals.

Returning the next morning, my thoughts went on, and found that this
ideal of nature required of us something beyond good. The conception of
moral good did not satisfy one while contemplating it. The highest form
known to us at present is pure unselfishness, the doing of good, not for
any reward, now or hereafter, nor for the completion of an imaginary
scheme. This is the best we know. But how unsatisfactory! Filled with the
aspirations called forth by the ideal before me, it appeared as if even
the saving of life is a little work compared to what the heart would like
to do. An outlet is needed more fully satisfying to its inmost desires
than is afforded by any labour of self-abnegation. It must be something
in accord with the perception of beauty and of an ideal. Personal virtue
is not enough. The works called good are dry and jejune, soon
consummated, often of questionable value, and leaving behind them when
finished a sense of vacuity. You give a sum of money to a good object and
walk away, but it does not satisfy the craving of the heart. You deny
yourself pleasure to sit by the bedside of an invalid--a good deed; but
when it is done there remains an emptiness of the soul. It is not
enough--it is casuistry to say that it is. I often think the reason the
world is so cold and selfish, so stolid and indifferent, is because it
has never yet been shown how to be anything else. Listening to the
prophets of all times and climes, it has heard them proclaim their
ordinances, and has seen these observances punctually obeyed for hundreds
of years, and nothing has come of it all. To-day it listens to the
prophets of humanity, and it sees much real benevolence actually carried
out. But the result is infinitesimal. Nothing comes of it; it does not
satisfy the individual heart. The world at large continues untouched and
indifferent--first because its common sense is not convinced, and
secondly because its secret aspirations are in no degree satisfied. So
that it is not altogether the world's fault if it is stolid. Everything
has been tried and found wanting, Men rushed in crowds to the
gold-diggings of California, to the Australian 'finds;' and in like
manner, if any real spiritual or ideal good were proffered, crowds would
rush to participate in it. Nothing yet has been given but empty words,
and these so-called 'goods' have proved as tasteless, and as much Dead
Sea apples, as the apples of vice; perhaps even more bitter than the
regrets of vice. Though I cannot name the ideal good, it seems to me that
it will be in some way closely associated with the ideal beauty of
nature.



SUMMER IN SOMERSET.



The brown Barle River running over red rocks aslant its course is pushed
aside, and races round curving slopes. The first shoot of the rapid is
smooth and polished like a gem by the lapidary's art, rounded and smooth
as a fragment of torso, and this convex undulation maintains a solid
outline. Then the following scoop under is furrowed as if ploughed
across, and the ridge of each furrow, where the particles move a little
less swiftly than in the hollow of the groove, falls backwards as foam
blown from a wave. At the foot of the furrowed decline the current rises
over a rock in a broad white sheet--white because as it is dashed to
pieces the air mingles with it. After this furious haste the stream does
but just overtake those bubbles which have been carried along on another
division of the water flowing steadily but straight. Sometimes there are
two streams like this between the same banks, sometimes three or even
more, each running at a different rate, and each gliding above a floor
differently inclined. The surface of each of these streams slopes in a
separate direction, and though under the same light they reflect it at
varying angles. The river is animated and alive, rushing here, gliding
there, foaming yonder; its separate and yet component parallels striving
together, and talking loudly in incomplete sentences. Those rivers that
move through midland meads present a broad, calm surface, at the same
level from side to side; they flow without sound, and if you stood behind
a thick hedge you would not know that a river was near. They dream along
the meads, toying with their forget-me-nots, too idle even to make love
to their flowers vigorously. The brown Barle enjoys his life, and
splashes in the sunshine like boys bathing--like them he is sunburnt and
brown. He throws the wanton spray over the ferns that bow and bend as the
cool breeze his current brings sways them in the shade. He laughs and
talks, and sings louder than the wind in his woods.

Here is a pool by the bank under an ash--a deep green pool inclosed by
massive rocks, which the stream has to brim over. The water is green--or
is it the ferns, and the moss, and the oaks, and the pale ash reflected?
This rock has a purple tint, dotted with moss spots almost black; the
green water laps at the purple stone, and there is one place where a thin
line of scarlet is visible, though I do not know what causes it. Another
stone the spray does not touch has been dried to a bright white by the
sun. Inclosed, the green water slowly swirls round till it finds
crevices, and slips through. A few paces farther up there is a red
rapid--reddened stones, and reddened growths beneath the water, a light
that lets the red hues overcome the others--a wild rush of crowded waters
rotating as they go, shrill voices calling. This next bend upwards
dazzles the eyes, for every inclined surface and striving parallel, every
swirl, and bubble, and eddy, and rush around a rock chances to reflect
the sunlight. Not one long pathway of quiet sheen, such as stretches
across a rippled lake, each wavelet throwing back its ray in just
proportion, but a hundred separate mirrors vibrating, each inclined at a
different angle, each casting a tremulous flash into the face. The
eyelids involuntarily droop to shield the gaze from a hundred arrows;
they are too strong--nothing can be distinguished but a woven surface of
brilliance, a mesh of light, under which the water runs, itself
invisible. I will go back to the deep green pool, and walking now with
the sun behind, how the river has changed!

Soft, cool shadows reach over it, which I did not see before; green
surfaces are calm under trees; the rocks are less hard; the stream runs
more gently, and the oaks come down nearer; the delicious sound of the
rushing water almost quenches my thirst. My eyes have less work to do to
meet the changing features of the current which now seems smooth as my
glance accompanies its movement. The sky, which was not noticed before,
now appears reaching in rich azure across the deep hollow, from the oaks
on one side to the oaks on the other. These woods, which cover the steep
and rocky walls of the gorge from river to summit, are filled with the
June colour of oak. It is not green, nor russet, nor yellow; I think it
may be called a glow of yellow under green. It is warmer than green; the
glow is not on the outer leaves, but comes up beneath from the depth of
the branches. The rush of the river soothes the mind, the broad
descending surfaces of yellow-green oak carry the glance downwards from
the blue over to the stream in the hollow. Rush! rush!--it is the river,
like a mighty wind in the wood. A pheasant crows, and once and again
falls the tap, tap of woodmen's axes--scarce heard, for they are high
above. They strip the young oaks of their bark as far as they can while
the saplings stand, then fell them, and as they all lie downhill there
are parallel streaks of buff (where the sap has dried) drawn between the
yellow-green masses of living leaf. The pathway winds in among the trees
at the base of the rocky hill; light green whortleberries fill every
interstice, bearing tiny red globes of flower--flower-lamps--open at the
top. Wood-sorrel lifts its delicate veined petals; the leaf is rounded
like the shadow of a bubble on a stone under clear water. I like to stay
by the wood-sorrel a little while--it is so chastely beautiful; like the
purest verse, it speaks to the inmost heart. Staying, I hear
unconsciously--listen! Rush! rush! like a mighty wind in the wood.

It draws me on to the deep green pool inclosed about by rocks--a pool to
stand near and think into. The purple rock, dotted with black moss; the
white rock; the thin scarlet line; the green water; the overhanging tree;
the verdant moss upon the bank; the lady fern--are there still. But I see
also now a little pink somewhere in the water, much brown too, and shades
I know no name for. The water is not green, but holds in solution three
separate sets of colours. The confervae on the stones, the growths
beneath at the bottom waving a little as the water swirls like minute
seaweeds--these are brown and green and somewhat reddish too. Under water
the red rock is toned and paler, but has deep black cavities. Next, the
surface, continually changing as it rotates, throws back a different
light, and thirdly, the oaks' yellow-green high up, the pale ash, the
tender ferns drooping over low down confer their tints on the stream. So
from the floor of the pool, from the surface, and from the adjacent bank,
three sets of colours mingle. Washed together by the slow swirl, they
produce a shade--the brown of the Barle--lost in darkness where the bank
overhangs.

Following the current downwards at last the river for awhile flows in
quietness, broad and smooth. A trout leaps for a fly with his tail curved
in the air, full a foot out of water. Trout watch behind sunken stones,
and shoot to and fro as insects droop in their flight and appear about to
fall. So clear is the water and so brightly illuminated that the fish are
not easily seen--for vision depends on contrast--but in a minute I find a
way to discover them by their shadows. The black shadow of a trout is
distinct upon the bottom of the river, and guides the eye to the spot;
then looking higher in the transparent water there is the fish. It was
curious to see these black shadows darting to and fro as if themselves
animated and without bodies, for if the trout darted before being
observed the light concealed him in motion. Some of the trout came up
from under Torre-steps, a singular structure which here connects the
shores of the stream. Every one has seen a row of stepping-stones across
a shallow brook; now pile other stones on each of these, forming
buttresses, and lay flat stones like unhewn planks from buttress to
buttress, and you have the plan of this primitive bridge. It has a
megalithic appearance, as if associated with the age of rude stone
monuments. They say its origin is doubtful; there can be no doubt of the
loveliness of the spot. The Barle comes with his natural rush and
fierceness under the unhewn stone planking, then deepens, and there
overhanging a black pool--for the shadow was so deep as to be black--grew
a large bunch of marsh-marigolds in fullest flower, the broad golden cups
almost resting on the black water. The bridge is not intended for wheels,
and though it is as firm as the rock, foot passengers have to look at
their steps, as the great planks, flecked with lichen at the edges, are
not all level. The horned sheep and lambs go over it--where do they not
go? Like goats they wander everywhere.

In a cottage some way up the hill we ate clotted cream and whortleberry
jam. Through the open door came the ceaseless rush! rush! like a wind in
the wood. The floor was of concrete, lime and sand; on the open
hearth--pronounced 'airth'--sods of turf cut from the moor and oak
branches were smouldering under the chimney crook. Turf smoke from the
piled-up fires of winter had darkened the beams of the ceiling, but from
that rude room there was a view of the river, and the hill, and the oaks
in full June colour, which the rich would envy. Sometimes in early
morning the wild red deer are seen feeding on the slope opposite. As we
drove away in reckless Somerset style, along precipices above the river,
with nothing but a fringe of fern for parapet, the oak woods on the hills
under us were shading down into evening coolness of tint, the yellow less
warm, the green more to the surface. Upon the branches of the trees moss
grows, forming a level green top to the round bough like a narrow cushion
along it, with frayed edges drooping over each side. Though moss is
common on branches, it does not often make a raised cushion, thick, as if
green velvet pile were laid for the birds to run on. There were rooks'
nests in some tall ash trees; the scanty foliage left the nests exposed,
they were still occupied by late broods. Rooks' nests are not often seen
in ashes as in elms.

By a mossy bank a little girl--a miniature Audrey--stout, rosy, and
ragged, stood with a yellow straw hat aslant on her yellow hair, eating
the leaves from a spray of beech in her hand. Audrey looked at us, eating
the beech leaves steadily, but would not answer, not even 'Where's your
father to?' For in Somerset the 'to' is put last, and must never be
omitted; thus, instead of saying 'I bought this at Taunton,' it is
correct to say 'I bought this to Taunton.' There are models under glass
cases in places of entertainment with a notice to say that if a penny be
inserted the machine will go. Audrey the Little would not speak, but when
a penny was put in her hand she began to move, and made off for home with
the treasure. The road turned and turned, but whichever way the Barle was
always under us, and the red rock rose high at the side. This rock
fractures aslant if worked, vast flakes come out, and the cleavage is so
natural that until closely approached a quarry appears a cliff. Stone got
out in squares, or cut down straight, leaves an artificial wall; these
rocks cannot be made to look artificial, and if painted a quarry would be
certainly quite indistinguishable from a natural precipice. Entering a
little town (Dulverton) the road is jammed tight between cottages: so
narrow is the lane that foot passengers huddle up in doorways to avoid
the touch of the wheels, and the windows of the houses are protected by
iron bars like cages lest the splash-boards should crack the glass.
Nowhere in closest-built London is there such a lane--one would imagine
land to be dear indeed. The farm labourers, filing homewards after their
day's work, each carry poles of oak or fagots on their shoulders for
their hearths, generally oak branches; it is their perquisite. The oak
somehow takes root among the interstices of the stones of this rocky
land. Past the houses the rush! rush! of the brown Barle rises again in
the still evening air.

From the Devon border I drifted like a leaf detached from a tree, across
to a deep coombe in the Quantock Hills. The vast hollow is made for
repose and lotus-eating; its very shape, like a hammock, indicates
idleness. There the days go over noiselessly and without effort, like
white summer clouds. Ridges each side rise high and heroically steep--it
would be proper to set out and climb them, but not to-day, not now: some
time presently. To the left massive Will's Neck stands out in black
shadow defined and distinct, like a fragment of night in the bright light
of the day. The wild red deer lie there, but the mountain is afar; a sigh
is all I can give to it, for the Somerset sun is warm and the lotus sweet
Yonder, if the misty heat moves on, the dim line of Dunkery winds along
the sky, not unlike the curved back of a crouching hare. The weight of
the mountains is too great--what is the use of attempting to move? It is
enough to look at them. The day goes over like a white cloud; as the sun
declines it is pleasant to go into the orchard--the vineyard of Somerset,
and then perhaps westward may be seen a light in the sky by the horizon
as if thrown up from an immense mirror under. The mirror is the Severn
sea, itself invisible at this depth, but casting a white glow up against
the vapour in the air. By it you may recognise the nearness of the sea.
The thumb-nail ridges of the Quantocks begin to grow harder, they carry
the eye along on soft curves like those of the South Downs in Sussex, but
suddenly end in a flourish and point as if cut out with the thumb-nail.
Draw your thumb-nail firmly along soft wood, and it will, by its natural
slip, form such a curve. Blackbird and thrush commence to sing as the
heavy heat decreases; the bloom on the apple trees is loose now, and the
blackbird as he springs from the bough shakes down flakes of blossom.

Towards even a wind moves among the lengthening shadows, and my footsteps
involuntarily seek the glen, where a streamlet trickles down over red
flat stones which resound musically as the water strikes them. Ferns are
growing so thickly in the hedge that soon it will seem composed of their
fronds; the first June rose hangs above their green tips. A water-ousel
with white breast rises and flies on; again disturbed, he makes a circle,
and returns to the stream behind. On the moist earth there is the print
of a hare's pad; here is a foxglove out in flower; and now as the incline
rises heather thickens on the slope. Sometimes we wander beside the
streamlet which goes a mile into the coombe--the shadow is deep and cool
in the vast groove of the hill, the shadow accumulates there, and is
pressed by its own weight--up slowly as far as the 'sog,' or peaty place
where the spring rises, and where the sundew grows. Sometimes climbing
steep and rocky walls--scarce sprinkled with grass--we pause every other
minute to look down on the great valley which reaches across to Dunkery.
The horned sheep, which are practically wild, like wild creatures, have
worn out holes for themselves to lie in beside the hill. If resolution is
strong, we move through the dark heather (soon to be purple), startling
the heath-poults, or black game, till at last the Channel opens, and the
far-distant Flat and Steep Holms lie, as it looks, afloat on the dim sea.
This is labour enough; stern indeed must be the mind that could work at
summer's noon in Somerset, when the apple vineyards slumber; when the
tall foxgloves stand in the heavy heat and the soft air warms the deepest
day-shadow so that nothing is cool to the touch but the ferns. Is there
anything so good as to do nothing?

Fame travels slowly up these breathless hills, and pauses overcome in the
heated hollow lanes. A famous wit of European reputation, when living,
resided in Somerset. A traveller one day chancing to pass through the
very next parish inquired of a local man if somebody called Sydney Smith
did not once live in that neighbourhood. 'Yes,' was the reply, 'I've
heard all about Sydney Smith; I can tell you. He was a highwayman, and
was hung on that hill there.' He would have shown the very stump of the
gallows-tree as proof positive, like Jack Cade's bricks, alive in the
chimney to this day.

There really was a highwayman, however, whose adventures are said to have
suggested one of the characters in the romance of 'Lorna Doone.' This
desperate fellow had of course his houses of call, where he could get
refreshment safely, on the moors. One bitter winter's day the robber sat
down to a hearty dinner in an inn at Exford. Placing his pistols before
him, he made himself comfortable, and ate and drank his fill. By-and-by
an old woman entered, and humbly took a seat in a corner far from the
fire. In time the highwayman observed the wretched, shivering creature,
and of his princely generosity told her to come and sit by the hearth.
The old woman gladly obeyed, and crouched beside him. Presently, as he
sat absorbed in his meal, his arms were suddenly pinioned from behind.
The old woman had him tight, so that he could not use his weapons, while
at a call constables, who had been posted about, rushed in and secured
him. The old woman was in fact a man in disguise. A relation of the
thief-taker still lives and tells the tale. The highwayman's mare,
mentioned in the novel, had been trained to come at his call, and was so
ungovernable that they shot her.

Such tracts of open country, moors, and unenclosed hills were the haunts
of highwaymen till a late period, and memories of the gallows, and of
escapes from them, are common. A well-to-do farmer who used to attend
Bristol market, and dispose there of large quantities of stock and
produce, dared not bring home the money himself lest he should be robbed.
He entrusted the cash to his drover; the farmer rode along the roads, the
drover made short cuts on foot, and arrived safely with the money. This
went on for years, in which time the honest fellow--a mere
labourer--carried some thousands of pounds for his master, faithfully
delivering every shilling. He had, however, a little failing--a dangerous
one in those days, when the gallows was the punishment for
sheep-stealing. He was known to be a sheep-stealer, and actually after
bringing home a hundred pounds would go and put his neck in danger the
very same night by taking a sheep. This went on for some time, people
shut their eyes, but at last patience was exhausted, and efforts were
made to catch him in the act, without success.

One night he came home in the usual manner from market, delivered the
cash, and went to his cottage. Next day a little girl was sent on an
innocent errand to the cottage, with orders while she was there to look
sharply round and observe if there were any ashes on the floor. She came
back with the news that there was a heap of wood ashes. Immediately a
posse set out, and the drover was arrested. The use of the ashes by
sheep-stealers was to suck up and remove stains of blood, which were
certain to be left in cutting up the animal. Sufficient proof was found
in the cottage to condemn the honest thief to be hung; great exertions
were, however, made in his behalf; and principally, it is supposed, on
account of his character for carrying large sums of money untouched, he
was saved. There is a story of the smugglers--once notorious folk on
these hills--teaching their horses to understand the usual words of
command backwards. If they were driving pack-horses along at night with a
load of brandy landed from a lugger, and were met by the revenue men, who
ordered them to stop that the packs might be searched, the smugglers,
like good and loyal subjects, called 'Whoa! whoa!' Instantly the horses
set off at a tearing gallop, for they understood 'Whoa!' as' Gee-up!'

By a farmer's door I found a tall branch of oak lying against the porch.
The bark was dry, and the leaves were shrivelled, but the bough had been
originally taken green from the tree. These boughs are discovered against
the door on the morning of the 29th of May, and are in memory of the
escape of King Charles from his enemies by hiding in an oak. The village
ringers leave them, and then go to the church and ring a peal, for which
they expect cider or small coin from each loyal person honoured with an
oak branch. Another custom, infinitely more ancient, is that of singing
to the apple trees in early spring, so that the orchards may be induced
to bear a good crop. The singers come round and visit each orchard; they
have a rhyme specially for the purpose, part of the refrain of which is
that a cup of good cider cannot do any one harm--a hint which brings out
a canful. In strange contrast to these genial customs, which accord so
well with flowery fields, I heard an instance of the coldest
indifference. An old couple lived for many years in a cottage; at last
the wife died, and the husband, while the body was in the house, had his
meals on the coffin as a table.

A hundred years since, before steam, the corn was threshed out by the
flail--a slow, and consequently expensive process. Many efforts were made
to thresh quicker. Among others, wooden machines were put up in some of
the villages, something resembling a water-wheel placed horizontally.
This was moved by horses walking round and round, and drove machinery in
the barn by belt or shafting. The labourers, greatly incensed--for they
regarded threshing by the flail as their right--tried to burn them, but
the structures were guarded and still exist. Under the modern conditions
of farming they are still found useful to cut chaff, crack corn, and so
on. The ancient sickle is yet in use for reaping in Somerset; the reapers
sharpen it by drawing the edge through an apple, when the acid bites and
cleans the steel. While we were sauntering through a village one morning,
out rushed the boys from school, and instantly their tongues began to wag
of those things on which their hearts were set. 'I know a jay's nest,
said one; 'I know an owl's nest,' cried a second; a third hastened to
claim knowledge of a pigeon's nest. It will be long before education
drives the natural love of the woods out of the children's hearts. Of old
time a village school used to be held in an ancient building, the lower
part of which was occupied as almshouses. Underneath the ancient folk
lived as best they might, while the young folk learned and gave their
class responses, or romped on the floor overhead. The upper part of the
building belonged to one owner, the lower part to another landlord. It
came about that the roof decayed and the upper owner suggested to the
lower owner that they should agree in bearing the cost of repairs. Upon
which the owner of the basement remarked that he contemplated _pulling
his part down._

In these hamlets along the foot of the hills ancient stone crosses are
often found. One of them has retained its top perfect, and really is a
cross, not a shaft only. This is, I think, rare. Sometimes in the village
street, the slender column grey against the green trees, sometimes in the
churchyard, these crosses come on the mind like a sudden enigma. It
requires an effort to grasp their meaning, so long have the ideas passed
away which led to their erection. They almost startle modern thought. How
many years since the peasant women knelt at their steps! On the base of
one which has a sculptured shaft the wall-rue fern was growing. A young
starling was perched on the yew by it; he could but just fly, and
fluttered across to the sill of the church window. Young birds called
pettishly for food from the bushes. Upon the banks hart's-tongue was
coming up fresh and green, and the early orchis was in flower. Fern and
flower and fledglings had come again as they have come every year since
the oldest of these ancient shafts was erected, for life is older, life
is greyer, than the weather-beaten mouldings. But life, too, is fresh and
young; the stern thought in the stone becomes more cold and grim as the
centuries pass away. In the crevices at the foot of another cross
wallflowers blossomed, and plants of evening primrose, not yet in flower,
were growing. Under a great yew lay the last decaying beam of the stocks.
A little yew tree grew on the top of the church tower, its highest branch
just above the parapet. A thrush perhaps planted it--thrushes are fond of
the viscous yew berries. Through green fields, in which the grass as
rising high and sweet, a footpath took me by a solitary mill with an
undershot wheel. The sheds about here are often supported on round
columns of stone. Beyond the mill is a pleasant meadow, quiet, still, and
sunlit; buttercup, sorrel, and daisy flowered among the grasses down to
the streamlet, where comfrey, with white and pink-lined bells, stood at
the water's edge. A renowned painter, Walker, who died early, used to
work in this meadow: the original scene from which he took his picture of
_The Plough_ is not far distant. The painter is gone; the grasses and the
flowers are renewed with the summer. As I stood by the brook a water-rat
came swimming, drawing a large dock-leaf in his mouth; seeing me, he
dived, and took the leaf with him under water.

Everywhere wild strawberries were flowering on the banks--wild
strawberries have been found ripe in January here; everywhere ferns were
thickening and extending, foxgloves opening their bells. Another deep
coombe led me into the mountainous Quantocks, far below the heather, deep
beside another trickling stream. In this land the sound of running water
is perpetual, the red flat stones are resonant, and the speed of the
stream draws forth music like quick fingers on the keys; the sound of
running water and the pleading voice of the willow-wren are always heard
in summer. Among the oaks growing on the steep hill-side the willow-wrens
repeated their sweet prayer; the water as it ran now rose and now fell;
there was a louder note as a little stone was carried over a fall. The
shadow came slowly out from the oak-grown side of the coombe, it reached
to the margin of the brook. Under the oaks there appears nothing but red
stones, as if the trees were rooted in them; under the boughs probably
the grass does not cover the rock as it does on the opposite side. There
mountain-ashes flowered in loose order on the green slope. Redstarts
perched on them, darting out to seize passing insects. Still deeper in
the coombe the oaks stood on either side of the stream; it was the
beginning of woods which reach for miles, in which occasionally the wild
red deer wander, and drink at the clear waters. By now the shadow of the
western hill-top had crossed the brooklet, and the still coombe became
yet more silent. There was an alder, ivy-grown, beside the stream--a tree
with those lines which take an artist's fancy. Under the roots of alders
the water-ousel often creeps by day, and the tall heron stalks past at
night. Receding up the eastern slope of the coombe the sunlight left the
dark alder's foliage in the deep shadow of the hollow. I went up the
slope till I could see the sun, and waited; in a few minutes the shadow
reached me, and it was sunset; I went still higher, and presently the sun
set again. A cool wind was drawing up the coombe, it was dusky in the
recesses of the oaks, and the water of the stream had become dark when we
emerged from the great hollow, and yet without the summer's evening had
but just commenced, and the banks were still heated by the sun.

In contrast to the hills and moors which are so open and wild, the broad
vales beneath are closely shut in with hedges. The fields are all of
moderate size, unlike the great pastures elsewhere, so that the constant
succession of hedges, one after the other, for ten, twenty, or more
miles, encloses the country as it were fivefold. Most of the fields are
square, or at all events right-angled, unlike the irregular outline and
corners of fields in other counties. The number of meadows make it appear
as if the land was chiefly grass, though there is really a fair
proportion of arable. Over every green hedge there seems a grassy mead;
in every hedge trees are numerous, and their thick June foliage, green
too, gives a sense of green colour everywhere. But this is relieved with
red--the soil is red, and where the plough has been the red furrows stand
out so brightly as to seem lifted a little from the level. These red
squares when on the side of rising ground show for many miles. The stones
are red that lie about, the road dust has a reddish tint, so have the
walls of the cottages and mills. Where the banks of the hedges can be
seen (or where rabbits have thrown out the earth) they are red, and the
water in the ditches and streamlets looks red--it is in fact clear, and
the colour is that of the sand and stones. The footpath winds a red band
through the grass of the meads, and if it passes under a cliff the rock
too rises aslant in red lines. Along the cropped hedges red campions
flower so thickly as to take the place of green leaves, and by every
gateway red foxgloves grow. Red trifolium is a favourite crop; it is not
much redder than the land which bears it. The hues of the red ploughed
squares, seen through the trees, vary as the sun dries or the rain
moistens the colour. Then, again, the ferns as the summer advances bring
forward their green to the aid of the leaves and grass, so that red and
green constantly strive together.

There is a fly-rod in every house, almost every felt hat has gut and
flies wound round it, and every one talks trout. Every one, too,
complained that the rivers were so low it was difficult to angle. This
circumstance, however, rendered the hues of the rocky banks more
distinct. Sitting down to dinner by chance with two farmers, one began to
tell me how he had beguiled three trout the previous evening; and the
other described how, as he was walking in a field of his by the river, he
had seen an otter. These creatures, which are becoming sadly scarce, if
not indeed extinct in many counties, are still fairly numerous in the
waters here. I hope they will long remain so, for although they certainly
do destroy great numbers of fish, yet it must be remembered that in this
country our list of wild animals has been gradually decreasing for
centuries, and especially wild animals that show sport. The otter, I
fear, is going; I hope the sportsmen of Somerset will see that it remains
in their county, at all events, when it has become a tradition elsewhere.
Otter hounds frequently visit the rivers, and first-rate sport is
obtained. In these villages, two hundred miles from London, and often far
from the rail, some of the conditions resemble those in the United
States, where, instead of shops, 'stores' supply every article from one
counter. So here you buy everything in one shop; it is really a 'store in
the American sense. A house which seems amid fields is called 'The
Dragon;' you would suppose it an inn, but it is a shop, and has been so
ever since the olden times when every trader put out a sign. The sign has
gone, but the name remains.

Somewhere in a wood there is a stone, supposed to be a tombstone of the
prophetess Mother Shipton, and bearing an undecipherable inscription. One
of her rhymes is well remembered in the neighbourhood:--

  When Watchet is all washed down
  Williton shall be a seaport town.

This is founded on the gradual encroachment of the sea, which is a fact,
but it will be some time yet before masts are seen at Williton.

At Dunster there is a curious mill which has two wheels, overshot, one in
front of the other, and both driven by the same sluice. It as very hot as
we stood by the wheels; the mill dust came forth and sprinkled the
foliage so that the leaves seemed scarce able to breathe; it drifted
almost to the stream hard by, where trout were watching under a cloud of
midges dancing over the ripples. They look as if entangled in an
inextricable maze, but if you let your eye travel, say to the right, as
you would follow the flight of a bird, you find that one side of the
current of insects flies up that way, and the other side returns. They go
to and fro in regular order, exactly like the fashionable folk in Rotten
Row, but the two ranks pass so quickly that looked at both together the
vision cannot separate them, they are faster than the impression on the
retina.

At Selworthy a footpath leads up through a wood on Selworthy Hill, and as
it ascends, always at the side of the slope, gradually opens out what is
perhaps the finest view of Dunkery Beacon, the Dunkery range, and that
edge of Exmoor on to the shore of the sea. Across the deep vale the
Exmoor mountains rise and reach on either hand, immense breadths of dark
heather, deep coombes filled with black shadow, and rounded masses that
look dry and heated. To the right is the gleaming sea, and the distant
sound of the surge comes up to the wood. The headland and its three
curves boldly project into the sunlit waters; from its foot many a
gallant stag hard pressed by the hounds has swum out into the track of
passing vessels. Selworthy Woods were still in the afternoon heat; except
for the occasional rustle of a rabbit or of a pheasant, there was no
evidence of life; the sound of the sea was faint and soon lost among the
ferns. Slowly, very slowly, great Dunkery grew less hard of aspect,
shadows drew along at the base, while again the declining sun from time
to time sent his beams into valleys till now dark. The thatched house at
Holnicote by the foot of Selworthy much interested me; it is one of the
last of thatched houses inhabited by a gentleman and landed proprietor.
Sir Thomas Acland, who resides here, is a very large owner. Thatch
prevails on his estates; thatched cottages, thatched farmhouses, and his
thatched mansion. In the coolness of the evening the birds began to sing
and squirrels played across the lawn in front of Holnicote House.
Humble-bees hummed in the grass and visited the flowers of the holly
bushes. Thrushes sang, and chaffinches, and, sweetest of all, if simplest
in notes, the greenfinches talked and courted in the trees. Two cuckoos
called in different directions, wood-pigeons raised their voices in
Selworthy Wood, and rooks went over cawing in their deliberate way. In
the level meadow from among the tall grasses and white-flowering wild
parsley a landrail called 'crake, crake,' ceaselessly. There was a sense
of rest and quiet, and with it a joyousness of bird-life, such as should
be about an English homestead.



AN ENGLISH DEER-PARK.



There is an old park wall which follows the highway in all its turns with
such fidelity of curve that for some two miles it seems as if the road
had been fitted to the wall. Against it hawthorn bushes have grown up at
intervals, and in the course of years their trunks have become almost
timber. Ivy has risen round some of these, and, connecting them with the
wall, gives them at a distance the appearance of green bastions. Large
stems of ivy, too, have flattened themselves upon the wall, as if with
arched back they were striving like athletes to overthrow it. Mosses,
brown in summer, soft green in winter, cover it where there is shadow,
and if pulled up take with them some of the substance of the stone or
mortar like a crust, A dry, dusty fern may perhaps be found now and then
on the low bank at the foot--a fern that would rather be within the park
than thus open to the heated south with the wall reflecting the sunshine
behind. On the other side of the road, over the thin hedge, there is a
broad plain of corn-fields. Coming from these the labourers have found
out, or made, notches in the wall; so that, by putting the iron-plated
toes of their boots in, and holding to the ivy, they can scale it and
shorten their long trudge home to the village. In the spring the larks,
passing from the green corn to the pasture within, fluttering over with
gently vibrating wings and singing as they daintily go, sometimes settle
on the top. There too the yellow-hammers stay. In the crevices blue tits
build deep inside passages that abruptly turn, and baffle egg-stealers.
Partridges come over with a whir, but just clearing the top, gliding on
extended wings, which to the eye look like a slight brown crescent. The
waggoners who go by know that the great hawthorn bastions are favourite
resorts of wood-pigeons and missel-thrushes. The haws are ripe in autumn
and the ivy berries in spring, so that the bastions yield a double crop.
A mallow, the mauve petals of which even the dust of the road cannot
impair, flowers here and there on the dry bank below, and broad
moon-daisies among the ripe and almost sapless grass of midsummer.

If any one climbed the wall from the park and looked across at the plain
of corn-fields in early spring, everywhere there would be seen brown dots
in the air--above the first slender green blades; above the freshly
turned dark furrows; above the distant plough, the share of which,
polished like a silver mirror by friction with the clods, reflects the
sunshine, flashing a heliograph message of plenty from the earth;
everywhere brown dots, and each a breathing creature--larks ceaselessly
singing, and all unable to set forth their joy. Swift as is the vibration
of their throats, they cannot pour the notes fast enough to express their
eager welcome. As a shower falls from the sky, so falls the song of the
larks. There is no end to them: they are everywhere; over every acre away
across the plain to the downs, and up on the highest hill. Every crust of
English bread has been sung over at its birth in the green blade by a
lark.

If one looked again in June, the clover itself, a treasure of beauty and
sweetness, would be out, and the south wind would come over acres of
flower--acres of clover, beans, tares, purple trifolium, far-away crimson
sainfoin (brightest of all on the hills), scarlet poppies, pink
convolvulus, yellow charlock, and green wheat coming into ear. In August,
already squares would be cut into the wheat, and the sheaves rising,
bound about the middle, hour-glass fashion; some breadths of wheat
yellow, some golden-bronze; besides these, white barley and oats, and
beans blackening. Turtle-doves would be in the stubble, for they love to
be near the sheaves. The hills after or during rain look green and near;
on sunny days, a far and faint blue. Sometimes the sunset is caught in
the haze on them and lingers, like a purple veil about the ridges. In the
dusk hares come heedlessly along; the elder-bushes gleam white with
creamy petals through the night.

Sparrows and partridges alike dust themselves in the white dust, an inch
deep, of midsummer, in the road between the wall and the corn--a pitiless
Sahara road to traverse at noonday in July, when the air is still and you
walk in a hollow way, the yellow wheat on one side and the wall on the
other. There is shade in the park within, but a furnace of sunlight
without--weariness to the eyes and feet from glare and dust. The wall
winds with the highway and cannot be escaped. It goes up the slight
elevations and down the slopes; it has become settled down and bound with
time. But presently there is a steeper dip, and at the bottom, in a
narrow valley, a streamlet flows out from the wheat into the park. A
spring rises at the foot of the down a mile away, and the channel it has
formed winds across the plain. It is narrow and shallow; nothing but a
larger furrow, filled in winter by the rains rushing off the fields, and
in summer a rill scarce half an inch deep. The wheat hides the channel
completely, and as the wind blows, the tall ears bend over it. At the
edge of the bank pink convolvulus twines round the stalks and the
green-flowered buckwheat gathers several together. The sunlight cannot
reach the stream, which runs in shadow, deep down below the wheat-ears,
over which butterflies wander. Forget-me-nots flower under the banks;
grasses lean on the surface; willow-herbs, tall and stiff, stand up; but
out from the tangled and interlaced fibres the water flows as clear as it
rose by the hill. There is a culvert under the road, and on the opposite
side the wall admits the stream by an arch jealously guarded by bars. In
this valley the wall is lower and thicker and less covered at the top
with ivy, so that where the road rises over the culvert you can see into
the park. The stream goes rounding away through the sward, bending
somewhat to the right, where the ground gradually descends. On the left
side, at some distance, stands a row of full-grown limes, and through
these there is a glimpse of the old manor-house. It is called the old
house because the requirements of modern days have rendered it unsuitable
for an establishment. A much larger mansion has been erected in another
part of the park nearer the village, with a facade visible from the
highway. The old manor-house is occupied by the land-steward, or, as he
prefers to be called, the deputy-forester, who is also the oldest and
largest tenant on the estate. It is he who rules the park. The labourers
and keepers call him the 'squire.'

Now the old squire's favourite resort is the window-seat in the gun-room,
because thence he can see a section of the highway, which, where it
crosses the streamlet, comes within half a mile of the house. There the
hollow and the lower wall permit any one at this window to obtain a view
of the road on one of the sides of the valley. At this declivity it
almost faces the house, and whether the passers-by are going to the
market town, or returning to the village, they cannot escape observation.
If they come from the town, the steep descent compels them to walk their
horses down it; if from the village, they have a hard pull up. So the
oaken window-seat in the gun-room is as polished and smooth as an old
saddle; for if the squire is indoors, he is certain to be there. He often
rests there after half an hour's work on one or other of the guns in the
rack; for, though he seldom uses but one, he likes to take the locks to
pieces upon a little bench which he has fitted up, and where he has a
vice, tools, a cartridge-loading apparatus, and so forth, from which the
room acquired its name. With the naked eye, however, as the road is half
a mile distant, it is not possible to distinguish persons, except in
cases of very pronounced individuality. Nevertheless old 'Ettles,' the
keeper, always declared that he could see a hare run up the down from the
park, say a mile and a half. This may be true; but in the gun-room there
is a field-glass, said to have been used at the siege of Seringapatam,
which the squire can bring to bear upon the road in an instant, for from
constant use at the same focus there is a rim round the tarnished brass.
No time, therefore, need be lost in trials; it can be drawn out to the
well-known mark at once. The window itself is large, but there is a
casement in it,--a lesser window,--which can be thrown open with a mere
twist of the thumb on the button, and as it swings open it catches itself
on a hasp. Then the field-glass examines the distant wayfarer.

When people have dwelt for generations in one place they come to know the
history of their immediate world. There was not a waggon that went by
without a meaning to the squire. One perhaps brought a load of wool from
the downs: it was old Hobbes's, whose affairs he had known these forty
years. Another, with wheat, was Lambourne's team: he lost heavily in
1879, the wet year. The family and business concerns of every man of any
substance were as well known to the squire as if they had been written in
a chronicle. So, too, he knew the family tendency, as it were, of the
cottagers. So and So's lads were always tall, another's girls always
tidy. If you employed a member of this family, you were sure to be well
served; if of another, you were sure to be cheated in some way. Men vary
like trees: an ash sapling is always straight, the bough of an oak
crooked, a fir full of knots. A man, said the squire, should be straight
like a gun. This section of the highway gave him the daily news of the
village as the daily papers give us the news of the world. About two
hundred yards from the window the row of limes began, each tree as tall
and large as an elm, having grown to its full natural size. The last of
the row came very near obstructing the squire's line of sight, and it
once chanced that some projecting branches by degrees stretched out
across his field of view. This circumstance caused him much mental
trouble; for, having all his life consistently opposed any thinning out
or trimming of trees, he did not care to issue an order which would
almost confess a mistake. Besides which, why only these particular
branches?--the object would be so apparent. The squire, while conversing
with Ettles, twice, as if unconsciously, directed his steps beneath these
limes, and, striking the offending boughs with his stick, remarked that
they grew extremely fast. But the keeper, usually so keen to take a hint,
only answered that the lime was the quickest wood to grow of which he
knew. In his heart he enjoyed the squire's difficulty. Finally the
squire, legalising his foible by recognising it, fetched a ladder and a
hatchet, and chopped off the boughs with his own hands.

It was from the gun-room window that the squire observed the change of
the seasons and the flow of time. The larger view he often had on
horseback of miles of country did not bring it home to him. The old
familiar trees, the sward, the birds, these told him of the advancing or
receding sun. As he reclined in the corner of the broad window-seat, his
feet up, and drowsy, of a summer afternoon, he heard the languid cawing
of an occasional rook, for rooks are idle in the heated hours of the day.
He was aware, without conscious observation, of the swift, straight line
drawn across the sky by a wood-pigeon. The pigeons were continually to
and fro the cornfields outside the wall to the south and the woods to the
north, and their shortcut route passed directly over the limes. To the
limes the bees went when their pale yellow flowers appeared. Not many
butterflies floated over the short sward, which was fed too close for
flowers. The butterflies went to the old garden, rising over the high
wall as if they knew beforehand of the flowers that were within. Under
the sun the short grass dried as it stood, and with the sap went its
green. There came a golden tint on that part of the wheat-fields which
could be seen over the road. A few more days--how few they seemed!--and
there was a spot of orange on the beech in a little copse near the limes.
The bucks were bellowing in the forest: as the leaves turned colour their
loves began and the battles for the fair. Again a few days and the snow
came, and rendered visible the slope of the ground in the copse between
the trunks of the trees: the ground there was at other times indistinct
under brambles and withered fern. The squire left the window for his
arm-chair by the fire; but if presently, as often happens when frost
quickly follows a snow-storm, the sun shone out and a beam fell on the
wall, he would get up and look out. Every footstep in the snow contained
a shadow cast by the side, and the dazzling white above and the dark
within produced a blue tint. Yonder by the limes the rabbits ventured out
for a stray bunch of grass not quite covered by the drift, tired, no
doubt, of the bitter bark of the ash-rods that they had nibbled in the
night. As they scampered, each threw up a white cloud of snow-dust behind
him. Yet a few days and the sward grew greener. The pale winter hue,
departing as the spring mist came trailing over, caught for a while in
the copse, and, lingering there, the ruddy buds and twigs of the limes
were refreshed. The larks rose a little way to sing in the moist air. A
rook, too, perching on the top of a low tree, attempted other notes than
his monotonous caw. So absorbed was he in his song that you might have
walked under him unnoticed. He uttered four or five distinct sounds that
would have formed a chant, but he paused between each as if uncertain of
his throat. Then, as the sun shone, with a long-drawn 'ca-awk' he flew to
find his mate, for it would soon be time to repair the nest in the limes.
The butterflies came again and the year was completed, yet it seemed but
a few days to the squire. Perhaps if he lived for a thousand years, after
a while he would wonder at the rapidity with which the centuries slipped
by.

By the limes there was a hollow--the little circular copse was on the
slope--and jays came to it as they worked from tree to tree across the
park. Their screeching often echoed through the open casement of the
gunroom. A faint mark on the sward trended towards this hollow; it was a
trail made by the squire, one of whose favourite strolls was in this
direction. This summer morning, taking his gun, he followed the trail
once more.

The grass was longer and coarser under the shadow of the limes, and
upborne on the branches were numerous little sticks which had dropped
from the rookery above. Sometimes there was an overthrown nest like a
sack of twigs turned out on the turf, such as the hedgers rake together
after fagoting. Looking up into the trees on a summer's day not a bird
could be seen, till suddenly there was a quick 'jack-jack' above, as a
daw started from his hole or from where the great boughs joined the
trunk. The squire's path went down the hollow till it deepened into a
thinly wooded coomb, through which ran the streamlet coming from the
wheat-fields under the road. As the coomb opened, the squire went along a
hedge near but not quite to the top. Years ago the coomb had been
quarried for chalk, and the pits were only partly concealed by the
bushes: the yellow spikes of wild mignonette flourished on the very
hedge, and even half way down the precipices. From the ledge above, the
eye could see into these and into the recesses between the brushwood. The
squire's son, Mr. Martin, used to come here with his rook-rifle, for he
could always get a shot at a rabbit in the hollow. They could not see him
approach; and the ball, if it missed, did no damage, being caught as in a
bowl. Rifles in England, even when their range is but a hundred yards or
so, are not to be used without caution. Some one may be in the hedge
nutting, or a labourer may be eating his luncheon in the shelter; it is
never possible to tell who may be behind the screen of brambles through
which the bullet slips so easily. Into these hollows Martin could shoot
with safety. As for the squire, he did not approve of rifles. He adhered
to his double-barrel; and if a buck had to be killed, he depended on his
smoothbore to carry a heavy ball forty yards with fair accuracy. The
fawns were knocked over with a wire cartridge unless Mr. Martin was in
the way--he liked to try a rifle. Even in summer the old squire generally
had his double-barrel with him--perhaps he might come across a weasel, or
a stoat, or a crow. That was his excuse; but, in fact, without a gun the
woods lost half their meaning to him. With it he could stand and watch
the buck grazing in the glade, or a troop of fawns--sweet little
creatures--so demurely feeding down the grassy slope from the beeches.
Already at midsummer the nuts were full formed on the beeches; the green
figs, too, he remembered were on the old fig-tree trained against the
warm garden wall. The horse-chestnuts showed the little green knobs which
would soon enlarge and hang all prickly, like the spiked balls of a
holy-water sprinkle, such as was once used in the wars. Of old the folk,
having no books, watched every living thing, from the moss to the oak,
from the mouse to the deer; and all that we know now of animals and
plants is really founded upon their acute and patient observation. How
many years it took even to find out a good salad may be seen from ancient
writings, wherein half the plants about the hedges are recommended as
salad herbs: dire indeed would be our consternation if we had to eat
them. As the beech-nuts appear, and the horse-chestnuts enlarge, and the
fig swells, the apples turn red and become visible in the leafy branches
of the apple-trees. Like horses, deer are fond of apples, and in former
times, when deer-stealing was possible, they were often decoyed with
them.

There is no tree so much of the forest as the beech. On the verge of
woods the oaks are far apart, the ashes thin; the verge is like a
wilderness and scrubby, so that the forest does not seem to begin till
you have penetrated some distance. Under the beeches the forest begins at
once. They stand at the edge of the slope, huge round boles rising from
the mossy ground, wide fans of branches--a shadow under them, a greeny
darkness beyond. There is depth there--depth to be explored, depth to
hide in. If there is a path, it is arched over like a tunnel with boughs;
you know not whither it goes. The fawns are sweetest in the sunlight,
moving down from the shadow; the doe best partly in shadow, partly in
sun, when the branch of a tree casts its interlaced work, fine as
Algerian silverwork, upon the back; the buck best when he stands among
the fern, alert, yet not quite alarmed--for he knows the length of his
leap--his horns up, his neck high, his dark eye bent on you, and every
sinew strung to spring away. One spot of sunlight, bright and white,
falls through the branches upon his neck, a fatal place, or near it: a
guide, that bright white spot, to the deadly bullet, as in old days to
the cross-bow bolt. It was needful even then to be careful of the aim,
for the herd, as Shakespeare tells us, at once recognised the sound of a
cross-bow: the jar of the string, tight-strained to the notch by the
goat's-foot lever, the slight whiz of the missile, were enough to startle
them and to cause the rest to swerve and pass out of range. Yet the
cross-bow was quiet indeed compared with the gun which took its place.
The cross-bow was the beginning of shooting proper, as we now understand
it; that is, of taking an aim by the bringing of one point into a line
with another. With the long-bow aim indeed was taken, but quite
differently, for if the arrow were kept waiting with the string drawn,
the eye and the hand would not go true together. The quicker the arrow
left the bow the moment that it was full drawn, the better the result. On
the other hand, the arblast was in no haste, but was adjusted
deliberately--so deliberately that it gave rise to a proverb, 'A fool's
bolt is soon shot.' This could not apply to the long-bow, with which the
arrow was discharged swiftly, while an arblast was slowly brought to the
level like a rifle. As it was hard to draw again, that added strength to
the saying; but it arose from the deliberation with which a good
cross-bowman aimed. To the long-bow the cross-bow was the express rifle.
The express delivers its bullet accurately point-blank--the bullet flies
straight to its mark up to a certain distance. So the cross-bow bolt flew
point-blank, and thus its application to hunting when the deer were
really killed for their venison. The hunter stole through the fern, or
crept about the thickets--thickets and fern exactly like those here
to-day--or waited Indian-like in ambush behind an oak as the herd fed
that way, and, choosing the finest buck, aimed his bolt so as either to
slay at once or to break the fore-leg. Like the hare, if the fore-leg is
injured, deer cannot progress; if only the hind-quarter is hit, there is
no telling how far they may go. Therefore the cross-bow, as enabling the
hunter to choose the exact spot where his bolt should strike, became the
weapon of the chase, and by its very perfection began the extermination
of the deer. Instead of the hounds and the noisy hunt, any man who could
use the cross-bow could kill a buck. The long-bow, of all weapons,
requires the most practice, and practice begun in early youth. Some of
the extraordinary feats attributed to the outlaws in the woods and to the
archers of the ancient English army are quite possible, but must have
necessitated the constant use of a bow from childhood, so that it became
second nature. But almost any man who has strength to set a cross-bow,
with moderate practice, and any idea at all of shooting, could become a
fairly good shot with it. From the cross-bow to a gun was a comparatively
easy step, and it was the knowledge of the power of the one that led to
the quick introduction of the other. For gunpowder was hardly discovered
before hand-guns were thought of, and no discovery ever spread so
swiftly. Then the arquebuse swept away the old English chase.

These deer exist by permission. They are protected with jealous care; or
rather they have been protected so long that by custom they have grown
semi-consecrated, and it is rare for anyone to think of touching them.
The fawns wander, and a man, if he choose, might often knock one over
with his axe as he comes home from his work. The deer browse up to the
very skirts of the farmhouse below, sometimes even enter the rick-yard,
and once now and then, if a gate be left open, walk in and eat the pease
in the garden. The bucks are still a little wilder, a little more nervous
for their liberty, but there is no difficulty in stalking them to within
forty or fifty yards. They have either lost their original delicacy of
scent, or else do not respond to it, as the approach of a man does not
alarm them, else it would be necessary to study the wind; but you may get
thus near them without any thought of the breeze--no nearer; then,
bounding twice or thrice, lifting himself each time as high as the fern,
the buck turns half towards you to see whether his retreat should or
should not be continued.

The fawns have come out from the beeches, because there is more grass on
the slope and in the hollow, where trees are few. Under the trees in the
forest proper there is little food for them. Deer, indeed, seem fonder of
half-open places than of the wood itself. Thickets, with fern at the foot
and spaces of sward between, are their favourite haunts. Heavily timbered
land and impenetrable underwood are not so much resorted to. The deer
here like to get away from the retreats which shelter them, to wander in
the half-open grounds on that part of the park free to them, or, if
possible, if they see a chance, out into the fields. Once now and then a
buck escapes, and is found eight or ten miles away. If the pale were
removed how quickly the deer would leave the close forest which in
imagination is so associated with them! It is not their ideal. They would
rather wander over the hills and along the river valleys. The forest is,
indeed, and always would be their cover, and its shadows their defence;
but for enjoyment they would of choice seek the sweet herbage, which does
not flourish where the roots of trees and underwood absorb all the
richness of the soil. The farther the trees are apart the better the
forest pleases them. Those great instinctive migrations of wild animals
which take place annually in America are not possible in England. The
deer here cannot escape--solitary individuals getting free of course, now
and then; they cannot move in a body, and it is not easy to know whether
any such desire remains among them. So far as I am aware, there is no
mention of such migrations in the most ancient times; but the omission
proves nothing, for before the Normans, before the game laws and parks
together came into existence, no one who could write thought enough of
the deer to notice their motions. The monks were engaged in chronicling
the inroads of the pagans, or writing chronologies of the Roman Empire.
On analogical grounds it would seem quite possible that in their original
state the English deer did move from part to part of the country with the
seasons. Almost all the birds, the only really free things in this
country now, move, even those that do not quit the island; and why not
the deer in the old time when all the woods were open to them? England is
not a large country, but there are considerable differences in the
climate and the time at which vegetation appears, quite sufficient of
themselves to induce animals to move from place to place. We have no
narrowing buffalo zone to lament, for our buffalo zone disappeared long
ago. These parks and woods are islets of the olden time, dotted here and
there in the midst of the most modern agricultural scenery. These deer
and their ancestors have been confined within the pale for hundreds of
years, and though in a sense free, they are in no sense wild. But the old
power remains still. See the buck as he starts away, and jumps at every
leap as high as the fern. He would give the hounds a long chase yet.

The fern is fully four feet tall, hiding a boy entirely, and only showing
a man's head. The deer do not go through it unless startled; they prefer
to follow a track already made, one of their own trails. It is their
natural cover, and when the buckhounds meet near London the buck often
takes refuge in one or other of the fern-grown commons of which there are
many on the southern side. But fern is inimical to grass, and, while it
gives them cover, occupies the place of much more pleasant herbage. As
their range is limited, though they have here a forest of some extent as
well as the park to roam over, they cannot always obtain enough in
winter. In frost, when the grass will not grow, or when snow is on the
ground, that which they can find is supplemented with hay. They are, in
fact, foddered exactly the same as cattle. In some of the smaller parks
they are driven into inclosures and fed altogether. This is not the case
here. Perhaps it was through the foggers, as the labourers are called who
fodder cattle and carry out the hay in the morning and evening, that deer
poachers of old discovered that they could approach the deer by carrying
a bundle of sweet-smelling hay, which overcame the scent of the body and
baffled the buck's keen nostrils till the thief was within shot. The
foggers, being about so very early in the morning,--they are out at the
dawn,--have found out a good many game secrets in their time. If the deer
were outside the forest at any hour it was sure to be when the dew was on
the grass, and thus they noticed that with the hay truss on their heads
they could walk up quite close occasionally. Foggers know all the game on
the places where they work; there is not a hare or a rabbit, a pheasant
or a partridge, whose ways are not plain to them. There are no stories
now of stags a century old (three would go back to Queen Elizabeth); they
have gone, like other traditions of the forest, before steam and
breechloader. Deer lore is all but extinct, the terms of venery known but
to a few; few, indeed, could correctly name the parts of a buck if one
were sent them. The deer are a picture only--a picture that lives and
moves and is beautiful to look at, but must not be rudely handled. Still,
they linger while the marten has disappeared, the polecat is practically
gone, and the badger becoming rare. It is curious that the badger has
lived on through sufferance for three centuries. Nearly three centuries
ago, a chronicler observed that the badger would have been rooted out
before his time had it not been for the parks. There was no great store
of badgers then; there is no great store now. Sketches remain in old
country-houses of the chase of the marten; you see the hounds all yelping
round the foot of a tree, the marten up in it, and in the middle of the
hounds the huntsman in top-boots and breeches. You can but smile at it.
To Americans it must forcibly recall the treeing of a 'coon. The deer
need keep no watch, there are no wolves to pull them down; and it is
quite probable that the absence of any danger of that kind is the reason
of their tameness even more than the fact that they are not chased by
man. Nothing comes creeping stealthily through the fern, or hunts them
through the night. They can slumber in peace. There is no larger beast of
prey than a stoat, or a stray cat. But they retain their dislike of dogs,
a dislike shared by cattle, as if they too dimly remembered a time when
they had been hunted. The list of animals still living within the pale
and still wild is short indeed. Besides the deer, which are not wild,
there are hares, rabbits, squirrels, two kinds of rat,--the land and the
water rat,--stoat, weasel, mole, and mouse. There are more varieties of
mouse than of any other animal: these, the weakest of all, have escaped
best, though exposed to so many enemies. A few foxes, and still fewer
badgers, complete the list, for there are no other animals here. Modern
times are fatal to all creatures of prey, whether furred or feathered;
and so even the owls are less numerous, both in actual numbers and in
variety of species, than they were even fifty years ago.

But the forest is not vacant. It is indeed full of happy life. Every
hollow tree--and there are many hollow trees where none are felled--has
its nest of starlings, or titmice, or woodpeckers. Woodpeckers are
numerous, and amusing to watch. Wood-pigeons and turtle-doves abound, the
former in hundreds nesting here. Rooks, of course, and jackdaws,--daws
love hollow trees,--jays, and some magpies. The magpie is one of the
birds which have partly disappeared from the fields of England. There are
broad lands where not one is to be seen. Once looking from the road at
two in a field, a gentleman who was riding by stopped his horse and
asked, quite interested, 'Are those magpies?' I replied that they were.
'I have not seen any since I was a boy till now,' he said. Magpies are
still plentiful in some places, as in old parks in Somersetshire, but
they have greatly diminished in the majority of instances. There are some
here, and many jays. These are handsome birds, and with the green
woodpeckers give colour to the trees. Night-jars or fern-owls fly round
the outskirts and through the open glades in the summer twilight. These
are some of the forest birds. The rest visit the forest or live in it,
but are equally common to hedgerow and copse. Woodpeckers, jays, magpies,
owls, night-jars, are all distinctly forest and park birds, and are
continually with the deer. The lesser birds are the happier that there
are fewer hawks and crows. The deer are not torn with the cruel tooth of
hound or wolf, nor does the sharp arrow sting them. It is a little piece
of olden England without its terror and bloodshed.

The fawns fed away down the slope and presently into one of the broad
green open paths or drives, where the underwood on each side is lined
with bramble and with trailing white rose, which loves to cling to bushes
scarcely higher than itself. Their runners stretch out at the edges of
the drive, so that from the underwood the mound of green falls aslant to
the sward. This gradual descent from the trees and ash to the bushes of
hawthorn, from the hawthorn to the bramble, thence to the rose and the
grass, gives to the vista of the broad path a soft, graceful aspect.

After the fawns had disappeared, the squire went on and entered under the
beeches from which they had emerged. He had not gone far before he struck
and followed a path which wound between the beech trunks and was entirely
arched over by their branches. Squirrels raced away at the sound of his
footsteps, darting over the ground and up the stems of the trees in an
instant. A slight rustling now and then showed that a rabbit had been
startled. Pheasants ran too, but noiselessly, and pigeons rose from the
boughs above. The wood-pigeons rose indeed, but they were not much
frightened, and quickly settled again. So little shot at, they felt safe,
and only moved from habit.

He crossed several paths leading in various directions, but went on,
gradually descending till the gable end of a farmhouse became visible
through the foliage. The old red tiles were but a few yards distant from
the boughs of the last beech, and there was nothing between the house and
the forest but a shallow trench almost filled with dead brown leaves and
edged with fern. Out from that trench, sometimes stealthily slipping
between the flattened fern-stalks, came a weasel, and, running through
the plantains and fringe-like mayweed or stray pimpernel which covered
the neglected ground, made for the straw-rick. Searching about for mice,
he was certain to come across a hen's egg in some corner, perhaps in a
hay-crib, which the cattle, now being in the meadow, did not use. Or a
stronger stoat crept out and attacked anything that he fancied. Very
often there was a rabbit sitting in the long grass which grows round
under an old hay-rick. He would sit still and let anyone pass who did not
know of his presence, but those who were aware used to give the grass a
kick if they went that way, when he would carry his white tail swiftly
round the corner of the rick. In winter hares came nibbling at everything
in the garden, and occasionally in summer, if they fancied an herb: they
would have spoiled it altogether if free to stay there without fear of
some one suddenly appearing.

Dogs there were in plenty, but all chained, except a few mere puppies
which practically lived indoors. It was not safe to have them loose so
near the wood, the temptation to wander being so very strong. So that,
though there was a continual barking and long, mournful whines for
liberty, the wild creatures came in time to understand that there was
little danger, and the rabbit actually sat under the hay-rick.

Pheasants mingled with the fowls, and, like the fowls, only ran aside out
of the way of people. In early summer there were tiny partridge chicks
about, which rushed under the coop. The pheasants sometimes came down to
the kitchen door, so greedy were they. With the dogs and ponies, the
pheasants and rabbits, the weasels and the stoats, and the ferrets in
their hutches, the place seemed really to belong more to the animals than
to the tenant.

The forest strayed indoors. Bucks' horns, feathers picked up, strange
birds shot and stuffed, fossils from the sand-pits, coins and pottery
from the line of the ancient Roman road, all the odds and ends of the
forest, were scattered about within. To the yard came the cows, which,
with bells about their necks, wandered into the fern, and the swine,
which searched and rooted about for acorns and beech-mast in autumn. The
men who dug in the sand-pits or for gravel came this way in and out to
their labour, and so did those who split up the fallen trunks into logs.
Now and then a woodpecker came with a rush up from the meadows, where he
had been visiting the hedgerows, and went into the forest with a yell as
he entered the trees. The deer fed up to the precincts, and at intervals
a buck at the dawn got into the garden. But the flies from the forest
teased and terrified the horses, which would have run away with the
heavily loaded waggon behind them if not protected with fine netting as
if in armour. They did run away sometimes at harrow, tearing across the
field like mad things. You could not keep the birds out of the garden,
try how you would. They had most of the sowings up. The blackbirds pecked
every apple in the orchard. How the dead leaves in autumn came whirling
in thousands through rick-yard and court in showers upon the tiles! Nor
was it of much avail to sweep them away; they were there again to-morrow,
and until the wind changed. The swallows were now very busy building;
there were not many houses for them, and therefore they flocked here. Up
from over the meadows came the breeze, drawing into the hollow recesses
of the forest behind. It came over the grass and farther away over corn
just yellowing, the shadows of the clouds racing with it and instantly
lost in the trees. It drew through the pillars of the forest, and away to
the hills beyond.

The squire's ale was duly put for him, the particular gossip he liked was
ready for him; and having taken both, he looked at his old watch and went
on. His path now led for a while just inside the pale, which here divided
the forest from the meadows. In the olden time it would have been made of
oak, for they built all things then with an eye to endurance; but it was
now of fir, pitched, sawn from firs thrown in the copses. For the purpose
of keeping the deer in, it was as useful as the pale of oak. Oak is not
so plentiful nowadays. The high spars were the especial vaunting-places
of the little brown wrens which perched there and sang, in defiance of
all that the forest might hold. Rabbits crept under, but the hares waited
till evening and went round by the gates. Presently the path turned and
the squire passed a pond partly dried up, from the margin of which
several pigeons rose up, clattering their wings. They are fond of the
neighbourhood of water, and are sure to be there some time during the
day. The path went upwards, but the ascent was scarcely perceptible
through hazel bushes, which became farther apart and thinner as the
elevation increased, and the soil was less rich. Some hawthorn bushes
succeeded, and from among these he stepped out into the open park.
Nothing could be seen of the manor-house here. It was hidden by the roll
of the ground and the groups of trees. The close sward was already a
little brown--the trampling of hoofs as well as the heat causes the
brownish hue of fed sward, as if it were bruised. He went out into the
park, bearing somewhat to the right and passing many hawthorns, round the
trunks of which the grass was cut away in a ring by the hoofs of animals
seeking shadow. Far away on a rising knoll a herd of deer were lying
under some elms. In front were the downs, a mile or so distant; to the
right, meadows and cornfields, towards which he went. There was no house
nor any habitation in view; in the early part of the year, the
lambing-time, there was a shepherd's hut on wheels in the fields, but it
had been drawn away.

According to tradition, there is no forest in England in which a king has
not hunted. A king, they say, hunted here in the old days of the
cross-bow; but happily the place escaped notice in that artificial era
when half the parks and woods were spoiled to make the engraver's ideal
landscape of straight vistas, broad in the foreground and narrowing up to
nothing. Wide, straight roads--you can call them nothing else--were cut
through the finest woods, so that upon looking from a certain window, or
standing at a certain spot in the grounds, you might see a church tower
at the end of the cutting, In some parks there are half a dozen such
horrors shown to you as a great curiosity; some have a monument or pillar
at the end. These hideous disfigurements of beautiful scenery should
surely be wiped out in our day. The stiff, straight cutting could soon be
filled up by planting, and after a time the woods would resume their
natural condition. Many common highway roads are really delightful,
winding through trees and hedgerows, with glimpses of hills and distant
villages. But these planned, straight vistas, radiating from a central
spot as if done with ruler and pen, at once destroy the pleasant illusion
of primeval forest. You may be dreaming under the oaks of the chase or of
Rosalind: the moment you enter such a vista all becomes commonplace.
Happily this park escaped, and it is beautiful. Our English landscape
wants no gardening: it _cannot_ be gardened. The least interference kills
it. The beauty of English woodland and country is in its detail. There is
nothing empty and unclothed. If the clods are left a little while
undisturbed in the fields, weeds spring up and wild-flowers bloom upon
them. Is the hedge cut and trimmed, lo! the bluebells flower the more and
a yet fresher green buds forth upon the twigs. Never was there a garden
like the meadow: there is not an inch of the meadow in early summer
without a flower. Old walls, as we saw just now, are not left without a
fringe; on the top of the hardest brick wall, on the sapless tiles, on
slates, stonecrop takes hold and becomes a cushion of yellow bloom.
Nature is a miniature painter and handles a delicate brush, the tip of
which touches the tiniest spot and leaves something living. The park has
indeed its larger lines, its broad open sweep, and gradual slope, to
which the eye accustomed to small inclosures requires time to adjust
itself. These left to themselves are beautiful; they are the surface of
the earth, which is always true to itself and needs no banks nor
artificial hollows. The earth is right and the tree is right: trim either
and all is wrong. The deer will not fit to them then.

The squire came near enough to the corn-field to see that the wheat-ears
were beginning to turn yellow and that the barley had the silky
appearance caused by the beard, the delicate lines of which divide the
light and reflect it like gossamer. At some distance a man was
approaching; he saw him, and sat down on the grass under an oak to await
the coming of Ettles the keeper. Ettles had been his rounds and had
visited the outlying copses, which are the especial haunts of pheasants.
Like the deer, pheasants, if they can, will get away from the main wood.
He was now returning, and the squire, well knowing that he would pass
this way, had purposely crossed his path to meet him. The dogs ran to the
squire and at once made friends with him. Ettles, whose cheek was the
colour of the oak-apples in spring, was more respectful: he stood till
the squire motioned him to sit down. The dogs rolled on the sward, but,
though in the shadow, they could not extend themselves sufficiently nor
pant fast enough. Yonder the breeze that came up over the forest on its
way to the downs blew through the group of trees on the knoll, cooling
the deer as it passed.



MY OLD VILLAGE.



'John Brown is dead,' said an aged friend and visitor in answer to my
inquiry for the strong labourer.

'Is he really dead?' I asked, for it seemed impossible.

'He is. He came home from his work in the evening as usual, and seemed to
catch his foot in the threshold and fell forward on the floor. When they
picked him up he was dead.'

I remember the doorway; a raised piece of wood ran across it, as is
commonly the case in country cottages, such as one might easily catch
one's foot against if one did not notice it; but he knew that bit of wood
well. The floor was of brick, hard to fall on and die. He must have come
down over the crown of the hill, with his long slouching stride, as if
his legs had been half pulled away from his body by his heavy boots in
the furrows when a ploughboy. He must have turned up the steps in the
bank to his cottage, and so, touching the threshold, ended. He is gone
through the great doorway, and one pencil-mark is rubbed out. There used
to be a large hearth in that room, a larger room than in most cottages;
and when the fire was lit, and the light shone on the yellowish red brick
beneath and the large rafters overhead, it was homely and pleasant. In
summer the door was always wide open. Close by on the high bank there was
a spot where the first wild violets came. You might look along miles of
hedgerow, but there were never any until they had shown by John Brown's.

If a man's work that he has done all the days of his life could be
collected and piled up around him in visible shape, what a vast mound
there would be beside some! If each act or stroke was represented, say by
a brick, John Brown would have stood the day before his ending by the
side of a monument as high as a pyramid. Then if in front of him could be
placed the sum and product of his labour, the profit to himself, he could
have held it in his clenched hand like a nut, and no one would have seen
it. Our modern people think they train their sons to strength by football
and rowing and jumping, and what are called athletic exercises; all of
which it is the fashion now to preach as very noble, and likely to lead
to the goodness of the race. Certainly feats are accomplished and records
are beaten, but there is no real strength gained, no hardihood built up.
Without hardihood it is of little avail to be able to jump an inch
farther than somebody else. Hardihood is the true test, hardihood is the
ideal, and not these caperings or ten minutes' spurts.

Now, the way they made the boy John Brown hardy was to let him roll about
on the ground with naked legs and bare head from morn till night, from
June till December, from January till June. The rain fell on his head,
and he played in wet grass to his knees. Dry bread and a little lard was
his chief food. He went to work while he was still a child. At half-past
three in the morning he was on his way to the farm stables, there to help
feed the cart-horses, which used to be done with great care very early in
the morning. The carter's whip used to sting his legs, and sometimes he
felt the butt. At fifteen he was no taller than the sons of well-to-do
people at eleven; he scarcely seemed to grow at all till he was eighteen
or twenty, and even then very slowly, but at last became a tall big man.
That slouching walk, with knees always bent, diminished his height to
appearance; he really was the full size, and every inch of his frame had
been slowly welded together by this ceaseless work, continual life in the
open air, and coarse hard food. This is what makes a man hardy. This is
what makes a man able to stand almost anything, and gives a power of
endurance that can never be obtained by any amount of gymnastic training.

I used to watch him mowing with amazement. Sometimes he would begin at
half-past two in the morning, and continue till night. About eleven
o'clock, which used to be the mowers' noon, he took a rest on a couch of
half-dried grass in the shade of the hedge. For the rest, it was mow,
mow, mow for the long summer day.

John Brown was dead: died in an instant at his cottage door. I could
hardly credit it, so vivid was the memory of his strength. The gap of
time since I had seen him last had made no impression on me; to me he was
still in my mind the John Brown of the hayfield; there was nothing
between then and his death.

He used to catch us boys the bats in the stable, and tell us fearful
tales of the ghosts he had seen; and bring the bread from the town in an
old-fashioned wallet, half in front and half behind, long before the
bakers' carts began to come round in country places. One evening he came
into the dairy carrying a yoke of milk, staggering, with tipsy gravity;
he was quite sure he did not want any assistance, he could pour the milk
into the pans. He tried, and fell at full length and bathed himself from
head to foot. Of later days they say he worked in the town a good deal,
and did not look so well or so happy as on the farm. In this cottage
opposite the violet bank they had small-pox once, the only case I
recollect in the hamlet--the old men used to say everybody had it when
they were young; this was the only case in my time, and they recovered
quickly without any loss, nor did the disease spread. A roomy well-built
cottage like that, on dry ground, isolated, is the only hospital worthy
of the name. People have a chance to get well in such places; they have
very great difficulty in the huge buildings that are put up expressly for
them. I have a Convalescent Home in my mind at the moment, a vast
building. In these great blocks what they call ventilation is a steady
draught, and there is no 'home' about it. It is all walls and regulations
and draughts, and altogether miserable. I would infinitely rather see any
friend of mine in John Brown's cottage. That terrible disease, however,
seemed to quite spoil the violet bank opposite, and I never picked one
there afterwards. There is something in disease so destructive, as it
were, to flowers.

The hundreds of times I saw the tall chimney of that cottage rise out of
the hill-side as I came home at all hours of the day and night! the first
chimney after a long journey, always comfortable to see, especially so in
earlier days, when we had a kind of halting belief in John Brown's
ghosts, several of which were dotted along that road according to him.
The ghosts die as we grow older, they die and their places are taken by
real ghosts. I wish I had sent John Brown a pound or two when I was in
good health; but one is selfish then, and puts off things till it is too
late--a lame excuse verily. I can scarcely believe now that he is really
dead, gone as you might casually pluck a hawthorn leaf from the hedge.

The next cottage was a very marked one, for houses grow to their owners.
The low thatched roof had rounded itself and stooped down to fit itself
to Job's shoulders; the walls had got short and thick to suit him, and
they had a yellowish colour, like his complexion, as if chewing tobacco
had stained his cheeks right through. Tobacco juice had likewise
penetrated and tinted the wall. It was cut off as it seemed by a
party-wall into one room, instead of which there were more rooms beyond
which no one would have suspected. Job had a way of shaking hands with
you with his right hand, while his left hand was casually doing something
else in a detached sort of way. 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir,' and nodding to
everything you said all so complaisant, but at the end of the bargain you
generally found yourself a few shillings in some roundabout manner on the
wrong side. Job had a lot of shut-up rooms in his house and in his
character, which never seemed to be opened to daylight. The eaves hung
over and beetled like his brows, and he had a forelock, a regular antique
forelock, which he used to touch with the greatest humility. There was a
long bough of an elm hanging over one gable just like the forelock. His
face was a blank, like the broad end wall of the cottage, which had no
window--at least you might think so until you looked up and discovered
one little arrow slit, one narrow pane, and woke with a start to the idea
that Job was always up there watching and listening. That was how he
looked out of his one eye so intensely cunning, the other being a wall
eye--that is, the world supposed so, as he kept it half shut, always
between the lights; but whether it was really blind or not I cannot say.
Job caught rats and rabbits and moles, and bought fagots or potatoes, or
fruit or rabbit-skins, or rusty iron: wonderful how he seemed to have
command of money. It was done probably by buying and selling almost
simultaneously, so that the cash passed really from one customer to
another, and was never his at all. Also he worked as a labourer, chiefly
piecework; also Mrs. Job had a shop window about two feet square: snuff
and tobacco, bread and cheese, immense big round jumbles and sugar, kept
on the floor above, and reached down by hand, when wanted, through the
opening for the ladder stairs. The front door--Job's right hand--was
always open in summer, and the flagstones of the floor chalked round
their edges; a clean table, clean chairs, decent crockery, an old clock
about an hour slow, a large hearth with a minute fire to boil the kettle
without heating the room. Tea was usually at half-past three, and it is a
fact that many well-to-do persons, as they came along the road hot and
dusty, used to drop in and rest and take a cup--very little milk and much
gossip. Two paths met just there, and people used to step in out of a
storm of rain, a sort of thatched house club. Job was somehow on fair
terms with nearly everybody, and that is a wonderful thing in a village,
where everybody knows everybody's business, and petty interests
continually cross. The strangest fellow and the strangest way of life,
and yet I do not believe a black mark was ever put against him; the
shiftiness was all for nothing. It arose, no doubt, out of the constant
and eager straining to gain a little advantage and make an extra penny.
Had Job been a Jew he would have been rich. He was the exact counterpart
of the London Jew dealer, set down in the midst of the country. Job
should have been rich. Such immense dark brown jumbles, such
cheek-distenders--never any French sweetmeats or chocolate or bonbons to
equal these. I really think I could eat one now. The pennies and
fourpenny bits--there were fourpenny bits in those days--that went behind
that two-foot window, goodness! there was no end. Job used to chink them
in a pint pot sometimes before the company, to give them an idea of his
great hoards. He always tried to impress people with his wealth, and
would talk of a fifty-pound contract as if it was nothing to him. Jumbles
are eternal, if nothing else is. I thought then there was not such
another shop as Job's in the universe. I have found since that there is a
Job shop in every village, and in every street in every town--that is to
say, a window for jumbles and rubbish; and if you don't know it, you may
be quite sure your children do, and spend many a sly penny there. Be as
rich as you may, and give them gilded sweetmeats at home, still they will
slip round to the Job shop.

It was a pretty cottage, well backed with trees and bushes, with a
south-east mixture of sunlight and shade, and little touches that cannot
be suggested by writing. Job had not got the Semitic instinct of keeping.
The art of acquisition he possessed to some extent, that was his right
hand; but somehow the half-crowns slipped away through his unstable left
hand, and fortune was a greasy pole to him. His left hand was too cunning
for him, it wanted to manage things too cleverly. If it had only had the
Semitic grip, digging the nails into the flesh to hold tight each
separate coin, he would have been village rich. The great secret is the
keeping. Finding is by no means keeping. Job did not flourish in his old
days; the people changed round about. Job is gone, and I think every one
of that cottage is either dead or moved. Empty.

The next cottage was the water-bailiffs, who looked after the great pond
or 'broad'. There were one or two old boats, and he used to leave the
oars leaning against a wall at the side of the house. These oars looked
like fragments of a wreck, broken and irregular. The right-hand scull was
heavy, as if made of ironwood, the blade broad and spoon-shaped, so as to
have a most powerful grip of the water. The left-hand scull was light and
slender, with a narrow blade like a marrow scoop; so when you had the
punt, you had to pull very hard with your left hand and gently with the
right to get the forces equal. The punt had a list of its own, and no
matter how you roved, it would still make leeway. Those who did not know
its character were perpetually trying to get this crooked wake straight,
and consequently went round and round exactly like the whirligig beetle.
Those who knew used to let the leeway proceed a good way and then alter
it, so as to act in the other direction like an elongated zigzag. These
sculls the old fellow would bring you as if they were great treasures,
and watch you off in the punt as if he was parting with his dearest. At
that date it was no little matter to coax him round to unchain his
vessel. You had to take an interest in the garden, in the baits, and the
weather, and be very humble; then perhaps he would tell you he did not
want it for the trimmers, or the withy, or the flags, and you might have
it for an hour as far as he could see; 'did not think my lord's steward
would come over that morning; of course, if he did you must come in,' and
so on; and if the stars were propitious, by-and-by the punt was got
afloat. These sculls were tilted up against the wall, and as you
innocently went to take one, Wauw!--a dirty little ill-tempered mongrel
poodle rolled himself like a ball to your heels and snapped his
teeth--Wauw! At the bark, out rushed the old lady, his housekeeper,
shouting in the shrillest key to the dog to lie still, and to you that
the bailiff would be there in a minute. At the sound of her shrewish
'yang-yang' down came the old man from the bank, and so one dog fetched
out the lot. The three were exactly alike somehow. Beside these diamond
sculls he had a big gun, with which he used to shoot the kingfishers that
came for the little fish; the number he slaughtered was very great; he
persecuted them as Domitian did the flies: he declared that a kingfisher
would carry off a fish heavier than itself. Also he shot rooks, once now
and then strange wild fowl with this monstrous iron pipe, and something
happened with this gun one evening which was witnessed, and after that
the old fellow was very benevolent, and the punt was free to one or two
who knew all about it. There is an old story about the stick that would
not beat the dog, and the dog would not bite the pig, and so on; and so I
am quite sure that ill-natured cur could never have lived with that
'yang-yang' shrew, nor could any one else but he have turned the gear of
the hatch, nor have endured the dog and the woman, and the constant
miasma from the stagnant waters. No one else could have shot anything
with that cumbrous weapon, and no one else could row that punt straight.
He used to row it quite straight, to the amazement of a wondering world,
and somehow supplied the motive force--the stick--which kept all these
things going. He is gone, and, I think, the housekeeper too, and the
house has had several occupants since, who have stamped down the old
ghosts and thrust them out of doors.

After this the cottages and houses came in little groups, some up crooked
lanes, hidden away by elms as if out of sight in a cupboard, and some
dotted along the brooks, scattered so that, unless you had connected them
all with a very long rope, no stranger could have told which belonged to
the village and which did not. They drifted into various tithings, and
yet it was all the same place. They were all thatched. It was a thatched
village. This is strictly accurate and strictly inaccurate, for I think
there were one or two tiled and one 'slated,' and perhaps a modern one
slated. Nothing is ever quite rigid or complete that is of man; all rules
have a chip in them. The way they builded the older thatched farmhouses
as to put up a very high wall in front and a very low one behind, and
then the roof in a general way sloped down from the high wall to the low
wall, an acre broad of thatch. These old thatched houses seemed to be
very healthy so long as the old folk lived in them in the old-fashioned
way. Thatch is believed to give an equable temperature. The air blew all
round them, and it might be said all through them; for the front door was
always open three parts of the year, and at the back the dairies were in
a continual blow. Upstairs the houses were only one room thick, so that
each wall was an outside wall, or rather it was a wall one side and
thatched the other, so that the wind went through if a window as open.
Modern houses are often built two rooms thick, so that the air does not
circulate from one side to the other. No one seemed to be ill, unless he
brought it home with him from some place where he had been visiting. The
diseases they used to have were long-lived, such as rheumatism, which may
keep a man comfortably in aches and pains forty years. My dear old
friend, however, taking them one by one, went through the lot and told me
of the ghosts. The forefathers I knew are all gone--the stout man, the
lame man, the paralysed man, the gruff old stick: not one left. There is
not one left of the old farmers, not a single one. The fathers, too, of
our own generation have been dropping away. The strong young man who used
to fill us with such astonishment at the feats he would achieve without a
thought, no gymnastic training, to whom a sack of wheat was a toy. The
strong young man went one day into the harvest-field, as he had done so
many times before. Suddenly he felt a little dizzy. By-and-by he went
home and became very ill with sunstroke; he recovered, but he was never
strong again; he gradually declined for twelve months, and next
harvest-time he was under the daisies. Just one little touch of the sun,
and the strength of man faded as a leaf. The hardy dark young man, built
of iron, broad, thick, and short, who looked as if frost, snow, and heat
were all the same to him, had something go wrong in his lung: one
twelvemonth, and there was an end. This was a very unhappy affair. The
pickaxe and the spade have made almost a full round to every door; I do
not want to think any more about this. Family changes and the pressure of
these hard times have driven out most of the rest; some seem to have
quite gone out of sight; some have crossed the sea; some have abandoned
the land as a livelihood. Of the few, the very few that still remain,
still fewer abide in their original homes. Time has shuffled them about
from house to house like a pack of cards. Of them all, I verily believe
there is but one soul living in the same old house. If the French had
landed in the mediaeval way to harry with fire and sword, they could not
have swept the place more clean.

Almost the first thing I did with pen and ink as a boy was to draw a map
of the hamlet with the roads and lanes and paths, and I think some of the
ponds, and with each of the houses marked and the occupier's name. Of
course it was very roughly done, and not to any scale, yet it was
perfectly accurate and full of detail. I wish I could find it, but the
confusion of time has scattered and mixed these early papers. A map by
Ptolemy would bear as much resemblance to the same country in a modern
atlas as mine to the present state of that locality. It is all
gone--rubbed out. The names against the whole of those houses have been
altered, one only excepted, and changes have taken place there. Nothing
remains. This is not in a century, half a century, or even in a quarter
of a century, but in a few ticks of the clock.

I think I have heard that the oaks are down. They may be standing or
down, it matters nothing to me; the leaves I last saw upon them are gone
for evermore, nor shall I ever see them come there again ruddy in spring.
I would not see them again even if I could; they could never look again
as they used to do. There are too many memories there. The happiest days
become the saddest afterwards; let us never go back, lest we too die.
There are no such oaks anywhere else, none so tall and straight, and with
such massive heads, on which the sun used to shine as if on the globe of
the earth, one side in shadow, the other in bright light. How often I
have looked at oaks since, and yet have never been able to get the same
effect from them! Like an old author printed in another type, the words
are the same, but the sentiment is different. The brooks have ceased to
run. There is no music now at the old hatch where we used to sit in
danger of our lives, happy as kings, on the narrow bar over the deep
water. The barred pike that used to come up in such numbers are no more
among the flags. The perch used to drift down the stream, and then bring
up again. The sun shone there for a very long time, and the water rippled
and sang, and it always seemed to me that I could feel the rippling and
the singing and the sparkling back through the centuries. The brook is
dead, for when man goes nature ends. I dare say there is water there
still, but it is not the brook; the brook is gone like John Brown's soul.
There used to be clouds over the fields, white clouds in blue summer
skies. I have lived a good deal on clouds; they have been meat to me
often; they bring something to the spirit which even the trees do not. I
see clouds now sometimes when the iron grip of hell permits for a minute
or two; they are very different clouds, and speak differently. I long for
some of the old clouds that had no memories. There were nights in those
times over those fields, not darkness, but Night, full of glowing suns
and glowing richness of life that sprang up to meet them. The nights are
there still; they are everywhere, nothing local in the night; but it is
not the Night to me seen through the window.

There used to be footpaths. Following one of them, the first field always
had a good crop of grass; over the next stile there was a great oak
standing alone in the centre of the field, generally a great cart-horse
under it, and a few rushes scattered about the furrows; the fourth was
always full of the finest clover; in the fifth you could scent the beans
on the hill, and there was a hedge like a wood, and a nest of the
long-tailed tit; the sixth had a runnel and blue forget-me-nots; the
seventh had a brooklet and scattered trees along it; from the eighth you
looked back on the slope and saw the thatched houses you had left behind
under passing shadows, and rounded white clouds going straight for the
distant hills, each cloud visibly bulging and bowed down like a bag. I
cannot think how the distant thatched houses came to stand out with such
clear definition and etched outline and bluish shadows; and beyond these
was the uncertain vale that had no individuality, but the trees put their
arms together and became one. All these were meadows, every step was
among grass, beautiful grass, and the cuckoos sang as if they had found
paradise. A hundred years ago a little old man with silver buckles on his
shoes used to walk along this footpath once a week in summer, taking his
children over to drink milk at the farm; but though he set them every
time to note the number of fields, so busy were they with the nests and
the flowers, they could never be sure at the end of the journey whether
there were eight or nine. To make quite sure at last, he took with them a
pocket full of apples, one of which was eaten in each field, and so they
came to know for certain that the number of meadows was either eight or
nine, I forget which; and so you see this great experiment did not fix
the faith of mankind. Like other great truths, it has grown dim, but it
seems strange to think how this little incident could have been borne in
mind for a century. There was another footpath that led through the
peewit field, where the green plovers for evermore circle round in
spring; then past the nightingale field, by the largest maple trees that
grew in that country; this too was all grass. Another led along the water
to bluebell land; another into the coombs of the hills; all meadows,
which was the beauty of it; for though you could find wheat in plenty if
you liked, you always walked in grass. All round the compass you could
still step on sward. This is rare. Of one other path I have a faded
memory, like a silk marker in an old book; in truth, I don't want to
remember it except the end of it where it came down to the railway. So
full was the mind of romance in those days, that I used to get there
specially in time to see the express go up, the magnificent engine of the
broad gauge that swept along with such case and power to London. I wish I
could feel like that now. The feeling is not quite gone even now, and I
have often since seen these great broad-gauge creatures moving alive to
and fro like Ezekiel's wheel dream beside the platforms of Babylon with
much of the same old delight. Still I never went back with them to the
faded footpath. They are all faded now, these footpaths.

The walnut trees are dead at home. They gave such a thick shade when the
fruit was juicy ripe, and the hoods cracked as they fell; they peeled as
easy as taking off a glove; the sweetest and nuttiest of fruit. It was
delicious to sit there with a great volume of Sir Walter Scott, half in
sunshine, half in shade, dreaming of 'Kenilworth' and Wayland Smith's
cave; only the difficulty was to balance the luxuries, when to peel the
walnuts and when to read the book, and how to adjust oneself to
perfection so as to get the exact amount of sunshine and shadow. Too much
luxury. There was a story, too, told by one Abu-Kaka ibn Ja'is, of the
caravan that set forth in 1483 to cross the desert, and being overwhelmed
by a sandstorm, lost their way. They wandered for some time till hunger
and thirst began to consume them, and then suddenly lit on an oasis
unknown to the oldest merchant of Bagdad. There they found refreshing
waters and palms and a caravanserai; and, what was most pleasant, the
people at the bazaar and the prince hastened to fill them with
hospitality; sheep were killed, and kids were roasted, and all was joy.
They were not permitted to depart till they had feasted, when they set
out again on their journey, and each at leaving was presented with
strings of pearls and bags of rubies, so that at last they came home with
all the magnificence of kings. They found, however, that instead of
having been absent only a month or two they had been gone twenty years,
so swiftly had time sped. As they grew old, and their beards grey, and
their frames withered, and the pearls were gone, and the rubies spent,
they said, 'We will go back to the city of the oasis.' They set out, each
on his camel, one lame, the other paralytic, and the third blind, but
still the way was plain, for had they not trodden it before? and they had
with them the astrolabe of the astronomer that fixes the track by the
stars. Time wore on, and presently the camels' feet brought them nearer
and nearer the wished-for spot. One saw the water, and another the palms,
but when they came near, it was the mirage, and deep sand covered the
place. Then they separated, and each hastened home; but the blind had no
leader, and the lame fell from his camel, and the paralytic had no more
dates, and their whited bones have disappeared. [Footnote: The Arabian
commentator thinks this story a myth: the oasis in the desert is the time
of youth, which passes so quickly, and is not recognised till it is gone;
the pearls and rubies, the joys of love, which make the fortunate lover
as a king. In old age every man is afflicted with disease or infirmity,
every one is paralytic, lame, or blind. They set out to find a second
youth--the dream of immortality--with the astrolabe, which is the creed
or Koran all take as their guide. And death separated the company. This
is only his pragmatic way; the circumstance is doubtless historic.] Many
another tale, too, I read under the trees that are gone like human
beings. Sometimes I went forth to the nooks in the deep meadows by the
hazel mounds, and sometimes I parted the ash-tree wands. In my waist-coat
pocket I had a little red book, made square; I never read it out of
doors, but I always carried it in my pocket till it was frayed and the
binding broken; the smallest of red books, but very much therein--the
poems and sonnets of Mr. William Shakespeare. Some books are alive. The
book I have still, it cannot die: the ash copses are cut, and the hazel
mounds destroyed.

Was every one, then, so pleasant to me in those days? were the people all
so beneficent and kindly that I must needs look back; all welcoming with
open hand and open door? No, the reverse; there was not a single one
friendly to me. Still that has nothing to do with it; I never thought
about them, and I am quite certain they never thought about me. They are
all gone, and there is an end. Incompatibility would describe our
connection best. Nothing to do with them at all; it was me. I planted
myself every where--in all the fields and under all the trees. The
curious part of it is that though they are all dead, and 'worms have
eaten them, but not for love,' we continually meet them in other shapes.
We say, 'Holloa, here is old So-and-so coming; that is exactly his jaw,
that's his Flemish face;' or, 'By Jove, yonder is So-and-so; that's his
very walk:' one almost expects them to speak as one meets them in the
street. There seem to be certain set types which continually crop up
again whithersoever you go, and even certain tricks of speech and curves
of the head---a set of family portraits walking about the world. It was
not the people, neither for good, for evil, nor indifference.

I planted myself every here under the trees in the fields and footpaths,
by day and by night, and that is why I have never put myself into the
charge of the many wheeled creatures that move on the rails and gone back
thither, lest I might find the trees look small, and the elms mere
switches, and the fields shrunken, and the brooks dry, and no voice
anywhere. Nothing but my own ghost to meet me by every hedge. I fear lest
I should find myself more dead than all the rest And verily I wish, could
it be without injury to others, that the sand of the desert would rise
and roll over and obliterate the place for ever and ever.

I need not wish, for I have been conversing again with learned folk about
this place, and they begin to draw my view to certain considerations.
These very learned men point out to me a number of objections, for the
question they sceptically put is this: are you quite certain that such a
village ever existed? In the first place, they say, you have only got one
other witness beside yourself, and she is aged, and has defective sight;
and really we don't know what to say to accepting such evidence
unsupported. Secondly, John Brown cannot be found to bear testimony.
Thirdly, there are no ghosts there; that can be demonstrated. It renders
a case unsubstantial to introduce these flimsy spirits. Fourthly, the map
is lost, and it might be asked was there ever such a map? Fifthly, the
people are all gone. Sixthly, no one ever saw any particular sparkle on
the brook there, and the clouds appear to be of the same commonplace
order that go about everywhere. Seventhly, no one can find these
footpaths, which probably led nowhere; and as for the little old man with
silver buckles on his shoes, it is a story only fit for some one in his
dotage. You can't expect grave and considerate men to take your story as
it stands; they must consult the Ordnance Survey and Domesday Book; and
the fact is, you have not got the shadow of a foundation on which to
carry your case into court. I may resent this, but I cannot deny that the
argument is very black against me, and I begin to think that my senses
have deceived me. It is as they say. No one else seems to have seen the
sparkle on the brook, or heard the music at the hatch, or to have felt
back through the centuries; and when I try to describe these things to
them they look at me with stolid incredulity. No one seems to understand
how I got food from the clouds, nor what there was in the night, nor why
it is not so good to look at it out of window. They turn their faces away
from me, so that perhaps after all I was mistaken, and there never was
any such place or any such meadows, and I was never there. And perhaps in
course of time I shall find out also, when I pass away physically, that
as a matter of fact there never was any earth.



MY CHAFFINCH



  His hours he spends upon a fragrant fir;
   His merry 'chink,' his happy 'Kiss me, dear,'
  Each moment sounded, keeps the copse astir.
   Loudly he challenges his rivals near,
  Anon aslant down to the ground he springs,
  Like to a sunbeam made of coloured wings.

  The firm and solid azure of the ceil
   That struck by hand would give a hollow sound,
  A dome turned perfect by the sun's great wheel,
   Whose edges rest upon the hills around,
  Rings many a mile with blue enamelled wall;
  His fir-tree is the centre of it all.

  A lichened cup he set against the side
   High up this mast, earth-stepped, that could not fail,
  But swung a little as a ship might ride,
   Keeping an easy balance in the gale;
  Slow-heaving like a gladiator's breast,
  Whose strength in combat feels an idle rest.

  Whether the cuckoo or the chaffinch most
   Do triumph in the issuing of their song?
  I say not this, but many a swelling boast
   They throw each at the other all day long.
  Soon as the nest had cradled eggs a-twin
  The jolly squirrel climbed to look therein.

  Adown the lane athwart this pleasant wood
   The broad-winged butterflies their solace sought;
  A green-necked pheasant in the sunlight stood,
   Nor could the rushes hide him as he thought.
  A humble-bee through fern and thistle made
  A search for lowly flowers in the shade.

  A thing of many wanderings, and loss,
   Like to Ulysses on his poplar raft,
  His treasure hid beneath the tunnelled moss
   Lest that a thief his labour steal with craft,
  Up the round hill, sheep-dotted, was his way,
  Zigzagging where some new adventure lay.

  'My life and soul,' as if he were a Greek,
   His heart was Grecian in his greenwood fane;
  'My life and soul,' through all the sunny week
   The chaffinch sang with beating heart amain,
  'The humble-bee the wide wood-world may roam;
  One feather's breadth I shall not stir from home.'

  No note he took of what the swallows said
   About the firing of some evil gun,
  Nor if the butterflies were blue or red,
   For all his feelings were intent in one.
  The loving soul, a-thrill in all his nerves,
  A life immortal as a man's deserves.





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