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Title: Essays of Travel
Author: Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850-1894
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.

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Transcribed from the 1905 Chatto & Windus edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org



                             ESSAYS OF TRAVEL


                                    BY

                          ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

                       [Picture: Decorative image]

                                  LONDON
                             CHATTO & WINDUS
                                   1905

                            SECOND IMPRESSION

                                 Contents

                                                                  PAGE
I.          The Amateur Emigrant: From The Clyde To Sandy
            Hook—
               The Second Cabin                                      3
               Early Impressions                                    11
               Steerage Scenes                                      21
               Steerage Types                                       30
               The Sick Man                                         42
               The Stowaways                                        53
               Personal Experience And Review                       69
               New York                                             81
II.         Cockermouth And Keswick                                 93
               Cockermouth                                          94
               An Evangelist                                        97
               Another                                             100
               Last Of Smethurst                                   102
III.        An Autumn Effect                                       106
IV.         A Winter’s Walk In Carrick And Galloway                131
V.          Forest Notes—
               On The Plains                                       144
               In The Season                                       149
               Idle Hours                                          153
               A Pleasure-Party                                    157
               The Woods In Spring                                 164
               Morality                                            169
VI.         A Mountain Town In France                              175
VII.        Random Memories: _Rosa Quo Locorum_                    189
VII.        The Ideal House                                        199
IX.         Davos In Winter                                        207
X.          Health And Mountains                                   212
XI.         Alpine Diversion                                       217
XII.        The Stimulation Of The Alps                            222
XIII.       Roads                                                  227
XIV.        On The Enjoyment Of Unpleasant Places                  237

I.
THE AMATEUR EMIGRANT


To
ROBERT ALAN MOWBRAY STEVENSON


Our friendship was not only founded before we were born by a community of
blood, but is in itself near as old as my life.  It began with our early
ages, and, like a history, has been continued to the present time.
Although we may not be old in the world, we are old to each other, having
so long been intimates.  We are now widely separated, a great sea and
continent intervening; but memory, like care, mounts into iron ships and
rides post behind the horseman.  Neither time nor space nor enmity can
conquer old affection; and as I dedicate these sketches, it is not to you
only, but to all in the old country, that I send the greeting of my
heart.

                                                                    R.L.S.

1879.



THE SECOND CABIN


I first encountered my fellow-passengers on the Broomielaw in Glasgow.
Thence we descended the Clyde in no familiar spirit, but looking askance
on each other as on possible enemies.  A few Scandinavians, who had
already grown acquainted on the North Sea, were friendly and voluble over
their long pipes; but among English speakers distance and suspicion
reigned supreme.  The sun was soon overclouded, the wind freshened and
grew sharp as we continued to descend the widening estuary; and with the
falling temperature the gloom among the passengers increased.  Two of the
women wept.  Any one who had come aboard might have supposed we were all
absconding from the law.  There was scarce a word interchanged, and no
common sentiment but that of cold united us, until at length, having
touched at Greenock, a pointing arm and a rush to the starboard now
announced that our ocean steamer was in sight.  There she lay in
mid-river, at the Tail of the Bank, her sea-signal flying: a wall of
bulwark, a street of white deck-houses, an aspiring forest of spars,
larger than a church, and soon to be as populous as many an incorporated
town in the land to which she was to bear us.

I was not, in truth, a steerage passenger.  Although anxious to see the
worst of emigrant life, I had some work to finish on the voyage, and was
advised to go by the second cabin, where at least I should have a table
at command.  The advice was excellent; but to understand the choice, and
what I gained, some outline of the internal disposition of the ship will
first be necessary.  In her very nose is Steerage No. 1, down two pair of
stairs.  A little abaft, another companion, labelled Steerage No. 2 and
3, gives admission to three galleries, two running forward towards
Steerage No. 1, and the third aft towards the engines.  The starboard
forward gallery is the second cabin.  Away abaft the engines and below
the officers’ cabins, to complete our survey of the vessel, there is yet
a third nest of steerages, labelled 4 and 5.  The second cabin, to
return, is thus a modified oasis in the very heart of the steerages.
Through the thin partition you can hear the steerage passengers being
sick, the rattle of tin dishes as they sit at meals, the varied accents
in which they converse, the crying of their children terrified by this
new experience, or the clean flat smack of the parental hand in
chastisement.

There are, however, many advantages for the inhabitant of this strip.  He
does not require to bring his own bedding or dishes, but finds berths and
a table completely if somewhat roughly furnished.  He enjoys a distinct
superiority in diet; but this, strange to say, differs not only on
different ships, but on the same ship according as her head is to the
east or west.  In my own experience, the principal difference between our
table and that of the true steerage passenger was the table itself, and
the crockery plates from which we ate.  But lest I should show myself
ungrateful, let me recapitulate every advantage.  At breakfast we had a
choice between tea and coffee for beverage; a choice not easy to make,
the two were so surprisingly alike.  I found that I could sleep after the
coffee and lay awake after the tea, which is proof conclusive of some
chemical disparity; and even by the palate I could distinguish a smack of
snuff in the former from a flavour of boiling and dish-cloths in the
second.  As a matter of fact, I have seen passengers, after many sips,
still doubting which had been supplied them.  In the way of eatables at
the same meal we were gloriously favoured; for in addition to porridge,
which was common to all, we had Irish stew, sometimes a bit of fish, and
sometimes rissoles.  The dinner of soup, roast fresh beef, boiled salt
junk, and potatoes, was, I believe, exactly common to the steerage and
the second cabin; only I have heard it rumoured that our potatoes were of
a superior brand; and twice a week, on pudding-days, instead of duff, we
had a saddle-bag filled with currants under the name of a plum-pudding.
At tea we were served with some broken meat from the saloon; sometimes in
the comparatively elegant form of spare patties or rissoles; but as a
general thing mere chicken-bones and flakes of fish, neither hot nor
cold.  If these were not the scrapings of plates their looks belied them
sorely; yet we were all too hungry to be proud, and fell to these
leavings greedily.  These, the bread, which was excellent, and the soup
and porridge which were both good, formed my whole diet throughout the
voyage; so that except for the broken meat and the convenience of a table
I might as well have been in the steerage outright.  Had they given me
porridge again in the evening, I should have been perfectly contented
with the fare.  As it was, with a few biscuits and some whisky and water
before turning in, I kept my body going and my spirits up to the mark.

The last particular in which the second cabin passenger remarkably stands
ahead of his brother of the steerage is one altogether of sentiment.  In
the steerage there are males and females; in the second cabin ladies and
gentlemen.  For some time after I came aboard I thought I was only a
male; but in the course of a voyage of discovery between decks, I came on
a brass plate, and learned that I was still a gentleman.  Nobody knew it,
of course.  I was lost in the crowd of males and females, and rigorously
confined to the same quarter of the deck.  Who could tell whether I
housed on the port or starboard side of steerage No. 2 and 3?  And it was
only there that my superiority became practical; everywhere else I was
incognito, moving among my inferiors with simplicity, not so much as a
swagger to indicate that I was a gentleman after all, and had broken meat
to tea.  Still, I was like one with a patent of nobility in a drawer at
home; and when I felt out of spirits I could go down and refresh myself
with a look of that brass plate.

For all these advantages I paid but two guineas.  Six guineas is the
steerage fare; eight that by the second cabin; and when you remember that
the steerage passenger must supply bedding and dishes, and, in five cases
out of ten, either brings some dainties with him, or privately pays the
steward for extra rations, the difference in price becomes almost
nominal.  Air comparatively fit to breathe, food comparatively varied,
and the satisfaction of being still privately a gentleman, may thus be
had almost for the asking.  Two of my fellow-passengers in the second
cabin had already made the passage by the cheaper fare, and declared it
was an experiment not to be repeated.  As I go on to tell about my
steerage friends, the reader will perceive that they were not alone in
their opinion.  Out of ten with whom I was more or less intimate, I am
sure not fewer than five vowed, if they returned, to travel second cabin;
and all who had left their wives behind them assured me they would go
without the comfort of their presence until they could afford to bring
them by saloon.

Our party in the second cabin was not perhaps the most interesting on
board.  Perhaps even in the saloon there was as much good-will and
character.  Yet it had some elements of curiosity.  There was a mixed
group of Swedes, Danes, and Norsemen, one of whom, generally known by the
name of ‘Johnny,’ in spite of his own protests, greatly diverted us by
his clever, cross-country efforts to speak English, and became on the
strength of that an universal favourite—it takes so little in this world
of shipboard to create a popularity.  There was, besides, a Scots mason,
known from his favourite dish as ‘Irish Stew,’ three or four nondescript
Scots, a fine young Irishman, O’Reilly, and a pair of young men who
deserve a special word of condemnation.  One of them was Scots; the other
claimed to be American; admitted, after some fencing, that he was born in
England; and ultimately proved to be an Irishman born and nurtured, but
ashamed to own his country.  He had a sister on board, whom he faithfully
neglected throughout the voyage, though she was not only sick, but much
his senior, and had nursed and cared for him in childhood.  In appearance
he was like an imbecile Henry the Third of France.  The Scotsman, though
perhaps as big an ass, was not so dead of heart; and I have only
bracketed them together because they were fast friends, and disgraced
themselves equally by their conduct at the table.

Next, to turn to topics more agreeable, we had a newly-married couple,
devoted to each other, with a pleasant story of how they had first seen
each other years ago at a preparatory school, and that very afternoon he
had carried her books home for her.  I do not know if this story will be
plain to southern readers; but to me it recalls many a school idyll, with
wrathful swains of eight and nine confronting each other stride-legs,
flushed with jealousy; for to carry home a young lady’s books was both a
delicate attention and a privilege.

Then there was an old lady, or indeed I am not sure that she was as much
old as antiquated and strangely out of place, who had left her husband,
and was travelling all the way to Kansas by herself.  We had to take her
own word that she was married; for it was sorely contradicted by the
testimony of her appearance.  Nature seemed to have sanctified her for
the single state; even the colour of her hair was incompatible with
matrimony, and her husband, I thought, should be a man of saintly spirit
and phantasmal bodily presence.  She was ill, poor thing; her soul turned
from the viands; the dirty tablecloth shocked her like an impropriety;
and the whole strength of her endeavour was bent upon keeping her watch
true to Glasgow time till she should reach New York.  They had heard
reports, her husband and she, of some unwarrantable disparity of hours
between these two cities; and with a spirit commendably scientific, had
seized on this occasion to put them to the proof.  It was a good thing
for the old lady; for she passed much leisure time in studying the watch.
Once, when prostrated by sickness, she let it run down.  It was inscribed
on her harmless mind in letters of adamant that the hands of a watch must
never be turned backwards; and so it behoved her to lie in wait for the
exact moment ere she started it again.  When she imagined this was about
due, she sought out one of the young second-cabin Scotsmen, who was
embarked on the same experiment as herself and had hitherto been less
neglectful.  She was in quest of two o’clock; and when she learned it was
already seven on the shores of Clyde, she lifted up her voice and cried
‘Gravy!’  I had not heard this innocent expletive since I was a young
child; and I suppose it must have been the same with the other Scotsmen
present, for we all laughed our fill.

Last but not least, I come to my excellent friend Mr. Jones.  It would be
difficult to say whether I was his right-hand man, or he mine, during the
voyage.  Thus at table I carved, while he only scooped gravy; but at our
concerts, of which more anon, he was the president who called up
performers to sing, and I but his messenger who ran his errands and
pleaded privately with the over-modest.  I knew I liked Mr. Jones from
the moment I saw him.  I thought him by his face to be Scottish; nor
could his accent undeceive me.  For as there is a _lingua franca_ of many
tongues on the moles and in the feluccas of the Mediterranean, so there
is a free or common accent among English-speaking men who follow the sea.
They catch a twang in a New England Port; from a cockney skipper, even a
Scotsman sometimes learns to drop an _h_; a word of a dialect is picked
up from another band in the forecastle; until often the result is
undecipherable, and you have to ask for the man’s place of birth.  So it
was with Mr. Jones.  I thought him a Scotsman who had been long to sea;
and yet he was from Wales, and had been most of his life a blacksmith at
an inland forge; a few years in America and half a score of ocean voyages
having sufficed to modify his speech into the common pattern.  By his own
account he was both strong and skilful in his trade.  A few years back,
he had been married and after a fashion a rich man; now the wife was dead
and the money gone.  But his was the nature that looks forward, and goes
on from one year to another and through all the extremities of fortune
undismayed; and if the sky were to fall to-morrow, I should look to see
Jones, the day following, perched on a step-ladder and getting things to
rights.  He was always hovering round inventions like a bee over a
flower, and lived in a dream of patents.  He had with him a patent
medicine, for instance, the composition of which he had bought years ago
for five dollars from an American pedlar, and sold the other day for a
hundred pounds (I think it was) to an English apothecary.  It was called
Golden Oil, cured all maladies without exception; and I am bound to say
that I partook of it myself with good results.  It is a character of the
man that he was not only perpetually dosing himself with Golden Oil, but
wherever there was a head aching or a finger cut, there would be Jones
with his bottle.

If he had one taste more strongly than another, it was to study
character.  Many an hour have we two walked upon the deck dissecting our
neighbours in a spirit that was too purely scientific to be called
unkind; whenever a quaint or human trait slipped out in conversation, you
might have seen Jones and me exchanging glances; and we could hardly go
to bed in comfort till we had exchanged notes and discussed the day’s
experience.  We were then like a couple of anglers comparing a day’s
kill.  But the fish we angled for were of a metaphysical species, and we
angled as often as not in one another’s baskets.  Once, in the midst of a
serious talk, each found there was a scrutinising eye upon himself; I own
I paused in embarrassment at this double detection; but Jones, with a
better civility, broke into a peal of unaffected laughter, and declared,
what was the truth, that there was a pair of us indeed.



EARLY IMPRESSIONS


We steamed out of the Clyde on Thursday night, and early on the Friday
forenoon we took in our last batch of emigrants at Lough Foyle, in
Ireland, and said farewell to Europe.  The company was now complete, and
began to draw together, by inscrutable magnetisms, upon the decks.  There
were Scots and Irish in plenty, a few English, a few Americans, a good
handful of Scandinavians, a German or two, and one Russian; all now
belonging for ten days to one small iron country on the deep.

As I walked the deck and looked round upon my fellow-passengers, thus
curiously assorted from all northern Europe, I began for the first time
to understand the nature of emigration.  Day by day throughout the
passage, and thenceforward across all the States, and on to the shores of
the Pacific, this knowledge grew more clear and melancholy.  Emigration,
from a word of the most cheerful import, came to sound most dismally in
my ear.  There is nothing more agreeable to picture and nothing more
pathetic to behold.  The abstract idea, as conceived at home, is hopeful
and adventurous.  A young man, you fancy, scorning restraints and
helpers, issues forth into life, that great battle, to fight for his own
hand.  The most pleasant stories of ambition, of difficulties overcome,
and of ultimate success, are but as episodes to this great epic of
self-help.  The epic is composed of individual heroisms; it stands to
them as the victorious war which subdued an empire stands to the personal
act of bravery which spiked a single cannon and was adequately rewarded
with a medal.  For in emigration the young men enter direct and by the
shipload on their heritage of work; empty continents swarm, as at the
bo’s’un’s whistle, with industrious hands, and whole new empires are
domesticated to the service of man.

This is the closet picture, and is found, on trial, to consist mostly of
embellishments.  The more I saw of my fellow-passengers, the less I was
tempted to the lyric note.  Comparatively few of the men were below
thirty; many were married, and encumbered with families; not a few were
already up in years; and this itself was out of tune with my
imaginations, for the ideal emigrant should certainly be young.  Again, I
thought he should offer to the eye some bold type of humanity, with bluff
or hawk-like features, and the stamp of an eager and pushing disposition.
Now those around me were for the most part quiet, orderly, obedient
citizens, family men broken by adversity, elderly youths who had failed
to place themselves in life, and people who had seen better days.
Mildness was the prevailing character; mild mirth and mild endurance.  In
a word, I was not taking part in an impetuous and conquering sally, such
as swept over Mexico or Siberia, but found myself, like Marmion, ‘in the
lost battle, borne down by the flying.’

Labouring mankind had in the last years, and throughout Great Britain,
sustained a prolonged and crushing series of defeats.  I had heard
vaguely of these reverses; of whole streets of houses standing deserted
by the Tyne, the cellar-doors broken and removed for firewood; of
homeless men loitering at the street-corners of Glasgow with their chests
beside them; of closed factories, useless strikes, and starving girls.
But I had never taken them home to me or represented these distresses
livingly to my imagination.

A turn of the market may be a calamity as disastrous as the French
retreat from Moscow; but it hardly lends itself to lively treatment, and
makes a trifling figure in the morning papers.  We may struggle as we
please, we are not born economists.  The individual is more affecting
than the mass.  It is by the scenic accidents, and the appeal to the
carnal eye, that for the most part we grasp the significance of
tragedies.  Thus it was only now, when I found myself involved in the
rout, that I began to appreciate how sharp had been the battle.  We were
a company of the rejected; the drunken, the incompetent, the weak, the
prodigal, all who had been unable to prevail against circumstances in the
one land, were now fleeing pitifully to another; and though one or two
might still succeed, all had already failed.  We were a shipful of
failures, the broken men of England.  Yet it must not be supposed that
these people exhibited depression.  The scene, on the contrary, was
cheerful.  Not a tear was shed on board the vessel.  All were full of
hope for the future, and showed an inclination to innocent gaiety.  Some
were heard to sing, and all began to scrape acquaintance with small jests
and ready laughter.

The children found each other out like dogs, and ran about the decks
scraping acquaintance after their fashion also.  ‘What do you call your
mither?’ I heard one ask.  ‘Mawmaw,’ was the reply, indicating, I fancy,
a shade of difference in the social scale.  When people pass each other
on the high seas of life at so early an age, the contact is but slight,
and the relation more like what we may imagine to be the friendship of
flies than that of men; it is so quickly joined, so easily dissolved, so
open in its communications and so devoid of deeper human qualities.  The
children, I observed, were all in a band, and as thick as thieves at a
fair, while their elders were still ceremoniously manœuvring on the
outskirts of acquaintance.  The sea, the ship, and the seamen were soon
as familiar as home to these half-conscious little ones.  It was odd to
hear them, throughout the voyage, employ shore words to designate
portions of the vessel.  ‘Go ’way doon to yon dyke,’ I heard one say,
probably meaning the bulwark.  I often had my heart in my mouth, watching
them climb into the shrouds or on the rails, while the ship went swinging
through the waves; and I admired and envied the courage of their mothers,
who sat by in the sun and looked on with composure at these perilous
feats.  ‘He’ll maybe be a sailor,’ I heard one remark; ‘now’s the time to
learn.’  I had been on the point of running forward to interfere, but
stood back at that, reproved.  Very few in the more delicate classes have
the nerve to look upon the peril of one dear to them; but the life of
poorer folk, where necessity is so much more immediate and imperious,
braces even a mother to this extreme of endurance.  And perhaps, after
all, it is better that the lad should break his neck than that you should
break his spirit.

And since I am here on the chapter of the children, I must mention one
little fellow, whose family belonged to Steerage No. 4 and 5, and who,
wherever he went, was like a strain of music round the ship.  He was an
ugly, merry, unbreeched child of three, his lint-white hair in a tangle,
his face smeared with suet and treacle; but he ran to and fro with so
natural a step, and fell and picked himself up again with such grace and
good-humour, that he might fairly be called beautiful when he was in
motion.  To meet him, crowing with laughter and beating an accompaniment
to his own mirth with a tin spoon upon a tin cup, was to meet a little
triumph of the human species.  Even when his mother and the rest of his
family lay sick and prostrate around him, he sat upright in their midst
and sang aloud in the pleasant heartlessness of infancy.

Throughout the Friday, intimacy among us men made but a few advances.  We
discussed the probable duration of the voyage, we exchanged pieces of
information, naming our trades, what we hoped to find in the new world,
or what we were fleeing from in the old; and, above all, we condoled
together over the food and the vileness of the steerage.  One or two had
been so near famine that you may say they had run into the ship with the
devil at their heels; and to these all seemed for the best in the best of
possible steamers.  But the majority were hugely contented.  Coming as
they did from a country in so low a state as Great Britain, many of them
from Glasgow, which commercially speaking was as good as dead, and many
having long been out of work, I was surprised to find them so dainty in
their notions.  I myself lived almost exclusively on bread, porridge, and
soup, precisely as it was supplied to them, and found it, if not
luxurious, at least sufficient.  But these working men were loud in their
outcries.  It was not ‘food for human beings,’ it was ‘only fit for
pigs,’ it was ‘a disgrace.’  Many of them lived almost entirely upon
biscuit, others on their own private supplies, and some paid extra for
better rations from the ship.  This marvellously changed my notion of the
degree of luxury habitual to the artisan.  I was prepared to hear him
grumble, for grumbling is the traveller’s pastime; but I was not prepared
to find him turn away from a diet which was palatable to myself.  Words I
should have disregarded, or taken with a liberal allowance; but when a
man prefers dry biscuit there can be no question of the sincerity of his
disgust.

With one of their complaints I could most heartily sympathise.  A single
night of the steerage had filled them with horror.  I had myself
suffered, even in my decent-second-cabin berth, from the lack of air; and
as the night promised to be fine and quiet, I determined to sleep on
deck, and advised all who complained of their quarters to follow my
example.  I dare say a dozen of others agreed to do so, and I thought we
should have been quite a party.  Yet, when I brought up my rug about
seven bells, there was no one to be seen but the watch.  That chimerical
terror of good night-air, which makes men close their windows, list their
doors, and seal themselves up with their own poisonous exhalations, had
sent all these healthy workmen down below.  One would think we had been
brought up in a fever country; yet in England the most malarious
districts are in the bedchambers.

I felt saddened at this defection, and yet half-pleased to have the night
so quietly to myself.  The wind had hauled a little ahead on the
starboard bow, and was dry but chilly.  I found a shelter near the
fire-hole, and made myself snug for the night.

The ship moved over the uneven sea with a gentle and cradling movement.
The ponderous, organic labours of the engine in her bowels occupied the
mind, and prepared it for slumber.  From time to time a heavier lurch
would disturb me as I lay, and recall me to the obscure borders of
consciousness; or I heard, as it were through a veil, the clear note of
the clapper on the brass and the beautiful sea-cry, ‘All’s well!’  I know
nothing, whether for poetry or music, that can surpass the effect of
these two syllables in the darkness of a night at sea.

The day dawned fairly enough, and during the early part we had some
pleasant hours to improve acquaintance in the open air; but towards
nightfall the wind freshened, the rain began to fall, and the sea rose so
high that it was difficult to keep ones footing on the deck.  I have
spoken of our concerts.  We were indeed a musical ship’s company, and
cheered our way into exile with the fiddle, the accordion, and the songs
of all nations.  Good, bad, or indifferent—Scottish, English, Irish,
Russian, German or Norse,—the songs were received with generous applause.
Once or twice, a recitation, very spiritedly rendered in a powerful
Scottish accent, varied the proceedings; and once we sought in vain to
dance a quadrille, eight men of us together, to the music of the violin.
The performers were all humorous, frisky fellows, who loved to cut capers
in private life; but as soon as they were arranged for the dance, they
conducted themselves like so many mutes at a funeral.  I have never seen
decorum pushed so far; and as this was not expected, the quadrille was
soon whistled down, and the dancers departed under a cloud.  Eight
Frenchmen, even eight Englishmen from another rank of society, would have
dared to make some fun for themselves and the spectators; but the working
man, when sober, takes an extreme and even melancholy view of personal
deportment.  A fifth-form schoolboy is not more careful of dignity.  He
dares not be comical; his fun must escape from him unprepared, and above
all, it must be unaccompanied by any physical demonstration.  I like his
society under most circumstances, but let me never again join with him in
public gambols.

But the impulse to sing was strong, and triumphed over modesty and even
the inclemencies of sea and sky.  On this rough Saturday night, we got
together by the main deck-house, in a place sheltered from the wind and
rain.  Some clinging to a ladder which led to the hurricane deck, and the
rest knitting arms or taking hands, we made a ring to support the women
in the violent lurching of the ship; and when we were thus disposed, sang
to our hearts’ content.  Some of the songs were appropriate to the scene;
others strikingly the reverse.  Bastard doggrel of the music-hall, such
as, ‘Around her splendid form, I weaved the magic circle,’ sounded bald,
bleak, and pitifully silly.  ‘We don’t want to fight, but, by Jingo, if
we do,’ was in some measure saved by the vigour and unanimity with which
the chorus was thrown forth into the night.  I observed a Platt-Deutsch
mason, entirely innocent of English, adding heartily to the general
effect.  And perhaps the German mason is but a fair example of the
sincerity with which the song was rendered; for nearly all with whom I
conversed upon the subject were bitterly opposed to war, and attributed
their own misfortunes, and frequently their own taste for whisky, to the
campaigns in Zululand and Afghanistan.

Every now and again, however, some song that touched the pathos of our
situation was given forth; and you could hear by the voices that took up
the burden how the sentiment came home to each, ‘The Anchor’s Weighed’
was true for us.  We were indeed ‘Rocked on the bosom of the stormy
deep.’  How many of us could say with the singer, ‘I’m lonely to-night,
love, without you,’ or, ‘Go, some one, and tell them from me, to write me
a letter from home’!  And when was there a more appropriate moment for
‘Auld Lang Syne’ than now, when the land, the friends, and the affections
of that mingled but beloved time were fading and fleeing behind us in the
vessel’s wake?  It pointed forward to the hour when these labours should
be overpast, to the return voyage, and to many a meeting in the sanded
inn, when those who had parted in the spring of youth should again drink
a cup of kindness in their age.  Had not Burns contemplated emigration, I
scarce believe he would have found that note.

All Sunday the weather remained wild and cloudy; many were prostrated by
sickness; only five sat down to tea in the second cabin, and two of these
departed abruptly ere the meal was at an end.  The Sabbath was observed
strictly by the majority of the emigrants.  I heard an old woman express
her surprise that ‘the ship didna gae doon,’ as she saw some one pass her
with a chess-board on the holy day.  Some sang Scottish psalms.  Many
went to service, and in true Scottish fashion came back ill pleased with
their divine.  ‘I didna think he was an experienced preacher,’ said one
girl to me.

Is was a bleak, uncomfortable day; but at night, by six bells, although
the wind had not yet moderated, the clouds were all wrecked and blown
away behind the rim of the horizon, and the stars came out thickly
overhead.  I saw Venus burning as steadily and sweetly across this
hurly-burly of the winds and waters as ever at home upon the summer
woods.  The engine pounded, the screw tossed out of the water with a
roar, and shook the ship from end to end; the bows battled with loud
reports against the billows: and as I stood in the lee-scuppers and
looked up to where the funnel leaned out, over my head, vomiting smoke,
and the black and monstrous top-sails blotted, at each lurch, a different
crop of stars, it seemed as if all this trouble were a thing of small
account, and that just above the mast reigned peace unbroken and eternal.



STEERAGE SCENES


Our companion (Steerage No. 2 and 3) was a favourite resort.  Down one
flight of stairs there was a comparatively large open space, the centre
occupied by a hatchway, which made a convenient seat for about twenty
persons, while barrels, coils of rope, and the carpenter’s bench afforded
perches for perhaps as many more.  The canteen, or steerage bar, was on
one side of the stair; on the other, a no less attractive spot, the cabin
of the indefatigable interpreter.

I have seen people packed into this space like herrings in a barrel, and
many merry evenings prolonged there until five bells, when the lights
were ruthlessly extinguished and all must go to roost.

It had been rumoured since Friday that there was a fiddler aboard, who
lay sick and unmelodious in Steerage No. 1; and on the Monday forenoon,
as I came down the companion, I was saluted by something in Strathspey
time.  A white-faced Orpheus was cheerily playing to an audience of
white-faced women.  It was as much as he could do to play, and some of
his hearers were scarce able to sit; yet they had crawled from their
bunks at the first experimental flourish, and found better than medicine
in the music.  Some of the heaviest heads began to nod in time, and a
degree of animation looked from some of the palest eyes.  Humanly
speaking, it is a more important matter to play the fiddle, even badly,
than to write huge works upon recondite subjects.  What could Mr. Darwin
have done for these sick women?  But this fellow scraped away; and the
world was positively a better place for all who heard him.  We have yet
to understand the economical value of these mere accomplishments.  I told
the fiddler he was a happy man, carrying happiness about with him in his
fiddle-case, and he seemed alive to the fact.

‘It is a privilege,’ I said.  He thought a while upon the word, turning
it over in his Scots head, and then answered with conviction, ‘Yes, a
privilege.’

That night I was summoned by ‘Merrily danced the Quake’s wife’ into the
companion of Steerage No. 4 and 5.  This was, properly speaking, but a
strip across a deck-house, lit by a sickly lantern which swung to and fro
with the motion of the ship.  Through the open slide-door we had a
glimpse of a grey night sea, with patches of phosphorescent foam flying,
swift as birds, into the wake, and the horizon rising and falling as the
vessel rolled to the wind.  In the centre the companion ladder plunged
down sheerly like an open pit.  Below, on the first landing, and lighted
by another lamp, lads and lasses danced, not more than three at a time
for lack of space, in jigs and reels and hornpipes.  Above, on either
side, there was a recess railed with iron, perhaps two feet wide and four
long, which stood for orchestra and seats of honour.  In the one balcony,
five slatternly Irish lasses sat woven in a comely group.  In the other
was posted Orpheus, his body, which was convulsively in motion, forming
an odd contrast to his somnolent, imperturbable Scots face.  His brother,
a dark man with a vehement, interested countenance, who made a god of the
fiddler, sat by with open mouth, drinking in the general admiration and
throwing out remarks to kindle it.

‘That’s a bonny hornpipe now,’ he would say, ‘it’s a great favourite with
performers; they dance the sand dance to it.’  And he expounded the sand
dance.  Then suddenly, it would be a long, ‘Hush!’ with uplifted finger
and glowing, supplicating eyes, ‘he’s going to play “Auld Robin Gray” on
one string!’  And throughout this excruciating movement,—‘On one string,
that’s on one string!’ he kept crying.  I would have given something
myself that it had been on none; but the hearers were much awed.  I
called for a tune or two, and thus introduced myself to the notice of the
brother, who directed his talk to me for some little while, keeping, I
need hardly mention, true to his topic, like the seamen to the star.
‘He’s grand of it,’ he said confidentially.  ‘His master was a music-hall
man.’  Indeed the music-hall man had left his mark, for our fiddler was
ignorant of many of our best old airs; ‘Logie o’ Buchan,’ for instance,
he only knew as a quick, jigging figure in a set of quadrilles, and had
never heard it called by name.  Perhaps, after all, the brother was the
more interesting performer of the two.  I have spoken with him afterwards
repeatedly, and found him always the same quick, fiery bit of a man, not
without brains; but he never showed to such advantage as when he was thus
squiring the fiddler into public note.  There is nothing more becoming
than a genuine admiration; and it shares this with love, that it does not
become contemptible although misplaced.

The dancing was but feebly carried on.  The space was almost
impracticably small; and the Irish wenches combined the extreme of
bashfulness about this innocent display with a surprising impudence and
roughness of address.  Most often, either the fiddle lifted up its voice
unheeded, or only a couple of lads would be footing it and snapping
fingers on the landing.  And such was the eagerness of the brother to
display all the acquirements of his idol, and such the sleepy
indifference of the performer, that the tune would as often as not be
changed, and the hornpipe expire into a ballad before the dancers had cut
half a dozen shuffles.

In the meantime, however, the audience had been growing more and more
numerous every moment; there was hardly standing-room round the top of
the companion; and the strange instinct of the race moved some of the
newcomers to close both the doors, so that the atmosphere grew
insupportable.  It was a good place, as the saying is, to leave.

The wind hauled ahead with a head sea.  By ten at night heavy sprays were
flying and drumming over the forecastle; the companion of Steerage No. 1
had to be closed, and the door of communication through the second cabin
thrown open.  Either from the convenience of the opportunity, or because
we had already a number of acquaintances in that part of the ship, Mr.
Jones and I paid it a late visit.  Steerage No. 1 is shaped like an
isosceles triangle, the sides opposite the equal angles bulging outward
with the contour of the ship.  It is lined with eight pens of sixteen
bunks apiece, four bunks below and four above on either side.  At night
the place is lit with two lanterns, one to each table.  As the steamer
beat on her way among the rough billows, the light passed through violent
phases of change, and was thrown to and fro and up and down with
startling swiftness.  You were tempted to wonder, as you looked, how so
thin a glimmer could control and disperse such solid blackness.  When
Jones and I entered we found a little company of our acquaintances seated
together at the triangular foremost table.  A more forlorn party, in more
dismal circumstances, it would be hard to imagine.  The motion here in
the ship’s nose was very violent; the uproar of the sea often
overpoweringly loud.  The yellow flicker of the lantern spun round and
round and tossed the shadows in masses.  The air was hot, but it struck a
chill from its foetor.

From all round in the dark bunks, the scarcely human noises of the sick
joined into a kind of farmyard chorus.  In the midst, these five friends
of mine were keeping up what heart they could in company.  Singing was
their refuge from discomfortable thoughts and sensations.  One piped, in
feeble tones, ‘Oh why left I my hame?’ which seemed a pertinent question
in the circumstances.  Another, from the invisible horrors of a pen where
he lay dog-sick upon the upper-shelf, found courage, in a blink of his
sufferings, to give us several verses of the ‘Death of Nelson’; and it
was odd and eerie to hear the chorus breathe feebly from all sorts of
dark corners, and ‘this day has done his dooty’ rise and fall and be
taken up again in this dim inferno, to an accompaniment of plunging,
hollow-sounding bows and the rattling spray-showers overhead.

All seemed unfit for conversation; a certain dizziness had interrupted
the activity of their minds; and except to sing they were tongue-tied.
There was present, however, one tall, powerful fellow of doubtful
nationality, being neither quite Scotsman nor altogether Irish, but of
surprising clearness of conviction on the highest problems.  He had gone
nearly beside himself on the Sunday, because of a general backwardness to
indorse his definition of mind as ‘a living, thinking substance which
cannot be felt, heard, or seen’—nor, I presume, although he failed to
mention it, smelt.  Now he came forward in a pause with another
contribution to our culture.

‘Just by way of change,’ said he, ‘I’ll ask you a Scripture riddle.
There’s profit in them too,’ he added ungrammatically.

This was the riddle—

    C and P
    Did agree
    To cut down C;
    But C and P
    Could not agree
    Without the leave of G;
    All the people cried to see
    The crueltie
    Of C and P.

Harsh are the words of Mercury after the songs of Apollo!  We were a long
while over the problem, shaking our heads and gloomily wondering how a
man could be such a fool; but at length he put us out of suspense and
divulged the fact that C and P stood for Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate.

I think it must have been the riddle that settled us; but the motion and
the close air likewise hurried our departure.  We had not been gone long,
we heard next morning, ere two or even three out of the five fell sick.
We thought it little wonder on the whole, for the sea kept contrary all
night.  I now made my bed upon the second cabin floor, where, although I
ran the risk of being stepped upon, I had a free current of air, more or
less vitiated indeed, and running only from steerage to steerage, but at
least not stagnant; and from this couch, as well as the usual sounds of a
rough night at sea, the hateful coughing and retching of the sick and the
sobs of children, I heard a man run wild with terror beseeching his
friend for encouragement.  ‘The ship’s going down!’ he cried with a
thrill of agony.  ‘The ship’s going down!’ he repeated, now in a blank
whisper, now with his voice rising towards a sob; and his friend might
reassure him, reason with him, joke at him—all was in vain, and the old
cry came back, ‘The ship’s going down!’  There was something panicky and
catching in the emotion of his tones; and I saw in a clear flash what an
involved and hideous tragedy was a disaster to an emigrant ship.  If this
whole parishful of people came no more to land, into how many houses
would the newspaper carry woe, and what a great part of the web of our
corporate human life would be rent across for ever!

The next morning when I came on deck I found a new world indeed.  The
wind was fair; the sun mounted into a cloudless heaven; through great
dark blue seas the ship cut a swath of curded foam.  The horizon was
dotted all day with companionable sails, and the sun shone pleasantly on
the long, heaving deck.

We had many fine-weather diversions to beguile the time.  There was a
single chess-board and a single pack of cards.  Sometimes as many as
twenty of us would be playing dominoes for love.  Feats of dexterity,
puzzles for the intelligence, some arithmetical, some of the same order
as the old problem of the fox and goose and cabbage, were always welcome;
and the latter, I observed, more popular as well as more conspicuously
well done than the former.  We had a regular daily competition to guess
the vessel’s progress; and twelve o’clock, when the result was published
in the wheel-house, came to be a moment of considerable interest.  But
the interest was unmixed.  Not a bet was laid upon our guesses.  From the
Clyde to Sandy Hook I never heard a wager offered or taken.  We had,
besides, romps in plenty.  Puss in the Corner, which we had rebaptized,
in more manly style, Devil and four Corners, was my own favourite game;
but there were many who preferred another, the humour of which was to box
a person’s ears until he found out who had cuffed him.

This Tuesday morning we were all delighted with the change of weather,
and in the highest possible spirits.  We got in a cluster like bees,
sitting between each other’s feet under lee of the deck-houses.  Stories
and laughter went around.  The children climbed about the shrouds.  White
faces appeared for the first time, and began to take on colour from the
wind.  I was kept hard at work making cigarettes for one amateur after
another, and my less than moderate skill was heartily admired.  Lastly,
down sat the fiddler in our midst and began to discourse his reels, and
jigs, and ballads, with now and then a voice or two to take up the air
and throw in the interest of human speech.

Through this merry and good-hearted scene there came three cabin
passengers, a gentleman and two young ladies, picking their way with
little gracious titters of indulgence, and a Lady-Bountiful air about
nothing, which galled me to the quick.  I have little of the radical in
social questions, and have always nourished an idea that one person was
as good as another.  But I began to be troubled by this episode.  It was
astonishing what insults these people managed to convey by their
presence.  They seemed to throw their clothes in our faces.  Their eyes
searched us all over for tatters and incongruities.  A laugh was ready at
their lips; but they were too well-mannered to indulge it in our hearing.
Wait a bit, till they were all back in the saloon, and then hear how
wittily they would depict the manners of the steerage.  We were in truth
very innocently, cheerfully, and sensibly engaged, and there was no
shadow of excuse for the swaying elegant superiority with which these
damsels passed among us, or for the stiff and waggish glances of their
squire.  Not a word was said; only when they were gone Mackay sullenly
damned their impudence under his breath; but we were all conscious of an
icy influence and a dead break in the course of our enjoyment.



STEERAGE TYPES


We had a fellow on board, an Irish-American, for all the world like a
beggar in a print by Callot; one-eyed, with great, splay crow’s-feet
round the sockets; a knotty squab nose coming down over his moustache; a
miraculous hat; a shirt that had been white, ay, ages long ago; an alpaca
coat in its last sleeves; and, without hyperbole, no buttons to his
trousers.  Even in these rags and tatters, the man twinkled all over with
impudence like a piece of sham jewellery; and I have heard him offer a
situation to one of his fellow-passengers with the air of a lord.
Nothing could overlie such a fellow; a kind of base success was written
on his brow.  He was then in his ill days; but I can imagine him in
Congress with his mouth full of bombast and sawder.  As we moved in the
same circle, I was brought necessarily into his society.  I do not think
I ever heard him say anything that was true, kind, or interesting; but
there was entertainment in the man’s demeanour.  You might call him a
half-educated Irish Tigg.

Our Russian made a remarkable contrast to this impossible fellow.
Rumours and legends were current in the steerages about his antecedents.
Some said he was a Nihilist escaping; others set him down for a harmless
spendthrift, who had squandered fifty thousand roubles, and whose father
had now despatched him to America by way of penance.  Either tale might
flourish in security; there was no contradiction to be feared, for the
hero spoke not one word of English.  I got on with him lumberingly enough
in broken German, and learned from his own lips that he had been an
apothecary.  He carried the photograph of his betrothed in a pocket-book,
and remarked that it did not do her justice.  The cut of his head stood
out from among the passengers with an air of startling strangeness.  The
first natural instinct was to take him for a desperado; but although the
features, to our Western eyes, had a barbaric and unhomely cast, the eye
both reassured and touched.  It was large and very dark and soft, with an
expression of dumb endurance, as if it had often looked on desperate
circumstances and never looked on them without resolution.

He cried out when I used the word. ‘No, no,’ he said, ‘not resolution.’

‘The resolution to endure,’ I explained.

And then he shrugged his shoulders, and said, ‘_Ach_, _ja_,’ with gusto,
like a man who has been flattered in his favourite pretensions.  Indeed,
he was always hinting at some secret sorrow; and his life, he said, had
been one of unusual trouble and anxiety; so the legends of the steerage
may have represented at least some shadow of the truth.  Once, and once
only, he sang a song at our concerts; standing forth without
embarrassment, his great stature somewhat humped, his long arms
frequently extended, his Kalmuck head thrown backward.  It was a suitable
piece of music, as deep as a cow’s bellow and wild like the White Sea.
He was struck and charmed by the freedom and sociality of our manners.
At home, he said, no one on a journey would speak to him, but those with
whom he would not care to speak; thus unconsciously involving himself in
the condemnation of his countrymen.  But Russia was soon to be changed;
the ice of the Neva was softening under the sun of civilisation; the new
ideas, ‘_wie eine feine Violine_,’ were audible among the big empty drum
notes of Imperial diplomacy; and he looked to see a great revival, though
with a somewhat indistinct and childish hope.

We had a father and son who made a pair of Jacks-of-all-trades.  It was
the son who sang the ‘Death of Nelson’ under such contrarious
circumstances.  He was by trade a shearer of ship plates; but he could
touch the organ, and led two choirs, and played the flute and piccolo in
a professional string band.  His repertory of songs was, besides,
inexhaustible, and ranged impartially from the very best to the very
worst within his reach.  Nor did he seem to make the least distinction
between these extremes, but would cheerily follow up ‘Tom Bowling’ with
‘Around her splendid form.’

The father, an old, cheery, small piece of man-hood, could do everything
connected with tinwork from one end of the process to the other, use
almost every carpenter’s tool, and make picture frames to boot.  ‘I sat
down with silver plate every Sunday,’ said he, ‘and pictures on the wall.
I have made enough money to be rolling in my carriage.  But, sir,’
looking at me unsteadily with his bright rheumy eyes, ‘I was troubled
with a drunken wife.’  He took a hostile view of matrimony in
consequence.  ‘It’s an old saying,’ he remarked: ‘God made ’em, and the
devil he mixed ’em.’

I think he was justified by his experience.  It was a dreary story.  He
would bring home three pounds on Saturday, and on Monday all the clothes
would be in pawn.  Sick of the useless struggle, he gave up a paying
contract, and contented himself with small and ill-paid jobs.  ‘A bad job
was as good as a good job for me,’ he said; ‘it all went the same way.’
Once the wife showed signs of amendment; she kept steady for weeks on
end; it was again worth while to labour and to do one’s best.  The
husband found a good situation some distance from home, and, to make a
little upon every hand, started the wife in a cook-shop; the children
were here and there, busy as mice; savings began to grow together in the
bank, and the golden age of hope had returned again to that unhappy
family.  But one week my old acquaintance, getting earlier through with
his work, came home on the Friday instead of the Saturday, and there was
his wife to receive him reeling drunk.  He ‘took and gave her a pair o’
black eyes,’ for which I pardon him, nailed up the cook-shop door, gave
up his situation, and resigned himself to a life of poverty, with the
workhouse at the end.  As the children came to their full age they fled
the house, and established themselves in other countries; some did well,
some not so well; but the father remained at home alone with his drunken
wife, all his sound-hearted pluck and varied accomplishments depressed
and negatived.

Was she dead now? or, after all these years, had he broken the chain, and
run from home like a schoolboy?  I could not discover which; but here at
least he was out on the adventure, and still one of the bravest and most
youthful men on board.

‘Now, I suppose, I must put my old bones to work again,’ said he; ‘but I
can do a turn yet.’

And the son to whom he was going, I asked, was he not able to support
him?

‘Oh yes,’ he replied.  ‘But I’m never happy without a job on hand.  And
I’m stout; I can eat a’most anything.  You see no craze about me.’

This tale of a drunken wife was paralleled on board by another of a
drunken father.  He was a capable man, with a good chance in life; but he
had drunk up two thriving businesses like a bottle of sherry, and
involved his sons along with him in ruin.  Now they were on board with
us, fleeing his disastrous neighbourhood.

Total abstinence, like all ascetical conclusions, is unfriendly to the
most generous, cheerful, and human parts of man; but it could have
adduced many instances and arguments from among our ship’s company.  I
was, one day conversing with a kind and happy Scotsman, running to fat
and perspiration in the physical, but with a taste for poetry and a
genial sense of fun.  I had asked him his hopes in emigrating.  They were
like those of so many others, vague and unfounded; times were bad at
home; they were said to have a turn for the better in the States; a man
could get on anywhere, he thought.  That was precisely the weak point of
his position; for if he could get on in America, why could he not do the
same in Scotland?  But I never had the courage to use that argument,
though it was often on the tip of my tongue, and instead I agreed with
him heartily adding, with reckless originality, ‘If the man stuck to his
work, and kept away from drink.’

‘Ah!’ said he slowly, ‘the drink!  You see, that’s just my trouble.’

He spoke with a simplicity that was touching, looking at me at the same
time with something strange and timid in his eye, half-ashamed,
half-sorry, like a good child who knows he should be beaten.  You would
have said he recognised a destiny to which he was born, and accepted the
consequences mildly.  Like the merchant Abudah, he was at the same time
fleeing from his destiny and carrying it along with him, the whole at an
expense of six guineas.

As far as I saw, drink, idleness, and incompetency were the three great
causes of emigration, and for all of them, and drink first and foremost,
this trick of getting transported overseas appears to me the silliest
means of cure.  You cannot run away from a weakness; you must some time
fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you
stand?  _Coelum non animam_.  Change Glenlivet for Bourbon, and it is
still whisky, only not so good.  A sea-voyage will not give a man the
nerve to put aside cheap pleasure; emigration has to be done before we
climb the vessel; an aim in life is the only fortune worth the finding;
and it is not to be found in foreign lands, but in the heart itself.

Speaking generally, there is no vice of this kind more contemptible than
another; for each is but a result and outward sign of a soul tragically
ship-wrecked.  In the majority of cases, cheap pleasure is resorted to by
way of anodyne.  The pleasure-seeker sets forth upon life with high and
difficult ambitions; he meant to be nobly good and nobly happy, though at
as little pains as possible to himself; and it is because all has failed
in his celestial enterprise that you now behold him rolling in the
garbage.  Hence the comparative success of the teetotal pledge; because
to a man who had nothing it sets at least a negative aim in life.
Somewhat as prisoners beguile their days by taming a spider, the reformed
drunkard makes an interest out of abstaining from intoxicating drinks,
and may live for that negation.  There is something, at least, _not to be
done_ each day; and a cold triumph awaits him every evening.

We had one on board with us, whom I have already referred to under the
name Mackay, who seemed to me not only a good instance of this failure in
life of which we have been speaking, but a good type of the intelligence
which here surrounded me.  Physically he was a small Scotsman, standing a
little back as though he were already carrying the elements of a
corporation, and his looks somewhat marred by the smallness of his eyes.
Mentally, he was endowed above the average.  There were but few subjects
on which he could not converse with understanding and a dash of wit;
delivering himself slowly and with gusto like a man who enjoyed his own
sententiousness.  He was a dry, quick, pertinent debater, speaking with a
small voice, and swinging on his heels to launch and emphasise an
argument.  When he began a discussion, he could not bear to leave it off,
but would pick the subject to the bone, without once relinquishing a
point.  An engineer by trade, Mackay believed in the unlimited
perfectibility of all machines except the human machine.  The latter he
gave up with ridicule for a compound of carrion and perverse gases.  He
had an appetite for disconnected facts which I can only compare to the
savage taste for beads.  What is called information was indeed a passion
with the man, and he not only delighted to receive it, but could pay you
back in kind.

With all these capabilities, here was Mackay, already no longer young, on
his way to a new country, with no prospects, no money, and but little
hope.  He was almost tedious in the cynical disclosures of his despair.
‘The ship may go down for me,’ he would say, ‘now or to-morrow.  I have
nothing to lose and nothing to hope.’  And again: ‘I am sick of the whole
damned performance.’  He was, like the kind little man, already quoted,
another so-called victim of the bottle.  But Mackay was miles from
publishing his weakness to the world; laid the blame of his failure on
corrupt masters and a corrupt State policy; and after he had been one
night overtaken and had played the buffoon in his cups, sternly, though
not without tact, suppressed all reference to his escapade.  It was a
treat to see him manage this: the various jesters withered under his
gaze, and you were forced to recognise in him a certain steely force, and
a gift of command which might have ruled a senate.

In truth it was not whisky that had ruined him; he was ruined long before
for all good human purposes but conversation.  His eyes were sealed by a
cheap, school-book materialism.  He could see nothing in the world but
money and steam-engines.  He did not know what you meant by the word
happiness.  He had forgotten the simple emotions of childhood, and
perhaps never encountered the delights of youth.  He believed in
production, that useful figment of economy, as if it had been real like
laughter; and production, without prejudice to liquor, was his god and
guide.  One day he took me to task—novel cry to me—upon the over-payment
of literature.  Literary men, he said, were more highly paid than
artisans; yet the artisan made threshing-machines and butter-churns, and
the man of letters, except in the way of a few useful handbooks, made
nothing worth the while.  He produced a mere fancy article.  Mackay’s
notion of a book was _Hoppus’s Measurer_.  Now in my time I have
possessed and even studied that work; but if I were to be left to-morrow
on Juan Fernandez, Hoppus’s is not the book that I should choose for my
companion volume.

I tried to fight the point with Mackay.  I made him own that he had taken
pleasure in reading books otherwise, to his view, insignificant; but he
was too wary to advance a step beyond the admission.  It was in vain for
me to argue that here was pleasure ready-made and running from the
spring, whereas his ploughs and butter-churns were but means and
mechanisms to give men the necessary food and leisure before they start
upon the search for pleasure; he jibbed and ran away from such
conclusions.  The thing was different, he declared, and nothing was
serviceable but what had to do with food.  ‘Eat, eat, eat!’ he cried;
‘that’s the bottom and the top.’  By an odd irony of circumstance, he
grew so much interested in this discussion that he let the hour slip by
unnoticed and had to go without his tea.  He had enough sense and humour,
indeed he had no lack of either, to have chuckled over this himself in
private; and even to me he referred to it with the shadow of a smile.

Mackay was a hot bigot.  He would not hear of religion.  I have seen him
waste hours of time in argument with all sorts of poor human creatures
who understood neither him nor themselves, and he had had the boyishness
to dissect and criticise even so small a matter as the riddler’s
definition of mind.  He snorted aloud with zealotry and the lust for
intellectual battle.  Anything, whatever it was, that seemed to him
likely to discourage the continued passionate production of corn and
steam-engines he resented like a conspiracy against the people.  Thus,
when I put in the plea for literature, that it was only in good books, or
in the society of the good, that a man could get help in his conduct, he
declared I was in a different world from him.  ‘Damn my conduct!’ said
he.  ‘I have given it up for a bad job.  My question is, “Can I drive a
nail?”’ And he plainly looked upon me as one who was insidiously seeking
to reduce the people’s annual bellyful of corn and steam-engines.

It may be argued that these opinions spring from the defect of culture;
that a narrow and pinching way of life not only exaggerates to a man the
importance of material conditions, but indirectly, by denying him the
necessary books and leisure, keeps his mind ignorant of larger thoughts;
and that hence springs this overwhelming concern about diet, and hence
the bald view of existence professed by Mackay.  Had this been an English
peasant the conclusion would be tenable.  But Mackay had most of the
elements of a liberal education.  He had skirted metaphysical and
mathematical studies.  He had a thoughtful hold of what he knew, which
would be exceptional among bankers.  He had been brought up in the midst
of hot-house piety, and told, with incongruous pride, the story of his
own brother’s deathbed ecstasies.  Yet he had somehow failed to fulfil
himself, and was adrift like a dead thing among external circumstances,
without hope or lively preference or shaping aim.  And further, there
seemed a tendency among many of his fellows to fall into the same blank
and unlovely opinions.  One thing, indeed, is not to be learned in
Scotland, and that is the way to be happy.  Yet that is the whole of
culture, and perhaps two-thirds of morality.  Can it be that the Puritan
school, by divorcing a man from nature, by thinning out his instincts,
and setting a stamp of its disapproval on whole fields of human activity
and interest, leads at last directly to material greed?

Nature is a good guide through life, and the love of simple pleasures
next, if not superior, to virtue; and we had on board an Irishman who
based his claim to the widest and most affectionate popularity precisely
upon these two qualities, that he was natural and happy.  He boasted a
fresh colour, a tight little figure, unquenchable gaiety, and
indefatigable goodwill.  His clothes puzzled the diagnostic mind, until
you heard he had been once a private coachman, when they became eloquent
and seemed a part of his biography.  His face contained the rest, and, I
fear, a prophecy of the future; the hawk’s nose above accorded so ill
with the pink baby’s mouth below.  His spirit and his pride belonged, you
might say, to the nose; while it was the general shiftlessness expressed
by the other that had thrown him from situation to situation, and at
length on board the emigrant ship.  Barney ate, so to speak, nothing from
the galley; his own tea, butter, and eggs supported him throughout the
voyage; and about mealtime you might often find him up to the elbows in
amateur cookery.  His was the first voice heard singing among all the
passengers; he was the first who fell to dancing.  From Loch Foyle to
Sandy Hook, there was not a piece of fun undertaken but there was Barney
in the midst.

You ought to have seen him when he stood up to sing at our concerts—his
tight little figure stepping to and fro, and his feet shuffling to the
air, his eyes seeking and bestowing encouragement—and to have enjoyed the
bow, so nicely calculated between jest and earnest, between grace and
clumsiness, with which he brought each song to a conclusion.  He was not
only a great favourite among ourselves, but his songs attracted the lords
of the saloon, who often leaned to hear him over the rails of the
hurricane-deck.  He was somewhat pleased, but not at all abashed, by this
attention; and one night, in the midst of his famous performance of
‘Billy Keogh,’ I saw him spin half round in a pirouette and throw an
audacious wink to an old gentleman above.

This was the more characteristic, as, for all his daffing, he was a
modest and very polite little fellow among ourselves.

He would not have hurt the feelings of a fly, nor throughout the passage
did he give a shadow of offence; yet he was always, by his innocent
freedoms and love of fun, brought upon that narrow margin where
politeness must be natural to walk without a fall.  He was once seriously
angry, and that in a grave, quiet manner, because they supplied no fish
on Friday; for Barney was a conscientious Catholic.  He had likewise
strict notions of refinement; and when, late one evening, after the women
had retired, a young Scotsman struck up an indecent song, Barney’s drab
clothes were immediately missing from the group.  His taste was for the
society of gentlemen, of whom, with the reader’s permission, there was no
lack in our five steerages and second cabin; and he avoided the rough and
positive with a girlish shrinking.  Mackay, partly from his superior
powers of mind, which rendered him incomprehensible, partly from his
extreme opinions, was especially distasteful to the Irishman.  I have
seen him slink off with backward looks of terror and offended delicacy,
while the other, in his witty, ugly way, had been professing hostility to
God, and an extreme theatrical readiness to be shipwrecked on the spot.
These utterances hurt the little coachman’s modesty like a bad word.



THE SICK MAN


One night Jones, the young O’Reilly, and myself were walking arm-in-arm
and briskly up and down the deck.  Six bells had rung; a head-wind blew
chill and fitful, the fog was closing in with a sprinkle of rain, and the
fog-whistle had been turned on, and now divided time with its unwelcome
outcries, loud like a bull, thrilling and intense like a mosquito.  Even
the watch lay somewhere snugly out of sight.

For some time we observed something lying black and huddled in the
scuppers, which at last heaved a little and moaned aloud.  We ran to the
rails.  An elderly man, but whether passenger or seaman it was impossible
in the darkness to determine, lay grovelling on his belly in the wet
scuppers, and kicking feebly with his outspread toes.  We asked him what
was amiss, and he replied incoherently, with a strange accent and in a
voice unmanned by terror, that he had cramp in the stomach, that he had
been ailing all day, had seen the doctor twice, and had walked the deck
against fatigue till he was overmastered and had fallen where we found
him.

Jones remained by his side, while O’Reilly and I hurried off to seek the
doctor.  We knocked in vain at the doctor’s cabin; there came no reply;
nor could we find any one to guide us.  It was no time for delicacy; so
we ran once more forward; and I, whipping up a ladder and touching my hat
to the officer of the watch, addressed him as politely as I could—

‘I beg your pardon, sir; but there is a man lying bad with cramp in the
lee scuppers; and I can’t find the doctor.’

He looked at me peeringly in the darkness; and then, somewhat harshly,
‘Well, _I_ can’t leave the bridge, my man,’ said he.

‘No, sir; but you can tell me what to do,’ I returned.

‘Is it one of the crew?’ he asked.

‘I believe him to be a fireman,’ I replied.

I dare say officers are much annoyed by complaints and alarmist
information from their freight of human creatures; but certainly, whether
it was the idea that the sick man was one of the crew, or from something
conciliatory in my address, the officer in question was immediately
relieved and mollified; and speaking in a voice much freer from
constraint, advised me to find a steward and despatch him in quest of the
doctor, who would now be in the smoking-room over his pipe.

One of the stewards was often enough to be found about this hour down our
companion, Steerage No. 2 and 3; that was his smoking-room of a night.
Let me call him Blackwood.  O’Reilly and I rattled down the companion,
breathing hurry; and in his shirt-sleeves and perched across the
carpenters bench upon one thigh, found Blackwood; a neat, bright, dapper,
Glasgow-looking man, with a bead of an eye and a rank twang in his
speech.  I forget who was with him, but the pair were enjoying a
deliberate talk over their pipes.  I dare say he was tired with his day’s
work, and eminently comfortable at that moment; and the truth is, I did
not stop to consider his feelings, but told my story in a breath.

‘Steward,’ said I, ‘there’s a man lying bad with cramp, and I can’t find
the doctor.’

He turned upon me as pert as a sparrow, but with a black look that is the
prerogative of man; and taking his pipe out of his mouth—

‘That’s none of my business,’ said he.  ‘I don’t care.’

I could have strangled the little ruffian where he sat.  The thought of
his cabin civility and cabin tips filled me with indignation.  I glanced
at O’Reilly; he was pale and quivering, and looked like assault and
battery, every inch of him.  But we had a better card than violence.

‘You will have to make it your business,’ said I, ‘for I am sent to you
by the officer on the bridge.’

Blackwood was fairly tripped.  He made no answer, but put out his pipe,
gave me one murderous look, and set off upon his errand strolling.  From
that day forward, I should say, he improved to me in courtesy, as though
he had repented his evil speech and were anxious to leave a better
impression.

When we got on deck again, Jones was still beside the sick man; and two
or three late stragglers had gathered round, and were offering
suggestions.  One proposed to give the patient water, which was promptly
negatived.  Another bade us hold him up; he himself prayed to be let lie;
but as it was at least as well to keep him off the streaming decks,
O’Reilly and I supported him between us.  It was only by main force that
we did so, and neither an easy nor an agreeable duty; for he fought in
his paroxysms like a frightened child, and moaned miserably when he
resigned himself to our control.

‘O let me lie!’ he pleaded.  ‘I’ll no’ get better anyway.’  And then,
with a moan that went to my heart, ‘O why did I come upon this miserable
journey?’

I was reminded of the song which I had heard a little while before in the
close, tossing steerage: ‘O why left I my hame?’

Meantime Jones, relieved of his immediate charge, had gone off to the
galley, where we could see a light.  There he found a belated cook
scouring pans by the radiance of two lanterns, and one of these he sought
to borrow.  The scullion was backward.  ‘Was it one of the crew?’ he
asked.  And when Jones, smitten with my theory, had assured him that it
was a fireman, he reluctantly left his scouring and came towards us at an
easy pace, with one of the lanterns swinging from his finger.  The light,
as it reached the spot, showed us an elderly man, thick-set, and grizzled
with years; but the shifting and coarse shadows concealed from us the
expression and even the design of his face.

So soon as the cook set eyes on him he gave a sort of whistle.

‘_It’s only a passenger_!’ said he; and turning about, made, lantern and
all, for the galley.

‘He’s a man anyway,’ cried Jones in indignation.

‘Nobody said he was a woman,’ said a gruff voice, which I recognised for
that of the bo’s’un.

All this while there was no word of Blackwood or the doctor; and now the
officer came to our side of the ship and asked, over the hurricane-deck
rails, if the doctor were not yet come.  We told him not.

‘No?’ he repeated with a breathing of anger; and we saw him hurry aft in
person.

Ten minutes after the doctor made his appearance deliberately enough and
examined our patient with the lantern.  He made little of the case, had
the man brought aft to the dispensary, dosed him, and sent him forward to
his bunk.  Two of his neighbours in the steerage had now come to our
assistance, expressing loud sorrow that such ‘a fine cheery body’ should
be sick; and these, claiming a sort of possession, took him entirely
under their own care.  The drug had probably relieved him, for he
struggled no more, and was led along plaintive and patient, but
protesting.  His heart recoiled at the thought of the steerage.  ‘O let
me lie down upon the bieldy side,’ he cried; ‘O dinna take me down!’  And
again: ‘O why did ever I come upon this miserable voyage?’  And yet once
more, with a gasp and a wailing prolongation of the fourth word: ‘I had
no _call_ to come.’  But there he was; and by the doctor’s orders and the
kind force of his two shipmates disappeared down the companion of
Steerage No. 1 into the den allotted him.

At the foot of our own companion, just where I found Blackwood, Jones and
the bo’s’un were now engaged in talk.  This last was a gruff,
cruel-looking seaman, who must have passed near half a century upon the
seas; square-headed, goat-bearded, with heavy blond eyebrows, and an eye
without radiance, but inflexibly steady and hard.  I had not forgotten
his rough speech; but I remembered also that he had helped us about the
lantern; and now seeing him in conversation with Jones, and being choked
with indignation, I proceeded to blow off my steam.

‘Well,’ said I, ‘I make you my compliments upon your steward,’ and
furiously narrated what had happened.

‘I’ve nothing to do with him,’ replied the bo’s’un.  ‘They’re all alike.
They wouldn’t mind if they saw you all lying dead one upon the top of
another.’

This was enough.  A very little humanity went a long way with me after
the experience of the evening.  A sympathy grew up at once between the
bo’s’un and myself; and that night, and during the next few days, I
learned to appreciate him better.  He was a remarkable type, and not at
all the kind of man you find in books.  He had been at Sebastopol under
English colours; and again in a States ship, ‘after the _Alabama_, and
praying God we shouldn’t find her.’  He was a high Tory and a high
Englishman.  No manufacturer could have held opinions more hostile to the
working man and his strikes.  ‘The workmen,’ he said, ‘think nothing of
their country.  They think of nothing but themselves.  They’re damned
greedy, selfish fellows.’  He would not hear of the decadence of England.
‘They say they send us beef from America,’ he argued; ‘but who pays for
it?  All the money in the world’s in England.’  The Royal Navy was the
best of possible services, according to him.  ‘Anyway the officers are
gentlemen,’ said he; ‘and you can’t get hazed to death by a damned
non-commissioned—as you can in the army.’  Among nations, England was the
first; then came France.  He respected the French navy and liked the
French people; and if he were forced to make a new choice in life, ‘by
God, he would try Frenchmen!’  For all his looks and rough, cold manners,
I observed that children were never frightened by him; they divined him
at once to be a friend; and one night when he had chalked his hand and
clothes, it was incongruous to hear this formidable old salt chuckling
over his boyish monkey trick.

In the morning, my first thought was of the sick man.  I was afraid I
should not recognise him, baffling had been the light of the lantern; and
found myself unable to decide if he were Scots, English, or Irish.  He
had certainly employed north-country words and elisions; but the accent
and the pronunciation seemed unfamiliar and incongruous in my ear.

To descend on an empty stomach into Steerage No. 1, was an adventure that
required some nerve.  The stench was atrocious; each respiration tasted
in the throat like some horrible kind of cheese; and the squalid aspect
of the place was aggravated by so many people worming themselves into
their clothes in twilight of the bunks.  You may guess if I was pleased,
not only for him, but for myself also, when I heard that the sick man was
better and had gone on deck.

The morning was raw and foggy, though the sun suffused the fog with pink
and amber; the fog-horn still blew, stertorous and intermittent; and to
add to the discomfort, the seamen were just beginning to wash down the
decks.  But for a sick man this was heaven compared to the steerage.  I
found him standing on the hot-water pipe, just forward of the saloon deck
house.  He was smaller than I had fancied, and plain-looking; but his
face was distinguished by strange and fascinating eyes, limpid grey from
a distance, but, when looked into, full of changing colours and grains of
gold.  His manners were mild and uncompromisingly plain; and I soon saw
that, when once started, he delighted to talk.  His accent and language
had been formed in the most natural way, since he was born in Ireland,
had lived a quarter of a century on the banks of Tyne, and was married to
a Scots wife.  A fisherman in the season, he had fished the east coast
from Fisherrow to Whitby.  When the season was over, and the great boats,
which required extra hands, were once drawn up on shore till the next
spring, he worked as a labourer about chemical furnaces, or along the
wharves unloading vessels.  In this comparatively humble way of life he
had gathered a competence, and could speak of his comfortable house, his
hayfield, and his garden.  On this ship, where so many accomplished
artisans were fleeing from starvation, he was present on a pleasure trip
to visit a brother in New York.

Ere he started, he informed me, he had been warned against the steerage
and the steerage fare, and recommended to bring with him a ham and tea
and a spice loaf.  But he laughed to scorn such counsels.  ‘I’m not
afraid,’ he had told his adviser; ‘I’ll get on for ten days.  I’ve not
been a fisherman for nothing.’  For it is no light matter, as he reminded
me, to be in an open boat, perhaps waist-deep with herrings, day breaking
with a scowl, and for miles on every hand lee-shores, unbroken,
iron-bound, surf-beat, with only here and there an anchorage where you
dare not lie, or a harbour impossible to enter with the wind that blows.
The life of a North Sea fisher is one long chapter of exposure and hard
work and insufficient fare; and even if he makes land at some bleak
fisher port, perhaps the season is bad or his boat has been unlucky and
after fifty hours’ unsleeping vigilance and toil, not a shop will give
him credit for a loaf of bread.  Yet the steerage of the emigrant ship
had been too vile for the endurance of a man thus rudely trained.  He had
scarce eaten since he came on board, until the day before, when his
appetite was tempted by some excellent pea-soup.  We were all much of the
same mind on board, and beginning with myself, had dined upon pea-soup
not wisely but too well; only with him the excess had been punished,
perhaps because he was weakened by former abstinence, and his first meal
had resulted in a cramp.  He had determined to live henceforth on
biscuit; and when, two months later, he should return to England, to make
the passage by saloon.  The second cabin, after due inquiry, he scouted
as another edition of the steerage.

He spoke apologetically of his emotion when ill.  ‘Ye see, I had no call
to be here,’ said he; ‘and I thought it was by with me last night.  I’ve
a good house at home, and plenty to nurse me, and I had no real call to
leave them.’  Speaking of the attentions he had received from his
shipmates generally, ‘they were all so kind,’ he said, ‘that there’s none
to mention.’  And except in so far as I might share in this, he troubled
me with no reference to my services.

But what affected me in the most lively manner was the wealth of this
day-labourer, paying a two months’ pleasure visit to the States, and
preparing to return in the saloon, and the new testimony rendered by his
story, not so much to the horrors of the steerage as to the habitual
comfort of the working classes.  One foggy, frosty December evening, I
encountered on Liberton Hill, near Edinburgh, an Irish labourer trudging
homeward from the fields.  Our roads lay together, and it was natural
that we should fall into talk.  He was covered with mud; an inoffensive,
ignorant creature, who thought the Atlantic Cable was a secret
contrivance of the masters the better to oppress labouring mankind; and I
confess I was astonished to learn that he had nearly three hundred pounds
in the bank.  But this man had travelled over most of the world, and
enjoyed wonderful opportunities on some American railroad, with two
dollars a shift and double pay on Sunday and at night; whereas my
fellow-passenger had never quitted Tyneside, and had made all that he
possessed in that same accursed, down-falling England, whence skilled
mechanics, engineers, millwrights, and carpenters were fleeing as from
the native country of starvation.

Fitly enough, we slid off on the subject of strikes and wages and hard
times.  Being from the Tyne, and a man who had gained and lost in his own
pocket by these fluctuations, he had much to say, and held strong
opinions on the subject.  He spoke sharply of the masters, and, when I
led him on, of the men also.  The masters had been selfish and
obstructive, the men selfish, silly, and light-headed.  He rehearsed to
me the course of a meeting at which he had been present, and the somewhat
long discourse which he had there pronounced, calling into question the
wisdom and even the good faith of the Union delegates; and although he
had escaped himself through flush times and starvation times with a
handsomely provided purse, he had so little faith in either man or
master, and so profound a terror for the unerring Nemesis of mercantile
affairs, that he could think of no hope for our country outside of a
sudden and complete political subversion.  Down must go Lords and Church
and Army; and capital, by some happy direction, must change hands from
worse to better, or England stood condemned.  Such principles, he said,
were growing ‘like a seed.’

From this mild, soft, domestic man, these words sounded unusually ominous
and grave.  I had heard enough revolutionary talk among my workmen
fellow-passengers; but most of it was hot and turgid, and fell
discredited from the lips of unsuccessful men.  This man was calm; he had
attained prosperity and ease; he disapproved the policy which had been
pursued by labour in the past; and yet this was his panacea,—to rend the
old country from end to end, and from top to bottom, and in clamour and
civil discord remodel it with the hand of violence.



THE STOWAWAYS


On the Sunday, among a party of men who were talking in our companion,
Steerage No. 2 and 3, we remarked a new figure.  He wore tweed clothes,
well enough made if not very fresh, and a plain smoking-cap.  His face
was pale, with pale eyes, and spiritedly enough designed; but though not
yet thirty, a sort of blackguardly degeneration had already overtaken his
features.  The fine nose had grown fleshy towards the point, the pale
eyes were sunk in fat.  His hands were strong and elegant; his experience
of life evidently varied; his speech full of pith and verve; his manners
forward, but perfectly presentable.  The lad who helped in the second
cabin told me, in answer to a question, that he did not know who he was,
but thought, ‘by his way of speaking, and because he was so polite, that
he was some one from the saloon.’

I was not so sure, for to me there was something equivocal in his air and
bearing.  He might have been, I thought, the son of some good family who
had fallen early into dissipation and run from home.  But, making every
allowance, how admirable was his talk!  I wish you could have heard him
tell his own stories.  They were so swingingly set forth, in such
dramatic language, and illustrated here and there by such luminous bits
of acting, that they could only lose in any reproduction.  There were
tales of the P. and O. Company, where he had been an officer; of the East
Indies, where in former years he had lived lavishly; of the Royal
Engineers, where he had served for a period; and of a dozen other sides
of life, each introducing some vigorous thumb-nail portrait.  He had the
talk to himself that night, we were all so glad to listen.  The best
talkers usually address themselves to some particular society; there they
are kings, elsewhere camp-followers, as a man may know Russian and yet be
ignorant of Spanish; but this fellow had a frank, headlong power of
style, and a broad, human choice of subject, that would have turned any
circle in the world into a circle of hearers.  He was a Homeric talker,
plain, strong, and cheerful; and the things and the people of which he
spoke became readily and clearly present to the minds of those who heard
him.  This, with a certain added colouring of rhetoric and rodomontade,
must have been the style of Burns, who equally charmed the ears of
duchesses and hostlers.

Yet freely and personally as he spoke, many points remained obscure in
his narration.  The Engineers, for instance, was a service which he
praised highly; it is true there would be trouble with the sergeants; but
then the officers were gentlemen, and his own, in particular, one among
ten thousand.  It sounded so far exactly like an episode in the rakish,
topsy-turvy life of such an one as I had imagined.  But then there came
incidents more doubtful, which showed an almost impudent greed after
gratuities, and a truly impudent disregard for truth.  And then there was
the tale of his departure.  He had wearied, it seems, of Woolwich, and
one fine day, with a companion, slipped up to London for a spree.  I have
a suspicion that spree was meant to be a long one; but God disposes all
things; and one morning, near Westminster Bridge, whom should he come
across but the very sergeant who had recruited him at first!  What
followed?  He himself indicated cavalierly that he had then resigned.
Let us put it so.  But these resignations are sometimes very trying.

At length, after having delighted us for hours, he took himself away from
the companion; and I could ask Mackay who and what he was.  ‘That?’ said
Mackay.  ‘Why, that’s one of the stowaways.’

‘No man,’ said the same authority, ‘who has had anything to do with the
sea, would ever think of paying for a passage.’  I give the statement as
Mackay’s, without endorsement; yet I am tempted to believe that it
contains a grain of truth; and if you add that the man shall be impudent
and thievish, or else dead-broke, it may even pass for a fair
representation of the facts.  We gentlemen of England who live at home at
ease have, I suspect, very insufficient ideas on the subject.  All the
world over, people are stowing away in coal-holes and dark corners, and
when ships are once out to sea, appearing again, begrimed and bashful,
upon deck.  The career of these sea-tramps partakes largely of the
adventurous.  They may be poisoned by coal-gas, or die by starvation in
their place of concealment; or when found they may be clapped at once and
ignominiously into irons, thus to be carried to their promised land, the
port of destination, and alas! brought back in the same way to that from
which they started, and there delivered over to the magistrates and the
seclusion of a county jail.  Since I crossed the Atlantic, one miserable
stowaway was found in a dying state among the fuel, uttered but a word or
two, and departed for a farther country than America.

When the stowaway appears on deck, he has but one thing to pray for: that
he be set to work, which is the price and sign of his forgiveness.  After
half an hour with a swab or a bucket, he feels himself as secure as if he
had paid for his passage.  It is not altogether a bad thing for the
company, who get more or less efficient hands for nothing but a few
plates of junk and duff; and every now and again find themselves better
paid than by a whole family of cabin passengers.  Not long ago, for
instance, a packet was saved from nearly certain loss by the skill and
courage of a stowaway engineer.  As was no more than just, a handsome
subscription rewarded him for his success: but even without such
exceptional good fortune, as things stand in England and America, the
stowaway will often make a good profit out of his adventure.  Four
engineers stowed away last summer on the same ship, the _Circassia_; and
before two days after their arrival each of the four had found a
comfortable berth.  This was the most hopeful tale of emigration that I
heard from first to last; and as you see, the luck was for stowaways.

My curiosity was much inflamed by what I heard; and the next morning, as
I was making the round of the ship, I was delighted to find the ex-Royal
Engineer engaged in washing down the white paint of a deck house.  There
was another fellow at work beside him, a lad not more than twenty, in the
most miraculous tatters, his handsome face sown with grains of beauty and
lighted up by expressive eyes.  Four stowaways had been found aboard our
ship before she left the Clyde, but these two had alone escaped the
ignominy of being put ashore.  Alick, my acquaintance of last night, was
Scots by birth, and by trade a practical engineer; the other was from
Devonshire, and had been to sea before the mast.  Two people more unlike
by training, character, and habits it would be hard to imagine; yet here
they were together, scrubbing paint.

Alick had held all sorts of good situations, and wasted many
opportunities in life.  I have heard him end a story with these words:
‘That was in my golden days, when I used finger-glasses.’  Situation
after situation failed him; then followed the depression of trade, and
for months he had hung round with other idlers, playing marbles all day
in the West Park, and going home at night to tell his landlady how he had
been seeking for a job.  I believe this kind of existence was not
unpleasant to Alick himself, and he might have long continued to enjoy
idleness and a life on tick; but he had a comrade, let us call him Brown,
who grew restive.  This fellow was continually threatening to slip his
cable for the States, and at last, one Wednesday, Glasgow was left
widowed of her Brown.  Some months afterwards, Alick met another old chum
in Sauchiehall Street.

‘By the bye, Alick,’ said he, ‘I met a gentleman in New York who was
asking for you.’

‘Who was that?’ asked Alick.

‘The new second engineer on board the _So-and-so_,’ was the reply.

‘Well, and who is he?’

‘Brown, to be sure.’

For Brown had been one of the fortunate quartette aboard the _Circassia_.
If that was the way of it in the States, Alick thought it was high time
to follow Brown’s example.  He spent his last day, as he put it,
‘reviewing the yeomanry,’ and the next morning says he to his landlady,
‘Mrs. X., I’ll not take porridge to-day, please; I’ll take some eggs.’

‘Why, have you found a job?’ she asked, delighted.

‘Well, yes,’ returned the perfidious Alick; ‘I think I’ll start to-day.’

And so, well lined with eggs, start he did, but for America.  I am afraid
that landlady has seen the last of him.

It was easy enough to get on board in the confusion that attends a
vessel’s departure; and in one of the dark corners of Steerage No. 1,
flat in a bunk and with an empty stomach, Alick made the voyage from the
Broomielaw to Greenock.  That night, the ship’s yeoman pulled him out by
the heels and had him before the mate.  Two other stowaways had already
been found and sent ashore; but by this time darkness had fallen, they
were out in the middle of the estuary, and the last steamer had left them
till the morning.

‘Take him to the forecastle and give him a meal,’ said the mate, ‘and see
and pack him off the first thing to-morrow.’

In the forecastle he had supper, a good night’s rest, and breakfast; and
was sitting placidly with a pipe, fancying all was over and the game up
for good with that ship, when one of the sailors grumbled out an oath at
him, with a ‘What are you doing there?’ and ‘Do you call that hiding,
anyway?’  There was need of no more; Alick was in another bunk before the
day was older.  Shortly before the passengers arrived, the ship was
cursorily inspected.  He heard the round come down the companion and look
into one pen after another, until they came within two of the one in
which he lay concealed.  Into these last two they did not enter, but
merely glanced from without; and Alick had no doubt that he was
personally favoured in this escape.  It was the character of the man to
attribute nothing to luck and but little to kindness; whatever happened
to him he had earned in his own right amply; favours came to him from his
singular attraction and adroitness, and misfortunes he had always
accepted with his eyes open.  Half an hour after the searchers had
departed, the steerage began to fill with legitimate passengers, and the
worst of Alick’s troubles was at an end.  He was soon making himself
popular, smoking other people’s tobacco, and politely sharing their
private stock delicacies, and when night came he retired to his bunk
beside the others with composure.

Next day by afternoon, Lough Foyle being already far behind, and only the
rough north-western hills of Ireland within view, Alick appeared on deck
to court inquiry and decide his fate.  As a matter of fact, he was known
to several on board, and even intimate with one of the engineers; but it
was plainly not the etiquette of such occasions for the authorities to
avow their information.  Every one professed surprise and anger on his
appearance, and he was led prison before the captain.

‘What have you got to say for yourself?’ inquired the captain.

‘Not much,’ said Alick; ‘but when a man has been a long time out of a
job, he will do things he would not under other circumstances.’

‘Are you willing to work?’

Alick swore he was burning to be useful.

‘And what can you do?’ asked the captain.

He replied composedly that he was a brass-fitter by trade.

‘I think you will be better at engineering?’ suggested the officer, with
a shrewd look.

‘No, sir,’ says Alick simply.—‘There’s few can beat me at a lie,’ was his
engaging commentary to me as he recounted the affair.

‘Have you been to sea?’ again asked the captain.

‘I’ve had a trip on a Clyde steamboat, sir, but no more,’ replied the
unabashed Alick.

‘Well, we must try and find some work for you,’ concluded the officer.

And hence we behold Alick, clear of the hot engine-room, lazily scraping
paint and now and then taking a pull upon a sheet.  ‘You leave me alone,’
was his deduction.  ‘When I get talking to a man, I can get round him.’

The other stowaway, whom I will call the Devonian—it was noticeable that
neither of them told his name—had both been brought up and seen the world
in a much smaller way.  His father, a confectioner, died and was closely
followed by his mother.  His sisters had taken, I think, to dressmaking.
He himself had returned from sea about a year ago and gone to live with
his brother, who kept the ‘George Hotel’—‘it was not quite a real hotel,’
added the candid fellow—‘and had a hired man to mind the horses.’  At
first the Devonian was very welcome; but as time went on his brother not
unnaturally grew cool towards him, and he began to find himself one too
many at the ‘George Hotel.’  ‘I don’t think brothers care much for you,’
he said, as a general reflection upon life.  Hurt at this change, nearly
penniless, and too proud to ask for more, he set off on foot and walked
eighty miles to Weymouth, living on the journey as he could.  He would
have enlisted, but he was too small for the army and too old for the
navy; and thought himself fortunate at last to find a berth on board a
trading dandy.  Somewhere in the Bristol Channel the dandy sprung a leak
and went down; and though the crew were picked up and brought ashore by
fishermen, they found themselves with nothing but the clothes upon their
back.  His next engagement was scarcely better starred; for the ship
proved so leaky, and frightened them all so heartily during a short
passage through the Irish Sea, that the entire crew deserted and remained
behind upon the quays of Belfast.

Evil days were now coming thick on the Devonian.  He could find no berth
in Belfast, and had to work a passage to Glasgow on a steamer.  She
reached the Broomielaw on a Wednesday: the Devonian had a bellyful that
morning, laying in breakfast manfully to provide against the future, and
set off along the quays to seek employment.  But he was now not only
penniless, his clothes had begun to fall in tatters; he had begun to have
the look of a street Arab; and captains will have nothing to say to a
ragamuffin; for in that trade, as in all others, it is the coat that
depicts the man.  You may hand, reef, and steer like an angel, but if you
have a hole in your trousers, it is like a millstone round your neck.
The Devonian lost heart at so many refusals.  He had not the impudence to
beg; although, as he said, ‘when I had money of my own, I always gave
it.’  It was only on Saturday morning, after three whole days of
starvation, that he asked a scone from a milkwoman, who added of her own
accord a glass of milk.  He had now made up his mind to stow away, not
from any desire to see America, but merely to obtain the comfort of a
place in the forecastle and a supply of familiar sea-fare.  He lived by
begging, always from milkwomen, and always scones and milk, and was not
once refused.  It was vile wet weather, and he could never have been dry.
By night he walked the streets, and by day slept upon Glasgow Green, and
heard, in the intervals of his dozing, the famous theologians of the spot
clear up intricate points of doctrine and appraise the merits of the
clergy.  He had not much instruction; he could ‘read bills on the
street,’ but was ‘main bad at writing’; yet these theologians seem to
have impressed him with a genuine sense of amusement.  Why he did not go
to the Sailors’ House I know not; I presume there is in Glasgow one of
these institutions, which are by far the happiest and the wisest effort
of contemporaneous charity; but I must stand to my author, as they say in
old books, and relate the story as I heard it.  In the meantime, he had
tried four times to stow away in different vessels, and four times had
been discovered and handed back to starvation.  The fifth time was lucky;
and you may judge if he were pleased to be aboard ship again, at his old
work, and with duff twice a week.  He was, said Alick, ‘a devil for the
duff.’  Or if devil was not the word, it was one if anything stronger.

The difference in the conduct of the two was remarkable.  The Devonian
was as willing as any paid hand, swarmed aloft among the first, pulled
his natural weight and firmly upon a rope, and found work for himself
when there was none to show him.  Alick, on the other hand, was not only
a skulker in the brain, but took a humorous and fine gentlemanly view of
the transaction.  He would speak to me by the hour in ostentatious
idleness; and only if the bo’s’un or a mate came by, fell-to languidly
for just the necessary time till they were out of sight. ‘I’m not
breaking my heart with it,’ he remarked.

Once there was a hatch to be opened near where he was stationed; he
watched the preparations for a second or so suspiciously, and then,
‘Hullo,’ said he, ‘here’s some real work coming—I’m off,’ and he was gone
that moment.  Again, calculating the six guinea passage-money, and the
probable duration of the passage, he remarked pleasantly that he was
getting six shillings a day for this job, ‘and it’s pretty dear to the
company at that.’  ‘They are making nothing by me,’ was another of his
observations; ‘they’re making something by that fellow.’  And he pointed
to the Devonian, who was just then busy to the eyes.

The more you saw of Alick, the more, it must be owned, you learned to
despise him.  His natural talents were of no use either to himself or
others; for his character had degenerated like his face, and become pulpy
and pretentious.  Even his power of persuasion, which was certainly very
surprising, stood in some danger of being lost or neutralised by
over-confidence.  He lied in an aggressive, brazen manner, like a pert
criminal in the dock; and he was so vain of his own cleverness that he
could not refrain from boasting, ten minutes after, of the very trick by
which he had deceived you.  ‘Why, now I have more money than when I came
on board,’ he said one night, exhibiting a sixpence, ‘and yet I stood
myself a bottle of beer before I went to bed yesterday.  And as for
tobacco, I have fifteen sticks of it.’  That was fairly successful
indeed; yet a man of his superiority, and with a less obtrusive policy,
might, who knows? have got the length of half a crown.  A man who prides
himself upon persuasion should learn the persuasive faculty of silence,
above all as to his own misdeeds.  It is only in the farce and for
dramatic purposes that Scapin enlarges on his peculiar talents to the
world at large.

Scapin is perhaps a good name for this clever, unfortunate Alick; for at
the bottom of all his misconduct there was a guiding sense of humour that
moved you to forgive him.  It was more than half a jest that he conducted
his existence.  ‘Oh, man,’ he said to me once with unusual emotion, like
a man thinking of his mistress, ‘I would give up anything for a lark.’

It was in relation to his fellow-stowaway that Alick showed the best, or
perhaps I should say the only good, points of his nature.  ‘Mind you,’ he
said suddenly, changing his tone, ‘mind you that’s a good boy.  He
wouldn’t tell you a lie.  A lot of them think he is a scamp because his
clothes are ragged, but he isn’t; he’s as good as gold.’  To hear him,
you become aware that Alick himself had a taste for virtue.  He thought
his own idleness and the other’s industry equally becoming.  He was no
more anxious to insure his own reputation as a liar than to uphold the
truthfulness of his companion; and he seemed unaware of what was
incongruous in his attitude, and was plainly sincere in both characters.

It was not surprising that he should take an interest in the Devonian,
for the lad worshipped and served him in love and wonder.  Busy as he
was, he would find time to warn Alick of an approaching officer, or even
to tell him that the coast was clear, and he might slip off and smoke a
pipe in safety.  ‘Tom,’ he once said to him, for that was the name which
Alick ordered him to use, ‘if you don’t like going to the galley, I’ll go
for you.  You ain’t used to this kind of thing, you ain’t.  But I’m a
sailor; and I can understand the feelings of any fellow, I can.’  Again,
he was hard up, and casting about for some tobacco, for he was not so
liberally used in this respect as others perhaps less worthy, when Alick
offered him the half of one of his fifteen sticks.  I think, for my part,
he might have increased the offer to a whole one, or perhaps a pair of
them, and not lived to regret his liberality.  But the Devonian refused.
‘No,’ he said, ‘you’re a stowaway like me; I won’t take it from you, I’ll
take it from some one who’s not down on his luck.’

It was notable in this generous lad that he was strongly under the
influence of sex.  If a woman passed near where he was working, his eyes
lit up, his hand paused, and his mind wandered instantly to other
thoughts.  It was natural that he should exercise a fascination
proportionally strong upon women.  He begged, you will remember, from
women only, and was never refused.  Without wishing to explain away the
charity of those who helped him, I cannot but fancy he may have owed a
little to his handsome face, and to that quick, responsive nature, formed
for love, which speaks eloquently through all disguises, and can stamp an
impression in ten minutes’ talk or an exchange of glances.  He was the
more dangerous in that he was far from bold, but seemed to woo in spite
of himself, and with a soft and pleading eye.  Ragged as he was, and many
a scarecrow is in that respect more comfortably furnished, even on board
he was not without some curious admirers.

There was a girl among the passengers, a tall, blonde, handsome,
strapping Irishwoman, with a wild, accommodating eye, whom Alick had
dubbed Tommy, with that transcendental appropriateness that defies
analysis.  One day the Devonian was lying for warmth in the upper
stoke-hole, which stands open on the deck, when Irish Tommy came past,
very neatly attired, as was her custom.

‘Poor fellow,’ she said, stopping, ‘you haven’t a vest.’

‘No,’ he said; ‘I wish I ’ad.’

Then she stood and gazed on him in silence, until, in his embarrassment,
for he knew not how to look under this scrutiny, he pulled out his pipe
and began to fill it with tobacco.

‘Do you want a match?’ she asked.  And before he had time to reply, she
ran off and presently returned with more than one.

That was the beginning and the end, as far as our passage is concerned,
of what I will make bold to call this love-affair.  There are many
relations which go on to marriage and last during a lifetime, in which
less human feeling is engaged than in this scene of five minutes at the
stoke-hole.

Rigidly speaking, this would end the chapter of the stowaways; but in a
larger sense of the word I have yet more to add.  Jones had discovered
and pointed out to me a young woman who was remarkable among her fellows
for a pleasing and interesting air.  She was poorly clad, to the verge,
if not over the line, of disrespectability, with a ragged old jacket and
a bit of a sealskin cap no bigger than your fist; but her eyes, her whole
expression, and her manner, even in ordinary moments, told of a true
womanly nature, capable of love, anger, and devotion.  She had a look,
too, of refinement, like one who might have been a better lady than most,
had she been allowed the opportunity.  When alone she seemed preoccupied
and sad; but she was not often alone; there was usually by her side a
heavy, dull, gross man in rough clothes, chary of speech and gesture—not
from caution, but poverty of disposition; a man like a ditcher, unlovely
and uninteresting; whom she petted and tended and waited on with her eyes
as if he had been Amadis of Gaul.  It was strange to see this hulking
fellow dog-sick, and this delicate, sad woman caring for him.  He seemed,
from first to last, insensible of her caresses and attentions, and she
seemed unconscious of his insensibility.  The Irish husband, who sang his
wife to sleep, and this Scottish girl serving her Orson, were the two
bits of human nature that most appealed to me throughout the voyage.

On the Thursday before we arrived, the tickets were collected; and soon a
rumour began to go round the vessel; and this girl, with her bit of
sealskin cap, became the centre of whispering and pointed fingers.  She
also, it was said, was a stowaway of a sort; for she was on board with
neither ticket nor money; and the man with whom she travelled was the
father of a family, who had left wife and children to be hers.  The
ship’s officers discouraged the story, which may therefore have been a
story and no more; but it was believed in the steerage, and the poor girl
had to encounter many curious eyes from that day forth.



PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND REVIEW


Travel is of two kinds; and this voyage of mine across the ocean combined
both.  ‘Out of my country and myself I go,’ sings the old poet: and I was
not only travelling out of my country in latitude and longitude, but out
of myself in diet, associates, and consideration.  Part of the interest
and a great deal of the amusement flowed, at least to me, from this novel
situation in the world.

I found that I had what they call fallen in life with absolute success
and verisimilitude.  I was taken for a steerage passenger; no one seemed
surprised that I should be so; and there was nothing but the brass plate
between decks to remind me that I had once been a gentleman.  In a former
book, describing a former journey, I expressed some wonder that I could
be readily and naturally taken for a pedlar, and explained the accident
by the difference of language and manners between England and France.  I
must now take a humbler view; for here I was among my own countrymen,
somewhat roughly clad to be sure, but with every advantage of speech and
manner; and I am bound to confess that I passed for nearly anything you
please except an educated gentleman.  The sailors called me ‘mate,’ the
officers addressed me as ‘my man,’ my comrades accepted me without
hesitation for a person of their own character and experience, but with
some curious information.  One, a mason himself, believed I was a mason;
several, and among these at least one of the seaman, judged me to be a
petty officer in the American navy; and I was so often set down for a
practical engineer that at last I had not the heart to deny it.  From all
these guesses I drew one conclusion, which told against the insight of my
companions.  They might be close observers in their own way, and read the
manners in the face; but it was plain that they did not extend their
observation to the hands.

To the saloon passengers also I sustained my part without a hitch.  It is
true I came little in their way; but when we did encounter, there was no
recognition in their eye, although I confess I sometimes courted it in
silence.  All these, my inferiors and equals, took me, like the
transformed monarch in the story, for a mere common, human man.  They
gave me a hard, dead look, with the flesh about the eye kept unrelaxed.

With the women this surprised me less, as I had already experimented on
the sex by going abroad through a suburban part of London simply attired
in a sleeve-waistcoat.  The result was curious.  I then learned for the
first time, and by the exhaustive process, how much attention ladies are
accustomed to bestow on all male creatures of their own station; for, in
my humble rig, each one who went by me caused me a certain shock of
surprise and a sense of something wanting.  In my normal circumstances,
it appeared every young lady must have paid me some tribute of a glance;
and though I had often not detected it when it was given, I was well
aware of its absence when it was withheld.  My height seemed to decrease
with every woman who passed me, for she passed me like a dog.  This is
one of my grounds for supposing that what are called the upper classes
may sometimes produce a disagreeable impression in what are called the
lower; and I wish some one would continue my experiment, and find out
exactly at what stage of toilette a man becomes invisible to the
well-regulated female eye.

Here on shipboard the matter was put to a more complete test; for, even
with the addition of speech and manner, I passed among the ladies for
precisely the average man of the steerage.  It was one afternoon that I
saw this demonstrated.  A very plainly dressed woman was taken ill on
deck.  I think I had the luck to be present at every sudden seizure
during all the passage; and on this occasion found myself in the place of
importance, supporting the sufferer.  There was not only a large crowd
immediately around us, but a considerable knot of saloon passengers
leaning over our heads from the hurricane-deck.  One of these, an elderly
managing woman, hailed me with counsels.  Of course I had to reply; and
as the talk went on, I began to discover that the whole group took me for
the husband.  I looked upon my new wife, poor creature, with mingled
feelings; and I must own she had not even the appearance of the poorest
class of city servant-maids, but looked more like a country wench who
should have been employed at a roadside inn.  Now was the time for me to
go and study the brass plate.

To such of the officers as knew about me—the doctor, the purser, and the
stewards—I appeared in the light of a broad joke.  The fact that I spent
the better part of my day in writing had gone abroad over the ship and
tickled them all prodigiously.  Whenever they met me they referred to my
absurd occupation with familiarity and breadth of humorous intention.
Their manner was well calculated to remind me of my fallen fortunes.  You
may be sincerely amused by the amateur literary efforts of a gentleman,
but you scarce publish the feeling to his face. ‘Well!’ they would say:
‘still writing?’  And the smile would widen into a laugh.  The purser
came one day into the cabin, and, touched to the heart by my misguided
industry, offered me some other kind of writing, ‘for which,’ he added
pointedly, ‘you will be paid.’  This was nothing else than to copy out
the list of passengers.

Another trick of mine which told against my reputation was my choice of
roosting-place in an active draught upon the cabin floor.  I was openly
jeered and flouted for this eccentricity; and a considerable knot would
sometimes gather at the door to see my last dispositions for the night.
This was embarrassing, but I learned to support the trial with
equanimity.

Indeed I may say that, upon the whole, my new position sat lightly and
naturally upon my spirits.  I accepted the consequences with readiness,
and found them far from difficult to bear.  The steerage conquered me; I
conformed more and more to the type of the place, not only in manner but
at heart, growing hostile to the officers and cabin passengers who looked
down upon me, and day by day greedier for small delicacies.  Such was the
result, as I fancy, of a diet of bread and butter, soup and porridge.  We
think we have no sweet tooth as long as we are full to the brim of
molasses; but a man must have sojourned in the workhouse before he boasts
himself indifferent to dainties.  Every evening, for instance, I was more
and more preoccupied about our doubtful fare at tea.  If it was delicate
my heart was much lightened; if it was but broken fish I was
proportionally downcast.  The offer of a little jelly from a
fellow-passenger more provident than myself caused a marked elevation in
my spirits.  And I would have gone to the ship’s end and back again for
an oyster or a chipped fruit.

In other ways I was content with my position.  It seemed no disgrace to
be confounded with my company; for I may as well declare at once I found
their manners as gentle and becoming as those of any other class.  I do
not mean that my friends could have sat down without embarrassment and
laughable disaster at the table of a duke.  That does not imply an
inferiority of breeding, but a difference of usage.  Thus I flatter
myself that I conducted myself well among my fellow-passengers; yet my
most ambitious hope is not to have avoided faults, but to have committed
as few as possible.  I know too well that my tact is not the same as
their tact, and that my habit of a different society constituted, not
only no qualification, but a positive disability to move easily and
becomingly in this.  When Jones complimented me—because I ‘managed to
behave very pleasantly’ to my fellow-passengers, was how he put it—I
could follow the thought in his mind, and knew his compliment to be such
as we pay foreigners on their proficiency in English.  I dare say this
praise was given me immediately on the back of some unpardonable
solecism, which had led him to review my conduct as a whole.  We are all
ready to laugh at the ploughman among lords; we should consider also the
case of a lord among the ploughmen.  I have seen a lawyer in the house of
a Hebridean fisherman; and I know, but nothing will induce me to
disclose, which of these two was the better gentleman.  Some of our
finest behaviour, though it looks well enough from the boxes, may seem
even brutal to the gallery.  We boast too often manners that are
parochial rather than universal; that, like a country wine, will not bear
transportation for a hundred miles, nor from the parlour to the kitchen.
To be a gentleman is to be one all the world over, and in every relation
and grade of society.  It is a high calling, to which a man must first be
born, and then devote himself for life.  And, unhappily, the manners of a
certain so-called upper grade have a kind of currency, and meet with a
certain external acceptation throughout all the others, and this tends to
keep us well satisfied with slight acquirements and the amateurish
accomplishments of a clique.  But manners, like art, should be human and
central.

Some of my fellow-passengers, as I now moved among them in a relation of
equality, seemed to me excellent gentlemen.  They were not rough, nor
hasty, nor disputatious; debated pleasantly, differed kindly; were
helpful, gentle, patient, and placid.  The type of manners was plain, and
even heavy; there was little to please the eye, but nothing to shock; and
I thought gentleness lay more nearly at the spring of behaviour than in
many more ornate and delicate societies.  I say delicate, where I cannot
say refined; a thing may be fine, like ironwork, without being delicate,
like lace.  There was here less delicacy; the skin supported more
callously the natural surface of events, the mind received more bravely
the crude facts of human existence; but I do not think that there was
less effective refinement, less consideration for others, less polite
suppression of self.  I speak of the best among my fellow-passengers; for
in the steerage, as well as in the saloon, there is a mixture.  Those,
then, with whom I found myself in sympathy, and of whom I may therefore
hope to write with a greater measure of truth, were not only as good in
their manners, but endowed with very much the same natural capacities,
and about as wise in deduction, as the bankers and barristers of what is
called society.  One and all were too much interested in disconnected
facts, and loved information for its own sake with too rash a devotion;
but people in all classes display the same appetite as they gorge
themselves daily with the miscellaneous gossip of the newspaper.
Newspaper-reading, as far as I can make out, is often rather a sort of
brown study than an act of culture.  I have myself palmed off yesterday’s
issue on a friend, and seen him re-peruse it for a continuance of minutes
with an air at once refreshed and solemn.  Workmen, perhaps, pay more
attention; but though they may be eager listeners, they have rarely
seemed to me either willing or careful thinkers.  Culture is not measured
by the greatness of the field which is covered by our knowledge, but by
the nicety with which we can perceive relations in that field, whether
great or small.  Workmen, certainly those who were on board with me, I
found wanting in this quality or habit of the mind.  They did not
perceive relations, but leaped to a so-called cause, and thought the
problem settled.  Thus the cause of everything in England was the form of
government, and the cure for all evils was, by consequence, a revolution.
It is surprising how many of them said this, and that none should have
had a definite thought in his head as he said it.  Some hated the Church
because they disagreed with it; some hated Lord Beaconsfield because of
war and taxes; all hated the masters, possibly with reason.  But these
failings were not at the root of the matter; the true reasoning of their
souls ran thus—I have not got on; I ought to have got on; if there was a
revolution I should get on.  How?  They had no idea.  Why?
Because—because—well, look at America!

To be politically blind is no distinction; we are all so, if you come to
that.  At bottom, as it seems to me, there is but one question in modern
home politics, though it appears in many shapes, and that is the question
of money; and but one political remedy, that the people should grow wiser
and better.  My workmen fellow-passengers were as impatient and dull of
hearing on the second of these points as any member of Parliament; but
they had some glimmerings of the first.  They would not hear of
improvement on their part, but wished the world made over again in a
crack, so that they might remain improvident and idle and debauched, and
yet enjoy the comfort and respect that should accompany the opposite
virtues; and it was in this expectation, as far as I could see, that many
of them were now on their way to America.  But on the point of money they
saw clearly enough that inland politics, so far as they were concerned,
were reducible to the question of annual income; a question which should
long ago have been settled by a revolution, they did not know how, and
which they were now about to settle for themselves, once more they knew
not how, by crossing the Atlantic in a steamship of considerable tonnage.

And yet it has been amply shown them that the second or income question
is in itself nothing, and may as well be left undecided, if there be no
wisdom and virtue to profit by the change.  It is not by a man’s purse,
but by his character that he is rich or poor.  Barney will be poor, Alick
will be poor, Mackay will be poor; let them go where they will, and wreck
all the governments under heaven, they will be poor until they die.

Nothing is perhaps more notable in the average workman than his
surprising idleness, and the candour with which he confesses to the
failing.  It has to me been always something of a relief to find the
poor, as a general rule, so little oppressed with work.  I can in
consequence enjoy my own more fortunate beginning with a better grace.
The other day I was living with a farmer in America, an old frontiersman,
who had worked and fought, hunted and farmed, from his childhood up.  He
excused himself for his defective education on the ground that he had
been overworked from first to last.  Even now, he said, anxious as he
was, he had never the time to take up a book.  In consequence of this, I
observed him closely; he was occupied for four or, at the extreme
outside, for five hours out of the twenty-four, and then principally in
walking; and the remainder of the day he passed in born idleness, either
eating fruit or standing with his back against a door.  I have known men
do hard literary work all morning, and then undergo quite as much
physical fatigue by way of relief as satisfied this powerful frontiersman
for the day.  He, at least, like all the educated class, did so much
homage to industry as to persuade himself he was industrious.  But the
average mechanic recognises his idleness with effrontery; he has even, as
I am told, organised it.

I give the story as it was told me, and it was told me for a fact.  A man
fell from a housetop in the city of Aberdeen, and was brought into
hospital with broken bones.  He was asked what was his trade, and replied
that he was a _tapper_.  No one had ever heard of such a thing before;
the officials were filled with curiosity; they besought an explanation.
It appeared that when a party of slaters were engaged upon a roof, they
would now and then be taken with a fancy for the public-house.  Now a
seamstress, for example, might slip away from her work and no one be the
wiser; but if these fellows adjourned, the tapping of the mallets would
cease, and thus the neighbourhood be advertised of their defection.
Hence the career of the tapper.  He has to do the tapping and keep up an
industrious bustle on the housetop during the absence of the slaters.
When he taps for only one or two the thing is child’s-play, but when he
has to represent a whole troop, it is then that he earns his money in the
sweat of his brow.  Then must he bound from spot to spot, reduplicate,
triplicate, sexduplicate his single personality, and swell and hasten his
blows., until he produce a perfect illusion for the ear, and you would
swear that a crowd of emulous masons were continuing merrily to roof the
house.  It must be a strange sight from an upper window.

I heard nothing on board of the tapper; but I was astonished at the
stories told by my companions.  Skulking, shirking, malingering, were all
established tactics, it appeared.  They could see no dishonesty where a
man who is paid for an bones work gives half an hour’s consistent idling
in its place.  Thus the tapper would refuse to watch for the police
during a burglary, and call himself a honest man.  It is not sufficiently
recognised that our race detests to work.  If I thought that I should
have to work every day of my life as hard as I am working now, I should
be tempted to give up the struggle.  And the workman early begins on his
career of toil.  He has never had his fill of holidays in the past, and
his prospect of holidays in the future is both distant and uncertain.  In
the circumstances, it would require a high degree of virtue not to snatch
alleviations for the moment.

There were many good talkers on the ship; and I believe good talking of a
certain sort is a common accomplishment among working men.  Where books
are comparatively scarce, a greater amount of information will be given
and received by word of mouth; and this tends to produce good talkers,
and, what is no less needful for conversation, good listeners.  They
could all tell a story with effect.  I am sometimes tempted to think that
the less literary class show always better in narration; they have so
much more patience with detail, are so much less hurried to reach the
points, and preserve so much juster a proportion among the facts.  At the
same time their talk is dry; they pursue a topic ploddingly, have not an
agile fancy, do not throw sudden lights from unexpected quarters, and
when the talk is over they often leave the matter where it was.  They
mark time instead of marching.  They think only to argue, not to reach
new conclusions, and use their reason rather as a weapon of offense than
as a tool for self-improvement.  Hence the talk of some of the cleverest
was unprofitable in result, because there was no give and take; they
would grant you as little as possible for premise, and begin to dispute
under an oath to conquer or to die.

But the talk of a workman is apt to be more interesting than that of a
wealthy merchant, because the thoughts, hopes, and fears of which the
workman’s life is built lie nearer to necessity and nature.  They are
more immediate to human life.  An income calculated by the week is a far
more human thing than one calculated by the year, and a small income,
simply from its smallness, than a large one.  I never wearied listening
to the details of a workman’s economy, because every item stood for some
real pleasure.  If he could afford pudding twice a week, you know that
twice a week the man ate with genuine gusto and was physically happy;
while if you learn that a rich man has seven courses a day, ten to one
the half of them remain untasted, and the whole is but misspent money and
a weariness to the flesh.

The difference between England and America to a working man was thus most
humanly put to me by a fellow-passenger: ‘In America,’ said he, ‘you get
pies and puddings.’  I do not hear enough, in economy books, of pies and
pudding.  A man lives in and for the delicacies, adornments, and
accidental attributes of life, such as pudding to eat and pleasant books
and theatres to occupy his leisure.  The bare terms of existence would be
rejected with contempt by all.  If a man feeds on bread and butter, soup
and porridge, his appetite grows wolfish after dainties.  And the workman
dwells in a borderland, and is always within sight of those cheerless
regions where life is more difficult to sustain than worth sustaining.
Every detail of our existence, where it is worth while to cross the ocean
after pie and pudding, is made alive and enthralling by the presence of
genuine desire; but it is all one to me whether Crœsus has a hundred or a
thousand thousands in the bank.  There is more adventure in the life of
the working man who descends as a common solder into the battle of life,
than in that of the millionaire who sits apart in an office, like Von
Moltke, and only directs the manœuvres by telegraph.  Give me to hear
about the career of him who is in the thick of business; to whom one
change of market means empty belly, and another a copious and savoury
meal.  This is not the philosophical, but the human side of economics; it
interests like a story; and the life all who are thus situated partakes
in a small way the charm of _Robinson Crusoe_; for every step is critical
and human life is presented to you naked and verging to its lowest terms.



NEW YORK


As we drew near to New York I was at first amused, and then somewhat
staggered, by the cautious and the grisly tales that went the round.  You
would have thought we were to land upon a cannibal island.  You must
speak to no one in the streets, as they would not leave you till you were
rooked and beaten.  You must enter a hotel with military precautions; for
the least you had to apprehend was to awake next morning without money or
baggage, or necessary raiment, a lone forked radish in a bed; and if the
worst befell, you would instantly and mysteriously disappear from the
ranks of mankind.

I have usually found such stories correspond to the least modicum of
fact.  Thus I was warned, I remember, against the roadside inns of the
Cévennes, and that by a learned professor; and when I reached Pradelles
the warning was explained—it was but the far-away rumour and
reduplication of a single terrifying story already half a century old,
and half forgotten in the theatre of the events.  So I was tempted to
make light of these reports against America.  But we had on board with us
a man whose evidence it would not do to put aside.  He had come near
these perils in the body; he had visited a robber inn.  The public has an
old and well-grounded favour for this class of incident, and shall be
gratified to the best of my power.

My fellow-passenger, whom we shall call M’Naughten, had come from New
York to Boston with a comrade, seeking work.  They were a pair of
rattling blades; and, leaving their baggage at the station, passed the
day in beer saloons, and with congenial spirits, until midnight struck.
Then they applied themselves to find a lodging, and walked the streets
till two, knocking at houses of entertainment and being refused
admittance, or themselves declining the terms.  By two the inspiration of
their liquor had begun to wear off; they were weary and humble, and after
a great circuit found themselves in the same street where they had begun
their search, and in front of a French hotel where they had already
sought accommodation.  Seeing the house still open, they returned to the
charge.  A man in a white cap sat in an office by the door.  He seemed to
welcome them more warmly than when they had first presented themselves,
and the charge for the night had somewhat unaccountably fallen from a
dollar to a quarter.  They thought him ill-looking, but paid their
quarter apiece, and were shown upstairs to the top of the house.  There,
in a small room, the man in the white cap wished them pleasant slumbers.

It was furnished with a bed, a chair, and some conveniences.  The door
did not lock on the inside; and the only sign of adornment was a couple
of framed pictures, one close above the head of the bed, and the other
opposite the foot, and both curtained, as we may sometimes see valuable
water-colours, or the portraits of the dead, or works of art more than
usually skittish in the subject.  It was perhaps in the hope of finding
something of this last description that M’Naughten’s comrade pulled aside
the curtain of the first.  He was startlingly disappointed.  There was no
picture.  The frame surrounded, and the curtain was designed to hide, an
oblong aperture in the partition, through which they looked forth into
the dark corridor.  A person standing without could easily take a purse
from under the pillow, or even strangle a sleeper as he lay abed.
M’Naughten and his comrade stared at each other like Vasco’s seamen,
‘with a wild surmise’; and then the latter, catching up the lamp, ran to
the other frame and roughly raised the curtain.  There he stood,
petrified; and M’Naughten, who had followed, grasped him by the wrist in
terror.  They could see into another room, larger in size than that which
they occupied, where three men sat crouching and silent in the dark.  For
a second or so these five persons looked each other in the eyes, then the
curtain was dropped, and M’Naughten and his friend made but one bolt of
it out of the room and downstairs.  The man in the white cap said nothing
as they passed him; and they were so pleased to be once more in the open
night that they gave up all notion of a bed, and walked the streets of
Boston till the morning.

No one seemed much cast down by these stories, but all inquired after the
address of a respectable hotel; and I, for my part, put myself under the
conduct of Mr. Jones.  Before noon of the second Sunday we sighted the
low shores outside of New York harbour; the steerage passengers must
remain on board to pass through Castle Garden on the following morning;
but we of the second cabin made our escape along with the lords of the
saloon; and by six o’clock Jones and I issued into West Street, sitting
on some straw in the bottom of an open baggage-wagon.  It rained
miraculously; and from that moment till on the following night I left New
York, there was scarce a lull, and no cessation of the downpour.  The
roadways were flooded; a loud strident noise of falling water filled the
air; the restaurants smelt heavily of wet people and wet clothing.

It took us but a few minutes, though it cost us a good deal of money, to
be rattled along West Street to our destination: ‘Reunion House, No. 10
West Street, one minutes walk from Castle Garden; convenient to Castle
Garden, the Steamboat Landings, California Steamers and Liverpool Ships;
Board and Lodging per day 1 dollar, single meals 25 cents, lodging per
night 25 cents; private rooms for families; no charge for storage or
baggage; satisfaction guaranteed to all persons; Michael Mitchell,
Proprietor.’  Reunion House was, I may go the length of saying, a humble
hostelry.  You entered through a long bar-room, thence passed into a
little dining-room, and thence into a still smaller kitchen.  The
furniture was of the plainest; but the bar was hung in the American
taste, with encouraging and hospitable mottoes.

Jones was well known; we were received warmly; and two minutes afterwards
I had refused a drink from the proprietor, and was going on, in my plain
European fashion, to refuse a cigar, when Mr. Mitchell sternly
interposed, and explained the situation.  He was offering to treat me, it
appeared, whenever an American bar-keeper proposes anything, it must be
borne in mind that he is offering to treat; and if I did not want a
drink, I must at least take the cigar.  I took it bashfully, feeling I
had begun my American career on the wrong foot.  I did not enjoy that
cigar; but this may have been from a variety of reasons, even the best
cigar often failing to please if you smoke three-quarters of it in a
drenching rain.

For many years America was to me a sort of promised land; ‘westward the
march of empire holds its way’; the race is for the moment to the young;
what has been and what is we imperfectly and obscurely know; what is to
be yet lies beyond the flight of our imaginations.  Greece, Rome, and
Judæa are gone by forever, leaving to generations the legacy of their
accomplished work; China still endures, an old-inhabited house in the
brand-new city of nations; England has already declined, since she has
lost the States; and to these States, therefore, yet undeveloped, full of
dark possibilities, and grown, like another Eve, from one rib out of the
side of their own old land, the minds of young men in England turn
naturally at a certain hopeful period of their age.  It will be hard for
an American to understand the spirit.  But let him imagine a young man,
who shall have grown up in an old and rigid circle, following bygone
fashions and taught to distrust his own fresh instincts, and who now
suddenly hears of a family of cousins, all about his own age, who keep
house together by themselves and live far from restraint and tradition;
let him imagine this, and he will have some imperfect notion of the
sentiment with which spirited English youths turn to the thought of the
American Republic.  It seems to them as if, out west, the war of life was
still conducted in the open air, and on free barbaric terms; as if it had
not yet been narrowed into parlours, nor begun to be conducted, like some
unjust and dreary arbitration, by compromise, costume forms of procedure,
and sad, senseless self-denial.  Which of these two he prefers, a man
with any youth still left in him will decide rightly for himself.  He
would rather be houseless than denied a pass-key; rather go without food
than partake of stalled ox in stiff, respectable society; rather be shot
out of hand than direct his life according to the dictates of the world.

He knows or thinks nothing of the Maine Laws, the Puritan sourness, the
fierce, sordid appetite for dollars, or the dreary existence of country
towns.  A few wild story-books which delighted his childhood form the
imaginative basis of his picture of America.  In course of time, there is
added to this a great crowd of stimulating details—vast cities that grow
up as by enchantment; the birds, that have gone south in autumn,
returning with the spring to find thousands camped upon their marshes,
and the lamps burning far and near along populous streets; forests that
disappear like snow; countries larger than Britain that are cleared and
settled, one man running forth with his household gods before another,
while the bear and the Indian are yet scarce aware of their approach; oil
that gushes from the earth; gold that is washed or quarried in the brooks
or glens of the Sierras; and all that bustle, courage, action, and
constant kaleidoscopic change that Walt Whitman has seized and set forth
in his vigorous, cheerful, and loquacious verses.

Here I was at last in America, and was soon out upon New York streets,
spying for things foreign.  The place had to me an air of Liverpool; but
such was the rain that not Paradise itself would have looked inviting.
We were a party of four, under two umbrellas; Jones and I and two Scots
lads, recent immigrants, and not indisposed to welcome a compatriot.
They had been six weeks in New York, and neither of them had yet found a
single job or earned a single halfpenny.  Up to the present they were
exactly out of pocket by the amount of the fare.

The lads soon left us.  Now I had sworn by all my gods to have such a
dinner as would rouse the dead; there was scarce any expense at which I
should have hesitated; the devil was in it, but Jones and I should dine
like heathen emperors.  I set to work, asking after a restaurant; and I
chose the wealthiest and most gastronomical-looking passers-by to ask
from.  Yet, although I had told them I was willing to pay anything in
reason, one and all sent me off to cheap, fixed-price houses, where I
would not have eaten that night for the cost of twenty dinners.  I do not
know if this were characteristic of New York, or whether it was only
Jones and I who looked un-dinerly and discouraged enterprising
suggestions.  But at length, by our own sagacity, we found a French
restaurant, where there was a French waiter, some fair French cooking,
some so-called French wine, and French coffee to conclude the whole.  I
never entered into the feelings of Jack on land so completely as when I
tasted that coffee.

I suppose we had one of the ‘private rooms for families’ at Reunion
House.  It was very small, furnished with a bed, a chair, and some
clothes-pegs; and it derived all that was necessary for the life of the
human animal through two borrowed lights; one looking into the passage,
and the second opening, without sash, into another apartment, where three
men fitfully snored, or in intervals of wakefulness, drearily mumbled to
each other all night long.  It will be observed that this was almost
exactly the disposition of the room in M’Naughten’s story.  Jones had the
bed; I pitched my camp upon the floor; he did not sleep until near
morning, and I, for my part, never closed an eye.

At sunrise I heard a cannon fired; and shortly afterwards the men in the
next room gave over snoring for good, and began to rustle over their
toilettes.  The sound of their voices as they talked was low and like
that of people watching by the sick.  Jones, who had at last begun to
doze, tumbled and murmured, and every now and then opened unconscious
eyes upon me where I lay.  I found myself growing eerier and eerier, for
I dare say I was a little fevered by my restless night, and hurried to
dress and get downstairs.

You had to pass through the rain, which still fell thick and resonant, to
reach a lavatory on the other side of the court.  There were three
basin-stands, and a few crumpled towels and pieces of wet soap, white and
slippery like fish; nor should I forget a looking-glass and a pair of
questionable combs.  Another Scots lad was here, scrubbing his face with
a good will.  He had been three months in New York and had not yet found
a single job nor earned a single halfpenny.  Up to the present, he also
was exactly out of pocket by the amount of the fare.  I began to grow
sick at heart for my fellow-emigrants.

Of my nightmare wanderings in New York I spare to tell.  I had a thousand
and one things to do; only the day to do them in, and a journey across
the continent before me in the evening.  It rained with patient fury;
every now and then I had to get under cover for a while in order, so to
speak, to give my mackintosh a rest; for under this continued drenching
it began to grow damp on the inside.  I went to banks, post-offices,
railway-offices, restaurants, publishers, booksellers, money-changers,
and wherever I went a pool would gather about my feet, and those who were
careful of their floors would look on with an unfriendly eye.  Wherever I
went, too, the same traits struck me: the people were all surprisingly
rude and surprisingly kind.  The money-changer cross-questioned me like a
French commissary, asking my age, my business, my average income, and my
destination, beating down my attempts at evasion, and receiving my
answers in silence; and yet when all was over, he shook hands with me up
to the elbows, and sent his lad nearly a quarter of a mile in the rain to
get me books at a reduction.  Again, in a very large publishing and
bookselling establishment, a man, who seemed to be the manager, received
me as I had certainly never before been received in any human shop,
indicated squarely that he put no faith in my honesty, and refused to
look up the names of books or give me the slightest help or information,
on the ground, like the steward, that it was none of his business.  I
lost my temper at last, said I was a stranger in America and not learned
in their etiquette; but I would assure him, if he went to any bookseller
in England, of more handsome usage.  The boast was perhaps exaggerated;
but like many a long shot, it struck the gold.  The manager passed at
once from one extreme to the other; I may say that from that moment he
loaded me with kindness; he gave me all sorts of good advice, wrote me
down addresses, and came bareheaded into the rain to point me out a
restaurant, where I might lunch, nor even then did he seem to think that
he had done enough.  These are (it is as well to be bold in statement)
the manners of America.  It is this same opposition that has most struck
me in people of almost all classes and from east to west.  By the time a
man had about strung me up to be the death of him by his insulting
behaviour, he himself would be just upon the point of melting into
confidence and serviceable attentions.  Yet I suspect, although I have
met with the like in so many parts, that this must be the character of
some particular state or group of states, for in America, and this again
in all classes, you will find some of the softest-mannered gentlemen in
the world.

I was so wet when I got back to Mitchell’s toward the evening, that I had
simply to divest myself of my shoes, socks, and trousers, and leave them
behind for the benefit of New York city.  No fire could have dried them
ere I had to start; and to pack them in their present condition was to
spread ruin among my other possessions.  With a heavy heart I said
farewell to them as they lay a pulp in the middle of a pool upon the
floor of Mitchell’s kitchen.  I wonder if they are dry by now.  Mitchell
hired a man to carry my baggage to the station, which was hard by,
accompanied me thither himself, and recommended me to the particular
attention of the officials.  No one could have been kinder.  Those who
are out of pocket may go safely to Reunion House, where they will get
decent meals and find an honest and obliging landlord.  I owed him this
word of thanks, before I enter fairly on the second {92} and far less
agreeable chapter of my emigrant experience.



II.
COCKERMOUTH AND KESWICK
A FRAGMENT
1871


Very much as a painter half closes his eyes so that some salient unity
may disengage itself from among the crowd of details, and what he sees
may thus form itself into a whole; very much on the same principle, I may
say, I allow a considerable lapse of time to intervene between any of my
little journeyings and the attempt to chronicle them.  I cannot describe
a thing that is before me at the moment, or that has been before me only
a very little while before; I must allow my recollections to get
thoroughly strained free from all chaff till nothing be except the pure
gold; allow my memory to choose out what is truly memorable by a process
of natural selection; and I piously believe that in this way I ensure the
Survival of the Fittest.  If I make notes for future use, or if I am
obliged to write letters during the course of my little excursion, I so
interfere with the process that I can never again find out what is worthy
of being preserved, or what should be given in full length, what in
torso, or what merely in profile.  This process of incubation may be
unreasonably prolonged; and I am somewhat afraid that I have made this
mistake with the present journey.  Like a bad daguerreotype, great part
of it has been entirely lost; I can tell you nothing about the beginning
and nothing about the end; but the doings of some fifty or sixty hours
about the middle remain quite distinct and definite, like a little patch
of sunshine on a long, shadowy plain, or the one spot on an old picture
that has been restored by the dexterous hand of the cleaner.  I remember
a tale of an old Scots minister called upon suddenly to preach, who had
hastily snatched an old sermon out of his study and found himself in the
pulpit before he noticed that the rats had been making free with his
manuscript and eaten the first two or three pages away; he gravely
explained to the congregation how he found himself situated: ‘And now,’
said he, ‘let us just begin where the rats have left off.’  I must follow
the divine’s example, and take up the thread of my discourse where it
first distinctly issues from the limbo of forgetfulness.



COCKERMOUTH


I was lighting my pipe as I stepped out of the inn at Cockermouth, and
did not raise my head until I was fairly in the street.  When I did so,
it flashed upon me that I was in England; the evening sunlight lit up
English houses, English faces, an English conformation of street,—as it
were, an English atmosphere blew against my face.  There is nothing
perhaps more puzzling (if one thing in sociology can ever really be more
unaccountable than another) than the great gulf that is set between
England and Scotland—a gulf so easy in appearance, in reality so
difficult to traverse.  Here are two people almost identical in blood;
pent up together on one small island, so that their intercourse (one
would have thought) must be as close as that of prisoners who shared one
cell of the Bastille; the same in language and religion; and yet a few
years of quarrelsome isolation—a mere forenoon’s tiff, as one may call
it, in comparison with the great historical cycles—has so separated their
thoughts and ways that not unions, not mutual dangers, nor steamers, nor
railways, nor all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, seem able to
obliterate the broad distinction.  In the trituration of another century
or so the corners may disappear; but in the meantime, in the year of
grace 1871, I was as much in a new country as if I had been walking out
of the Hotel St. Antoine at Antwerp.

I felt a little thrill of pleasure at my heart as I realised the change,
and strolled away up the street with my hands behind my back, noting in a
dull, sensual way how foreign, and yet how friendly, were the slopes of
the gables and the colour of the tiles, and even the demeanour and voices
of the gossips round about me.

Wandering in this aimless humour, I turned up a lane and found myself
following the course of the bright little river.  I passed first one and
then another, then a third, several couples out love-making in the spring
evening; and a consequent feeling of loneliness was beginning to grow
upon me, when I came to a dam across the river, and a mill—a great, gaunt
promontory of building,—half on dry ground and half arched over the
stream.  The road here drew in its shoulders and crept through between
the landward extremity of the mill and a little garden enclosure, with a
small house and a large signboard within its privet hedge.  I was pleased
to fancy this an inn, and drew little etchings in fancy of a sanded
parlour, and three-cornered spittoons, and a society of parochial gossips
seated within over their churchwardens; but as I drew near, the board
displayed its superscription, and I could read the name of Smethurst, and
the designation of ‘Canadian Felt Hat Manufacturers.’  There was no more
hope of evening fellowship, and I could only stroll on by the river-side,
under the trees.  The water was dappled with slanting sunshine, and
dusted all over with a little mist of flying insects.  There were some
amorous ducks, also, whose lovemaking reminded me of what I had seen a
little farther down.  But the road grew sad, and I grew weary; and as I
was perpetually haunted with the terror of a return of the tie that had
been playing such ruin in my head a week ago, I turned and went back to
the inn, and supper, and my bed.

The next morning, at breakfast, I communicated to the smart waitress my
intention of continuing down the coast and through Whitehaven to Furness,
and, as I might have expected, I was instantly confronted by that last
and most worrying form of interference, that chooses to introduce
tradition and authority into the choice of a man’s own pleasures.  I can
excuse a person combating my religious or philosophical heresies, because
them I have deliberately accepted, and am ready to justify by present
argument.  But I do not seek to justify my pleasures.  If I prefer tame
scenery to grand, a little hot sunshine over lowland parks and woodlands
to the war of the elements round the summit of Mont Blanc; or if I prefer
a pipe of mild tobacco, and the company of one or two chosen companions,
to a ball where I feel myself very hot, awkward, and weary, I merely
state these preferences as facts, and do not seek to establish them as
principles.  This is not the general rule, however, and accordingly the
waitress was shocked, as one might be at a heresy, to hear the route that
I had sketched out for myself.  Everybody who came to Cockermouth for
pleasure, it appeared, went on to Keswick.  It was in vain that I put up
a little plea for the liberty of the subject; it was in vain that I said
I should prefer to go to Whitehaven.  I was told that there was ‘nothing
to see there’—that weary, hackneyed, old falsehood; and at last, as the
handmaiden began to look really concerned, I gave way, as men always do
in such circumstances, and agreed that I was to leave for Keswick by a
train in the early evening.



AN EVANGELIST


Cockermouth itself, on the same authority, was a Place with ‘nothing to
see’; nevertheless I saw a good deal, and retain a pleasant, vague
picture of the town and all its surroundings.  I might have dodged
happily enough all day about the main street and up to the castle and in
and out of byways, but the curious attraction that leads a person in a
strange place to follow, day after day, the same round, and to make set
habits for himself in a week or ten days, led me half unconsciously up
the same, road that I had gone the evening before.  When I came up to the
hat manufactory, Smethurst himself was standing in the garden gate.  He
was brushing one Canadian felt hat, and several others had been put to
await their turn one above the other on his own head, so that he looked
something like the typical Jew old-clothes man.  As I drew near, he came
sidling out of the doorway to accost me, with so curious an expression on
his face that I instinctively prepared myself to apologise for some
unwitting trespass.  His first question rather confirmed me in this
belief, for it was whether or not he had seen me going up this way last
night; and after having answered in the affirmative, I waited in some
alarm for the rest of my indictment.  But the good man’s heart was full
of peace; and he stood there brushing his hats and prattling on about
fishing, and walking, and the pleasures of convalescence, in a bright
shallow stream that kept me pleased and interested, I could scarcely say
how.  As he went on, he warmed to his subject, and laid his hats aside to
go along the water-side and show me where the large trout commonly lay,
underneath an overhanging bank; and he was much disappointed, for my
sake, that there were none visible just then.  Then he wandered off on to
another tack, and stood a great while out in the middle of a meadow in
the hot sunshine, trying to make out that he had known me before, or, if
not me, some friend of mine, merely, I believe, out of a desire that we
should feel more friendly and at our ease with one another.  At last he
made a little speech to me, of which I wish I could recollect the very
words, for they were so simple and unaffected that they put all the best
writing and speaking to the blush; as it is, I can recall only the sense,
and that perhaps imperfectly.  He began by saying that he had little
things in his past life that it gave him especial pleasure to recall; and
that the faculty of receiving such sharp impressions had now died out in
himself, but must at my age be still quite lively and active.  Then he
told me that he had a little raft afloat on the river above the dam which
he was going to lend me, in order that I might be able to look back, in
after years, upon having done so, and get great pleasure from the
recollection.  Now, I have a friend of my own who will forgo present
enjoyments and suffer much present inconvenience for the sake of
manufacturing ‘a reminiscence’ for himself; but there was something
singularly refined in this pleasure that the hatmaker found in making
reminiscences for others; surely no more simple or unselfish luxury can
be imagined.  After he had unmoored his little embarkation, and seen me
safely shoved off into midstream, he ran away back to his hats with the
air of a man who had only just recollected that he had anything to do.

I did not stay very long on the raft.  It ought to have been very nice
punting about there in the cool shade of the trees, or sitting moored to
an over-hanging root; but perhaps the very notion that I was bound in
gratitude specially to enjoy my little cruise, and cherish its
recollection, turned the whole thing from a pleasure into a duty.  Be
that as it may, there is no doubt that I soon wearied and came ashore
again, and that it gives me more pleasure to recall the man himself and
his simple, happy conversation, so full of gusto and sympathy, than
anything possibly connected with his crank, insecure embarkation.  In
order to avoid seeing him, for I was not a little ashamed of myself for
having failed to enjoy his treat sufficiently, I determined to continue
up the river, and, at all prices, to find some other way back into the
town in time for dinner.  As I went, I was thinking of Smethurst with
admiration; a look into that man’s mind was like a retrospect over the
smiling champaign of his past life, and very different from the
Sinai-gorges up which one looks for a terrified moment into the dark
souls of many good, many wise, and many prudent men.  I cannot be very
grateful to such men for their excellence, and wisdom, and prudence.  I
find myself facing as stoutly as I can a hard, combative existence, full
of doubt, difficulties, defeats, disappointments, and dangers, quite a
hard enough life without their dark countenances at my elbow, so that
what I want is a happy-minded Smethurst placed here and there at ugly
corners of my life’s wayside, preaching his gospel of quiet and
contentment.



ANOTHER


I was shortly to meet with an evangelist of another stamp.  After I had
forced my way through a gentleman’s grounds, I came out on the high road,
and sat down to rest myself on a heap of stones at the top of a long
hill, with Cockermouth lying snugly at the bottom.  An Irish
beggar-woman, with a beautiful little girl by her side, came up to ask
for alms, and gradually fell to telling me the little tragedy of her
life.  Her own sister, she told me, had seduced her husband from her
after many years of married life, and the pair had fled, leaving her
destitute, with the little girl upon her hands.  She seemed quite hopeful
and cheery, and, though she was unaffectedly sorry for the loss of her
husband’s earnings, she made no pretence of despair at the loss of his
affection; some day she would meet the fugitives, and the law would see
her duly righted, and in the meantime the smallest contribution was
gratefully received.  While she was telling all this in the most
matter-of-fact way, I had been noticing the approach of a tall man, with
a high white hat and darkish clothes.  He came up the hill at a rapid
pace, and joined our little group with a sort of half-salutation.
Turning at once to the woman, he asked her in a business-like way whether
she had anything to do, whether she were a Catholic or a Protestant,
whether she could read, and so forth; and then, after a few kind words
and some sweeties to the child, he despatched the mother with some tracts
about Biddy and the Priest, and the Orangeman’s Bible.  I was a little
amused at his abrupt manner, for he was still a young man, and had
somewhat the air of a navy officer; but he tackled me with great
solemnity.  I could make fun of what he said, for I do not think it was
very wise; but the subject does not appear to me just now in a jesting
light, so I shall only say that he related to me his own conversion,
which had been effected (as is very often the case) through the agency of
a gig accident, and that, after having examined me and diagnosed my case,
he selected some suitable tracts from his repertory, gave them to me,
and, bidding me God-speed, went on his way.



LAST OF SMETHURST


That evening I got into a third-class carriage on my way for Keswick, and
was followed almost immediately by a burly man in brown clothes.  This
fellow-passenger was seemingly ill at ease, and kept continually putting
his head out of the window, and asking the bystanders if they saw _him_
coming.  At last, when the train was already in motion, there was a
commotion on the platform, and a way was left clear to our carriage door.
_He_ had arrived.  In the hurry I could just see Smethurst, red and
panting, thrust a couple of clay pipes into my companion’s outstretched
band, and hear him crying his farewells after us as we slipped out of the
station at an ever accelerating pace.  I said something about it being a
close run, and the broad man, already engaged in filling one of the
pipes, assented, and went on to tell me of his own stupidity in
forgetting a necessary, and of how his friend had good-naturedly gone
down town at the last moment to supply the omission.  I mentioned that I
had seen Mr. Smethurst already, and that he had been very polite to me;
and we fell into a discussion of the hatter’s merits that lasted some
time and left us quite good friends at its conclusion.  The topic was
productive of goodwill.  We exchanged tobacco and talked about the
season, and agreed at last that we should go to the same hotel at Keswick
and sup in company.  As he had some business in the town which would
occupy him some hour or so, on our arrival I was to improve the time and
go down to the lake, that I might see a glimpse of the promised wonders.

The night had fallen already when I reached the water-side, at a place
where many pleasure-boats are moored and ready for hire; and as I went
along a stony path, between wood and water, a strong wind blew in gusts
from the far end of the lake.  The sky was covered with flying scud; and,
as this was ragged, there was quite a wild chase of shadow and
moon-glimpse over the surface of the shuddering water.  I had to hold my
hat on, and was growing rather tired, and inclined to go back in disgust,
when a little incident occurred to break the tedium.  A sudden and
violent squall of wind sundered the low underwood, and at the same time
there came one of those brief discharges of moonlight, which leaped into
the opening thus made, and showed me three girls in the prettiest flutter
and disorder.  It was as though they had sprung out of the ground.  I
accosted them very politely in my capacity of stranger, and requested to
be told the names of all manner of hills and woods and places that I did
not wish to know, and we stood together for a while and had an amusing
little talk.  The wind, too, made himself of the party, brought the
colour into their faces, and gave them enough to do to repress their
drapery; and one of them, amid much giggling, had to pirouette round and
round upon her toes (as girls do) when some specially strong gust had got
the advantage over her.  They were just high enough up in the social
order not to be afraid to speak to a gentleman; and just low enough to
feel a little tremor, a nervous consciousness of wrong-doing—of stolen
waters, that gave a considerable zest to our most innocent interview.
They were as much discomposed and fluttered, indeed, as if I had been a
wicked baron proposing to elope with the whole trio; but they showed no
inclination to go away, and I had managed to get them off hills and
waterfalls and on to more promising subjects, when a young man was
descried coming along the path from the direction of Keswick.  Now
whether he was the young man of one of my friends, or the brother of one
of them, or indeed the brother of all, I do not know; but they
incontinently said that they must be going, and went away up the path
with friendly salutations.  I need not say that I found the lake and the
moonlight rather dull after their departure, and speedily found my way
back to potted herrings and whisky-and-water in the commercial room with
my late fellow-traveller.  In the smoking-room there was a tall dark man
with a moustache, in an ulster coat, who had got the best place and was
monopolising most of the talk; and, as I came in, a whisper came round to
me from both sides, that this was the manager of a London theatre.  The
presence of such a man was a great event for Keswick, and I must own that
the manager showed himself equal to his position.  He had a large fat
pocket-book, from which he produced poem after poem, written on the backs
of letters or hotel-bills; and nothing could be more humorous than his
recitation of these elegant extracts, except perhaps the anecdotes with
which he varied the entertainment.  Seeing, I suppose, something less
countrified in my appearance than in most of the company, he singled me
out to corroborate some statements as to the depravity and vice of the
aristocracy, and when he went on to describe some gilded saloon
experiences, I am proud to say that he honoured my sagacity with one
little covert wink before a second time appealing to me for confirmation.
The wink was not thrown away; I went in up to the elbows with the
manager, until I think that some of the glory of that great man settled
by reflection upon me, and that I was as noticeably the second person in
the smoking-room as he was the first.  For a young man, this was a
position of some distinction, I think you will admit. . . .



III.
AN AUTUMN EFFECT
1875


    ‘Nous ne décrivons jamais mieux la nature que lorsque nous nous
    efforçons d’exprimer sobrement et simplement l’impression que nous en
    avons reçue.’—M. ANDRÉ THEURIET, ‘L’Automne dans les Bois,’ Revue des
    Deux Mondes, 1st Oct. 1874, p.562. {106}

A country rapidly passed through under favourable auspices may leave upon
us a unity of impression that would only be disturbed and dissipated if
we stayed longer.  Clear vision goes with the quick foot.  Things fall
for us into a sort of natural perspective when we see them for a moment
in going by; we generalise boldly and simply, and are gone before the sun
is overcast, before the rain falls, before the season can steal like a
dial-hand from his figure, before the lights and shadows, shifting round
towards nightfall, can show us the other side of things, and belie what
they showed us in the morning.  We expose our mind to the landscape (as
we would expose the prepared plate in the camera) for the moment only
during which the effect endures; and we are away before the effect can
change.  Hence we shall have in our memories a long scroll of continuous
wayside pictures, all imbued already with the prevailing sentiment of the
season, the weather and the landscape, and certain to be unified more and
more, as time goes on, by the unconscious processes of thought.  So that
we who have only looked at a country over our shoulder, so to speak, as
we went by, will have a conception of it far more memorable and
articulate than a man who has lived there all his life from a child
upwards, and had his impression of to-day modified by that of to-morrow,
and belied by that of the day after, till at length the stable
characteristics of the country are all blotted out from him behind the
confusion of variable effect.

I begin my little pilgrimage in the most enviable of all humours: that in
which a person, with a sufficiency of money and a knapsack, turns his
back on a town and walks forward into a country of which he knows only by
the vague report of others.  Such an one has not surrendered his will and
contracted for the next hundred miles, like a man on a railway.  He may
change his mind at every finger-post, and, where ways meet, follow vague
preferences freely and go the low road or the high, choose the shadow or
the sun-shine, suffer himself to be tempted by the lane that turns
immediately into the woods, or the broad road that lies open before him
into the distance, and shows him the far-off spires of some city, or a
range of mountain-tops, or a rim of sea, perhaps, along a low horizon.
In short, he may gratify his every whim and fancy, without a pang of
reproving conscience, or the least jostle to his self-respect.  It is
true, however, that most men do not possess the faculty of free action,
the priceless gift of being able to live for the moment only; and as they
begin to go forward on their journey, they will find that they have made
for themselves new fetters.  Slight projects they may have entertained
for a moment, half in jest, become iron laws to them, they know not why.
They will be led by the nose by these vague reports of which I spoke
above; and the mere fact that their informant mentioned one village and
not another will compel their footsteps with inexplicable power.  And yet
a little while, yet a few days of this fictitious liberty, and they will
begin to hear imperious voices calling on them to return; and some
passion, some duty, some worthy or unworthy expectation, will set its
hand upon their shoulder and lead them back into the old paths.  Once and
again we have all made the experiment.  We know the end of it right well.
And yet if we make it for the hundredth time to-morrow: it will have the
same charm as ever; our heart will beat and our eyes will be bright, as
we leave the town behind us, and we shall feel once again (as we have
felt so often before) that we are cutting ourselves loose for ever from
our whole past life, with all its sins and follies and circumscriptions,
and go forward as a new creature into a new world.

It was well, perhaps, that I had this first enthusiasm to encourage me up
the long hill above High Wycombe; for the day was a bad day for walking
at best, and now began to draw towards afternoon, dull, heavy, and
lifeless.  A pall of grey cloud covered the sky, and its colour reacted
on the colour of the landscape.  Near at hand, indeed, the hedgerow trees
were still fairly green, shot through with bright autumnal yellows,
bright as sunshine.  But a little way off, the solid bricks of woodland
that lay squarely on slope and hill-top were not green, but russet and
grey, and ever less russet and more grey as they drew off into the
distance.  As they drew off into the distance, also, the woods seemed to
mass themselves together, and lie thin and straight, like clouds, upon
the limit of one’s view.  Not that this massing was complete, or gave the
idea of any extent of forest, for every here and there the trees would
break up and go down into a valley in open order, or stand in long Indian
file along the horizon, tree after tree relieved, foolishly enough,
against the sky.  I say foolishly enough, although I have seen the effect
employed cleverly in art, and such long line of single trees thrown out
against the customary sunset of a Japanese picture with a certain
fantastic effect that was not to be despised; but this was over water and
level land, where it did not jar, as here, with the soft contour of hills
and valleys.  The whole scene had an indefinable look of being painted,
the colour was so abstract and correct, and there was something so
sketchy and merely impressional about these distant single trees on the
horizon that one was forced to think of it all as of a clever French
landscape.  For it is rather in nature that we see resemblance to art,
than in art to nature; and we say a hundred times, ‘How like a picture!’
for once that we say, ‘How like the truth!’  The forms in which we learn
to think of landscape are forms that we have got from painted canvas.
Any man can see and understand a picture; it is reserved for the few to
separate anything out of the confusion of nature, and see that distinctly
and with intelligence.

The sun came out before I had been long on my way; and as I had got by
that time to the top of the ascent, and was now treading a labyrinth of
confined by-roads, my whole view brightened considerably in colour, for
it was the distance only that was grey and cold, and the distance I could
see no longer.  Overhead there was a wonderful carolling of larks which
seemed to follow me as I went.  Indeed, during all the time I was in that
country the larks did not desert me.  The air was alive with them from
High Wycombe to Tring; and as, day after day, their ‘shrill delight’ fell
upon me out of the vacant sky, they began to take such a prominence over
other conditions, and form so integral a part of my conception of the
country, that I could have baptized it ‘The Country of Larks.’  This, of
course, might just as well have been in early spring; but everything else
was deeply imbued with the sentiment of the later year.  There was no
stir of insects in the grass.  The sunshine was more golden, and gave
less heat than summer sunshine; and the shadows under the hedge were
somewhat blue and misty.  It was only in autumn that you could have seen
the mingled green and yellow of the elm foliage, and the fallen leaves
that lay about the road, and covered the surface of wayside pools so
thickly that the sun was reflected only here and there from little joints
and pinholes in that brown coat of proof; or that your ear would have
been troubled, as you went forward, by the occasional report of
fowling-pieces from all directions and all degrees of distance.

For a long time this dropping fire was the one sign of human activity
that came to disturb me as I walked.  The lanes were profoundly still.
They would have been sad but for the sunshine and the singing of the
larks.  And as it was, there came over me at times a feeling of isolation
that was not disagreeable, and yet was enough to make me quicken my steps
eagerly when I saw some one before me on the road.  This fellow-voyager
proved to be no less a person than the parish constable.  It had occurred
to me that in a district which was so little populous and so well wooded,
a criminal of any intelligence might play hide-and-seek with the
authorities for months; and this idea was strengthened by the aspect of
the portly constable as he walked by my side with deliberate dignity and
turned-out toes.  But a few minutes’ converse set my heart at rest.
These rural criminals are very tame birds, it appeared.  If my informant
did not immediately lay his hand on an offender, he was content to wait;
some evening after nightfall there would come a tap at his door, and the
outlaw, weary of outlawry, would give himself quietly up to undergo
sentence, and resume his position in the life of the country-side.
Married men caused him no disquietude whatever; he had them fast by the
foot.  Sooner or later they would come back to see their wives, a peeping
neighbour would pass the word, and my portly constable would walk quietly
over and take the bird sitting.  And if there were a few who had no
particular ties in the neighbourhood, and preferred to shift into another
county when they fell into trouble, their departure moved the placid
constable in no degree.  He was of Dogberry’s opinion; and if a man would
not stand in the Prince’s name, he took no note of him, but let him go,
and thanked God he was rid of a knave.  And surely the crime and the law
were in admirable keeping; rustic constable was well met with rustic
offender.  The officer sitting at home over a bit of fire until the
criminal came to visit him, and the criminal coming—it was a fair match.
One felt as if this must have been the order in that delightful seaboard
Bohemia where Florizel and Perdita courted in such sweet accents, and the
Puritan sang Psalms to hornpipes, and the four-and-twenty shearers danced
with nosegays in their bosoms, and chanted their three songs apiece at
the old shepherd’s festival; and one could not help picturing to oneself
what havoc among good peoples purses, and tribulation for benignant
constables, might be worked here by the arrival, over stile and footpath,
of a new Autolycus.

Bidding good-morning to my fellow-traveller, I left the road and struck
across country.  It was rather a revelation to pass from between the
hedgerows and find quite a bustle on the other side, a great coming and
going of school-children upon by-paths, and, in every second field, lusty
horses and stout country-folk a-ploughing.  The way I followed took me
through many fields thus occupied, and through many strips of plantation,
and then over a little space of smooth turf, very pleasant to the feet,
set with tall fir-trees and clamorous with rooks making ready for the
winter, and so back again into the quiet road.  I was now not far from
the end of my day’s journey.  A few hundred yards farther, and, passing
through a gap in the hedge, I began to go down hill through a pretty
extensive tract of young beeches.  I was soon in shadow myself, but the
afternoon sun still coloured the upmost boughs of the wood, and made a
fire over my head in the autumnal foliage.  A little faint vapour lay
among the slim tree-stems in the bottom of the hollow; and from farther
up I heard from time to time an outburst of gross laughter, as though
clowns were making merry in the bush.  There was something about the
atmosphere that brought all sights and sounds home to one with a singular
purity, so that I felt as if my senses had been washed with water.  After
I had crossed the little zone of mist, the path began to remount the
hill; and just as I, mounting along with it, had got back again, from the
head downwards, into the thin golden sunshine, I saw in front of me a
donkey tied to a tree.  Now, I have a certain liking for donkeys,
principally, I believe, because of the delightful things that Sterne has
written of them.  But this was not after the pattern of the ass at Lyons.
He was of a white colour, that seemed to fit him rather for rare festal
occasions than for constant drudgery.  Besides, he was very small, and of
the daintiest portions you can imagine in a donkey.  And so, sure enough,
you had only to look at him to see he had never worked.  There was
something too roguish and wanton in his face, a look too like that of a
schoolboy or a street Arab, to have survived much cudgelling.  It was
plain that these feet had kicked off sportive children oftener than they
had plodded with a freight through miry lanes.  He was altogether a
fine-weather, holiday sort of donkey; and though he was just then
somewhat solemnised and rueful, he still gave proof of the levity of his
disposition by impudently wagging his ears at me as I drew near.  I say
he was somewhat solemnised just then; for, with the admirable instinct of
all men and animals under restraint, he had so wound and wound the halter
about the tree that he could go neither back nor forwards, nor so much as
put down his head to browse.  There he stood, poor rogue, part puzzled,
part angry, part, I believe, amused.  He had not given up hope, and dully
revolved the problem in his head, giving ever and again another jerk at
the few inches of free rope that still remained unwound.  A humorous sort
of sympathy for the creature took hold upon me.  I went up, and, not
without some trouble on my part, and much distrust and resistance on the
part of Neddy, got him forced backwards until the whole length of the
halter was set loose, and he was once more as free a donkey as I dared to
make him.  I was pleased (as people are) with this friendly action to a
fellow-creature in tribulation, and glanced back over my shoulder to see
how he was profiting by his freedom.  The brute was looking after me; and
no sooner did he catch my eye than he put up his long white face into the
air, pulled an impudent mouth at me, and began to bray derisively.  If
ever any one person made a grimace at another, that donkey made a grimace
at me.  The hardened ingratitude of his behaviour, and the impertinence
that inspired his whole face as he curled up his lip, and showed his
teeth, and began to bray, so tickled me, and was so much in keeping with
what I had imagined to myself about his character, that I could not find
it in my heart to be angry, and burst into a peal of hearty laughter.
This seemed to strike the ass as a repartee, so he brayed at me again by
way of rejoinder; and we went on for a while, braying and laughing, until
I began to grow aweary of it, and, shouting a derisive farewell, turned
to pursue my way.  In so doing—it was like going suddenly into cold
water—I found myself face to face with a prim little old maid.  She was
all in a flutter, the poor old dear!  She had concluded beyond question
that this must be a lunatic who stood laughing aloud at a white donkey in
the placid beech-woods.  I was sure, by her face, that she had already
recommended her spirit most religiously to Heaven, and prepared herself
for the worst.  And so, to reassure her, I uncovered and besought her,
after a very staid fashion, to put me on my way to Great Missenden.  Her
voice trembled a little, to be sure, but I think her mind was set at
rest; and she told me, very explicitly, to follow the path until I came
to the end of the wood, and then I should see the village below me in the
bottom of the valley.  And, with mutual courtesies, the little old maid
and I went on our respective ways.

Nor had she misled me.  Great Missenden was close at hand, as she had
said, in the trough of a gentle valley, with many great elms about it.
The smoke from its chimneys went up pleasantly in the afternoon sunshine.
The sleepy hum of a threshing-machine filled the neighbouring fields and
hung about the quaint street corners.  A little above, the church sits
well back on its haunches against the hillside—an attitude for a church,
you know, that makes it look as if it could be ever so much higher if it
liked; and the trees grew about it thickly, so as to make a density of
shade in the churchyard.  A very quiet place it looks; and yet I saw many
boards and posters about threatening dire punishment against those who
broke the church windows or defaced the precinct, and offering rewards
for the apprehension of those who had done the like already.  It was fair
day in Great Missenden.  There were three stalls set up, _sub jove_, for
the sale of pastry and cheap toys; and a great number of holiday children
thronged about the stalls and noisily invaded every corner of the
straggling village.  They came round me by coveys, blowing simultaneously
upon penny trumpets as though they imagined I should fall to pieces like
the battlements of Jericho.  I noticed one among them who could make a
wheel of himself like a London boy, and seemingly enjoyed a grave
pre-eminence upon the strength of the accomplishment.  By and by,
however, the trumpets began to weary me, and I went indoors, leaving the
fair, I fancy, at its height.

Night had fallen before I ventured forth again.  It was pitch-dark in the
village street, and the darkness seemed only the greater for a light here
and there in an uncurtained window or from an open door.  Into one such
window I was rude enough to peep, and saw within a charming _genre_
picture.  In a room, all white wainscot and crimson wall-paper, a perfect
gem of colour after the black, empty darkness in which I had been
groping, a pretty girl was telling a story, as well as I could make out,
to an attentive child upon her knee, while an old woman sat placidly
dozing over the fire.  You may be sure I was not behindhand with a story
for myself—a good old story after the manner of G. P. R. James and the
village melodramas, with a wicked squire, and poachers, and an attorney,
and a virtuous young man with a genius for mechanics, who should love,
and protect, and ultimately marry the girl in the crimson room.
Baudelaire has a few dainty sentences on the fancies that we are inspired
with when we look through a window into other people’s lives; and I think
Dickens has somewhere enlarged on the same text.  The subject, at least,
is one that I am seldom weary of entertaining.  I remember, night after
night, at Brussels, watching a good family sup together, make merry, and
retire to rest; and night after night I waited to see the candles lit,
and the salad made, and the last salutations dutifully exchanged, without
any abatement of interest.  Night after night I found the scene rivet my
attention and keep me awake in bed with all manner of quaint
imaginations.  Much of the pleasure of the _Arabian Nights_ hinges upon
this Asmodean interest; and we are not weary of lifting other people’s
roofs, and going about behind the scenes of life with the Caliph and the
serviceable Giaffar.  It is a salutary exercise, besides; it is salutary
to get out of ourselves and see people living together in perfect
unconsciousness of our existence, as they will live when we are gone.  If
to-morrow the blow falls, and the worst of our ill fears is realised, the
girl will none the less tell stories to the child on her lap in the
cottage at Great Missenden, nor the good Belgians light their candle, and
mix their salad, and go orderly to bed.

The next morning was sunny overhead and damp underfoot, with a thrill in
the air like a reminiscence of frost.  I went up into the sloping garden
behind the inn and smoked a pipe pleasantly enough, to the tune of my
landlady’s lamentations over sundry cabbages and cauliflowers that had
been spoiled by caterpillars.  She had been so much pleased in the
summer-time, she said, to see the garden all hovered over by white
butterflies.  And now, look at the end of it!  She could nowise reconcile
this with her moral sense.  And, indeed, unless these butterflies are
created with a side-look to the composition of improving apologues, it is
not altogether easy, even for people who have read Hegel and Dr. M’Cosh,
to decide intelligibly upon the issue raised.  Then I fell into a long
and abstruse calculation with my landlord; having for object to compare
the distance driven by him during eight years’ service on the box of the
Wendover coach with the girth of the round world itself.  We tackled the
question most conscientiously, made all necessary allowance for Sundays
and leap-years, and were just coming to a triumphant conclusion of our
labours when we were stayed by a small lacuna in my information.  I did
not know the circumference of the earth.  The landlord knew it, to be
sure—plainly he had made the same calculation twice and once before,—but
he wanted confidence in his own figures, and from the moment I showed
myself so poor a second seemed to lose all interest in the result.

Wendover (which was my next stage) lies in the same valley with Great
Missenden, but at the foot of it, where the hills trend off on either
hand like a coast-line, and a great hemisphere of plain lies, like a sea,
before one, I went up a chalky road, until I had a good outlook over the
place.  The vale, as it opened out into the plain, was shallow, and a
little bare, perhaps, but full of graceful convolutions.  From the level
to which I have now attained the fields were exposed before me like a
map, and I could see all that bustle of autumn field-work which had been
hid from me yesterday behind the hedgerows, or shown to me only for a
moment as I followed the footpath.  Wendover lay well down in the midst,
with mountains of foliage about it.  The great plain stretched away to
the northward, variegated near at hand with the quaint pattern of the
fields, but growing ever more and more indistinct, until it became a mere
hurly-burly of trees and bright crescents of river, and snatches of
slanting road, and finally melted into the ambiguous cloud-land over the
horizon.  The sky was an opal-grey, touched here and there with blue, and
with certain faint russets that looked as if they were reflections of the
colour of the autumnal woods below.  I could hear the ploughmen shouting
to their horses, the uninterrupted carol of larks innumerable overhead,
and, from a field where the shepherd was marshalling his flock, a sweet
tumultuous tinkle of sheep-bells.  All these noises came to me very thin
and distinct in the clear air.  There was a wonderful sentiment of
distance and atmosphere about the day and the place.

I mounted the hill yet farther by a rough staircase of chalky footholds
cut in the turf.  The hills about Wendover and, as far as I could see,
all the hills in Buckinghamshire, wear a sort of hood of beech
plantation; but in this particular case the hood had been suffered to
extend itself into something more like a cloak, and hung down about the
shoulders of the hill in wide folds, instead of lying flatly along the
summit.  The trees grew so close, and their boughs were so matted
together, that the whole wood looked as dense as a bush of heather.  The
prevailing colour was a dull, smouldering red, touched here and there
with vivid yellow.  But the autumn had scarce advanced beyond the
outworks; it was still almost summer in the heart of the wood; and as
soon as I had scrambled through the hedge, I found myself in a dim green
forest atmosphere under eaves of virgin foliage.  In places where the
wood had itself for a background and the trees were massed together
thickly, the colour became intensified and almost gem-like: a perfect
fire green, that seemed none the less green for a few specks of autumn
gold.  None of the trees were of any considerable age or stature; but
they grew well together, I have said; and as the road turned and wound
among them, they fell into pleasant groupings and broke the light up
pleasantly.  Sometimes there would be a colonnade of slim, straight
tree-stems with the light running down them as down the shafts of
pillars, that looked as if it ought to lead to something, and led only to
a corner of sombre and intricate jungle.  Sometimes a spray of delicate
foliage would be thrown out flat, the light lying flatly along the top of
it, so that against a dark background it seemed almost luminous.  There
was a great bush over the thicket (for, indeed, it was more of a thicket
than a wood); and the vague rumours that went among the tree-tops, and
the occasional rustling of big birds or hares among the undergrowth, had
in them a note of almost treacherous stealthiness, that put the
imagination on its guard and made me walk warily on the russet carpeting
of last year’s leaves.  The spirit of the place seemed to be all
attention; the wood listened as I went, and held its breath to number my
footfalls.  One could not help feeling that there ought to be some reason
for this stillness; whether, as the bright old legend goes, Pan lay
somewhere near in siesta, or whether, perhaps, the heaven was meditating
rain, and the first drops would soon come pattering through the leaves.
It was not unpleasant, in such an humour, to catch sight, ever and anon,
of large spaces of the open plain.  This happened only where the path lay
much upon the slope, and there was a flaw in the solid leafy thatch of
the wood at some distance below the level at which I chanced myself to be
walking; then, indeed, little scraps of foreshortened distance, miniature
fields, and Lilliputian houses and hedgerow trees would appear for a
moment in the aperture, and grow larger and smaller, and change and melt
one into another, as I continued to go forward, and so shift my point of
view.

For ten minutes, perhaps, I had heard from somewhere before me in the
wood a strange, continuous noise, as of clucking, cooing, and gobbling,
now and again interrupted by a harsh scream.  As I advanced towards this
noise, it began to grow lighter about me, and I caught sight, through the
trees, of sundry gables and enclosure walls, and something like the tops
of a rickyard.  And sure enough, a rickyard it proved to be, and a neat
little farm-steading, with the beech-woods growing almost to the door of
it.  Just before me, however, as I came upon the path, the trees drew
back and let in a wide flood of daylight on to a circular lawn.  It was
here that the noises had their origin.  More than a score of peacocks
(there are altogether thirty at the farm), a proper contingent of
peahens, and a great multitude that I could not number of more ordinary
barn-door fowls, were all feeding together on this little open lawn among
the beeches.  They fed in a dense crowd, which swayed to and fro, and
came hither and thither as by a sort of tide, and of which the surface
was agitated like the surface of a sea as each bird guzzled his head
along the ground after the scattered corn.  The clucking, cooing noise
that had led me thither was formed by the blending together of countless
expressions of individual contentment into one collective expression of
contentment, or general grace during meat.  Every now and again a big
peacock would separate himself from the mob and take a stately turn or
two about the lawn, or perhaps mount for a moment upon the rail, and
there shrilly publish to the world his satisfaction with himself and what
he had to eat.  It happened, for my sins, that none of these admirable
birds had anything beyond the merest rudiment of a tail.  Tails, it
seemed, were out of season just then.  But they had their necks for all
that; and by their necks alone they do as much surpass all the other
birds of our grey climate as they fall in quality of song below the
blackbird or the lark.  Surely the peacock, with its incomparable parade
of glorious colour and the scannel voice of it issuing forth, as in
mockery, from its painted throat, must, like my landlady’s butterflies at
Great Missenden, have been invented by some skilful fabulist for the
consolation and support of homely virtue: or rather, perhaps, by a
fabulist not quite so skilful, who made points for the moment without
having a studious enough eye to the complete effect; for I thought these
melting greens and blues so beautiful that afternoon, that I would have
given them my vote just then before the sweetest pipe in all the spring
woods.  For indeed there is no piece of colour of the same extent in
nature, that will so flatter and satisfy the lust of a man’s eyes; and to
come upon so many of them, after these acres of stone-coloured heavens
and russet woods, and grey-brown ploughlands and white roads, was like
going three whole days’ journey to the southward, or a month back into
the summer.

I was sorry to leave _Peacock Farm_—for so the place is called, after the
name of its splendid pensioners—and go forwards again in the quiet woods.
It began to grow both damp and dusk under the beeches; and as the day
declined the colour faded out of the foliage; and shadow, without form
and void, took the place of all the fine tracery of leaves and delicate
gradations of living green that had before accompanied my walk.  I had
been sorry to leave _Peacock Farm_, but I was not sorry to find myself
once more in the open road, under a pale and somewhat troubled-looking
evening sky, and put my best foot foremost for the inn at Wendover.

Wendover, in itself, is a straggling, purposeless sort of place.
Everybody seems to have had his own opinion as to how the street should
go; or rather, every now and then a man seems to have arisen with a new
idea on the subject, and led away a little sect of neighbours to join in
his heresy.  It would have somewhat the look of an abortive
watering-place, such as we may now see them here and there along the
coast, but for the age of the houses, the comely quiet design of some of
them, and the look of long habitation, of a life that is settled and
rooted, and makes it worth while to train flowers about the windows, and
otherwise shape the dwelling to the humour of the inhabitant.  The
church, which might perhaps have served as rallying-point for these loose
houses, and pulled the township into something like intelligible unity,
stands some distance off among great trees; but the inn (to take the
public buildings in order of importance) is in what I understand to be
the principal street: a pleasant old house, with bay-windows, and three
peaked gables, and many swallows’ nests plastered about the eaves.

The interior of the inn was answerable to the outside: indeed, I never
saw any room much more to be admired than the low wainscoted parlour in
which I spent the remainder of the evening.  It was a short oblong in
shape, save that the fireplace was built across one of the angles so as
to cut it partially off, and the opposite angle was similarly truncated
by a corner cupboard.  The wainscot was white, and there was a Turkey
carpet on the floor, so old that it might have been imported by Walter
Shandy before he retired, worn almost through in some places, but in
others making a good show of blues and oranges, none the less harmonious
for being somewhat faded.  The corner cupboard was agreeable in design;
and there were just the right things upon the shelves—decanters and
tumblers, and blue plates, and one red rose in a glass of water.  The
furniture was old-fashioned and stiff.  Everything was in keeping, down
to the ponderous leaden inkstand on the round table.  And you may fancy
how pleasant it looked, all flushed and flickered over by the light of a
brisk companionable fire, and seen, in a strange, tilted sort of
perspective, in the three compartments of the old mirror above the
chimney.  As I sat reading in the great armchair, I kept looking round
with the tail of my eye at the quaint, bright picture that was about me,
and could not help some pleasure and a certain childish pride in forming
part of it.  The book I read was about Italy in the early Renaissance,
the pageantries and the light loves of princes, the passion of men for
learning, and poetry, and art; but it was written, by good luck, after a
solid, prosaic fashion, that suited the room infinitely more nearly than
the matter; and the result was that I thought less, perhaps, of Lippo
Lippi, or Lorenzo, or Politian, than of the good Englishman who had
written in that volume what he knew of them, and taken so much pleasure
in his solemn polysyllables.

I was not left without society.  My landlord had a very pretty little
daughter, whom we shall call Lizzie.  If I had made any notes at the
time, I might be able to tell you something definite of her appearance.
But faces have a trick of growing more and more spiritualised and
abstract in the memory, until nothing remains of them but a look, a
haunting expression; just that secret quality in a face that is apt to
slip out somehow under the cunningest painter’s touch, and leave the
portrait dead for the lack of it.  And if it is hard to catch with the
finest of camel’s-hair pencils, you may think how hopeless it must be to
pursue after it with clumsy words.  If I say, for instance, that this
look, which I remember as Lizzie, was something wistful that seemed
partly to come of slyness and in part of simplicity, and that I am
inclined to imagine it had something to do with the daintiest suspicion
of a cast in one of her large eyes, I shall have said all that I can, and
the reader will not be much advanced towards comprehension.  I had struck
up an acquaintance with this little damsel in the morning, and professed
much interest in her dolls, and an impatient desire to see the large one
which was kept locked away for great occasions.  And so I had not been
very long in the parlour before the door opened, and in came Miss Lizzie
with two dolls tucked clumsily under her arm.  She was followed by her
brother John, a year or so younger than herself, not simply to play
propriety at our interview, but to show his own two whips in emulation of
his sister’s dolls.  I did my best to make myself agreeable to my
visitors, showing much admiration for the dolls and dolls’ dresses, and,
with a very serious demeanour, asking many questions about their age and
character.  I do not think that Lizzie distrusted my sincerity, but it
was evident that she was both bewildered and a little contemptuous.
Although she was ready herself to treat her dolls as if they were alive,
she seemed to think rather poorly of any grown person who could fall
heartily into the spirit of the fiction.  Sometimes she would look at me
with gravity and a sort of disquietude, as though she really feared I
must be out of my wits.  Sometimes, as when I inquired too particularly
into the question of their names, she laughed at me so long and heartily
that I began to feel almost embarrassed.  But when, in an evil moment, I
asked to be allowed to kiss one of them, she could keep herself no longer
to herself.  Clambering down from the chair on which she sat perched to
show me, Cornelia-like, her jewels, she ran straight out of the room and
into the bar—it was just across the passage,—and I could hear her telling
her mother in loud tones, but apparently more in sorrow than in
merriment, that _the gentleman in the parlour wanted to kiss Dolly_.  I
fancy she was determined to save me from this humiliating action, even in
spite of myself, for she never gave me the desired permission.  She
reminded me of an old dog I once knew, who would never suffer the master
of the house to dance, out of an exaggerated sense of the dignity of that
master’s place and carriage.

After the young people were gone there was but one more incident ere I
went to bed.  I heard a party of children go up and down the dark street
for a while, singing together sweetly.  And the mystery of this little
incident was so pleasant to me that I purposely refrained from asking who
they were, and wherefore they went singing at so late an hour.  One can
rarely be in a pleasant place without meeting with some pleasant
accident.  I have a conviction that these children would not have gone
singing before the inn unless the inn-parlour had been the delightful
place it was.  At least, if I had been in the customary public room of
the modern hotel, with all its disproportions and discomforts, my ears
would have been dull, and there would have been some ugly temper or other
uppermost in my spirit, and so they would have wasted their songs upon an
unworthy hearer.

Next morning I went along to visit the church.  It is a long-backed
red-and-white building, very much restored, and stands in a pleasant
graveyard among those great trees of which I have spoken already.  The
sky was drowned in a mist.  Now and again pulses of cold wind went about
the enclosure, and set the branches busy overhead, and the dead leaves
scurrying into the angles of the church buttresses.  Now and again, also,
I could hear the dull sudden fall of a chestnut among the grass—the dog
would bark before the rectory door—or there would come a clinking of
pails from the stable-yard behind.  But in spite of these occasional
interruptions—in spite, also, of the continuous autumn twittering that
filled the trees—the chief impression somehow was one as of utter
silence, insomuch that the little greenish bell that peeped out of a
window in the tower disquieted me with a sense of some possible and more
inharmonious disturbance.  The grass was wet, as if with a hoar frost
that had just been melted.  I do not know that ever I saw a morning more
autumnal.  As I went to and fro among the graves, I saw some flowers set
reverently before a recently erected tomb, and drawing near, was almost
startled to find they lay on the grave a man seventy-two years old when
he died.  We are accustomed to strew flowers only over the young, where
love has been cut short untimely, and great possibilities have been
restrained by death.  We strew them there in token, that these
possibilities, in some deeper sense, shall yet be realised, and the touch
of our dead loves remain with us and guide us to the end.  And yet there
was more significance, perhaps, and perhaps a greater consolation, in
this little nosegay on the grave of one who had died old.  We are apt to
make so much of the tragedy of death, and think so little of the enduring
tragedy of some men’s lives, that we see more to lament for in a life cut
off in the midst of usefulness and love, than in one that miserably
survives all love and usefulness, and goes about the world the phantom of
itself, without hope, or joy, or any consolation.  These flowers seemed
not so much the token of love that survived death, as of something yet
more beautiful—of love that had lived a man’s life out to an end with
him, and been faithful and companionable, and not weary of loving,
throughout all these years.

The morning cleared a little, and the sky was once more the old
stone-coloured vault over the sallow meadows and the russet woods, as I
set forth on a dog-cart from Wendover to Tring.  The road lay for a good
distance along the side of the hills, with the great plain below on one
hand, and the beech-woods above on the other.  The fields were busy with
people ploughing and sowing; every here and there a jug of ale stood in
the angle of the hedge, and I could see many a team wait smoking in the
furrow as ploughman or sower stepped aside for a moment to take a
draught.  Over all the brown ploughlands, and under all the leafless
hedgerows, there was a stout piece of labour abroad, and, as it were, a
spirit of picnic.  The horses smoked and the men laboured and shouted and
drank in the sharp autumn morning; so that one had a strong effect of
large, open-air existence.  The fellow who drove me was something of a
humourist; and his conversation was all in praise of an agricultural
labourer’s way of life.  It was he who called my attention to these jugs
of ale by the hedgerow; he could not sufficiently express the liberality
of these men’s wages; he told me how sharp an appetite was given by
breaking up the earth in the morning air, whether with plough or spade,
and cordially admired this provision of nature.  He sang _O fortunatos
agricolas_! indeed, in every possible key, and with many cunning
inflections, till I began to wonder what was the use of such people as
Mr. Arch, and to sing the same air myself in a more diffident manner.

Tring was reached, and then Tring railway-station; for the two are not
very near, the good people of Tring having held the railway, of old days,
in extreme apprehension, lest some day it should break loose in the town
and work mischief.  I had a last walk, among russet beeches as usual, and
the air filled, as usual, with the carolling of larks; I heard shots
fired in the distance, and saw, as a new sign of the fulfilled autumn,
two horsemen exercising a pack of fox-hounds.  And then the train came
and carried me back to London.



IV.
A WINTER’S WALK IN CARRICK AND GALLOWAY
A FRAGMENT
1876


At the famous bridge of Doon, Kyle, the central district of the shire of
Ayr, marches with Carrick, the most southerly.  On the Carrick side of
the river rises a hill of somewhat gentle conformation, cleft with
shallow dells, and sown here and there with farms and tufts of wood.
Inland, it loses itself, joining, I suppose, the great herd of similar
hills that occupies the centre of the Lowlands.  Towards the sea it
swells out the coast-line into a protuberance, like a bay-window in a
plan, and is fortified against the surf behind bold crags.  This hill is
known as the Brown Hill of Carrick, or, more shortly, Brown Carrick.

It had snowed overnight.  The fields were all sheeted up; they were
tucked in among the snow, and their shape was modelled through the pliant
counterpane, like children tucked in by a fond mother.  The wind had made
ripples and folds upon the surface, like what the sea, in quiet weather,
leaves upon the sand.  There was a frosty stifle in the air.  An effusion
of coppery light on the summit of Brown Carrick showed where the sun was
trying to look through; but along the horizon clouds of cold fog had
settled down, so that there was no distinction of sky and sea.  Over the
white shoulders of the headlands, or in the opening of bays, there was
nothing but a great vacancy and blackness; and the road as it drew near
the edge of the cliff seemed to skirt the shores of creation and void
space.

The snow crunched under foot, and at farms all the dogs broke out barking
as they smelt a passer-by upon the road.  I met a fine old fellow, who
might have sat as the father in ‘The Cottar’s Saturday Night,’ and who
swore most heathenishly at a cow he was driving.  And a little after I
scraped acquaintance with a poor body tramping out to gather cockles.
His face was wrinkled by exposure; it was broken up into flakes and
channels, like mud beginning to dry, and weathered in two colours, an
incongruous pink and grey.  He had a faint air of being surprised—which,
God knows, he might well be—that life had gone so ill with him.  The
shape of his trousers was in itself a jest, so strangely were they bagged
and ravelled about his knees; and his coat was all bedaubed with clay as
tough he had lain in a rain-dub during the New Year’s festivity.  I will
own I was not sorry to think he had had a merry New Year, and been young
again for an evening; but I was sorry to see the mark still there.  One
could not expect such an old gentleman to be much of a dandy or a great
student of respectability in dress; but there might have been a wife at
home, who had brushed out similar stains after fifty New Years, now
become old, or a round-armed daughter, who would wish to have him neat,
were it only out of self-respect and for the ploughman sweetheart when he
looks round at night.  Plainly, there was nothing of this in his life,
and years and loneliness hung heavily on his old arms.  He was
seventy-six, he told me; and nobody would give a day’s work to a man that
age: they would think he couldn’t do it.  ‘And, ’deed,’ he went on, with
a sad little chuckle, ‘’deed, I doubt if I could.’  He said goodbye to me
at a footpath, and crippled wearily off to his work.  It will make your
heart ache if you think of his old fingers groping in the snow.

He told me I was to turn down beside the school-house for Dunure.  And
so, when I found a lone house among the snow, and heard a babble of
childish voices from within, I struck off into a steep road leading
downwards to the sea.  Dunure lies close under the steep hill: a haven
among the rocks, a breakwater in consummate disrepair, much apparatus for
drying nets, and a score or so of fishers’ houses.  Hard by, a few shards
of ruined castle overhang the sea, a few vaults, and one tall gable
honeycombed with windows.  The snow lay on the beach to the tidemark.  It
was daubed on to the sills of the ruin: it roosted in the crannies of the
rock like white sea-birds; even on outlying reefs there would be a little
cock of snow, like a toy lighthouse.  Everything was grey and white in a
cold and dolorous sort of shepherd’s plaid.  In the profound silence,
broken only by the noise of oars at sea, a horn was sounded twice; and I
saw the postman, girt with two bags, pause a moment at the end of the
clachan for letters.

It is, perhaps, characteristic of Dunure that none were brought him.

The people at the public-house did not seem well pleased to see me, and
though I would fain have stayed by the kitchen fire, sent me ‘ben the
hoose’ into the guest-room.  This guest-room at Dunure was painted in
quite æsthetic fashion.  There are rooms in the same taste not a hundred
miles from London, where persons of an extreme sensibility meet together
without embarrassment.  It was all in a fine dull bottle-green and black;
a grave harmonious piece of colouring, with nothing, so far as coarser
folk can judge, to hurt the better feelings of the most exquisite purist.
A cherry-red half window-blind kept up an imaginary warmth in the cold
room, and threw quite a glow on the floor.  Twelve cockle-shells and a
half-penny china figure were ranged solemnly along the mantel-shelf.
Even the spittoon was an original note, and instead of sawdust contained
sea-shells.  And as for the hearthrug, it would merit an article to
itself, and a coloured diagram to help the text.  It was patchwork, but
the patchwork of the poor; no glowing shreds of old brocade and Chinese
silk, shaken together in the kaleidoscope of some tasteful housewife’s
fancy; but a work of art in its own way, and plainly a labour of love.
The patches came exclusively from people’s raiment.  There was no colour
more brilliant than a heather mixture; ‘My Johnny’s grey breeks,’ well
polished over the oar on the boat’s thwart, entered largely into its
composition.  And the spoils of an old black cloth coat, that had been
many a Sunday to church, added something (save the mark!) of preciousness
to the material.

While I was at luncheon four carters came in—long-limbed, muscular
Ayrshire Scots, with lean, intelligent faces.  Four quarts of stout were
ordered; they kept filling the tumbler with the other hand as they drank;
and in less time than it takes me to write these words the four quarts
were finished—another round was proposed, discussed, and negatived—and
they were creaking out of the village with their carts.

The ruins drew you towards them.  You never saw any place more desolate
from a distance, nor one that less belied its promise near at hand.  Some
crows and gulls flew away croaking as I scrambled in.  The snow had
drifted into the vaults.  The clachan dabbled with snow, the white hills,
the black sky, the sea marked in the coves with faint circular wrinkles,
the whole world, as it looked from a loop-hole in Dunure, was cold,
wretched, and out-at-elbows.  If you had been a wicked baron and
compelled to stay there all the afternoon, you would have had a rare fit
of remorse.  How you would have heaped up the fire and gnawed your
fingers!  I think it would have come to homicide before the evening—if it
were only for the pleasure of seeing something red!  And the masters of
Dunure, it is to be noticed, were remarkable of old for inhumanity.  One
of these vaults where the snow had drifted was that ‘black route’ where
‘Mr. Alane Stewart, Commendatour of Crossraguel,’ endured his fiery
trials.  On the 1st and 7th of September 1570 (ill dates for Mr. Alan!),
Gilbert, Earl of Cassilis, his chaplain, his baker, his cook, his
pantryman, and another servant, bound the Poor Commendator ‘betwix an
iron chimlay and a fire,’ and there cruelly roasted him until he signed
away his abbacy.  It is one of the ugliest stories of an ugly period, but
not, somehow, without such a flavour of the ridiculous as makes it hard
to sympathise quite seriously with the victim.  And it is consoling to
remember that he got away at last, and kept his abbacy, and, over and
above, had a pension from the Earl until he died.

Some way beyond Dunure a wide bay, of somewhat less unkindly aspect,
opened out.  Colzean plantations lay all along the steep shore, and there
was a wooded hill towards the centre, where the trees made a sort of
shadowy etching over the snow.  The road went down and up, and past a
blacksmith’s cottage that made fine music in the valley.  Three
compatriots of Burns drove up to me in a cart.  They were all drunk, and
asked me jeeringly if this was the way to Dunure.  I told them it was;
and my answer was received with unfeigned merriment.  One gentleman was
so much tickled he nearly fell out of the cart; indeed, he was only saved
by a companion, who either had not so fine a sense of humour or had
drunken less.

‘The toune of Mayboll,’ says the inimitable Abercrummie, {136} ‘stands
upon an ascending ground from east to west, and lyes open to the south.
It hath one principals street, with houses upon both sides, built of
freestone; and it is beautifyed with the situation of two castles, one at
each end of this street.  That on the east belongs to the Erle of
Cassilis.  On the west end is a castle, which belonged sometime to the
laird of Blairquan, which is now the tolbuith, and is adorned with a
pyremide [conical roof], and a row of ballesters round it raised from the
top of the staircase, into which they have mounted a fyne clock.  There
be four lanes which pass from the principall street; one is called the
Black Vennel, which is steep, declining to the south-west, and leads to a
lower street, which is far larger than the high chiefe street, and it
runs from the Kirkland to the Well Trees, in which there have been many
pretty buildings, belonging to the severall gentry of the countrey, who
were wont to resort thither in winter, and divert themselves in converse
together at their owne houses.  It was once the principall street of the
town; but many of these houses of the gentry having been decayed and
ruined, it has lost much of its ancient beautie.  Just opposite to this
vennel, there is another that leads north-west, from the chiefe street to
the green, which is a pleasant plott of ground, enclosed round with an
earthen wall, wherein they were wont to play football, but now at the
Gowff and byasse-bowls.  The houses of this towne, on both sides of the
street, have their several gardens belonging to them; and in the lower
street there be some pretty orchards, that yield store of good fruit.’
As Patterson says, this description is near enough even to-day, and is
mighty nicely written to boot.  I am bound to add, of my own experience,
that Maybole is tumbledown and dreary.  Prosperous enough in reality, it
has an air of decay; and though the population has increased, a roofless
house every here and there seems to protest the contrary.  The women are
more than well-favoured, and the men fine tall fellows; but they look
slipshod and dissipated.  As they slouched at street corners, or stood
about gossiping in the snow, it seemed they would have been more at home
in the slums of a large city than here in a country place betwixt a
village and a town.  I heard a great deal about drinking, and a great
deal about religious revivals: two things in which the Scottish character
is emphatic and most unlovely.  In particular, I heard of clergymen who
were employing their time in explaining to a delighted audience the
physics of the Second Coming.  It is not very likely any of us will be
asked to help.  If we were, it is likely we should receive instructions
for the occasion, and that on more reliable authority.  And so I can only
figure to myself a congregation truly curious in such flights of
theological fancy, as one of veteran and accomplished saints, who have
fought the good fight to an end and outlived all worldly passion, and are
to be regarded rather as a part of the Church Triumphant than the poor,
imperfect company on earth.  And yet I saw some young fellows about the
smoking-room who seemed, in the eyes of one who cannot count himself
strait-laced, in need of some more practical sort of teaching.  They
seemed only eager to get drunk, and to do so speedily.  It was not much
more than a week after the New Year; and to hear them return on their
past bouts with a gusto unspeakable was not altogether pleasing.  Here is
one snatch of talk, for the accuracy of which I can vouch—

‘Ye had a spree here last Tuesday?’

‘We had that!’

‘I wasna able to be oot o’ my bed.  Man, I was awful bad on Wednesday.’

‘Ay, ye were gey bad.’

And you should have seen the bright eyes, and heard the sensual accents!
They recalled their doings with devout gusto and a sort of rational
pride.  Schoolboys, after their first drunkenness, are not more boastful;
a cock does not plume himself with a more unmingled satisfaction as he
paces forth among his harem; and yet these were grown men, and by no
means short of wit.  It was hard to suppose they were very eager about
the Second Coming: it seemed as if some elementary notions of temperance
for the men and seemliness for the women would have gone nearer the mark.
And yet, as it seemed to me typical of much that is evil in Scotland,
Maybole is also typical of much that is best.  Some of the factories,
which have taken the place of weaving in the town’s economy, were
originally founded and are still possessed by self-made men of the
sterling, stout old breed—fellows who made some little bit of an
invention, borrowed some little pocketful of capital, and then, step by
step, in courage, thrift and industry, fought their way upwards to an
assured position.

Abercrummie has told you enough of the Tolbooth; but, as a bit of
spelling, this inscription on the Tolbooth bell seems too delicious to
withhold: ‘This bell is founded at Maiboll Bi Danel Geli, a Frenchman,
the 6th November, 1696, Bi appointment of the heritors of the parish of
Maiyboll.’  The Castle deserves more notice.  It is a large and shapely
tower, plain from the ground upwards, but with a zone of ornamentation
running about the top.  In a general way this adornment is perched on the
very summit of the chimney-stacks; but there is one corner more elaborate
than the rest.  A very heavy string-course runs round the upper story,
and just above this, facing up the street, the tower carries a small
oriel window, fluted and corbelled and carved about with stone heads.  It
is so ornate it has somewhat the air of a shrine.  And it was, indeed,
the casket of a very precious jewel, for in the room to which it gives
light lay, for long years, the heroine of the sweet old ballad of
‘Johnnie Faa’—she who, at the call of the gipsies’ songs, ‘came tripping
down the stair, and all her maids before her.’  Some people say the
ballad has no basis in fact, and have written, I believe, unanswerable
papers to the proof.  But in the face of all that, the very look of that
high oriel window convinces the imagination, and we enter into all the
sorrows of the imprisoned dame.  We conceive the burthen of the long,
lack-lustre days, when she leaned her sick head against the mullions, and
saw the burghers loafing in Maybole High Street, and the children at
play, and ruffling gallants riding by from hunt or foray.  We conceive
the passion of odd moments, when the wind threw up to her some snatch of
song, and her heart grew hot within her, and her eyes overflowed at the
memory of the past.  And even if the tale be not true of this or that
lady, or this or that old tower, it is true in the essence of all men and
women: for all of us, some time or other, hear the gipsies singing; over
all of us is the glamour cast.  Some resist and sit resolutely by the
fire.  Most go and are brought back again, like Lady Cassilis.  A few, of
the tribe of Waring, go and are seen no more; only now and again, at
springtime, when the gipsies’ song is afloat in the amethyst evening, we
can catch their voices in the glee.

By night it was clearer, and Maybole more visible than during the day.
Clouds coursed over the sky in great masses; the full moon battled the
other way, and lit up the snow with gleams of flying silver; the town
came down the hill in a cascade of brown gables, bestridden by smooth
white roofs, and sprangled here and there with lighted windows.  At
either end the snow stood high up in the darkness, on the peak of the
Tolbooth and among the chimneys of the Castle.  As the moon flashed a
bull’s-eye glitter across the town between the racing clouds, the white
roofs leaped into relief over the gables and the chimney-stacks, and
their shadows over the white roofs.  In the town itself the lit face of
the clock peered down the street; an hour was hammered out on Mr. Geli’s
bell, and from behind the red curtains of a public-house some one trolled
out—a compatriot of Burns, again!—‘The saut tear blin’s my e’e.’

Next morning there was sun and a flapping wind.  From the street corners
of Maybole I could catch breezy glimpses of green fields.  The road
underfoot was wet and heavy—part ice, part snow, part water, and any one
I met greeted me, by way of salutation, with ‘A fine thowe’ (thaw).  My
way lay among rather bleak bills, and past bleak ponds and dilapidated
castles and monasteries, to the Highland-looking village of Kirkoswald.
It has little claim to notice, save that Burns came there to study
surveying in the summer of 1777, and there also, in the kirkyard, the
original of Tam o’ Shanter sleeps his last sleep.  It is worth noticing,
however, that this was the first place I thought ‘Highland-looking.’
Over the bill from Kirkoswald a farm-road leads to the coast.  As I came
down above Turnberry, the sea view was indeed strangely different from
the day before.  The cold fogs were all blown away; and there was Ailsa
Craig, like a refraction, magnified and deformed, of the Bass Rock; and
there were the chiselled mountain-tops of Arran, veined and tipped with
snow; and behind, and fainter, the low, blue land of Cantyre.  Cottony
clouds stood in a great castle over the top of Arran, and blew out in
long streamers to the south.  The sea was bitten all over with white;
little ships, tacking up and down the Firth, lay over at different angles
in the wind.  On Shanter they were ploughing lea; a cart foal, all in a
field by himself, capered and whinnied as if the spring were in him.

The road from Turnberry to Girvan lies along the shore, among sand-hills
and by wildernesses of tumbled bent.  Every here and there a few cottages
stood together beside a bridge.  They had one odd feature, not easy to
describe in words: a triangular porch projected from above the door,
supported at the apex by a single upright post; a secondary door was
hinged to the post, and could be hasped on either cheek of the real
entrance; so, whether the wind was north or south, the cotter could make
himself a triangular bight of shelter where to set his chair and finish a
pipe with comfort.  There is one objection to this device; for, as the
post stands in the middle of the fairway, any one precipitately issuing
from the cottage must run his chance of a broken head.  So far as I am
aware, it is peculiar to the little corner of country about Girvan.  And
that corner is noticeable for more reasons: it is certainly one of the
most characteristic districts in Scotland, It has this movable porch by
way of architecture; it has, as we shall see, a sort of remnant of
provincial costume, and it has the handsomest population in the Lowlands.
. . .



V.
FOREST NOTES 1875–6


ON THE PLAIN


Perhaps the reader knows already the aspect of the great levels of the
Gâtinais, where they border with the wooded hills of Fontainebleau.  Here
and there a few grey rocks creep out of the forest as if to sun
themselves.  Here and there a few apple-trees stand together on a knoll.
The quaint, undignified tartan of a myriad small fields dies out into the
distance; the strips blend and disappear; and the dead flat lies forth
open and empty, with no accident save perhaps a thin line of trees or
faint church spire against the sky.  Solemn and vast at all times, in
spite of pettiness in the near details, the impression becomes more
solemn and vast towards evening.  The sun goes down, a swollen orange, as
it were into the sea.  A blue-clad peasant rides home, with a harrow
smoking behind him among the dry clods.  Another still works with his
wife in their little strip.  An immense shadow fills the plain; these
people stand in it up to their shoulders; and their heads, as they stoop
over their work and rise again, are relieved from time to time against
the golden sky.

These peasant farmers are well off nowadays, and not by any means
overworked; but somehow you always see in them the historical
representative of the serf of yore, and think not so much of present
times, which may be prosperous enough, as of the old days when the
peasant was taxed beyond possibility of payment, and lived, in Michelet’s
image, like a hare between two furrows.  These very people now weeding
their patch under the broad sunset, that very man and his wife, it seems
to us, have suffered all the wrongs of France.  It is they who have been
their country’s scapegoat for long ages; they who, generation after
generation, have sowed and not reaped, reaped and another has garnered;
and who have now entered into their reward, and enjoy their good things
in their turn.  For the days are gone by when the Seigneur ruled and
profited.  ‘Le Seigneur,’ says the old formula, ‘enferme ses manants
comme sous porte et gonds, du ciel à la terre.  Tout est à lui, forêt
chenue, oiseau dans l’air, poisson dans l’eau, bête an buisson, l’onde
qui coule, la cloche dont le son au loin roule.’  Such was his old state
of sovereignty, a local god rather than a mere king.  And now you may ask
yourself where he is, and look round for vestiges of my late lord, and in
all the country-side there is no trace of him but his forlorn and fallen
mansion.  At the end of a long avenue, now sown with grain, in the midst
of a close full of cypresses and lilacs, ducks and crowing chanticleers
and droning bees, the old château lifts its red chimneys and peaked roofs
and turning vanes into the wind and sun.  There is a glad spring bustle
in the air, perhaps, and the lilacs are all in flower, and the creepers
green about the broken balustrade: but no spring shall revive the honour
of the place.  Old women of the people, little, children of the people,
saunter and gambol in the walled court or feed the ducks in the neglected
moat.  Plough-horses, mighty of limb, browse in the long stables.  The
dial-hand on the clock waits for some better hour.  Out on the plain,
where hot sweat trickles into men’s eyes, and the spade goes in deep and
comes up slowly, perhaps the peasant may feel a movement of joy at his
heart when he thinks that these spacious chimneys are now cold, which
have so often blazed and flickered upon gay folk at supper, while he and
his hollow-eyed children watched through the night with empty bellies and
cold feet.  And perhaps, as he raises his head and sees the forest lying
like a coast-line of low hills along the sea-level of the plain, perhaps
forest and château hold no unsimilar place in his affections.

If the château was my lord’s, the forest was my lord the king’s; neither
of them for this poor Jacques.  If he thought to eke out his meagre way
of life by some petty theft of wood for the fire, or for a new roof-tree,
he found himself face to face with a whole department, from the Grand
Master of the Woods and Waters, who was a high-born lord, down to the
common sergeant, who was a peasant like himself, and wore stripes or a
bandoleer by way of uniform.  For the first offence, by the Salic law,
there was a fine of fifteen sols; and should a man be taken more than
once in fault, or circumstances aggravate the colour of his guilt, he
might be whipped, branded, or hanged.  There was a hangman over at Melun,
and, I doubt not, a fine tall gibbet hard by the town gate, where Jacques
might see his fellows dangle against the sky as he went to market.

And then, if he lived near to a cover, there would be the more hares and
rabbits to eat out his harvest, and the more hunters to trample it down.
My lord has a new horn from England.  He has laid out seven francs in
decorating it with silver and gold, and fitting it with a silken leash to
hang about his shoulder.  The hounds have been on a pilgrimage to the
shrine of Saint Mesmer, or Saint Hubert in the Ardennes, or some other
holy intercessor who has made a speciality of the health of hunting-dogs.
In the grey dawn the game was turned and the branch broken by our best
piqueur.  A rare day’s hunting lies before us.  Wind a jolly flourish,
sound the _bien-aller_ with all your lungs.  Jacques must stand by, hat
in hand, while the quarry and hound and huntsman sweep across his field,
and a year’s sparing and labouring is as though it had not been.  If he
can see the ruin with a good enough grace, who knows but he may fall in
favour with my lord; who knows but his son may become the last and least
among the servants at his lordship’s kennel—one of the two poor varlets
who get no wages and sleep at night among the hounds? {147}

For all that, the forest has been of use to Jacques, not only warming him
with fallen wood, but giving him shelter in days of sore trouble, when my
lord of the château, with all his troopers and trumpets, had been beaten
from field after field into some ultimate fastness, or lay over-seas in
an English prison.  In these dark days, when the watch on the church
steeple saw the smoke of burning villages on the sky-line, or a clump of
spears and fluttering pensions drawing nigh across the plain, these good
folk gat them up, with all their household gods, into the wood, whence,
from some high spur, their timid scouts might overlook the coming and
going of the marauders, and see the harvest ridden down, and church and
cottage go up to heaven all night in flame.  It was but an unhomely
refuge that the woods afforded, where they must abide all change of
weather and keep house with wolves and vipers.  Often there was none left
alive, when they returned, to show the old divisions of field from field.
And yet, as times went, when the wolves entered at night into depopulated
Paris, and perhaps De Retz was passing by with a company of demons like
himself, even in these caves and thickets there were glad hearts and
grateful prayers.

Once or twice, as I say, in the course of the ages, the forest may have
served the peasant well, but at heart it is a royal forest, and noble by
old associations.  These woods have rung to the horns of all the kings of
France, from Philip Augustus downwards.  They have seen Saint Louis
exercise the dogs he brought with him from Egypt; Francis I. go a-hunting
with ten thousand horses in his train; and Peter of Russia following his
first stag.  And so they are still haunted for the imagination by royal
hunts and progresses, and peopled with the faces of memorable men of
yore.  And this distinction is not only in virtue of the pastime of dead
monarchs.  Great events, great revolutions, great cycles in the affairs
of men, have here left their note, here taken shape in some significant
and dramatic situation.  It was hence that Gruise and his leaguers led
Charles the Ninth a prisoner to Paris.  Here, booted and spurred, and
with all his dogs about him, Napoleon met the Pope beside a woodland
cross.  Here, on his way to Elba not so long after, he kissed the eagle
of the Old Guard, and spoke words of passionate farewell to his soldiers.
And here, after Waterloo, rather than yield its ensign to the new power,
one of his faithful regiments burned that memorial of so much toil and
glory on the Grand Master’s table, and drank its dust in brandy, as a
devout priest consumes the remnants of the Host.



IN THE SEASON


Close into the edge of the forest, so close that the trees of the
_bornage_ stand pleasantly about the last houses, sits a certain small
and very quiet village.  There is but one street, and that, not long ago,
was a green lane, where the cattle browsed between the doorsteps.  As you
go up this street, drawing ever nearer the beginning of the wood, you
will arrive at last before an inn where artists lodge.  To the door (for
I imagine it to be six o’clock on some fine summer’s even), half a dozen,
or maybe half a score, of people have brought out chairs, and now sit
sunning themselves, and waiting the omnibus from Melun.  If you go on
into the court you will find as many more, some in billiard-room over
absinthe and a match of corks some without over a last cigar and a
vermouth.  The doves coo and flutter from the dovecot; Hortense is
drawing water from the well; and as all the rooms open into the court,
you can see the white-capped cook over the furnace in the kitchen, and
some idle painter, who has stored his canvases and washed his brushes,
jangling a waltz on the crazy, tongue-tied piano in the salle-à-manger.
‘_Edmond_, _encore un vermouth_,’ cries a man in velveteen, adding in a
tone of apologetic afterthought, ‘_un double_, _s’il vous plaît_.’
‘Where are you working?’ asks one in pure white linen from top to toe.
‘At the Carrefour de l’Épine,’ returns the other in corduroy (they are
all gaitered, by the way).  ‘I couldn’t do a thing to it.  I ran out of
white.  Where were you?’  ‘I wasn’t working.  I was looking for motives.’
Here is an outbreak of jubilation, and a lot of men clustering together
about some new-comer with outstretched hands; perhaps the
‘correspondence’ has come in and brought So-and-so from Paris, or perhaps
it is only So-and-so who has walked over from Chailly to dinner.

‘_À table_, _Messieurs_!’ cries M. Siron, bearing through the court the
first tureen of soup.  And immediately the company begins to settle down
about the long tables in the dining-room, framed all round with sketches
of all degrees of merit and demerit.  There’s the big picture of the
huntsman winding a horn with a dead boar between his legs, and his
legs—well, his legs in stockings.  And here is the little picture of a
raw mutton-chop, in which Such-a-one knocked a hole last summer with no
worse a missile than a plum from the dessert.  And under all these works
of art so much eating goes forward, so much drinking, so much jabbering
in French and English, that it would do your heart good merely to peep
and listen at the door.  One man is telling how they all went last year
to the fête at Fleury, and another how well so-and-so would sing of an
evening: and here are a third and fourth making plans for the whole
future of their lives; and there is a fifth imitating a conjurer and
making faces on his clenched fist, surely of all arts the most difficult
and admirable!  A sixth has eaten his fill, lights a cigarette, and
resigns himself to digestion.  A seventh has just dropped in, and calls
for soup.  Number eight, meanwhile, has left the table, and is once more
trampling the poor piano under powerful and uncertain fingers.

Dinner over, people drop outside to smoke and chat.  Perhaps we go along
to visit our friends at the other end of the village, where there is
always a good welcome and a good talk, and perhaps some pickled oysters
and white wine to close the evening.  Or a dance is organised in the
dining-room, and the piano exhibits all its paces under manful jockeying,
to the light of three or four candles and a lamp or two, while the
waltzers move to and fro upon the wooden floor, and sober men, who are
not given to such light pleasures, get up on the table or the sideboard,
and sit there looking on approvingly over a pipe and a tumbler of wine.
Or sometimes—suppose my lady moon looks forth, and the court from out the
half-lit dining-room seems nearly as bright as by day, and the light
picks out the window-panes, and makes a clear shadow under every
vine-leaf on the wall—sometimes a picnic is proposed, and a basket made
ready, and a good procession formed in front of the hotel.  The two
trumpeters in honour go before; and as we file down the long alley, and
up through devious footpaths among rocks and pine-trees, with every here
and there a dark passage of shadow, and every here and there a spacious
outlook over moonlit woods, these two precede us and sound many a jolly
flourish as they walk.  We gather ferns and dry boughs into the cavern,
and soon a good blaze flutters the shadows of the old bandits’ haunt, and
shows shapely beards and comely faces and toilettes ranged about the
wall.  The bowl is lit, and the punch is burnt and sent round in scalding
thimblefuls.  So a good hour or two may pass with song and jest.  And
then we go home in the moonlit morning, straggling a good deal among the
birch tufts and the boulders, but ever called together again, as one of
our leaders winds his horn.  Perhaps some one of the party will not heed
the summons, but chooses out some by-way of his own.  As he follows the
winding sandy road, he hears the flourishes grow fainter and fainter in
the distance, and die finally out, and still walks on in the strange
coolness and silence and between the crisp lights and shadows of the
moonlit woods, until suddenly the bell rings out the hour from far-away
Chailly, and he starts to find himself alone.  No surf-bell on forlorn
and perilous shores, no passing knell over the busy market-place, can
speak with a more heavy and disconsolate tongue to human ears.  Each
stroke calls up a host of ghostly reverberations in his mind.  And as he
stands rooted, it has grown once more so utterly silent that it seems to
him he might hear the church bells ring the hour out all the world over,
not at Chailly only, but in Paris, and away in outlandish cities, and in
the village on the river, where his childhood passed between the sun and
flowers.



IDLE HOURS


The woods by night, in all their uncanny effect, are not rightly to be
understood until you can compare them with the woods by day.  The
stillness of the medium, the floor of glittering sand, these trees that
go streaming up like monstrous sea-weeds and waver in the moving winds
like the weeds in submarine currents, all these set the mind working on
the thought of what you may have seen off a foreland or over the side of
a boat, and make you feel like a diver, down in the quiet water, fathoms
below the tumbling, transitory surface of the sea.  And yet in itself, as
I say, the strangeness of these nocturnal solitudes is not to be felt
fully without the sense of contrast.  You must have risen in the morning
and seen the woods as they are by day, kindled and coloured in the sun’s
light; you must have felt the odour of innumerable trees at even, the
unsparing heat along the forest roads, and the coolness of the groves.

And on the first morning you will doubtless rise betimes.  If you have
not been wakened before by the visit of some adventurous pigeon, you will
be wakened as soon as the sun can reach your window—for there are no
blind or shutters to keep him out—and the room, with its bare wood floor
and bare whitewashed walls, shines all round you in a sort of glory of
reflected lights.  You may doze a while longer by snatches, or lie awake
to study the charcoal men and dogs and horses with which former occupants
have defiled the partitions: Thiers, with wily profile; local
celebrities, pipe in hand; or, maybe, a romantic landscape splashed in
oil.  Meanwhile artist after artist drops into the salle-à-manger for
coffee, and then shoulders easel, sunshade, stool, and paint-box, bound
into a fagot, and sets of for what he calls his ‘motive.’  And artist
after artist, as he goes out of the village, carries with him a little
following of dogs.  For the dogs, who belong only nominally to any
special master, hang about the gate of the forest all day long, and
whenever any one goes by who hits their fancy, profit by his escort, and
go forth with him to play an hour or two at hunting.  They would like to
be under the trees all day.  But they cannot go alone.  They require a
pretext.  And so they take the passing artist as an excuse to go into the
woods, as they might take a walking-stick as an excuse to bathe.  With
quick ears, long spines, and bandy legs, or perhaps as tall as a
greyhound and with a bulldog’s head, this company of mongrels will trot
by your side all day and come home with you at night, still showing white
teeth and wagging stunted tail.  Their good humour is not to be
exhausted.  You may pelt them with stones if you please, and all they
will do is to give you a wider berth.  If once they come out with you, to
you they will remain faithful, and with you return; although if you meet
them next morning in the street, it is as like as not they will cut you
with a countenance of brass.

The forest—a strange thing for an Englishman—is very destitute of birds.
This is no country where every patch of wood among the meadows gibes up
an increase of song, and every valley wandered through by a streamlet
rings and reverberates from side to with a profusion of clear notes.  And
this rarity of birds is not to be regretted on its own account only.  For
the insects prosper in their absence, and become as one of the plagues of
Egypt.  Ants swarm in the hot sand; mosquitos drone their nasal drone;
wherever the sun finds a hole in the roof of the forest, you see a myriad
transparent creatures coming and going in the shaft of light; and even
between-whiles, even where there is no incursion of sun-rays into the
dark arcade of the wood, you are conscious of a continual drift of
insects, an ebb and flow of infinitesimal living things between the
trees.  Nor are insects the only evil creatures that haunt the forest.
For you may plump into a cave among the rocks, and find yourself face to
face with a wild boar, or see a crooked viper slither across the road.

Perhaps you may set yourself down in the bay between two spreading
beech-roots with a book on your lap, and be awakened all of a sudden by a
friend: ‘I say, just keep where you are, will you?  You make the jolliest
motive.’  And you reply: ‘Well, I don’t mind, if I may smoke.’  And
thereafter the hours go idly by.  Your friend at the easel labours
doggedly a little way off, in the wide shadow of the tree; and yet
farther, across a strait of glaring sunshine, you see another painter,
encamped in the shadow of another tree, and up to his waist in the fern.
You cannot watch your own effigy growing out of the white trunk, and the
trunk beginning to stand forth from the rest of the wood, and the whole
picture getting dappled over with the flecks of sun that slip through the
leaves overhead, and, as a wind goes by and sets the trees a-talking,
flicker hither and thither like butterflies of light.  But you know it is
going forward; and, out of emulation with the painter, get ready your own
palette, and lay out the colour for a woodland scene in words.

Your tree stands in a hollow paved with fern and heather, set in a basin
of low hills, and scattered over with rocks and junipers.  All the open
is steeped in pitiless sunlight.  Everything stands out as though it were
cut in cardboard, every colour is strained into its highest key.  The
boulders are some of them upright and dead like monolithic castles, some
of them prone like sleeping cattle.  The junipers—looking, in their
soiled and ragged mourning, like some funeral procession that has gone
seeking the place of sepulchre three hundred years and more in wind and
rain—are daubed in forcibly against the glowing ferns and heather.  Every
tassel of their rusty foliage is defined with pre-Raphaelite minuteness.
And a sorry figure they make out there in the sun, like misbegotten
yew-trees!  The scene is all pitched in a key of colour so peculiar, and
lit up with such a discharge of violent sunlight, as a man might live
fifty years in England and not see.

Meanwhile at your elbow some one tunes up a song, words of Ronsard to a
pathetic tremulous air, of how the poet loved his mistress long ago, and
pressed on her the flight of time, and told her how white and quiet the
dead lay under the stones, and how the boat dipped and pitched as the
shades embarked for the passionless land.  Yet a little while, sang the
poet, and there shall be no more love; only to sit and remember loves
that might have been.  There is a falling flourish in the air that
remains in the memory and comes back in incongruous places, on the seat
of hansoms or in the warm bed at night, with something of a forest
savour.

‘You can get up now,’ says the painter; ‘I’m at the background.’

And so up you get, stretching yourself, and go your way into the wood,
the daylight becoming richer and more golden, and the shadows stretching
farther into the open.  A cool air comes along the highways, and the
scents awaken.  The fir-trees breathe abroad their ozone.  Out of unknown
thickets comes forth the soft, secret, aromatic odour of the woods, not
like a smell of the free heaven, but as though court ladies, who had
known these paths in ages long gone by, still walked in the summer
evenings, and shed from their brocades a breath of musk or bergamot upon
the woodland winds.  One side of the long avenues is still kindled with
the sun, the other is plunged in transparent shadow.  Over the trees the
west begins to burn like a furnace; and the painters gather up their
chattels, and go down, by avenue or footpath, to the plain.



A PLEASURE-PARTY


As this excursion is a matter of some length, and, moreover, we go in
force, we have set aside our usual vehicle, the pony-cart, and ordered a
large wagonette from Lejosne’s.  It has been waiting for near an hour,
while one went to pack a knapsack, and t’other hurried over his toilette
and coffee; but now it is filled from end to end with merry folk in
summer attire, the coachman cracks his whip, and amid much applause from
round the inn door off we rattle at a spanking trot.  The way lies
through the forest, up hill and down dale, and by beech and pine wood, in
the cheerful morning sunshine.  The English get down at all the ascents
and walk on ahead for exercise; the French are mightily entertained at
this, and keep coyly underneath the tilt.  As we go we carry with us a
pleasant noise of laughter and light speech, and some one will be always
breaking out into a bar or two of opera bouffe.  Before we get to the
Route Ronde here comes Desprez, the colourman from Fontainebleau,
trudging across on his weekly peddle with a case of merchandise; and it
is ‘Desprez, leave me some malachite green’; ‘Desprez, leave me so much
canvas’; ‘Desprez, leave me this, or leave me that’; M. Desprez standing
the while in the sunlight with grave face and many salutations.  The next
interruption is more important.  For some time back we have had the sound
of cannon in our ears; and now, a little past Franchard, we find a
mounted trooper holding a led horse, who brings the wagonette to a stand.
The artillery is practising in the Quadrilateral, it appears; passage
along the Route Ronde formally interdicted for the moment.  There is
nothing for it but to draw up at the glaring cross-roads and get down to
make fun with the notorious Cocardon, the most ungainly and ill-bred dog
of all the ungainly and ill-bred dogs of Barbizon, or clamber about the
sandy banks.  And meanwhile the doctor, with sun umbrella, wide Panama,
and patriarchal beard, is busy wheedling and (for aught the rest of us
know) bribing the too facile sentry.  His speech is smooth and dulcet,
his manner dignified and insinuating.  It is not for nothing that the
Doctor has voyaged all the world over, and speaks all languages from
French to Patagonian.  He has not come borne from perilous journeys to be
thwarted by a corporal of horse.  And so we soon see the soldier’s mouth
relax, and his shoulders imitate a relenting heart.  ‘_En voiture_,
_Messieurs_, _Mesdames_,’ sings the Doctor; and on we go again at a good
round pace, for black care follows hard after us, and discretion prevails
not a little over valour in some timorous spirits of the party.  At any
moment we may meet the sergeant, who will send us back.  At any moment we
may encounter a flying shell, which will send us somewhere farther off
than Grez.

Grez—for that is our destination—has been highly recommended for its
beauty.  ‘_Il y a de l’eau_,’ people have said, with an emphasis, as if
that settled the question, which, for a French mind, I am rather led to
think it does.  And Grez, when we get there, is indeed a place worthy of
some praise.  It lies out of the forest, a cluster of houses, with an old
bridge, an old castle in ruin, and a quaint old church.  The inn garden
descends in terraces to the river; stable-yard, kailyard, orchard, and a
space of lawn, fringed with rushes and embellished with a green arbour.
On the opposite bank there is a reach of English-looking plain, set
thickly with willows and poplars.  And between the two lies the river,
clear and deep, and full of reeds and floating lilies.  Water-plants
cluster about the starlings of the long low bridge, and stand half-way up
upon the piers in green luxuriance.  They catch the dipped oar with long
antennæ, and chequer the slimy bottom with the shadow of their leaves.
And the river wanders and thither hither among the islets, and is
smothered and broken up by the reeds, like an old building in the lithe,
hardy arms of the climbing ivy.  You may watch the box where the good man
of the inn keeps fish alive for his kitchen, one oily ripple following
another over the top of the yellow deal.  And you can hear a splashing
and a prattle of voices from the shed under the old kirk, where the
village women wash and wash all day among the fish and water-lilies.  It
seems as if linen washed there should be specially cool and sweet.

We have come here for the river.  And no sooner have we all bathed than
we board the two shallops and push off gaily, and go gliding under the
trees and gathering a great treasure of water-lilies.  Some one sings;
some trail their hands in the cool water; some lean over the gunwale to
see the image of the tall poplars far below, and the shadow of the boat,
with the balanced oars and their own head protruded, glide smoothly over
the yellow floor of the stream.  At last, the day declining—all silent
and happy, and up to the knees in the wet lilies—we punt slowly back
again to the landing-place beside the bridge.  There is a wish for
solitude on all.  One hides himself in the arbour with a cigarette;
another goes a walk in the country with Cocardon; a third inspects the
church.  And it is not till dinner is on the table, and the inn’s best
wine goes round from glass to glass, that we begin to throw off the
restraint and fuse once more into a jolly fellowship.

Half the party are to return to-night with the wagonette; and some of the
others, loath to break up company, will go with them a bit of the way and
drink a stirrup-cup at Marlotte.  It is dark in the wagonette, and not so
merry as it might have been.  The coachman loses the road.  So-and-so
tries to light fireworks with the most indifferent success.  Some sing,
but the rest are too weary to applaud; and it seems as if the festival
were fairly at an end—

    ‘Nous avons fait la noce,
    Rentrons à nos foyers!’

And such is the burthen, even after we have come to Marlotte and taken
our places in the court at Mother Antonine’s.  There is punch on the long
table out in the open air, where the guests dine in summer weather.  The
candles flare in the night wind, and the faces round the punch are lit
up, with shifting emphasis, against a background of complete and solid
darkness.  It is all picturesque enough; but the fact is, we are aweary.
We yawn; we are out of the vein; we have made the wedding, as the song
says, and now, for pleasure’s sake, let’s make an end on’t.  When here
comes striding into the court, booted to mid-thigh, spurred and splashed,
in a jacket of green cord, the great, famous, and redoubtable Blank; and
in a moment the fire kindles again, and the night is witness of our
laughter as he imitates Spaniards, Germans, Englishmen, picture-dealers,
all eccentric ways of speaking and thinking, with a possession, a fury, a
strain of mind and voice, that would rather suggest a nervous crisis than
a desire to please.  We are as merry as ever when the trap sets forth
again, and say farewell noisily to all the good folk going farther.
Then, as we are far enough from thoughts of sleep, we visit Blank in his
quaint house, and sit an hour or so in a great tapestried chamber, laid
with furs, littered with sleeping hounds, and lit up, in fantastic shadow
and shine, by a wood fire in a mediæval chimney.  And then we plod back
through the darkness to the inn beside the river.

How quick bright things come to confusion!  When we arise next morning,
the grey showers fall steadily, the trees hang limp, and the face of the
stream is spoiled with dimpling raindrops.  Yesterday’s lilies encumber
the garden walk, or begin, dismally enough, their voyage towards the
Seine and the salt sea.  A sickly shimmer lies upon the dripping
house-roofs, and all the colour is washed out of the green and golden
landscape of last night, as though an envious man had taken a
water-colour sketch and blotted it together with a sponge.  We go out
a-walking in the wet roads.  But the roads about Grez have a trick of
their own.  They go on for a while among clumps of willows and patches of
vine, and then, suddenly and without any warning, cease and determine in
some miry hollow or upon some bald knowe; and you have a short period of
hope, then right-about face, and back the way you came!  So we draw about
the kitchen fire and play a round game of cards for ha’pence, or go to
the billiard-room, for a match at corks and by one consent a messenger is
sent over for the wagonette—Grez shall be left to-morrow.

To-morrow dawns so fair that two of the party agree to walk back for
exercise, and let their kidnap-sacks follow by the trap.  I need hardly
say they are neither of them French; for, of all English phrases, the
phrase ‘for exercise’ is the least comprehensible across the Straits of
Dover.  All goes well for a while with the pedestrians.  The wet woods
are full of scents in the noontide.  At a certain cross, where there is a
guardhouse, they make a halt, for the forester’s wife is the daughter of
their good host at Barbizon.  And so there they are hospitably received
by the comely woman, with one child in her arms and another prattling and
tottering at her gown, and drink some syrup of quince in the back
parlour, with a map of the forest on the wall, and some prints of
love-affairs and the great Napoleon hunting.  As they draw near the
Quadrilateral, and hear once more the report of the big guns, they take a
by-road to avoid the sentries, and go on a while somewhat vaguely, with
the sound of the cannon in their ears and the rain beginning to fall.
The ways grow wider and sandier; here and there there are real
sand-hills, as though by the sea-shore; the fir-wood is open and grows in
clumps upon the hillocks, and the race of sign-posts is no more.  One
begins to look at the other doubtfully.  ‘I am sure we should keep more
to the right,’ says one; and the other is just as certain they should
hold to the left.  And now, suddenly, the heavens open, and the rain
falls ‘sheer and strong and loud,’ as out of a shower-bath.  In a moment
they are as wet as shipwrecked sailors.  They cannot see out of their
eyes for the drift, and the water churns and gurgles in their boots.
They leave the track and try across country with a gambler’s desperation,
for it seems as if it were impossible to make the situation worse; and,
for the next hour, go scrambling from boulder to boulder, or plod along
paths that are now no more than rivulets, and across waste clearings
where the scattered shells and broken fir-trees tell all too plainly of
the cannon in the distance.  And meantime the cannon grumble out
responses to the grumbling thunder.  There is such a mixture of melodrama
and sheer discomfort about all this, it is at once so grey and so lurid,
that it is far more agreeable to read and write about by the
chimney-corner than to suffer in the person.  At last they chance on the
right path, and make Franchard in the early evening, the sorriest pair of
wanderers that ever welcomed English ale.  Thence, by the Bois d’Hyver,
the Ventes-Alexandre, and the Pins Brulés, to the clean hostelry, dry
clothes, and dinner.



THE WOODS IN SPRING


I think you will like the forest best in the sharp early springtime, when
it is just beginning to reawaken, and innumerable violets peep from among
the fallen leaves; when two or three people at most sit down to dinner,
and, at table, you will do well to keep a rug about your knees, for the
nights are chill, and the salle-à-manger opens on the court.  There is
less to distract the attention, for one thing, and the forest is more
itself.  It is not bedotted with artists’ sunshades as with unknown
mushrooms, nor bestrewn with the remains of English picnics.  The hunting
still goes on, and at any moment your heart may be brought into your
mouth as you hear far-away horns; or you may be told by an agitated
peasant that the Vicomte has gone up the avenue, not ten minutes since,
‘_à fond de train_, _monsieur_, _et avec douze pipuers_.’

If you go up to some coign of vantage in the system of low hills that
permeates the forest, you will see many different tracts of country, each
of its own cold and melancholy neutral tint, and all mixed together and
mingled the one into the other at the seams.  You will see tracts of
leafless beeches of a faint yellowish grey, and leafless oaks a little
ruddier in the hue.  Then zones of pine of a solemn green; and, dotted
among the pines, or standing by themselves in rocky clearings, the
delicate, snow-white trunks of birches, spreading out into snow-white
branches yet more delicate, and crowned and canopied with a purple haze
of twigs.  And then a long, bare ridge of tumbled boulders, with bright
sand-breaks between them, and wavering sandy roads among the bracken and
brown heather.  It is all rather cold and unhomely.  It has not the
perfect beauty, nor the gem-like colouring, of the wood in the later
year, when it is no more than one vast colonnade of verdant shadow,
tremulous with insects, intersected here and there by lanes of sunlight
set in purple heather.  The loveliness of the woods in March is not,
assuredly, of this blowzy rustic type.  It is made sharp with a grain of
salt, with a touch of ugliness.  It has a sting like the sting of bitter
ale; you acquire the love of it as men acquire a taste for olives.  And
the wonderful clear, pure air wells into your lungs the while by
voluptuous inhalations, and makes the eyes bright, and sets the heart
tinkling to a new tune—or, rather, to an old tune; for you remember in
your boyhood something akin to this spirit of adventure, this thirst for
exploration, that now takes you masterfully by the hand, plunges you into
many a deep grove, and drags you over many a stony crest.  It is as if
the whole wood were full of friendly voice, calling you farther in, and
you turn from one side to another, like Buridan’s donkey, in a maze of
pleasure.

Comely beeches send up their white, straight, clustered branches, barred
with green moss, like so many fingers from a half-clenched hand.  Mighty
oaks stand to the ankles in a fine tracery of underwood; thence the tall
shaft climbs upwards, and the great forest of stalwart boughs spreads out
into the golden evening sky, where the rooks are flying and calling.  On
the sward of the Bois d’Hyver the firs stand well asunder with outspread
arms, like fencers saluting; and the air smells of resin all around, and
the sound of the axe is rarely still.  But strangest of all, and in
appearance oldest of all, are the dim and wizard upland districts of
young wood.  The ground is carpeted with fir-tassel, and strewn with
fir-apples and flakes of fallen bark.  Rocks lie crouching in the
thicket, guttered with rain, tufted with lichen, white with years and the
rigours of the changeful seasons.  Brown and yellow butterflies are sown
and carried away again by the light air—like thistledown.  The loneliness
of these coverts is so excessive, that there are moments when pleasure
draws to the verge of fear.  You listen and listen for some noise to
break the silence, till you grow half mesmerised by the intensity of the
strain; your sense of your own identity is troubled; your brain reels,
like that of some gymnosophist poring on his own nose in Asiatic jungles;
and should you see your own outspread feet, you see them, not as anything
of yours, but as a feature of the scene around you.

Still the forest is always, but the stillness is not always unbroken.
You can hear the wind pass in the distance over the tree-tops; sometimes
briefly, like the noise of a train; sometimes with a long steady rush,
like the breaking of waves.  And sometimes, close at band, the branches
move, a moan goes through the thicket, and the wood thrills to its heart.
Perhaps you may hear a carriage on the road to Fontainebleau, a bird
gives a dry continual chirp, the dead leaves rustle underfoot, or you may
time your steps to the steady recurrent strokes of the woodman’s axe.
From time to time, over the low grounds, a flight of rooks goes by; and
from time to time the cooing of wild doves falls upon the ear, not sweet
and rich and near at hand as in England, but a sort of voice of the
woods, thin and far away, as fits these solemn places.  Or you hear
suddenly the hollow, eager, violent barking of dogs; scared deer flit
past you through the fringes of the wood; then a man or two running, in
green blouse, with gun and game-bag on a bandoleer; and then, out of the
thick of the trees, comes the jar of rifle-shots.  Or perhaps the hounds
are out, and horns are blown, and scarlet-coated huntsmen flash through
the clearings, and the solid noise of horses galloping passes below you,
where you sit perched among the rocks and heather.  The boar is afoot,
and all over the forest, and in all neighbouring villages, there is a
vague excitement and a vague hope; for who knows whither the chase may
lead? and even to have seen a single piqueur, or spoken to a single
sportsman, is to be a man of consequence for the night.

Besides men who shoot and men who ride with the hounds, there are few
people in the forest, in the early spring, save woodcutters plying their
axes steadily, and old women and children gathering wood for the fire.
You may meet such a party coming home in the twilight: the old woman
laden with a fagot of chips, and the little ones hauling a long branch
behind them in her wake.  That is the worst of what there is to
encounter; and if I tell you of what once happened to a friend of mine,
it is by no means to tantalise you with false hopes; for the adventure
was unique.  It was on a very cold, still, sunless morning, with a flat
grey sky and a frosty tingle in the air, that this friend (who shall here
be nameless) heard the notes of a key-bugle played with much hesitation,
and saw the smoke of a fire spread out along the green pine-tops, in a
remote uncanny glen, hard by a hill of naked boulders.  He drew near
warily, and beheld a picnic party seated under a tree in an open.  The
old father knitted a sock, the mother sat staring at the fire.  The
eldest son, in the uniform of a private of dragoons, was choosing out
notes on a key-bugle.  Two or three daughters lay in the neighbourhood
picking violets.  And the whole party as grave and silent as the woods
around them!  My friend watched for a long time, he says; but all held
their peace; not one spoke or smiled; only the dragoon kept choosing out
single notes upon the bugle, and the father knitted away at his work and
made strange movements the while with his flexible eyebrows.  They took
no notice whatever of my friend’s presence, which was disquieting in
itself, and increased the resemblance of the whole party to mechanical
waxworks.  Certainly, he affirms, a wax figure might have played the
bugle with more spirit than that strange dragoon.  And as this hypothesis
of his became more certain, the awful insolubility of why they should be
left out there in the woods with nobody to wind them up again when they
ran down, and a growing disquietude as to what might happen next, became
too much for his courage, and he turned tail, and fairly took to his
heels.  It might have been a singing in his ears, but he fancies he was
followed as he ran by a peal of Titanic laughter.  Nothing has ever
transpired to clear up the mystery; it may be they were automata; or it
may be (and this is the theory to which I lean myself) that this is all
another chapter of Heine’s ‘Gods in Exile’; that the upright old man with
the eyebrows was no other than Father Jove, and the young dragoon with
the taste for music either Apollo or Mars.



MORALITY


Strange indeed is the attraction of the forest for the minds of men.  Not
one or two only, but a great chorus of grateful voices have arisen to
spread abroad its fame.  Half the famous writers of modern France have
had their word to say about Fontainebleau.  Chateaubriand, Michelet,
Béranger, George Sand, de Senancour, Flaubert, Murger, the brothers
Goncourt, Théodore de Banville, each of these has done something to the
eternal praise and memory of these woods.  Even at the very worst of
times, even when the picturesque was anathema in the eyes of all Persons
of Taste, the forest still preserved a certain reputation for beauty.  It
was in 1730 that the Abbé Guilbert published his _Historical Description
of the Palace_, _Town_, _and Forest of Fontainebleau_.  And very droll it
is to see him, as he tries to set forth his admiration in terms of what
was then permissible.  The monstrous rocks, etc., says the Abbé ‘sont
admirées avec surprise des voyageurs qui s’écrient aussitôt avec Horace:
Ut mihi devio rupee et vacuum nemus mirari libet.’  The good man is not
exactly lyrical in his praise; and you see how he sets his back against
Horace as against a trusty oak.  Horace, at any rate, was classical.  For
the rest, however, the Abbé likes places where many alleys meet; or
which, like the Belle-Étoile, are kept up ‘by a special gardener,’ and
admires at the Table du Roi the labours of the Grand Master of Woods and
Waters, the Sieur de la Falure, ‘qui a fait faire ce magnifique endroit.’

But indeed, it is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a
claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of
the air, that emanation from the old trees, that so wonderfully changes
and renews a weary spirit.  Disappointed men, sick Francis Firsts and
vanquished Grand Monarchs, time out of mind have come here for
consolation.  Hither perplexed folk have retired out of the press of
life, as into a deep bay-window on some night of masquerade, and here
found quiet and silence, and rest, the mother of wisdom.  It is the great
moral spa; this forest without a fountain is itself the great fountain of
Juventius.  It is the best place in the world to bring an old sorrow that
has been a long while your friend and enemy; and if, like Béranger’s your
gaiety has run away from home and left open the door for sorrow to come
in, of all covers in Europe, it is here you may expect to find the truant
hid.  With every hour you change.  The air penetrates through your
clothes, and nestles to your living body.  You love exercise and slumber,
long fasting and full meals.  You forget all your scruples and live a
while in peace and freedom, and for the moment only.  For here, all is
absent that can stimulate to moral feeling.  Such people as you see may
be old, or toil-worn, or sorry; but you see them framed in the forest,
like figures on a painted canvas; and for you, they are not people in any
living and kindly sense.  You forget the grim contrariety of interests.
You forget the narrow lane where all men jostle together in unchivalrous
contention, and the kennel, deep and unclean, that gapes on either hand
for the defeated.  Life is simple enough, it seems, and the very idea of
sacrifice becomes like a mad fancy out of a last night’s dream.

Your ideal is not perhaps high, but it is plain and possible.  You become
enamoured of a life of change and movement and the open air, where the
muscles shall be more exercised than the affections.  When you have had
your will of the forest, you may visit the whole round world.  You may
buckle on your knapsack and take the road on foot.  You may bestride a
good nag, and ride forth, with a pair of saddle-bags, into the enchanted
East.  You may cross the Black Forest, and see Germany wide-spread before
you, like a map, dotted with old cities, walled and spired, that dream
all day on their own reflections in the Rhine or Danube.  You may pass
the spinal cord of Europe and go down from Alpine glaciers to where Italy
extends her marble moles and glasses her marble palaces in the midland
sea.  You may sleep in flying trains or wayside taverns.  You may be
awakened at dawn by the scream of the express or the small pipe of the
robin in the hedge.  For you the rain should allay the dust of the beaten
road; the wind dry your clothes upon you as you walked.  Autumn should
hang out russet pears and purple grapes along the lane; inn after inn
proffer you their cups of raw wine; river by river receive your body in
the sultry noon.  Wherever you went warm valleys and high trees and
pleasant villages should compass you about; and light fellowships should
take you by the arm, and walk with you an hour upon your way.  You may
see from afar off what it will come to in the end—the weather-beaten
red-nosed vagabond, consumed by a fever of the feet, cut off from all
near touch of human sympathy, a waif, an Ishmael, and an outcast.  And
yet it will seem well—and yet, in the air of the forest, this will seem
the best—to break all the network bound about your feet by birth and old
companionship and loyal love, and bear your shovelful of phosphates to
and fro, in town country, until the hour of the great dissolvent.

Or, perhaps, you will keep to the cover.  For the forest is by itself,
and forest life owns small kinship with life in the dismal land of
labour.  Men are so far sophisticated that they cannot take the world as
it is given to them by the sight of their eyes.  Not only what they see
and hear, but what they know to be behind, enter into their notion of a
place.  If the sea, for instance, lie just across the hills, sea-thoughts
will come to them at intervals, and the tenor of their dreams from time
to time will suffer a sea-change.  And so here, in this forest, a
knowledge of its greatness is for much in the effect produced.  You
reckon up the miles that lie between you and intrusion.  You may walk
before you all day long, and not fear to touch the barrier of your Eden,
or stumble out of fairyland into the land of gin and steam-hammers.  And
there is an old tale enhances for the imagination the grandeur of the
woods of France, and secures you in the thought of your seclusion.  When
Charles VI. hunted in the time of his wild boyhood near Senlis, there was
captured an old stag, having a collar of bronze about his neck, and these
words engraved on the collar: ‘Cæsar mihi hoc donavit.’  It is no wonder
if the minds of men were moved at this occurrence and they stood aghast
to find themselves thus touching hands with forgotten ages, and following
an antiquity with hound and horn.  And even for you, it is scarcely in an
idle curiosity that you ponder how many centuries this stag had carried
its free antlers through the wood, and how many summers and winters had
shone and snowed on the imperial badge.  If the extent of solemn wood
could thus safeguard a tall stag from the hunter’s hounds and houses,
might not you also play hide-and-seek, in these groves, with all the
pangs and trepidations of man’s life, and elude Death, the mighty hunter,
for more than the span of human years?  Here, also, crash his arrows;
here, in the farthest glade, sounds the gallop of the pale horse.  But he
does not hunt this cover with all his hounds, for the game is thin and
small: and if you were but alert and wary, if you lodged ever in the
deepest thickets, you too might live on into later generations and
astonish men by your stalwart age and the trophies of an immemorial
success.

For the forest takes away from you all excuse to die.  There is nothing
here to cabin or thwart your free desires.  Here all the impudencies of
the brawling world reach you no more.  You may count your hours, like
Endymion, by the strokes of the lone woodcutter, or by the progression of
the lights and shadows and the sun wheeling his wide circuit through the
naked heavens.  Here shall you see no enemies but winter and rough
weather.  And if a pang comes to you at all, it will be a pang of
healthful hunger.  All the puling sorrows, all the carking repentance,
all this talk of duty that is no duty, in the great peace, in the pure
daylight of these woods, fall away from you like a garment.  And if
perchance you come forth upon an eminence, where the wind blows upon you
large and fresh, and the pines knock their long stems together, like an
ungainly sort of puppets, and see far away over the plain a factory
chimney defined against the pale horizon—it is for you, as for the staid
and simple peasant when, with his plough, he upturns old arms and harness
from the furrow of the glebe.  Ay, sure enough, there was a battle there
in the old times; and, sure enough, there is a world out yonder where men
strive together with a noise of oaths and weeping and clamorous dispute.
So much you apprehend by an athletic act of the imagination.  A faint
far-off rumour as of Merovingian wars; a legend as of some dead religion.



VI.
A MOUNTAIN TOWN IN FRANCE {175}
A FRAGMENT
1879


_Originally intended to serve as the opening chapter of_ ‘_Travels with a
Donkey in the Cevennes_.’

Le Monastier is the chief place of a hilly canton in Haute Loire, the
ancient Velay.  As the name betokens, the town is of monastic origin; and
it still contains a towered bulk of monastery and a church of some
architectural pretensions, the seat of an arch-priest and several vicars.
It stands on the side of hill above the river Gazeille, about fifteen
miles from Le Puy, up a steep road where the wolves sometime pursue the
diligence in winter.  The road, which is bound for Vivarais, passes
through the town from end to end in a single narrow street; there you may
see the fountain where women fill their pitchers; there also some old
houses with carved doors and pediment and ornamental work in iron.  For
Monastier, like Maybole in Ayrshire, was a sort of country capital, where
the local aristocracy had their town mansions for the winter; and there
is a certain baron still alive and, I am told, extremely penitent, who
found means to ruin himself by high living in this village on the hills.
He certainly has claims to be considered the most remarkable spendthrift
on record.  How he set about it, in a place where there are no luxuries
for sale, and where the board at the best inn comes to little more than a
shilling a day, is a problem for the wise.  His son, ruined as the family
was, went as far as Paris to sow his wild oats; and so the cases of
father and son mark an epoch in the history of centralisation in France.
Not until the latter had got into the train was the work of Richelieu
complete.

It is a people of lace-makers.  The women sit in the streets by groups of
five or six; and the noise of the bobbins is audible from one group to
another.  Now and then you will hear one woman clattering off prayers for
the edification of the others at their work.  They wear gaudy shawls,
white caps with a gay ribbon about the head, and sometimes a black felt
brigand hat above the cap; and so they give the street colour and
brightness and a foreign air.  A while ago, when England largely supplied
herself from this district with the lace called _torchon_, it was not
unusual to earn five francs a day; and five francs in Monastier is worth
a pound in London.  Now, from a change in the market, it takes a clever
and industrious work-woman to earn from three to four in the week, or
less than an eighth of what she made easily a few years ago.  The tide of
prosperity came and went, as with our northern pitmen, and left nobody
the richer.  The women bravely squandered their gains, kept the men in
idleness, and gave themselves up, as I was told, to sweethearting and a
merry life.  From week’s end to week’s end it was one continuous gala in
Monastier; people spent the day in the wine-shops, and the drum or the
bagpipes led on the _bourrées_ up to ten at night.  Now these dancing
days are over.  ‘_Il n’y a plus de jeunesse_,’ said Victor the garçon.  I
hear of no great advance in what are thought the essentials of morality;
but the _bourrée_, with its rambling, sweet, interminable music, and
alert and rustic figures, has fallen into disuse, and is mostly
remembered as a custom of the past.  Only on the occasion of the fair
shall you hear a drum discreetly in a wine-shop or perhaps one of the
company singing the measure while the others dance.  I am sorry at the
change, and marvel once more at the complicated scheme of things upon
this earth, and how a turn of fashion in England can silence so much
mountain merriment in France.  The lace-makers themselves have not
entirely forgiven our country-women; and I think they take a special
pleasure in the legend of the northern quarter of the town, called
L’Anglade, because there the English free-lances were arrested and driven
back by the potency of a little Virgin Mary on the wall.

From time to time a market is held, and the town has a season of revival;
cattle and pigs are stabled in the streets; and pickpockets have been
known to come all the way from Lyons for the occasion.  Every Sunday the
country folk throng in with daylight to buy apples, to attend mass, and
to visit one of the wine-shops, of which there are no fewer than fifty in
this little town.  Sunday wear for the men is a green tailcoat of some
coarse sort of drugget, and usually a complete suit to match.  I have
never set eyes on such degrading raiment.  Here it clings, there bulges;
and the human body, with its agreeable and lively lines, is turned into a
mockery and laughing-stock.  Another piece of Sunday business with the
peasants is to take their ailments to the chemist for advice.  It is as
much a matter for Sunday as church-going.  I have seen a woman who had
been unable to speak since the Monday before, wheezing, catching her
breath, endlessly and painfully coughing; and yet she had waited upwards
of a hundred hours before coming to seek help, and had the week been
twice as long, she would have waited still.  There was a canonical day
for consultation; such was the ancestral habit, to which a respectable
lady must study to conform.

Two conveyances go daily to Le Puy, but they rival each other in polite
concessions rather than in speed.  Each will wait an hour or two hours
cheerfully while an old lady does her marketing or a gentleman finishes
the papers in a café.  The _Courrier_ (such is the name of one) should
leave Le Puy by two in the afternoon and arrive at Monastier in good on
the return voyage, and arrive at Monastier in good time for a six-o’clock
dinner.  But the driver dares not disoblige his customers.  He will
postpone his departure again and again, hour after hour; and I have known
the sun to go down on his delay.  These purely personal favours, this
consideration of men’s fancies, rather than the hands of a mechanical
clock, as marking the advance of the abstraction, time, makes a more
humorous business of stage-coaching than we are used to see it.

As far as the eye can reach, one swelling line of hill top rises and
falls behind another; and if you climb an eminence, it is only to see new
and father ranges behind these.  Many little rivers run from all sides in
cliffy valleys; and one of them, a few miles from Monastier, bears the
great name of Loire.  The mean level of the country is a little more than
three thousand feet above the sea, which makes the atmosphere
proportionally brisk and wholesome.  There is little timber except pines,
and the greater part of the country lies in moorland pasture.  The
country is wild and tumbled rather than commanding; an upland rather than
a mountain district; and the most striking as well as the most agreeable
scenery lies low beside the rivers.  There, indeed, you will find many
corners that take the fancy; such as made the English noble choose his
grave by a Swiss streamlet, where nature is at her freshest, and looks as
young as on the seventh morning.  Such a place is the course of the
Gazeille, where it waters the common of Monastier and thence downwards
till it joins the Loire; a place to hear birds singing; a place for
lovers to frequent.  The name of the river was perhaps suggested by the
sound of its passage over the stones; for it is a great warbler, and at
night, after I was in bed at Monastier, I could hear it go singing down
the valley till I fell asleep.

On the whole, this is a Scottish landscape, although not so noble as the
best in Scotland; and by an odd coincidence, the population is, in its
way, as Scottish as the country.  They have abrupt, uncouth, Fifeshire
manners, and accost you, as if you were trespassing, an ‘Où’st-ce que
vous allez?’ only translatable into the Lowland ‘Whaur ye gaun?’  They
keep the Scottish Sabbath.  There is no labour done on that day but to
drive in and out the various pigs and sheep and cattle that make so
pleasant a tinkling in the meadows.  The lace-makers have disappeared
from the street.  Not to attend mass would involve social degradation;
and you may find people reading Sunday books, in particular a sort of
Catholic _Monthly Visitor_ on the doings of Our Lady of Lourdes.  I
remember one Sunday, when I was walking in the country, that I fell on a
hamlet and found all the inhabitants, from the patriarch to the baby,
gathered in the shadow of a gable at prayer.  One strapping lass stood
with her back to the wall and did the solo part, the rest chiming in
devoutly.  Not far off, a lad lay flat on his face asleep among some
straw, to represent the worldly element.

Again, this people is eager to proselytise; and the postmaster’s daughter
used to argue with me by the half-hour about my heresy, until she grew
quite flushed.  I have heard the reverse process going on between a
Scotswoman and a French girl; and the arguments in the two cases were
identical.  Each apostle based her claim on the superior virtue and
attainments of her clergy, and clenched the business with a threat of
hell-fire.  ‘_Pas bong prêtres ici_,’ said the Presbyterian, ‘_bong
prêtres en Ecosse_.’  And the postmaster’s daughter, taking up the same
weapon, plied me, so to speak, with the butt of it instead of the
bayonet.  We are a hopeful race, it seems, and easily persuaded for our
good.  One cheerful circumstance I note in these guerilla missions, that
each side relies on hell, and Protestant and Catholic alike address
themselves to a supposed misgiving in their adversary’s heart.  And I
call it cheerful, for faith is a more supporting quality than
imagination.

Here, as in Scotland, many peasant families boast a son in holy orders.
And here also, the young men have a tendency to emigrate.  It is
certainly not poverty that drives them to the great cities or across the
seas, for many peasant families, I was told, have a fortune of at least
40,000 francs.  The lads go forth pricked with the spirit of adventure
and the desire to rise in life, and leave their homespun elders grumbling
and wondering over the event.  Once, at a village called Laussonne, I met
one of these disappointed parents: a drake who had fathered a wild swan
and seen it take wing and disappear.  The wild swan in question was now
an apothecary in Brazil.  He had flown by way of Bordeaux, and first
landed in America, bareheaded and barefoot, and with a single halfpenny
in his pocket.  And now he was an apothecary!  Such a wonderful thing is
an adventurous life!  I thought he might as well have stayed at home; but
you never can tell wherein a man’s life consists, nor in what he sets his
pleasure: one to drink, another to marry, a third to write scurrilous
articles and be repeatedly caned in public, and now this fourth, perhaps,
to be an apothecary in Brazil.  As for his old father, he could conceive
no reason for the lad’s behaviour.  ‘I had always bread for him,’ he
said; ‘he ran away to annoy me.  He loved to annoy me.  He had no
gratitude.’  But at heart he was swelling with pride over his travelled
offspring, and he produced a letter out of his pocket, where, as he said,
it was rotting, a mere lump of paper rags, and waved it gloriously in the
air.  ‘This comes from America,’ he cried, ‘six thousand leagues away!’
And the wine-shop audience looked upon it with a certain thrill.

I soon became a popular figure, and was known for miles in the country.
_Où’st que vous allez_? was changed for me into _Quoi_, _vous rentrez au
Monastier_ and in the town itself every urchin seemed to know my name,
although no living creature could pronounce it.  There was one particular
group of lace-makers who brought out a chair for me whenever I went by,
and detained me from my walk to gossip.  They were filled with curiosity
about England, its language, its religion, the dress of the women, and
were never weary of seeing the Queen’s head on English postage-stamps, or
seeking for French words in English Journals.  The language, in
particular, filled them with surprise.

‘Do they speak _patois_ in England?’  I was once asked; and when I told
them not, ‘Ah, then, French?’ said they.

‘No, no,’ I said, ‘not French.’

‘Then,’ they concluded, ‘they speak _patois_.’

You must obviously either speak French or _patios_.  Talk of the force of
logic—here it was in all its weakness.  I gave up the point, but
proceeding to give illustrations of my native jargon, I was met with a
new mortification.  Of all _patios_ they declared that mine was the most
preposterous and the most jocose in sound.  At each new word there was a
new explosion of laughter, and some of the younger ones were glad to rise
from their chairs and stamp about the street in ecstasy; and I looked on
upon their mirth in a faint and slightly disagreeable bewilderment.
‘Bread,’ which sounds a commonplace, plain-sailing monosyllable in
England, was the word that most delighted these good ladies of Monastier;
it seemed to them frolicsome and racy, like a page of Pickwick; and they
all got it carefully by heart, as a stand-by, I presume, for winter
evenings.  I have tried it since then with every sort of accent and
inflection, but I seem to lack the sense of humour.

They were of all ages: children at their first web of lace, a stripling
girl with a bashful but encouraging play of eyes, solid married women,
and grandmothers, some on the top of their age and some falling towards
decrepitude.  One and all were pleasant and natural, ready to laugh and
ready with a certain quiet solemnity when that was called for by the
subject of our talk.  Life, since the fall in wages, had begun to appear
to them with a more serious air.  The stripling girl would sometimes
laugh at me in a provocative and not unadmiring manner, if I judge
aright; and one of the grandmothers, who was my great friend of the
party, gave me many a sharp word of judgment on my sketches, my heresy,
or even my arguments, and gave them with a wry mouth and a humorous
twinkle in her eye that were eminently Scottish.  But the rest used me
with a certain reverence, as something come from afar and not entirely
human.  Nothing would put them at their ease but the irresistible gaiety
of my native tongue.  Between the old lady and myself I think there was a
real attachment.  She was never weary of sitting to me for her portrait,
in her best cap and brigand hat, and with all her wrinkles tidily
composed, and though she never failed to repudiate the result, she would
always insist upon another trial.  It was as good as a play to see her
sitting in judgment over the last.  ‘No, no,’ she would say, ‘that is not
it.  I am old, to be sure, but I am better-looking than that.  We must
try again.’  When I was about to leave she bade me good-bye for this life
in a somewhat touching manner.  We should not meet again, she said; it
was a long farewell, and she was sorry.  But life is so full of crooks,
old lady, that who knows?  I have said good-bye to people for greater
distances and times, and, please God, I mean to see them yet again.

One thing was notable about these women, from the youngest to the oldest,
and with hardly an exception.  In spite of their piety, they could twang
off an oath with Sir Toby Belch in person.  There was nothing so high or
so low, in heaven or earth or in the human body, but a woman of this
neighbourhood would whip out the name of it, fair and square, by way of
conversational adornment.  My landlady, who was pretty and young, dressed
like a lady and avoided _patois_ like a weakness, commonly addressed her
child in the language of a drunken bully.  And of all the swearers that I
ever heard, commend me to an old lady in Gondet, a village of the Loire.
I was making a sketch, and her curse was not yet ended when I had
finished it and took my departure.  It is true she had a right to be
angry; for here was her son, a hulking fellow, visibly the worse for
drink before the day was well begun.  But it was strange to hear her
unwearying flow of oaths and obscenities, endless like a river, and now
and then rising to a passionate shrillness, in the clear and silent air
of the morning.  In city slums, the thing might have passed unnoticed;
but in a country valley, and from a plain and honest countrywoman, this
beastliness of speech surprised the ear.

The _Conductor_, as he is called, _of Roads and Bridges_ was my principal
companion.  He was generally intelligent, and could have spoken more or
less falsetto on any of the trite topics; but it was his specially to
have a generous taste in eating.  This was what was most indigenous in
the man; it was here he was an artist; and I found in his company what I
had long suspected, that enthusiasm and special knowledge are the great
social qualities, and what they are about, whether white sauce or
Shakespeare’s plays, an altogether secondary question.

I used to accompany the Conductor on his professional rounds, and grew to
believe myself an expert in the business.  I thought I could make an
entry in a stone-breaker’s time-book, or order manure off the wayside
with any living engineer in France.  Gondet was one of the places we
visited together; and Laussonne, where I met the apothecary’s father, was
another.  There, at Laussonne, George Sand spent a day while she was
gathering materials for the _Marquis de Villemer_; and I have spoken with
an old man, who was then a child running about the inn kitchen, and who
still remembers her with a sort of reverence.  It appears that he spoke
French imperfectly; for this reason George Sand chose him for companion,
and whenever he let slip a broad and picturesque phrase in _patois_, she
would make him repeat it again and again till it was graven in her
memory.  The word for a frog particularly pleased her fancy; and it would
be curious to know if she afterwards employed it in her works.  The
peasants, who knew nothing of betters and had never so much as heard of
local colour, could not explain her chattering with this backward child;
and to them she seemed a very homely lady and far from beautiful: the
most famous man-killer of the age appealed so little to Velaisian
swine-herds!

On my first engineering excursion, which lay up by Crouzials towards
Mount Mezenc and the borders of Ardèche, I began an improving
acquaintance with the foreman road-mender.  He was in great glee at
having me with him, passed me off among his subalterns as the supervising
engineer, and insisted on what he called ‘the gallantry’ of paying for my
breakfast in a roadside wine-shop.  On the whole, he was a man of great
weather-wisdom, some spirits, and a social temper.  But I am afraid he
was superstitious.  When he was nine years old, he had seen one night a
company of _bourgeois et dames qui faisaient la manège avec des chaises_,
and concluded that he was in the presence of a witches’ Sabbath.  I
suppose, but venture with timidity on the suggestion, that this may have
been a romantic and nocturnal picnic party.  Again, coming from Pradelles
with his brother, they saw a great empty cart drawn by six enormous
horses before them on the road.  The driver cried aloud and filled the
mountains with the cracking of his whip.  He never seemed to go faster
than a walk, yet it was impossible to overtake him; and at length, at the
comer of a hill, the whole equipage disappeared bodily into the night.
At the time, people said it was the devil _qui s’amusait à faire ca_.

I suggested there was nothing more likely, as he must have some
amusement.

The foreman said it was odd, but there was less of that sort of thing
than formerly.  ‘_C’est difficile_,’ he added, ‘_à expliquer_.’

When we were well up on the moors and the _Conductor_ was trying some
road-metal with the gauge—

‘Hark!’ said the foreman, ‘do you hear nothing?’

We listened, and the wind, which was blowing chilly out of the east,
brought a faint, tangled jangling to our ears.

‘It is the flocks of Vivarais,’ said he.

For every summer, the flocks out of all Ardèche are brought up to pasture
on these grassy plateaux.

Here and there a little private flock was being tended by a girl, one
spinning with a distaff, another seated on a wall and intently making
lace.  This last, when we addressed her, leaped up in a panic and put out
her arms, like a person swimming, to keep us at a distance, and it was
some seconds before we could persuade her of the honesty of our
intentions.

The _Conductor_ told me of another herdswoman from whom he had once asked
his road while he was yet new to the country, and who fled from him,
driving her beasts before her, until he had given up the information in
despair.  A tale of old lawlessness may yet be read in these uncouth
timidities.

The winter in these uplands is a dangerous and melancholy time.  Houses
are snowed up, and way-farers lost in a flurry within hail of their own
fireside.  No man ventures abroad without meat and a bottle of wine,
which he replenishes at every wine-shop; and even thus equipped he takes
the road with terror.  All day the family sits about the fire in a foul
and airless hovel, and equally without work or diversion.  The father may
carve a rude piece of furniture, but that is all that will be done until
the spring sets in again, and along with it the labours of the field.  It
is not for nothing that you find a clock in the meanest of these mountain
habitations.  A clock and an almanac, you would fancy, were indispensable
in such a life . . .



VII.
RANDOM MEMORIES: _ROSA QUO LOCORUM_


Through what little channels, by what hints and premonitions, the
consciousness of the man’s art dawns first upon the child, it should be
not only interesting but instructive to inquire.  A matter of curiosity
to-day, it will become the ground of science to-morrow.  From the mind of
childhood there is more history and more philosophy to be fished up than
from all the printed volumes in a library.  The child is conscious of an
interest, not in literature but in life.  A taste for the precise, the
adroit, or the comely in the use of words, comes late; but long before
that he has enjoyed in books a delightful dress rehearsal of experience.
He is first conscious of this material—I had almost said this
practical—pre-occupation; it does not follow that it really came the
first.  I have some old fogged negatives in my collection that would seem
to imply a prior stage ‘The Lord is gone up with a shout, and God with
the sound of a trumpet’—memorial version, I know not where to find the
text—rings still in my ear from my first childhood, and perhaps with
something of my nurses accent.  There was possibly some sort of image
written in my mind by these loud words, but I believe the words
themselves were what I cherished.  I had about the same time, and under
the same influence—that of my dear nurse—a favourite author: it is
possible the reader has not heard of him—the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne.
My nurse and I admired his name exceedingly, so that I must have been
taught the love of beautiful sounds before I was breeched; and I remember
two specimens of his muse until this day:—

    ‘Behind the hills of Naphtali
       The sun went slowly down,
    Leaving on mountain, tower, and tree,
       A tinge of golden brown.’

There is imagery here, and I set it on one side.  The other—it is but a
verse—not only contains no image, but is quite unintelligible even to my
comparatively instructed mind, and I know not even how to spell the
outlandish vocable that charmed me in my childhood:

    ‘Jehovah Tschidkenu is nothing to her’;—{190}

I may say, without flippancy, that he was nothing to me either, since I
had no ray of a guess of what he was about; yet the verse, from then to
now, a longer interval than the life of a generation, has continued to
haunt me.

I have said that I should set a passage distinguished by obvious and
pleasing imagery, however faint; for the child thinks much in images,
words are very live to him, phrases that imply a picture eloquent beyond
their value.  Rummaging in the dusty pigeon-holes of memory, I came once
upon a graphic version of the famous Psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’:
and from the places employed in its illustration, which are all in the
immediate neighbourhood of a house then occupied by my father, I am able,
to date it before the seventh year of my age, although it was probably
earlier in fact.  The ‘pastures green’ were represented by a certain
suburban stubble-field, where I had once walked with my nurse, under an
autumnal sunset, on the banks of the Water of Leith: the place is long
ago built up; no pastures now, no stubble-fields; only a maze of little
streets and smoking chimneys and shrill children.  Here, in the fleecy
person of a sheep, I seemed to myself to follow something unseen,
unrealised, and yet benignant; and close by the sheep in which I was
incarnated—as if for greater security—rustled the skirt, of my nurse.
‘Death’s dark vale’ was a certain archway in the Warriston Cemetery: a
formidable yet beloved spot, for children love to be afraid,—in measure
as they love all experience of vitality.  Here I beheld myself some paces
ahead (seeing myself, I mean, from behind) utterly alone in that uncanny
passage; on the one side of me a rude, knobby, shepherd’s staff, such as
cheers the heart of the cockney tourist, on the other a rod like a
billiard cue, appeared to accompany my progress; the stiff sturdily
upright, the billiard cue inclined confidentially, like one whispering,
towards my ear.  I was aware—I will never tell you how—that the presence
of these articles afforded me encouragement.  The third and last of my
pictures illustrated words:—

    ‘My table Thou hast furnished
       In presence of my foes:
    My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
       And my cup overflows’:

and this was perhaps the most interesting of the series.  I saw myself
seated in a kind of open stone summer-house at table; over my shoulder a
hairy, bearded, and robed presence anointed me from an authentic
shoe-horn; the summer-house was part of the green court of a ruin, and
from the far side of the court black and white imps discharged against me
ineffectual arrows.  The picture appears arbitrary, but I can trace every
detail to its source, as Mr. Brock analysed the dream of Alan Armadale.
The summer-house and court were muddled together out of Billings’
_Antiquities of Scotland_; the imps conveyed from Bagster’s _Pilgrim’s
Progress_; the bearded and robed figure from any one of the thousand
Bible pictures; and the shoe-horn was plagiarised from an old illustrated
Bible, where it figured in the hand of Samuel anointing Saul, and had
been pointed out to me as a jest by my father.  It was shown me for a
jest, remark; but the serious spirit of infancy adopted it in earnest.
Children are all classics; a bottle would have seemed an intermediary too
trivial—that divine refreshment of whose meaning I had no guess; and I
seized on the idea of that mystic shoe-horn with delight, even as, a
little later, I should have written flagon, chalice, hanaper, beaker, or
any word that might have appealed to me at the moment as least
contaminate with mean associations.  In this string of pictures I believe
the gist of the psalm to have consisted; I believe it had no more to say
to me; and the result was consolatory.  I would go to sleep dwelling with
restfulness upon these images; they passed before me, besides, to an
appropriate music; for I had already singled out from that rude psalm the
one lovely verse which dwells in the minds of all, not growing old, not
disgraced by its association with long Sunday tasks, a scarce conscious
joy in childhood, in age a companion thought:—

    ‘In pastures green Thou leadest me,
       The quiet waters by.’

The remainder of my childish recollections are all of the matter of what
was read to me, and not of any manner in the words.  If these pleased me
it was unconsciously; I listened for news of the great vacant world upon
whose edge I stood; I listened for delightful plots that I might re-enact
in play, and romantic scenes and circumstances that I might call up
before me, with closed eyes, when I was tired of Scotland, and home, and
that weary prison of the sick-chamber in which I lay so long in durance.
_Robinson Crusoe_; some of the books of that cheerful, ingenious,
romantic soul, Mayne Reid; and a work rather gruesome and bloody for a
child, but very picturesque, called _Paul Blake_; these are the three
strongest impressions I remember: _The Swiss Family Robinson_ came next,
_longo intervallo_.  At these I played, conjured up their scenes, and
delighted to hear them rehearsed unto seventy times seven.  I am not sure
but what _Paul Blake_ came after I could read.  It seems connected with a
visit to the country, and an experience unforgettable.  The day had been
warm; H--- and I had played together charmingly all day in a sandy
wilderness across the road; then came the evening with a great flash of
colour and a heavenly sweetness in the air.  Somehow my play-mate had
vanished, or is out of the story, as the sages say, but I was sent into
the village on an errand; and, taking a book of fairy tales, went down
alone through a fir-wood, reading as I walked.  How often since then has
it befallen me to be happy even so; but that was the first time: the
shock of that pleasure I have never since forgot, and if my mind serves
me to the last, I never shall, for it was then that I knew I loved
reading.



II


To pass from hearing literature to reading it is to take a great and
dangerous step.  With not a few, I think a large proportion of their
pleasure then comes to an end; ‘the malady of not marking’ overtakes
them; they read thenceforward by the eye alone and hear never again the
chime of fair words or the march of the stately period.  _Non ragioniam_
of these.  But to all the step is dangerous; it involves coming of age;
it is even a kind of second weaning.  In the past all was at the choice
of others; they chose, they digested, they read aloud for us and sang to
their own tune the books of childhood.  In the future we are to approach
the silent, inexpressive type alone, like pioneers; and the choice of
what we are to read is in our own hands thenceforward.  For instance, in
the passages already adduced, I detect and applaud the ear of my old
nurse; they were of her choice, and she imposed them on my infancy,
reading the works of others as a poet would scarce dare to read his own;
gloating on the rhythm, dwelling with delight on assonances and
alliterations.  I know very well my mother must have been all the while
trying to educate my taste upon more secular authors; but the vigour and
the continual opportunities of my nurse triumphed, and after a long
search, I can find in these earliest volumes of my autobiography no
mention of anything but nursery rhymes, the Bible, and Mr. M’Cheyne.

I suppose all children agree in looking back with delight on their school
Readers.  We might not now find so much pathos in ‘Bingen on the Rhine,’
‘A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers,’ or in ‘The Soldier’s
Funeral,’ in the declamation of which I was held to have surpassed
myself.  ‘Robert’s voice,’ said the master on this memorable occasion,
‘is not strong, but impressive’: an opinion which I was fool enough to
carry home to my father; who roasted me for years in consequence.  I am
sure one should not be so deliciously tickled by the humorous pieces:—

    ‘What, crusty? cries Will in a taking,
    Who would not be crusty with half a year’s baking?’

I think this quip would leave us cold.  The ‘Isles of Greece’ seem rather
tawdry too; but on the ‘Address to the Ocean,’ or on ‘The Dying
Gladiator,’ ‘time has writ no wrinkle.’

    ’Tis the morn, but dim and dark,
    Whither flies the silent lark?’—

does the reader recall the moment when his eye first fell upon these
lines in the Fourth Reader; and ‘surprised with joy, impatient as the
wind,’ he plunged into the sequel?  And there was another piece, this
time in prose, which none can have forgotten; many like me must have
searched Dickens with zeal to find it again, and in its proper context,
and have perhaps been conscious of some inconsiderable measure of
disappointment, that it was only Tom Pinch who drove, in such a pomp of
poetry, to London.

But in the Reader we are still under guides.  What a boy turns out for
himself, as he rummages the bookshelves, is the real test and pleasure.
My father’s library was a spot of some austerity; the proceedings of
learned societies, some Latin divinity, cyclopædias, physical science,
and, above all, optics, held the chief place upon the shelves, and it was
only in holes and corners that anything really legible existed as by
accident.  The _Parent’s Assistant_, _Rob Roy_, _Waverley_, and _Guy
Mannering_, the _Voyages of Captain Woods Rogers_, Fuller’s and Bunyan’s
_Holy Wars_,_ The Reflections of Robinson Crusoe_, _The Female
Bluebeard_, G. Sand’s _Mare au Diable_—(how came it in that grave
assembly!), Ainsworth’s _Tower of London_, and four old volumes of
Punch—these were the chief exceptions.  In these latter, which made for
years the chief of my diet, I very early fell in love (almost as soon as
I could spell) with the Snob Papers.  I knew them almost by heart,
particularly the visit to the Pontos; and I remember my surprise when I
found, long afterwards, that they were famous, and signed with a famous
name; to me, as I read and admired them, they were the works of Mr.
Punch.  Time and again I tried to read _Rob Roy_, with whom of course I
was acquainted from the _Tales of a Grandfather_; time and again the
early part, with Rashleigh and (think of it!) the adorable Diana, choked
me off; and I shall never forget the pleasure and surprise with which,
lying on the floor one summer evening, I struck of a sudden into the
first scene with Andrew Fairservice.  ‘The worthy Dr.
Lightfoot’—‘mistrysted with a bogle’—‘a wheen green trash’—‘Jenny, lass,
I think I ha’e her’: from that day to this the phrases have been
unforgotten.  I read on, I need scarce say; I came to Glasgow, I bided
tryst on Glasgow Bridge, I met Rob Roy and the Bailie in the Tolbooth,
all with transporting pleasure; and then the clouds gathered once more
about my path; and I dozed and skipped until I stumbled half-asleep into
the clachan of Aberfoyle, and the voices of Iverach and Galbraith
recalled me to myself.  With that scene and the defeat of Captain
Thornton the book concluded; Helen and her sons shocked even the little
schoolboy of nine or ten with their unreality; I read no more, or I did
not grasp what I was reading; and years elapsed before I consciously met
Diana and her father among the hills, or saw Rashleigh dying in the
chair.  When I think of that novel and that evening, I am impatient with
all others; they seem but shadows and impostors; they cannot satisfy the
appetite which this awakened; and I dare be known to think it the best of
Sir Walter’s by nearly as much as Sir Walter is the best of novelists.
Perhaps Mr. Lang is right, and our first friends in the land of fiction
are always the most real.  And yet I had read before this _Guy
Mannering_, and some of _Waverley_, with no such delighted sense of truth
and humour, and I read immediately after the greater part of the Waverley
Novels, and was never moved again in the same way or to the same degree.
One circumstance is suspicious: my critical estimate of the Waverley
Novels has scarce changed at all since I was ten.  _Rob Roy_, _Guy
Mannering_, and _Redgauntlet_ first; then, a little lower; _The Fortunes
of Nigel_; then, after a huge gulf, _Ivanhoe_ and _Anne of Geierstein_:
the rest nowhere; such was the verdict of the boy.  Since then _The
Antiquary_, _St. Ronan’s Well_, _Kenilworth_, and _The Heart of
Midlothian_ have gone up in the scale; perhaps _Ivanhoe and Anne of
Geierstein_ have gone a trifle down; Diana Vernon has been added to my
admirations in that enchanted world of _Rob Roy_; I think more of the
letters in _Redgauntlet_, and Peter Peebles, that dreadful piece of
realism, I can now read about with equanimity, interest, and I had almost
said pleasure, while to the childish critic he often caused unmixed
distress.  But the rest is the same; I could not finish _The Pirate_ when
I was a child, I have never finished it yet; _Peveril of the Peak_
dropped half way through from my schoolboy hands, and though I have since
waded to an end in a kind of wager with myself, the exercise was quite
without enjoyment.  There is something disquieting in these
considerations.  I still think the visit to Ponto’s the best part of the
_Book of Snobs_: does that mean that I was right when I was a child, or
does it mean that I have never grown since then, that the child is not
the man’s father, but the man? and that I came into the world with all my
faculties complete, and have only learned sinsyne to be more tolerant of
boredom? . . .



VIII.
THE IDEAL HOUSE


Two things are necessary in any neighbourhood where we propose to spend a
life: a desert and some living water.

There are many parts of the earth’s face which offer the necessary
combination of a certain wildness with a kindly variety.  A great
prospect is desirable, but the want may be otherwise supplied; even
greatness can be found on the small scale; for the mind and the eye
measure differently.  Bold rocks near hand are more inspiriting than
distant Alps, and the thick fern upon a Surrey heath makes a fine forest
for the imagination, and the dotted yew trees noble mountains.  A
Scottish moor with birches and firs grouped here and there upon a knoll,
or one of those rocky seaside deserts of Provence overgrown with rosemary
and thyme and smoking with aroma, are places where the mind is never
weary.  Forests, being more enclosed, are not at first sight so
attractive, but they exercise a spell; they must, however, be diversified
with either heath or rock, and are hardly to be considered perfect
without conifers.  Even sand-hills, with their intricate plan, and their
gulls and rabbits, will stand well for the necessary desert.

The house must be within hail of either a little river or the sea.  A
great river is more fit for poetry than to adorn a neighbourhood; its
sweep of waters increases the scale of the scenery and the distance of
one notable object from another; and a lively burn gives us, in the space
of a few yards, a greater variety of promontory and islet, of cascade,
shallow goil, and boiling pool, with answerable changes both of song and
colour, than a navigable stream in many hundred miles.  The fish, too,
make a more considerable feature of the brookside, and the trout plumping
in the shadow takes the ear.  A stream should, besides, be narrow enough
to cross, or the burn hard by a bridge, or we are at once shut out of
Eden.  The quantity of water need be of no concern, for the mind sets the
scale, and can enjoy a Niagara Fall of thirty inches.  Let us approve the
singer of

    ‘Shallow rivers, by whose falls
    Melodious birds sing madrigals.’

If the sea is to be our ornamental water, choose an open seaboard with a
heavy beat of surf; one much broken in outline, with small havens and
dwarf headlands; if possible a few islets; and as a first necessity,
rocks reaching out into deep water.  Such a rock on a calm day is a
better station than the top of Teneriffe or Chimborazo.  In short, both
for the desert and the water, the conjunction of many near and bold
details is bold scenery for the imagination and keeps the mind alive.

Given these two prime luxuries, the nature of the country where we are to
live is, I had almost said, indifferent; after that inside the garden, we
can construct a country of our own.  Several old trees, a considerable
variety of level, several well-grown hedges to divide our garden into
provinces, a good extent of old well-set turf, and thickets of shrubs and
ever-greens to be cut into and cleared at the new owner’s pleasure, are
the qualities to be sought for in your chosen land.  Nothing is more
delightful than a succession of small lawns, opening one out of the other
through tall hedges; these have all the charm of the old bowling-green
repeated, do not require the labour of many trimmers, and afford a series
of changes.  You must have much lawn against the early summer, so as to
have a great field of daisies, the year’s morning frost; as you must have
a wood of lilacs, to enjoy to the full the period of their blossoming.
Hawthorn is another of the Spring’s ingredients; but it is even best to
have a rough public lane at one side of your enclosure which, at the
right season, shall become an avenue of bloom and odour.  The old flowers
are the best and should grow carelessly in corners.  Indeed, the ideal
fortune is to find an old garden, once very richly cared for, since sunk
into neglect, and to tend, not repair, that neglect; it will thus have a
smack of nature and wildness which skilful dispositions cannot overtake.
The gardener should be an idler, and have a gross partiality to the
kitchen plots: an eager or toilful gardener misbecomes the garden
landscape; a tasteful gardener will be ever meddling, will keep the
borders raw, and take the bloom off nature.  Close adjoining, if you are
in the south, an olive-yard, if in the north, a swarded apple-orchard
reaching to the stream, completes your miniature domain; but this is
perhaps best entered through a door in the high fruit-wall; so that you
close the door behind you on your sunny plots, your hedges and evergreen
jungle, when you go down to watch the apples falling in the pool.  It is
a golden maxim to cultivate the garden for the nose, and the eyes will
take care of themselves.  Nor must the ear be forgotten: without birds a
garden is a prison-yard.  There is a garden near Marseilles on a steep
hill-side, walking by which, upon a sunny morning, your ear will suddenly
be ravished with a burst of small and very cheerful singing: some score
of cages being set out there to sun their occupants.  This is a heavenly
surprise to any passer-by; but the price paid, to keep so many ardent and
winged creatures from their liberty, will make the luxury too dear for
any thoughtful pleasure-lover.  There is only one sort of bird that I can
tolerate caged, though even then I think it hard, and that is what is
called in France the Bec-d’Argent.  I once had two of these pigmies in
captivity; and in the quiet, hire house upon a silent street where I was
then living, their song, which was not much louder than a bee’s, but
airily musical, kept me in a perpetual good humour.  I put the cage upon
my table when I worked, carried it with me when I went for meals, and
kept it by my head at night: the first thing in the morning, these
_maestrini_ would pipe up.  But these, even if you can pardon their
imprisonment, are for the house.  In the garden the wild birds must plant
a colony, a chorus of the lesser warblers that should be almost
deafening, a blackbird in the lilacs, a nightingale down the lane, so
that you must stroll to hear it, and yet a little farther, tree-tops
populous with rooks.

Your house should not command much outlook; it should be set deep and
green, though upon rising ground, or, if possible, crowning a knoll, for
the sake of drainage.  Yet it must be open to the east, or you will miss
the sunrise; sunset occurring so much later, you can go up a few steps
and look the other way.  A house of more than two stories is a mere
barrack; indeed the ideal is of one story, raised upon cellars.  If the
rooms are large, the house may be small: a single room, lofty, spacious,
and lightsome, is more palatial than a castleful of cabinets and
cupboards.  Yet size in a house, and some extent and intricacy of
corridor, is certainly delightful to the flesh.  The reception room
should be, if possible, a place of many recesses, which are ‘petty
retiring places for conference’; but it must have one long wall with a
divan: for a day spent upon a divan, among a world of cushions, is as
full of diversion as to travel.  The eating-room, in the French mode,
should be _ad hoc_: unfurnished, but with a buffet, the table, necessary
chairs, one or two of Canaletto’s etchings, and a tile fire-place for the
winter.  In neither of these public places should there be anything
beyond a shelf or two of books; but the passages may be one library from
end to end, and the stair, if there be one, lined with volumes in old
leather, very brightly carpeted, and leading half-way up, and by way of
landing, to a windowed recess with a fire-place; this window, almost
alone in the house, should command a handsome prospect.  Husband and wife
must each possess a studio; on the woman’s sanctuary I hesitate to dwell,
and turn to the man’s.  The walls are shelved waist-high for books, and
the top thus forms a continuous table running round the wall.  Above are
prints, a large map of the neighbourhood, a Corot and a Claude or two.
The room is very spacious, and the five tables and two chairs are but as
islands.  One table is for actual work, one close by for references in
use; one, very large, for MSS. or proofs that wait their turn; one kept
clear for an occasion; and the fifth is the map table, groaning under a
collection of large-scale maps and charts.  Of all books these are the
least wearisome to read and the richest in matter; the course of roads
and rivers, the contour lines and the forests in the maps—the reefs,
soundings, anchors, sailing marks and little pilot-pictures in the
charts—and, in both, the bead-roll of names, make them of all printed
matter the most fit to stimulate and satisfy the fancy.  The chair in
which you write is very low and easy, and backed into a corner; at one
elbow the fire twinkles; close at the other, if you are a little
inhumane, your cage of silver-bills are twittering into song.

Joined along by a passage, you may reach the great, sunny, glass-roofed,
and tiled gymnasium, at the far end of which, lined with bright marble,
is your plunge and swimming bath, fitted with a capacious boiler.

The whole loft of the house from end to end makes one undivided chamber;
here are set forth tables on which to model imaginary or actual countries
in putty or plaster, with tools and hardy pigments; a carpenter’s bench;
and a spared corner for photography, while at the far end a space is kept
clear for playing soldiers.  Two boxes contain the two armies of some
five hundred horse and foot; two others the ammunition of each side, and
a fifth the foot-rules and the three colours of chalk, with which you lay
down, or, after a day’s play, refresh the outlines of the country; red or
white for the two kinds of road (according as they are suitable or not
for the passage of ordnance), and blue for the course of the obstructing
rivers.  Here I foresee that you may pass much happy time; against a good
adversary a game may well continue for a month; for with armies so
considerable three moves will occupy an hour.  It will be found to set an
excellent edge on this diversion if one of the players shall, every day
or so, write a report of the operations in the character of army
correspondent.

I have left to the last the little room for winter evenings.  This should
be furnished in warm positive colours, and sofas and floor thick with
rich furs.  The hearth, where you burn wood of aromatic quality on silver
dogs, tiled round about with Bible pictures; the seats deep and easy; a
single Titian in a gold frame; a white bust or so upon a bracket; a rack
for the journals of the week; a table for the books of the year; and
close in a corner the three shelves full of eternal books that never
weary: Shakespeare, Molière, Montaigne, Lamb, Sterne, De Musset’s
comedies (the one volume open at _Carmosine_ and the other at
_Fantasio_); the _Arabian Nights_, and kindred stories, in Weber’s solemn
volumes; Borrow’s _Bible in Spain_, the _Pilgrim’s Progress_, _Guy
Mannering_ and _Rob Roy_, _Monte Cristo_ and the _Vicomte de Bragelonne_,
immortal Boswell sole among biographers, Chaucer, Herrick, and the _State
Trials_.

The bedrooms are large, airy, with almost no furniture, floors of
varnished wood, and at the bed-head, in case of insomnia, one shelf of
books of a particular and dippable order, such as _Pepys_, the _Paston
Letters_, Burt’s _Letters from the Highlands_, or the _Newgate Calendar_.
. . .



IX.
DAVOS IN WINTER


A mountain valley has, at the best, a certain prison-like effect on the
imagination, but a mountain valley, an Alpine winter, and an invalid’s
weakness make up among them a prison of the most effective kind.  The
roads indeed are cleared, and at least one footpath dodging up the hill;
but to these the health-seeker is rigidly confined.  There are for him no
cross-cuts over the field, no following of streams, no unguided rambles
in the wood.  His walks are cut and dry.  In five or six different
directions he can push as far, and no farther, than his strength permits;
never deviating from the line laid down for him and beholding at each
repetition the same field of wood and snow from the same corner of the
road.  This, of itself, would be a little trying to the patience in the
course of months; but to this is added, by the heaped mantle of the snow,
an almost utter absence of detail and an almost unbroken identity of
colour.  Snow, it is true, is not merely white.  The sun touches it with
roseate and golden lights.  Its own crushed infinity of crystals, its own
richness of tiny sculpture, fills it, when regarded near at hand, with
wonderful depths of coloured shadow, and, though wintrily transformed, it
is still water, and has watery tones of blue.  But, when all is said,
these fields of white and blots of crude black forest are but a trite and
staring substitute for the infinite variety and pleasantness of the
earth’s face.  Even a boulder, whose front is too precipitous to have
retained the snow, seems, if you come upon it in your walk, a perfect gem
of colour, reminds you almost painfully of other places, and brings into
your head the delights of more Arcadian days—the path across the meadow,
the hazel dell, the lilies on the stream, and the scents, the colours,
and the whisper of the woods.  And scents here are as rare as colours.
Unless you get a gust of kitchen in passing some hotel, you shall smell
nothing all day long but the faint and choking odour of frost.  Sounds,
too, are absent: not a bird pipes, not a bough waves, in the dead,
windless atmosphere.  If a sleigh goes by, the sleigh-bells ring, and
that is all; you work all winter through to no other accompaniment but
the crunching of your steps upon the frozen snow.

It is the curse of the Alpine valleys to be each one village from one end
to the other.  Go where you please, houses will still be in sight, before
and behind you, and to the right and left.  Climb as high as an invalid
is able, and it is only to spy new habitations nested in the wood.  Nor
is that all; for about the health resort the walks are besieged by single
people walking rapidly with plaids about their shoulders, by sudden
troops of German boys trying to learn to jödel, and by German couples
silently and, as you venture to fancy, not quite happily, pursuing love’s
young dream.  You may perhaps be an invalid who likes to make bad verses
as he walks about.  Alas! no muse will suffer this imminence of
interruption—and at the second stampede of jödellers you find your modest
inspiration fled.  Or you may only have a taste for solitude; it may try
your nerves to have some one always in front whom you are visibly
overtaking, and some one always behind who is audibly overtaking you, to
say nothing of a score or so who brush past you in an opposite direction.
It may annoy you to take your walks and seats in public view.  Alas!
there is no help for it among the Alps.  There are no recesses, as in
Gorbio Valley by the oil-mill; no sacred solitude of olive gardens on the
Roccabruna-road; no nook upon Saint Martin’s Cape, haunted by the voice
of breakers, and fragrant with the threefold sweetness of the rosemary
and the sea-pines and the sea.

For this publicity there is no cure, and no alleviation; but the storms
of which you will complain so bitterly while they endure, chequer and by
their contrast brighten the sameness of the fair-weather scenes.  When
sun and storm contend together—when the thick clouds are broken up and
pierced by arrows of golden daylight—there will be startling
rearrangements and transfigurations of the mountain summits.  A
sun-dazzling spire of alp hangs suspended in mid-sky among awful glooms
and blackness; or perhaps the edge of some great mountain shoulder will
be designed in living gold, and appear for the duration of a glance
bright like a constellation, and alone ‘in the unapparent.’  You may
think you know the figure of these hills; but when they are thus
revealed, they belong no longer to the things of earth—meteors we should
rather call them, appearances of sun and air that endure but for a moment
and return no more.  Other variations are more lasting, as when, for
instance, heavy and wet snow has fallen through some windless hours, and
the thin, spiry, mountain pine trees stand each stock-still and loaded
with a shining burthen.  You may drive through a forest so disguised, the
tongue-tied torrent struggling silently in the cleft of the ravine, and
all still except the jingle of the sleigh bells, and you shall fancy
yourself in some untrodden northern territory—Lapland, Labrador, or
Alaska.

Or, possibly, you arise very early in the morning; totter down stairs in
a state of somnambulism; take the simulacrum of a meal by the glimmer of
one lamp in the deserted coffee-room; and find yourself by seven o’clock
outside in a belated moonlight and a freezing chill.  The mail sleigh
takes you up and carries you on, and you reach the top of the ascent in
the first hour of the day.  To trace the fires of the sunrise as they
pass from peak to peak, to see the unlit tree-tops stand out soberly
against the lighted sky, to be for twenty minutes in a wonderland of
clear, fading shadows, disappearing vapours, solemn blooms of dawn, hills
half glorified already with the day and still half confounded with the
greyness of the western heaven—these will seem to repay you for the
discomforts of that early start; but as the hour proceeds, and these
enchantments vanish, you will find yourself upon the farther side in yet
another Alpine valley, snow white and coal black, with such another
long-drawn congeries of hamlets and such another senseless watercourse
bickering along the foot.  You have had your moment; but you have not
changed the scene.  The mountains are about you like a trap; you cannot
foot it up a hillside and behold the sea as a great plain, but live in
holes and corners, and can change only one for another.



X.
HEALTH AND MOUNTAINS


There has come a change in medical opinion, and a change has followed in
the lives of sick folk.  A year or two ago and the wounded soldiery of
mankind were all shut up together in some basking angle of the Riviera,
walking a dusty promenade or sitting in dusty olive-yards within earshot
of the interminable and unchanging surf—idle among spiritless idlers; not
perhaps dying, yet hardly living either, and aspiring, sometimes
fiercely, after livelier weather and some vivifying change.  These were
certainly beautiful places to live in, and the climate was wooing in its
softness.  Yet there was a later shiver in the sunshine; you were not
certain whether you were being wooed; and these mild shores would
sometimes seem to you to be the shores of death.  There was a lack of a
manly element; the air was not reactive; you might write bits of poetry
and practise resignation, but you did not feel that here was a good spot
to repair your tissue or regain your nerve.  And it appears, after all,
that there was something just in these appreciations.  The invalid is now
asked to lodge on wintry Alps; a ruder air shall medicine him; the demon
of cold is no longer to be fled from, but bearded in his den.  For even
Winter has his ‘dear domestic cave,’ and in those places where he may be
said to dwell for ever tempers his austerities.

Any one who has travelled westward by the great transcontinental railroad
of America must remember the joy with which he perceived, after the
tedious prairies of Nebraska and across the vast and dismal moorlands of
Wyoming, a few snowy mountain summits alone, the southern sky.  It is
among these mountains in the new State of Colorado that the sick man may
find, not merely an alleviation of his ailments, but the possibility of
an active life and an honest livelihood.  There, no longer as a lounger
in a plaid, but as a working farmer, sweating at his work, he may prolong
and begin anew his life.  Instead of the bath-chair, the spade; instead
of the regulated walk, rough journeys in the forest, and the pure, rare
air of the open mountains for the miasma of the sick-room—these are the
changes offered him, with what promise of pleasure and of self-respect,
with what a revolution in all his hopes and terrors, none but an invalid
can know.  Resignation, the cowardice that apes a kind of courage and
that lives in the very air of health resorts, is cast aside at a breath
of such a prospect.  The man can open the door; he can be up and doing;
he can be a kind of a man after all and not merely an invalid.

But it is a far cry to the Rocky Mountains.  We cannot all of us go
farming in Colorado; and there is yet a middle term, which combines the
medical benefits of the new system with the moral drawbacks of the old.
Again the invalid has to lie aside from life and its wholesome duties;
again he has to be an idler among idlers; but this time at a great
altitude, far among the mountains, with the snow piled before his door
and the frost flowers every morning on his window.  The mere fact is
tonic to his nerves.  His choice of a place of wintering has somehow to
his own eyes the air of an act of bold contract; and, since he has
wilfully sought low temperatures, he is not so apt to shudder at a touch
of chill.  He came for that, he looked for it, and he throws it from him
with the thought.

A long straight reach of valley, wall-like mountains upon either hand
that rise higher and higher and shoot up new summits the higher you
climb; a few noble peaks seen even from the valley; a village of hotels;
a world of black and white—black pine-woods, clinging to the sides of the
valley, and white snow flouring it, and papering it between the
pine-woods, and covering all the mountains with a dazzling curd; add a
few score invalids marching to and fro upon the snowy road, or skating on
the ice-rinks, possibly to music, or sitting under sunshades by the door
of the hotel—and you have the larger features of a mountain sanatorium.
A certain furious river runs curving down the valley; its pace never
varies, it has not a pool for as far as you can follow it; and its
unchanging, senseless hurry is strangely tedious to witness.  It is a
river that a man could grow to hate.  Day after day breaks with the
rarest gold upon the mountain spires, and creeps, growing and glowing,
down into the valley.  From end to end the snow reverberates the
sunshine; from end to end the air tingles with the light, clear and dry
like crystal.  Only along the course of the river, but high above it,
there hangs far into the noon, one waving scarf of vapour.  It were hard
to fancy a more engaging feature in a landscape; perhaps it is harder to
believe that delicate, long-lasting phantom of the atmosphere, a creature
of the incontinent stream whose course it follows.  By noon the sky is
arrayed in an unrivalled pomp of colour—mild and pale and melting in the
north, but towards the zenith, dark with an intensity of purple blue.
What with this darkness of heaven and the intolerable lustre of the snow,
space is reduced again to chaos.  An English painter, coming to France
late in life, declared with natural anger that ‘the values were all
wrong.’  Had he got among the Alps on a bright day he might have lost his
reason.  And even to any one who has looked at landscape with any care,
and in any way through the spectacles of representative art, the scene
has a character of insanity.  The distant shining mountain peak is here
beside your eye; the neighbouring dull-coloured house in comparison is
miles away; the summit, which is all of splendid snow, is close at hand;
the nigh slopes, which are black with pine trees, bear it no relation,
and might be in another sphere.  Here there are none of those delicate
gradations, those intimate, misty joinings-on and spreadings-out into the
distance, nothing of that art of air and light by which the face of
nature explains and veils itself in climes which we may be allowed to
think more lovely.  A glaring piece of crudity, where everything that is
not white is a solecism and defies the judgment of the eyesight; a scene
of blinding definition; a parade of daylight, almost scenically vulgar,
more than scenically trying, and yet hearty and healthy, making the
nerves to tighten and the mouth to smile: such is the winter daytime in
the Alps.

With the approach of evening all is changed.  A mountain will suddenly
intercept the sun; a shadow fall upon the valley; in ten minutes the
thermometer will drop as many degrees; the peaks that are no longer shone
upon dwindle into ghosts; and meanwhile, overhead, if the weather be
rightly characteristic of the place, the sky fades towards night through
a surprising key of colours.  The latest gold leaps from the last
mountain.  Soon, perhaps, the moon shall rise, and in her gentler light
the valley shall be mellowed and misted, and here and there a wisp of
silver cloud upon a hilltop, and here and there a warmly glowing window
in a house, between fire and starlight, kind and homely in the fields of
snow.

But the valley is not seated so high among the clouds to be eternally
exempt from changes.  The clouds gather, black as ink; the wind bursts
rudely in; day after day the mists drive overhead, the snow-flakes
flutter down in blinding disarray; daily the mail comes in later from the
top of the pass; people peer through their windows and foresee no end but
an entire seclusion from Europe, and death by gradual dry-rot, each in
his indifferent inn; and when at last the storm goes, and the sun comes
again, behold a world of unpolluted snow, glossy like fur, bright like
daylight, a joy to wallowing dogs and cheerful to the souls of men.  Or
perhaps from across storied and malarious Italy, a wind cunningly winds
about the mountains and breaks, warm and unclean, upon our mountain
valley.  Every nerve is set ajar; the conscience recognises, at a gust, a
load of sins and negligences hitherto unknown; and the whole invalid
world huddles into its private chambers, and silently recognises the
empire of the Föhn.



XI.
ALPINE DIVERSIONS


There will be no lack of diversion in an Alpine sanitarium.  The place is
half English, to be sure, the local sheet appearing in double column,
text and translation; but it still remains half German; and hence we have
a band which is able to play, and a company of actors able, as you will
be told, to act.  This last you will take on trust, for the players,
unlike the local sheet, confine themselves to German and though at the
beginning of winter they come with their wig-boxes to each hotel in turn,
long before Christmas they will have given up the English for a bad job.
There will follow, perhaps, a skirmish between the two races; the German
element seeking, in the interest of their actors, to raise a mysterious
item, the _Kur-taxe_, which figures heavily enough already in the weekly
bills, the English element stoutly resisting.  Meantime in the English
hotels home-played farces, _tableaux-vivants_, and even balls enliven the
evenings; a charity bazaar sheds genial consternation; Christmas and New
Year are solemnised with Pantagruelian dinners, and from time to time the
young folks carol and revolve untunefully enough through the figures of a
singing quadrille.

A magazine club supplies you with everything, from the _Quarterly_ to the
_Sunday at Home_.  Grand tournaments are organised at chess, draughts,
billiards and whist.  Once and again wandering artists drop into our
mountain valley, coming you know not whence, going you cannot imagine
whither, and belonging to every degree in the hierarchy of musical art,
from the recognised performer who announces a concert for the evening, to
the comic German family or solitary long-haired German baritone, who
surprises the guests at dinner-time with songs and a collection.  They
are all of them good to see; they, at least, are moving; they bring with
them the sentiment of the open road; yesterday, perhaps, they were in
Tyrol, and next week they will be far in Lombardy, while all we sick folk
still simmer in our mountain prison.  Some of them, too, are welcome as
the flowers in May for their own sake; some of them may have a human
voice; some may have that magic which transforms a wooden box into a
song-bird, and what we jeeringly call a fiddle into what we mention with
respect as a violin.  From that grinding lilt, with which the blind man,
seeking pence, accompanies the beat of paddle wheels across the ferry,
there is surely a difference rather of kind than of degree to that
unearthly voice of singing that bewails and praises the destiny of man at
the touch of the true virtuoso.  Even that you may perhaps enjoy; and if
you do so you will own it impossible to enjoy it more keenly than here,
_im Schnee der Alpen_.  A hyacinth in a pot, a handful of primroses
packed in moss, or a piece of music by some one who knows the way to the
heart of a violin, are things that, in this invariable sameness of the
snows and frosty air, surprise you like an adventure.  It is droll,
moreover, to compare the respect with which the invalids attend a
concert, and the ready contempt with which they greet the dinner-time
performers.  Singing which they would hear with real enthusiasm—possibly
with tears—from a corner of a drawing-room, is listened to with laughter
when it is offered by an unknown professional and no money has been taken
at the door.

Of skating little need be said; in so snowy a climate the rinks must be
intelligently managed; their mismanagement will lead to many days of
vexation and some petty quarrelling, but when all goes well, it is
certainly curious, and perhaps rather unsafe, for the invalid to skate
under a burning sun, and walk back to his hotel in a sweat, through long
tracts of glare and passages of freezing shadow.  But the peculiar
outdoor sport of this district is tobogganing.  A Scotchman may remember
the low flat board, with the front wheels on a pivot, which was called a
_hurlie_; he may remember this contrivance, laden with boys, as,
laboriously started, it ran rattling down the brae, and was, now
successfully, now unsuccessfully, steered round the corner at the foot;
he may remember scented summer evenings passed in this diversion, and
many a grazed skin, bloody cockscomb, and neglected lesson.  The toboggan
is to the hurlie what the sled is to the carriage; it is a hurlie upon
runners; and if for a grating road you substitute a long declivity of
beaten snow, you can imagine the giddy career of the tobogganist.  The
correct position is to sit; but the fantastic will sometimes sit
hind-foremost, or dare the descent upon their belly or their back.  A few
steer with a pair of pointed sticks, but it is more classical to use the
feet.  If the weight be heavy and the track smooth, the toboggan takes
the bit between its teeth; and to steer a couple of full-sized friends in
safety requires not only judgment but desperate exertion.  On a very
steep track, with a keen evening frost, you may have moments almost too
appalling to be called enjoyment; the head goes, the world vanishes; your
blind steed bounds below your weight; you reach the foot, with all the
breath knocked out of your body, jarred and bewildered as though you had
just been subjected to a railway accident.  Another element of joyful
horror is added by the formation of a train; one toboggan being tied to
another, perhaps to the number of half a dozen, only the first rider
being allowed to steer, and all the rest pledged to put up their feet and
follow their leader, with heart in mouth, down the mad descent.  This,
particularly if the track begins with a headlong plunge, is one of the
most exhilarating follies in the world, and the tobogganing invalid is
early reconciled to somersaults.

There is all manner of variety in the nature of the tracks, some miles in
length, others but a few yards, and yet like some short rivers, furious
in their brevity.  All degrees of skill and courage and taste may be
suited in your neighbourhood.  But perhaps the true way to toboggan is
alone and at night.  First comes the tedious climb, dragging your
instrument behind you.  Next a long breathing-space, alone with snow and
pinewoods, cold, silent and solemn to the heart.  Then you push of; the
toboggan fetches way; she begins to feel the hill, to glide, to, swim, to
gallop.  In a breath you are out from under the pine trees, and a whole
heavenful of stars reels and flashes overhead.  Then comes a vicious
effort; for by this time your wooden steed is speeding like the wind, and
you are spinning round a corner, and the whole glittering valley and all
the lights in all the great hotels lie for a moment at your feet; and the
next you are racing once more in the shadow of the night with close-shut
teeth and beating heart.  Yet a little while and you will be landed on
the highroad by the door of your own hotel.  This, in an atmosphere
tingling with forty degrees of frost, in a night made luminous with stars
and snow, and girt with strange white mountains, teaches the pulse an
unaccustomed tune and adds a new excitement to the life of man upon his
planet.



XII.
THE STIMULATION OF THE ALPS


To any one who should come from a southern sanitarium to the Alps, the
row of sun-burned faces round the table would present the first surprise.
He would begin by looking for the invalids, and he would lose his pains,
for not one out of five of even the bad cases bears the mark of sickness
on his face.  The plump sunshine from above and its strong reverberation
from below colour the skin like an Indian climate; the treatment, which
consists mainly of the open air, exposes even the sickliest to tan, and a
tableful of invalids comes, in a month or two, to resemble a tableful of
hunters.  But although he may be thus surprised at the first glance, his
astonishment will grow greater, as he experiences the effects of the
climate on himself.  In many ways it is a trying business to reside upon
the Alps: the stomach is exercised, the appetite often languishes; the
liver may at times rebel; and because you have come so far from
metropolitan advantages, it does not follow that you shall recover.  But
one thing is undeniable—that in the rare air, clear, cold, and blinding
light of Alpine winters, a man takes a certain troubled delight in his
existence which can nowhere else be paralleled.  He is perhaps no
happier, but he is stingingly alive.  It does not, perhaps, come out of
him in work or exercise, yet he feels an enthusiasm of the blood unknown
in more temperate climates.  It may not be health, but it is fun.

There is nothing more difficult to communicate on paper than this
baseless ardour, this stimulation of the brain, this sterile joyousness
of spirits.  You wake every morning, see the gold upon the snow-peaks,
become filled with courage, and bless God for your prolonged existence.
The valleys are but a stride to you; you cast your shoe over the
hilltops; your ears and your heart sing; in the words of an unverified
quotation from the Scotch psalms, you feel yourself fit ‘on the wings of
all the winds’ to ‘come flying all abroad.’  Europe and your mind are too
narrow for that flood of energy.  Yet it is notable that you are hard to
root out of your bed; that you start forth, singing, indeed, on your
walk, yet are unusually ready to turn home again; that the best of you is
volatile; and that although the restlessness remains till night, the
strength is early at an end.  With all these heady jollities, you are
half conscious of an underlying languor in the body; you prove not to be
so well as you had fancied; you weary before you have well begun; and
though you mount at morning with the lark, that is not precisely a
song-bird’s heart that you bring back with you when you return with
aching limbs and peevish temper to your inn.

It is hard to say wherein it lies, but this joy of Alpine winters is its
own reward.  Baseless, in a sense, it is more than worth more permanent
improvements.  The dream of health is perfect while it lasts; and if, in
trying to realise it, you speedily wear out the dear hallucination, still
every day, and many times a day, you are conscious of a strength you
scarce possess, and a delight in living as merry as it proves to be
transient.

The brightness—heaven and earth conspiring to be bright—the levity and
quiet of the air; the odd stirring silence—more stirring than a tumult;
the snow, the frost, the enchanted landscape: all have their part in the
effect and on the memory, ‘_tous vous tapent sur la téte_’; and yet when
you have enumerated all, you have gone no nearer to explain or even to
qualify the delicate exhilaration that you feel—delicate, you may say,
and yet excessive, greater than can be said in prose, almost greater than
an invalid can bear.  There is a certain wine of France known in England
in some gaseous disguise, but when drunk in the land of its nativity
still as a pool, clean as river water, and as heady as verse.  It is more
than probable that in its noble natural condition this was the very wine
of Anjou so beloved by Athos in the ‘Musketeers.’  Now, if the reader has
ever washed down a liberal second breakfast with the wine in question,
and gone forth, on the back of these dilutions, into a sultry, sparkling
noontide, he will have felt an influence almost as genial, although
strangely grosser, than this fairy titillation of the nerves among the
snow and sunshine of the Alps.  That also is a mode, we need not say of
intoxication, but of insobriety.  Thus also a man walks in a strong
sunshine of the mind, and follows smiling, insubstantial meditations.
And whether he be really so clever or so strong as he supposes, in either
case he will enjoy his chimera while it lasts.

The influence of this giddy air displays itself in many secondary ways.
A certain sort of laboured pleasantry has already been recognised, and
may perhaps have been remarked in these papers, as a sort peculiar to
that climate.  People utter their judgments with a cannonade of
syllables; a big word is as good as a meal to them; and the turn of a
phrase goes further than humour or wisdom.  By the professional writer
many sad vicissitudes have to be undergone.  At first he cannot write at
all.  The heart, it appears, is unequal to the pressure of business, and
the brain, left without nourishment, goes into a mild decline.  Next,
some power of work returns to him, accompanied by jumping headaches.
Last, the spring is opened, and there pours at once from his pen a world
of blatant, hustling polysyllables, and talk so high as, in the old joke,
to be positively offensive in hot weather.  He writes it in good faith
and with a sense of inspiration; it is only when he comes to read what he
has written that surprise and disquiet seize upon his mind.  What is he
to do, poor man?  All his little fishes talk like whales.  This yeasty
inflation, this stiff and strutting architecture of the sentence has come
upon him while he slept; and it is not he, it is the Alps, who are to
blame.  He is not, perhaps, alone, which somewhat comforts him.  Nor is
the ill without a remedy.  Some day, when the spring returns, he shall go
down a little lower in this world, and remember quieter inflections and
more modest language.  But here, in the meantime, there seems to swim up
some outline of a new cerebral hygiene and a good time coming, when
experienced advisers shall send a man to the proper measured level for
the ode, the biography, or the religious tract; and a nook may be found
between the sea and Chimborazo, where Mr. Swinburne shall be able to
write more continently, and Mr. Browning somewhat slower.

Is it a return of youth, or is it a congestion of the brain?  It is a
sort of congestion, perhaps, that leads the invalid, when all goes well,
to face the new day with such a bubbling cheerfulness.  It is certainly
congestion that makes night hideous with visions, all the chambers of a
many-storeyed caravanserai, haunted with vociferous nightmares, and many
wakeful people come down late for breakfast in the morning.  Upon that
theory the cynic may explain the whole affair—exhilaration, nightmares,
pomp of tongue and all.  But, on the other hand, the peculiar blessedness
of boyhood may itself be but a symptom of the same complaint, for the two
effects are strangely similar; and the frame of mind of the invalid upon
the Alps is a sort of intermittent youth, with periods of lassitude.  The
fountain of Juventus does not play steadily in these parts; but there it
plays, and possibly nowhere else.



XIII.
ROADS
1873


No amateur will deny that he can find more pleasure in a single drawing,
over which he can sit a whole quiet forenoon, and so gradually study
himself into humour with the artist, than he can ever extract from the
dazzle and accumulation of incongruous impressions that send him, weary
and stupefied, out of some famous picture-gallery.  But what is thus
admitted with regard to art is not extended to the (so-called) natural
beauties no amount of excess in sublime mountain outline or the graces of
cultivated lowland can do anything, it is supposed, to weaken or degrade
the palate.  We are not at all sure, however, that moderation, and a
regimen tolerably austere, even in scenery, are not healthful and
strengthening to the taste; and that the best school for a lover of
nature is not to the found in one of those countries where there is no
stage effect—nothing salient or sudden,—but a quiet spirit of orderly and
harmonious beauty pervades all the details, so that we can patiently
attend to each of the little touches that strike in us, all of them
together, the subdued note of the landscape.  It is in scenery such as
this that we find ourselves in the right temper to seek out small
sequestered loveliness.  The constant recurrence of similar combinations
of colour and outline gradually forces upon us a sense of how the harmony
has been built up, and we become familiar with something of nature’s
mannerism.  This is the true pleasure of your ‘rural voluptuary,’—not to
remain awe-stricken before a Mount Chimborazo; not to sit deafened over
the big drum in the orchestra, but day by day to teach himself some new
beauty—to experience some new vague and tranquil sensation that has
before evaded him.  It is not the people who ‘have pined and hungered
after nature many a year, in the great city pent,’ as Coleridge said in
the poem that made Charles Lamb so much ashamed of himself; it is not
those who make the greatest progress in this intimacy with her, or who
are most quick to see and have the greatest gusto to enjoy.  In this, as
in everything else, it is minute knowledge and long-continued loving
industry that make the true dilettante.  A man must have thought much
over scenery before he begins fully to enjoy it.  It is no youngling
enthusiasm on hilltops that can possess itself of the last essence of
beauty.  Probably most people’s heads are growing bare before they can
see all in a landscape that they have the capability of seeing; and, even
then, it will be only for one little moment of consummation before the
faculties are again on the decline, and they that look out of the windows
begin to be darkened and restrained in sight.  Thus the study of nature
should be carried forward thoroughly and with system.  Every
gratification should be rolled long under the tongue, and we should be
always eager to analyse and compare, in order that we may be able to give
some plausible reason for our admirations.  True, it is difficult to put
even approximately into words the kind of feelings thus called into play.
There is a dangerous vice inherent in any such intellectual refining upon
vague sensation.  The analysis of such satisfactions lends itself very
readily to literary affectations; and we can all think of instances where
it has shown itself apt to exercise a morbid influence, even upon an
author’s choice of language and the turn of his sentences.  And yet there
is much that makes the attempt attractive; for any expression, however
imperfect, once given to a cherished feeling, seems a sort of
legitimation of the pleasure we take in it.  A common sentiment is one of
those great goods that make life palatable and ever new.  The knowledge
that another has felt as we have felt, and seen things, even if they are
little things, not much otherwise than we have seen them, will continue
to the end to be one of life’s choicest pleasures.

Let the reader, then, betake himself in the spirit we have recommended to
some of the quieter kinds of English landscape.  In those homely and
placid agricultural districts, familiarity will bring into relief many
things worthy of notice, and urge them pleasantly home to him by a sort
of loving repetition; such as the wonderful life-giving speed of windmill
sails above the stationary country; the occurrence and recurrence of the
same church tower at the end of one long vista after another: and,
conspicuous among these sources of quiet pleasure, the character and
variety of the road itself, along which he takes his way.  Not only near
at hand, in the lithe contortions with which it adapts itself to the
interchanges of level and slope, but far away also, when he sees a few
hundred feet of it upheaved against a hill and shining in the afternoon
sun, he will find it an object so changeful and enlivening that he can
always pleasurably busy his mind about it.  He may leave the river-side,
or fall out of the way of villages, but the road he has always with him;
and, in the true humour of observation, will find in that sufficient
company.  From its subtle windings and changes of level there arises a
keen and continuous interest, that keeps the attention ever alert and
cheerful.  Every sensitive adjustment to the contour of the ground, every
little dip and swerve, seems instinct with life and an exquisite sense of
balance and beauty.  The road rolls upon the easy slopes of the country,
like a long ship in the hollows of the sea.  The very margins of waste
ground, as they trench a little farther on the beaten way, or recede
again to the shelter of the hedge, have something of the same free
delicacy of line—of the same swing and wilfulness.  You might think for a
whole summer’s day (and not have thought it any nearer an end by evening)
what concourse and succession of circumstances has produced the least of
these deflections; and it is, perhaps, just in this that we should look
for the secret of their interest.  A foot-path across a meadow—in all its
human waywardness and unaccountability, in all the _grata protervitas_ of
its varying direction—will always be more to us than a railroad well
engineered through a difficult country. {231}  No reasoned sequence is
thrust upon our attention: we seem to have slipped for one lawless little
moment out of the iron rule of cause and effect; and so we revert at once
to some of the pleasant old heresies of personification, always
poetically orthodox, and attribute a sort of free-will, an active and
spontaneous life, to the white riband of road that lengthens out, and
bends, and cunningly adapts itself to the inequalities of the land before
our eyes.  We remember, as we write, some miles of fine wide highway laid
out with conscious æsthetic artifice through a broken and richly
cultivated tract of country.  It is said that the engineer had Hogarth’s
line of beauty in his mind as he laid them down.  And the result is
striking.  One splendid satisfying sweep passes with easy transition into
another, and there is nothing to trouble or dislocate the strong
continuousness of the main line of the road.  And yet there is something
wanting.  There is here no saving imperfection, none of those secondary
curves and little trepidations of direction that carry, in natural roads,
our curiosity actively along with them.  One feels at once that this road
has not has been laboriously grown like a natural road, but made to
pattern; and that, while a model may be academically correct in outline,
it will always be inanimate and cold.  The traveller is also aware of a
sympathy of mood between himself and the road he travels.  We have all
seen ways that have wandered into heavy sand near the sea-coast, and
trail wearily over the dunes like a trodden serpent.  Here we too must
plod forward at a dull, laborious pace; and so a sympathy is preserved
between our frame of mind and the expression of the relaxed, heavy curves
of the roadway.  Such a phenomenon, indeed, our reason might perhaps
resolve with a little trouble.  We might reflect that the present road
had been developed out of a tract spontaneously followed by generations
of primitive wayfarers; and might see in its expression a testimony that
those generations had been affected at the same ground, one after
another, in the same manner as we are affected to-day.  Or we might carry
the reflection further, and remind ourselves that where the air is
invigorating and the ground firm under the traveller’s foot, his eye is
quick to take advantage of small undulations, and he will turn carelessly
aside from the direct way wherever there is anything beautiful to examine
or some promise of a wider view; so that even a bush of wild roses may
permanently bias and deform the straight path over the meadow; whereas,
where the soil is heavy, one is preoccupied with the labour of mere
progression, and goes with a bowed head heavily and unobservantly
forward.  Reason, however, will not carry us the whole way; for the
sentiment often recurs in situations where it is very hard to imagine any
possible explanation; and indeed, if we drive briskly along a good,
well-made road in an open vehicle, we shall experience this sympathy
almost at its fullest.  We feel the sharp settle of the springs at some
curiously twisted corner; after a steep ascent, the fresh air dances in
our faces as we rattle precipitately down the other side, and we find it
difficult to avoid attributing something headlong, a sort of _abandon_,
to the road itself.

The mere winding of the path is enough to enliven a long day’s walk in
even a commonplace or dreary country-side.  Something that we have seen
from miles back, upon an eminence, is so long hid from us, as we wander
through folded valleys or among woods, that our expectation of seeing it
again is sharpened into a violent appetite, and as we draw nearer we
impatiently quicken our steps and turn every corner with a beating heart.
It is through these prolongations of expectancy, this succession of one
hope to another, that we live out long seasons of pleasure in a few
hours’ walk.  It is in following these capricious sinuosities that we
learn, only bit by bit and through one coquettish reticence after
another, much as we learn the heart of a friend, the whole loveliness of
the country.  This disposition always preserves something new to be seen,
and takes us, like a careful cicerone, to many different points of
distant view before it allows us finally to approach the hoped-for
destination.

In its connection with the traffic, and whole friendly intercourse with
the country, there is something very pleasant in that succession of
saunterers and brisk and business-like passers-by, that peoples our ways
and helps to build up what Walt Whitman calls ‘the cheerful voice of the
public road, the gay, fresh sentiment of the road.’  But out of the great
network of ways that binds all life together from the hill-farm to the
city, there is something individual to most, and, on the whole, nearly as
much choice on the score of company as on the score of beauty or easy
travel.  On some we are never long without the sound of wheels, and folk
pass us by so thickly that we lose the sense of their number.  But on
others, about little-frequented districts, a meeting is an affair of
moment; we have the sight far off of some one coming towards us, the
growing definiteness of the person, and then the brief passage and
salutation, and the road left empty in front of us for perhaps a great
while to come.  Such encounters have a wistful interest that can hardly
be understood by the dweller in places more populous.  We remember
standing beside a countryman once, in the mouth of a quiet by-street in a
city that was more than ordinarily crowded and bustling; he seemed
stunned and bewildered by the continual passage of different faces; and
after a long pause, during which he appeared to search for some suitable
expression, he said timidly that there seemed to be a _great deal of
meeting thereabouts_.  The phrase is significant.  It is the expression
of town-life in the language of the long, solitary country highways.  A
meeting of one with one was what this man had been used to in the
pastoral uplands from which he came; and the concourse of the streets was
in his eyes only an extraordinary multiplication of such ‘meetings.’

And now we come to that last and most subtle quality of all, to that
sense of prospect, of outlook, that is brought so powerfully to our minds
by a road.  In real nature, as well as in old landscapes, beneath that
impartial daylight in which a whole variegated plain is plunged and
saturated, the line of the road leads the eye forth with the vague sense
of desire up to the green limit of the horizon.  Travel is brought home
to us, and we visit in spirit every grove and hamlet that tempts us in
the distance.  _Sehnsucht_—the passion for what is ever beyond—is
livingly expressed in that white riband of possible travel that severs
the uneven country; not a ploughman following his plough up the shining
furrow, not the blue smoke of any cottage in a hollow, but is brought to
us with a sense of nearness and attainability by this wavering line of
junction.  There is a passionate paragraph in _Werther_ that strikes the
very key.  ‘When I came hither,’ he writes, ‘how the beautiful valley
invited me on every side, as I gazed down into it from the hill-top!
There the wood—ah, that I might mingle in its shadows! there the mountain
summits—ah, that I might look down from them over the broad country! the
interlinked hills! the secret valleys!  Oh to lose myself among their
mysteries!  I hurried into the midst, and came back without finding aught
I hoped for.  Alas! the distance is like the future.  A vast whole lies
in the twilight before our spirit; sight and feeling alike plunge and
lose themselves in the prospect, and we yearn to surrender our whole
being, and let it be filled full with all the rapture of one single
glorious sensation; and alas! when we hasten to the fruition, when
_there_ is changed to _here_, all is afterwards as it was before, and we
stand in our indigent and cramped estate, and our soul thirsts after a
still ebbing elixir.’  It is to this wandering and uneasy spirit of
anticipation that roads minister.  Every little vista, every little
glimpse that we have of what lies before us, gives the impatient
imagination rein, so that it can outstrip the body and already plunge
into the shadow of the woods, and overlook from the hill-top the plain
beyond it, and wander in the windings of the valleys that are still far
in front.  The road is already there—we shall not be long behind.  It is
as if we were marching with the rear of a great army, and, from far
before, heard the acclamation of the people as the vanguard entered some
friendly and jubilant city.  Would not every man, through all the long
miles of march, feel as if he also were within the gates?



XIV.
ON THE ENJOYMENT OF UNPLEASANT PLACES
1874


It is a difficult matter to make the most of any given place, and we have
much in our own power.  Things looked at patiently from one side after
another generally end by showing a side that is beautiful.  A few months
ago some words were said in the _Portfolio_ as to an ‘austere regimen in
scenery’; and such a discipline was then recommended as ‘healthful and
strengthening to the taste.’  That is the text, so to speak, of the
present essay.  This discipline in scenery, it must be understood, is
something more than a mere walk before breakfast to whet the appetite.
For when we are put down in some unsightly neighbourhood, and especially
if we have come to be more or less dependent on what we see, we must set
ourselves to hunt out beautiful things with all the ardour and patience
of a botanist after a rye plant.  Day by day we perfect ourselves in the
art of seeing nature more favourably.  We learn to live with her, as
people learn to live with fretful or violent spouses: to dwell lovingly
on what is good, and shut our eyes against all that is bleak or
inharmonious.  We learn, also, to come to each place in the right spirit.
The traveller, as Brantôme quaintly tells us, ‘_fait des discours en soi
pour soutenir en chemin_’; and into these discourses he weaves something
out of all that he sees and suffers by the way; they take their tone
greatly from the varying character of the scene; a sharp ascent brings
different thoughts from a level road; and the man’s fancies grow lighter
as he comes out of the wood into a clearing.  Nor does the scenery any
more affect the thoughts than the thoughts affect the scenery.  We see
places through our humours as through differently coloured glasses.  We
are ourselves a term in the equation, a note of the chord, and make
discord or harmony almost at will.  There is no fear for the result, if
we can but surrender ourselves sufficiently to the country that surrounds
and follows us, so that we are ever thinking suitable thoughts or telling
ourselves some suitable sort of story as we go.  We become thus, in some
sense, a centre of beauty; we are provocative of beauty, much as a gentle
and sincere character is provocative of sincerity and gentleness in
others.  And even where there is no harmony to be elicited by the
quickest and most obedient of spirits, we may still embellish a place
with some attraction of romance.  We may learn to go far afield for
associations, and handle them lightly when we have found them.  Sometimes
an old print comes to our aid; I have seen many a spot lit up at once
with picturesque imaginations, by a reminiscence of Callot, or Sadeler,
or Paul Brill.  Dick Turpin has been my lay figure for many an English
lane.  And I suppose the Trossachs would hardly be the Trossachs for most
tourists if a man of admirable romantic instinct had not peopled it for
them with harmonious figures, and brought them thither with minds rightly
prepared for the impression.  There is half the battle in this
preparation.  For instance: I have rarely been able to visit, in the
proper spirit, the wild and inhospitable places of our own Highlands.  I
am happier where it is tame and fertile, and not readily pleased without
trees.  I understand that there are some phases of mental trouble that
harmonise well with such surroundings, and that some persons, by the
dispensing power of the imagination, can go back several centuries in
spirit, and put themselves into sympathy with the hunted, houseless,
unsociable way of life that was in its place upon these savage hills.
Now, when I am sad, I like nature to charm me out of my sadness, like
David before Saul; and the thought of these past ages strikes nothing in
me but an unpleasant pity; so that I can never hit on the right humour
for this sort of landscape, and lose much pleasure in consequence.
Still, even here, if I were only let alone, and time enough were given, I
should have all manner of pleasures, and take many clear and beautiful
images away with me when I left.  When we cannot think ourselves into
sympathy with the great features of a country, we learn to ignore them,
and put our head among the grass for flowers, or pore, for long times
together, over the changeful current of a stream.  We come down to the
sermon in stones, when we are shut out from any poem in the spread
landscape.  We begin to peep and botanise, we take an interest in birds
and insects, we find many things beautiful in miniature.  The reader will
recollect the little summer scene in _Wuthering Heights_—the one warm
scene, perhaps, in all that powerful, miserable novel—and the great
feature that is made therein by grasses and flowers and a little
sunshine: this is in the spirit of which I now speak.  And, lastly, we
can go indoors; interiors are sometimes as beautiful, often more
picturesque, than the shows of the open air, and they have that quality
of shelter of which I shall presently have more to say.

With all this in mind, I have often been tempted to put forth the paradox
that any place is good enough to live a life in, while it is only in a
few, and those highly favoured, that we can pass a few hours agreeably.
For, if we only stay long enough we become at home in the neighbourhood.
Reminiscences spring up, like flowers, about uninteresting corners.  We
forget to some degree the superior loveliness of other places, and fall
into a tolerant and sympathetic spirit which is its own reward and
justification.  Looking back the other day on some recollections of my
own, I was astonished to find how much I owed to such a residence; six
weeks in one unpleasant country-side had done more, it seemed, to quicken
and educate my sensibilities than many years in places that jumped more
nearly with my inclination.

The country to which I refer was a level and tree-less plateau, over
which the winds cut like a whip.  For miles and miles it was the same.  A
river, indeed, fell into the sea near the town where I resided; but the
valley of the river was shallow and bald, for as far up as ever I had the
heart to follow it.  There were roads, certainly, but roads that had no
beauty or interest; for, as there was no timber, and but little
irregularity of surface, you saw your whole walk exposed to you from the
beginning: there was nothing left to fancy, nothing to expect, nothing to
see by the wayside, save here and there an unhomely-looking homestead,
and here and there a solitary, spectacled stone-breaker; and you were
only accompanied, as you went doggedly forward, by the gaunt
telegraph-posts and the hum of the resonant wires in the keen sea-wind.
To one who had learned to know their song in warm pleasant places by the
Mediterranean, it seemed to taunt the country, and make it still bleaker
by suggested contrast.  Even the waste places by the side of the road
were not, as Hawthorne liked to put it, ‘taken back to Nature’ by any
decent covering of vegetation.  Wherever the land had the chance, it
seemed to lie fallow.  There is a certain tawny nudity of the South, bare
sunburnt plains, coloured like a lion, and hills clothed only in the blue
transparent air; but this was of another description—this was the
nakedness of the North; the earth seemed to know that it was naked, and
was ashamed and cold.

It seemed to be always blowing on that coast.  Indeed, this had passed
into the speech of the inhabitants, and they saluted each other when they
met with ‘Breezy, breezy,’ instead of the customary ‘Fine day’ of farther
south.  These continual winds were not like the harvest breeze, that just
keeps an equable pressure against your face as you walk, and serves to
set all the trees talking over your head, or bring round you the smell of
the wet surface of the country after a shower.  They were of the bitter,
hard, persistent sort, that interferes with sight and respiration, and
makes the eyes sore.  Even such winds as these have their own merit in
proper time and place.  It is pleasant to see them brandish great masses
of shadow.  And what a power they have over the colour of the world!  How
they ruffle the solid woodlands in their passage, and make them shudder
and whiten like a single willow!  There is nothing more vertiginous than
a wind like this among the woods, with all its sights and noises; and the
effect gets between some painters and their sober eyesight, so that, even
when the rest of their picture is calm, the foliage is coloured like
foliage in a gale.  There was nothing, however, of this sort to be
noticed in a country where there were no trees and hardly any shadows,
save the passive shadows of clouds or those of rigid houses and walls.
But the wind was nevertheless an occasion of pleasure; for nowhere could
you taste more fully the pleasure of a sudden lull, or a place of
opportune shelter.  The reader knows what I mean; he must remember how,
when he has sat himself down behind a dyke on a hillside, he delighted to
hear the wind hiss vainly through the crannies at his back; how his body
tingled all over with warmth, and it began to dawn upon him, with a sort
of slow surprise, that the country was beautiful, the heather purple, and
the far-away hills all marbled with sun and shadow.  Wordsworth, in a
beautiful passage of the ‘Prelude,’ has used this as a figure for the
feeling struck in us by the quiet by-streets of London after the uproar
of the great thoroughfares; and the comparison may be turned the other
way with as good effect:—

    ‘Meanwhile the roar continues, till at length,
    Escaped as from an enemy, we turn
    Abruptly into some sequester’d nook,
    Still as a shelter’d place when winds blow loud!’

I remember meeting a man once, in a train, who told me of what must have
been quite the most perfect instance of this pleasure of escape.  He had
gone up, one sunny, windy morning, to the top of a great cathedral
somewhere abroad; I think it was Cologne Cathedral, the great unfinished
marvel by the Rhine; and after a long while in dark stairways, he issued
at last into the sunshine, on a platform high above the town.  At that
elevation it was quite still and warm; the gale was only in the lower
strata of the air, and he had forgotten it in the quiet interior of the
church and during his long ascent; and so you may judge of his surprise
when, resting his arms on the sunlit balustrade and looking over into the
_Place_ far below him, he saw the good people holding on their hats and
leaning hard against the wind as they walked.  There is something, to my
fancy, quite perfect in this little experience of my fellow-traveller’s.
The ways of men seem always very trivial to us when we find ourselves
alone on a church-top, with the blue sky and a few tall pinnacles, and
see far below us the steep roofs and foreshortened buttresses, and the
silent activity of the city streets; but how much more must they not have
seemed so to him as he stood, not only above other men’s business, but
above other men’s climate, in a golden zone like Apollo’s!

This was the sort of pleasure I found in the country of which I write.
The pleasure was to be out of the wind, and to keep it in memory all the
time, and hug oneself upon the shelter.  And it was only by the sea that
any such sheltered places were to be found.  Between the black worm-eaten
head-lands there are little bights and havens, well screened from the
wind and the commotion of the external sea, where the sand and weeds look
up into the gazer’s face from a depth of tranquil water, and the
sea-birds, screaming and flickering from the ruined crags, alone disturb
the silence and the sunshine.  One such place has impressed itself on my
memory beyond all others.  On a rock by the water’s edge, old fighting
men of the Norse breed had planted a double castle; the two stood wall to
wall like semi-detached villas; and yet feud had run so high between
their owners, that one, from out of a window, shot the other as he stood
in his own doorway.  There is something in the juxtaposition of these two
enemies full of tragic irony.  It is grim to think of bearded men and
bitter women taking hateful counsel together about the two hall-fires at
night, when the sea boomed against the foundations and the wild winter
wind was loose over the battlements.  And in the study we may reconstruct
for ourselves some pale figure of what life then was.  Not so when we are
there; when we are there such thoughts come to us only to intensify a
contrary impression, and association is turned against itself.  I
remember walking thither three afternoons in succession, my eyes weary
with being set against the wind, and how, dropping suddenly over the edge
of the down, I found myself in a new world of warmth and shelter.  The
wind, from which I had escaped, ‘as from an enemy,’ was seemingly quite
local.  It carried no clouds with it, and came from such a quarter that
it did not trouble the sea within view.  The two castles, black and
ruinous as the rocks about them, were still distinguishable from these by
something more insecure and fantastic in the outline, something that the
last storm had left imminent and the next would demolish entirely.  It
would be difficult to render in words the sense of peace that took
possession of me on these three afternoons.  It was helped out, as I have
said, by the contrast.  The shore was battered and bemauled by previous
tempests; I had the memory at heart of the insane strife of the pigmies
who had erected these two castles and lived in them in mutual distrust
and enmity, and knew I had only to put my head out of this little cup of
shelter to find the hard wind blowing in my eyes; and yet there were the
two great tracts of motionless blue air and peaceful sea looking on,
unconcerned and apart, at the turmoil of the present moment and the
memorials of the precarious past.  There is ever something transitory and
fretful in the impression of a high wind under a cloudless sky; it seems
to have no root in the constitution of things; it must speedily begin to
faint and wither away like a cut flower.  And on those days the thought
of the wind and the thought of human life came very near together in my
mind.  Our noisy years did indeed seem moments in the being of the
eternal silence; and the wind, in the face of that great field of
stationary blue, was as the wind of a butterfly’s wing.  The placidity of
the sea was a thing likewise to be remembered.  Shelley speaks of the sea
as ‘hungering for calm,’ and in this place one learned to understand the
phrase.  Looking down into these green waters from the broken edge of the
rock, or swimming leisurely in the sunshine, it seemed to me that they
were enjoying their own tranquillity; and when now and again it was
disturbed by a wind ripple on the surface, or the quick black passage of
a fish far below, they settled back again (one could fancy) with relief.

On shore too, in the little nook of shelter, everything was so subdued
and still that the least particular struck in me a pleasurable surprise.
The desultory crackling of the whin-pods in the afternoon sun usurped the
ear.  The hot, sweet breath of the bank, that had been saturated all day
long with sunshine, and now exhaled it into my face, was like the breath
of a fellow-creature.  I remember that I was haunted by two lines of
French verse; in some dumb way they seemed to fit my surroundings and
give expression to the contentment that was in me, and I kept repeating
to myself—

    ‘Mon cœur est un luth suspendu,
    Sitôt qu’on le touche, il résonne.’

I can give no reason why these lines came to me at this time; and for
that very cause I repeat them here.  For all I know, they may serve to
complete the impression in the mind of the reader, as they were certainly
a part of it for me.

And this happened to me in the place of all others where I liked least to
stay.  When I think of it I grow ashamed of my own ingratitude.  ‘Out of
the strong came forth sweetness.’  There, in the bleak and gusty North, I
received, perhaps, my strongest impression of peace.  I saw the sea to be
great and calm; and the earth, in that little corner, was all alive and
friendly to me.  So, wherever a man is, he will find something to please
and pacify him: in the town he will meet pleasant faces of men and women,
and see beautiful flowers at a window, or hear a cage-bird singing at the
corner of the gloomiest street; and for the country, there is no country
without some amenity—let him only look for it in the right spirit, and he
will surely find.



Footnotes


{92}  The Second Part here referred to is entitled ‘ACROSS THE PLAINS,’
and is printed in the volume so entitled, together with other Memories
and Essays.

{106}  I had nearly finished the transcription of the following pages
when I saw on a friend’s table the number containing the piece from which
this sentence is extracted, and, struck with a similarity of title, took
it home with me and read it with indescribable satisfaction.  I do not
know whether I more envy M. Theuriet the pleasure of having written this
delightful article, or the reader the pleasure, which I hope he has still
before him, of reading it once and again, and lingering over the passages
that please him most.

{136}  William Abercrombie.  See _Fasti Ecclesia Scoticanæ_, under
‘Maybole’ (Part iii.).

{147}  ‘Duex poures varlez qui n’ont nulz gages et qui gissoient la nuit
avec les chiens.’  See Champollion—Figeac’s _Louis et Charles d’Orléans_,
i. 63, and for my lord’s English horn, _ibid._ 96.

{175}  Reprinted by permission of John Lane.

{190}  ‘Jehovah Tsidkenu,’ translated in the Authorised Version as ‘The
Lord our Righteousness’ (Jeremiah xxiii. 6 and xxxiii. 16).

{231}  Compare Blake, in the _Marriage of Heaven and Hell_: ‘Improvement
makes straight roads; but the crooked roads, without improvement, are
roads of Genius.’





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