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Title: English Hours
Author: James, Henry
Language: English
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     ENGLISH HOURS

     BY HENRY JAMES

  [Illustration]

  [Illustration: MAGDALEN TOWER, OXFORD
     _See p. 189_]



     ENGLISH HOURS

     BY HENRY JAMES

     WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
     BY JOSEPH PENNELL

       [Illustration]

     BOSTON AND NEW YORK
     HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
     The Riverside Press, Cambridge



     COPYRIGHT 1875 1883 BY JAMES R. OSGOOD & CO.
     COPYRIGHT 1893 BY HARPER & BROTHERS
     COPYRIGHT 1905 BY HOUGHTON MIFFLIN & CO.

     ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

     _Published October 1905_



  [Illustration]



NOTE


The papers gathered into this series, originally published in various
periodicals, have already been reprinted—the earliest in date more than
thirty years ago; the others, with the exception of two, more recently,
in a volume entitled “Portraits of Places.” They have been here once
more placed together, for the great advantage they will be felt to
derive from the company and support of Mr. Pennell’s illustrations.
Each article is marked with its date, and it is obvious that the
impressions and observations they for the most part embody had sprung
from an early stage of acquaintance with their general subject-matter.
They represent a good many wonderments and judgments and emotions,
whether felicities or mistakes, the fine freshness of which the author
has—to his misfortune, no doubt—sufficiently outlived. But they may
perhaps on that very account present something of a curious interest. I
may add that I have again attentively looked them over, with a view to
any possible amendment of their form or enhancement of their meaning,
and that I have nowhere scrupled to rewrite a sentence or a passage on
judging it susceptible of a better turn.

     1905.            H. J.



  [Illustration]



CONTENTS


     LONDON                                   1

     BROWNING IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY           51

     CHESTER                                 61

     LICHFIELD AND WARWICK                   77

     NORTH DEVON                             93

     WELLS AND SALISBURY                    107

     AN ENGLISH EASTER                      121

     LONDON AT MIDSUMMER                    153

     TWO EXCURSIONS                         175

     IN WARWICKSHIRE                        197

     ABBEYS AND CASTLES                     225

     ENGLISH VIGNETTES                      245

     AN ENGLISH NEW YEAR                    269

     AN ENGLISH WATERING-PLACE              277

     WINCHELSEA, RYE AND “DENIS DUVAL”      287

     OLD SUFFOLK                            317

⁂ _The chapters on “London” and “Browning in Westminster Abbey” are
reprinted by permission of Messrs. Harper and Brothers from Mr. James’s
“Essays in London and Elsewhere.” The chapter on “Winchelsea, Rye, and
‘Denis Duval,’” originally appeared in “Scribner’s Magazine.”_



  [Illustration]



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


     _A Tower on the Walls, Chester_                _Half-title_

     _Magdalen Tower, Oxford_ (_see p. 189_)      _Frontispiece_

     _The Gate-House, Cambridge_                         _Title_

     _The Senate House, Oxford_                               v

     _Peterhouse Quad, Cambridge_                           vii

     _The Medway and Rochester Keep_                         ix

     _Richmond, from the Thames_                              1

     _St. Paul’s, from Ludgate Hill_                          6

     _Entrance to St. James’s Park, Duke of York’s Column_   16

     _In the Green Park_                                     22

     _St. Paul’s, from the Water_                            40

     _The Terrace, Richmond_                                 42

     _North Door of the Abbey_                               51

     _The Abbey, from Victoria Street_                       54

     _Eaton Hall_                                            61

     _Chester High Street_                                   64

     _The Rows, Chester_                                     68

     _Chester Cathedral, West Front_                         72

     _Shrewsbury_                                            76

     _Haddon Hall_                                           77

     _Lichfield Cathedral_                                   80

     _The Three Spires of Lichfield_                         82

     _Warwick Castle_                                        88

     _Haddon Hall, from the Road_                            91

     _Lynmouth_                                              93

     _A Devonshire Lane_                                     94

     _The Norman Towers of Exeter_                           98

     _Porlock Church, Exmoor_                               105

     _The West Front, Wells_                                107

     _The Market-Place, Wells_                              112

     _Salisbury Cathedral_                                  116

     _Stonehenge_                                           118

     _Glastonbury_                                          120

     _The Abbey and Victoria Tower, from St. James’s
        Park_                                               121

     _Dark Mysterious London. Near Queen Anne’s Gate,
        Westminster_                                        126

     _In St. James’s Park_                                  130

     _Baker Street_                                         134

     _Canterbury, from the Meadows_                         140

     _Rochester Castle_                                     144

     _The Cathedral Close, Canterbury_                      148

     _The Nave, Canterbury_                                 150

     _The Great Tower, Canterbury_                          152

     _Greenwich Observatory_                                153

     _Piccadilly, near Devonshire House_                    156

     _The Ship, Greenwich_                                  162

     _Kensington Gardens_                                   166

     _Greenwich Park_                                       173

     _Epsom Heath, Derby Day_                               175

     _The Start for the Derby_                              180

     _The Finish of the Derby_                              184

     _On the Downs, Derby Day_                              196

     _Kenilworth_                                           197

     _Stratford-on-Avon Church_                             208

     _Charlecote Park_                                      214

     _The Hospital, Warwick_                                223

     _Ludlow Castle_                                        225

     _Ludlow Castle, from the Moat_                         234

     _Stokesay Castle_                                      240

     _Ludlow Tower_                                         243

     _Portsmouth Harbor, and “The Victory”_                 245

     _Shanklin_                                             254

     _Chichester Cross_                                     260

     _Abbey Gateway, Bury St. Edmunds_                      264

     _Trinity Gate, Cambridge_                              267

     _The Workhouse_                                        269

     _A Factory Town at Night_                              272

     _A Factory Town_                                       275

     _The Parade, Hastings_                                 277

     _The Front, Brighton_                                  280

     _A Crescent, Hastings_                                 286

     _Winchelsea High Street_                               287

     _Rye, from Winchelsea Gate_                            290

     _Rye, from the Winchelsea Road_                        296

     _Rye, from the Marshes_                                300

     _The Sandgate, Rye_                                    308

     _A Street in Rye_                                      315

     _FitzGerald’s House_                                   317

     _In Old Suffolk_                                       326

     _A Suffolk Common_                                     330



ENGLISH HOURS



  [Illustration]



LONDON


I

There is a certain evening that I count as virtually a first
impression,—the end of a wet, black Sunday, twenty years ago, about
the first of March. There had been an earlier vision, but it had
turned to grey, like faded ink, and the occasion I speak of was a
fresh beginning. No doubt I had mystic prescience of how fond of
the murky modern Babylon I was one day to become; certain it is
that as I look back I find every small circumstance of those hours
of approach and arrival still as vivid as if the solemnity of an
opening era had breathed upon it. The sense of approach was already
almost intolerably strong at Liverpool, where, as I remember, the
perception of the English character of everything was as acute as a
surprise, though it could only be a surprise without a shock. It was
expectation exquisitely gratified, superabundantly confirmed. There was
a kind of wonder indeed that England should be as English as, for my
entertainment, she took the trouble to be; but the wonder would have
been greater, and all the pleasure absent, if the sensation had not
been violent. It seems to sit there again like a visiting presence,
as it sat opposite to me at breakfast at a small table in a window of
the old coffee-room of the Adelphi Hotel—the unextended (as it then
was), the unimproved, the unblushingly local Adelphi. Liverpool is not
a romantic city, but that smoky Saturday returns to me as a supreme
success, measured by its association with the kind of emotion in the
hope of which, for the most part, we betake ourselves to far countries.

It assumed this character at an early hour—or rather, indeed,
twenty-four hours before—with the sight, as one looked across the
wintry ocean, of the strange, dark, lonely freshness of the coast of
Ireland. Better still, before we could come up to the city, were the
black steamers knocking about in the yellow Mersey, under a sky so low
that they seemed to touch it with their funnels, and in the thickest,
windiest light. Spring was already in the air, in the town; there was
no rain, but there was still less sun—one wondered what had become, on
this side of the world, of the big white splotch in the heavens; and
the grey mildness, shading away into black at every pretext, appeared
in itself a promise. This was how it hung about me, between the window
and the fire, in the coffee-room of the hotel—late in the morning for
breakfast, as we had been long disembarking. The other passengers
had dispersed, knowingly catching trains for London (we had only
been a handful); I had the place to myself, and I felt as if I had an
exclusive property in the impression. I prolonged it, I sacrificed to
it, and it is perfectly recoverable now, with the very taste of the
national muffin, the creak of the waiter’s shoes as he came and went
(could anything be so English as his intensely professional back? it
revealed a country of tradition), and the rustle of the newspaper I was
too excited to read.

I continued to sacrifice for the rest of the day; it didn’t seem to me
a sentient thing, as yet, to enquire into the means of getting away.
My curiosity must indeed have languished, for I found myself on the
morrow in the slowest of Sunday trains, pottering up to London with an
interruptedness which might have been tedious without the conversation
of an old gentleman who shared the carriage with me and to whom my
alien as well as comparatively youthful character had betrayed itself.
He instructed me as to the sights of London and impressed upon me
that nothing was more worthy of my attention than the great cathedral
of St. Paul. “Have you seen St. Peter’s in Rome? St. Peter’s is more
highly embellished, you know; but you may depend upon it that St.
Paul’s is the better building of the two.” The impression I began
with speaking of was, strictly, that of the drive from Euston, after
dark, to Morley’s Hotel in Trafalgar Square. It was not lovely—it was
in fact rather horrible; but as I move again through dusky, tortuous
miles, in the greasy four-wheeler to which my luggage had compelled me
to commit myself, I recognise the first step in an initiation of which
the subsequent stages were to abound in pleasant things. It is a kind
of humiliation in a great city not to know where you are going, and
Morley’s Hotel was then, to my imagination, only a vague ruddy spot
in the general immensity. The immensity was the great fact, and that
was a charm; the miles of housetops and viaducts, the complication
of junctions and signals through which the train made its way to the
station had already given me the scale. The weather had turned to
wet, and we went deeper and deeper into the Sunday night. The sheep in
the fields, on the way from Liverpool, had shown in their demeanour a
certain consciousness of the day; but this momentous cab-drive was an
introduction to the rigidities of custom. The low black houses were
as inanimate as so many rows of coal-scuttles, save where at frequent
corners, from a gin-shop, there was a flare of light more brutal still
than the darkness. The custom of gin—that was equally rigid, and in
this first impression the public-houses counted for much.

Morley’s Hotel proved indeed to be a ruddy spot; brilliant, in my
recollection, is the coffee-room fire, the hospitable mahogany, the
sense that in the stupendous city this, at any rate for the hour,
was a shelter and a point of view. My remembrance of the rest of the
evening—I was probably very tired—is mainly a remembrance of a vast
four-poster. My little bedroom-candle, set in its deep basin, caused
this monument to project a huge shadow and to make me think, I scarce
knew why, of “The Ingoldsby Legends.” If at a tolerably early hour the
next day I found myself approaching St. Paul’s, it was not wholly in
obedience to the old gentleman in the railway-carriage: I had an errand
in the City, and the City was doubtless prodigious. But what I mainly
recall is the romantic consciousness of passing under the Temple Bar,
and the way two lines of “Henry Esmond” repeated themselves in my mind
as I drew near the masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren. “The stout,
red-faced woman” whom Esmond had seen tearing after the staghounds over
the slopes at Windsor was not a bit like the effigy “which turns its
stony back upon St. Paul’s and faces the coaches struggling up Ludgate
Hill.” As I looked at Queen Anne over the apron of my hansom—she struck
me as very small and dirty, and the vehicle ascended the mild incline
without an effort—it was a thrilling thought that the statue had been
familiar to the hero of the incomparable novel. All history appeared to
live again, and the continuity of things to vibrate through my mind.

To this hour, as I pass along the Strand, I take again the walk I
took there that afternoon. I love the place to-day, and that was the
commencement of my passion. It appeared to me to present phenomena,
and to contain objects of every kind, of an inexhaustible interest;
in particular it struck me as desirable and even indispensable that I
should purchase most of the articles in most of the shops. My eyes rest
with a certain tenderness on the places where I resisted and on those
where I succumbed. The fragrance of Mr. Rimmel’s establishment is again
in my nostrils; I see the slim young lady (I hear her pronunciation)
who waited upon me there. Sacred to me to-day is the particular aroma
of the hair-wash that I bought of her. I pause before the granite
portico of Exeter Hall (it was unexpectedly narrow and wedge-like), and
it evokes a cloud of associations which are none the less impressive
because they are vague; coming from I don’t know where—from “Punch,”
from Thackeray, from volumes of the “Illustrated London News” turned
over in childhood; seeming connected with Mrs. Beecher Stowe and “Uncle
Tom’s Cabin.” Memorable is a rush I made into a glover’s at Charing
Cross—the one you pass, going eastward, just before you turn into the
station; that, however, now that I think of it, must have been in the
morning, as soon as I issued from the hotel. Keen within me was a sense
of the importance of deflowering, of despoiling the shop.

  [Illustration: ST. PAUL’S, FROM LUDGATE HILL]

A day or two later, in the afternoon, I found myself staring at my
fire, in a lodging of which I had taken possession on foreseeing that
I should spend some weeks in London. I had just come in, and, having
attended to the distribution of my luggage, sat down to consider
my habitation. It was on the ground floor, and the fading daylight
reached it in a sadly damaged condition. It struck me as stuffy and
unsocial, with its mouldy smell and its decoration of lithographs and
wax-flowers—an impersonal black hole in the huge general blackness.
The uproar of Piccadilly hummed away at the end of the street, and the
rattle of a heartless hansom passed close to my ears. A sudden horror
of the whole place came over me, like a tiger-pounce of homesickness
which had been watching its moment. London was hideous, vicious, cruel,
and above all overwhelming; whether or no she was “careful of the
type,” she was as indifferent as Nature herself to the single life. In
the course of an hour I should have to go out to my dinner, which was
not supplied on the premises, and that effort assumed the form of a
desperate and dangerous quest. It appeared to me that I would rather
remain dinnerless, would rather even starve, than sally forth into
the infernal town, where the natural fate of an obscure stranger would
be to be trampled to death in Piccadilly and have his carcass thrown
into the Thames. I did not starve, however, and I eventually attached
myself by a hundred human links to the dreadful, delightful city. That
momentary vision of its smeared face and stony heart has remained
memorable to me, but I am happy to say that I can easily summon up
others.


II

It is, no doubt, not the taste of every one, but for the real
London-lover the mere immensity of the place is a large part of its
savour. A small London would be an abomination, as it fortunately is
an impossibility, for the idea and the name are beyond everything an
expression of extent and number. Practically, of course, one lives in
a quarter, in a plot; but in imagination and by a constant mental act
of reference the accommodated haunter enjoys the whole—and it is only
of him that I deem it worth while to speak. He fancies himself, as they
say, for being a particle in so unequalled an aggregation; and its
immeasurable circumference, even though unvisited and lost in smoke,
gives him the sense of a social, an intellectual margin. There is a
luxury in the knowledge that he may come and go without being noticed,
even when his comings and goings have no nefarious end. I don’t mean by
this that the tongue of London is not a very active member; the tongue
of London would indeed be worthy of a chapter by itself. But the eyes
which at least in some measure feed its activity are fortunately for
the common advantage solicited at any moment by a thousand different
objects. If the place is big, everything it contains is certainly not
so; but this may at least be said—that if small questions play a part
there, they play it without illusions about its importance. There
are too many questions, small or great; and each day, as it arrives,
leads its children, like a kind of mendicant mother, by the hand.
Therefore perhaps the most general characteristic is the absence of
insistence. Habits and inclinations flourish and fall, but intensity
is never one of them. The spirit of the great city is not analytic,
and, as they come up, subjects rarely receive at its hands a treatment
drearily earnest or tastelessly thorough. There are not many—of those
of which London disposes with the assurance begotten of its large
experience—that wouldn’t lend themselves to a tenderer manipulation
elsewhere. It takes a very great affair, a turn of the Irish screw or
a divorce case lasting many days, to be fully threshed out. The mind
of Mayfair, when it aspires to show what it really can do, lives in
the hope of a new divorce case, and an indulgent providence—London is
positively in certain ways the spoiled child of the world—abundantly
recognises this particular aptitude and humours the whim.

The compensation is that material does arise; that there is a great
variety, if not morbid subtlety; and that the whole of the procession
of events and topics passes across your stage. For the moment I am
speaking of the inspiration there may be in the sense of far frontiers;
the London-lover loses himself in this swelling consciousness,
delights in the idea that the town which encloses him is after all
only a paved country, a state by itself. This is his condition of mind
quite as much if he be an adoptive as if he be a matter-of-course
son. I am by no means sure even that he need be of Anglo-Saxon race
and have inherited the birthright of English speech; though, on the
other hand, I make no doubt that these advantages minister greatly
to closeness of allegiance. The great city spreads her dusky mantle
over innumerable races and creeds, and I believe there is scarcely
a known form of worship that has not some temple there (have I not
attended at the Church of Humanity, in Lamb’s Conduit, in company with
an American lady, a vague old gentleman, and several seamstresses?) or
any communion of men that has not some club or guild. London is indeed
an epitome of the round world, and just as it is a commonplace to say
that there is nothing one can’t “get” there, so it is equally true that
there is nothing one may not study at first hand.

One doesn’t test these truths every day, but they form part of the air
one breathes (and welcome, says the London-hater,—for there be such
perverse reasoners,—to the pestilent compound). They colour the thick,
dim distances which in my opinion are the most romantic town-vistas in
the world; they mingle with the troubled light to which the straight,
ungarnished aperture in one’s dull, undistinctive house-front affords
a passage and which makes an interior of friendly corners, mysterious
tones, and unbetrayed ingenuities, as well as with the low, magnificent
medium of the sky, where the smoke and fog and the weather in general,
the strangely undefined hour of the day and season of the year, the
emanations of industries and the reflection of furnaces, the red
gleams and blurs that may or may not be of sunset—as you never see any
_source_ of radiance, you can’t in the least tell—all hang together
in a confusion, a complication, a shifting but irremoveable canopy.
They form the undertone of the deep, perpetual voice of the place.
One remembers them when one’s loyalty is on the defensive; when it is
a question of introducing as many striking features as possible into
the list of fine reasons one has sometimes to draw up, that eloquent
catalogue with which one confronts the hostile indictment—the array
of _other_ reasons which may easily be as long as one’s arm. According
to these other reasons it plausibly and conclusively stands that, as a
place to be happy in, London will never do. I don’t say it is necessary
to meet so absurd an allegation except for one’s personal complacency.
If indifference, in so gorged an organism, is still livelier than
curiosity, you may avail yourself of your own share in it simply to
feel that since such and such a person doesn’t care for real richness,
so much the worse for such and such a person. But once in a while the
best believer recognises the impulse to set his religion in order,
to sweep the temple of his thoughts and trim the sacred lamp. It is
at such hours as this that he reflects with elation that the British
capital is the particular spot in the world which communicates the
greatest sense of life.


III

The reader will perceive that I do not shrink even from the extreme
concession of speaking of our capital as British, and this in a
shameless connection with the question of loyalty on the part of an
adoptive son. For I hasten to explain that if half the source of one’s
interest in it comes from feeling that it is the property and even
the home of the human race,—Hawthorne, that best of Americans, says so
somewhere, and places it in this sense side by side with Rome,—one’s
appreciation of it is really a large sympathy, a comprehensive love
of humanity. For the sake of such a charity as this one may stretch
one’s allegiance; and the most alien of the cockneyfied, though he
may bristle with every protest at the intimation that England has
set its stamp upon him, is free to admit with conscious pride that
he has submitted to Londonisation. It is a real stroke of luck for
a particular country that the capital of the human race happens to
be British. Surely every other people would have it theirs if they
could. Whether the English deserve to hold it any longer might be an
interesting field of enquiry; but as they have not yet let it slip, the
writer of these lines professes without scruple that the arrangement is
to his personal taste. For, after all, if the sense of life is greatest
there, it is a sense of the life of people of our consecrated English
speech. It is the headquarters of that strangely elastic tongue; and
I make this remark with a full sense of the terrible way in which the
idiom is misused by the populace in general, than whom it has been
given to few races to impart to conversation less of the charm of tone.
For a man of letters who endeavours to cultivate, however modestly,
the medium of Shakespeare and Milton, of Hawthorne and Emerson, who
cherishes the notion of what it has achieved and what it may even yet
achieve, London must ever have a great illustrative and suggestive
value, and indeed a kind of sanctity. It is the single place in which
most readers, most possible lovers, are gathered together; it is
the most inclusive public and the largest social incarnation of the
language, of the tradition. Such a personage may well let it go for
this, and leave the German and the Greek to speak for themselves, to
express the grounds of _their_ predilection, presumably very different.

When a social product is so vast and various, it may be approached
on a thousand different sides, and liked and disliked for a thousand
different reasons. The reasons of Piccadilly are not those of Camden
Town, nor are the curiosities and discouragements of Kilburn the same
as those of Westminster and Lambeth. The reasons of Piccadilly—I mean
the friendly ones—are those of which, as a general thing, the rooted
visitor remains most conscious; but it must be confessed that even
these, for the most part, do not lie upon the surface. The absence
of style, or rather of the intention of style, is certainly the
most general characteristic of the face of London. To cross to Paris
under this impression is to find one’s self surrounded with far other
standards. There everything reminds you that the idea of beautiful
and stately arrangement has never been out of fashion, that the art of
composition has always been at work or at play. Avenues and squares,
gardens and quays, have been distributed for effect, and to-day the
splendid city reaps the accumulation of all this ingenuity. The result
is not in every quarter interesting, and there is a tiresome monotony
of the “fine” and the symmetrical, above all, of the deathly passion
for making things “to match.” On the other hand the whole air of the
place is architectural. On the banks of the Thames it is a tremendous
chapter of accidents—the London-lover has to confess to the existence
of miles upon miles of the dreariest, stodgiest commonness. Thousands
of acres are covered by low black houses of the cheapest construction,
without ornament, without grace, without character or even identity.
In fact there are many, even in the best quarters, in all the region
of Mayfair and Belgravia, of so paltry and inconvenient, especially
of so diminutive a type (those that are let in lodgings—such poor
lodgings as they make—may serve as an example), that you wonder what
peculiarly limited domestic need they were constructed to meet. The
great misfortune of London to the eye (it is true that this remark
applies much less to the City), is the want of elevation. There is no
architectural impression without a certain degree of height, and the
London street-vista has none of that sort of pride.

All the same, if there be not the intention, there is at least the
accident, of style, which, if one looks at it in a friendly way,
appears to proceed from three sources. One of these is simply the
general greatness, and the manner in which that makes a difference
for the better in any particular spot; so that, though you may often
perceive yourself to be in a shabby corner, it never occurs to you that
this is the end of it. Another is the atmosphere, with its magnificent
mystifications, which flatters and superfuses, makes everything brown,
rich, dim, vague, magnifies distances and minimises details, confirms
the inference of vastness by suggesting that, as the great city makes
everything, it makes its own system of weather and its own optical
laws. The last is the congregation of the parks, which constitute an
ornament not elsewhere to be matched, and give the place a superiority
that none of its uglinesses overcome. They spread themselves with such
a luxury of space in the centre of the town that they form a part of
the impression of any walk, of almost any view, and, with an audacity
altogether their own, make a pastoral landscape under the smoky sky.
There is no mood of the rich London climate that is not becoming
to them—I have seen them look delightfully romantic, like parks in
novels, in the wettest winter—and there is scarcely a mood of the
appreciative resident to which they have not something to say. The high
things of London, which here and there peep over them, only make the
spaces vaster by reminding you that you are, after all, not in Kent
or Yorkshire; and these things, whatever they be—rows of “eligible”
dwellings, towers of churches, domes of institutions—take such an
effective grey-blue tint that a clever water-colourist would seem to
have put them in for pictorial reasons.

  [Illustration: ENTRANCE TO ST. JAMES’S PARK
     Duke of York’s column]

The view from the bridge over the Serpentine has an extraordinary
nobleness, and it has often seemed to me that the Londoner, twitted
with his low standard, may point to it with every confidence. In all
the town-scenery of Europe there can be few things so fine; the only
reproach it is open to is that it begs the question by seeming—in spite
of its being the pride of five millions of people—not to belong to a
town at all. The towers of Notre Dame, as they rise in Paris from the
island that divides the Seine, present themselves no more impressively
than those of Westminster as you see them looking doubly far beyond
the shining stretch of Hyde Park water. Equally delectable is the large
river-like manner in which the Serpentine opens away between its wooded
shores. Just after you have crossed the bridge (whose very banisters,
old and ornamental, of yellowish-brown stone, I am particularly fond
of), you enjoy on your left, through the gate of Kensington Gardens as
you go towards Bayswater, an altogether enchanting vista—a foot-path
over the grass, which loses itself beneath the scattered oaks and elms
exactly as if the place were a “chase.” There could be nothing less
like London in general than this particular morsel, and yet it takes
London, of all cities, to give you such an impression of the country.


IV

It takes London to put you in the way of a purely rustic walk from
Notting Hill to Whitehall. You may traverse this immense distance—a
most comprehensive diagonal—altogether on soft, fine turf, amid the
song of birds, the bleat of lambs, the ripple of ponds, the rustle of
admirable trees. Frequently have I wished that, for the sake of such
a daily luxury and of exercise made romantic, I were a Government
clerk living, in snug domestic conditions, in a Pembridge villa,—let
me suppose,—and having my matutinal desk in Westminster. I should turn
into Kensington Gardens at their northwest limit, and I should have
my choice of a hundred pleasant paths to the gates of Hyde Park. In
Hyde Park I should follow the water-side, or the Row, or any other
fancy of the occasion; liking best, perhaps, after all, the Row in
its morning mood, with the mist hanging over the dark-red course, and
the scattered early riders taking an identity as the soundless gallop
brings them nearer. I am free to admit that in the Season, at the
conventional hours, the Row becomes a weariness (save perhaps just
for a glimpse once a year, to remind one’s self how much it is like
Du Maurier); the preoccupied citizen eschews it and leaves it for the
most part to the gaping barbarian. I speak of it now from the point of
view of the pedestrian; but for the rider as well it is at its best
when he passes either too early or too late. Then, if he be not bent
on comparing it to its disadvantage with the bluer and boskier alleys
of the Bois de Boulogne, it will not be spoiled by the fact that, with
its surface that looks like tan, its barriers like those of the ring on
which the clown stands to hold up the hoop to the young lady, its empty
benches and chairs, its occasional orange-peel, its mounted policemen
patrolling at intervals like expectant supernumeraries, it offers
points of real contact with a circus whose lamps are out. The sky that
bends over it is frequently not a bad imitation of the dingy tent of
such an establishment. The ghosts of past cavalcades seem to haunt the
foggy arena, and somehow they are better company than the mashers and
elongated beauties of current seasons. It is not without interest to
remember that most of the salient figures of English society during
the present century—and English society means, or rather has hitherto
meant, in a large degree, English history—have bobbed in the saddle
between Apsley House and Queen’s Gate. You may call the roll if you
care to, and the air will be thick with dumb voices and dead names,
like that of some Roman amphitheatre.

It is doubtless a signal proof of being a London-lover _quand même_
that one should undertake an apology for so bungled an attempt at
a great public place as Hyde Park Corner. It is certain that the
improvements and embellishments recently enacted there have only served
to call further attention to the poverty of the elements and to the
fact that this poverty is terribly illustrative of general conditions.
The place is the beating heart of the great West End, yet its main
features are a shabby, stuccoed hospital, the low park-gates, in their
neat but unimposing frame, the drawing-room windows of Apsley House and
of the commonplace frontages on the little terrace beside it; to which
must be added, of course, the only item in the whole prospect that is
in the least monumental—the arch spanning the private road beside the
gardens of Buckingham Palace. This structure is now bereaved of the
rueful effigy which used to surmount it—the Iron Duke in the guise of
a tin soldier—and has not been enriched by the transaction as much as
might have been expected.[1] There is a fine view of Piccadilly and
Knightsbridge, and of the noble mansions, as the house-agents call
them, of Grosvenor Place, together with a sense of generous space
beyond the vulgar little railing of the Green Park; but, except for
the impression that there would be room for something better, there is
nothing in all this that speaks to the imagination: almost as much as
the grimy desert of Trafalgar Square the prospect conveys the idea of
an opportunity wasted.

None the less has it on a fine day in spring an expressiveness of
which I shall not pretend to explain the source further than by saying
that the flood of life and luxury is immeasurably great there. The
edifices are mean, but the social stream itself is monumental, and to
an observer not purely stolid there is more excitement and suggestion
than I can give a reason for in the long, distributed waves of traffic,
with the steady policemen marking their rhythm, which roll together
and apart for so many hours. Then the great, dim city becomes bright
and kind, the pall of smoke turns into a veil of haze carelessly
worn, the air is coloured and almost scented by the presence of the
biggest society in the world, and most of the things that meet the
eye—or perhaps I should say more of them, for the most in London is,
no doubt, ever the realm of the dingy—present themselves as “well
appointed.” Everything shines more or less, from the window-panes
to the dog-collars. So it all looks, with its myriad variations and
qualifications, to one who surveys it over the apron of a hansom, while
that vehicle of vantage, better than any box at the opera, spurts and
slackens with the current.

  [Illustration: IN THE GREEN PARK]

It is not in a hansom, however, that we have figured our punctual young
man, whom we must not desert as he fares to the southeast, and who has
only to cross Hyde Park Corner to find his way all grassy again. I have
a weakness for the convenient, familiar, treeless, or almost treeless,
expanse of the Green Park and the friendly part it plays as a kind
of encouragement to Piccadilly. I am so fond of Piccadilly that I am
grateful to any one or anything that does it a service, and nothing is
more worthy of appreciation than the southward look it is permitted to
enjoy just after it passes Devonshire House—a sweep of horizon which
it would be difficult to match among other haunts of men, and thanks
to which, of a summer’s day, you may spy, beyond the browsed pastures
of the foreground and middle distance, beyond the cold chimneys of
Buckingham Palace and the towers of Westminster and the swarming
river-side and all the southern parishes, the hard modern twinkle of
the roof of the Crystal Palace.

If the Green Park is familiar, there is still less of the exclusive
in its pendant, as one may call it,—for it literally hangs from the
other, down the hill,—the remnant of the former garden of the queer,
shabby old palace whose black, inelegant face stares up St. James’s
Street. This popular resort has a great deal of character, but I am
free to confess that much of its character comes from its nearness to
the Westminster slums. It is a park of intimacy, and perhaps the most
democratic corner of London, in spite of its being in the royal and
military quarter and close to all kinds of stateliness. There are few
hours of the day when a thousand smutty children are not sprawling over
it, and the unemployed lie thick on the grass and cover the benches
with a brotherhood of greasy corduroys. If the London parks are the
drawing-rooms and clubs of the poor,—that is of those poor (I admit it
cuts down the number) who live near enough to them to reach them,—these
particular grass-plots and alleys may be said to constitute the very
_salon_ of the slums.

I know not why, being such a region of greatness,—great towers, great
names, great memories; at the foot of the Abbey, the Parliament, the
fine fragment of Whitehall, with the quarters of the sovereign right
and left,—but the edge of Westminster evokes as many associations
of misery as of empire. The neighbourhood has been much purified of
late, but it still contains a collection of specimens—though it is
far from unique in this—of the low, black element. The air always
seems to me heavy and thick, and here more than elsewhere one hears
old England—the panting, smoke-stained Titan of Matthew Arnold’s fine
poem—draw her deep breath with effort. In fact one is nearer to her
heroic lungs, if those organs are figured by the great pinnacled and
fretted talking-house on the edge of the river. But this same dense and
conscious air plays such everlasting tricks to the eye that the Foreign
Office, as you see it from the bridge, often looks romantic, and the
sheet of water it overhangs poetic—suggests an Indian palace bathing
its feet in the Ganges. If our pedestrian achieves such a comparison as
this he has nothing left but to go on to his work—which he will find
close at hand. He will have come the whole way from the far northwest
on the green—which is what was to be demonstrated.


V

I feel as if I were taking a tone almost of boastfulness, and no
doubt the best way to consider the matter is simply to say—without
going into the treachery of reasons—that, for one’s self, one likes
this part or the other. Yet this course would not be unattended with
danger, inasmuch as at the end of a few such professions we might find
ourselves committed to a tolerance of much that is deplorable. London
is so clumsy and so brutal, and has gathered together so many of the
darkest sides of life, that it is almost ridiculous to talk of her as a
lover talks of his mistress, and almost frivolous to appear to ignore
her disfigurements and cruelties. She is like a mighty ogress who
devours human flesh; but to me it is a mitigating circumstance—though
it may not seem so to every one—that the ogress herself is human. It
is not in wantonness that she fills her maw, but to keep herself alive
and do her tremendous work. She has no time for fine discriminations,
but after all she is as good-natured as she is huge, and the more you
stand up to her, as the phrase is, the better she takes the joke of
it. It is mainly when you fall on your face before her that she gobbles
you up. She heeds little what she takes, so long as she has her stint,
and the smallest push to the right or the left will divert her wavering
bulk from one form of prey to another. It is not to be denied that the
heart tends to grow hard in her company; but she is a capital antidote
to the morbid, and to live with her successfully is an education of
the temper, a consecration of one’s private philosophy. She gives one a
surface for which in a rough world one can never be too thankful. She
may take away reputations, but she forms character. She teaches her
victims not to “mind,” and the great danger for them is perhaps that
they shall learn the lesson too well.

It is sometimes a wonder to ascertain what they do mind, the best
seasoned of her children. Many of them assist, without winking,
at the most unfathomable dramas, and the common speech of others
denotes a familiarity with the horrible. It is her theory that she
both produces and appreciates the exquisite; but if you catch her in
flagrant repudiation of both responsibilities and confront her with
the shortcoming, she gives you a look, with a shrug of her colossal
shoulders, which establishes a private relation with you for evermore.
She seems to say: “Do you really take me so seriously as that, you
dear, devoted, voluntary dupe, and don’t you know what an immeasurable
humbug I am?” You reply that you shall know it henceforth; but your
tone is good-natured, with a touch of the cynicism that she herself
has taught you; for you are aware that if she makes herself out better
than she is, she also makes herself out much worse. She is immensely
democratic, and that, no doubt, is part of the manner in which she
is salutary to the individual; she teaches him his “place” by an
incomparable discipline, but deprives him of complaint by letting him
see that she has exactly the same lash for every other back. When he
has swallowed the lesson he may enjoy the rude but unfailing justice
by which, under her eye, reputations and positions elsewhere esteemed
great are reduced to the relative. There are so many reputations, so
many positions, that supereminence breaks down, and it is difficult to
be so rare that London can’t match you. It is a part of her good-nature
and one of her clumsy coquetries to pretend sometimes that she hasn’t
your equivalent, as when she takes it into her head to hunt the lion or
form a ring round a celebrity. But this artifice is so very transparent
that the lion must be very candid or the celebrity very obscure to be
taken by it. The business is altogether subjective, as the philosophers
say, and the great city is primarily looking after herself. Celebrities
are convenient—they are one of the things that people are asked to
“meet”—and lion-cutlets, put upon ice, will nourish a family through
periods of dearth.

This is what I mean by calling London democratic. You may be in it, of
course, without being of it; but from the moment you _are_ of it—and
on this point your own sense will soon enough enlighten you—you belong
to a body in which a general equality prevails. However exalted,
however able, however rich, however renowned you may be, there are too
many people at least as much so for your own idiosyncrasies to count.
I think it is only by being beautiful that you may really prevail
very much; for the loveliness of woman it has long been noticeable
that London will go most out of her way. It is when she hunts that
particular lion that she becomes most dangerous; then there are really
moments when you would believe, for all the world, that she is thinking
of what she can give, not of what she can get. Lovely ladies, before
this, have paid for believing it, and will continue to pay in days
to come. On the whole the people who are least deceived are perhaps
those who have permitted themselves to believe, in their own interest,
that poverty is not a disgrace. It is certainly not considered so in
London, and indeed you can scarcely say where—in virtue of diffusion—it
would more naturally be exempt. The possession of money is, of course,
immensely an advantage, but that is a very different thing from a
disqualification in the lack of it.

Good-natured in so many things in spite of her cynical tongue, and
easy-going in spite of her tremendous pace, there is nothing in which
the large indulgence of the town is more shown than in the liberal
way she looks at obligations of hospitality and the margin she allows
in these and cognate matters. She wants above all to be amused;
she keeps her books loosely, doesn’t stand on small questions of a
chop for a chop, and if there be any chance of people’s proving a
diversion, doesn’t know or remember or care whether they have “called.”
She forgets even if she herself have called. In matters of ceremony
she takes and gives a long rope, wasting no time in phrases and
circumvallations. It is no doubt incontestable that one result of her
inability to stand upon trifles and consider details is that she has
been obliged in some ways to lower rather portentously the standard
of her manners. She cultivates the abrupt—for even when she asks you
to dine a month ahead the invitation goes off like the crack of a
pistol—and approaches her ends not exactly _par quatre chemins_. She
doesn’t pretend to attach importance to the lesson conveyed in Matthew
Arnold’s poem of “The Sick King in Bokhara,” that,

     “Though we snatch what we desire,
     We may not snatch it eagerly.”

London snatches it more than eagerly if that be the only way she
can get it. Good manners are a succession of details, and I don’t
mean to say that she doesn’t attend to them when she has time. She
has it, however, but seldom—_que voulez-vous_? Perhaps the matter of
note-writing is as good an example as another of what certain of the
elder traditions inevitably have become in her hands. She lives by
notes—they are her very heart-beats; but those that bear her signatures
are as disjointed as the ravings of delirium, and have nothing but a
postage-stamp in common with the epistolary art.


VI

If she doesn’t go into particulars it may seem a very presumptuous
act to have attempted to do so on her behalf, and the reader will
doubtless think I have been punished by having egregiously failed in
my enumeration. Indeed nothing could well be more difficult than to
add up the items—the column would be altogether too long. One may have
dreamed of turning the glow—if glow it be—of one’s lantern on each
successive facet of the jewel; but, after all, it may be success enough
if a confusion of brightness be the result. One has not the alternative
of speaking of London as a whole, for the simple reason that there is
no such thing as the whole. It is immeasurable—its embracing arms never
meet. Rather it is a collection of many wholes, and of which of them
is it most important to speak? Inevitably there must be a choice, and I
know of none more scientific than simply to leave out what we may have
to apologise for. The uglinesses, the “rookeries,” the brutalities, the
night-aspect of many of the streets, the gin-shops and the hour when
they are cleared out before closing—there are many elements of this
kind which have to be counted out before a genial summary can be made.

And yet I should not go so far as to say that it is a condition of
such geniality to close one’s eyes upon the immense misery; on the
contrary, I think it is partly because we are irremediably conscious
of that dark gulf that the most general appeal of the great city
remains exactly what it is, the largest chapter of human accidents.
I have no idea of what the future evolution of the strangely mingled
monster may be; whether the poor will improve away the rich, or the
rich will expropriate the poor, or they will all continue to dwell
together on their present imperfect terms of intercourse. Certain it
is, at any rate, that the impression of suffering is a part of the
general vibration; it is one of the things that mingle with all the
others to make the sound that is supremely dear to the consistent
London-lover—the rumble of the tremendous human mill. This is the
note which, in all its modulations, haunts and fascinates and inspires
him. And whether or no he may succeed in keeping the misery out of the
picture, he will freely confess that the latter is not spoiled for him
by some of its duskiest shades. We are far from liking London well
enough till we like its defects: the dense darkness of much of its
winter, the soot on the chimney-pots and everywhere else, the early
lamplight, the brown blur of the houses, the splashing of hansoms in
Oxford Street or the Strand on December afternoons.

There is still something that recalls to me the enchantment of
children—the anticipation of Christmas, the delight of a holiday
walk—in the way the shop-fronts shine into the fog. It makes each of
them seem a little world of light and warmth, and I can still waste
time in looking at them with dirty Bloomsbury on one side and dirtier
Soho on the other. There are winter effects, not intrinsically sweet,
it would appear, which somehow, in absence, touch the chords of memory
and even the fount of tears; as for instance the front of the British
Museum on a black afternoon, or the portico, when the weather is vile,
of one of the big square clubs in Pall Mall. I can give no adequate
account of the subtle poetry of such reminiscences; it depends upon
associations of which we have often lost the thread. The wide colonnade
of the Museum, its symmetrical wings, the high iron fence in its
granite setting, the sense of the misty halls within, where all the
treasures lie—these things loom patiently through atmospheric layers
which instead of making them dreary impart to them something of a cheer
of red lights in a storm. I think the romance of a winter afternoon
in London arises partly from the fact that, when it is not altogether
smothered, the general lamplight takes this hue of hospitality. Such
is the colour of the interior glow of the clubs in Pall Mall, which
I positively like best when the fog loiters upon their monumental
staircases.

In saying just now that these retreats may easily be, for the exile,
part of the phantasmagoria of homesickness, I by no means alluded
simply to their solemn outsides. If they are still more solemn within,
that does not make them any less dear, in retrospect at least, to
a visitor much bent upon liking his London to the end. What is the
solemnity but a tribute to your nerves, and the stillness but a refined
proof of the intensity of life? To produce such results as these the
balance of many tastes must be struck, and that is only possible in a
very high civilisation. If I seem to intimate that this last abstract
term must be the cheer of him who has lonely possession of a foggy
library, without even the excitement of watching for some one to put
down the magazine he wants, I am willing to let the supposition pass,
for the appreciation of a London club at one of the empty seasons is
nothing but the strong expression of a preference for the great city—by
no means so unsociable as it may superficially appear—at periods of
relative abandonment. The London year is studded with holidays, blessed
little islands of comparative leisure—intervals of absence for good
society. Then the wonderful English faculty for “going out of town for
a little change” comes into illimitable play, and families transport
their nurseries and their bath-tubs to those rural scenes which form
the real substratum of the national life. Such moments as these are
the paradise of the genuine London-lover, for he then finds himself
face to face with the object of his passion; he can give himself up to
an intercourse which at other times is obstructed by his rivals. Then
every one he knows is out of town, and the exhilarating sense of the
presence of every one he doesn’t know becomes by so much the deeper.

This is why I pronounce his satisfaction not an unsociable, but a
positively affectionate emotion. It is the mood in which he most
measures the immense humanity of the place and in which its limits
recede farthest into a dimness peopled with possible illustrations. For
his acquaintance, however numerous it may be, is finite; whereas the
other, the unvisited London, is infinite. It is one of his pleasures to
think of the experiments and excursions he may make in it, even when
these adventures don’t particularly come off. The friendly fog seems
to protect and enrich them—to add both to the mystery and security, so
that it is most in the winter months that the imagination weaves such
delights. They reach their climax perhaps during the strictly social
desolation of Christmas week, when the country-houses are crowded at
the expense of the capital. Then it is that I am most haunted with the
London of Dickens, feel most as if it were still recoverable, still
exhaling its queerness in patches perceptible to the appreciative. Then
the big fires blaze in the lone twilight of the clubs, and the new
books on the tables say, “Now at last you have time to read me,” and
the afternoon tea and toast, and the torpid old gentleman who wakes
up from a doze to order potash-water, appear to make the assurance
good. It is not a small matter either, to a man of letters, that this
is the best time for writing, and that during the lamplit days the
white page he tries to blacken becomes, on his table, in the circle
of the lamp, with the screen of the climate folding him in, more vivid
and absorbent. Those to whom it is forbidden to sit up to work in the
small hours may, between November and March, enjoy a semblance of this
luxury in the morning. The weather makes a kind of sedentary midnight
and muffles the possible interruptions. It is bad for the eyesight, but
excellent for the image.


VII

Of course it is too much to say that all the satisfaction of life in
London comes from literally living there, for it is not a paradox that
a great deal of it consists in getting away. It is almost easier to
leave it than not to, and much of its richness and interest proceeds
from its ramifications, the fact that all England is in a suburban
relation to it. Such an affair it is in comparison to get away from
Paris or to get into it. London melts by wide, ugly zones into the
green country, and becomes pretty insidiously, inadvertently—without
stopping to change. It is the spoiling perhaps of the country, but it
is the making of the insatiable town, and if one is a helpless and
shameless cockney that is all one is obliged to look at. Anything
is excusable which enlarges one’s civic consciousness. It ministers
immensely to that of the London-lover that, thanks to the tremendous
system of coming and going, to the active, hospitable habits of the
people, to the elaboration of the railway-service, the frequency and
rapidity of trains, and last, though not least, to the fact that much
of the loveliest scenery in England lies within a radius of fifty
miles—thanks to all this he has the rural picturesque at his door and
may cultivate unlimited vagueness as to the line of division between
centre and circumference. It is perfectly open to him to consider the
remainder of the United Kingdom, or the British empire in general,
or even, if he be an American, the total of the English-speaking
territories of the globe, as the mere margin, the fitted girdle.

Is it for this reason—because I like to think how great we all are
together in the light of heaven and the face of the rest of the world,
with the bond of our glorious tongue, in which we labour to write
articles and books for each other’s candid perusal, how great we all
are and how great is the great city which we may unite fraternally
to regard as the capital of our race—is it for this that I have a
singular kindness for the London railway-stations, that I like them
æsthetically, that they interest and fascinate me, and that I view them
with complacency even when I wish neither to depart nor to arrive? They
remind me of all our reciprocities and activities, our energies and
curiosities, and our being all distinguished together from other people
by our great common stamp of perpetual motion, our passion for seas and
deserts and the other side of the globe, the secret of the impression
of strength—I don’t say of social roundness and finish—that we produce
in any collection of Anglo-Saxon types. If in the beloved foggy season
I delight in the spectacle of Paddington, Euston, or Waterloo,—I
confess I prefer the grave northern stations,—I am prepared to defend
myself against the charge of puerility; for what I seek and what I
find in these vulgar scenes is at bottom simply so much evidence of our
larger way of looking at life. The exhibition of variety of type is in
general one of the bribes by which London induces you to condone her
abominations, and the railway-platform is a kind of compendium of that
variety. I think that nowhere so much as in London do people wear—to
the eye of observation—definite signs of the sort of people they may
be. If you like above all things to know the sort, you hail this fact
with joy; you recognise that if the English are immensely distinct
from other people, they are also socially—and that brings with it,
in England, a train of moral and intellectual consequences—extremely
distinct from each other. You may see them all together, with the rich
colouring of their differences, in the fine flare of one of Mr. W. H.
Smith’s bookstalls—a feature not to be omitted in any enumeration of
the charms of Paddington and Euston. It is a focus of warmth and light
in the vast smoky cavern; it gives the idea that literature is a thing
of splendour, of a dazzling essence, of infinite gas-lit red and gold.
A glamour hangs over the glittering booth, and a tantalising air of
clever new things. How brilliant must the books all be, how veracious
and courteous the fresh, pure journals! Of a Saturday afternoon, as
you wait in your corner of the compartment for the starting of the
train, the window makes a frame for the glowing picture. I say of a
Saturday afternoon, because that is the most characteristic time—it
speaks most of the constant circulation and in particular of the quick
jump, by express, just before dinner, for the Sunday, into the hall of
the country-house and the forms of closer friendliness, the prolonged
talks, the familiarising walks which London excludes.

There is the emptiness of summer as well, when you may have the town
to yourself, and I would discourse of it—counting the summer from the
first of August—were it not that I fear to seem ungracious in insisting
so much on the negative phases. In truth they become positive in
another manner, and I have an endearing recollection of certain happy
accidents attached to the only period when London life may be said to
admit of accident. It is the most luxurious existence in the world,
but of that especial luxury—the unexpected, the extemporized—it has in
general too little. In a very tight crowd you can’t scratch your leg,
and in London the social pressure is so great that it is difficult
to deflect from the perpendicular or to move otherwise than with the
mass. There is too little of the loose change of time; every half-hour
has its preappointed use, written down month by month in a little
book. As I intimated, however, the pages of this volume exhibit from
August to November an attractive blankness; they represent the season
during which you may taste of that highest kind of inspiration, the
inspiration of the moment.

This is doubtless what a gentleman had in mind who once said to me,
in regard to the vast resources of London and its having something
for every taste, “Oh, yes; when you are bored or want a little change
you can take the boat down to Blackwall.” I have never had occasion
yet to resort to this particular remedy. Perhaps it’s a proof that I
have never been bored. Why Blackwall? I indeed asked myself at the
time; nor have I yet ascertained what distractions the mysterious
name represents. My interlocutor probably used it generically, as a
free, comprehensive allusion to the charms of the river at large. Here
the London-lover goes with him all the way, and indeed the Thames is
altogether such a wonderful affair that he feels he has distributed
his picture very clumsily not to have put it in the very forefront.
Take it up or take it down, it is equally an adjunct of London life, an
expression of London manners.

  [Illustration: ST. PAUL’S, FROM THE WATER]

From Westminster to the sea its uses are commercial, but none the less
pictorial for that; while in the other direction—taking it properly
a little further up—they are personal, social, athletic, idyllic. In
its recreative character it is absolutely unique. I know of no other
classic stream that is so splashed about for the mere fun of it.
There is something almost droll and at the same time almost touching
in the way that on the smallest pretext of holiday or fine weather
the mighty population takes to the boats. They bump each other in the
narrow, charming channel; between Oxford and Richmond they make an
uninterrupted procession. Nothing is more suggestive of the personal
energy of the people and their eagerness to take, in the way of
exercise and adventure, whatever they can get. I hasten to add that
what they get on the Thames is exquisite, in spite of the smallness
of the scale and the contrast between the numbers and the space. In a
word, if the river is the busiest suburb of London, it is also by far
the prettiest. That term applies to it less of course from the bridges
down, but it is only because in this part of its career it deserves
a larger praise. To be consistent, I like it best when it is all dyed
and disfigured with the town, and you look from bridge to bridge—they
seem wonderfully big and dim—over the brown, greasy current, the barges
and the penny-steamers, the black, sordid, heterogeneous shores. This
prospect, of which so many of the elements are ignoble, etches itself
to the eye of the lover of “bits” with a power that is worthy perhaps
of a better cause.

The way that with her magnificent opportunity London has neglected
to achieve a river-front is of course the best possible proof that
she has rarely, in the past, been in the architectural mood which at
present shows somewhat inexpensive signs of settling upon her. Here
and there a fine fragment apologises for the failure which it doesn’t
remedy. Somerset House stands up higher perhaps than anything else on
its granite pedestal, and the palace of Westminster reclines—it can
hardly be said to stand—on the big parliamentary bench of its terrace.
The Embankment, which is admirable if not particularly interesting,
does what it can, and the mannered houses of Chelsea stare across
at Battersea Park like eighteenth-century ladies surveying a horrid
wilderness. On the other hand, the Charing Cross railway-station,
placed where it is, is a national crime; Milbank prison is a worse
act of violence than any it was erected to punish, and the water-side
generally a shameless renunciation of effect. We acknowledge, however,
that its very cynicism is expressive; so that if one were to choose
again—short of there being a London Louvre—between the usual English
irresponsibility in such matters and some particular flight of
conscience, one would perhaps do as well to let the case stand. We know
what it is, the stretch from Chelsea to Wapping, but we know not what
it might be. It doesn’t prevent my being always more or less thrilled,
of a summer afternoon, by the journey on a penny-steamer to Greenwich.

  [Illustration: THE TERRACE, RICHMOND]


VIII

But why do I talk of Greenwich and remind myself of one of the
unexecuted vignettes with which it had been my plan that these
desultory and, I fear, somewhat incoherent remarks should be studded?
They will present to the reader no vignettes but those which the artist
who has kindly consented to associate himself with my vagaries may be
so good as to bestow upon them. Why should I speak of Hampstead, as the
question of summer afternoons just threatened to lead me to do after I
should have exhausted the subject of Greenwich, which I may not even
touch? Why should I be so arbitrary when I have cheated myself out
of the space privately intended for a series of vivid and ingenious
sketches of the particular physiognomy of the respective quarters of
the town? I had dreamed of doing them all, with their idiosyncrasies
and the signs by which you shall know them. It is my pleasure to have
learned these signs—a deeply interesting branch of observation—but I
must renounce the display of my lore.

I have not the conscience to talk about Hampstead, and what a pleasant
thing it is to ascend the long hill which overhangs, as it were, St.
John’s Wood and begins at the Swiss Cottage—you must mount from there,
it must be confessed, as you can—and pick up a friend at a house of
friendship on the top, and stroll with him on the rusty Heath, and
skirt the garden walls of the old square Georgian houses which survive
from the time when, near as it is to-day to London, the place was a
kind of provincial centre, with Joanna Baillie for its muse, and take
the way by the Three Spaniards—I would never miss that—and look down
at the smoky city or across at the Scotch firs and the red sunset. It
would never do to make a tangent in that direction when I have left
Kensington unsung and Bloomsbury unattempted, and have said never
a word about the mighty eastward region—the queer corners, the dark
secrets, the rich survivals and mementoes of the City. I particularly
regret having sacrificed Kensington, the once-delightful, the
Thackerayan, with its literary vestiges, its quiet, pompous red palace,
its square of Queen Anne, its house of Lady Castlewood, its Greyhound
tavern, where Henry Esmond lodged.

But I can reconcile myself to this when I reflect that I have also
sacrificed the Season, which doubtless, from an elegant point of view,
ought to have been the central _morceau_ in the panorama. I have noted
that the London-lover loves everything in the place, but I have not
cut myself off from saying that his sympathy has degrees, or from
remarking that the sentiment of the author of these pages has never
gone all the way with the dense movement of the British carnival. That
is really the word for the period from Easter to midsummer; it is a
fine, decorous, expensive, Protestant carnival, in which the masks
are not of velvet or silk, but of wonderful deceptive flesh and blood,
the material of the most beautiful complexions in the world. Holding
that the great interest of London is the sense the place gives us
of multitudinous life, it is doubtless an inconsequence not to care
most for the phase of greatest intensity. But there is life and life,
and the rush and crush of these weeks of fashion is after all but a
tolerably mechanical expression of human forces. Nobody would deny
that it is a more universal, brilliant, spectacular one than can be
seen anywhere else; and it is not a defect that these forces often take
the form of women extremely beautiful. I risk the declaration that the
London season brings together year by year an unequalled collection
of handsome persons. I say nothing of the ugly ones; beauty has at the
best been allotted to a small minority, and it is never, at the most,
anywhere, but a question of the number by which that minority is least
insignificant.

There are moments when one can almost forgive the follies of June for
the sake of the smile which the sceptical old city puts on for the
time and which, as I noted in an earlier passage of this disquisition,
fairly breaks into laughter where she is tickled by the vortex of Hyde
Park Corner. Most perhaps does she seem to smile at the end of the
summer days, when the light lingers and lingers, though the shadows
lengthen and the mists redden and the belated riders, with dinners
to dress for, hurry away from the trampled arena of the Park. The
population at that hour surges mainly westward and sees the dust of the
day’s long racket turned into a dull golden haze. There is something
that has doubtless often, at this particular moment, touched the fancy
even of the bored and the _blasés_ in such an emanation of hospitality,
of waiting dinners, of the festal idea, of the whole spectacle of
the West End preparing herself for an evening six parties deep. The
scale on which she entertains is stupendous, and her invitations and
“reminders” are as thick as the leaves of the forest.

For half an hour, from eight to nine, every pair of wheels presents
the portrait of a diner-out. To consider only the rattling hansoms,
the white neckties and “dressed” heads which greet you from over the
apron in a quick, interminable succession, conveys the overwhelming
impression of a complicated world. Who are they all, and where are
they all going, and whence have they come, and what smoking kitchens
and gaping portals and marshalled flunkies are prepared to receive
them, from the southernmost limits of a loosely interpreted, an almost
transpontine Belgravia, to the hyperborean confines of St. John’s
Wood? There are broughams standing at every door, and carpets laid
down for the footfall of the issuing if not the entering reveller.
The pavements are empty now, in the fading light, in the big sallow
squares and the stuccoed streets of gentility, save for the groups of
small children holding others that are smaller—Ameliar-Ann intrusted
with Sarah Jane—who collect, wherever the strip of carpet lies, to see
the fine ladies pass from the carriage or the house. The West End is
dotted with these pathetic little gazing groups; it is the party of the
poor—_their_ Season and way of dining out, and a happy illustration of
“the sympathy that prevails between classes.” The watchers, I should
add, are by no means all children, but the lean mature also, and I am
sure these wayside joys are one of the reasons of an inconvenience
much deplored—the tendency of the country poor to flock to London.
They who dine only occasionally or never at all have plenty of time to
contemplate those with whom the custom has more amplitude. However, it
was not my intention to conclude these remarks in a melancholy strain,
and goodness knows that the diners are a prodigious company. It is as
moralistic as I shall venture to be if I drop a very soft sigh on the
paper as I confirm that truth. Are they all illuminated spirits and is
their conversation the ripest in the world? This is not to be expected,
nor should I ever suppose it to be desired that an agreeable society
should fail to offer frequent opportunity for intellectual rest. Such
a shortcoming is not one of the sins of the London world in general,
nor would it be just to complain of that world, on any side, on grounds
of deficiency. It is not what London fails to do that strikes the
observer, but the general fact that she does everything in excess.
Excess is her highest reproach, and it is her incurable misfortune that
there is really too much of her. She overwhelms you by quantity and
number—she ends by making human life, by making civilisation, appear
cheap to you. Wherever you go, to parties, exhibitions, concerts,
“private views,” meetings, solitudes, there are already more people
than enough on the field. How it makes you understand the high walls
with which so much of English life is surrounded, and the priceless
blessing of a park in the country, where there is nothing animated but
rabbits and pheasants and, for the worst, the importunate nightingales!
And as the monster grows and grows for ever, she departs more and
more—it must be acknowledged—from the ideal of a convenient society,
a society in which intimacy is possible, in which the associated meet
often and sound and select and measure and inspire each other, and
relations and combinations have time to form themselves. The substitute
for this, in London, is the momentary concussion of a million of
atoms. It is the difference between seeing a great deal of a few and
seeing a little of every one. “When did you come—are you ‘going on?’”
and it is over; there is no time even for the answer. This may seem a
perfidious arraignment, and I should not make it were I not prepared,
or rather were I not eager, to add two qualifications. One of these
is that, cumbrously vast as the place may be, I would not have had it
smaller by a hair’s-breadth or have missed one of the fine and fruitful
impatiences with which it inspires you and which are at bottom a
heartier tribute, I think, than any great city receives. The other is
that out of its richness and its inexhaustible good-humour it belies
the next hour any generalisation you may have been so simple as to make
about it.

     1888.



  [Illustration]



BROWNING IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY


The lovers of a great poet are the people in the world who are most to
be forgiven a little wanton fancy about him, for they have before them,
in his genius and work, an irresistible example of the application of
the imaginative method to a thousand subjects. Certainly, therefore,
there are many confirmed admirers of Robert Browning to whom it will
not have failed to occur that the consignment of his ashes to the
great temple of fame of the English race was exactly one of those
occasions in which his own analytic spirit would have rejoiced and
his irrepressible faculty for looking at human events in all sorts of
slanting coloured lights have found a signal opportunity. If he had
been taken with it as a subject, if it had moved him to the confused
yet comprehensive utterance of which he was the great professor, we
can immediately guess at some of the sparks he would have scraped
from it, guess how splendidly, in the case, the pictorial sense would
have intertwined itself with the metaphysical. For such an occasion
would have lacked, for the author of “The Ring and the Book,” none of
the complexity and convertibility that were dear to him. Passion and
ingenuity, irony and solemnity, the impressive and the unexpected,
would each have forced their way through; in a word the author would
have been sure to take the special, circumstantial view (the inveterate
mark of all his speculation) even of so foregone a conclusion as that
England should pay her greatest honour to one of her greatest poets.
As they stood in the Abbey, at any rate, on Tuesday last, those of
his admirers and mourners who were disposed to profit by his warrant
for enquiring curiously may well have let their fancy range, with
its muffled step, in the direction which _his_ fancy would probably
not have shrunk from following, even perhaps to the dim corners where
humour and the whimsical lurk. Only, we hasten to add, it would have
taken Robert Browning himself to render the multifold impression.

One part of it on such occasion is of course irresistible—the sense
that these honours are the greatest that a generous nation has to
confer and that the emotion that accompanies them is one of the
high moments of a nation’s life. The attitude of the public, of the
multitude, at such hours, is a great expansion, a great openness
to ideas of aspiration and achievement; the pride of possession and
of bestowal, especially in the case of a career so complete as Mr.
Browning’s, is so present as to make regret a minor matter. We possess
a great man most when we begin to look at him through the glass plate
of death; and it is a simple truth, though containing an apparent
contradiction, that the Abbey never takes us so benignantly as when
we have a valued voice to commit to silence there. For the silence
is articulate after all, and in worthy instances the preservation
great. It is the other side of the question that would pull most the
strings of irresponsible reflection—all those conceivable postulates
and hypotheses of the poetic and satiric mind to which we owe the
picture of how the bishop ordered his tomb in St. Praxed’s. Macaulay’s
“temple of silence and reconciliation”—and none the less perhaps
because he himself is now a presence there—strikes us, as we stand
in it, not only as local but as social, a sort of corporate company;
so thick, under its high arches, its dim transepts and chapels, is
the population of its historic names and figures. They are a company
in possession, with a high standard of distinction, of immortality,
as it were; for there is something serenely inexpugnable even in the
position of the interlopers. As they look out, in the rich dusk, from
the cold eyes of statues and the careful identity of tablets, they
seem, with their converging faces, to scrutinise decorously the claims
of each new recumbent glory, to ask each other how he is to be judged
as an accession. How difficult to banish the idea that Robert Browning
would have enjoyed prefiguring and playing with the mystifications,
the reservations, even perhaps the slight buzz of scandal, in the
Poets’ Corner, to which his own obsequies might give rise! Would not
his great relish, in so characteristic an interview with his crucible,
have been his perception of the bewildering modernness, to much of the
society, of the new candidate for a niche? That is the interest and the
fascination, from what may be termed the inside point of view, of Mr.
Browning’s having received, in this direction of becoming a classic,
the only official assistance that is ever conferred upon English
writers.

  [Illustration: THE ABBEY, FROM VICTORIA STREET]

It is as classics on one ground and another—some members of it perhaps
on that of not being anything else—that the numerous assembly in the
Abbey holds together, and it is as a tremendous and incomparable modern
that the author of “Men and Women” takes his place in it. He introduces
to his predecessors a kind of contemporary individualism which surely
for many a year they had not been reminded of with any such force.
The tradition of the poetic character as something high, detached, and
simple, which may be assumed to have prevailed among them for a good
while, is one that Browning has broken at every turn; so that we can
imagine his new associates to stand about him, till they have got used
to him, with rather a sense of failing measures. A good many oddities
and a good many great writers have been entombed in the Abbey; but none
of the odd ones have been so great and none of the great ones so odd.
There are plenty of poets whose right to the title may be contested,
but there is no poetic head of equal power—crowned and recrowned by
almost importunate hands—from which so many people would withhold the
distinctive wreath. All this will give the marble phantoms at the base
of the great pillars, and the definite personalities of the honorary
slabs something to puzzle out until, by the quick operation of time,
the mere fact of his lying there among the classified and protected
makes even Robert Browning lose a portion of the bristling surface of
his actuality.

For the rest, judging from the outside and with his contemporaries,
we of the public can only feel that his very modernness—by which
we mean the all-touching, all-trying spirit of his work, permeated
with accumulations and playing with knowledge—achieves a kind of
conquest, or at least of extension, of the rigid pale. We cannot enter
here upon any account either of that or of any other element of his
genius, though surely no literary figure of our day seems to sit more
unconsciously for the painter. The very imperfections of this original
are fascinating, for they never present themselves as weaknesses;
they are boldnesses and overgrowths, rich roughnesses and humours,
and the patient critic need not despair of digging to the primary
soil from which so many disparities and contradictions spring. He may
finally even put his finger on some explanation of the great mystery,
the imperfect conquest of the poetic form by a genius in which the
poetic passion had such volume and range. He may successfully say how
it was that a poet without a lyre—for that is practically Browning’s
deficiency: he had the scroll, but not often the sounding strings—was
nevertheless, in his best hours, wonderfully rich in the magic of his
art, a magnificent master of poetic emotion. He will justify on behalf
of a multitude of devotees the great position assigned to a writer of
verse of which the nature or the fortune has been (in proportion to its
value and quantity) to be treated rarely as quotable. He will do all
this and a great deal more besides; but we need not wait for it to feel
that something of our latest sympathies, our latest and most restless
selves, passed the other day into the high part—the show-part, to speak
vulgarly—of our literature. To speak of Mr. Browning only as he was in
the last twenty years of his life, how quick such an imagination as his
would have been to recognise all the latent or mystical suitabilities
that, in the last resort, might link to the great Valhalla by the
Thames a figure that had become so conspicuously a figure of London!
He had grown to be intimately and inveterately of the London world; he
was so familiar and recurrent, so responsive to all its solicitations,
that, given the endless incarnations he stands for to-day, he would
have been missed from the congregation of worthies whose memorials are
the special pride of the Londoner. Just as his great sign to those who
knew him was that he was a force of health, of temperament, of tone, so
what he takes into the Abbey is an immense expression of life—of life
rendered with large liberty and free experiment, with an unprejudiced
intellectual eagerness to put himself in other people’s place, to
participate in complications and consequences; a restlessness of
psychological research that might well alarm any pale company for their
formal orthodoxies.

But the illustrious whom he rejoins may be reassured, as they will not
fail to discover: in so far as they are representative it will clear
itself up that, in spite of a surface unsuggestive of marble and a
reckless individualism of form, he is quite as representative as any
of them. For the great value of Browning is that at bottom, in all the
deep spiritual and human essentials, he is unmistakably in the great
tradition—is, with all his Italianisms and cosmopolitanisms, all his
victimisation by societies organised to talk about him, a magnificent
example of the best and least dilettantish English spirit. That
constitutes indeed the main chance for his eventual critic, who will
have to solve the refreshing problem of how, if subtleties be not what
the English spirit most delights in, the author of, for instance, “Any
Wife to Any Husband” made them his perpetual pasture, and yet remained
typically of his race. He was indeed a wonderful mixture of the
universal and the alembicated. But he played with the curious and the
special, they never submerged him, and it was a sign of his robustness
that he could play to the end. His voice sounds loudest, and also
clearest, for the things that, as a race, we like best—the fascination
of faith, the acceptance of life, the respect for its mysteries, the
endurance of its charges, the vitality of the will, the validity of
character, the beauty of action, the seriousness, above all, of the
great human passion. If Browning had spoken for us in no other way,
he ought to have been made sure of, tamed and chained as a classic,
on account of the extraordinary beauty of his treatment of the special
relation between man and woman. It is a complete and splendid picture
of the matter, which somehow places it at the same time in the region
of conduct and responsibility. But when we talk of Robert Browning’s
speaking “for us,” we go to the end of our privilege, we say all. With
a sense of security, perhaps even a certain complacency, we leave our
sophisticated modern conscience, and perhaps even our heterogeneous
modern vocabulary, in his charge among the illustrious. There will
possibly be moments in which these things will seem to us to have
widened the allowance, made the high abode more comfortable, for some
of those who are yet to enter it.

     1890.



  [Illustration]



CHESTER


If the Atlantic voyage be counted, as it certainly may, even with the
ocean in a fairly good humour, an emphatic zero in the sum of one’s
better experience, the American traveller arriving at this venerable
town finds himself transported, without a sensible gradation, from
the edge of the new world to the very heart of the old. It is almost
a misfortune perhaps that Chester lies so close to the threshold of
England; for it is so rare and complete a specimen of an antique town
that the later-coming wonders of its sisters in renown,—of Shrewsbury,
Coventry, and York—suffer a trifle by comparison, and the tourist’s
appetite for the picturesque just loses its finer edge. Yet the first
impressions of an observant American in England—of our old friend the
sentimental tourist—stir up within him such a cloud of sensibility
that while the charm is still unbroken he may perhaps as well dispose
mentally of the greater as of the less. I have been playing at first
impressions for the second time, and have won the game against a
cynical adversary. I have been strolling and restrolling along the
ancient wall—so perfect in its antiquity—which locks this dense little
city in its stony circle, with a certain friend who has been treating
me to a bitter lament on the decay of his relish for the picturesque.
“I have turned the corner of youth,” is his ceaseless plaint; “I
suspected it, but now I know it—now that my heart beats but once
where it beat a dozen times before, and that where I found sermons in
stones and pictures in meadows, delicious revelations and intimations
ineffable, I find nothing but the hard, heavy prose of British
civilisation.” But little by little I have grown used to my friend’s
sad monody, and indeed feel half indebted to it as a warning against
cheap infatuations.

I defied him, at any rate, to argue successfully against the effect of
the brave little walls of Chester. There could be no better example
of that phenomenon so delightfully frequent in England—an ancient
property or institution lovingly readopted and consecrated to some
modern amenity. The good Cestrians may boast of their walls without
a shadow of that mental reservation on grounds of modern ease which
is so often the tax paid by the romantic; and I can easily imagine
that, though most modern towns contrive to get on comfortably without
this stony girdle, these people should have come to regard theirs as a
prime necessity. For through it, surely, they may know their city more
intimately than their unbuckled neighbours—survey it, feel it, rejoice
in it as many times a day as they please. The civic consciousness,
sunning itself thus on the city’s rim and glancing at the little
swarming towered and gabled town within, and then at the blue
undulations of the near Welsh border, may easily deepen to delicious
complacency. The wall enfolds the place in a continuous ring, which,
passing through innumerable picturesque vicissitudes, often threatens
to snap, but never fairly breaks the link; so that, starting at any
point, an hour’s easy stroll will bring you back to your station. I
have quite lost my heart to this charming creation, and there are so
many things to be said about it that I hardly know where to begin.
The great fact, I suppose, is that it contains a Roman substructure,
rests for much of its course on foundations laid by that race of
master-builders. But in spite of this sturdy origin, much of which is
buried in the well-trodden soil of the ages, it is the gentlest and
least offensive of ramparts; it completes its long irregular curve
without a frown or menace in all its disembattled stretch. The earthy
deposit of time has indeed in some places climbed so high about its
base that it amounts to no more than a causeway of modest dimensions.
It has everywhere, however, a rugged outer parapet and a broad hollow
flagging, wide enough for two strollers abreast. Thus equipped, it
wanders through its adventurous circuit; now sloping, now bending, now
broadening into a terrace, now narrowing into an alley, now swelling
into an arch, now dipping into steps, now passing some thorn-screened
garden, and now reminding you that it was once a more serious matter
than all this by the extrusion of a rugged, ivy-smothered tower.

  [Illustration: CHESTER HIGH STREET]

Its final hoary humility is enhanced, to your mind, by the freedom
with which you may approach it from any point in the town. Every few
steps, as you go, you see some little court or alley boring toward it
through the close-pressed houses. It is full of that delightful element
of the crooked, the accidental, the unforeseen, which, to American
eyes, accustomed to our eternal straight lines and right angles, is
the striking feature of European street scenery. An American strolling
in the Chester streets finds a perfect feast of crookedness—of those
random corners, projections, and recesses, odd domestic interspaces
charmingly saved or lost, those innumerable architectural surprises
and caprices and fantasies which lead to such refreshing exercise a
vision benumbed by brown-stone fronts. An American is born to the idea
that on his walks abroad it is perpetual level wall ahead of him, and
such a revelation as he finds here of infinite accident and infinite
effect gives a wholly novel zest to the use of his eyes. It produces
too the reflection—a superficial and fallacious one perhaps—that amid
all this cunning chiaroscuro of its _mise en scène_ life must have
more of a certain homely entertainment. It is at least no fallacy
to say that childhood—or the later memory of childhood—must borrow
from such a background a kind of anecdotical wealth. We all know
how in the retrospect of later moods the incidents of early youth
“compose,” visibly, each as an individual picture, with a magic for
which the greatest painters have no corresponding art. There is a
vivid reflection of this magic in some of the early pages of Dickens’s
“Copperfield” and of George Eliot’s “Mill on the Floss,” the writers
having had the happiness of growing up among old, old things. Two or
three of the phases of this rambling wall belong especially to the
class of things fondly remembered. In one place it skirts the edge of
the cathedral graveyard and sweeps beneath the great square tower and
behind the sacred east window of the choir.

Of the cathedral there is more to say; but just the spot I speak
of is the best standpoint for feeling how fine an influence in the
architectural line—where theoretically, at least, influences are
great—is the massive tower of an English abbey, dominating the homes of
men; and for watching the eddying flight of swallows make vaster still
to the eye the high calm fields of stonework. At another point two
battered and crumbling towers, decaying in their winding-sheets of ivy,
make a prodigiously designed diversion. One inserted in the body of
the wall and the other connected with it by a short, crumbling ridge of
masonry, they contribute to a positive jumble of local colour. A shaded
mall wanders at the foot of the rampart; beside this passes a narrow
canal, with locks and barges and burly watermen in smocks and breeches;
while the venerable pair of towers, with their old red sandstone sides
peeping through the gaps in their green mantles, rest on the soft
grass of one of those odd fragments of public garden, a crooked strip
of ground turned to social account, which one meets at every turn,
apparently, in England—a tribute to the needs of the “masses.” _Stat
magni nominis umbra._ The quotation is doubly pertinent here, for this
little garden-strip is adorned with mossy fragments of Roman stonework,
bits of pavement, altars, baths, disinterred in the local soil. England
is the land of small economies, and the present rarely fails to find
good use for the odds and ends of the past. These two hoary shells of
masonry are therefore converted into “museums,” receptacles for the
dustiest and shabbiest of tawdry back-parlour curiosities. Here preside
a couple of those grotesque creatures, _à la_ Dickens, whom one finds
squeezed into every cranny of English civilisation, scraping a thin
subsistence like mites in a mouldy cheese.

Next after its wall—possibly even before it—Chester values its Rows,
an architectural idiosyncrasy which must be seen to be appreciated.
They are a sort of gothic edition of the blessed arcades and porticoes
of Italy, and consist, roughly speaking, of a running public passage
tunnelled through the second story of the houses. The low basement is
thus directly on the drive-way, to which a flight of steps descends,
at frequent intervals, from this superincumbent verandah. The upper
portion of the houses projects to the outer line of the gallery, where
they are propped with pillars and posts and parapets. The shop-fronts
face along the arcade and admit you to little caverns of traffic, more
or less dusky according to their opportunities for illumination in
the rear. If the romantic be measured by its hostility to our modern
notions of convenience, Chester is probably the most romantic city
in the world. This arrangement is endlessly rich in opportunities for
amusing effect, but the full charm of the architecture of which it is
so essential a part must be observed from the street below. Chester
is still an antique town, and mediæval England sits bravely under
her gables. Every third house is a “specimen”—gabled and latticed,
timbered and carved, and wearing its years more or less lightly.
These ancient dwellings present every shade and degree of historical
colour and expression. Some are dark with neglect and deformity, and
the horizontal slit admitting light into the lurking Row seems to
collapse on its dislocated props like a pair of toothless old jaws.
Others stand there square-shouldered and sturdy, with their beams
painted and straightened, their plaster whitewashed, their carvings
polished, and the low casement covering the breadth of the frontage
adorned with curtains and flower-pots. It is noticeable that the
actual townsfolk have bravely accepted the situation bequeathed by
the past, and the large number of rich and intelligent restorations
of the old façades makes an effective jumble of their piety and their
policy. These elaborate and ingenious repairs attest a highly informed
consciousness of the pictorial value of the city. I indeed suspect much
of this revived innocence of having recovered a freshness that never
can have been, of having been restored with usurious interest. About
the genuine antiques there would be properly a great deal to say, for
they are really a theme for the philosopher; but the theme is too heavy
for my pen, and I can give them but the passing tribute of a sigh.
They are cruelly quaint, dreadfully expressive. Fix one of them with
your gaze and it seems fairly to reek with mortality. Every stain and
crevice seems to syllable some human record—a record of lives airless
and unlighted. I have been trying hard to fancy them animated by the
children of “Merry England,” but I am quite unable to think of them
save as peopled by the victims of dismal old-world pains and fears.
Human life, surely, packed away behind those impenetrable lattices
of lead and bottle-glass, just above which the black outer beam marks
the suffocating nearness of the ceiling, can have expanded into scant
freedom and bloomed into small sweetness.

  [Illustration: THE ROWS, CHESTER]

Nothing has struck me more in my strolls along the Rows than the fact
that the most zealous observation can keep but uneven pace with the
fine differences in national manners. Some of the most sensible of
these differences are yet so subtle and indefinable that one must give
up the attempt to express them, though the omission leave but a rough
sketch. As you pass with the bustling current from shop to shop you
feel local custom and tradition—another tone of things—pressing on you
from every side. The tone of things is somehow heavier than with us;
manners and modes are more absolute and positive; they seem to swarm
and to thicken the atmosphere about you. Morally and physically it is a
denser air than ours. We seem loosely hung together at home as compared
with the English, every man of whom is a tight fit in his place. It
is not an inferential but a palpable fact that England is a crowded
country. There is stillness and space—grassy, oak-studded space—at
Eaton Hall, where the Marquis of Westminster dwells (or I believe can
afford to humour his notion of not dwelling), but there is a crowd and
a hubbub in Chester. Wherever you go the population has overflowed.
You stroll on the walls at eventide and you hardly find elbow-room. You
haunt the cathedral shades and a dozen sauntering mortals temper your
solitude. You glance up an alley or side street and discover populous
windows and doorsteps. You roll along country roads and find countless
humble pedestrians dotting the green waysides. The English landscape
is always a “landscape with figures.” And everywhere you go you are
accompanied by a vague consciousness of the British child hovering
about your knees and coat-skirts, naked, grimy, and portentous. You
reflect with a sort of physical relief on Australia, Canada, India.
Where there are many men, of course, there are many needs; which
helps to justify to the philosophic stranger the vast number and the
irresistible coquetry of the little shops which adorn these low-browed
Rows. The shop-fronts have always seemed to me the most elegant things
in England; and I waste more time than I should care to confess to in
covetous contemplation of the vast, clear panes behind which the nether
integuments of gentlemen are daintily suspended from glittering brass
rods. The manners of the dealers in these comfortable wares seldom fail
to confirm your agreeable impression. You are thanked with effusion for
expending twopence—a fact of deep significance to the truly analytic
mind, and which always seems to me a vague reverberation from certain
of Miss Edgeworth’s novels, perused in childhood. When you think of the
small profits, the small jealousies, the long waiting and the narrow
margin for evil days implied by this redundancy of shops and shopmen,
you hear afresh the steady rumble of that deep keynote of English
manners, overscored so often, and with such sweet beguilement, by finer
harmonies, but never extinguished—the economic struggle for existence.

  [Illustration: CHESTER CATHEDRAL, WEST FRONT]

The Rows are as “scenic” as one could wish, and it is a pity that
before the birth of their modern consciousness there was no English
Balzac to introduce them into a realistic romance with a psychological
commentary. But the cathedral is better still, modestly as it stands
on the roll of English abbeys. It is of moderate dimensions and
rather meagre in form and ornament; but to an American it expresses
and answers for the type, producing thereby the proper vibrations.
Among these is a certain irresistible regret that so much of its
hoary substance should give place to the fine, fresh-coloured masonry
with which Mr. Gilbert Scott, ruthless renovator, is so intelligently
investing it. The red sandstone of the primitive structure, darkened
and devoured by time, survives at many points in frowning mockery of
the imputed need of tinkering. The great tower, however,—completely
restored,—rises high enough to seem to belong, as cathedral towers
should, to the far-off air that vibrates with the chimes and the
swallows, and to square serenely, east and west and south and north,
its embossed and fluted sides. English cathedrals, within, are apt at
first to look pale and naked; but after a while, if the proportions be
fair and the spaces largely distributed, when you perceive the light
beating softly down from the cold clerestory and your eye measures
caressingly the tallness of columns and the hollowness of arches, and
lingers on the old genteel inscriptions of mural marbles and brasses;
and, above all, when you become conscious of that sweet, cool mustiness
in the air which seems to haunt these places as the very climate of
Episcopacy, you may grow to feel that they are less the empty shells
of a departed faith than the abodes of a faith which may still affirm
a presence and awaken echoes. Catholicism has gone, but Anglicanism
has the next best music. So at least it seemed to me, a Sunday or
two since, as I sat in the choir at Chester awaiting a discourse from
Canon Kingsley. The Anglican service had never seemed to my profane
sense so much an affair of magnificent intonations and cadences—of
pompous effects of resonance and melody. The vast oaken architecture
of the stalls among which we nestled—somewhat stiffly and with a due
apprehension of wounded ribs and knees—climbing vainly against the
dizzier reach of the columns; the beautiful English voices of certain
officiating canons, the little rosy “king’s scholars” sitting ranged
beneath the pulpit, in white-winged surplices, which made their heads,
above the pew-edges, look like rows of sleepy cherubs: every element in
the scene gave it a great spectacular beauty. They suggested too what
is suggested in England at every turn, that conservatism here has all
the charm and leaves dissent and democracy and other vulgar variations
nothing but their bald logic. Conservatism has the cathedrals, the
colleges, the castles, the gardens, the traditions, the associations,
the fine names, the better manners, the poetry; Dissent has the dusky
brick chapels in provincial by-streets, the names out of Dickens, the
uncertain tenure of the _h_, and the poor _mens sibi conscia recti_.
Differences which in other countries are slight and varying, almost
metaphysical, as one may say, are marked in England by a gulf. Nowhere
else does the degree of one’s respectability involve such solid
consequences, and I am sure I don’t wonder that the sacramental word
which with us (and, in such correlatives as they possess, more or less
among the continental races) is pronounced lightly and facetiously
and as a quotation from the Philistines, is uttered here with a
perfectly grave face. To have the courage of one’s mere convictions
is in short to have a prodigious deal of courage, and I think one
must need as much to be a Dissenter as one needs patience not to be
a duke. Perhaps the Dissenters (to limit the question to them) manage
to stay out of the church by letting it all hang on the sermon. Canon
Kingsley’s discourse was one more example of the familiar truth—not
without its significance to minds zealous for the good old fashion of
“making an effort,”—that there is an odd link between large forms and
small emanations. The sermon, beneath that triply consecrated vault,
should have had a builded majesty. It had not; and I confess that a
tender memory of ancient obligations to the author of “Westward Ho!”
and “Hypatia” forbids my saying more of it. An American, I think, is
not incapable of taking a secret satisfaction in an incongruity of
this kind. He finds with relief that even mortals reared as in the
ring of a perpetual circus are only mortals. His constant sense of the
beautiful scenic properties of English life is apt to beget a habit of
melancholy reference to the dead-blank wall which forms the background
of our own life-drama; and from doubting in this fantastic humour
whether we have even that modest value in the scale of beauty that he
has sometimes fondly hoped, he lapses into a moody scepticism as to our
place in the scale of “importance,” and finds himself wondering vaguely
whether this be not a richer race as well as a lovelier land. That
of course will never do; so that when after being escorted down the
beautiful choir in what, from the American point of view, is an almost
gorgeous ecclesiastical march, by the Dean in a white robe trimmed
with scarlet and black-robed sacristans carrying silver wands, the
officiating canon mounts into a splendid canopied and pinnacled pulpit
of gothic stonework and proves—not an “acting” Jeremy Taylor, our poor
sentimental tourist begins to hold up his head again and to reflect
that so far as we _have_ opportunities we mostly rise to them. I am
not sure indeed that in the excess of his reaction he is not tempted
to accuse his English neighbours of being impenetrable and uninspired,
to affirm that they do not half discern their good fortune, and that it
takes passionate pilgrims, vague aliens, and other disinherited persons
to appreciate the “points” of this admirable country.

     1872.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



LICHFIELD AND WARWICK


To write at Oxford of anything but Oxford requires, on the part of
the sentimental tourist, no small power of mental abstraction. Yet
I have it at heart to pay to three or four other scenes recently
visited the debt of an enjoyment hardly less profound than my relish
for this scholastic paradise. First among these is the cathedral city
of Lichfield—the city, I say, because Lichfield has a character of
its own apart from its great ecclesiastical feature. In the centre
of its little market-place—dullest and sleepiest of provincial
market-places—rises a huge effigy of Dr. Johnson, the _genius loci_,
who was constructed, humanly, with very nearly as large an architecture
as the great abbey. The Doctor’s statue, which is of some inexpensive
composite painted a shiny brown, and of no great merit of design, fills
out the vacant dulness of the little square in much the same way as
his massive personality occupies—with just a margin for Garrick—the
record of his native town. In one of the volumes of Croker’s “Boswell”
is a steel plate of the old Johnsonian birth-house, by the aid of
a vague recollection of which I detected the dwelling beneath its
modernised frontage. It bears no mural inscription and, save for a
hint of antiquity in the receding basement, with pillars supporting the
floor above, seems in no especial harmony with Johnson’s time or fame.
Lichfield in general appeared to me indeed to have little to say about
her great son beyond the fact that the smallness and the sameness and
the dulness, amid which it is so easy to fancy a great intellectual
appetite turning sick with inanition, may help to explain the Doctor’s
subsequent almost ferocious fondness for London. I walked about the
silent streets, trying to repeople them with wigs and short-clothes,
and, while I lingered near the cathedral, endeavoured to guess the
message of its gothic graces to Johnson’s ponderous classicism. But I
achieved but a colourless picture at the best, and the most vivid image
in my mind’s eye was that of the London coach facing towards Temple Bar
with the young author of “Rasselas” scowling near-sightedly from the
cheapest seat. With him goes the interest of Lichfield town. The place
is stale without being really antique. It is as if that prodigious
temperament had absorbed and appropriated its original vitality.

If every dull provincial town, however, formed but a girdle of quietude
to a cathedral as rich as that of Lichfield, one would thank it for
letting one alone. Lichfield cathedral is great among churches,
and bravely performs the prime duty of objects of its order—that
of seeming for the time (to minds unsophisticated by architectural
culture) the finest, on the whole, of all such objects. This one
is rather oddly placed, on the slope of a hill, the particular spot
having been chosen, I believe, because sanctified by the sufferings
of certain primitive martyrs; but it is fine to see how its upper
portions surmount any crookedness of posture and its great towers
overtake in mid-air the conditions of perfect symmetry. The close is
extraordinarily attractive; a long sheet of water expands behind it
and, besides leading the eye off into a sweet green landscape, renders
the inestimable service of reflecting the three spires as they rise
above the great trees which mask the Palace and the Deanery. These
august abodes edge the northern side of the slope, and behind their
huge gate-posts and close-wrought gates the atmosphere of the Georgian
era seems to abide. Before them stretches a row of huge elms, which
must have been old when Johnson was young; and between these and the
long-buttressed wall of the cathedral, you may stroll to and fro among
as pleasant a mixture of influences (I imagine) as any in England.
You can stand back here, too, from the west front further than in
many cases, and examine at your ease its lavish decoration. You are
perhaps a trifle too much at your ease, for you soon discover what
a more cursory glance might not betray, that the immense façade has
been covered with stucco and paint, that an effigy of Charles II,
in wig and plumes and trunk-hose, of almost gothic grotesqueness,
surmounts the middle window; that the various other statues of saints
and kings have but recently climbed into their niches; and that the
whole expanse is in short an imposture. All this was done some fifty
years ago, in the taste of that day as to restoration, and yet it but
partially mitigates the impressiveness of the high façade, with its
brace of spires, and the great embossed and image-fretted surface, to
which the lowness of the portals (the too frequent reproach of English
abbeys) seems to give a loftier reach. Passing beneath one of these
low portals, however, I found myself gazing down as noble a church
vista as any you need desire. The cathedral is of magnificent length,
and the screen between nave and choir has been removed, so that from
stem to stern, as one may say, of the great vessel of the church, it
is all a mighty avenue of multitudinous slender columns, terminating
in what seems a great screen of ruby and sapphire and topaz—one of the
finest east windows in England. The cathedral is narrow in proportion
to its length; it is the long-drawn aisle of the poet in perfection,
and there is something grandly elegant in the unity of effect produced
by this unobstructed perspective. The charm is increased by a singular
architectural fantasy. Standing in the centre of the doorway, you
perceive that the eastern wall does not directly face you, and that
from the beginning of the choir the receding aisle deflects slightly
to the left, in reported suggestion of the droop of the Saviour’s head
on the cross. Here again Mr. Gilbert Scott has lately laboured to no
small purpose of _un_doing, it would appear—undoing the misdeeds of
the last century. This extraordinary period expended an incalculable
amount of imagination in proving that it had none. Universal whitewash
was the least of its offences. But this has been scraped away and the
solid stonework left to speak for itself, the delicate capitals and
cornices disencrusted and discreetly rechiselled and the whole temple
æsthetically rededicated. Its most beautiful feature, happily, has
needed no repair, for its perfect beauty has been its safeguard. The
great choir window of Lichfield is the noblest glasswork before the
spell of which one’s soul has become simple. I remember nowhere colours
so chaste and grave, and yet so rich and true, or a cluster of designs
so piously decorative and yet so vivified. Such a window as this seems
to me the most sacred ornament of a great church; to be, not like vault
and screen and altar, the dim contingent promise to the spirit, but the
very redemption of the whole vow. This Lichfield glass is not the less
interesting for being visibly of foreign origin. Exceeding so obviously
as it does the range of English genius in this line, it indicates at
least the heavenly treasure stored up in continental churches. It dates
from the early sixteenth century, and was transferred hither sixty
years ago from a decayed Belgian abbey. This, however, is not all of
Lichfield. You have not seen it till you have strolled and restrolled
along the close on every side, and watched the three spires constantly
change their relation as you move and pause. Nothing can well be finer
than the combination of the two lesser ones soaring equally in front
with the third riding tremendously the magnificently sustained line
of the roof. At a certain distance against the sky this long ridge
seems something infinite and the great spire to sit astride of it
like a giant mounted on a mastodon. Your sense of the huge mass of the
building is deepened by the fact that though the central steeple is of
double the elevation of the others, you see it, from some points, borne
back in a perspective which drops it to half their stature and lifts
them into immensity. But it would take long to tell all that one sees
and fancies and thinks in a lingering walk about so great a church as
this.

  [Illustration: LICHFIELD CATHEDRAL]

  [Illustration: THE THREE SPIRES OF LICHFIELD]

To walk in quest of any object that one has more or less tenderly
dreamed of, to find your way, to steal upon it softly, to see at
last, if it be church or castle, the tower-tops peeping above elms or
beeches—to push forward with a rush, and emerge and pause and draw that
first long breath which is the compromise between so many sensations:
this is a pleasure left to the tourist even after the broad glare of
photography has dissipated so many of the sweet mysteries of travel;
even in a season when he is fatally apt to meet a dozen fellow pilgrims
returning from the shrine, each as big a fool, so to speak, as he
ever was, or to overtake a dozen more telegraphing their impressions
down the line as they arrive. Such a pleasure I lately enjoyed quite
in its perfection, in a walk to Haddon Hall, along a meadow-path
by the Wye, in this interminable English twilight which I am never
weary of admiring watch in hand. Haddon Hall lies among Derbyshire
hills, in a region infested, I was about to write, by Americans.
But I achieved my own sly pilgrimage in perfect solitude; and as I
descried the grey walls among the rook-haunted elms I felt not like
a dusty tourist, but like a successful adventurer. I have certainly
had, as a dusty tourist, few more charming moments than some—such as
any one, I suppose, is free to have—that I passed on a little ruined
grey bridge which spans, with its single narrow arch, a trickling
stream at the base of the eminence from which those walls and trees
look down. The twilight deepened, the ragged battlements and the low,
broad oriels glanced duskily from the foliage, the rooks wheeled and
clamoured in the glowing sky; and if there had been a ghost on the
premises I certainly ought to have seen it. In fact I did see it, as
we see ghosts nowadays. I felt the incommunicable spirit of the scene
with the last, the right intensity. The old life, the old manners,
the old figures seemed present again. The great _coup de théâtre_ of
the young woman who shows you the Hall—it is rather languidly done
on her part—is to point out a little dusky door opening from a turret
to a back terrace as the aperture through which Dorothy Vernon eloped
with Lord John Manners. I was ignorant of this episode, for I was not
to enter the place till the morrow, and I am still unversed in the
history of the actors. But as I stood in the luminous dusk weaving
the romance of the spot, I recognised the inevitability of a Dorothy
Vernon and quite understood a Lord John. It was of course on just such
an evening that the romantic event came off, and by listening with the
proper credulity I might surely hear on the flags of the castle-court
ghostly footfalls and feel in their movement the old heartbeats. The
only footfall I can conscientiously swear to, however, is the far
from spectral tread of the damsel who led me through the mansion in
the prosier light of the next morning. Haddon Hall, I believe, is one
of the sights in which it is the fashion to be “disappointed;” a fact
explained in a great measure by the absence of a formal approach to
the house, which shows its low, grey front to every trudger on the
high-road. But the charm of the spot is so much less that of grandeur
than that of melancholy, that it is rather deepened than diminished
by this attitude of obvious survival and decay. And for that matter,
when you have entered the steep little outer court through the huge
thickness of the low gateway, the present seems effectually walled out
and the past walled in, even as a dead man in a sepulchre. It is very
dead, of a fine June morning, the genius of Haddon Hall; and the silent
courts and chambers, with their hues of ashen grey and faded brown,
seem as time-bleached as the dry bones of any mouldering mortality. The
comparison is odd, but Haddon Hall reminded me perversely of some of
the larger houses at Pompeii. The private life of the past is revealed
in each case with very much the same distinctness and on a scale small
enough not to stagger the imagination. This old dwelling indeed has
so little of the mass and expanse of the classic feudal castle that
it almost suggests one of those miniature models of great buildings
which lurk in dusty corners of museums. But it is large enough to be
delectably complete and to contain an infinite store of the poetry of
grass-grown courts looked into by wide, jutting windows and climbed
out of by crooked stone stairways mounting against the walls to little
high-placed doors. The “tone” of Haddon Hall, of all its walls and
towers and stonework, is the grey of unpolished silver, and the reader
who has been in England need hardly be reminded of the sweet accord—to
eye and mind alike—existing between all stony surfaces covered with
the pale corrosions of time and the deep living green of the strong
ivy which seems to feed on their slow decay. Of this effect and of a
hundred others—from those that belong to low-browed, stone-paved empty
rooms where life was warm and atmospheres thick, to those one may note
where the dark tower stairway emerges at last, on a level with the
highest beech-tops, against the cracked and sun-baked parapet which
flaunted the castle standard over the castle woods—of every form of sad
desuetude and picturesque decay Haddon Hall contains some delightful
example. Its finest point is undoubtedly a certain court from which
a stately flight of steps ascends to the terrace where that daughter
of the Vernons whom I have mentioned took such happy thought for
our requiring, as the phrase is, a reference. These steps, with the
terrace, its balustrade topped with great ivy-muffled knobs of stone
and its high background of massed woods, form the ideal _mise en scène_
for portions of Shakespeare’s comedies. “It’s exactly Elizabethan,”
said my companion. Here the Countess Olivia may have listened to the
fantastic Malvolio, or Beatrix, superbest of flirts, have come to
summon Benedick to dinner.

The glories of Chatsworth, which lies but a few miles from Haddon,
serve as a marked offset to its more delicate merits, just as they
are supposed to gain, I believe, in the tourist’s eyes, by contrast
with its charming, its almost Italian shabbiness. But the glories of
Chatsworth, incontestable as they are, were so effectually eclipsed
to my mind, a couple of days later, that in future, when I think of an
English mansion, I shall think only of Warwick, and when I think of an
English park, only of Blenheim. Your run by train through the gentle
Warwickshire land does much to prepare you for the great spectacle
of the castle, which seems hardly more than a sort of massive symbol
and synthesis of the broad prosperity and peace and leisure diffused
over this great pastoral expanse. The Warwickshire meadows are to
common English scenery what this is to that of the rest of the world.
For mile upon mile you can see nothing but broad sloping pastures of
velvet turf, overbrowsed by sheep of the most fantastic shagginess
and garnished with hedges out of the trailing luxury of whose verdure
great ivy-tangled oaks and elms arise with a kind of architectural
regularity. The landscape indeed sins by excess of nutritive
suggestion; it savours of larder and manger; it is too ovine, too
bovine, it is almost asinine; and if you were to believe what you see
before you this rugged globe would be a sort of boneless ball covered
with some such plush-like integument as might be figured by the down on
the cheek of a peach. But a great thought keeps you company as you go
and gives character to the scenery. Warwickshire—you say it over and
over—was Shakespeare’s country. Those who think that a great genius
is something supremely ripe and healthy and human may find comfort
in the fact. It helps greatly to enliven my own vague conception of
Shakespeare’s temperament, with which I find it no great shock to be
obliged to associate ideas of mutton and beef. There is something as
final, as disillusioned of the romantic horrors of rock and forest, as
deeply attuned to human needs in the Warwickshire pastures as there is
in the underlying morality of the poet.

  [Illustration: WARWICK CASTLE]

With human needs in general Warwick Castle may be in no great accord,
but few places are more gratifying to the sentimental tourist. It is
the only great residence he may have coveted as a home. The fire that
we heard so much of last winter in America appears to have consumed but
an inconsiderable and easily spared portion of the house, and the great
towers rise over the great trees and the town with the same grand air
as before. Picturesquely, Warwick gains from not being sequestered,
after the common fashion, in acres of park. The village street winds
about the garden walls, though its hum expires before it has had time
to scale them. There can be no better example of the way in which stone
walls, if they do not of necessity make a prison, may on occasions make
a palace, than the prodigious privacy maintained thus about a mansion
whose windows and towers form the main feature of a bustling town. At
Warwick the past joins hands so stoutly with the present that you can
hardly say where one begins and the other ends, and you rather miss
the various crannies and gaps of what I just now called the Italian
shabbiness of Haddon. There is a Cæsar’s tower and a Guy’s tower and
half a dozen more, but they are so well-conditioned in their ponderous
antiquity that you are at loss whether to consider them parts of an
old house revived or of a new house picturesquely superannuated. Such
as they are, however, plunging into the grassed and gravelled courts
from which their battlements look really feudal, and into gardens
large enough for all delight and too small, as they should be, to be
amazing; and with ranges between them of great apartments at whose
hugely recessed windows you may turn from Vandyck and Rembrandt to
glance down the cliff-like pile into the Avon, washing the base like
a lordly moat, with its bridge, and its trees and its memories, they
mark the very model of a great hereditary dwelling—one which amply
satisfies the imagination without irritating the democratic conscience.
The pictures at Warwick reminded me afresh of an old conclusion on this
matter; that the best fortune for good pictures is not to be crowded
into public collections—not even into the relative privacy of Salons
Carrés and Tribunes—but to hang in largely-spaced half-dozens on the
walls of fine houses. Here the historical atmosphere, as one may call
it, is almost a compensation for the often imperfect light. If this
be true of most pictures it is especially so of the works of Vandyck,
whom you think of, wherever you may find him, as having, with that
thorough good-breeding which is the stamp of his manner, taken account
in his painting of the local conditions and predestined his picture to
just the spot where it hangs. This is in fact an illusion as regards
the Vandycks at Warwick, for none of them represent members of the
house. The very finest perhaps after the great melancholy, picturesque
Charles I—death, or at least the presentiment of death on the pale
horse—is a portrait from the Brignole palace at Genoa; a beautiful
noble matron in black, with her little son and heir. The last Vandycks
I had seen were the noble company this lady had left behind her in the
Genoese palace, and as I looked at her I thought of her mighty change
of circumstance. Here she sits in the mild light of midmost England;
there you could almost fancy her blinking in the great glare sent up
from the Mediterranean. Intensity for intensity—intensity of situation
constituted—I hardly know which to choose.

     Oxford, 1872.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



NORTH DEVON


For those fanciful observers to whom broad England means chiefly the
perfection of the rural picturesque, Devonshire means the perfection of
England. I, at least, had so complacently taken for granted here all
the characteristic graces of English scenery, had built so boldly on
their rank orthodoxy, that before we fairly crossed the border I had
begun to look impatiently from the carriage window for the veritable
landscape in water-colours. Devonshire meets you promptly in all its
purity, for the course of ten minutes you have been able to glance
down the green vista of a dozen Devonshire lanes. On huge embankments
of moss and turf, smothered in wild flowers and embroidered with the
finest lacework of trailing ground-ivy, rise solid walls of flowering
thorn and glistening holly and golden broom, and more strong, homely
shrubs than I can name, and toss their blooming tangle to a sky which
seems to look down between them, in places, from but a dozen inches
of blue. They are oversown with lovely little flowers with names as
delicate as their petals of gold and silver and azure—bird’s-eye and
king’s-finger and wandering-sailor—and their soil, a superb dark red,
turns in spots so nearly to crimson that you almost fancy it some
fantastic compound purchased at the chemist’s and scattered there
for ornament. The mingled reflection of this rich-hued earth and the
dim green light which filters through the hedge is a masterpiece of
produced beauty. A Devonshire cottage is no less striking an outcome of
the ages and the seasons and the manners. Crushed beneath its burden
of thatch, coated with a rough white stucco of a tone to delight a
painter, nestling in deep foliage and garnished at doorstep and wayside
with various forms of chubby infancy, it seems to have been stationed
there for no more obvious purpose than to keep a promise to your fancy,
though it covers, I suppose, not a little of the sordid side of life
which the fancy likes to slur over.

  [Illustration: A DEVONSHIRE LANE]

I rolled past lanes and cottages to Exeter, where I had counted
upon the cathedral. When one has fairly tasted of the pleasure of
cathedral-hunting the approach to each new possible prize of the chase
gives a peculiarly agreeable zest to the curiosity. You are making a
collection of great impressions, and I think the process is in no case
so delightful as applied to cathedrals. Going from one fine picture
to another is certainly good; but the fine pictures of the world are
terribly numerous, and they have a troublesome way of crowding and
jostling each other in the memory. The number of cathedrals is small,
and the mass and presence of each specimen great, so that as they
rise in the mind in individual majesty they dwarf all the commoner
impressions of calculated effect. They form indeed but a gallery of
vaster pictures; for when time has dulled the recollection of details
you retain a single broad image of the vast grey edifice, with its
head and shoulders, its vessel and its towers, its tone of colour,
its still green precinct. All this is especially true perhaps of one’s
sense of English sacred piles, which are almost alone in possessing,
as pictures, a spacious and harmonious setting. The cathedral stands
supreme, but the close makes, always, the _scene_. Exeter is not one
of the grandest, but, in common with great and small, it has certain
points in favour of which local learning discriminates. Exeter indeed
does itself injustice by a low, dark front, which not only diminishes
the apparent altitude of the nave, but conceals, as you look eastward,
two noble Norman towers. The front, however, which has a gloomy
impressiveness, is redeemed by two fine features: a magnificent
rose-window, whose vast stone ribs (enclosing some very pallid
last-century glass) are disposed with the most charming intricacy; and
a long sculptured screen—a sort of stony band of images—which traverses
the façade from side to side. The little broken-visaged effigies of
saints and kings and bishops, niched in tiers along this hoary wall,
are prodigiously black and quaint and primitive in expression; and as
you look at them with whatever contemplative tenderness your trade
of hard-working tourist may have left at your disposal, you fancy
that they are broodingly conscious of their names, histories, and
misfortunes; that, sensitive victims of time, they feel the loss of
their noses, their toes, and their crowns; and that, when the long June
twilight turns at last to a deeper grey and the quiet of the close to
a deeper stillness, they begin to peer sidewise out of their narrow
recesses and to converse in some strange form of early English, as
rigid, yet as candid, as their features and postures, moaning, like
a company of ancient paupers round a hospital fire, over their aches
and infirmities and losses and the sadness of being so terribly old.
The vast square transeptal towers of the church seem to me to have the
same sort of personal melancholy. Nothing in all architecture expresses
better, to my imagination, the sadness of survival, the resignation of
dogged material continuance, than a broad expanse of Norman stonework,
roughly adorned with its low relief of short columns and round arches
and almost barbarous hatchet-work, and lifted high into that mild
English light which accords so well with its dull-grey surface. The
especial secret of the impressiveness of such a Norman tower I cannot
pretend to have discovered. It lies largely in the look of having
been proudly and sturdily built—as if the masons had been urged by a
trumpet-blast, and the stones squared by a battle-axe—contrasted with
this mere idleness of antiquity and passive lapse into quaintness. A
Greek temple preserves a kind of fresh immortality in its concentrated
refinement, and a gothic cathedral in its adventurous exuberance; but
a Norman tower stands up like some simple strong man in his might,
bending a melancholy brow upon an age which demands that strength shall
be cunning.

  [Illustration: THE NORMAN TOWERS OF EXETER]

The North Devon coast, whither it was my design on coming to Exeter
to proceed, has the primary merit of being, as yet, virgin soil as
to railways. I went accordingly from Barnstable to Ilfracombe on
the top of a coach, in the fashion of elder days; and, thanks to
my position, I managed to enjoy the landscape in spite of the two
worthy aboriginals before me who were reading aloud together, with a
natural glee which might have passed for fiendish malice, the “Daily
Telegraph’s” painfully vivid account of the defeat of the Atalanta
crew. It seemed to me, I remember, a sort of pledge and token of the
invincibility of English muscle that a newspaper record of its prowess
should have power to divert my companions’ eyes from the bosky flanks
of Devonshire combes. The little watering-place of Ilfracombe is seated
at the lower verge of one of these seaward-plunging valleys, between
a couple of magnificent headlands which hold it in a hollow slope
and offer it securely to the caress of the Bristol Channel. It is a
very finished little specimen of its genus, and I think that during
my short stay there I expended as much attention on its manners and
customs and its social physiognomy as on its cliffs and beach and
great coast-view. My chief conclusion perhaps, from all these things,
was that the terrible “summer-question” which works annual anguish in
so many American households would rage less hopelessly if we had a
few Ilfracombes scattered along our Atlantic coast; and furthermore
that the English are masters of the art of not losing sight of ease
and convenience in the pursuit of the pastoral life—unlike our own
people, who, when seeking rural beguilement, are apt but to find a
new rudeness added to nature. It is just possible that at Ilfracombe
ease and convenience weigh down the scale; so very substantial are
they, so very officious and business-like. On the left of the town
(to give an example) one of the great cliffs I have mentioned rises in
a couple of massive peaks and presents to the sea an almost vertical
face, all muffled in tufts of golden broom and mighty fern. You have
not walked fifty yards away from the hotel before you encounter half a
dozen little sign-boards, directing your steps to a path up the cliff.
You follow their indications and you arrive at a little gate-house,
with photographs and various local gimcracks exposed for sale. A most
respectable person appears, demands a penny and, on receiving it,
admits you with great civility to commune with nature. You detect,
however, various little influences hostile to perfect communion.
You are greeted by another sign-board threatening legal pursuit if
you attempt to evade the payment of the sacramental penny. The path,
winding in a hundred ramifications over the cliff, is fastidiously
solid and neat, and furnished at intervals of a dozen yards with
excellent benches, inscribed by knife and pencil with the names of
such visitors as do not happen to have been the elderly maiden ladies
who now chiefly occupy them. All this is prosaic, and you have to
subtract it in a lump from the total impression before the sense of
the beguilement of nature becomes distinct. Your subtraction made,
a great deal assuredly remains; quite enough, I found, to give me an
ample day’s refreshment; for English scenery, like most other English
commodities, resists and rewards familiar use. The cliffs are superb,
the play of light and shade upon them is a perpetual study, and the
air a particular mixture of the breath of the hills and moors and the
breath of the sea. I was very glad, at the end of my climb, to have
a good bench to sit upon—as one must think twice in England before
measuring one’s length on the grassy earth; and to be able, thanks
to the smooth foot-path, to get back to the hotel in a quarter of an
hour. But it occurred to me that if I were an Englishman of the period,
and, after ten months of a busy London life, my fancy were turning
to a holiday, to rest and change and oblivion of the ponderous social
burden, it might find rather less inspiration than needful in a vision
of the little paths of Ilfracombe, of the sign-boards and the penny-fee
and the solitude tempered by old ladies and sheep. I wondered whether
change perfect enough to be salutary does not imply something more
pathless, more idle, more unreclaimed from that deep-bosomed nature to
which the overwrought mind reverts with passionate longing; something
after all attainable at a moderate distance from New York and Boston. I
must add that I cannot find in my heart to object, even on grounds the
most æsthetic, to the very beautiful and excellent inn at Ilfracombe,
where such of my readers as are perchance actually wrestling with the
question of “where to go” may be interested to learn that they may live
_en pension_, very well indeed, at a cost of ten shillings a day. I
have paid the American hotel-clerk a much heavier tax on a much lighter
entertainment. I made the acquaintance at this establishment of that
strange fruit of time the insular table d’hôte, but I confess that,
faithful to the habit of a tourist open to the _arrière-pensée_, I have
retained a more vivid impression of the talk and the faces than of
our joints and side-dishes. I noticed here what I have often noticed
before (the truth perhaps has never been duly recognised), that no
people profit so eagerly as the English by the suspension of a common
social law. A table d’hôte, being something abnormal and experimental,
as it were, resulted apparently in a complete reversal of the supposed
national characteristics. Conversation was universal—uproarious almost;
old legends and ironies about the insular _morgue_ seemed to see their
ground crumble away. What social, what psychologic earthquake, in our
own time, had occurred?

These are meagre memories, however, compared with those which cluster
about that place of pleasantness which is locally known as Lynton.
I am afraid I may seem a mere professional gusher when I declare how
common almost any term appears to me applied to Lynton with descriptive
intent. The little village is perched on the side of one of the great
mountain-cliffs with which this whole coast is adorned, and on the
edge of a lovely gorge through which a broad hill-torrent foams and
tumbles from the great moors whose heather-crested waves rise purple
along the inland sky. Below it, close beside the beach where the little
torrent meets the sea, is the sister village of Lynmouth. Here—as
I stood on the bridge that spans the stream and looked at the stony
backs and foundations and overclambering garden verdure of certain
little grey old houses which plunge their feet into it, and then up
at the tender green of scrub-oak and fern, at the colour of gorse and
broom and bracken climbing the sides of the hills and leaving them
bare-crowned to the sun like miniature mountains—I read an unnatural
blueness into the northern sea, and the village below put on the grace
of one of the hundred hamlets of the Riviera. The little Castle Hotel
at Lynton is a spot so consecrated to supreme repose—to sitting with
a book in the terrace-garden, among blooming plants of aristocratic
magnitude and rarity, and watching the finest piece of colour in
all nature, the glowing red and green of the great cliffs beyond the
little harbour-mouth, as they shift and change and melt, the livelong
day, from shade to shade and ineffable tone to tone—that I feel as if
in helping it to publicity I were doing it rather a disfavour than a
service. It is in fact a very deep and sure retreat, and I have never
known one where purchased hospitality wore a more disinterested smile.
Lynton is of course a capital centre for excursions, but two or three
of which I had time to make. None is more beautiful than a simple walk
along the running face of the cliffs to a singular rocky eminence whose
curious abutments and pinnacles of stone have inevitably caused it
to be named the Castle. It has a fantastic resemblance to some hoary
feudal ruin, with crumbling towers and gaping chambers tenanted by
wild sea-birds. The late afternoon light had a way, at this season,
of lingering on until within a couple of hours of midnight; and I
remember among the charmed moments of English travel none of a more
vividly poetical tinge than a couple of evenings spent on the summit of
this all but legendary pile in company with the slow-coming darkness
and the short, sharp cry of the sea-mews. There are places whose very
aspect is a story or a song. This jagged and pinnacled coast-wall, with
the rock-strewn valley behind it, the sullen calmness of the unbroken
tide at the dreadful base of the cliffs (where they divide into low
sea-caves, making pillars and pedestals for the fantastic imagery of
their summits), prompted one to wanton reminiscence and outbreak, to a
recall of some drawing of Gustave Doré’s (of his good time), which was
a divination of the place and made one look for his signature under a
stone, or, better still, to respouting, for sympathy and relief, some
idyllic Tennysonian line that had haunted one’s destitute past and
that seemed to speak of the conditions in spite of being false to them
geographically.

The last stage in my visit to North Devon was the long drive along
the beautiful remnant of coast and through the rich pastoral scenery
of Somerset. The whole broad spectacle that one dreams of viewing in
a foreign land to the homely music of a postboy’s whip I beheld on
this admirable drive—breezy highlands clad in the warm blue-brown of
heather-tufts as if in mantles of rusty velvet, little bays and coves
curving gently to the doors of clustered fishing-huts, deep pastures
and broad forests, villages thatched and trellised as if to take a
prize for improbability, manor-tops peeping over rook-haunted avenues.
I ought to make especial note of an hour I spent at midday at the
little village of Porlock in Somerset. Here the thatch seemed steeper
and heavier, the yellow roses on the cottage walls more cunningly
mated with the crumbling stucco, the dark interiors within the open
doors more quaintly pictorial, than elsewhere; and as I loitered, while
the horses rested, in the little cool old timber-steepled, yew-shaded
church, betwixt the high-backed manorial pew and the battered tomb of
a crusading knight and his lady, and listened to the simple prattle
of a blue-eyed old sexton, who showed me where, as a boy, in scantier
corduroys, he had scratched his name on the recumbent lady’s breast, it
seemed to me that this at last was old England indeed, and that in a
moment more I should see Sir Roger de Coverley marching up the aisle.
Certainly, to give a proper account of it all, I should need nothing
less than the pen of Mr. Addison.

     1872.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



WELLS AND SALISBURY


The pleasantest thing in life is doubtless ever the pleasantness that
has found one off one’s guard—though if I was off my guard in arriving
at Wells it could only have been by the effect of a frivolous want of
information. I knew in a general way that this ancient little town
had a great cathedral to produce, but I was far from suspecting the
intensity of the impression that awaited me. The immense predominance
of the Minster towers, as you see them from the approaching train over
the clustered houses at their feet, gives you indeed an intimation of
its character, suggests that the city is nothing if not sanctified;
but I can wish the traveller no better fortune than to stroll forth
in the early evening with as large a reserve of ignorance as my own,
and treat himself to an hour of discoveries. I was lodged on the edge
of the Cathedral lawn and had only to pass beneath one of the three
crumbling Priory gates which enclose it, and cross the vast grassy
oval, to stand before a minster-front which ranks among the first
three or four in England. Wells Cathedral is extremely fortunate in
being approached by this wide green level, on which the spectator may
loiter and stroll to and fro and shift his standpoint to his heart’s
content. The spectator who does not hesitate to avail himself of his
privilege of unlimited fastidiousness might indeed pronounce it too
isolated for perfect picturesqueness—too uncontrasted with the profane
architecture of the human homes for which it pleads to the skies. But
Wells is in fact not a city with a cathedral for central feature; it is
a cathedral with a little city gathered at the base and forming hardly
more than an extension of the spacious close. You feel everywhere the
presence of the beautiful church; the place seems always to savour of
a Sunday afternoon; and you imagine every house tenanted by a canon, a
prebendary, or a precentor, with “backs” providing for choristers and
vergers.

The great façade is remarkable not so much for its expanse as for its
elaborate elegance. It consists of two great truncated towers, divided
by a broad centre bearing, beside its rich fretwork of statues, three
narrow lancet windows. The statues on this vast front are the great
boast of the cathedral. They number, with the lateral figures of the
towers, no less than three hundred; it seems densely embroidered
by the chisel. They are disposed, in successive niches, along six
main vertical shafts; the central windows are framed and divided by
narrower shafts, and the wall above them rises into a pinnacled screen
traversed by two superb horizontal rows. Add to these a close-running
cornice of images along the line corresponding with the summit of
the aisles and the tiers which complete the decoration of the towers
on either side, and you have an immense system of images governed by
a quaint theological order and most impressive in its completeness.
Many of the little high-lodged effigies are mutilated, and not a few
of the niches are empty, but the injury of time is not sufficient to
diminish the noble serenity of the building. The injury of time is
indeed being actively repaired, for the front is partly masked by a
slender scaffolding. The props and platforms are of the most delicate
structure, and look in fact as if they were meant to facilitate
no more ponderous labour than a fitting-on of noses to disfeatured
bishops and a rearrangement of the mantle-folds of strait-laced queens
discomposed by the centuries. The main beauty of Wells Cathedral, to
my mind, is not its more or less visible wealth of detail, but its
singularly charming tone of colour. An even, sober, mouse-like grey
invests it from summit to base, deepening nowhere to the melancholy
black of your truly romantic gothic, but showing as yet none of the
spotty brightness of renovation. It is a wonderful fact that the great
towers, from their lofty outlook, see never a factory chimney—those
cloud-compelling spires which so often break the charm of the softest
English horizons; and the general atmosphere of Wells seemed to me, for
some reason, peculiarly luminous and sweet. The cathedral has never
been discoloured by the moral malaria of a city with an independent
secular life. As you turn back from its portal and glance at the open
lawn before it, edged by the mild grey seventeenth-century deanery
and the other dwellings, hardly less stately, which seem to reflect
in their comfortable fronts the rich respectability of the church, and
then up again at the beautiful clear-hued pile, you may fancy it less
a temple for man’s needs than a monument of his pride—less a fold for
the flock than for the shepherds; a visible token that, besides the
actual assortment of heavenly thrones, there is constantly on hand a
“full line” of cushioned cathedral stalls. Within the cathedral this
impression is not diminished. The interior is vast and massive, but it
lacks incident—the incident of monuments, sepulchres, and chapels—and
it is too brilliantly lighted for picturesque, as distinguished from
strictly architectural, interest. Under this latter head it has, I
believe, great importance. For myself, I can think of it only as I
saw it from my place in the choir during afternoon service of a hot
Sunday. The Bishop sat facing me, enthroned in a stately gothic alcove
and clad in his crimson band, his lawn sleeves and his lavender gloves;
the canons, in their degree, with still other priestly forms, reclined
comfortably in the carven stalls, and the scanty congregation fringed
the broad aisle. But though scanty, the congregation was select; it
was unexceptionably black-coated, bonneted and gloved. It savoured
intensely in short of that inexorable gentility which the English
put on with their Sunday bonnets and beavers, and which fills me—as
a mere taster of produced tastes—with a sort of fond reactionary
remembrance of those animated bundles of rags which one sees kneeling
in the churches of Italy. But even here, as taster of tastes, I found
my account. You always do if you throw yourself confidently enough, in
England, on the chapter of accidents. Before me and beside me sat a row
of the comeliest young men, clad in black gowns and wearing on their
shoulders long hoods trimmed with white fur. Who and what they were I
know not, for I preferred not to learn, lest by chance they should not
be so mediæval as they looked.

  [Illustration: THE MARKET-PLACE, WELLS]

My fancy found its account even better in the singular quaintness of
the little precinct known as the Vicars’ Close. It directly adjoins
the Cathedral Green, and you enter it beneath one of the solid old
gate-houses which form so striking an element in the ecclesiastical
furniture of Wells. It consists of a narrow, oblong court, bordered
on each side with thirteen small dwellings and terminating in a
ruinous little chapel. Here formerly dwelt a congregation of minor
priests, established in the thirteenth century to do curates’ work
for the canons. The little houses are very much modernised; but they
retain their tall chimneys, with carven tablets in the face, their
antique compactness and neatness, and a certain little sanctified
air as of cells in a cloister. The place is adorably of another
world and time, and, approaching it as I did in the first dimness of
twilight, it looked to me, in its exaggerated perspective, like one
of those conventional streets represented on the stage, down whose
impossible vista the heroes and confidants of romantic comedies come
swaggering arm-in-arm and hold amorous converse with heroines perched
at second-story windows. But though the Vicars’ Close is a curious
affair enough, the great boast of Wells is its episcopal Palace. The
Palace loses nothing from being seen for the first time in the kindly
twilight, and from being approached with an uncautioned mind. To reach
it (unless you go from within the cathedral by the cloisters), you pass
out of the Green by another ancient gateway into the market-place, and
thence back again through its own peculiar portal. My own first glimpse
of it had all the felicity of a _coup de théâtre_. I saw within the
dark archway an enclosure bedimmed at once with the shadows of trees
and heightened with the glitter of water. The picture was worthy of
this agreeable promise. Its main feature is the little grey-walled
island on which the Palace stands, rising in feudal fashion out of a
broad, clear moat, flanked with round towers and approached by a proper
drawbridge. Along the outer side of the moat is a short walk beneath a
row of picturesquely stunted elms; swans and ducks disport themselves
in the current and ripple the bright shadows of the overclambering
plants from the episcopal gardens and masses of wall-flower lodged on
the hoary battlements. On the evening of my visit the haymakers were
at work on a great sloping field in the rear of the Palace, and the
sweet perfume of the tumbled grass in the dusky air seemed all that
was wanting to fix the scene for ever in the memory. Beyond the moat
and within the grey walls dwells my lord Bishop, in the finest seat
of all his order. The mansion dates from the thirteenth century; but,
stately dwelling though it is, it occupies but a subordinate place in
its own grounds. Their great ornament, picturesquely speaking, is the
massive ruin of a banqueting-hall erected by a free-living mediæval
bishop and more or less demolished at the Reformation. With its still
perfect towers and beautiful shapely windows, hung with those green
tapestries so stoutly woven by the English climate, it is a relic
worthy of being locked away behind an embattled wall. I have among my
impressions of Wells, besides this picture of the moated Palace, half a
dozen memories of the romantic sort, which I lack space to transcribe.
The clearest impression perhaps is that of the beautiful church of
St. Cuthbert, of the same date as the cathedral, and in very much the
same style of elegant, temperate early English. It wears one of the
high-soaring towers for which Somersetshire is justly celebrated, as
you may see from the window of the train in rolling past its almost
topheavy hamlets. The beautiful old church, surrounded with its green
graveyard, and large enough to be impressive, without being too large
(a great merit, to my sense) to be easily compassed by a deplorably
unarchitectural eye, wore a native English expression to which certain
humble figures in the foreground gave additional point. On the edge of
the churchyard was a low-gabled house, before which four old men were
gossiping in the eventide. Into the front of the house was inserted an
antique alcove in stone, divided into three shallow little seats, two
of which were occupied by extraordinary specimens of decrepitude. One
of these ancient paupers had a huge protuberant forehead, and sat with
a pensive air, his head gathered painfully upon his twisted shoulders
and his legs resting across his crutch. The other was rubicund,
blear-eyed, and frightfully besmeared with snuff. Their voices were
so feeble and senile that I could scarcely understand them, and only
just managed to make out the answer to my enquiry of who and what they
were—“We’re Still’s Almhouse, sir.”

One of the lions, almost, of Wells (whence it is but five miles
distant) is the ruin of the famous Abbey of Glastonbury, on which
Henry VIII, in the language of our day, came down so heavily. The
ancient splendour of the architecture survives but in scattered and
scanty fragments, among influences of a rather inharmonious sort. It
was cattle-market in the little town as I passed up the main street,
and a savour of hoofs and hide seemed to accompany me through the easy
labyrinth of the old arches and piers. These occupy a large back yard,
close behind the street, to which you are most prosaically admitted by
a young woman who keeps a wicket and sells tickets. The continuity of
tradition is not altogether broken, however, for the little street of
Glastonbury has rather an old-time aspect, and one of the houses at
least must have seen the last of the abbots ride abroad on his mule.
The little inn is a capital bit of character, and as I waited for the
’bus under its low dark archway (in something of the mood, possibly,
in which a train was once waited for at Coventry), and watched the
barmaid flirting her way to and fro out of the heavy-browed kitchen and
among the lounging young appraisers of colts and steers and barmaids,
I might have imagined that the merry England of the Tudors had not
utterly passed away. A beautiful England this must have been as well,
if it contained many such abbeys as Glastonbury. Such of the ruined
columns and portals and windows as still remain are of admirable
design and finish. The doorways are rich in marginal ornament—ornament
within ornament, as it often is; for the dainty weeds and wild flowers
overlace the antique tracery with their bright arabesques and deepen
the grey of the stonework as it brightens their bloom. The thousand
flowers which grow among English ruins deserve a chapter to themselves.
I owe them, as an observer, a heavy debt of satisfaction, but I am too
little of a botanist to pay them in their own coin. It has often seemed
to me in England that the purest enjoyment of architecture was to be
had among the ruins of great buildings. In the perfect building one
is rarely sure that the impression is simply architectural: it is more
or less pictorial and romantic; it depends partly upon association and
partly upon various accessories and details which, however they may be
wrought into harmony with the architectural idea, are not part of its
essence and spirit. But in so far as beauty of structure is beauty of
line and curve, balance and harmony of masses and dimensions, I have
seldom relished it as deeply as on the grassy nave of some crumbling
church, before lonely columns and empty windows where the wild flowers
were a cornice and the sailing clouds a roof. The arts certainly hang
together in what they do for us. These hoary relics of Glastonbury
reminded me in their broken eloquence of one of the other great ruins
of the world—the Last Supper of Leonardo. A beautiful shadow, in each
case, is all that remains; but that shadow is the soul of the artist.

  [Illustration: SALISBURY CATHEDRAL]

Salisbury Cathedral, to which I made a pilgrimage on leaving Wells,
is the very reverse of a ruin, and you take your pleasure there on
very different grounds from those I have just attempted to define. It
is perhaps the best-known typical church in the world, thanks to its
shapely spire; but the spire is so simply and obviously fair that when
you have respectfully made a note of it you have anticipated æsthetic
analysis. I had seen it before and admired it heartily, and perhaps
I should have done as well to let my admiration rest. I confess that
on repeated inspection it grew to seem to me the least bit _banal_,
or even _bête_, since I am talking French, and I began to consider
whether it does not belong to the same range of art as the Apollo
Belvedere or the Venus de’ Medici. I am inclined to think that if I
had to live within sight of a cathedral and encounter it in my daily
comings and goings, I should grow less weary of the rugged black front
of Exeter than of the sweet perfection of Salisbury. There are people
by temperament easily sated with beauties specifically fair, and the
effect of Salisbury Cathedral architecturally is equivalent to that
of flaxen hair and blue eyes physiognomically. The other lions of
Salisbury, Stonehenge and Wilton House, I revisited with undiminished
interest. Stonehenge is rather a hackneyed shrine of pilgrimage. At the
time of my former visit a picnic-party was making libations of beer
on the dreadful altar-sites. But the mighty mystery of the place has
not yet been stared out of countenance; and as on this occasion there
were no picnickers we were left to drink deep of all its ambiguities
and intensities. It stands as lonely in history as it does on the
great plain whose many-tinted green waves, as they roll away from
it, seem to symbolise the ebb of the long centuries which have left
it so portentously unexplained. You may put a hundred questions to
these rough-hewn giants as they bend in grim contemplation of their
fallen companions; but your curiosity falls dead in the vast sunny
stillness that enshrouds them, and the strange monument, with all its
unspoken memories, becomes simply a heart-stirring picture in a land
of pictures. It is indeed immensely vague and immensely deep. At a
distance you see it standing in a shallow dell of the plain, looking
hardly larger than a group of ten-pins on a bowling-green. I can fancy
sitting all a summer’s day watching its shadows shorten and lengthen
again, and drawing a delicious contrast between the world’s duration
and the feeble span of individual experience. There is something in
Stonehenge almost reassuring to the nerves; if you are disposed to
feel that the life of man has rather a thin surface, and that we soon
get to the bottom of things, the immemorial grey pillars may serve to
represent for you the pathless vaults beneath the house of history.
Salisbury is indeed rich in antiquities. Wilton House, a delightful
old residence of the Earls of Pembroke, contains a noble collection of
Greek and Roman marbles. These are ranged round a charming cloister
occupying the centre of the house, which is exhibited in the most
liberal fashion. Out of the cloister opens a series of drawing-rooms
hung with family portraits, chiefly by Vandyck, all of superlative
merit. Among them hangs supreme, as the Vandyck _par excellence_, the
famous and magnificent group of the whole Pembroke family of James
the First’s time. This splendid work has every pictorial merit—design,
colour, elegance, force, and finish, and I have been vainly wondering
to this hour what it needs to be the finest piece of portraiture, as
it surely is one of the most ambitious, in the world. What it lacks,
characteristically, in a certain uncompromising veracity, it recovers
in the beautiful dignity of its position—unmoved from the stately house
in which its author sojourned and wrought, familiar to the descendants
of its noble originals.

     1872.

  [Illustration: STONEHENGE]

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



AN ENGLISH EASTER


I

It may be said of the English, as is said of the council of war in
Sheridan’s farce of “The Critic” by one of the spectators of the
rehearsal, that when they _do_ agree, their unanimity is wonderful.
They differ among themselves greatly just now as regards the
machinations of Russia, the derelictions of Turkey, the merits of the
Reverend Arthur Tooth, the genius of Mr. Henry Irving, and a good many
other matters; but neither just now nor at any other time do they fail
to conform to those social observances on which respectability has
set her seal. England is a country of curious anomalies, and this has
much to do with her being so interesting to foreign observers. The
national, the individual character is very positive, very independent,
very much made up according to its own sentiment of things, very
prone to startling eccentricities; and yet at the same time it has
beyond any other this peculiar gift of squaring itself with fashion
and custom. In no other country, I imagine, are so many people to be
found doing the same thing in the same way at the same time—using the
same slang, wearing the same hats and neckties, collecting the same
china-plates, playing the same game of lawn-tennis or of polo, admiring
the same professional beauty. The monotony of such a spectacle would
soon become oppressive if the foreign observer were not conscious of
this latent capacity in the performers for great freedom of action;
he finds a good deal of entertainment in wondering how they reconcile
the traditional insularity of the private person with this perpetual
tribute to usage. Of course in all civilised societies the tribute
to usage is constantly paid; if it is less apparent in America than
elsewhere the reason is not, I think, because individual independence
is greater, but because usage is more sparsely established. Where
custom can be ascertained people certainly follow it; but for one
definite precedent in American life there are fifty in English. I am
very far from having discovered the secret; I have not in the least
learned what becomes of that explosive personal force in the English
character which is compressed and corked down by social conformity. I
look with a certain awe at some of the manifestations of the conforming
spirit, but the fermenting idiosyncrasies beneath it are hidden from
my vision. The most striking example, to foreign eyes, of the power of
custom in England is certainly the universal church-going. In the sight
of the English people getting up from its tea and toast of a Sunday
morning and brushing its hat, and drawing on its gloves, and taking
its wife on its arm, and making its offspring march before, and so,
for decency’s, respectability’s, propriety’s sake, wending its way to a
place of worship appointed by the State, which it repeats the formulas
of a creed to which it attaches no positive sense and listens to a
sermon over the length of which it explicitly haggles and grumbles—in
this exhibition there is something very impressive to a stranger,
something which he hardly knows whether to estimate as a great force
or as a great futility. He inclines on the whole to pronounce the
spectacle sublime, because it gives him the feeling that whenever it
may become necessary for a people trained in these manœuvres to move
all together under a common direction, they will have it in them to
do so with tremendous weight and cohesiveness. We hear a good deal
about the effect of the Prussian military system in consolidating the
German people and making them available for a particular purpose; but I
really think it not fanciful to say that the military punctuality which
characterises the English observance of Sunday ought to be appreciated
in the same fashion. A nation which has passed through such a mill will
certainly have been stamped by it. And here, as in the German military
service, it is really the whole nation. When I spoke just now of
paterfamilias and his _entourage_ I did not mean to limit the statement
to him. The young unmarried men go to church, the gay bachelors, the
irresponsible members of society. (That last epithet must be taken with
a grain of allowance. No one in England is literally irresponsible;
that perhaps is the shortest way of expressing a stranger’s, certainly
an American’s, sense of their cohesion. Every one is free and every
one is responsible. To say what it is people are responsible _to_
is of course a great extension of the question: briefly, to social
expectation, to propriety, to morality, to “position,” to the
conventional English conscience, which is, after all, such a powerful
factor. With us there is infinitely less responsibility; but there is
also, I think, less freedom.)

  [Illustration: DARK MYSTERIOUS LONDON
     Near Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster]

The way in which the example of the more luxurious classes imposes
itself upon the less luxurious may of course be noticed in smaller
matters than church-going; in a great many matters which it may seem
trivial to mention. If one is bent upon observation nothing, however,
is trivial. So I may cite the practice of banishing the servants from
the room at breakfast. It is the fashion, and accordingly, through
the length and breadth of England, every one who has the slightest
pretension to standing high enough to feel the way the social breeze
is blowing conforms to it. It is awkward, unnatural, troublesome for
those at table, it involves a vast amount of leaning and stretching,
of waiting and perambulating, and it has just that vice against
which, in English history, all great movements have been made—it is
arbitrary. But it flourishes for all that, and all genteel people,
looking into each other’s eyes with the desperation of gentility,
agree to endure it for gentility’s sake. My instance may seem feeble,
and I speak honestly when I say I might give others, forming part of
an immense body of prescriptive usage, to which a society possessing
in the largest manner, both by temperament and education, the sense
of the “inalienable” rights and comforts of the individual, contrives
to accommodate itself. I do not mean to say that usage in England is
always uncomfortable and arbitrary. On the contrary, few strangers can
be unfamiliar with that sensation (a most agreeable one) which consists
in perceiving in the rigidity of a tradition which has struck one at
first as mechanical a reason existing in the historic “good sense” of
the English race. The sensation is frequent, though in saying so I do
not mean to imply that even superficially the presumption is against
the usages of English society. It is not, for instance, necessarily
against the custom of which I had it more especially in mind to speak
in writing these lines. The stranger in London is forewarned that at
Easter all the world goes out of town, and that if he have no mind
to be left to some fate the universal terror of which half allures
half appals his curiosity, he too had better make arrangements for
a temporary absence. It must be admitted that there is a sort of
unexpectedness in this prompt re-emigration of a body of people who
but a week before were apparently devoting much energy to settling
down for the season. Half of them have but lately come back from the
country, where they have been spending the winter, and they have just
had time, it may be supposed, to collect the scattered threads of
town-life. Presently, however, the threads are dropped and society
is dispersed as if it had taken a false start. It departs as Holy
Week draws to a close, and remains absent for the following ten days.
Where it goes is its own affair; a good deal of it goes to Paris.
Spending last winter in that city, I remember how, when I woke up on
Easter Monday and looked out of my window, I found the street covered
overnight with a sort of snow-fall of disembarked Britons. They made
for other people an uncomfortable week of it. One’s customary table
at the restaurant, one’s habitual stall at the Théâtre Français,
one’s usual fiacre on the cab-stand, were very apt to have suffered
estrangement. I believe the pilgrimage to Paris was this year of the
usual proportions; and you may be sure that people who did not cross
the Channel were not without invitations to quiet old places in the
country, where the pale fresh primroses were beginning to light up the
dark turf and the purple bloom of the bare tree-masses to be freckled
here and there with verdure. In England country-life is the obverse
of the medal, town-life the reverse, and when an occasion comes for
quitting London there are few members of what the French call the “easy
class” who have not a collection of dull, moist, verdant resorts to
choose from. Dull I call them, and I fancy not without reason, though
at the moment I speak of their dulness must have been mitigated by the
unintermittent presence of the keenest and liveliest of east winds.
Even in mellow English country homes Easter-tide is a period of rawness
and atmospheric acridity—the moment at which the frank hostility of
winter, which has at last to give up the game, turns to peevishness and
spite. This is what makes it arbitrary, as I said just now, for “easy”
people to go forth to the wind-swept lawns and the shivering parks. But
nothing is more striking to an American than the frequency of English
holidays and the large way in which occasions for “a little change” are
made use of. All this speaks to Americans of three things which they
are accustomed to see allotted in scantier measure. The English have
more time than we, they have more money, and they have a much higher
relish for active leisure. Leisure, fortune, and the love of sport
are felicities encountered in English society at every turn. It was
a very small number of weeks before Easter that Parliament met, and
yet a ten days’ recess was already, from the luxurious Parliamentary
point of view, a necessity. A short time hence we shall be having the
Whitsuntide holidays, which I am told are even more of a season of
revelry than Easter, and from this point to midsummer, when everything
stops, is an easy journey. The men of business and the professional
men partake in equal measure of these agreeable diversions, and I was
interested in hearing a lady whose husband was an active member of
the bar say that, though he was leaving town with her for ten days,
and though Easter was a very nice “little break,” they really amused
themselves more during the later festival, which would come on toward
the end of May. I thought this highly probable, and admired in their
career such an effect of breeze-blown light and shade. If my phrase has
a slightly ironical sound, this is purely accidental. A large appetite
for holidays, the ability not only to take them but to know what to
do with them when taken, is the sign of a robust people, and judged
by this measure we Americans are sadly inexpert. Such holidays as we
take are taken very often in Europe, where it is sometimes noticeable
that our privilege is rather heavy on our hands. Acknowledgment made of
English industry, however (our own stands in no need of compliments),
it must be added that for those same easy classes I just spoke of
things are very easy indeed. The number of persons obtainable for
purely social purposes at all times and seasons is infinitely greater
than among ourselves; and the ingenuity of the arrangements permanently
going forward to disembarrass them of their superfluous leisure is as
yet in America an undeveloped branch of civilisation. The young men
who are preparing for the stern realities of life among the grey-green
cloisters of Oxford are obliged to keep their terms but half the year;
and the rosy little cricketers of Eton and Harrow are let loose upon
the parental home for an embarrassing number of months. Happily the
parental home is apt to be an affair of gardens, lawns, and parks.


II

Passion Week, in London, is distinctly an ascetic period; there is
really an approach to sackcloth and ashes. Private dissipation is
suspended; most of the theatres and music-halls are closed; the
huge dusky city seems to take on a still sadder colouring and a
half-hearted hush steals over its mighty uproar. At such a moment, for
a stranger, London is not cheerful. Arriving there, during the past
winter, about Christmas-time, I encountered three British Sundays in
a row—a spectacle to strike terror into the stoutest heart. A Sunday
and a “bank-holiday,” if I remember aright, had joined hands with a
Christmas Day and produced the portentous phenomenon to which I allude.
I betrayed, I suppose, some apprehension of its oppressive character,
for I remember being told in a consolatory way that I needn’t fear; it
would not come round again for another year. This information was given
me on the occasion of that surprising interruption of one’s relations
with the laundress which is apparently characteristic of the period.
I was told that all the washerwomen were intoxicated and that, as it
would take them some time to revive, I must not count upon a relay of
“fresh things.” I shall not forget the impression made upon me by this
statement; I had just come from Paris and it almost sent me spinning
back. One of the incidental _agréments_ of life in the latter city
had been the knock at my door on Saturday evenings of a charming young
woman with a large basket protected by a snowy napkin on her arm, and
on her head a frilled and fluted muslin cap which was an irresistible
advertisement of her art. To say that my admirable _blanchisseuse_
was not in liquor is altogether too gross a compliment; but I was
always grateful to her for her russet cheek, her frank expressive eye,
her talkative smile, for the way her charming cap was poised upon
her crisp, dense hair and her well-made dress adjusted and worn. I
talked with her; I _could_ talk with her; and as she talked she moved
about and laid out her linen with a delightful modest ease. Then her
light step carried her off again, talking, to the door, and with a
brighter smile and an “Adieu, monsieur!” she closed it behind her,
leaving one to think how stupid is prejudice and how poetic a creature
a washerwoman may be. London, in December, was livid with sleet and
fog, and against this dismal background was offered me the vision
of a horrible old woman in a smoky bonnet, lying prone in a puddle
of whiskey! She seemed to assume a kind of symbolic significance and
almost frightened me away.

  [Illustration: IN ST. JAMES’S PARK]

I mention this trifle, which is doubtless not creditable to my
fortitude, because I found that the information given me was not
strictly accurate and that at the end of three months I had another
array of London Sundays to face. On this occasion, however, nothing
occurred to suggest again the dreadful image I have just sketched,
though I devoted a good deal of time to observing the manners of
the lower orders. From Good Friday to Easter Monday, inclusive, they
were very much _en évidence_, and it was an excellent occasion for
getting an impression of the British populace. Gentility had retired
to the background, and in the West End all the blinds were lowered;
the streets were void of carriages, and well-dressed pedestrians were
rare; but the “masses” were all abroad and making the most of their
holiday, so that I strolled about and watched them at their gambols.
The heavens were most unfavourable, but in an English “outing” there
is always a margin left for a drenching, and throughout the vast smoky
city, beneath the shifting gloom of the sky, the grimy crowds wandered
with a kind of weatherproof stolidity. The parks were full of them,
the railway stations overflowed, the Thames embankment was covered.
The “masses,” I think, are usually an entertaining spectacle, even
when observed through the distorting medium of London bad weather.
There are indeed few things in their way more impressive than a dusky
London holiday; it suggests so many and such interestingly related
reflections. Even looked at superficially the capital of the Empire
is one of the most appealing of cities, and it is perhaps on such
occasions as this that I have most felt its appeal. London is ugly,
dusky, dreary, more destitute than any European city of graceful and
decorative incident; and though on festal days, like those I speak of,
the populace is massed in large numbers at certain points, many of the
streets are empty enough of human life to enable you to perceive their
intrinsic want of charm. A Christmas Day or a Good Friday uncovers the
ugliness of London. As you walk along the streets, having no fellow
pedestrians to look at, you look up at the brown brick house-walls,
corroded with soot and fog, pierced with their straight stiff
window-slits, and finished, by way of a cornice, with a little black
line resembling a slice of curbstone. There is not an accessory, not a
touch of architectural fancy, not the narrowest concession to beauty.
If I were a foreigner it would make me rabid; being an Anglo-Saxon I
find in it what Thackeray found in Baker Street—a delightful proof
of English domestic virtue, of the sanctity of the British home.
There are miles and miles of these edifying monuments, and it would
seem that a city made up of them should have no claim to that larger
effectiveness of which I just now spoke. London, however, is not
made up of them; there are architectural combinations of a statelier
kind, and the impression moreover does not rest on details. London is
pictorial in spite of details—from its dark-green, misty parks, the
way the light comes down leaking and filtering from its cloud-ceiling,
and the softness and richness of tone which objects put on in such an
atmosphere as soon as they begin to recede. Nowhere is there such a
play of light and shade, such a struggle of sun and smoke, such aërial
gradations and confusions. To eyes addicted to such contemplations
this is a constant diversion, and yet this is only part of it. What
completes the effect of the place is its appeal to the feelings, made
in so many ways, but made above all by agglomerated immensity. At any
given point London looks huge; even in narrow corners you have a sense
of its hugeness, and petty places acquire a certain interest from
their being parts of so mighty a whole. Nowhere else is so much human
life gathered together, and nowhere does it press upon you with so
many suggestions. These are not all of an exhilarating kind; far from
it. But they are of every possible kind, and that is the interest of
London. Those that were most forcible during the showery Easter season
were certain of the more perplexing and depressing ones; but even with
these was mingled a brighter strain.

  [Illustration: BAKER STREET]

I walked down to Westminster Abbey on Good Friday afternoon—walked from
Piccadilly across the Green Park and through that of St. James. The
parks were densely filled with the populace—the elder people shuffling
about the walks and the poor little smutty-faced children sprawling
over the dark damp turf. When I reached the Abbey, I found a dense
group of people about the entrance, but I squeezed my way through them
and succeeded in reaching the threshold. Beyond this it was impossible
to advance, and I may add that it was not desirable. I put my nose into
the church and promptly withdrew it. The crowd was terribly compact,
and beneath the gothic arches the odour was not that of incense. I
gradually gave it up, with that very modified sense of disappointment
that one feels in London at being crowded out of a place. This is
a frequent form of philosophy, for you soon learn that there are,
selfishly speaking, too many people. Human life is cheap; your fellow
mortals are too numerous. Wherever you go you make the observation.
At the theatre, at a concert, an exhibition, a reception, you always
find that, before you arrive, there are people enough in the field.
You are a tight fit in your place, wherever you find it; you have too
many companions and competitors. You feel yourself at times in danger
of thinking meanly of the human personality; numerosity, as it were,
swallows up quality, and the perpetual sense of other elbows and knees
begets a yearning for the desert. This is the reason why the perfection
of luxury in England is to own a “park”—an artificial solitude. To
get one’s self into the middle of a few hundred acres of oak-studded
turf and to keep off the crowd by the breadth, at least, of the grassy
shade, is to enjoy a comfort which circumstances make peculiarly
precious. But I walked back through the profane pleasure-grounds of
London, in the midst of “superfluous herds,” and I found the profit
of vision that I never fail to derive from a great English assemblage.
The English are, on the whole, to my eyes so appreciably the handsomest
people in Europe—remembering always, of course, that when we talk of
the frequency of beauty anywhere we talk of a minor quantity, more
small or less small—that it takes some effort of the imagination to
believe that the appearance requires demonstration. I never see a large
number of them without feeling this impression confirmed; though I
hasten to add that I have sometimes felt it to be much shaken in the
presence of a limited group. I suspect that a great English crowd would
yield a larger percentage of _regular_ faces and tall figures than any
other. With regard to the upper class, I suppose this is generally
granted; but, with all abatements, I should extend it to the people
at large. Certainly, if the English populace strike the observer as
regular, nature, in them, must have clung hard to the higher ideal.
They are as ill-dressed as their betters are well-dressed, and their
garments have that sooty surface which has nothing in common with the
continental costume of labour and privation. It is the hard prose of
misery—an ugly and hopeless imitation of respectable attire. This
is especially noticeable in the battered and bedraggled bonnets of
the women, which look as if their husbands had stamped on them, in
hobnailed boots, as a hint of what may be in store for their wearers.
Then it is not too much to say that two thirds of the London faces,
as the streets present them, bear in some degree or other the traces
of alcoholic action. The proportion of flushed, empurpled, eruptive
masks is considerable; a source of depression, for the spectator,
not diminished by the fact that many of the faces thus disfigured
have evidently been planned on lines of high superficial decency. A
very large allowance is to be made, too, for the people who bear the
distinctive stamp of that physical and mental degradation which comes
from the slums and purlieus of this duskiest of modern Babylons—the
pallid, stunted, misbegotten and in every way miserable figures.
These people swarm in every London crowd, and I know of none in any
other place that suggest an equal depth of degradation. But when such
exceptions are taken the observer still notes the quantity and degree
of facial finish, the firmness of type, if not always its fineness,
the clearnesses and symmetries, the modelled brows and cheeks and
chins, the immense contribution made to his impression, above all, by
the elements of complexion and stature. The question of expression
is another matter, and one must admit at the outset, to have done
with it, that expression here in general lacks, even to strangeness,
any perceptible intensity, though it often has among the women,
and adorably among the children, an indescribable shy delicacy. I
have it at heart, however, to add that if the English are handsomer
than ourselves they are also very much uglier. Indeed I think all
the European peoples more richly ugly than the American: we are far
from producing those magnificent types of facial eccentricity which
flourish on soils socially more rank. American ugliness is on the side
of physical poverty and meanness; English on that of redundancy and
monstrosity. In America there are few grotesques; in England there are
many—and some of them have a high plastic, historic, romantic value.


III

The element of the grotesque was very noticeable to me in the most
marked collection of the shabbier English types that I had seen since I
came to London. The occasion of my seeing them was the funeral of Mr.
George Odger, which befell some four or five weeks before the Easter
period. Mr. George Odger, it will perhaps be remembered, was an English
radical agitator of humble origin, who had distinguished himself by a
perverse desire to get into Parliament. He exercised, I believe, the
useful profession of shoemaker, and he knocked in vain at the door that
opens but to the refined. But he was a useful and honourable man, and
his own people gave him an honourable burial. I emerged accidentally
into Piccadilly at the moment they were so engaged, and the spectacle
was one I should have been sorry to miss. The crowd was enormous, but
I managed to squeeze through it and to get into a hansom cab that was
drawn up beside the pavement, and here I looked on as from a box at
the play. Though it was a funeral that was going on I will not call
it a tragedy; but it was a very serious comedy. The day happened to
be magnificent—the finest of the year. The ceremony had been taken
in hand by the classes who are socially unrepresented in Parliament,
and it had the character of a great popular manifestation. The hearse
was followed by very few carriages, but the _cortège_ of pedestrians
stretched away in the sunshine, up and down the classic decorum of
Piccadilly, on a scale highly impressive. Here and there the line was
broken by a small brass band—apparently one of those bands of itinerant
Germans that play for coppers beneath lodging-house windows; but for
the rest it was compactly made up of what the newspapers call the
dregs of the population. It was the London rabble, the metropolitan
mob, men and women, boys and girls, the decent poor and the indecent,
who had scrambled into the ranks as they gathered them up on their
passage, and were making a sort of solemn “lark” of it. Very solemn
it all was—perfectly proper and undemonstrative. They shuffled along
in an interminable line, and as I looked at them out of the front
of my hansom I seemed to be having a sort of panoramic view of the
under side, the wrong side, of the London world. The procession was
filled with figures which seemed never to have “shown out,” as the
English say, before; of strange, pale, mouldy paupers who blinked and
stumbled in the Piccadilly sunshine. I have no space to describe them
more minutely, but I found the whole affair vaguely yet portentously
suggestive. My impression rose not simply from the radical, or, as
I may say for the sake of colour, the revolutionary, emanation of
this dingy concourse, lighted up by the ironic sky; but from the same
causes I had observed a short time before, on the day the Queen went to
open Parliament, when in Trafalgar Square, looking straight down into
Westminster and over the royal procession, were gathered a group of
banners and festoons inscribed in big staring letters with mottoes and
sentiments which might easily have given on the nerves of a sensitive
police department. They were mostly in allusion to the Tichborne
claimant, whose release from his dungeon they peremptorily demanded
and whose cruel fate was taken as a pretext for several sweeping
reflections on the social arrangements of the time and country. These
signals of unreason were allowed to sun themselves as freely as if
they had been the manifestoes of the Irish Giant or the Oriental Dwarf
at a fair. I had lately come from Paris, where the authorities have
a shorter patience and where revolutionary placards at the base of
the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde fall in with no recognised
scheme—such is the effect of the whirligig of time—of the grand style
or of monumental decorum. I was therefore the more struck on both of
the occasions I speak of with the admirable English practice of letting
people alone—with the frank good sense and the frank good humour and
even the frank good taste of it. It was this that I found impressive
as I watched the manifestation of Mr. Odger’s underfed partisans—the
fact that the mighty mob could march along and do its errand while the
excellent quiet policemen—eternal, imperturbable, positively loveable
reminders of the national temperament—stood by simply to see that the
channel was kept clear and comfortable.

  [Illustration: CANTERBURY, FROM THE MEADOWS]

When Easter Monday came it was obvious that every one (save Mr. Odger’s
friends—three or four million or so) had gone out of town. There was
hardly a pair of shutters in the West End that was not closed; there
was not a bell that it was any use to pull. The weather was detestable,
the rain incessant, and the fact that all your friends were away
gave you plenty of leisure to reflect that the country must be the
reverse of enlivening. But all your friends had gone thither (this
is the unanimity I began by talking about), and to restrict as much
as possible the proportions of that game of hide-and-seek of which,
at the best, so much of London social life consists, it seemed wise
to bring within the limits of the dull season any such excursion as
might have been projected in commemoration of the first days of spring.
After due cogitation I paid a little visit to Canterbury and Dover,
taking Rochester by the way, and it was of this momentous journey that
I proposed, in beginning these remarks, to give an account. But I have
dallied so much by the way that I have come almost to my rope’s end
without reaching my first stage. I should have begun, artistically,
by relating that I put myself in the humour for remote adventure by
going down the Thames on a penny steamboat to the towers of Julius.
This was on the Saturday before Easter, and the City was as silent as
the grave. “London’s lasting shame” was a memory of my childhood, and,
having a theory that from such memories the dust of the ages had better
not be shaken, I had not retraced my steps to its venerable walls. But
the Tower—_the_ Tower—is very good, and much less cockneyfied than I
supposed it would seem to my maturer vision; very grey and historical,
with the look that vivifies (rather lividly indeed) the past. I could
not get into it, as it had been closed for Passion Week, but I was
consequently relieved from the obligation to march about with a dozen
fellow starers in the train of a didactic beef-eater, and I strolled
at will through the courts and the garden, sharing them only with the
lounging soldiers of the garrison, who seemed to connect the place, for
the backward-reaching fancy, with important events.


IV

At Rochester I stopped for the sake of its castle, which I espied
from the railway train as it perched on a grassy bank beside the
widening Medway. There were other beguilements as well; the place has
a small cathedral, and, leaving the creators of Falstaff and of the
tale-telling Pilgrims out of the question, one had read about it in
Dickens, whose house of Gadshill was a couple of miles from the town.
All this Kentish country, between London and Dover, figures indeed
repeatedly in Dickens; he expresses to a certain extent, for our later
age, the spirit of the land. I found this to be quite the case at
Rochester. I had occasion to go into a little shop kept by a talkative
old woman who had a photograph of Gadshill lying on her counter. This
led to my asking her whether the illustrious master of the house had
often, to her old-time vision, made his appearance in the town. “Oh,
bless you, sir,” she said, “we every one of us knew him to speak to. He
was in this very shop on the Tuesday with a party of foreigners—as he
was dead in his bed on the Friday.” (I should remark that I probably
do not repeat the days of the week as she gave them.) “He ’ad on his
black velvet suit, and it always made him look so ’andsome. I said
to my ’usband, ‘I _do_ think Charles Dickens looks so nice in that
black velvet suit.’ But he said he couldn’t see as he looked any way
particular. He was in this very shop on the Tuesday, with a party of
foreigners.” Rochester consists of little more than one long street,
stretching away from the castle and the river toward neighbouring
Chatham, and edged with low brick houses, of intensely provincial
aspect, most of which have some small, dull smugness or quaintness of
gable or window. Nearly opposite to the shop of the old lady with the
snubby husband is a little dwelling with an inscribed slab set into
its face, which must often have provoked a smile in the great master
of the comic. The slab relates that in the year 1579 Richard Watts
here established a charity which should furnish “six poor travellers,
not rogues or proctors,” one night’s lodging and entertainment gratis,
and fourpence in the morning to go on their way withal, and that in
memory of his “munificence” the stone has lately been renewed. The
inn at Rochester had small hospitality, and I felt strongly tempted to
knock at the door of Mr. Watts’s asylum, under plea of being neither
a rogue nor a proctor. The poor traveller who avails himself of the
testamentary fourpence may easily resume his journey as far as Chatham
without breaking his treasure. Is not this the place where little Davy
Copperfield slept under a cannon on his journey from London to Dover to
join his aunt Miss Trotwood? The two towns are really but one, which
forms an interminable crooked thoroughfare, lighted up in the dusk,
as I measured it up and down, with the red coats of the vespertinal
soldier quartered at the various barracks of Chatham.

  [Illustration: ROCHESTER CASTLE]

The cathedral of Rochester is small and plain, hidden away in rather an
awkward corner, without a verdant close to set it off. It is dwarfed
and effaced by the great square Norman keep of the adjacent castle.
But within it is very charming, especially beyond the detestable wall,
the vice of almost all the English cathedrals, which shuts in the choir
and breaks the sacred perspective of the aisle. Here, as at Canterbury,
you ascend a high range of steps, to pass through the small door in the
wall. When I speak slightingly, by the way, of the outside of Rochester
cathedral, I intend my faint praise in a relative sense. If we were
so happy as to have this secondary pile within reach in America we
should go barefoot to see it; but here it stands in the great shadow
of Canterbury, and that makes it humble. I remember, however, an old
priory gateway which leads you to the church, out of the main street;
I remember a kind of haunted-looking deanery, if that be the technical
name, at the base of the eastern walls; I remember a fluted tower
that took the afternoon light and let the rooks and the swallows come
circling and clamouring around it. Better still than these things, I
remember the ivy-muffled squareness of the castle, a very noble and
imposing ruin. The old walled precinct has been converted into a little
public garden, with flowers and benches and a pavilion for a band,
and the place was not empty, as such places in England never are. The
result is agreeable, but I believe the process was barbarous, involving
the destruction and dispersion of many interesting portions of the
ruin. I lingered there for a long time, looking in the fading light at
what was left. This rugged pile of Norman masonry will be left when a
great many solid things have departed; it mocks, ever so monotonously,
at destruction, at decay. Its walls are fantastically thick; their
great time-bleached expanses and all their rounded roughnesses,
their strange mixture of softness and grimness, have an undefinable
fascination for the eye. English ruins always come out peculiarly when
the day begins to fail. Weather-bleached, as I say they are, they turn
even paler in the twilight and grow consciously solemn and spectral. I
have seen many a mouldering castle, but I remember in no single mass of
ruin more of the helpless, bereaved, amputated look.

  [Illustration: THE CATHEDRAL CLOSE, CANTERBURY]

  [Illustration: THE NAVE, CANTERBURY]

It is not the absence of a close that damages Canterbury; the cathedral
stands amid grass and trees, with a cultivated margin all round it, and
is placed in such a way that, as you pass out from under the gate-house
you appreciate immediately its grand feature—its extraordinary and
magnificent length. None of the English cathedrals seems to sit more
gravely apart, to desire more to be shut up to itself. It is a long
walk, beneath the walls, from the gateway of the close to the farther
end of the last chapel. Of all that there is to observe in this
upward-gazing stroll I can give no detailed account; I can, in my fear
to pretend to dabble in the esoteric constructional question—often
so combined with an absence of other felt relations—speak only of
the picture, the mere builded _scène_. This is altogether delightful.
None of the rivals of Canterbury has a more complicated and elaborate
architecture, a more perplexing intermixture of periods, a more
charming jumble of Norman arches and English points and perpendiculars.
What makes the side-view superb, moreover, is the double transepts,
which produce the finest agglomeration of gables and buttresses. It
is as if two great churches had joined forces toward the middle—one
giving its nave and the other its choir, and each keeping its own
great cross-aisles. Astride of the roof, between them, sits a huge
gothic tower, which is one of the latest portions of the building,
though it looks like one of the earliest, so tempered and tinted,
so thumb-marked and rubbed smooth is it, by the handling of the ages
and the breath of the elements. Like the rest of the structure it has
a magnificent colour—a sort of rich dull yellow, a sort of personal
accent of tone that is neither brown nor grey. This is particularly
appreciable from the cloisters on the further side of the church—the
side, I mean, away from the town and the open garden-sweep I spoke of;
the side that looks toward a damp old clerical house, lurking behind a
brown archway through which you see young ladies in Gainsborough hats
playing something on a patch of velvet turf; the side, in short, that
is somehow intermingled with a green quadrangle—a quadrangle serving
as a playground to a King’s School and adorned externally with a
very precious and picturesque old fragment of Norman staircase. This
cloister is not “kept up;” it is very dusky and mouldy and dilapidated,
and of course very sketchable. The old black arches and capitals are
various and handsome, and in the centre are tumbled together a group of
crooked gravestones, themselves almost buried in the deep soft grass.
Out of the cloister opens the chapter-house, which is not kept up
either, but which is none the less a magnificent structure; a noble,
lofty hall, with a beautiful wooden roof, simply arched like that
of a tunnel, without columns or brackets. The place is now given up
to dust and echoes; but it looks more like a banqueting-hall than a
council-room of priests, and as you sit on the old wooden bench, which,
raised on two or three steps, runs round the base of the four walls,
you may gaze up and make out the faint ghostly traces of decorative
paint and gold upon the brown ceiling. A little patch of this has been
restored “to give an idea.” From one of the angles of the cloister you
are recommended by the verger to take a view of the great tower, which
indeed detaches itself with tremendous effect. You see it base itself
upon the roof as broadly as if it were striking roots in earth, and
then pile itself away to a height which seems to make the very swallows
dizzy as they drop from the topmost shelf. Within the cathedral you
hear a great deal, of course, about poor great Thomas A’Becket, and
the special sensation of the place is to stand on the spot where he
was murdered and look down at a small fragmentary slab which the verger
points out to you as a bit of the pavement that caught the blood-drops
of the struggle. It was late in the afternoon when I first entered the
church; there had been a service in the choir, but that was well over,
and I had the place to myself. The verger, who had some pushing-about
of benches to attend to, turned me into the locked gates and left me to
wander through the side-aisles of the choir and into the great chapel
beyond it. I say I had the place to myself; but it would be more decent
to affirm that I shared it, in particular, with another gentleman.
This personage was stretched upon a couch of stone, beneath a quaint
old canopy of wood; his hands were crossed upon his breast, and his
pointed toes rested upon a little griffin or leopard. He was a very
handsome fellow and the image of a gallant knight. His name was Edward
Plantagenet, and his sobriquet was the Black Prince. “_De la mort ne
pensai-je mye_,” he says in the beautiful inscription embossed upon the
bronze base of his image; and I too, as I stood there, lost the sense
of death in a momentary impression of personal nearness to him. One had
been further off, after all, from other famous knights. In this same
chapel, for many a year, stood the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury,
one of the richest and most potent in Christendom. The pavement which
lay before it has kept its place, but Henry VIII swept away everything
else in his famous short cut to reform. Becket was originally buried
in the crypt of the church; his ashes lay there for fifty years, and
it was only little by little that his martyrdom was made a “draw.”
Then he was transplanted into the Lady Chapel; every grain of his dust
became a priceless relic, and the pavement was hallowed by the knees of
pilgrims. It was on this errand of course that Chaucer’s story-telling
cavalcade came to Canterbury. I made my way down into the crypt, which
is a magnificent maze of low, dark arches and pillars, and groped about
till I found the place where the frightened monks had first shuffled
the inanimate victim of Moreville and Fitzurse out of the reach of
further desecration. While I stood there a violent thunderstorm broke
over the cathedral; great rumbling gusts and rain-drifts came sweeping
through the open sides of the crypt and, mingling with the darkness
which seemed to deepen and flash in corners and with the potent mouldy
smell, made me feel as if I had descended into the very bowels of
history. I emerged again, but the rain had settled down and spoiled the
evening, and I splashed back to my inn and sat, in an uncomfortable
chair by the coffee-room fire, reading Dean Stanley’s agreeable
“Memorials of Canterbury” and wondering over the musty appointments
and meagre resources of so many English hostels. This establishment
had entitled itself (in compliment to the Black Prince, I suppose) the
“Fleur-de-Lis.” The name was very pretty (I had been foolish enough to
let it attract me to the inn), but the lily was sadly deflowered.

     1877.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



LONDON AT MIDSUMMER


I believe it is supposed to require a good deal of courage to confess
that one has spent the month of so-called social August in London; and
I will therefore, taking the bull by the horns, plead guilty at the
very outset to this poorness of spirit. I might attempt some ingenious
extenuation of it; I might say that my remaining in town had been the
most unexpected necessity or the merest inadvertence; I might pretend
I liked it—that I had done it in fact for the perverse love of the
thing; I might claim that you don’t really know the charms of London
until on one of the dog-days you have imprinted your boot-sole in
the slumbering dust of Belgravia, or, gazing along the empty vista
of the Drive, in Hyde Park, have beheld, for almost the first time in
England, a landscape without figures. But little would remain of these
specious apologies save the bald circumstance that I had distinctly
failed to pack and be off—either on the first of August with the ladies
and children, or on the thirteenth with the members of Parliament, or
on the twelfth when the grouse-shooting began. (I am not sure that
I have got my dates right to a day, but these were about the proper
opportunities.) I have, in fact, survived the departure of everything
genteel, and the three millions of persons who remained behind with me
have been witnesses of my shame.

I cannot pretend, on the other hand, that, having lingered in town, I
have found it a very odious or painful experience. Being a stranger,
I have not felt it necessary to incarcerate myself during the day
and steal abroad only under cover of the darkness—a line of conduct
imposed by public opinion, if I am to trust the social criticism
of the weekly papers (which I am far from doing), upon the native
residents who allow themselves to be overtaken by the unfashionable
season. I have indeed always held that few things are pleasanter,
during very hot weather, than to have a great city, and a large house
within it, quite to one’s self. Yet these majestic conditions have
not embellished my own metropolitan sojourn, and I have received an
impression that in London it would be rather difficult for a visitor
not having the command of a good deal of powerful machinery to find
them united. English summer weather is rarely hot enough to make it
necessary to darken one’s house and denude one’s person. The present
year has indeed in this respect been “exceptional,” as any year is,
for that matter, that one spends anywhere. But the manners of the
people are, to alien eyes, a sufficient indication that at the best
(or the worst) even the highest flights of the thermometer in the
united Kingdom betray a broken wing. People live with closed windows
in August very much as they do in January, and there is to the eye
no appreciable difference in the character—that is in the thickness
and stiffness—of their coats and boots. A “bath” in England, for the
most part, all the year round, means a little portable tin tub and a
sponge. Peaches and pears, grapes and melons, are not a more obvious
ornament of the market at midsummer than at Christmas. This matter of
peaches and melons, by the way, offers one of the best examples of
that fact to which a commentator on English manners from afar finds
himself constantly recurring, and to which he grows at last almost
ashamed of alluding—the fact that the beauty and luxury of the country,
that elaborate system known and revered all over the world as “English
comfort,” is a limited and restricted, an essentially private, affair.
I am not one of those irreverent strangers who talk of English fruit
as a rather audacious _plaisanterie_, though I could see very well what
was meant a short time since by an anecdote related to me in a tone of
contemptuous generalisation by a couple of my fellow countrywomen. They
had arrived in London in the dog-days, and, lunching at their hotel,
had asked to be served with some fruit. The hotel was of the stateliest
pattern, and they were waited upon by a functionary whose grandeur was
proportionate. This personage bowed and retired, and, after a long
delay, reappearing, placed before them with an inimitable gesture a
dish of gooseberries and currants. It appeared upon investigation that
these acrid vegetables were the only things of succulence that the
establishment could undertake to supply; and it seemed to increase the
irony of the situation that the establishment was as near as possible
to Buckingham Palace. I say that the heroines of my anecdote seemed
disposed to generalise: this was sufficiently the case, I mean, to give
me a pretext for assuring them that on a thousand fine properties the
most beautiful peaches and melons were at that moment ripening either
under glass or in warm old walled gardens. My auditors tossed their
heads of course at the fine properties, the glass, and the walled
gardens; and indeed at their place of privation close to Buckingham
Palace such a piece of knowledge was but scantily consoling.

  [Illustration: PICCADILLY, NEAR DEVONSHIRE HOUSE]

It is to a more public fund of entertainment that the desultory
stranger in any country chiefly appeals, especially in summer weather;
and as I have implied that there is little encouragement in England
to such an appeal it may appear remarkable that I should not have
felt London, at this season, void of all beguilement. But one’s
liking for London—a stranger’s liking at least—has at the best a kind
of perversity and infirmity often rather difficult to reduce to a
statement. I am far from meaning by this that there are not in this
mighty metropolis a thousand sources of interest, entertainment, and
delight: what I mean is that, for one reason and another, with all its
social resources, the place lies heavy on the imported consciousness.
It seems grim and lurid, fierce and unmerciful. And yet the imported
consciousness accepts it at last with an active satisfaction and
finds something warm and comfortable, something that if removed would
be greatly missed, in its portentous pressure. It must be admitted,
however, that, granting that every one is out of town, your choice of
pastimes is not embarrassing. If you have happened to spend a certain
amount of time in places where public manners have more frankness
London will seem to you scantly provided with innocent diversions.
This indeed brings us back simply to that question of the absence of
a “public fund” of amusement to which reference was just now made.
You must give up the idea of going to sit somewhere in the open air,
to eat an ice and listen to a band of music. You will find neither
the seat, the ice, nor the band; but on the other hand, faithful at
once to your interest and your detachment, you may supply the place
of these delights by a little private meditation on the deep-lying
causes of the English indifference to them. In such reflections nothing
is idle—every grain of testimony counts; and one need therefore not
be accused of jumping too suddenly from small things to great if one
traces a connection between the absence of ices and music and the
essentially hierarchical plan of English society. This hierarchical
plan of English society is the great and ever-present fact to the
mind of a stranger: there is hardly a detail of life that does not in
some degree betray it. It is really only in a country in which a good
deal of democratic feeling prevails that people of “refinement,” as
we say in America, will be willing to sit at little round tables, on
a pavement or a gravel-walk, at the door of a café. The better sort
are too “genteel” and the inferior sort too base. One must hasten to
add too, in justice, that the better sort are, as a general thing,
quite too well furnished with entertainments of their own; they have
those special resources to which I alluded a moment since. They are
persons for whom the private machinery of ease has been made to work
with extraordinary smoothness. If you can sit on a terrace overlooking
gardens and have your _café noir_ handed you in old Worcester cups
by servants who are models of consideration, you have hardly a decent
pretext for going to a public house. In France and Italy, in Germany
and Spain, the count and countess will sally forth and encamp for the
evening, under a row of coloured lamps, upon the paving-stones, but it
is ten to one that the count and countess live on a single floor and
up several pair of stairs. They are, however, I think, not appreciably
affected by considerations which operate potently in England. An
Englishman who should propose to sit down, in his own country, at a
café-door, would find himself remembering that he is pretending to
participations, contacts, fellowships the absolute impracticability of
which is expressed in all the rest of his doings.

The study of these reasons, however, would lead us very far from
the potential little tables for ices in—where shall I say?—in Oxford
Street. But, after all, there is no reason why our imagination should
hover about any such articles of furniture. I am afraid they would not
strike us as at the best happily situated. In such matters everything
hangs together, and I am certain that the customs of the Boulevard
des Italiens and the Piazza Colonna would not harmonise with the
scenery of the great London thoroughfare. A gin-palace right and left
and a detachment of the London rabble in an admiring semicircle—these
strike one as some of the more obvious features of the affair. Yet at
the season of which I write one’s social studies must at the least
be studies of low life, for wherever one may go for a stroll or to
spend the summer afternoon the comparatively sordid side of things is
uppermost. There is no one in the parks save the rough characters who
are lying on their faces in the sheep-polluted grass. These people are
always tolerably numerous in the Green Park, through which I frequently
pass, and are always an occasion for deep wonder. But your wonder
will go far if it begins to bestir itself on behalf of the recumbent
British tramp. You perceive among them some rich possibilities. Their
velveteen legs and their colossal high-lows, their purple necks and
ear-tips, their knotted sticks and little greasy hats, make them look
like stage-villains of realistic melodrama. I may do them injustice,
but consistent character in them mostly requires that they shall have
had a taste of penal servitude—that they shall have paid the penalty of
stamping on some weaker human head with those huge square heels that
are turned up to the summer sky. Actually, however, they are innocent
enough, for they are sleeping as peacefully as the most accomplished
philanthropist, and it is their look of having walked over half
England, and of being pennilessly hungry and thirsty, that constitutes
their romantic attractiveness. These six square feet of brown grass are
their present sufficiency; but how long will they sleep, whither will
they go next, and whence did they come last? You permit yourself to
wish that they might sleep for ever and go nowhere else at all.

  [Illustration: THE SHIP, GREENWICH]

The month of August is so uncountenanced in London that, going a few
days since to Greenwich, that famous resort, I found it possible to
get but half a dinner. The celebrated hotel had put out its stoves
and locked up its pantry. But for this discovery I should have
mentioned the little expedition to Greenwich as a charming relief
to the monotony of a London August. Greenwich and Richmond are,
classically, the two suburban dining-places. I know not how it may be
at this time with Richmond, but the Greenwich incident brings me back
(I hope not once too often) to the element of what has lately been
called “particularism” in English pleasures. It was in obedience to
a perfectly logical argument that the Greenwich hotel had, as I say,
locked up its pantry. All well-bred people leave London after the first
week in August, _ergo_ those who remain behind are not well-bred, and
cannot therefore rise to the conception of a “fish dinner.” Why then
should we have anything ready? I had other impressions, fortunately, of
this interesting suburb, and I hasten to declare that during the period
of good-breeding the dinner at Greenwich is the most amusing of all
dinners. It begins with fish and it continues with fish: what it ends
with—except songs and speeches and affectionate partings—I hesitate to
affirm. It is a kind of mermaid reversed; for I do know, in a vague
way, that the tail of the creature is elaborately and interminably
fleshy. If it were not grossly indiscreet I should risk an allusion to
the particular banquet which was the occasion of my becoming acquainted
with the Greenwich _cuisine_. I would try to express how pleasant it
may be to sit in a company of clever and distinguished men before the
large windows that look out upon the broad brown Thames. The ships swim
by confidently, as if they were part of the entertainment and put down
in the bill; the light of the afternoon fades ever so slowly. We eat
all the fish of the sea, and wash them down with liquids that bear no
resemblance to salt water. We partake of any number of those sauces
with which, according to the French adage, one could swallow one’s
grandmother with a good conscience. To touch on the identity of my
companions would indeed be indiscreet, but there is nothing indelicate
in marking a high appreciation of the frankness and robustness of
English conviviality. The stranger—the American at least—who finds
himself in the company of a number of Englishmen assembled for a
convivial purpose becomes conscious of an indefinable and delectable
something which, for want of a better name, he is moved to call their
superior richness of temperament. He takes note of the liberal share of
the individual in the magnificent temperament of the people. This seems
to him one of the finest things in the world, and his satisfaction
will take a keener edge from such an incident as the single one I may
permit myself to mention. It was one of those little incidents which
can occur only in an old society—a society in which every one that a
newly-arrived observer meets strikes him as having in some degree or
other a sort of historic identity, being connected with some one or
something that he has heard of, that he has wondered about. If they
are not the rose they have lived more or less near it. There is an old
English song-writer whom we all know and admire—whose songs are sung
wherever the language is spoken. Of course, according to the law I
just hinted at, one of the gentlemen sitting opposite must needs be his
great-grandson. After dinner there are songs, and the gentleman trolls
out one of his ancestral ditties with the most charming voice and the
most finished art.

I have still other memories of Greenwich, where there is a charming
old park, on a summit of one of whose grassy undulations the famous
observatory is perched. To do the thing completely you must take
passage upon one of the little grimy sixpenny steamers that ply upon
the Thames, perform the journey by water, and then, disembarking,
take a stroll in the park to get up an appetite for dinner. I find an
irresistible charm in any sort of river-navigation, but I scarce know
how to speak of the little voyage from Westminster Bridge to Greenwich.
It is in truth the most prosaic possible form of being afloat, and to
be recommended rather to the enquiring than to the fastidious mind.
It initiates you into the duskiness, the blackness, the crowdedness,
the intensely commercial character of London. Few European cities have
a finer river than the Thames, but none certainly has expended more
ingenuity in producing a sordid river-front. For miles and miles you
see nothing but the sooty backs of warehouses, or perhaps they are the
sooty faces: in buildings so utterly expressionless it is impossible
to distinguish. They stand massed together on the banks of the wide
turbid stream, which is fortunately of too opaque a quality to reflect
the dismal image. A damp-looking, dirty blackness is the universal
tone. The river is almost black, and is covered with black barges;
above the black housetops, from among the far-stretching docks and
basins, rises a dusky wilderness of masts. The little puffing steamer
is dingy and gritty—it belches a sable cloud that keeps you company
as you go. In this carboniferous shower your companions, who belong
chiefly indeed to the classes bereft of lustre, assume an harmonious
greyness; and the whole picture, glazed over with the glutinous London
mist, becomes a masterly composition. But it is very impressive in
spite of its want of lightness and brightness, and though it is ugly
it is anything but trivial. Like so many of the aspects of English
civilisation that are untouched by elegance or grace, it has the merit
of expressing something very serious. Viewed in this intellectual light
the polluted river, the sprawling barges, the dead-faced warehouses,
the frowsy people, the atmospheric impurities become richly suggestive.
It sounds rather absurd, but all this smudgy detail may remind you of
nothing less than the wealth and power of the British empire at large;
so that a kind of metaphysical magnificence hovers over the scene, and
supplies what may be literally wanting. I don’t exactly understand the
association, but I know that when I look off to the left at the East
India Docks, or pass under the dark hugely-piled bridges, where the
railway trains and the human processions are for ever moving, I feel
a kind of imaginative thrill. The tremendous piers of the bridges, in
especial, seem the very pillars of the empire aforesaid.

It is doubtless owing to this habit of obtrusive and unprofitable
reverie that the sentimental tourist thinks it very fine to see the
Greenwich observatory lifting its two modest little brick towers. The
sight of this useful edifice gave me a pleasure which may at first
seem extravagant. The reason was simply that I used to see it as a
child, in woodcuts, in school geographies, and in the corners of large
maps which had a glazed, sallow surface, and which were suspended
in unexpected places, in dark halls and behind doors. The maps were
hung so high that my eyes could reach only to the lower corners, and
these corners usually contained a print of a strange-looking house
perched among trees upon a grassy bank that swept down before it with
the most engaging steepness. I used always to think of the joy it
must be to roll at one’s length down this curved incline. Close at
hand was usually something printed about something being at such and
such a number of degrees “east of Greenwich.” Why east of Greenwich?
The vague wonder that the childish mind felt on this point gave the
place a mysterious importance and seemed to put it into relation
with the difficult and fascinating parts of geography—the countries
of unintentional outline and the lonely-looking pages of the atlas.
Yet there it stood the other day, the precise point from which the
great globe is measured; there was the plain little façade with the
old-fashioned cupolas; there was the bank on which it would be so
delightful not to be able to stop running. It made me feel terribly
old to find that I was not even tempted to begin. There are indeed a
great many steep banks in Greenwich Park, which tumbles up and down in
the most adventurous fashion. It is a charming place, rather shabby and
footworn, as befits a strictly popular resort, but with a character all
its own. It is filled with magnificent foreign-looking trees, of which
I know nothing but that they have a vain appearance of being chestnuts,
planted in long, convergent avenues, with trunks of extraordinary
girth and limbs that fling a dusky shadow far over the grass; there
are plenty of benches, and there are deer as tame as sleepy children;
and from the tops of the bosky hillocks there are views of the widening
Thames and the moving ships and the two classic inns by the waterside
and the great pompous buildings, designed by Inigo Jones, of the old
Hospital, which have been despoiled of their ancient pensioners and
converted into a naval academy.

  [Illustration: KENSINGTON GARDENS]

Taking note of all this, I arrived at a far-away angle in the wall of
the park, where a little postern door stood ajar. I pushed the door
open and found myself, by a thrilling transition, upon Blackheath
Common. One had often heard, in vague, irrecoverable, anecdotic
connections, of Blackheath: well, here it was—a great green, breezy
place where lads in corduroys were playing cricket. I am, as a rule,
moved to disproportionate ecstasy by an English common; it may be
curtailed and cockneyfied, as this one was—which had lamp-posts stuck
about on its turf and a fresh-painted banister all around—but it
generally abounds in the note of English breeziness, and you always
seem to have seen it water-coloured or engraved. Even if the turf be
too much trodden there is to foreign eyes an intimate insular reference
in it and in the way the high-piled, weather-bearing clouds hang over
it and drizzle down their grey light. Still further to identify this
spot, here was the British soldier emerging from two or three of the
roads, with his cap upon his ear, his white gloves in one hand and his
foppish little cane in the other. He wore the uniform of the artillery,
and I asked him where he had come from. I learned that he had walked
over from Woolwich and that this feat might be accomplished in half an
hour. Inspired again by vague associations I proceeded to accomplish
its equivalent. I bent my steps to Woolwich, a place which I knew, in
a general way, to be a nursery of British valour. At the end of my half
hour I emerged upon another common, where the water-colour bravery had
even a higher pitch. The scene was like a chapter of some forgotten
record. The open grassy expanse was immense, and, the evening being
beautiful, it was dotted with strolling soldiers and townsfolk. There
were half a dozen cricket-matches, both civil and military. At one
end of this peaceful _campus martius_, which stretches over a hilltop,
rises an interminable façade—one of the fronts of the Royal Artillery
barracks. It has a very honourable air, and more windows and doors, I
imagine, than any building in Britain. There is a great clean parade
before it, and there are many sentinels pacing in front of neatly-kept
places of ingress to officers’ quarters. Everything it looks out upon
is in the smartest military trim—the distinguished college (where the
poor young man whom it would perhaps be premature to call the last of
the Bonapartes lately studied the art of war) on one side; a sort of
model camp, a collection of the tidiest plank huts, on the other; a
hospital, on a well-ventilated site, at the remoter end. And then in
the town below there are a great many more military matters: barracks
on an immense scale; a dockyard that presents an interminable dead
wall to the street; an arsenal which the gatekeeper (who refused to
admit me) declared to be “five miles” in circumference; and, lastly,
grogshops enough to inflame the most craven spirit. These latter
institutions I glanced at on my way to the railway-station at the
bottom of the hill; but before departing I had spent half an hour in
strolling about the common in vague consciousness of certain emotions
that are called into play (I speak but for myself) by almost any
glimpse of the imperial machinery of this great country. The glimpse
may be of the slightest; it stirs a peculiar sentiment. I know not
what to call this sentiment unless it be simply an admiration for the
greatness of England. The greatness of England; that is a very off-hand
phrase, and of course I don’t pretend to use it analytically. I use it
romantically, as it sounds in the ears of any American who remounts the
stream of time to the head waters of his own loyalties. I think of the
great part that England has played in human affairs, the great space
she has occupied, her tremendous might, her far-stretching rule. That
these clumsily-general ideas should be suggested by the sight of some
infinitesimal fraction of the English administrative system may seem to
indicate a cast of fancy too hysterical; but if so I must plead guilty
to the weakness. Why should a sentry-box more or less set one thinking
of the glory of this little island, which has found in her mere genius
the means of such a sway? This is more than I can tell; and all I shall
attempt to say is that in the difficult days that are now elapsing
a sympathising stranger finds his meditations singularly quickened.
It is the imperial element in English history that he has chiefly
cared for, and he finds himself wondering whether the imperial epoch
is completely closed. It is a moment when all the nations of Europe
seem to be doing something, and he waits to see what England, who
has done so much, will do. He has been meeting of late a good many of
his country-people—Americans who live on the Continent and pretend to
speak with assurance of continental ways of feeling. These people have
been passing through London, and many of them are in that irritated
condition of mind which appears to be the portion of the American
sojourner in the British metropolis when he is not given up to the
delights of the historic sentiment. They have declared with assurance
that the continental nations have ceased to care a straw for what
England thinks, that her traditional prestige is completely extinct
and that the affairs of Europe will be settled quite independently of
her action and still more of her inaction. England will do nothing,
will risk nothing; there is no cause bad enough for her not to find a
selfish interest in it—there is no cause good enough for her to fight
about it. Poor old England is defunct; it is about time she should
seek the most decent burial possible. To all this the sympathetic
stranger replies that in the first place he doesn’t believe a word of
it, and in the second doesn’t care a fig for it—care, that is, what
the continental nations think. If the greatness of England were really
waning it would be to him as a personal grief; and as he strolls about
the breezy common of Woolwich, with all those mementoes of British
dominion around him, he vibrates quite too richly to be distracted by
such vapours.

He wishes nevertheless, as I said before, that England would _do_
something—something striking and powerful, which should be at once
characteristic and unexpected. He asks himself what she can do, and
he remembers that this greatness of England which he so much admires
was formerly much exemplified in her “taking” something. Can’t she
“take” something now? There is the “Spectator,” who wants her to
occupy Egypt: can’t she occupy Egypt? The “Spectator” considers this
her moral duty—enquires even whether she has a right _not_ to bestow
the blessings of her beneficent rule upon the down-trodden Fellaheen.
I found myself in company with an acute young Frenchman a day or two
after this eloquent plea for a partial annexation of the Nile had
appeared in the supersubtle sheet. Some allusion was made to it, and my
companion of course pronounced it the most finished example conceivable
of insular hypocrisy. I don’t know how powerful a defence I made of it,
but while I read it I had found the hypocrisy contagious. I recalled
it while I pursued my contemplations, but I recalled at the same time
that sadly prosaic speech of Mr. Gladstone’s to which it had been a
reply. Mr. Gladstone had said that England had much more urgent duties
than the occupation of Egypt: she had to attend to the great questions
of—— What were the great questions? Those of local taxation and the
liquor-laws! Local taxation and the liquor-laws! The phrase, to my
ears, just then, sounded almost squalid. These were not the things
I had been thinking of; it was not as she should bend anxiously over
these doubtless interesting subjects that the sympathising stranger
would seem to see England in his favourite posture—that, as Macaulay
says, of hurling defiance at her foes. Mr. Gladstone may perhaps
have been right, but Mr. Gladstone was far from being a sympathising
stranger.

     1877.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



TWO EXCURSIONS


I

They differed greatly from each other, but there was something to be
said for each. There seemed in respect to the first a high consensus
as to its being a pity that any stranger should ever miss the Derby
Day. Every one assured me that this was the great festival of the
English people and that one didn’t really know them unless one had
seen them at it. So much, since it had to do with horse-flesh, I could
readily believe. Had not the newspapers been filled for weeks with
recurrent dissertations upon the animals concerned in the ceremony?
and was not the event, to the nation at large, only imperceptibly less
momentous than the other great question of the day—the fate of empires
and the reapportionment of the East? The space allotted to sporting
intelligence in a compact, eclectic, “intellectual” journal like the
“Pall Mall Gazette,” had seemed for some time past a measure of the
hold of such questions upon the native mind. These things, however,
are very natural in a country in which in “society” you are liable
to make the acquaintance of some such syllogism as the following. You
are seated at dinner next a foreign lady who has on her other hand a
communicative gentleman through whom she is under instruction in the
art of the right point-of-view for English life. I profit by their
conversation and I learn that this point-of-view is apparently the
saddle. “You see, English life,” says the gentleman, “is really English
country-life. It’s the country that is the basis of English society.
And you see, country-life is—well, it’s the _hunting_. It’s the hunting
that is at the bottom of it all.” In other words “the hunting” is the
basis of English society. Duly impressed with this explanation, the
American observer is prepared for the huge proportions of the annual
pilgrimage to Epsom. This pilgrimage, however, I was assured, though
still well worth taking part in, is by no means so characteristic as
in former days. It is now performed in a large measure by rail, and
the spectacle on the road has lost many of its earlier and most of
its finer features. The road has been given up more and more to the
populace and the strangers and has ceased to be graced by the presence
of ladies. Nevertheless, as a man and a stranger, I was strongly
recommended to take it, for the return from the Derby is still, with
all its abatements, a classic show.

I mounted upon a four-horse coach, a charming coach with a yellow
body and handsome, clean-flanked leaders; placing myself beside the
coachman, as I had been told this was the point of vantage. The coach
was one of the vehicles of the new fashion—the fashion of public
conveyances driven, for the entertainment of themselves and of the
public, by gentlemen of leisure. On the Derby Day all the coaches that
start from the classic headquarters—the “White Horse” in Piccadilly—and
stretch away from London toward a dozen different and well-selected
goals, had been dedicated to the Epsom road. The body of the vehicle
is empty, as no one thinks of occupying any but one of the thirteen
places on the top. On the Derby Day, however, a properly laden coach
carries a company of hampers and champagne-baskets in its inside
places. I must add that on this occasion my companion was by exception
a professional whip, who proved a friendly and amusing cicerone.
Other companions there were, perched in the twelve places behind me,
whose social quality I made less of a point of testing—though in the
course of the expedition their various characteristics, under the
influence of champagne, expanded so freely as greatly to facilitate the
process. We were a society of exotics—Spaniards, Frenchmen, Germans.
There were only two Britons, and these, according to my theory, were
Australians—an antipodal bride and groom on a centripetal wedding-tour.

The drive to Epsom, when you get well out of London, is sufficiently
pretty; but the part of it which most took my fancy was a district
preëminently suburban, the classic community of Clapham. The vision
of Clapham had been a part of the furniture of one’s milder historic
consciousness—the vision of its respectable common, its evangelical
society, its rich drab humanity, its goodly brick mansions of the
Georgian era. I now seemed really to focus these elements for the
first time, and I thought them very charming. This epithet indeed
scarcely applies to the evangelical society, which naturally, on
the morning of the Derby Day and during the desecrating progress of
the Epsom revellers, was not much in the foreground. But all around
the verdant if cockneyfied common are ranged commodious houses of
a sober red complexion, from under whose neo-classic pediments you
expect to see a mild-faced lady emerge—a lady in a cottage-bonnet
and mittens, distributing tracts from a green silk satchel. It would
take, however, the very ardour of the missionary among cannibals to
stem the current of heterogeneous vehicles which at about this point
takes up its metropolitan affluents and bears them in its rumbling,
rattling tide. The concourse of wheeled conveyances of every possible
order here becomes dense, and the spectacle from the top of the coach
proportionately absorbing. You begin to perceive that the brilliancy
of the road has in truth departed and that a sustained high tone of
appearance is not the note of the conditions. But when once you have
grasped this fact your entertainment is continuous. You perceive that
you are “in” for the vulgar on an unsurpassable scale, something
blatantly, unimaginably, heroically shocking to timid “taste;”
all that is necessary is to accept this situation and look out for
illustrations. Beside you, before you, behind you, is the mighty London
populace taking its _ébats_. You get for the first time a notion of
the London population at large. It has piled itself into carts, into
omnibuses, into every possible and impossible species of “trap.”
A large proportion of it is of course on foot, trudging along the
perilous margin of the middle way in such comfort as may be gathered
from fifteen miles’ dodging of broken shins. The smaller the vehicle,
the more rat-like the animal that drags it, the more numerous and
ponderous its human freight; and as every one is nursing in his lap a
parcel of provender as big as himself, wrapped in ragged newspaper,
it is not surprising that roadside halts are frequent and that the
taverns all the way to Epsom (it is wonderful how many there are) are
encompassed by dense groups of dusty pilgrims, indulging liberally in
refreshment for man and beast. And when I say man I must by no means
be understood to exclude woman. The female contingent on the Derby
Day is not the least remarkable part of the London outpouring. Every
one is prepared for “larks,” but the women are even more brilliantly
and resolutely prepared than the men; there is no better chance to
follow the range of type—not that it is to be called large—of the
British female of the lower orders. The lady in question is usually
not ornamental. She is useful, robust, prolific, excellently fitted
to play the somewhat arduous part allotted to her in the great scheme
of English civilisation, but she has not those graces which enable her
to lend herself easily to the decoration of life. On smaller holidays,
or on simple working-days, in London crowds, I have often thought she
had points to contribute to the primary fine drawing, as to head and
shoulders, of the Briton of the two sexes as the race at large sketches
them. But at Epsom she is too stout, too hot, too red, too thirsty,
too boisterous, too strangely accoutred. And yet I wish to do her
justice; so I must add that if there is something to which an American
cannot refuse a tribute of admiration in the gross plebeian jollity
of the Derby Day, it is not evident why these dowdy Bacchantes should
not get part of the credit of it. The striking thing, the interesting
thing, both on the outward drive and on the return, was that the
holiday was so frankly, heartily, good-humouredly taken. The people
that of all peoples is habitually the most governed by decencies,
proprieties, rigidities of conduct, was for one happy day unbuttoning
its respectable straight-jacket and affirming its large and simple
sense of the joy of life. In such a spectacle there was inevitably much
that was unlucky and unprofitable; these things came uppermost chiefly
on the return, when demoralisation was supreme, when the temperament
of the people had begun really to take the air. For the rest, to
be dressed with a kind of brutal gaudiness, to be very thirsty and
violently flushed, to laugh perpetually at everything and at nothing,
thoroughly to enjoy, in short, a momentous occasion—all this is not, in
simple persons of the more susceptible sex, an unpardonable crime.

  [Illustration: THE START FOR THE DERBY]

The course at Epsom is in itself very pretty, and disposed by nature
herself in sympathetic prevision of the sporting passion. It is
something like the crater of a volcano without the mountain. The outer
rim is the course proper; the space within it is a vast, shallow,
grassy concavity in which vehicles are drawn up and beasts tethered
and in which the greater part of the multitude—the mountebanks, the
betting-men, and the myriad hangers-on of the scene—are congregated.
The outer margin of the uplifted rim in question is occupied by the
grand stand, the small stands, the paddock. The day was exceptionally
beautiful; the charming sky was spotted over with little idle-looking,
loafing, irresponsible clouds; the Epsom Downs went swelling away
as greenly as in a coloured sporting-print, and the wooded uplands,
in the middle distance, looked as innocent and pastoral as if they
had never seen a policeman or a rowdy. The crowd that spread itself
over this immense expanse was as rich representation of human life
off its guard as one need see. One’s first fate after arriving, if
one is perched upon a coach, is to see the coach guided, by means
best known to the coachman himself, through the tremendous press of
vehicles and pedestrians, introduced into a precinct roped off and
guarded from intrusion save under payment of a fee, and then drawn
up alongside of the course, as nearly as possible opposite the grand
stand and the winning post. Here you have only to stand up in your
place—on tiptoe, it is true, and with a good deal of stretching—to
see the race fairly well. But I hasten to add that seeing the race is
indifferent entertainment. In the first place you _don’t_ see it, and
in the second—to be Irish on the occasion of a frolic—you perceive it
to be not much worth the seeing. It may be fine in quality, but in
quantity it is inappreciable. The horses and their jockeys first go
dandling and cantering along the course to the starting-point, looking
as insubstantial as sifted sunbeams. Then there is a long wait, during
which, of the sixty thousand people present (my figures are imaginary),
thirty thousand declare positively that they have started, and
thirty thousand as positively deny it. Then the whole sixty thousand
are suddenly resolved into unanimity by the sight of a dozen small
jockey-heads whizzing along a very distant sky-line. In a shorter space
of time than it takes me to write it, the whole thing is before you,
and for the instant it is anything but beautiful. A dozen furiously
revolving arms—pink, green, orange, scarlet, white—whacking the flanks
of as many straining steeds; a glimpse of this, and the spectacle is
over. The spectacle, however, is of course an infinitesimally small
part of the purpose of Epsom and the interest of the Derby. The finer
vibration resides presumably in having money on the affair.

When the Derby stakes had been carried off by a horse of which I
confess I am barbarous enough to have forgotten the name, I turned
my back to the running, for all the world as if I too were largely
“interested,” and sought entertainment in looking at the crowd. The
crowd was very animated; that is the most succinct description I can
give of it. The horses of course had been removed from the vehicles,
so that the pedestrians were free to surge against the wheels and
even to a certain extent to scale and overrun the carriages. This
tendency became most pronounced when, as the mid-period of the day
was reached, the process of lunching began to unfold itself and every
coach-top to become the scene of a picnic. From this moment, at the
Derby, demoralisation begins. I was in a position to observe it, all
around me, in the most characteristic forms. The whole affair, as
regards the conventional rigidities I spoke of a while since, becomes
a real _dégringolade_. The shabbier pedestrians bustle about the
vehicles, staring up at the lucky mortals who are perched in a kind of
tormentingly near empyrean—a region in which dishes of lobster-salad
are passed about and champagne-corks cleave the air like celestial
meteors. There are nigger-minstrels and beggars and mountebanks and
spangled persons on stilts and gipsy matrons, as genuine as possible,
with glowing Oriental eyes and dropping their _h_’s; these last offer
you for sixpence the promise of everything genteel in life except the
aspirate. On a coach drawn up beside the one on which I had a place,
a party of opulent young men were passing from stage to stage of the
higher beatitude with a zeal which excited my admiration. They were
accompanied by two or three young ladies of the kind that usually
shares the choicest pleasures of youthful British opulence—young
ladies in whom nothing has been neglected that can make a complexion
superlative. The whole party had been drinking deep, and one of
the young men, a pretty lad of twenty, had in an indiscreet moment
staggered down as best he could to the ground. Here his cups proved
too many for him, and he collapsed and rolled over. In plain English
he was beastly drunk. It was the scene that followed that arrested my
observation. His companions on the top of the coach called down to
the people herding under the wheels to pick him up and put him away
inside. These people were the grimiest of the rabble, and a couple
of men who looked like coal-heavers out of work undertook to handle
this hapless youth. But their task was difficult; it was impossible
to imagine a young man more drunk. He was a mere bag of liquor—at once
too ponderous and too flaccid to be lifted. He lay in a helpless heap
under the feet of the crowd—the best-intoxicated young man in England.
His extemporised chamberlains took him first in one way and then in
another; but he was like water in a sieve. The crowd hustled over him;
every one wanted to see; he was pulled and shoved and fumbled. The
spectacle had a grotesque side, and this it was that seemed to strike
the fancy of the young man’s comrades. They had not done lunching,
so they were unable to bestow upon the accident the whole of that
consideration which its high comicality deserved. But they did what
they could. They looked down very often, glass in hand, during the
half-hour that it went on, and they stinted neither their generous,
joyous laughter nor their appreciative comments. Women are said to
have no sense of humour; but the young ladies with the complexions did
liberal justice to the pleasantry of the scene. Toward the last indeed
their attention rather flagged; for even the best joke suffers by
reiteration, and when you have seen a stupefied young man, infinitely
bedusted, slip out of the embrace of a couple of clumsy roughs for the
twentieth time, you may very properly suppose that you have arrived at
the furthest limits of the ludicrous.

  [Illustration: THE FINISH OF THE DERBY]

After the great race had been run I quitted my perch and spent the
rest of the afternoon in wandering about the grassy concave I have
mentioned. It was amusing and picturesque; it was just a huge Bohemian
encampment. Here also a great number of carriages were stationed,
freighted in like manner with free-handed youths and young ladies with
gilded hair. These young ladies were almost the only representatives
of their sex with pretensions to elegance; they were often pretty and
always exhilarated. Gentlemen in pairs, mounted on stools, habited in
fantastic sporting garments and offering bets to whomsoever listed,
were a conspicuous feature of the scene. It was equally striking that
they were not preaching in the desert and that they found plenty
of patrons among the baser sort. I returned to my place in time to
assist at the rather complicated operation of starting for the drive
back to London. Putting in horses and getting vehicles into line
seemed in the midst of the general crush and entanglement a process
not to be facilitated even by the most liberal swearing on the part
of those engaged in it. But little by little we came to the end of
it; and as by this time a kind of mellow cheerfulness pervaded the
upper atmosphere—the region of the perpendicular whip—even those
interruptions most trying to patience were somehow made to minister
to jollity. It was for people below not to get trampled to death or
crunched between opposing wheel-hubs, but it was all for them to manage
it. Above, the carnival of “chaff” had set in, and it deepened as the
lock of vehicles grew denser. As they were all locked together (with
a comfortable padding of pedestrians at points of acutest contact),
they contrived somehow to move together; so that we gradually got away
and into the road. The four or five hours consumed on the road were
simply an exchange of repartee, the profusely good-humoured savour
of which, on the whole, was certainly striking. The chaff was not
brilliant nor subtle nor especially graceful; and here and there it was
quite too tipsy to be even articulate. But as an expression of that
unbuttoning of the popular straight-jacket of which I spoke awhile
since, it had its wholesome and even innocent side. It took indeed
frequently an importunate physical form; it sought emphasis in the use
of pea-shooters and water-squirts. At its best, too, it was extremely
low and rowdyish. But a stranger even of the most refined tastes might
be glad to have a glimpse of this popular revel, for it would make him
feel that he was learning something more about the English people. It
would give a meaning to the old description of England as merry. It
would remind him that the natives of that country are subject to some
of the lighter of the human impulses, and that the decent, dusky vistas
of the London residential streets—those discreet creations of which
Thackeray’s Baker Street is the type—are not a complete symbol of the
complicated race that erected them.


II

It seemed to me such a piece of good fortune to have been asked down
to Oxford at Commemoration by a gentleman implicated in the remarkable
ceremony which goes on under that name, who kindly offered me the
hospitality of his college, that I scarcely stayed even to thank
him—I simply went and awaited him. I had had a glimpse of Oxford in
former years, but I had never slept in a low-browed room looking out
on a grassy quadrangle and opposite a mediæval clock-tower. This
satisfaction was vouchsafed me on the night of my arrival; I was
made free of the rooms of an absent undergraduate. I sat in his deep
armchairs; I burned his candles and read his books, and I hereby
thank him as effusively as possible. Before going to bed I took a turn
through the streets and renewed in the silent darkness that impression
of the charm imparted to them by the quiet college-fronts which I had
gathered in former years. The college-fronts were now quieter than
ever, the streets were empty, and the old scholastic city was sleeping
in the warm starlight. The undergraduates had retired in large numbers,
encouraged in this impulse by the collegiate authorities, who deprecate
their presence at Commemoration. However many young gownsmen may be
sent away, there yet always remain a collection sufficient to represent
the sound of many voices. There can be no better indication of the
resources of Oxford in a spectacular way than this fact that the first
step toward preparing an impressive ceremony is to get rid of as many
as possible of the actors.

In the morning I breakfasted with a young American who, in common with
a number of his countrymen, had come hither to seek stimulus for a
finer strain of study. I know not whether he would have reckoned as
such stimulus the conversation of a couple of those ingenuous youths,
sons of the soil, whose society I always find charming; but it added,
from my own point of view, in respect to the place, to the element of
intensity of character. After the entertainment was over, I repaired,
in company with a crowd of ladies and elderly people, interspersed
with gownsmen, to the hoary rotunda of the Sheldonian theatre, which
every visitor to Oxford will remember from its curious cincture of
clumsily carven heads of warriors and sages perched upon stone posts.
The interior of this edifice is the scene of the classic hooting,
stamping, and cat-calling by which the undergraduates confer the last
consecration upon the distinguished gentlemen who come up for the
honorary degree of D.C.L. It is with the design of attenuating as
much as possible this volume of sound that the heads of colleges, on
the close of the term, a few days before Commemoration, speed their
too demonstrative disciples upon the homeward way. As I have already
hinted, however, the contingent of irreverence was on this occasion
quite large enough to preserve the type of the racket. This made the
scene a very singular one. An American of course, with his fondness for
antiquity, his relish for picturesqueness, his “emotional” attitude at
historic shrines, takes Oxford much more seriously than its sometimes
unwilling familiars can be expected to do. These people are not always
upon the high horse; they are not always in a state of fine vibration.
Nevertheless there is a certain maximum of disaccord with their
beautiful circumstances which the ecstatic outsider vaguely expects
them not to transcend. No effort of the intellect beforehand would
enable him to imagine one of those silver-grey temples of learning
converted into a semblance of the Bowery Theatre when the Bowery
Theatre is being trifled with.

The Sheldonian edifice, like everything at Oxford, is more or less
monumental. There is a double tier of galleries, with sculptured
pulpits protruding from them; there are full-length portraits of kings
and worthies; there is a general air of antiquity and dignity, which,
on the occasion of which I speak, was enhanced by the presence of
certain ancient scholars seated in crimson robes in high-backed chairs.
Formerly, I believe, the undergraduates were placed apart—packed
together in a corner of one of the galleries. But now they are
scattered among the general spectators, a large number of whom are
ladies. They muster in especial force, however, on the floor of the
theatre, which has been cleared of its benches. Here the dense mass is
at last severed in twain by the entrance of the prospective D.C.L.’s
walking in single file, clad in crimson gowns, preceded by mace-bearers
and accompanied by the Regius professor of Civil Law, who presents
them individually to the Vice-Chancellor of the University, in a Latin
speech which is of course a glowing eulogy. The five gentlemen to whom
this distinction had been offered in 1877 were not among those whom
fame has trumpeted most loudly; but there was something “as pretty
as a picture” in their standing in their honourable robes, with heads
modestly bent, while the orator, as effectively draped, recited their
titles sonorously to the venerable dignitary in the high-backed chair.
Each of them, when the little speech is ended, ascends the steps
leading to the chair; the Vice-Chancellor bends forward and shakes
his hand, and the new D.C.L. goes and sits in the blushing row of his
fellow doctors. The impressiveness of all this is much diminished
by the boisterous conduct of the “students,” who super-abound in
extravagant applause, in impertinent interrogation, and in lively
disparagement of the orator’s Latinity. Of the scene that precedes the
episode I have just described I have given no account; vivid portrayal
of it is not easy. Like the return from the Derby it is a carnival of
“chaff;” and it is a singular fact that the scholastic festival should
have forcibly reminded me of the great popular “lark.” In each case
it is the same race enjoying a certain definitely chartered license;
in the young votaries of a liberal education and the London rabble on
the Epsom road it is the same perfect good humour, the same muscular
jocosity.

After the presentation of the doctors came a series of those collegiate
exercises which have a generic resemblance all the world over: a
reading of Latin verses and English essays, a spouting of prize poems
and Greek paraphrases. The prize poem alone was somewhat attentively
listened to; the other things were received with an infinite variety
of critical ejaculation. But after all, I reflected, as the ceremony
drew to a close, the romping element is more characteristic than it
seems; it is at bottom only another expression of the venerable and
historic side of Oxford. It is tolerated because it is traditional;
it is possible because it is classical. Looked at in this light it
became romantically continuous with the human past that everything else
referred to.

I was not obliged to find ingenious pretexts for thinking well of
another ceremony of which I was witness after we adjourned from the
Sheldonian theatre. This was a lunch-party at the particular college
in which I should find it the highest privilege to reside and which
I may not further specify. Perhaps indeed I may go so far as to say
that the reason for my dreaming of this privilege is that it is deemed
by persons of a reforming turn the best-appointed abuse in a nest of
abuses. A commission for the expurgation of the universities has lately
been appointed by Parliament to look into it—a commission armed with
a gigantic broom, which is to sweep away all the fine old ivied and
cobwebbed improprieties. Pending these righteous changes, one would
like while one is about it—about, that is, this business of admiring
Oxford—to attach one’s self to the abuse, to bury one’s nostrils in
the rose before it is plucked. At the college in question there are no
undergraduates. I found it agreeable to reflect that those grey-green
cloisters had sent no delegates to the slangy congregation I had just
quitted. This delightful spot exists for the satisfaction of a small
society of Fellows who, having no dreary instruction to administer,
no noisy hobbledehoys to govern, no obligations but toward their own
culture, no care save for learning as learning and truth as truth,
are presumably the happiest and most charming people in the world. The
party invited to lunch assembled first in the library of the college, a
cool, grey hall, of very great length and height, with vast wall-spaces
of rich-looking book-titles and statues of noble scholars set in the
midst. Had the charming Fellows ever anything more disagreeable to
do than to finger these precious volumes and then to stroll about
together in the grassy courts, in learned comradeship, discussing
their precious contents? Nothing, apparently, unless it were to give a
lunch at Commemoration in the dining-hall of the college. When lunch
was ready there was a very pretty procession to go to it. Learned
gentlemen in crimson gowns, ladies in bright finery, paired slowly
off and marched in a stately diagonal across the fine, smooth lawn of
the quadrangle, in a corner of which they passed through a hospitable
door. But here we cross the threshold of privacy; I remained on the
further side of it during the rest of the day. But I brought back with
me certain memories, of which, if I were not at the end of my space, I
should attempt a discreet adumbration: memories of a fête champêtre in
the beautiful gardens of one of the other colleges—charming lawns and
spreading trees, music of Grenadier Guards, ices in striped marquees,
mild flirtation of youthful gownsmen and bemuslined maidens; memories,
too, of quiet dinner in common-room, a decorous, excellent repast; old
portraits on the walls and great windows open upon the ancient court,
where the afternoon light was fading in the stillness; superior talk
upon current topics, and over all the peculiar air of Oxford—the air
of liberty to care for the things of the mind assured and secured by
machinery which is in itself a satisfaction to sense.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



IN WARWICKSHIRE


There is no better way to plunge _in medias res_, for the stranger
who wishes to know something of England, than to spend a fortnight in
Warwickshire. It is the core and centre of the English world; midmost
England, unmitigated England. The place has taught me a great many
English secrets; I have been interviewing the genius of pastoral
Britain. From a charming lawn—a lawn delicious to one’s sentient
boot-sole—I looked without obstruction at a sombre, soft, romantic mass
whose outline was blurred by mantling ivy. It made a perfect picture,
and in the foreground the great trees overarched their boughs, from
right and left, so as to give it a majestic frame. This interesting
object was the castle of Kenilworth. It was within distance of an easy
walk, but one hardly thought of walking to it, any more than one would
have thought of walking to a purple-shadowed tower in the background
of a Berghem or a Claude. Here were purple shadows and slowly-shifting
lights, with a soft-hued, bosky country for the middle distance.

Of course, however, I did walk over to the castle; and of course
the walk led me through leafy lanes and beside the hedgerows that
make a tangled screen for large lawn-like meadows. Of course too,
I am bound to add, there was a row of ancient pedlars outside the
castle-wall, hawking twopenny pamphlets and photographs. Of course,
equally, at the foot of the grassy mound on which the ruin stands
were half a dozen public houses and, always of course, half a dozen
beery vagrants sprawling on the grass in the moist sunshine. There
was the usual respectable young woman to open the castle-gate and to
receive the usual sixpenny fee. There were the usual squares of printed
cardboard, suspended upon venerable surfaces, with further enumeration
of twopence, threepence, fourpence. I do not allude to these things
querulously, for Kenilworth is a very tame lion—a lion that, in
former years, I had stroked more than once. I remember perfectly my
first visit to this romantic spot; how I chanced upon a picnic; how I
stumbled over beer-bottles; how the very echoes of the beautiful ruin
seemed to have dropped all their _h_’s. That was a sultry afternoon; I
allowed my spirits to sink and I came away hanging my head. This was a
beautiful fresh morning, and in the interval I had grown philosophic. I
had learned that, with regard to most romantic sites in England, there
is a constant cockneyfication with which you must make your account.
There are always people on the field before you, and there is generally
something being drunk on the premises.

I hoped, on the occasion of which I am now speaking, that the attack
would not be acute, and indeed for the first five minutes I flattered
myself that this was the case. In the beautiful grassy court of the
castle, on my entrance, there were not more than eight or ten fellow
intruders. There were a couple of old ladies on a bench, eating
something out of a newspaper; there was a dissenting minister, also on
a bench, reading the guide-book aloud to his wife and sister-in-law;
there were three or four children pushing each other up and down the
turfy hillocks. This was sweet seclusion indeed; and I got a capital
start with the various noble square-windowed fragments of the stately
pile. They are extremely majestic, with their even, pale-red colour,
their deep-green drapery, their princely vastness of scale. But
presently the tranquil ruin began to swarm like a startled hive. There
were plenty of people, if they chose to show themselves. They emerged
from crumbling doorways and gaping chambers with the best conscience
in the world; but I know not, after all, why I should bear them a
grudge, for they gave me a pretext for wandering about in search of a
quiet point of view. I cannot say that I found my point of view, but
in looking for it I saw the castle, which is certainly an admirable
ruin. And when the respectable young woman had let me out of the gate
again, and I had shaken my head at the civil-spoken pedlars who form
a little avenue for the arriving and departing visitor, I found it in
my good nature to linger a moment on the trodden, grassy slope, and to
think that in spite of the hawkers, the paupers, and the beer-shops,
there was still a good deal of old England in the scene. I say in
spite of these things, but it may have been, in some degree, because
of them. Who shall resolve into its component parts any impression of
this richly complex English world, where the present is always seen,
as it were, in profile, and the past presents a full face? At all
events the solid red castle rose behind me, towering above its small
old ladies and its investigating parsons; before me, across the patch
of common, was a row of ancient cottages, black-timbered, red-gabled,
pictorial, which evidently had a memory of the castle in its better
days. A quaintish village straggled away on the right, and on the left
the dark, fat meadows were lighted up with misty sun-spots and browsing
sheep. I looked about for the village stocks; I was ready to take the
modern vagrants for Shakespearean clowns; and I was on the point of
going into one of the ale-houses to ask Mrs. Quickly for a cup of sack.

I began these remarks, however, with no intention of talking about
the celebrated curiosities in which this region abounds, but with a
design rather of noting a few impressions of some of the shyer and more
elusive ornaments of the show. Stratford of course is a very sacred
place, but I prefer to say a word, for instance, about a charming old
rectory a good many miles distant, and to mention the pleasant picture
it made, of a summer afternoon, during a domestic festival. These are
the happiest of a stranger’s memories of English life, and he feels
that he need make no apology for lifting the corner of the curtain.
I drove through the leafy lanes I spoke of just now, and peeped over
the hedges into fields where the yellow harvest stood waiting. In some
places they were already shorn, and, while the light began to redden
in the west and to make a horizontal glow behind the dense wayside
foliage, the gleaners here and there came brushing through gaps in the
hedges with enormous sheaves upon their shoulders. The rectory was an
ancient, gabled building, of pale red brick with facings of white stone
and creepers that wrapped it up. It dates, I imagine, from the early
Hanoverian time; and as it stood there upon its cushiony lawn and among
its ordered gardens, cheek to cheek with its little Norman church, it
seemed to me the model of a quiet, spacious, easy English home. The
cushiony lawn, as I have called it, stretched away to the edge of a
brook, and afforded to a number of very amiable people an opportunity
of playing lawn-tennis. There were half a dozen games going forward at
once, and at each of them a great many “nice girls,” as they say in
England, were distinguishing themselves. These young ladies kept the
ball going with an agility worthy of the sisters and sweethearts of a
race of cricketers, and gave me a chance to admire their flexibility of
figure and their freedom of action. When they came back to the house,
after the games, flushed a little and a little dishevelled, they might
have passed for the attendant nymphs of Diana flocking in from the
chase. There had, indeed, been a chance for them to wear the quiver,
a target for archery being erected on the lawn. I remembered George
Eliot’s Gwendolen and waited to see her step out of the muslin group;
but she was not forthcoming, and it was plain that if lawn-tennis had
been invented in Gwendolen’s day this young lady would have captivated
Mr. Grandcourt by her exploits with the racket. She certainly would
have been a mistress of the game; and, if the suggestion be not too
gross, the alertness she would have learned from it might have proved
an inducement to her boxing the ears of the insupportable Deronda.

After a while it grew too dark for lawn-tennis; but while the twilight
was still mildly brilliant I wandered away, out of the grounds of
the charming parsonage, and turned into the little churchyard beside
it. The small weather-worn, rust-coloured church had an appearance
of high antiquity; there were some curious Norman windows in the
apse. Unfortunately I could not get inside; I could only glance into
the open door across the interval of an old-timbered, heavy-hooded,
padlocked porch. But the sweetest evening stillness hung over the
place, and the sunset was red behind a dark row of rook-haunted elms.
The stillness seemed the greater because three or four rustic children
were playing, with little soft cries, among the crooked, deep-buried
grave-stones. One poor little girl, who seemed deformed, had climbed
some steps that served as a pedestal for a tall, mediæval-looking
cross. She sat perched there and stared at me through the gloaming.
This was the heart of England, unmistakeably; it might have been the
very pivot of the wheel on which her fortune revolves. One need not be
a rabid Anglican to be extremely sensible of the charm of an English
country church—and indeed of some of the features of an English rural
Sunday. In London there is a certain flatness in the observance of this
festival; but in the country some of the ceremonies that accompany
it have an indefinable harmony with an ancient, pastoral landscape.
I made this reflection on an occasion that is still very fresh in my
memory. I said to myself that the walk to church from a beautiful
country-house, of a lovely summer afternoon, may be the prettiest
possible adventure. The house stands perched upon a pedestal of rock
and looks down from its windows and terraces upon a shadier spot
in the wooded meadows, of which the blunted tip of a spire explains
the character. A little company of people, whose costume denotes the
highest pitch of civilisation, winds down through the blooming gardens,
passes out of a couple of small gates, and reaches the footpath in
the fields. This is especially what takes the fancy of the sympathetic
stranger; the level, deep-green meadows, studded here and there with
a sturdy oak; the denser grassiness of the footpath, the lily-sheeted
pool beside which it passes, the rustic stiles, where he stops and
looks back at the great house and its wooded background. It is in the
highest degree probable that he has the privilege of walking with a
pretty girl, and it is morally certain that he thinks a pretty English
girl the very type of the maddening magic of youth. He knows that she
doesn’t know how lovely is this walk of theirs; she has been taking
it—or taking another quite as good—any time these twenty years. But her
want of immediate intelligence only makes her the more a part of his
delicate entertainment. The latter continues unbroken while they reach
the little churchyard and pass up to the ancient porch, round which
the rosy rustics are standing, decently and deferentially, to watch
the arrival of the smarter contingent. This party takes its place in a
great square pew, as large as a small room, and with seats all round,
and while he listens to the respectable intonings the sympathetic
stranger reads over the inscriptions on the mural tablets before
him, all to the honour of the earlier bearers of a name which is, for
himself, a symbol of hospitality.

When I came back to the parsonage the entertainment had been
transferred to the interior, and I had occasion to admire the maidenly
vigour of all the nice girls who, after playing lawn-tennis all the
afternoon, were modestly expecting to dance all the evening. And in
regard to this it is not impertinent to say that from almost any group
of young English creatures of this order—though preferably from such as
have passed their lives in quiet country homes—an American receives a
delightful impression of something that he may describe as an intimate
salubrity. He notices face after face in which this rosy absence of a
morbid strain—this simple, natural, affectionate development—amounts to
positive beauty. If the young lady have no other beauty the air I speak
of is a charm in itself; but when it is united, as it so often is, to
real perfection of feature and colour the result is the most delightful
thing in nature. It makes the highest type of English beauty, and to
my sense there is nothing so satisfyingly high as that. Not long since
I heard a clever foreigner indulge, in conversation with an English
lady,—a very wise and liberal woman,—in a little lightly restrictive
criticism of her countrywomen. “It is possible,” she answered, in
regard to one of his objections; “but such as they are, they are
inexpressibly dear to their husbands.” This is doubtless true of good
wives all over the world; but I felt, as I listened to these words of
my friend, that there is often something in an English girl-face which
gives it an extra touch of _justesse_. Such as the woman is, she has
here, more than elsewhere, the look of being completely and profoundly,
without reservations for other uses, at the service of the man she
loves. This look, after one has been a while in England, comes to seem
so much a proper and indispensable part of a “nice” face, that the
absence of it appears a sign of irritability or of shallowness. Latent
responsiveness to the manly appeal—that is what it means; which one
must take as a very comfortable meaning.

As for the prettiness, I cannot forbear, in the face of a fresh
reminiscence, to give it another word. And yet in regard to prettiness
what do words avail? This was what I asked myself the other day as I
looked at a young girl who stood in an old oaken parlour, the rugged
panels of which made a background for her lovely head, in simple
conversation with a handsome lad. I said to myself that the faces
of the English young have often a perfect charm, but that this same
charm is too soft and shy a thing to talk about. The face of this fair
creature had a pure oval, and her clear brown eyes a quiet warmth.
Her complexion was as bright as a sunbeam after rain, and she smiled
in a way that made any other way of smiling than that seem a shallow
grimace—a mere creaking of the facial muscles. The young man stood
facing her, slowly scratching his thigh and shifting from one foot to
the other. He was tall and straight, and so sun-burned that his fair
hair was lighter than his complexion. He had honest, stupid blue eyes,
and a simple smile that showed handsome teeth. He had the look of a
gentleman. Presently I heard what they were saying. “I suppose it’s
pretty big,” said the beautiful young girl. “Yes; it’s pretty big,”
said the handsome young man. “It’s nicer when they are big,” said
his interlocutress. The young man looked at her, and at everything
in general, with his slowly apprehending blue eye, and for some time
no further remark was made. “It draws ten feet of water,” he at last
went on. “How much water is there?” said the young girl. She spoke
in a charming voice. “There are thirty feet of water,” said the young
man. “Oh, that’s enough,” rejoined the damsel. I had had an idea they
were flirting, and perhaps indeed that is the way it is done. It was
an ancient room and extremely delightful; everything was polished over
with the brownness of centuries. The chimney-piece was carved a foot
thick, and the windows bore, in coloured glass, the quarterings of
ancestral couples. These had stopped two hundred years before; there
was nothing newer than that date. Outside the windows was a deep, broad
moat, which washed the base of grey walls—grey walls spotted over with
the most delicate yellow lichens.

  [Illustration: STRATFORD-ON-AVON CHURCH]

In such a region as this mellow conservative Warwickshire an
appreciative American finds the small things quite as suggestive as the
great. Everything indeed is suggestive, and impressions are constantly
melting into each other and doing their work before he has had time to
ask them whence they came. He can scarce go into a cottage muffled in
plants, to see a genial gentlewoman and a “nice girl,” without being
reminded forsooth of the “Small House at Allington.” Why of the “Small
House at Allington?” There is a larger house to which the ladies come
up to dine; but that is surely an insufficient reason. That the ladies
are charming—even that is not reason enough; for there have been other
nice girls in the world than Lily Dale and other mild matrons than
her mamma. Reminded, however, he is—especially when he goes out upon
the lawn. Of course there is lawn-tennis, and it seems all ready for
Mr. Crosbie to come and take a racquet. This is a small example of
the way in which in the presence of English life the imagination must
be constantly at play on the part of members of a race in whom it has
necessarily been trained to do extra service. In driving and walking,
in looking and listening, everything affected one as in some degree
or other characteristic of a rich, powerful, old-fashioned society.
One had no need of being told that this is a conservative county; the
fact seemed written in the hedgerows and in the verdant acres behind
them. Of course the owners of these things were conservative; of course
they were stubbornly unwilling to see the harmonious edifice of their
constituted, convenient world the least bit shaken. I had a feeling,
as I went about, that I should find some very ancient and curious
opinions still comfortably domiciled in the fine old houses whose
clustered gables and chimneys appeared here and there, at a distance,
above their ornamental woods. Imperturbable British Toryism, viewed in
this vague and conjectural fashion—across the fields and behind the
oaks and beeches—is by no means a thing the irresponsible stranger
would wish away; it deepens the very colour of the air; it may be
said to be the style of the landscape. I got a sort of constructive
sense of its presence in the picturesque old towns of Coventry and
Warwick, which appear to be filled with those institutions—chiefly of
an eleemosynary order—that make the undoubting more undoubting still.
There are ancient charities in these places—hospitals, almshouses,
asylums, infant-schools—so quaint and venerable that they almost make
the existence of respectful dependence a delectable and satisfying
thought. In Coventry in especial, I believe, these pious foundations
are so numerous as fairly to place a premium upon personal woe.
Invidious reflections apart, however, there are few things that speak
more quaintly and suggestively of the old England that an American
loves than these clumsy little monuments of ancient benevolence. Such
an institution as Leicester’s Hospital at Warwick seems indeed to exist
primarily for the sake of its spectacular effect upon the American
tourists, who, with the dozen rheumatic old soldiers maintained in
affluence there, constitute its principal _clientèle_.

The American tourist usually comes straight to this quarter of
England—chiefly for the purpose of paying his respects to the
birthplace of Shakespeare. Being here, he comes to Warwick to see
the castle; and being at Warwick, he comes to see the odd little
theatrical-looking refuge for superannuated warriors which lurks in
the shadow of one of the old gate-towers. Every one will remember
Hawthorne’s account of the place, which has left no touch of charming
taste to be added to any reference to it. The hospital struck me
as a little museum kept up for the amusement and confusion of those
enquiring Occidentals who are used to seeing charity more dryly and
practically administered. The old hospitallers—I am not sure, after
all, whether they are necessarily soldiers, but some of them happen
to be—are at once the curiosities and the keepers. They sit on benches
outside of their door, at the receipt of custom, all neatly brushed and
darned and ready to do you the honours. They are only twelve in number,
but their picturesque dwelling, perched upon the old city rampart
and full of dusky little courts, cross-timbered gable-ends and deeply
sunken lattices, seems a wonderfully elaborate piece of machinery for
its humble purpose. Each of the old gentlemen must be provided with a
wife or “housekeeper;” each of them has a dusky parlour of his own, and
they pass their latter days in their scoured and polished little refuge
as softly and honourably as a company of retired lawgivers or pensioned
soothsayers.

At Coventry I went to see a couple of old charities of a similar
pattern—places with black-timbered fronts, little clean-swept courts
and Elizabethan windows. One of them was a romantic residence for a
handful of old women, who sat, each of them, in a cosy little bower,
in a sort of mediæval darkness; the other was a school for little
boys of humble origin, and this last establishment was charming.
I found the little boys playing at “top” in a gravelled court, in
front of the prettiest old building of tender-coloured stucco and
painted timber, ornamented with two delicate little galleries and a
fantastic porch. They were dressed in small blue tunics and odd caps,
like those worn by sailors, but, if I remember rightly, with little
yellow tags affixed. I was able to wander at my pleasure all over the
establishment; there was no sign of pastor or master anywhere; nothing
but the little yellow-headed boys playing before the ancient house and
practising most correctly the Warwickshire accent. I went indoors and
looked at a fine old oaken staircase; I even ascended it and walked
along a gallery and peeped into a dormitory at a row of very short
beds; and then I came down and sat for five minutes on a bench hardly
wider than the top rail of a fence, in a little, cold, dim refectory
where there was not a crumb to be seen, nor any lingering odour of
bygone repasts to be perceived. And yet I wondered how it was that the
sense of many generations of boyish feeders seemed to abide there.
It came, I suppose, from the very bareness and, if I may be allowed
the expression, the clean-licked aspect of the place, which wore the
appearance of the famous platter of Jack Sprat and his wife.

Inevitably, of course, the sentimental tourist has a great deal to
say to himself about this being Shakespeare’s county—about these
densely grassed meadows and parks having been, to his musing eyes, the
normal landscape, the green picture of the world. In Shakespeare’s
day, doubtless, the coat of nature was far from being so prettily
trimmed as it is now; but there is one place, nevertheless, which,
as he passes it in the summer twilight, the traveller does his best
to believe unaltered. I allude of course to Charlecote park, whose
venerable verdure seems a survival from an earlier England and whose
innumerable acres, stretching away, in the early evening, to vaguely
seen Tudor walls, lie there like the backward years receding to the
age of Elizabeth. It was, however, no part of my design in these
remarks to pause before so thickly besieged a shrine as this; and if
I were to allude to Stratford it would not be in connection with the
fact that Shakespeare planted there, to grow for ever, the torment
of his unguessed riddle. It would be rather to speak of a delightful
old house, near the Avon, which struck me as the ideal home for a
Shakespearean scholar, or indeed for any passionate lover of the poet.
Here, with books and memories and the recurring reflection that he
had taken his daily walk across the bridge at which you look from your
windows straight down an avenue of fine old trees, with an ever-closed
gate at the end of them and a carpet of turf stretched over the
decent drive—here, I say, with old brown wainscotted chambers to live
in, old polished doorsteps to lead you from one to the other, deep
window-seats to sit in, with a play in your lap, here a person for whom
the cares of life should have resolved themselves into a care for the
greatest genius who has represented and ornamented life might find a
very congruous asylum. Or, speaking a little wider of the mark, the
charming, rambling, low-gabled, many-staired, much-panelled mansion
would be a very agreeable home for any person of taste who should
prefer an old house to a new. I find I am talking about it quite like
an auctioneer; but what I chiefly had at heart was to commemorate the
fact that I had lunched there and, while I lunched, kept saying to
myself that there is nothing in the world so delightful as the happy
accidents of old English houses.

  [Illustration: CHARLECOTE PARK]

And yet that same day, on the edge of the Avon, I found it in me to
say that a new house too may be a very charming affair. But I must add
that the new house I speak of had really such exceptional advantages
that it could not fairly be placed in the scale. Besides, was it new
after all? It must have been, and yet one’s impression there was all of
a kind of silvered antiquity. The place stood upon a decent Stratford
road, from which it looked usual enough; but when, after sitting a
while in a charming modern drawing-room, one stepped thoughtlessly
through an open window upon a verandah, one found that the horizon of
the morning call had been wonderfully widened. I will not pretend to
detail all I saw after I stepped off the verandah; suffice it that the
spire and chancel of the beautiful old church in which Shakespeare is
buried, with the Avon sweeping its base, were one of the elements of
the vision. Then there were the smoothest lawns in the world stretching
down to the edge of this liquid slowness and making, where the water
touched them, a line as even as the rim of a champagne-glass—a verge
near which you inevitably lingered to see the spire and the chancel
(the church was close at hand) among the well-grouped trees, and look
for their reflection in the river. The place was a garden of delight;
it was a stage set for one of Shakespeare’s comedies—for “Twelfth
Night” or “Much Ado.” Just across the river was a level meadow, which
rivalled the lawn on which I stood, and this meadow seemed only the
more essentially a part of the scene by reason of the voluminous sheep
that were grazing on it. These sheep were by no means mere edible
mutton; they were poetic, historic, romantic sheep; they were not there
for their weight or their wool, they were there for their presence and
their compositional value, and they visibly knew it. And yet, knowing
as they were, I doubt whether the wisest old ram of the flock could
have told me how to explain why it was that this happy mixture of lawn
and river and mirrored spire and blooming garden seemed to me for a
quarter of an hour the richest corner of England.

If Warwickshire is Shakespeare’s country, I found myself not dodging
the consciousness that it is also George Eliot’s. The author of “Adam
Bede” and “Middlemarch” has called the rural background of those
admirable fictions by another name, but I believe it long ago ceased
to be a secret that her native Warwickshire had been in her intention.
The stranger who treads its eternal stretched velvet recognises at
every turn the elements of George Eliot’s novels—especially when
he carries himself back in imagination to the Warwickshire of forty
years ago. He says to himself that it would be impossible to conceive
anything—anything equally rural—more sturdily central, more densely
definite. It was in one of the old nestling farmhouses, beyond a
hundred hedgerows, that Hetty Sorrel smiled into her milk-pans as if
she were looking for a reflection of her pretty face; it was at the
end of one of the leafy-pillared avenues that poor Mrs. Casaubon paced
up and down with her many questions. The country suggests in especial
both the social and the natural scenery of “Middlemarch.” There must
be many a genially perverse old Mr. Brooke there yet, and whether
there are many Dorotheas or not, there must be many a well-featured
and well-acred young country gentleman, of the pattern of Sir James
Chettam, who, as he rides along the leafy lanes, softly cudgels his
brain to know why a clever girl shouldn’t wish to marry him. But I
doubt whether there be many Dorotheas, and I suspect that the Sir
James Chettams of the county are not often pushed to that intensity
of meditation. You feel, however, that George Eliot could not have
placed her heroine in a local medium better fitted to throw her fine
impatience into relief—a community more likely to be startled and
perplexed by a questioning attitude on the part of a well-housed and
well-fed young gentlewoman.

Among the edifying days that I spent in these neighbourhoods there
is one in especial of which I should like to give a detailed account.
But I find on consulting my memory that the details have melted away
into the single deep impression of a perfect ripeness of civilisation.
It was a long excursion, by rail and by carriage, for the purpose of
seeing three extremely interesting old country-houses. Our errand
led us, in the first place, into Oxfordshire, through the ancient
market-town of Banbury, where of course we made a point of looking
out for the Cross referred to in the famous nursery-rhyme. It stood
there in the most natural manner—though I am afraid it has been “done
up”—with various antique gables around it, from one of whose exiguous
windows the young person appealed to in the rhyme may have looked
at the old woman as she rode, and heard the music of her bells. The
houses we went to see have not a national reputation; they are simply
interwoven figures in the rich pattern of the Midlands. They have
indeed a local renown, but they are not thought of as unexampled, still
less as abnormal, and the stranger has a feeling that his surprises and
ecstasies are held to betray the existence, on his part, of a blank
background. Such places, to a Warwickshire mind of good habits, must
appear the pillars and props of a heaven-appointed order of things; and
accordingly, in a land on which heaven smiles, they are as natural as
the geology of the county or the supply of mutton. But nothing could
well give a stranger a stronger impression of the wealth of England in
such matters—of the interminable list of her territorial homes—than
this fact that the so eminent specimens I speak of should have but a
limited fame, should not be lions of the first magnitude. Of one of
them, the finest in the group, one of my companions, who lived but
twenty miles away, had never even heard. Such a place was not thought
a subject for local swagger. Its peers and mates are scattered all
over the country; half of them are not even mentioned in the county
guidebooks. You stumble upon them in a drive or a walk. You catch a
glimpse of an ivied front at some midmost point of wide acres, and,
taking your way, by leave of a serious old woman at a lodge-gate, along
an overarching avenue, you find yourself introduced to an edifice so
human-looking in its beauty that it seems for the occasion fairly to
reconcile art and morality.

To Broughton Castle, the first seen in this beautiful group, I must do
no more than allude; but this is not because I failed to think it, as
I think every house I see, the most delightful habitation in England.
It lies rather low, and its woods and pastures slope down to it; it
has a deep, clear moat all round it, spanned by a bridge that passes
under a charming old gate-tower, and nothing can be sweeter than to
see its clustered walls of yellow-brown stone so sharply islanded
while its gardens bloom on the other side of the water. Like several
other houses in this part of the country, Broughton Castle played
a part (on the Parliamentary side) in the civil wars, and not the
least interesting features of its beautiful interior are the several
mementoes of Cromwell’s station there. It was within a moderate drive
of this place that in 1642 the battle of Edgehill was fought—the first
great battle of the war—and gained by neither party. We went to see
the battlefield, where an ancient tower and an artificial ruin (of
all things in the world) have been erected for the entertainment of
convivial visitors. These ornaments are perched upon the edge of a
slope which commands a view of the exact scene of the contest, upwards
of a mile away. I looked in the direction indicated and saw misty
meadows a little greener perhaps than usual and colonnades of elms a
trifle denser. After this we paid our respects to another old house
which is full of memories and suggestions of that most dramatic period
of English history. But of Compton Wyniates (the name of this seat
of enchantment) I despair of giving any coherent or adequate account.
It belongs to the Marquis of Northampton, and it stands empty all the
year round. It sits on the grass at the bottom of a wooded hollow, and
the glades of a superb old park go wandering upward away from it. When
I came out in front of the house from a short and steep but stately
avenue I said to myself that here surely we had arrived at the farthest
limits of what ivy-smothered brickwork and weather-beaten gables,
conscious old windows and clustered mossy roofs can accomplish for the
eye. It is impossible to imagine a more finished picture. And its air
of solitude and delicate decay—of having been dropped into its grassy
hollow as an ancient jewel is deposited upon a cushion, and being shut
in from the world and back into the past by its circling woods—all
this drives the impression well home. The house is not large, as great
houses go, and it sits, as I have said, upon the grass, without even a
flagging or a footpath to conduct you from the point where the avenue
stops to the beautiful sculptured doorway which admits you into the
small, quaint inner court. From this court you are at liberty to pass
through the crookedest series of oaken halls and chambers, adorned with
treasures of old wainscotting and elaborate doors and chimney-pieces.
Outside, you may walk all round the house on a grassy bank, which
is raised above the level on which it stands, and find it from every
point of view a more charming composition. I should not omit to mention
that Compton Wyniates is supposed to have been in Scott’s eye when
he described the dwelling of the old royalist knight in “Woodstock.”
In this case he simply transferred the house to the other side of the
county. He has indeed given several of the features of the place, but
he has not given what one may call its colour. I must add that if Sir
Walter could not give the colour of Compton Wyniates, it is useless for
any other writer to try. It is a matter for the brush and not for the
pen.

And what shall I say of the colour of Wroxton Abbey, which we
visited last in order and which in the thickening twilight, as we
approached its great ivy-muffled face, laid on the mind the burden
of its felicity? Wroxton Abbey, as it stands, is a house of about
the same period as Compton Wyniates—the latter years, I suppose, of
the sixteenth century. But it is quite another affair. The place is
inhabited, “kept up,” full of the most interesting and most splendid
detail. Its happy occupants, however, were fortunately not in the
act of staying there (happy occupants, in England, are almost always
absent), and the house was exhibited with a civility worthy of its
merit. Everything that in the material line can render life noble and
charming has been gathered into it with a profusion which makes the
whole place a monument to past opportunity. As I wandered from one rich
room to another and looked at these things, that intimate appeal to
the romantic sense which I just mentioned was mercilessly emphasised.
But who can tell the story of the romantic sense when that adventurer
really rises to the occasion—takes its ease in an old English
country-house while the twilight darkens the corners of expressive
rooms and the victim of the scene, pausing at the window, turns his
glance from the observing portrait of a handsome ancestral face and
sees the great soft billows of the lawn melt away into the park?

     1877.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



ABBEYS AND CASTLES


It is a frequent perception with the stranger in England that the
beauty and interest of the country are private property and that to
get access to them a key is always needed. The key may be large or
it may be small, but it must be something that will turn a lock. Of
the things that contribute to the happiness of an American observer
in these tantalising conditions, I can think of very few that do not
come under this definition of private property. When I have mentioned
the hedgerows and the churches I have almost exhausted the list. You
can enjoy a hedgerow from the public road, and I suppose that even if
you are a Dissenter you may enjoy a Norman abbey from the street. If
therefore you talk of anything beautiful in England, the presumption
will be that it is private; and indeed such is my admiration of this
delightful country that I feel inclined to say that if you talk of
anything private the presumption will be that it is beautiful. This
is something of a dilemma. When the observer permits himself to
commemorate charming impressions he is in danger of giving to the world
the fruits of friendship and hospitality. When on the other hand he
withholds his impression he lets something admirable slip away without
having marked its passage, without having done it proper honour. He
ends by mingling discretion with enthusiasm, and he says to himself
that it is not treating a country ill to talk of its treasures when the
mention of each has tacit reference to some kindness conferred.

The impressions I have in mind in writing these lines were gathered
in a part of England of which I had not before had even a traveller’s
glimpse, but as to which, after a day or two, I found myself quite
ready to agree with a friend who lived there and who knew and loved
it well, when he said very frankly, “I do believe it is the loveliest
corner of the world!” This was not a dictum to quarrel about, and
while I was in the neighbourhood I was quite of his opinion. I felt
I might easily come to care for it very much as he cared for it;
I had a glimpse of the kind of romantic passion such a country may
inspire. It is a capital example of that density of feature which
is the great characteristic of English scenery. There are no waste
details; everything in the landscape is something particular—has a
history, has played a part, has a value to the imagination. It is a
region of hills and blue undulations, and, though none of the hills
are high, all of them are interesting,—interesting as such things
are interesting in an old, small country, by a kind of exquisite
modulation, something suggesting that outline and colouring have been
retouched and refined by the hand of time. Independently of its castles
and abbeys, the definite relics of the ages, such a landscape seems
charged and interfused. It has, has always had, human relations and is
intimately conscious of them. That little speech about the loveliness
of his county, or of his own part of his county, was made to me by my
companion as we walked up the grassy slope of a hill, or “edge,” as
it is called there, from the crest of which we seemed in an instant
to look away over most of the remainder of England. Certainly one
would have grown to love such a view as that quite in the same way
as to love some magnificent yet sensitive friend. The “edge” plunged
down suddenly, as if the corresponding slope on the other side had
been excavated, and you might follow the long ridge for the space of
an afternoon’s walk with this vast, charming prospect before your
eyes. Looking across an English county into the next but one is a
very pretty entertainment, the county seeming by no means so small as
might be supposed. How can a county seem small in which, from such
a vantage-point as the one I speak of, you see, as a darker patch
across the lighter green, the great territory of one of the greatest
representatives of territorial greatness? These things constitute
immensities, and beyond them are blue undulations of varying tone, and
then another bosky province which furnishes forth, as you are told, the
residential and other umbrage of another magnate. And to right and left
of these, in wooded expanses, lie other domains of equal consequence.
It was therefore not the smallness but the vastness of the country
that struck me, and I was not at all in the mood of a certain American
who once, in my hearing, burst out laughing at an English answer to my
enquiry as to whether my interlocutor often saw Mr. B——. “Oh no,” the
answer had been, “we never see him: he lives away off in the West.” It
was the western part of his county our friend meant, and my American
humourist found matter for infinite jest in his meaning. “I should as
soon think,” he remarked, “of talking of my own west or east foot.”

I do not think, even, that my sensibility to the charm of this
delightful region—for its hillside prospect of old red farmhouses
lighting up the dark-green bottoms, of gables and chimney-tops of great
houses peeping above miles of woodland, and, in the vague places of the
horizon, of far-away towns and sites that one had always heard of—was
conditioned upon having “property” in the neighbourhood, so that the
little girls in the town should suddenly drop curtsies to me in the
street; though that too would certainly have been pleasant. At the
same time having a little property would without doubt have made the
attachment stronger. People who wander about the world without money
in their pockets indulge in dreams—dreams of the things they would
buy if their pockets were workable. These dreams are very apt to have
relation to a good estate in any neighbourhood in which the wanderer
may happen to find himself. For myself, I have never been in a country
so unattractive that I didn’t find myself “drawn” to its most exemplary
mansion. In New England and other portions of the United States I
have felt my heart go out to the Greek temple, the small Parthenon, in
white-painted wood; in Italy I have made imaginary proposals for the
yellow-walled villa with statues on the roof. My fancy, in England, has
seldom fluttered so high as the very best house, but it has again and
again hovered about one of the quiet places, unknown to fame, which are
locally spoken of as merely “good.” There was one in especial, in the
neighbourhood I allude to, as to which the dream of having impossibly
acquired it from an embarrassed owner kept melting into the vision of
“moving in” on the morrow. I saw this place unfortunately, to small
advantage; I saw it in the rain, but I am glad fine weather didn’t
meddle with the affair, for the irritation of envy might in this case
have poisoned the impression. It was a long, wet Sunday, and the waters
were deep. I had been in the house all day, for the weather can best
be described by my saying that it had been deemed to exonerate us from
church. But in the afternoon, the prospective interval between lunch
and tea assuming formidable proportions, my host took me a walk, and
in the course of our walk he led me into a park which he described as
“the paradise of a small English country-gentleman.” It was indeed a
modern Eden, and the trees might have been trees of knowledge. They
were of high antiquity and magnificent girth and stature; they were
strewn over the grassy levels in extraordinary profusion, and scattered
upon and down the slopes in a fashion than which I have seen nothing
more felicitous since I last looked at the chestnuts above the Lake
of Como. The point was that the property was small, but that one
could perceive nowhere any limit. Shortly before we turned into the
park the rain had renewed itself, so that we were awkwardly wet and
muddy; but, being near the house, my companion proposed to leave his
card in a neighbourly way. The house was most agreeable; it stood on
a kind of terrace, in the middle of a lawn and garden, and the terrace
overhung one of the most copious rivers in England, as well as looking
across to those blue undulations of which I have already spoken. On
the terrace also was a piece of ornamental water, and there was a
small iron paling to divide the lawn from the park. All this I beheld
in the rain. My companion gave his card to the butler with the remark
that we were too much bespattered to come in, and we turned away to
complete our circuit. As we turned away I became acutely conscious of
what I should have been tempted to call the cruelty of this proceeding.
My imagination gauged the whole position. It was a blank, a blighted
Sunday afternoon—no one could come. The house was charming, the terrace
delightful, the oaks magnificent, the view most interesting. But the
whole thing confessed to the blankness if not to the dulness. In the
house was a drawing-room, and in the drawing-room was—by which I meant
_must be_—an English lady, a perfectly harmonious figure. There was
nothing fatuous in believing that on this rainy Sunday afternoon it
would not please her to be told that two gentlemen had walked across
the country to her door only to go through the ceremony of leaving
a card. Therefore, when, before we had gone many yards, I heard the
butler hurrying after us, I felt how just my sentiment of the situation
had been. Of course we went back, and I carried my muddy boots into the
drawing-room—just the drawing-room I had imagined—where I found—I will
not say just the lady I had imagined, but a lady even more in keeping.
Indeed there were two ladies, one of whom was staying in the house. In
whatever company you find yourself in England, you may always be sure
that some one present is “staying,” and you come in due time to feel
the abysses within the word. The large windows of the drawing-room I
speak of looked away over the river to the blurred and blotted hills,
where the rain was drizzling and drifting. It was very quiet, as I
say; there was an air of large leisure. If one wanted to do anything
here, there was evidently plenty of time—and indeed of every other
appliance—to do it. The two ladies talked about “town:” that is what
people talk about in the country. If I were disposed I might represent
them as talking with a positive pathos of yearning. At all events I
asked myself how it could be that one should live in this charming
place and trouble one’s head about what was going on in London in July.
Then we had fine strong tea and bread and butter.

I returned to the habitation of my friend—for I too was guilty of
“staying”—through an old Norman portal, massively arched and quaintly
sculptured, across whose hollow threshold the eye of fancy might see
the ghosts of monks and the shadows of abbots pass noiselessly to
and fro. This aperture admits you to a beautiful ambulatory of the
thirteenth century—a long stone gallery or cloister, repeated in two
stories, with the interstices of its traceries now glazed, but with
its long, low, narrow, charming vista still perfect and picturesque,
with its flags worn away by monkish sandals and with huge round-arched
doorways opening from its inner side into great rooms roofed like
cathedrals. These rooms are furnished with narrow windows, of almost
defensive aspect, set in embrasures three feet deep and ornamented
with little grotesque mediæval faces. To see one of the small monkish
masks grinning at you while you dress and undress, or while you look
up in the intervals of inspiration from your letter-writing, is a
mere detail in the entertainment of living in a _ci-devant_ priory.
This entertainment is inexhaustible; for every step you take in such
a house confronts you in one way or another with the remote past. You
devour the documentary, you inhale the historic. Adjoining the house
is a beautiful ruin, part of the walls and windows and bases of the
piers of the magnificent church administered by the predecessor of your
host, the mitred abbot. These relics are very desultory, but they are
still abundant, and they testify to the great scale and the stately
beauty of the abbey. You may lie upon the grass at the base of an
ivied fragment, measure the girth of the great stumps of the central
columns, half-smothered in soft creepers, and think how strange it is
that in this quiet hollow, in the midst of lonely hills, so exquisite
and elaborate a work of art should have risen. It is but an hour’s
walk to another great ruin, which has held together more completely.
There the central tower stands erect to half its altitude and the round
arches and massive pillars of the nave make a perfect vista on the
unencumbered turf. You get an impression that when Catholic England
was in her prime great abbeys were as thick as milestones. By native
amateurs even now the region is called “wild,” though to American
eyes it seems almost suburban in its smoothness and finish. There is
a noiseless little railway running through the valley, and there is
an ancient little town at the abbey gates—a town indeed with no great
din of vehicles, but with goodly brick houses, with a dozen “publics,”
with tidy, whitewashed cottages, and with little girls, as I have said,
bobbing curtsies in the street. Yet even now, if one had wound one’s
way into the valley by the railroad, it would be rather a surprise
to find a great architectural display in a setting so peaceful and
pastoral. How impressive then must the beautiful church have been in
the days of its prosperity, when the pilgrim came down to it from the
grassy hillside and its bells made the stillness sensible! The abbey
was in those days a great affair; it sprawled, as my companion said,
all over the place. As you walk away from it you think you have got to
the end of its geography, but you encounter it still in the shape of
a rugged outhouse enriched with an early-English arch, of an ancient
well hidden in a kind of sculptured cavern. It is noticeable that even
if you are a traveller from a land where there are no early-English—and
indeed few late-English—arches, and where the well-covers are, at their
hoariest, of fresh-looking shingles, you grow used with little delay to
all this antiquity. Anything very old seems extremely natural; there
is nothing we suffer to get so near us as the tokens of the remote.
It is not too much to say that after spending twenty-four hours in a
house that is six hundred years old you seem yourself to have lived
in it six hundred years. You seem yourself to have hollowed the flags
with your tread and to have polished the oak with your touch. You walk
along the little stone gallery where the monks used to pace, looking
out of the gothic window-places at their beautiful church, and you
pause at the big, round, rugged doorway that admits you to what is now
the drawing-room. The massive step by which you ascend to the threshold
is a trifle crooked, as it should be; the lintels are cracked and worn
by the myriad-fingered years. This strikes your casual glance. You
look up and down the miniature cloister before you pass in; it seems
wonderfully old and queer. Then you turn into the drawing-room, where
you find modern conversation and late publications and the prospect
of dinner. The new life and the old have melted together; there is no
dividing-line. In the drawing-room wall is a queer funnel-shaped hole,
with the broad end inward, like a small casemate. You ask what it is,
but people have forgotten. It is something of the monks; it is a mere
detail. After dinner you are told that there is of course a ghost,
a grey friar who is seen in the dusky hours at the end of passages.
Sometimes the servants see him; they afterwards go surreptitiously to
sleep in the village. Then, when you take your chamber-candle and go
wandering bedward by a short cut through empty rooms, you are conscious
of an attitude toward the grey friar which you hardly know whether to
read as a fond hope or as a great fear.

  [Illustration: LUDLOW CASTLE; FROM THE MOAT]

A friend of mine, an American, who knew this country, had told me
not to fail, while I was in the neighbourhood, to go to Stokesay and
two or three other places. “Edward IV and Elizabeth,” he said, “are
still hanging about there.” So admonished, I made a point of going
at least to Stokesay, and I saw quite what my friend meant. Edward
IV and Elizabeth indeed are still to be met almost anywhere in the
county; as regards domestic architecture few parts of England are
still more vividly old-English. I have rarely had, for a couple of
hours, the sensation of dropping back personally into the past so
straight as while I lay on the grass beside the well in the little
sunny court of this small castle and lazily appreciated the still
definite details of mediæval life. The place is a capital example of
a small _gentil-hommière_ of the thirteenth century. It has a good
deep moat, now filled with wild verdure, and a curious gate-house of
a much later period—the period when the defensive attitude had been
wellnigh abandoned. This gate-house, which is not in the least in the
style of the habitation, but gabled and heavily timbered, with quaint
cross-beams protruding from surfaces of coarse white plaster, is a very
effective anomaly in regard to the little grey fortress on the other
side of the court. I call this a fortress, but it is a fortress which
might easily have been taken, and it must have assumed its present
shape at a time when people had ceased to peer through narrow slits
at possible besiegers. There are slits in the outer walls for such
peering, but they are noticeably broad and not particularly oblique,
and might easily have been applied to the uses of a peaceful parley.
This is part of the charm of the place; human life there must have lost
an earlier grimness; it was lived in by people who were beginning to
believe in good intentions. They must have lived very much together;
that is one of the most obvious reflections in the court of a mediæval
dwelling. The court was not always grassy and empty, as it is now,
with only a couple of gentlemen in search of impressions lying at
their length, one of them handling a wine-flask that colours the clear
water drawn from the well into a couple of tumblers by a decent, rosy,
smiling, talking old woman who has come bustling out of the gate-house
and who has a large, dropsical, innocent husband standing about on
crutches in the sun and making no sign when you ask after his health.
This poor man has reached that ultimate depth of human simplicity at
which even a chance to talk about one’s ailments is not appreciated.
But the civil old woman talks for every one, even for an artist who
has come out of one of the rooms, where I see him afterward reproducing
its mouldering repose. The rooms are all unoccupied and in a state of
extreme decay, though the castle is, as yet, far from being a ruin.
From one of the windows I see a young lady sitting under a tree, across
a meadow, with her knees up, dipping something into her mouth. It is
indubitably a camel’s hair paint-brush; the young lady is inevitably
sketching. These are the only besiegers to which the place is exposed
now, and they can do no great harm, as I doubt whether the young lady’s
aim is very good. We wandered about the empty interior, thinking it
a pity such things should fall to pieces. There is a beautiful great
hall—great, that is, for a small castle (it would be extremely handsome
in a modern house)—with tall, ecclesiastical-looking windows, and
a long staircase at one end, which climbs against the wall into a
spacious bedroom. You may still apprehend very well the main lines of
that simpler life; and it must be said that, simpler though it was, it
was apparently by no means destitute of many of our own conveniences.
The chamber at the top of the staircase ascending from the hall is
charming still, with its irregular shape, its low-browed ceiling, its
cupboards in the walls, its deep bay window formed of a series of small
lattices. You can fancy people stepping out from it upon the platform
of the staircase, whose rugged wooden logs, by way of steps, and solid,
deeply-guttered handrail, still remain. They looked down into the hall,
where, I take it, there was always a congregation of retainers, much
lounging and waiting and passing to and fro, with a door open into the
court. The court, as I said just now, was not the grassy, æsthetic
spot which you may find it at present of a summer’s day; there were
beasts tethered in it, and hustling men-at-arms, and the earth was
trampled into puddles. But my lord or my lady, looking down from the
chamber-door, commanded the position and, no doubt, issued their orders
accordingly. The sight of the groups on the floor beneath, the calling
up and down, the oaken tables spread and the brazier in the middle—all
this seemed present again; and it was not difficult to pursue the
historic vision through the rest of the building—through the portion
which connected the great hall with the tower (where the confederate of
the sketching young lady without had set up the peaceful three-legged
engine of his craft); through the dusky, roughly circular rooms of
the tower itself, and up the corkscrew staircase of the same to that
most charming part of every old castle, where visions must leap away
off the battlements to elude you—the bright, dizzy platform at the
tower-top, the place where the castle-standard hung and the vigilant
inmates surveyed the approaches. Here, always, you really overtake
the impression of the place—here, in the sunny stillness, it seems to
pause, panting a little, and give itself up.

  [Illustration: STOKESAY CASTLE]

It was not only at Stokesay that I lingered a while on the summit
of the keep to enjoy the complete impression so overtaken. I spent
such another half-hour at Ludlow, which is a much grander and more
famous monument. Ludlow, however, is a ruin—the most impressive and
magnificent of ruins. The charming old town and the admirable castle
form a capital object of pilgrimage. Ludlow is an excellent example of
a small English provincial town that has not been soiled and disfigured
by industry; it exhibits no tall chimneys and smoke-streamers, no
attendant purlieus and slums. The little city is perched upon a hill
near which the goodly Severn wanders, and it has a remarkable air
of civic dignity. Its streets are wide and clean, empty and a little
grass-grown, and bordered with spacious, mildly-ornamental brick houses
which look as if there had been more going on in them in the first
decade of the century than there is in the present, but which can still
nevertheless hold up their heads and keep their window-panes clear,
their knockers brilliant, and their door-steps whitened. The place
seems to say that some hundred years ago it was the centre of a large
provincial society and that this society was very “good” of its kind.
It must have transported itself to Ludlow for the season—in rumbling
coaches and heavy curricles—and there entertained itself in decent
emulation of that more majestic capital which a choice of railway lines
had not as yet placed within its immediate reach. It had balls at the
assembly rooms; it had Mrs. Siddons to play; it had Catalani to sing.
Miss Burney’s and Miss Austen’s heroines might perfectly well have had
their first love-affair there; a journey to Ludlow would certainly have
been a great event to Fanny Price or Emma Woodhouse, or even to those
more romantically-connected young ladies Evelina and Cecilia. It is a
place on which a provincial aristocracy has left so sensible a stamp as
to enable you to measure both the grand manners and the small ways. It
is a very interesting array of houses of the period after the poetry
of domestic architecture had begun to wane and before the vulgarity
had come—a fine familiar classic prose. Such places, such houses,
such relics and intimations, carry us back to the near antiquity of
that pre-Victorian England which it is still easy for a stranger to
picture with a certain vividness, thanks to the partial survival of
many of its characteristics. It is still easier for a stranger who
has dwelt a time in England to form an idea of the tone, the habits,
the aspect of the social life before its classic insularity had begun
to wane, as all observers agree that it did about thirty years ago.
It is true that the mental operation in this matter reduces itself to
our imaging some of the things which form the peculiar national notes
as infinitely exaggerated: the rigidly aristocratic constitution of
society, the unæsthetic temper of the people, the small public fund of
convenience, of elegance. Let an old gentleman of conservative tastes,
who can remember the century’s youth, talk to you at a club _temporis
acti_—tell you wherein it is that from his own point of view London,
as a residence for a gentleman, has done nothing but fall off for the
last forty years. You will listen, of course, with an air of decent
sympathy, but privately you will say to yourself how difficult a place
of sojourn London must have been in those days for the traveller from
other countries—how little cosmopolitan, how bound, in a thousand ways,
with narrowness of custom. What was true of the great city at that
time was of course doubly true of the provinces; and a community of
the type of Ludlow must have been a kind of focus of insular propriety.
Even then, however, the irritated alien would have had the magnificent
ruins of the castle to dream himself back into good humour in. They
would effectually have transported him beyond all waning or waxing
Philistinisms.

     1877.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



ENGLISH VIGNETTES


I

Toward the last of April, in Monmouthshire, the primroses were as big
as your fist. I say in Monmouthshire, because I believe that a certain
grassy mountain which I gave myself the pleasure of climbing and to
which I took my way across the charming country, through lanes where
the hedges were perched upon blooming banks, lay within the borders
of this ancient province. It was the festive Eastertide, and a pretext
for leaving London had not been wanting. Of course it rained—it rained
a good deal—for man and the weather are usually at cross-purposes.
But there were intervals of light and warmth, and in England a couple
of hours of brightness islanded in moisture assert their independence
and leave an uncompromised memory. These reprieves were even of longer
duration; that whole morning for instance on which, with a companion,
I scrambled up the little Skirrid. One had a feeling that one was very
far from London; as in fact one was, after six or seven hours in a
swift, straight train. In England this is a long span; it seemed to
justify the half-reluctant confession, which I heard constantly made,
that the country was extremely “wild.” There is wildness and wildness,
I thought; and though I had not been a great explorer I compared this
rough district with several neighbourhoods in another part of the world
that passed for tame. I went even so far as to wish that some of its
ruder features might be transplanted to that relatively unregulated
landscape and commingled with its suburban savagery. We were close
to the Welsh border, and a dozen little mountains in the distance
were peeping over each other’s shoulders, but nature was open to the
charge of no worse disorder than this. The Skirrid (I like to repeat
the name) wore, it is true, at a distance, the aspect of a magnified
extinguisher; but when, after a bright, breezy walk through lane
and meadow, we had scrambled over the last of the thickly-flowering
hedges which lay around its shoulders like loosened strings of coral
and begun to ascend the grassy cone (very much in the attitude of
Nebuchadnezzar), it proved as smooth-faced as a garden-mound. Hard by,
on the flanks of other hills, were troops of browsing sheep, and the
only thing that confessed in the least to a point or an edge was the
strong, damp wind. But even the high breeze was good-humoured and only
wanted something to play with, blowing about the pearly morning mists
that were airing themselves upon neighbouring ridges and shaking the
vaporous veil that fluttered down in the valley over the picturesque
little town of Abergavenny. A breezy, grassy English hill-top, looking
down on a country full of suggestive names and ancient memories and
implied stories (especially if you are exhilarated by a beautiful walk
and have a flask in your pocket), shows you the world as a very smooth
place, fairly rubbed so by human use.

I was warned away from church, on Sunday, by my mistrust of its
mediæval chill—lumbago there was so clearly catching. In the still
hours, when the roads and lanes were empty, I simply walked to the
churchyard and sat upon one of the sun-warmed gravestones. I say the
roads were empty, but they were peopled with the big primroses I just
now spoke of—primroses of the size of ripe apples and yet, in spite of
their rank growth, of as pale and tender a yellow as if their gold had
been diluted with silver. It was indeed a mixture of gold and silver,
for there was a wealth of the white wood-anemone as well, and these
delicate flowers, each of so perfect a coinage, were tumbled along the
green wayside as if a prince had been scattering largess. The outside
of an old English country church in service-time is a very pleasant
place; and this is as near as I often dare approach the celebration
of the Anglican mysteries. A just sufficient sense of their august
character may be gathered from that vague sound of village music
which makes its way out into the stillness and from the perusal of
those portions of the Prayer-Book which are inscribed upon mouldering
slabs and dislocated headstones. The church I speak of was a beautiful
specimen of its kind—intensely aged, variously patched, but still
solid and useful and with no touch of restoration. It was very big and
massive and, hidden away in the fields, had a kind of lonely grandeur;
there was nothing in particular near it but its out-of-the-world little
parsonage. It was only one of ten thousand; I had seen a hundred such
before. But I watched the watery sunshine upon the rugosities of its
ancient masonry; I stood a while in the shade of two or three spreading
yews which stretched their black arms over graves decorated for Easter,
according to the custom of that country, with garlands of primrose and
dog-violet; and I reflected that in a “wild” region it was a blessing
to have so quiet a place of refuge as that.

Later I chanced upon a couple of other asylums which were more spacious
and no less tranquil. Both of them were old country-houses, and each
in its way was charming. One was a half-modernised feudal dwelling,
lying in a wooded hollow—a large concavity filled with a delightful old
park. The house had a long grey façade and half a dozen towers, and
the usual supply of ivy and of clustered chimneys relieved against a
background of rook-haunted elms. But the windows were all closed and
the avenue was untrodden; the house was the property of a lady who
could not afford to live in it in becoming state and who had let it,
furnished, to a rich young man, “for the shooting.” The rich young
man occupied it but for three weeks in the year and for the rest of
the time left it a prey to the hungry gaze of the passing stranger,
the would-be redresser of æsthetic wrongs. It seemed a great æsthetic
wrong that so charming a place should not be a conscious, sentient
home. In England all this is very common. It takes a great many plain
people to keep a “perfect” gentleman going; it takes a great deal of
wasted sweetness to make up a saved property. It is true that, in the
other case I speak of, the sweetness, which here was even greater,
was less sensibly squandered. If there was no one else in the house
at least there were ghosts. It had a dark red front and grim-looking
gables; it was perched upon a vague terrace, quite high in the air,
which was reached by steep, crooked, mossy steps. Beneath these steps
was an ancient bit of garden, and from the hither side of the garden
stretched a great expanse of turf. Out of the midst of the turf sprang
a magnificent avenue of Scotch firs—a perfect imitation of the Italian
stone-pine. It looked like the Villa Borghese transplanted to the Welsh
hills. The huge, smooth stems, in their double row, were crowned with
dark parasols. In the Scotch fir or the Italian pine there is always
an element of oddity; the open umbrella in a rainy country is not a
poetical analogy, and the case is not better if you compare the tree
to a colossal mushroom. But, without analogies, there was something
very striking in the effect of this enormous, rigid vista, and in the
grassy carpet of the avenue, with the dusky, lonely, high-featured
house looking down upon it. There was something solemn and tragical;
the place was made to the hand of a story-seeker, who might have found
his characters within, as, the leaden lattices being open, the actors
seemed ready for the stage.


II

The Isle of Wight is at first disappointing. I wondered why it should
be, and then I found the reason in the influence of the detestable
little railway. There can be no doubt that a railway in the Isle of
Wight is a gross impertinence, is in evident contravention to the
natural style of the place. The place is pure picture or is nothing
at all. It is ornamental only—it exists for exclamation and the
water-colour brush. It is separated by nature from the dense railway
system of the less diminutive island, and is the corner of the world
where a good carriage-road is most in keeping. Never was a clearer
opportunity for sacrificing to prettiness; never was a better chance
for not making a railway. But now there are twenty trains a day, so
that the prettiness is twenty times less. The island is so small that
the hideous embankments and tunnels are obtrusive; the sight of them is
as painful as it would be to see a pedlar’s pack on the shoulders of a
lovely woman. This is your first impression as you travel (naturally by
the objectionable conveyance) from Ryde to Ventnor; and the fact that
the train rumbles along very smoothly and stops at half a dozen little
stations, where the groups on the platform enable you to perceive that
the population consists almost exclusively of gentlemen in costumes
suggestive of unlimited leisure for attention to cravats and trousers
(an immensely large class in England), of old ladies of the species
denominated in France _rentières_, of young ladies of the highly
educated and sketching variety, this circumstance fails to reconcile
you to the chartered cicatrix which forms your course. At Ventnor,
however, face to face with the sea, and with the blooming shoulder of
the Undercliff close behind you, you lose sight to a certain extent of
the superfluities of civilisation. Not indeed that Ventnor has not been
diligently civilised. It is a formed and finished watering-place, it
has been reduced to a due degree of cockneyfication. But the glittering
ocean remains, shimmering at moments with blue and silver, and the
large gorse-covered downs rise superbly above it. Ventnor hangs upon
the side of a steep hill; and here and there it clings and scrambles,
is propped up and terraced, like one of the bright-faced little towns
that look down upon the Mediterranean. To add to the Italian effect
the houses are all denominated villas, though it must be added that
nothing is less like an Italian villa than an English. Those which
ornament the successive ledges at Ventnor are for the most part small
semi-detached boxes, predestined, even before they have fairly come
into the world, to the entertainment of lodgers. They stand in serried
rows all over the place, with the finest names in the Peerage painted
upon their gate-posts. Their severe similarity of aspect, however,
is such that even the difference between Plantagenet and Percival,
between Montgomery and Montmorency, is hardly sufficient to enlighten
the puzzled visitor. An English place of recreation is more comfortable
than an American; in a Plantagenet villa the art of receiving “summer
guests” has usually been brought to a higher perfection than in an
American rural hotel. But what strikes an American, with regard to
even so charmingly-nestled a little town as Ventnor, is that it is
far less natural, less pastoral and bosky than his own fond image of a
summer retreat. There is too much brick and mortar; there are too many
smoking chimneys and shops and public-houses; there are no woods nor
brooks nor lonely headlands; there is none of the virginal stillness of
nature. Instead of these things there is an esplanade mostly paved with
asphalt, bordered with benches and little shops and provided with a
German band. To be just to Ventnor, however, I must hasten to add that
once you get away from the asphalt there is a great deal of vegetation.
The little village of Bonchurch, which closely adjoins it, is buried
in the most elaborate verdure, muffled in the smoothest lawns and the
densest shrubbery. Bonchurch is simply delicious and indeed in a manner
quite absurd. It is like a model village in imitative substances, kept
in a big glass case; the turf might be of green velvet and the foliage
of cut paper. The villagers are all happy gentlefolk, the cottages have
plate-glass windows, and the rose-trees on their walls look as if tied
up with ribbon “to match.” Passing from Ventnor through the elegant
umbrage of Bonchurch, and keeping along the coast toward Shanklin, you
come to the prettiest part of the Undercliff, or in other words to the
prettiest place in the world. The immense grassy cliffs which form the
coast of the island make what the French would call a “false descent”
to the sea. At a certain point the descent is broken, so that a wide
natural terrace, all over-tangled with wild shrubs and flowers, hangs
there in mid-air, halfway above salt water. It is impossible to imagine
anything more charming than this long, blooming platform, protected
from the north by huge green bluffs and plunging on the other side
into the murmuring tides. This delightful arrangement constitutes for
a distance of some fifteen miles the south shore of the Isle of Wight;
but the best of it, as I have said, is to be found in the four or five
that separate Ventnor from Shanklin. Of a lovely afternoon in April
these four or five miles are an admirable walk.

  [Illustration: SHANKLIN]

Of course you must first catch your lovely afternoon. I caught one; in
fact I caught two. On the second I climbed up the downs and perceived
that it was possible to put their gorse-covered stretches to still
other than pedestrian uses—to devote them to sedentary pleasures. A
long lounge in the lee of a stone wall, the lingering, fading afternoon
light, the reddening sky, the band of blue sea above the level-topped
bunches of gorse—these things, enjoyed as an undertone to the
conversation of an amiable compatriot, seemed indeed a very sufficient
substitute for that primitive stillness of the absence of which I
ventured just now to complain.


III

It was probably a mistake to stop at Portsmouth. I had done so,
however, in obedience to a familiar theory that seaport towns abound
in local colour, in curious types, in the quaint and the strange.
But these charms, it must be confessed, were signally wanting to
Portsmouth, along whose sordid streets I strolled for an hour, vainly
glancing about me for an overhanging façade or a group of Maltese
sailors. I was distressed to perceive that a famous seaport could be
at once untidy and prosaic. Portsmouth is dirty, but it is also dull.
It may be roughly divided into the dockyard and the public-houses.
The dockyard, into which I was unable to penetrate, is a colossal
enclosure, signalised externally by a grim brick wall, as featureless
as an empty blackboard. The dockyard eats up the town, as it were, and
there is nothing left over but the gin-shops, which the town drinks
up. There is not even a crooked old quay of any consequence, with
brightly patched houses looking out upon a forest of masts. To begin
with, there are no masts; and then there are no polyglot sign-boards,
no overhanging upper stories, no outlandish parrots and macaws perched
in open lattices. I had another hour or so before my train departed,
and it would have gone hard with me if I had not bethought myself of
hiring a boat and being pulled about in the harbour. Here a certain
amount of entertainment was to be found. There were great ironclads,
and white troop-ships that looked vague and spectral, like the floating
home of the Flying Dutchman, and small, devilish vessels whose mission
was to project the infernal torpedo. I coasted about these metallic
islets, and then, to eke out my entertainment, I boarded the Victory.
The Victory is an ancient frigate of enormous size, which in the days
of her glory carried I know not how many hundred guns, but whose only
function now is to stand year after year in Portsmouth waters and
exhibit herself to the festive cockney. Bank-holiday is now her great
date; once upon a time it was Trafalgar. The Victory, in short, was
Nelson’s ship; it was on her huge deck that he was struck, and in her
deep bowels he breathed his last. The venerable shell is provided with
a company of ushers, like the Tower of London or Westminster Abbey,
and is hardly less solid and spacious than either of the land-vessels.
A good man in uniform did me the honours of the ship with a terrible
displacement of _h_’s, and there seemed something strange in the way it
had lapsed from its heroic part. It had carried two hundred guns and a
mighty warrior, and boomed against the enemies of England; it had been
the scene of one of the most thrilling and touching events in English
history. Now, it was hardly more than a mere source of income to the
Portsmouth watermen, an objective point for Whitsuntide excursionists,
a thing a pilgrim from afar must allude to very casually, for fear of
seeming vulgar or even quite serious.


IV

But I recouped myself, as they say, by stopping afterwards at
Chichester. In this dense and various old England two places may be
very near together and yet strike a very different note. I knew in
a general way that this one had for its main sign a cathedral, and
indeed had caught the sign, in the form of a beautiful spire, from the
window of the train. I had always regarded an afternoon in a small
cathedral-town as a high order of entertainment, and a morning at
Portsmouth had left me in the mood for not missing such an exhibition.
The spire of Chichester at a little distance greatly resembles that
of Salisbury. It is on a smaller scale, but it tapers upward with
a delicate slimness which, like that of its famous rival, makes a
picture of the level landscape in which it stands. Unlike the spire
of Salisbury, however, it has not at present the charm of antiquity.
A few years ago the old steeple collapsed and tumbled into the church,
and the present structure is but a modern facsimile. The cathedral is
not of the highest interest; it is rather inexpressive, and, except
for a curious old detached bell-tower which stands beside it, has
no particular element of unexpectedness. But an English cathedral of
restricted grandeur may yet be a very charming affair; and I spent an
hour or so circling round this highly respectable edifice, with the
spell of contemplation unbroken by satiety. I approached it, from the
station, by the usual quiet red-brick street of the usual cathedral
town—a street of small, excellent shops, before which, here and there,
one of the vehicles of the neighbouring gentry was drawn up beside
the curbstone while the grocer or the bookseller, who had hurried out
obsequiously, was waiting upon the comfortable occupant. I went into
a bookseller’s to buy a Chichester guide, which I perceived in the
window; I found the shopkeeper talking to a young curate in a soft
hat. The guide seemed very desirable, though it appeared to have been
but scantily desired; it had been published in the year 1841, and a
very large remnant of the edition, with a muslin back and a little
white label and paper-covered boards, was piled up on the counter.
It was dedicated, with terrible humility, to the Duke of Richmond,
and ornamented with primitive woodcuts and steel plates; the ink
had turned brown and the page musty; and the style itself—that of a
provincial antiquary of upwards of forty years ago penetrated with the
grandeur of the aristocracy—had grown rather sallow and stale. Nothing
could have been more mellifluous and urbane than the young curate: he
was arranging to have the “Times” newspaper sent him every morning
for perusal. “So it will be a penny if it is fetched away at noon?”
he said, smiling very sweetly and with the most gentlemanly voice
possible; “and it will be three halfpence if it is fetched away at four
o’clock?” At the top of the street, into which, with my guide-book, I
relapsed, was an old market-cross of the fifteenth century—a florid,
romantic little structure. It consists of a stone pavilion, with open
sides and a number of pinnacles and crockets and buttresses, besides
a goodly medallion of the high-nosed visage of Charles I, which was
placed above one of the arches, at the Restoration, in compensation
for the violent havoc wrought upon the little town by the Parliamentary
soldiers, who had wrested the place from the Royalists and who amused
themselves, in their grim fashion, with infinite hacking and hewing
in the cathedral. Here, to the left, the cathedral discloses itself,
lifting its smart grey steeple out of a pleasant garden. Opposite to
the garden was the Dolphin or the Dragon—in fine the most eligible
inn. I must confess that for a time it divided my attention with the
cathedral, in virtue of an ancient, musty parlour on the second floor,
with hunting-pictures hung above haircloth sofas; of a red-faced
waiter, in evening dress; of a big round of cold beef and a tankard of
ale. The prettiest thing at Chichester is a charming little three-sided
cloister, attached to the cathedral, where, as is usual in such places,
you may sit upon a gravestone amid the deep grass in the middle and
measure the great central mass of the church—the large grey sides, the
high foundations of the spire, the parting of the nave and transept.
From this point the greatness of a cathedral seems more complex and
impressive. You watch the big shadows slowly change their relations;
you listen to the cawing of rooks and the twittering of swallows; you
hear a slow footstep echoing in the cloisters.

  [Illustration: CHICHESTER CROSS]


V

If Oxford were not the finest thing in England the case would be
clearer for Cambridge. It was clear enough there, for that matter, to
my imagination, for thirty-six hours. To the barbaric mind, ambitious
of culture, Oxford is the usual image of the happy reconciliation
between research and acceptance. It typifies to an American the union
of science and sense—of aspiration and ease. A German university
gives a greater impression of science and an English country-house
or an Italian villa a greater impression of idle enjoyment; but in
these cases, on one side, knowledge is too rugged, and on the other
satisfaction is too trivial. Oxford lends sweetness to labour and
dignity to leisure. When I say Oxford I mean Cambridge, for a stray
savage is not the least obliged to know the difference, and it suddenly
strikes me as being both very pedantic and very good-natured in him
to pretend to know it. What institution is more majestic than Trinity
College? what can affect more a stray savage than the hospitality
of such an institution? The first quadrangle is of immense extent,
and the buildings that surround it, with their long, rich fronts of
time-deepened grey, are the stateliest in the world. In the centre
of the court are two or three acres of close-shaven lawn, out of the
midst of which rises a grand gothic fountain, where the serving-men
fill up their buckets. There are towers and battlements and statues,
and besides these things there are cloisters and gardens and bridges.
There are charming rooms in a kind of stately gate-tower, and the
rooms, occupying the thickness of the building, have windows looking
out on one side over the magnificent quadrangle, with half a mile or
so of Decorated architecture, and on the other into deep-bosomed trees.
And in the rooms is the best company conceivable—distinguished men who
are thoroughly conversible, intimately affable. I spent a beautiful
Sunday morning walking about the place with one of these gentlemen and
attempting to _débrouiller_ its charms. These are a very complicated
tangle, and I do not pretend, in memory, to keep the colleges apart.
There are none the less half a dozen points that make ineffaceable
pictures. Six or eight of the colleges stand in a row, turning their
backs to the river; and hereupon ensues the loveliest confusion
of gothic windows and ancient trees, of grassy banks and mossy
balustrades, of sun-chequered avenues and groves, of lawns and gardens
and terraces, of single-arched bridges spanning the little stream,
which is small and shallow and looks as if it had been turned on for
ornamental purposes. The thin-flowing Cam appears to exist simply as an
occasion for these brave little bridges—the beautiful covered gallery
of John’s or the slightly collapsing arch of Clare. In the way of
college-courts and quiet scholastic porticoes, of grey-walled gardens
and ivied nooks of study, in all the pictorial accidents of a great
English university, Cambridge is delightfully and inexhaustibly rich.
I looked at these one by one and said to myself always that the last
was the best. If I were called upon, however, to mention the prettiest
corner of the world, I should draw out a thoughtful sigh and point the
way to the garden of Trinity Hall. My companion, who was very competent
to judge (but who spoke indeed with the partiality of a son of the
house), declared, as he ushered me into it, that it was, to his mind,
the most beautiful _small_ garden in Europe. I freely accepted, and
I promptly repeat, an affirmation so magnanimously conditioned. The
little garden at Trinity Hall is narrow and crooked; it leans upon the
river, from which a low parapet, all muffled in ivy, divides it; it has
an ancient wall adorned with a thousand matted creepers on one side,
and on the other a group of extraordinary horse-chestnuts. The trees
are of prodigious size; they occupy half the garden, and are remarkable
for the fact that their giant limbs strike down into the earth, take
root again and emulate, as they rise, the majesty of the parent stem.
The manner in which this magnificent group of horse-chestnuts sprawls
about over the grass, out into the middle of the lawn, is one of the
most heart-shaking features of the garden of Trinity Hall. Of course
the single object at Cambridge that makes the most abiding impression
is the famous chapel of King’s College—the most beautiful chapel in
England. The effect it attempts to produce within is all in the sphere
of the sublime. The attempt succeeds, and the success is attained by a
design so light and elegant that at first it almost defeats itself. The
sublime usually has more of a frown and straddle, and it is not until
after you have looked about you for ten minutes that you perceive the
chapel to be saved from being the prettiest church in England by the
accident of its being one of the noblest. It is a cathedral without
aisles or columns or transepts, but (as a compensation) with such a
beautiful slimness of clustered tracery soaring along the walls and
spreading, bending, and commingling in the roof, that its simplicity
seems only a richness the more. I stood there for a quarter of an hour
on a Sunday morning; there was no service, but in the choir behind the
great screen which divides the chapel in half the young choristers
were rehearsing for the afternoon. The beautiful boy voices rose
together and touched the splendid vault; they hung there, expanding
and resounding, and then, like a rocket that spends itself, they faded
and melted toward the end of the building. It was positively a choir of
angels.

  [Illustration: ABBEY GATEWAY, BURY ST. EDMUNDS]


VI

Cambridgeshire is one of the so-called ugly counties; which means
that it is observably flat. It is for this reason that the absence of
terrestrial accent which culminates at Newmarket constitutes so perfect
a means to an end. The country is like a board of green cloth; the turf
presents itself as a friendly provision of nature. Nature offers her
gentle bosom as a gaming-table; card-tables, billiard-tables are but
a humble imitation of Newmarket Heath. It was odd to think that amid
so much of the appearance of the humility of real virtue, there is
more profane betting than anywhere else in the world. The large, neat
English meadows roll away to a humid-looking sky, the young partridges
jump about in the hedges, and nature looks not in the least as if she
were offering you odds. The gentlemen look it, though, the gentlemen
whom you meet on the roads and in the railway carriage; they have that
marked air—it pervades a man from the cut of his whisker to the shape
of his boot-toe—as of the sublimated stable. It is brought home to
you that to an immense number of people in England the events in the
“Racing Calendar” constitute the most important portion of contemporary
history. The very breeze has an equine snort, if it doesn’t breathe
as hard as a hostler; the blue and white of the sky, dappled and
spotty, recalls the figure of the necktie of “spring meetings;” and the
landscape is coloured as a sporting-print is coloured—with the same
gloss, the same that seems to say a thousand grooms have rubbed it
down.

The destruction of partridges is, if an equally classical, a less
licentious pursuit, for which, I believe, Cambridgeshire offers
peculiar facilities. Among these is a particular shooting-box which
is a triumph of the familiar, the accidental style and a temple of
clear hospitality. The shooting belongs to the autumn, not to this
vernal period; but as I have spoken of echoes I suppose that if I had
listened attentively I might have heard the ghostly crack of some of
the famous shots that have been discharged there. The air, notedly, had
vibrated to several august rifles, but all that I happened to hear by
listening was some excellent talk. In England, at any rate, as I said
just now, a couple of places may be very near together and yet have
what the philosophers call a connotation strangely different. Only a
few miles beyond Newmarket lies Bury St. Edmunds, a town whose tranquil
antiquity turns its broad grey back straight upon the sporting papers.
I confess that I went to Bury simply on the strength of its name, which
I had often encountered and which had always seemed to me to have a
high value for the picture-seeker. I knew that St. Edmund had been an
Anglo-Saxon worthy, but my conviction that the little town that bore
his name would move me to rapture between trains had nothing definite
to rest upon. The event, however, rewarded my faith—rewarded it with
the sight of a magnificent old gate-house of the thirteenth century,
the most substantial of many relics of the great abbey which once
flourished there. There are many others; they are scattered about the
old precinct of the abbey, a large portion of which has been converted
into a rambling botanic garden, the resort at Whitsuntide of a thousand
very modern merry-makers. The monument I speak of has the proportions
of a triumphal arch; it is at once a gateway and a fortress; it is
covered with beautiful ornament and is altogether the lion of Bury.

     1879.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



AN ENGLISH NEW YEAR


It will hardly be pretended this year that the English Christmas
has been a merry one, or that the New Year has the promise of being
particularly happy. The winter is proving very cold and vicious—as
if nature herself were loath to be left out of the general conspiracy
against the comfort and self-complacency of man. The country at large
has a sense of embarrassment and depression, which is brought home
more or less to every class in the closely graduated social hierarchy,
and the light of Christmas firesides has by no means dispelled the
gloom. Not that I mean to overstate the gloom. It is difficult to
imagine any combination of adverse circumstances powerful enough to
infringe very sensibly upon the appearance of activity and prosperity,
social stability and luxury, which English life must always present
to a stranger. Nevertheless the times are distinctly of the kind
synthetically spoken of as hard—there is plenty of evidence of it—and
the spirits of the public are not high. The depression of business
is extreme and universal; I am ignorant whether it has reached so
calamitous a point as that almost hopeless prostration of every
industry which it is assured us you have lately witnessed in America,
and I believe the sound of lamentation is by no means so loud as it
has been on two or three occasions within the present century. The
possibility of distress among the lower classes has been minimised by
the gigantic poor-relief system which is so characteristic a feature of
English civilisation and which, under especial stress, is supplemented
(as is the case at present) by private charity proportionately huge.
I notice too that in some parts of the country discriminating groups
of work-people have selected these dismal days as a happy time for
striking. When the labouring classes rise to the recreation of a
strike I suppose the situation may be said to have its cheerful side.
There is, however, great distress in the North, and there is a general
feeling of scant money to play with throughout the country. The “Daily
News” has sent a correspondent to the great industrial regions, and
almost every morning for the last three weeks a very cleverly executed
picture of the misery of certain parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire
has been served up with the matutinal tea and toast. The work is a
good one, and, I take it, eminently worth doing, as it appears to have
had a visible effect upon the purse-strings of the well-to-do. There
is nothing more striking in England than the success with which an
“appeal” is always made. Whatever the season or whatever the cause,
there always appears to be enough money and enough benevolence in the
country to respond to it in sufficient measure—a remarkable fact when
one remembers that there is never a moment of the year when the custom
of “appealing” intermits. Equally striking perhaps is the perfection
to which the science of distributing charity has been raised—the way
it has been analysed and organised and made one of the exact sciences.
You perceive that it has occupied for a long time a foremost place
among administrative questions, and has received all the light that
experience and practice can throw upon it. Is there in this perception
more of a lightened or more of an added weight for the brooding
consciousness? Truly there are aspects of England at which one can but
darkly stare.

  [Illustration: A FACTORY TOWN AT NIGHT]

I left town a short time before Christmas and went to spend the
festive season in the North, in a part of the country with which I was
unacquainted. It was quite possible to absent one’s self from London
without a sense of sacrifice, for the charms of the capital during the
last several weeks have been obscured by peculiarly vile weather. It
is of course a very old story that London is foggy, and this simple
statement raises no blush on the face of nature as we see it here. But
there are fogs and fogs, and the folds of the black mantle have been
during the present winter intolerably thick. The thickness that draws
down and absorbs the smoke of the housetops, causes it to hang about
the streets in impenetrable density, forces it into one’s eyes and
down one’s throat, so that one is half-blinded and quite sickened—this
form of the particular plague has been much more frequent than usual.
Just before Christmas, too, there was a heavy snow-storm, and even a
tolerably light fall of snow has London quite at its mercy. The emblem
of purity is almost immediately converted into a sticky, lead-coloured
mush, the cabs skulk out of sight or take up their stations before
the lurid windows of a public-house, which glares through the sleety
darkness at the desperate wayfarer with an air of vulgar bravado. For
recovery of one’s nervous balance the only course was flight—flight
to the country and the confinement of one’s vision to the large
area of one of those admirable homes which at this season overflow
with hospitality and good cheer. By this means the readjustment is
effectually brought about—these are conditions that you cordially
appreciate. Of all the great things that the English have invented and
made a part of the credit of the national character, the most perfect,
the most characteristic, the one they have mastered most completely
in all its details, so that it has become a compendious illustration
of their social genius and their manners, is the well-appointed,
well-administered, well-filled country-house. The grateful stranger
makes these reflections—and others besides—as he wanders about in the
beautiful library of such a dwelling, of an inclement winter afternoon,
just at the hour when six o’clock tea is impending. Such a place
and such a time abound in agreeable episodes; but I suspect that the
episode from which, a fortnight ago, I received the most ineffaceable
impression was but indirectly connected with the charms of a luxurious
fireside. The country I speak of was a populous manufacturing region,
full of tall chimneys and of an air that is grey and gritty. A lady
had made a present of a Christmas-tree to the children of a workhouse,
and she invited me to go with her and assist at the distribution of
the toys. There was a drive through the early dusk of a very cold
Christmas Eve, followed by the drawing up of a lamp-lit brougham in
the snowy quadrangle of a grim-looking charitable institution. I had
never been in an English workhouse before, and this one transported
me, with the aid of memory, to the early pages of “Oliver Twist.” We
passed through cold, bleak passages, to which an odour of suet-pudding,
the aroma of Christmas cheer, failed to impart an air of hospitality;
and then, after waiting a while in a little parlour appertaining to
the superintendent, where the remainder of a dinner of by no means
eleemosynary simplicity and the attitude of a gentleman asleep with
a flushed face on the sofa seemed to effect a tacit exchange of
references, we were ushered into a large frigid refectory, chiefly
illumined by the twinkling tapers of the Christmas-tree. Here entered
to us some hundred and fifty little children of charity, who had been
making a copious dinner and who brought with them an atmosphere of
hunger memorably satisfied—together with other traces of the occasion
upon their pinafores and their small red faces. I have said that the
place reminded me of “Oliver Twist,” and I glanced through this little
herd for an infant figure that should look as if it were cut out for
romantic adventures. But they were all very prosaic little mortals.
They were made of very common clay indeed, and a certain number of
them were idiotic. They filed up and received their little offerings,
and then they compressed themselves into a tight infantine bunch and,
lifting up their small hoarse voices, directed a melancholy hymn toward
their benefactress. The scene was a picture I shall not forget, with
its curious mixture of poetry and sordid prose—the dying wintry light
in the big, bare, stale room; the beautiful Lady Bountiful, standing
in the twinkling glory of the Christmas-tree; the little multitude of
staring and wondering, yet perfectly expressionless, faces.

     1879.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



AN ENGLISH WINTER WATERING-PLACE


I have just been spending a couple of days at a well-known resort
upon the Kentish coast, and though such an exploit is by no means
unprecedented, yet, as to the truly observing mind no opportunity
is altogether void and no impressions are wholly valueless, I have
it on my conscience to make a note of my excursion. Superficially
speaking, it was wanting in originality; but I am afraid that it
afforded me as much entertainment as if the idea of paying a visit to
Hastings had been an invention of my own. This is so far from being
the case that the most striking feature of the town in question is
the immense provision made there for the entertainment of visitors.
Hastings and St. Leonards, standing side by side, present a united
sea-front of more miles in length than I shall venture to compute. It
is sufficient that in going from one end of the place to the other
I had a greater sense of having taken a long, straight walk through
street scenery than I had done since I last measured the populated
length of Broadway. This is not an image that evokes any one of the
graces, and it must be confessed that the beauty of Hastings does not
reside in a soft irregularity or a rural exuberance. Like all the
larger English watering-places it is simply a little London _super
mare_. The graceful, or at least the pictorial, is always to be
found in England if one will take the trouble of looking for it; but
it must be conceded that at Hastings this element is less obtrusive
than it might be. I had heard it described as a “dull Brighton,” and
this description had been intended to dispose of the place. In fact,
however, such is the perversity of the enquiring mind, it had rather
quickened than quenched my interest. It occurred to me that it might
be as entertaining to follow out the variations of Brighton, the
possible embroideries of the theme, as it is often found to listen
to those with which some expressed musical idea is overscored by
another composer. Four or five miles of lodging-houses and hotels
staring at the sea across a “parade” adorned with iron benches, with
hand-organs and German bands, with nursemaids and British babies,
with ladies and gentlemen of leisure—looking rather embarrassed
with it and trying rather unsuccessfully to get rid of it—this is
the great feature which Brighton and Hastings have in common. At
Brighton there is a certain variety and gaiety of colour—something
suggesting crookedness and yellow paint—which gives the scene a kind
of cheerful, easy, more or less vulgar, foreign air. But Hastings is
very grey and sober and English, and indeed it is because it seemed
to me so English that I gave my best attention to it. If one is
attempting to gather impressions of a people and to learn to know them,
everything is interesting that is characteristic, quite apart from
its being beautiful. English manners are made up of such a multitude
of small details that the portrait a stranger has privately sketched
in is always liable to receive new touches. And this indeed is the
explanation of his noting a great many small points, on the spot, with
a degree of relish and appreciation which must often, to persons who
are not in his position, appear exaggerated, if not absurd. He has
formed a mental picture of the civilisation of the people he lives
among, and whom, when he has a great deal of courage, he makes bold
to say he is studying; he has drawn up a kind of tabular view of their
manners and customs, their idiosyncrasies, their social institutions,
their general features and properties; and when once he has suspended
this rough cartoon in the chambers of his imagination he finds a great
deal of occupation in touching it up and filling it in. Wherever he
goes, whatever he sees, he adds a few strokes. That is how I spent my
time at Hastings.

  [Illustration: THE FRONT, BRIGHTON]

I found it, for instance, a question more interesting than it might
superficially appear to choose between the inns—between the Royal Hotel
upon the Parade and an ancient hostel, a survival of the posting-days,
in a side street. A friend had described the latter establishment to me
as “mellow,” and this epithet complicated the problem. The term mellow,
as applied to an inn, is the comparative degree of a state of things
of which (say) “musty” would be the superlative. If you can seize this
tendency in its comparative stage you may do very well indeed; the
trouble is that, like all tendencies, it contains, even in its earlier
phases, the germs of excess. I thought it very possible that the Swan
would be over-ripe; but I thought it equally probable that the Royal
would be crude. I could claim a certain acquaintance with “royal”
hotels—I knew just how they were constituted. I foresaw the superior
young woman sitting at a ledger, in a kind of glass cage, at the bottom
of the stairs, and expressing by refined intonations her contempt
for a gentleman who should decline to “require” a sitting-room. The
functionary whom in America we know and dread as an hotel-clerk belongs
in England to the sex which, at need, is able to look over your head
to a still further point. Large hotels here are almost always owned
and carried on by companies, and the company is represented by a
well-shaped female figure belonging to the class whose members are
more particularly known as “persons.” The chambermaid is a young woman,
and the female tourist is a lady; but the occupant of the glass cage,
who hands you your key and assigns you your apartment, is designated
in the manner I have mentioned. The “person” has various methods of
revenging herself for her shadowy position in the social scale, and I
think it was from a vague recollection of having on former occasions
felt the weight of her embittered spirit that I determined to seek the
hospitality of the humbler inn, where it was probable that one who was
himself humble would enjoy a certain consideration. In the event, I was
rather oppressed by the feather-bed quality of the welcome extended to
me at the Swan. Once established there, in a sitting-room (after all),
the whole affair had all the local colour I could desire.

I have sometimes had occasion to repine at the meagreness and mustiness
of the old-fashioned English inn, and to feel that in poetry and in
fiction these defects had been culpably glossed over. But I said to
myself the other evening that there is a kind of venerable decency
even in some of its dingiest consistencies, and that in an age in which
the conception of good manners is losing most of its ancient firmness
one should do justice to an institution that is still more or less of
a stronghold of the faded amenities. It is a satisfaction in moving
about the world to be treated as a gentleman, and this gratification
appears to be more than, in the light of modern science, a Company
can profitably undertake to bestow. I have an old friend, a person
of admirably conservative instincts, from whom, a short time since,
I borrowed a hint of this kind. This lady had been staying at a small
inn in the country with her daughter; the daughter, whom we shall call
Mrs. B., had left the house a few days before the mother. “Did you like
the place?” I asked of my friend; “was it comfortable?” “No, it was not
comfortable; but I liked it. It was shabby, and I was much overcharged;
but it pleased me.” “What was the mysterious charm?” “Well, when I
was coming away, the landlady—she had cheated me horribly—came to
my carriage, and dropped a curtsy, and said, ‘My duty to Mrs. B.,
ma’am.’ Que voulez-vous? That pleased me.” There was an old waiter
at Hastings who would have been capable of that—an old waiter who had
been in the house for forty years and who was not so much an individual
waiter as the very spirit and genius, the incarnation and tradition
of waiterhood. He was faded and weary and rheumatic, but he had a
sort of mixture of the paternal and the deferential, the philosophic
and the punctilious, which seemed but grossly requited by a present
of a small coin. I am not fond of jugged hare for dinner, either as a
light _entrée_ or as a _pièce de résistance_; but this accomplished
attendant had the art of presenting you such a dish in a manner
that persuaded you, for the time, that it was worthy of your serious
consideration. The hare, by the way, before being subjected to the
mysterious operation of jugging, might have been seen dangling from a
hook in the bar of the inn, together with a choice collection of other
viands. You might peruse the bill of fare in an elementary form as you
passed in and out of the house, and make up your _menu_ for the day by
poking with your stick at a juicy-looking steak or a promising fowl.
The landlord and his spouse were always on the threshold of the bar,
polishing a brass candlestick and paying you their respects; the place
was pervaded by an aroma of rum-and-water and of commercial travellers’
jokes.

This description, however, is lacking in the element of gentility,
and I will not pursue it farther, for I should give a very false
impression of Hastings if I were to omit so characteristic a feature.
It was, I think, the element of gentility that most impressed me. I
know that the word I have just ventured to use is under the ban of
contemporary taste; so I may as well say outright that I regard it as
indispensable in almost any attempt at portraiture of English manners.
It is vain for an observer of such things to pretend to get on without
it. One may talk of foreign life indefinitely—of the manners and
customs of France, Germany, and Italy—and never feel the need of this
suggestive, yet mysteriously discredited, epithet. One may survey the
remarkable face of American civilisation without finding occasion to
strike this particular note. But in England no circumlocution will
serve—the note must be definitely struck. To attempt to speak of an
English watering-place in winter and yet pass it over in silence would
be to forfeit all claims to the analytic spirit. For a stranger, at
any rate, the term is invaluable—it is more convenient than I should
find easy to say. It is instantly evoked in my mind by long rows of
smuttily-plastered houses, with a card inscribed “Apartments” suspended
in the window of the ground-floor sitting-room—that portion of the
dwelling which is known in lodging-house parlance as “the parlours.”
Everything, indeed, suggests it—the bath-chairs, drawn up for hire in
a melancholy row; the innumerable and excellent shops, adorned with
the latest photographs of the royal family and of Mrs. Langtry; the
little reading-room and circulating library on the Parade, where the
daily papers, neatly arranged, may be perused for a trifling fee, and
the novels of the season are stacked away like the honeycombs in an
apiary; the long pier, stretching out into the sea, to which you are
admitted by the payment of a penny at a wicket, and where you may enjoy
the music of an indefatigable band, the enticements of several little
stalls for the sale of fancy-work, and the personal presence of good
local society. It is only the winking, twinkling, easily-rippling sea
that is not genteel. But, really, I was disposed to say at Hastings
that if the sea was not genteel, so much the worse for Neptune; for
it was the favourable aspect of the great British proprieties and
solemnities that struck me. Hastings and St. Leonards, with their
long, warm sea-front and their multitude of small, cheap comforts
and conveniences, offer a kind of résumé of middle-class English
civilisation and of advantages of which it would ill become an American
to make light. I don’t suppose that life at Hastings is the most
exciting or the most gratifying in the world, but it must certainly
have its advantages. If I were a quiet old lady of modest income and
nice habits—or even a quiet old gentleman of the same pattern—I should
certainly go to Hastings. There, amid the little shops and the little
libraries, the bath-chairs and the German bands, the Parade and the
long Pier, with a mild climate, a moderate scale of prices and the
consciousness of a high civilisation, I should enjoy a seclusion which
would have nothing primitive or crude.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



WINCHELSEA, RYE, AND “DENIS DUVAL”


I

I have recently had a literary adventure which, though not followed by
the prostration that sometimes ensues on adventures, has nevertheless
induced meditation. The adventure itself indeed was not astounding,
and I mention it, to be frank, only in the interest of its sequel.
It consisted merely, on taking up an old book again for the sake of a
certain desired and particular light, of my having found that the light
was in fact not there to shine, but was, on the contrary, directly
projected _upon_ the book from the very subject itself as to which
I had invoked assistance. The case, in short, to put it simply, was
that Thackeray’s charming fragment of “Denis Duval” proved to have
much less than I had supposed to say about the two little old towns
with which the few chapters left to us are mainly concerned, but that
the two little old towns, on the other hand, unexpectedly quickened
reflection on “Denis Duval.” Reading over Thackeray to help me further
to Winchelsea, I became conscious, of a sudden, that Winchelsea—which
I already in a manner knew—was only helping me further to Thackeray.
Reinforced, in this service, by its little sister-city of Rye, it
caused a whole question to open, and the question, in turn, added a
savour to a sense already, by good fortune, sharp. Winchelsea and Rye
form together a very curious small corner, and the measure, candidly
undertaken, of what the unfinished book had done with them, brought me
to a nearer view of them—perhaps even to a more jealous one; as well as
to some consideration of what books in general, even when finished, may
do with curious small corners.

I daresay I speak of “Denis Duval” as “old” mainly to make an
impression on readers whose age is less. I remember, after all,
perfectly, the poetry of its original appearance—there was such a
thrill, in those days, even after “Lovel the Widower” and “Philip,” at
any new Thackeray—in the cherished “Cornhill” of the early time, with
a drawing of Frederick Walker to its every number and a possibility
of its being like “Esmond” in its embroidered breast. If, moreover,
it after a few months broke short off, that really gave it something
as well as took something away. It might have been as true of works
of art as of men and women, that if the gods loved them they died
young. “Denis Duval” was at any rate beautiful, and was beautiful
again on reperusal at a later time. It is all beautiful once more
to a final reading, only it is remarkably different: and this is
precisely where my story lies. The beauty is particularly the beauty
of its being its author’s—which is very much, with book after book,
what we find ourselves coming to in general, I think, at fifty years.
Our appreciation changes—how in the world, with experience always
battering away, shouldn’t it?—but our feeling, more happily, doesn’t.
There _are_ books, of course, that criticism, when we are fit for it,
only consecrates, and then, with association fiddling for the dance,
we are in possession of a literary pleasure that is the highest of
raptures. But in many a case we drag along a fond indifference, an
element of condonation, which is by no means of necessity without its
strain of esteem, but which, obviously, is not founded on one of our
deeper satisfactions. Each can but speak, at all events, on such a
matter, for himself. It is a matter also, doubtless, that belongs to
the age of the loss—so far as they quite depart—of illusions at large.
The reason for liking a particular book becomes thus a better, or at
least a more generous, one than the particular book seems in a position
itself at last to supply. Woe to the mere official critic, the critic
who has never felt the _man_. You go on liking “The Antiquary” because
it is Scott. You go on liking “David Copperfield”—I don’t say you go on
reading it, which is a very different matter—because it is Dickens. So
you go on liking “Denis Duval” because it is Thackeray—which, in this
last case, is the logic of the charm I alluded to.

  [Illustration: RYE, FROM WINCHELSEA GATE]

The recital here, as every one remembers, is autobiographic; the old
battered, but considerably enriched, world-worn, but finely sharpened
Denis looks back upon a troubled life from the winter fireside and
places you, in his talkative and contagious way,—he is a practised
literary artist,—in possession of the story. We see him in a placid
port after many voyages, and have that amount of evidence—the most,
after all, that the most artless reader needs—as to the “happy”
side of the business. The evidence indeed is, for curiosity, almost
excessive, or at least premature; as he again and again puts it before
us that the companion of his later time, the admirable wife seated
there beside him, is nobody else at all, any hopes of a more tangled
skein notwithstanding, than the object of his infant passion, the
little French orphan, slightly younger than himself, who is brought so
promptly on the scene. The way in which this affects us as undermining
the “love-interest” bears remarkably on the specific question of the
subject of the book as the author would have expressed this subject
to his own mind. We get, to the moment the work drops, not a glimpse
of his central idea; nothing, if such had been his intention, was
in fact ever more triumphantly concealed. The darkness therefore is
intensified by our seeming to gather that, like the love-interest, at
all events, the “female interest” was not to have been largely invoked.
The narrator is in general, from the first, full of friendly hints,
in Thackeray’s way, of what is to come; but the chapters completed
deal only with his childish years, his wondrous boy-life at Winchelsea
and Rye, the public and private conditions of which—practically, in
the last century, the same for the two places—form the background for
this exposition. The southeastern counties, comparatively at hand,
were enriched at that period by a considerable French immigration,
the accession of Huguenot fugitives too firm in their faith to have
bent their necks to the dire rigours with which the revocation of the
Edict of Nantes was followed up. This corner of Sussex received—as
it had received in previous centuries—its forlorn contingent; to the
interesting origin of which many Sussex family names—losing, as it
were, their drawing but not their colour—still sufficiently testify.
Portions of the stranger race suffered, struggled, sank; other portions
resisted, took root and put forth branches, and Thackeray, clearly,
had found his rough material in some sketchy vision of one of these
obscure cases of troubled adjustment, which must often have been, for
difficulty and complexity, of the stuff of dramas. Such a case, for the
informed fancy, might indeed overflow with possibilities of character,
character reinforced, in especial, by the impression, gathered and
matured on the spot, of the two small ghosts of the Cinque Ports
family, the pair of blighted hill-towns that were once sea-towns and
that now draw out their days in the dim after-sense of a mere indulged
and encouraged picturesqueness. “Denis Duval” could only, it would
seem, have been conceived as a “picturesque” affair; but that may serve
exactly as a reason for the attempt to refigure it.

Little hilltop communities sensibly even yet, with the memory of their
tight walls and stiff gates not wholly extinct, Rye and Winchelsea
hold fast to the faint identity which remains their least fragile
support, their estate as “Antient Towns” involved (with the distincter
Five and raising the number to seven), in that nominal, though still
occasionally pompous Wardenship, the image—for our time—of the most
famous assignment of which is preserved in Longfellow’s fine verses on
the death of the Duke of Wellington. The sea, in previous times half
friend, half foe, began long since to fight, in each character, shy
of them, and now, in wrinkled wistfulness, they look across at the
straight blue band, two miles or so away, that tells of the services
they rendered, the illusions they cherished,—illusions in the case of
poor Winchelsea especially absurd,—and the extreme inconvenience they
repeatedly suffered. They were again and again harried and hacked by
the French, and might have had, it would seem, small appetite for the
company, however reduced and disarmed, of these immemorial neighbours.
The retreating waters, however, had even two centuries ago already
placed such dangers on a very different footing, and the recovery and
evocation of some of the old processes of actual absorption may well
have presented themselves to Thackeray as a problem of the sort that
tempts the lover of human histories. Happy and enviable always the
first trepidation of the artist who lights on a setting that “meets”
his subject or on a subject that meets his setting. The editorial
notes to “Denis Duval” yield unfortunately no indication of whether
Winchelsea put into his head the idea of this study, or of whether
he carried it about till he happened judiciously to drop it there.
Appearances point, in truth, to a connection of the latter kind,
for the fragment itself contains no positive evidence that Thackeray
ever, with the mere eye of sense, beheld the place; which is precisely
one of the ambiguities that challenge the critic and an item in the
unexpectedness that I spoke of at the beginning of these remarks.
What—in the light, at least, of later fashions—the place has to
offer the actual observer is the effect of an object seen, a thing of
aspect and suggestion, situation and colour; but what had it to offer
Thackeray—or the taste of forty years ago—that he so oddly forbore to
give us a tangled clew to? The impression of to-day’s reader is that
the chapters we possess might really have been written without the
author’s having stood on the spot; and that is just why they have, as I
began by saying, so much less to contribute to our personal vision than
this influence, for its part, has to suggest in respect to the book
itself.

Evidently, none the less, the setting, little as it has got itself
“rendered,” did somehow come into the painter’s ken; we know this,
moreover, independently, and we make out that he had his inner
mysteries and his reasons. The little house of Duval, faring forth from
the stress of the Alsatian fatherland, seeks safety and finds business
in the shrunken city, scarce at last more than a hamlet, of Edward the
First’s defeated design, where, in three generations, well on into the
century, it grinds and sleeps, smuggles and spends, according to the
fashions of the place and time. These communities appear to have had,
in their long decline, little industry but their clandestine traffic
with other coasts, in the course of which they quite mastered the art
of going, as we say, “one better” than the officers of the revenue. It
is to this hour a part of the small romance of Rye that you may fondly
fancy such scant opulence as rears its head to have had its roots in
the malpractice of forefathers not too rude for much cunning—in nightly
plots and snares and flurries, a hurrying, shuffling, hiding, that
might at any time have put a noose about most necks. Some of those
of the small gentry who were not smugglers were recorded highwaymen,
flourishing about in masks and with pistols; and indeed in the
general scene, as rendered by the supposed chronicler, these appear
the principal features. The only others are those of his personal and
private situation, which in fact, however, strikes me as best expressed
in the fact that the extremely talkative, discursive, ejaculatory,
and moralising Denis was possessed in perfection of his master’s
maturest style. He writes, almost to the life, the language of the
“Roundabout Papers;” so that if the third person had been exchanged,
throughout, for his first, and his occasional present tense been
superseded by the past, the rest of the text would have needed little
rearrangement. This imperfect unity was more or less inevitable—the
difficulty of projecting yourself as somebody else is never so great as
when you retain the _form_ of being yourself; but another of the many
reflections suggested by reperusal is as to whether the speaker is not
guilty of a slight abuse. Of course it may be said that what really has
happened was that Thackeray had, on his side, anticipated his hero in
the use of his hero’s natural idiom. It may thus have been less that
Denis had come to write highly “evolved” nineteenth-century English
than that his creator had arrived, in the “Roundabout Papers” and
elsewhere, at writing excellent reconstructed eighteenth. It would not,
however, were the enquiry to be pushed, be only on the autobiographer’s
personal and grammatical, but on his moral and sentimental accent,
as it were, that criticism would probably most bear. His manner of
thinking and feeling is quite as “Roundabout” as his manner of saying.

  [Illustration: RYE, FROM THE WINCHELSEA ROAD]

A dozen wonderments rise here, and a dozen curiosities and
speculations; as to which, in truth, I am painfully divided between the
attraction of such appeals and a certain other aspect of my subject to
which I shall attempt presently to do justice. The superior stroke, I
remind myself—possibly not in vain—would be to deal handsomely with
both solicitations. The almost irresistible fascination, critically
speaking, of the questions thus abruptly, after long years, thrust
forth by the book, lies in their having reference to this very
opposition of times and tastes. The thing is not forty years old,
but it points already—and that is above all the amusement of it—to a
general _poetic_ that, both on its positive and its negative sides,
we have left well behind. Can the author perhaps have had in mind,
misguidedly, some idea of what his public “wanted” or didn’t want? The
public is really, to a straight vision, I think, not a capacity for
wanting, at all, but only an unlimited capacity for _taking_—taking
that (whatever it is) which will, in effect, make it open its mouth.
It goes to the expense of few preconceptions, and even on the question
of opening its mouth has a consciousness limited to the suspicion that
in a given case this orifice _has_—or has not—gaped. We are therefore
to imagine Thackeray as perfectly conscious that he himself, working
by his own fine light, constituted the public he had most to reckon
with. On the other hand his time, in its degree, had helped to shape
him, and a part of the consequence of this shaping, apparently, was his
extraordinary avoidance of picture. This is the mystery that drives
us to the hypothesis of his having tried to pay, in some uncanny
quarter, some deluded deference. Was he under the fear that, even as
_he_ could do it, “description” would not, in the early sixties, be
welcome? It is impossible to stand to-day in the high, loose, sunny,
haunted square of Winchelsea without wondering what he could have been
thinking of. There are ladies in view with easels, sun-bonnets and
white umbrellas—often perceptibly, too, with nothing else that makes
for successful representation; but I doubt if it were these apparitions
that took the bloom from his vision, for they were much less frequent
in those looser days, and moreover would have formed much more a reason
for not touching the place at all than for taking it up indifferently.
Of any impulse to make the reader see it with seeing eyes his page,
at all events, gives no sign. We must presently look at it for
ourselves, even at the cost, or with the consequence, of a certain
loyal resentment. For Winchelsea is strange, individual, charming. What
_could_ he—yes—have been thinking of? We are wound up for saying that
he has given his subject away, until we suddenly remember that, to this
hour, we have never really made out what his subject was to have been.

Never was a secret more impenetrably kept. Read over the fragment—which
reaches, after all, to some two hundred and fifty pages; read over,
at the end of the volume, the interesting editorial notes; address
yourself, above all, in the charming series of introductions lately
prepared by Mrs. Richmond Ritchie for a new and, so far as possible,
biographical edition of her father’s works, to the reminiscences
briefly bearing on Denis, and you will remain in each case equally
distant from a clew. It is the most puzzling thing in the world, but
there _is_ no clew. There are indications, in respect to the book,
from Thackeray’s hand, memoranda on matters of detail, and there is in
especial a highly curious letter to his publisher; yet the clew that
his own mind must have held never shows the tip of its tail. The letter
to his publisher, in which, according to the editor of the fragment, he
“sketches his plot for the information of” that gentleman, reads like a
mystification by which the gentleman was to be temporarily kept quiet.
With an air of telling him a good deal, Thackeray really tells him
nothing—nothing, I mean, by which he himself would have been committed
to (any more than deterred from) any idea kept up his sleeve. If he
were holding this card back, to be played at his own time, he could
not have proceeded in the least differently; and one can construct
to-day, with a free hand, one’s picture of his private amusement at
the success of his diplomacy. All the while, what _was_ the card? The
production of a novel finds perhaps its nearest analogy in the ride
across country; the competent novelist—that is, the novelist with the
real seat—presses his subject, in spite of hedges and ditches, as hard
as the keen fox-hunter presses the game that has been started for his
day with the hounds. The fox is the novelist’s idea, and when he rides
straight, he rides, regardless of danger, in whatever direction that
animal takes. As we lay down “Denis Duval,” however, we feel not only
that we are off the scent, but that we never really have been, with
the author, on it. The fox has got quite away. For it carries us no
further, surely, to say—as may possibly be objected—that the author’s
subject was to have been neither more nor less than the adventures of
his hero; inasmuch as, turn the thing as we will, these “adventures”
could at the best have constituted nothing more than its _form_. It is
an affront to the memory of a great writer to pretend that they were
to have been arbitrary and unselected, that there was nothing in his
mind to determine them. The book was, obviously, to have been, as boys
say, “about” them. But what were _they_ to have been about? Thackeray
carried the mystery to his grave.


II

If I spoke just now of Winchelsea as haunted, let this somewhat
overworked word stand as an ineffectual tribute to the small, sad,
civic history that the place appeals to us to reconstruct as we gaze
vaguely about. I have a little ancient and most decorative map of
Sussex—testifying remarkably to the changes of relation between sea
and land in this corner of the coast—in which “Old Winchelsey Drowned”
figures as the melancholy indication of a small circular spot quite
out at sea. If new Winchelsea is old, the earlier town is to-day but
the dim ghost of a tradition, with its very site—distant several miles
from that of its successor—rendered uncertain by the endless mutation
of the shore. After suffering, all through the thirteenth century, much
stress of wind and weather, it was practically destroyed in 1287 by
a great storm which cast up masses of beach, altered the course of a
river, and roughly handled the face of many things. The reconstruction
of the town in another place was thereupon decreed by a great English
king, and we need but a little fuller chronicle to help us to assist
at one of those migrations of a whole city of which antiquity so often
gives us the picture. The survivors of Winchelsea were colonised, and
colonised in much state. The “new” community, whose life was also to be
so brief, sits on the pleasant table of a great cliff-like hill which,
in the days of the Plantagenets, was an admirable promontory washed by
the waves. The sea surrounded its base, came up past it to the east and
north in a long inlet, and stretched away, across the level where the
sheep now graze, to stout little neighbouring Rye, perched—in doubtless
not quite equal pride—on an eminence more humble, but which must have
counted then even for more than to-day in the pretty figure made, as
you stand off, by the small, compact, pyramidal port. The “Antient
Towns” looked at each other then across the water, which made almost an
island of the rock of huddled, church-crowned Rye—which had too much
to say to them alike, on evil days, at their best time, but which was
too soon to begin to have too little. If the early Winchelsea was to
suffer by “drowning,” its successor was to bear the stroke of remaining
high and dry. The haven on the hill-top—a bold and extraordinary
conception—had hardly had time to get, as we should now say, “started,”
before it began to see its days numbered. The sea and the shore were
never at peace together, and it was, most remarkably, not the sea that
got the best of it. Winchelsea had only time to dream a great dream—the
dream of a scant pair of centuries—before its hopes were turned to
bitterness and its boasts to lamentation. It had literally, during its
short career, put in a claim to rivalship with the port of London. The
irony of fate now sits in its empty lap; but the port of London has
never suggested even a frustrate “Denis Duval.”

  [Illustration: RYE, FROM THE MARSHES]

While Winchelsea dreamed, at any rate, she worked, and the noble
fragment of her great church, rising solid from the abortive symmetry
of her great square, helps us to put our hand on her deep good faith.
She built at least as she believed—she planned as she fondly imagined.
The huge ivy-covered choir and transepts of St. Thomas of Canterbury—to
whom the structure was addressed—represent to us a great intention.
They are not so mighty, but they are almost as brave, as the wondrous
fragment of Beauvais. Walled and closed on their unfinished side, they
form at present all the church, and, with its grand lines of arch and
window, its beautiful gothic tombs and general hugeness and height,
the church—mercifully exempt as yet from restoration—is wonderful for
the place. You may at this hour—if you are given to such emotions—feel
a mild thrill, not be unaware even of the approach of tears, as you
measure the scale on which the building had been planned and the ground
that the nave and aisles would have covered. You murmur, in the summer
twilight, a soft “Bravo!” across the ages—to the ears of heaven knows
what poor nameless ghosts. The square—apparently one of many—was to
have been worthy of New York or of Turin; for the queerest, quaintest,
most touching thing of all is that the reinstated city was to have
been laid out on the most approved modern lines. Nothing is more
interesting—to the mooning, sketching spectator—than this evidence that
the great Edward had anticipated us all in the convenient chessboard
pattern. It is true—attention has been called to the fact—that Pompeii
had anticipated _him_; but I doubt if he knew much about Pompeii. His
abstract avenues and cross-streets straggle away, through the summer
twilight, into mere legend and mystery. In speaking awhile since of the
gates of these shattered strongholds as “stiff,” I also spoke of their
walls as “tight;” but the scheme of Winchelsea must have involved,
after all, a certain looseness of cincture. The old vague girdle is
lost to-day in the fields where the sheep browse, in the parkish acres
where the great trees cluster. The Sussex oak is mighty—it was of
the Sussex oak that, in the old time, the king’s ships were built; it
was, in particular, to her command of this material that Rye owed the
burdensome honour of supplying vessels, on constant call, to the royal
navy. Strange is this record, in Holloway’s History of that town, and
in presence of the small things of to-day; so perpetual, under stress,
appears to have been the demand and so free the supply and the service.

Rye continued indeed, under her old brown south cliff, to build big
boats till this industry was smitten by the adoption of iron. That was
the last stroke; though even now you may see things as you stand on the
edge of the cliff: best of all on the open, sunny terrace of a dear
little old garden—a garden brown-walled, red-walled, rose-covered on
its other sides, divided by the width of a quiet street of grass-grown
cobbles from the house of its master, and possessed of a little old
glass-fronted, panelled pavilion which I hold to be the special spot
in the world where Thackeray might most fitly have figured out his
story. There is not much room in the pavilion, but there is room
for the hard-pressed table and the tilted chair—there is room for
a novelist and his friends. The panels have a queer paint and a
venerable slant; the small chimney-place is at your back; the south
window is perfect, the privacy bright and open. How can I tell what
old—what young—visions of visions and memories of images come back to
me under the influence of this quaint receptacle, into which, by kind
permission, I occasionally peep, and still more under the charm of the
air and the view that, as I just said, you may enjoy, close at hand,
from the small terrace? How can I tell why I always keep remembering
and losing there the particular passages of some far-away foolish
fiction, absorbed in extreme youth, which haunt me, yet escape me, like
the echo of an old premonition? I seem to myself to have lain on the
grass somewhere, as a boy, poring over an English novel of the period,
presumably quite bad,—for they were pretty bad then too,—and losing
myself in the idea of just such another scene as this. But even could I
rediscover the novel, I wouldn’t go back to it. It couldn’t have been
so good as this; for this—all concrete and doomed and minimised as it
is—is the real thing. The other little gardens, other little odds and
ends of crooked brown wall and supported terrace and glazed winter
sun-trap, lean over the cliff that still, after centuries, keeps its
rude drop; they have beneath them the river, a tide that comes and
goes, and the mile or more of grudging desert level, beyond it, which
now throws the sea to the near horizon, where, on summer days, with a
depth of blue and a scattered gleam of sails, it looks forgiving and
resigned. The little old shipyards at the base of the rock are for the
most part quite empty, with only vague piles of brown timber and the
deposit of generations of chips; yet a fishing-boat or two are still
on the stocks—an “output” of three or four a year!—and the ring of the
hammer on the wood, a sound, in such places, rare to the contemporary
ear, comes up, through the sunny stillness, to your meditative perch.

The tidal river, on the left, wanders away to Rye Harbour and its
bar, where the black fishing-boats, half the time at lop-sided rest
in the mud, make a cluster of slanting spears against the sky. When
the river is full we are proud of its wide light and many curves; when
it is empty we call it, for vague reasons, “rather Dutch;” and empty
or full we sketch it in the fine weather as hard as ever we can. When
I say “we” I mean _they_ do—it is to speak with hospitality. They
mostly wear, as I have hinted, large sunbonnets, and they crouch on low
camp-stools; they put in, as they would say, a bit of white, in places
often the least likely. Rye is in truth a rudimentary drawing-lesson,
and you quite embrace the question when you have fairly seized the
formula. Nothing so “quaint” was ever so easy—nothing so easy was
ever so quaint. Much more to be loved than feared, she has not, alas,
a scrap of “style,” and she may be effectively rendered without the
obligation of subtlety. At favoured seasons there appear within her
precinct sundry slouch-hatted gentlemen who study her humble charms
through a small telescope formed by their curved fingers and thumb, and
who are not unliable to define themselves as French artists leading
a train of English and American lady pupils. They distribute their
disciples over the place, at selected points, where the master, going
his round from hour to hour, reminds you of nothing so much as a busy
_chef_ with many saucepans on the stove and periodically lifting their
covers for a sniff and a stir. There are ancient doorsteps that are
fairly haunted, for their convenience of view, by the “class,” and
where the fond proprietor, going and coming, has to pick his way among
paraphernalia or to take flying leaps over genius and industry. If
Winchelsea is, as I gather, less beset, it is simply that Winchelsea
enjoys the immunity of her greater distinction. She is full of that and
must be even more difficult than she at first appears. But I forsook
her and her distinction, just now, and I must return to them; though
the right moment would quite have been as we stood, at Rye, on the
terrace of the little old south-garden, to which she presents herself,
beyond two or three miles of flat Dutch-looking interval, from the
extreme right, her few red roofs almost lost on her wooded hill and her
general presence masking, for this view, the headland of Hastings, ten
miles, by the coast, westward.

  [Illustration: THE SANDGATE, RYE]

It was about her spacious solitude that we had already begun to stroll;
for the purpose, however, mainly, of measuring the stretch, south
and north, to the two more crumbled of her three old gates. They are
very far gone, each but the ruin of a ruin; but it is their actual
countrified state that speaks of the circuit—one hundred and fifty
acres—they were supposed to defend. Under one of them you may pass,
much round about, by high-seated villages and in constant sight of the
sea, toward Hastings; from the other, slightly the less dilapidated,
you may gather, if much so minded, the suggestion of some illustration
or tail-piece in a volume of Italian travel. The steep white road
plunges crookedly down to where the poor arches that once were massive
straddle across it, while a spreading chestnut, beside them, plays
exactly the part desired—prepares you, that is, for the crack of the
whip of the _vetturino_ trudging up beside his travelling-carriage.
With a bare-legged urchin and a browsing goat the whole thing would
be there. But we turn, at that point, to mount again and cross the
idle square and come back to the east gate, which is the aspect of
Winchelsea that presents itself most—and in fact quite admirably—as
the front. Yet by what is it that, at the end of summer afternoons, my
sense of an obliterated history is fed? There is little but the church
really to testify, for the extraordinary groined vaults and crypts
that are part of the actual pride of the place—treasure-houses of old
merchants, foundations of upper solidities that now are dust—count
for nothing, naturally, in the immediate effect. The early houses
passed away long ago, and the present ones speak, in broken accents
and scant and shabby signs, but of the last hundred, the last couple
of hundred, years. Everything that ever happened is gone, and, for
that matter, nothing very eminent, only a dim mediocrity of life,
ever did happen. Rye has Fletcher the dramatist, the Fletcher of
Beaumont, whom it brought to birth; but Winchelsea has only the last
preachment, under a tree still shown, of John Wesley. The third Edward
and the Black Prince, in 1350, overcame the Spaniards in a stout
sea-fight within sight of the walls; but I am bound to confess that
I do not at all focus that performance, am unable, in the changed
conditions, to “place” anything so pompous. In the same way I fail
to “visualise,” thank goodness, either of the several French inroads
that left their mark of massacre and ruin. What I do see, on the other
hand, very comfortably, is the little undistinguished picture of a
nearer antiquity, the antiquity for a glimpse of which I reopened
“Denis Duval.” Where, please, was the barber’s shop of the family of
that hero, and where the apartments, where the preferred resorts, the
particular scenes of occupation and diversion, of the dark Chevalier de
la Motte? Where did this subtle son of another civilisation, with whom
Madame de Saverne had eloped from France, _en plein ancien régime_,
without the occurrence between them of the least impropriety, spend
his time for so long a period; where had he his little habits and his
numerous indispensable conveniences? What was the general geography,
to express it synthetically, of the state of life of the orphaned
Clarisse, quartered with a family of which one of the sons, furiously
desirous of the girl, was, at his lost moments, a highwayman stopping
coaches in the dead of night? Over nothing in the whole fragment does
such vagueness hover as over the domestic situation, in her tender
years, of the future Madame Denis. Yet these are just the things I
should have liked to know—the things, above all, I should have liked
most to tell. Into a vision of _them_, at least, we can work ourselves;
it is exactly the sort of vision into which Rye and Winchelsea, and all
the land about, full of lurking hints and modest memories, most throws
us back. I should, in truth, have liked to lock up our novelist in our
little pavilion of inspiration, the gazebo at Rye, not letting him out
till he should quite have satisfied us.

Close beside the east gate, so close that one of its battered towers
leans heavily on the little garden, is a wonderfully perched cottage,
of which the mistress is a very celebrated lady who resorts to the
place in the intervals of an exacting profession—the scene of her
renown, I may go so far as to mention, is the theatre—for refreshment
and rest. The small grounds of this refuge, supported by the old
town-wall and the steep plunge of the great hill, have a rare position
and view. The narrow garden stretches away in the manner of a terrace
to which the top of the wall forms a low parapet; and here it is that,
when the summer days are long, the sweet old soul of all the land
seems most to hang in the air. It is almost a question indeed whether
this fine Winchelsea front, all silver-grey and ivy-green, is not even
better when making a picture itself from below than when giving you
one, with much immensity, from its brow. This picture is always your
great effect, artfully prepared by an absence of prediction, when you
take a friend over from Rye; and it would appear quite to settle the
small discussion—that may be said to come up among us so often—of which
is the happier abode. The great thing is that if you live at Rye you
have Winchelsea to show; whereas if you live at Winchelsea you have
nothing but Rye. This latter privilege I should be sorry to cry down;
but nothing can alter the fact that, to begin with, the pedestal of
Winchelsea has twice the height, by a rough measure, of that of its
neighbour; and we all know the value of an inch at the end of a nose.
Almost directly under the Winchelsea hill, crossing the little bridge
of the Brede, you pass beyond a screen of trees and take in, at the
top of the ascent, the two round towers and arch, ivied and mutilated,
but still erect, of the old main gate. The road either way is long
and abrupt, so that people kind to their beasts alight at the foot,
and cyclists careful of their necks alight at the head. The brooding
spectator, moreover, who forms a class by himself, pauses, infallibly,
as he goes, to admire the way the great trees cluster and compose on
the high slope, always striking, for him, as day gathers in and the
whole thing melts together, a classic, academic note, the note of
Turner and Claude. From the garden of the distinguished cottage, at
any rate, it is a large, melancholy view—a view that an occasional
perverse person whom it fails to touch finds easy, I admit, to speak of
as dreary; so that those who love it and are well advised will ever,
at the outset, carry the war into the enemy’s country by announcing
it, with glee, as sad. Just this it must be that nourishes the sense
of obliterated history as to which I a moment ago wondered. The air is
like that of a room through which something has been carried that you
are aware of without having seen it. There is a vast deal of level in
the prospect, but, though much depends on the day and still more on
the hour, it is, at the worst, all too delicate to be ugly. The best
hour is that at which the compact little pyramid of Rye, crowned with
its big but stunted church and quite covered by the westering sun,
gives out the full measure of its old browns that turn to red and its
old reds that turn to purple. These tones of evening are now pretty
much all that Rye has left to give, but there are truly, sometimes,
conditions of atmosphere in which I have seen the effect as fantastic.
I sigh when I think, however, what it might have been if, perfectly
placed as it is, the church tower—which in its more perverse moods
only resembles a big central button, a knob on a pincushion—had had
the grace of a few more feet of stature. But that way depression lies,
and the humiliation of those moments at which the brooding spectator
says to himself that both tower and hill _would_ have been higher
if the place had only been French or Italian. Its whole pleasant
little pathos, in point of fact, is just that it is homely English.
And even with this, after all, the imagination can play. The wide,
ambiguous flat that stretches eastward from Winchelsea hill, and on
the monotone of whose bosom, seen at sunset from a friendly eminence
that stands nearer, Rye takes the form of a huge floating boat, its
water-line sharp and its bulk defined from stem to stern—this dim
expanse is the great Romney Marsh, no longer a marsh to-day, but,
at the end of long years, drained and ordered, a wide pastoral of
grazing, with “new” Romney town, a Port no more,—not the least of
the shrunken Five,—mellowed to mere russet at the far end, and other
obscure charms, revealed best to the slow cyclist, scattered over its
breast: little old “bits” that are not to be described, yet are known,
with a small thrill, when seen; little lonely farms, red and grey;
little mouse-coloured churches; little villages that seem made only for
long shadows and summer afternoons. Brookland, Old Romney, Ivychurch,
Dymchurch, Lydd—they have positively the prettiest names. But the point
to be made is that, comparing small things with great,—which may always
be done when the small things are amiable,—if Rye and its rock and its
church are a miniature Mont-Saint-Michel, so, when the summer deepens,
the shadows fall, and the mounted shepherds and their dogs pass before
you in the grassy desert, you find in the mild English “marsh” a recall
of the Roman Campagna.

  [Illustration]



  [Illustration]



OLD SUFFOLK


I am not sure that before entering the county of Suffolk in the early
part of August, I had been conscious of any personal relation to it
save my share in what we all inevitably feel for a province enshrining
the birthplace of a Copperfield. The opening lines in David’s history
offered in this particular an easy perch to my young imagination;
and to recall them to-day, though with a memory long unrefreshed,
is to wonder once more at the depth to which early impressions
strike down. This one in especial indeed has been the privilege of
those millions of readers who owe to Dickens the glow of the prime
response to the romantic, that first bite of the apple of knowledge
which leaves a taste for ever on the tongue. The great initiators
give such a colour to mere names that the things they represent have
often, before contact, been a lively part of experience. It is hard
therefore for an undefended victim of this kind of emotion to measure,
when contact arrives, the quantity of picture already stored up,
to point to the nucleus of the gallery or trace the history of the
acquaintance. It is true that for the divine plant of sensibility in
youth the watering need never have been lavish. It flowered, at all
events, at the right moment, in a certain case, into the branching
image of Blunderstone—which, by the way, I am sorry to see figure as
“Blunderston” in gazetteers of recent date and more than questionable
tact. Dickens took his Rookery exactly where he found it, and simply
fixed it for ever; he left the cradle of the Copperfields the benefit
of its delightful name; or I should say better, perhaps, left the
delightful name and the obscure nook the benefit of an association
ineffaceable: all of which makes me the more ashamed not as yet to
have found the right afternoon—it would have in truth to be abnormally
long—for a pious pilgrimage to the distracting little church where, on
David’s sleepy Sundays, one used to lose one’s self with the sketchy
Phiz. One of the reasons of this omission, so profane on a prior view,
is doubtless that everything, in England, in old-time corners, has
the connecting touch and the quality of illustration, and that, in
a particularly golden August, with an impression in every bush, the
immediate vision, wherever one meets it, easily attaches and suffices.
Another must have been, I confess, the somewhat depressed memory of
a visit paid a few years since to the ancient home of the Peggottys,
supposedly so “sympathetic,” but with little left, to-day, as the event
then proved, of the glamour it had worn to the fancy. Great Yarmouth,
it will be remembered, was a convenient drive from Blunderstone; but
Great Yarmouth, with its mile of cockneyfied sea-front and its overflow
of nigger minstrelsy, now strikes the wrong note so continuously that
I, for my part, became conscious, on the spot, of a chill to the spirit
of research.

This time, therefore, I have allowed that spirit its ease; and I may
perhaps intelligibly make the point I desire if I contrive to express
somehow that I have found myself, most of the month, none the less
abundantly occupied in reading a fuller sense into the lingering
sound given out, for a candid mind, by my superscription and watching
whatever it may stand for gradually flush with a stronger infusion.
It takes, in England, for that matter, no wonderful corner of the land
to make the fiddle-string vibrate. The old usual rural things do this
enough, and a part of the charm of one’s exposure to them is that they
ask one to rise to no heroics. What is the charm, after all, but just
the abyss of the familiar? The peopled fancy, the haunted memory are
themselves what pay the bill. The game can accordingly be played with
delightful economy, a thrift involving the cost of little more than a
good bicycle. The bicycle indeed, since I fall back on that admission,
may perhaps, without difficulty, be too good for the roads. Those of
the more devious kind often engender hereabouts, like the Aristotelian
tragedy, pity and terror; but almost equally with others they lead, on
many a chance, to the ruddiest, greenest hamlets. What this comes to
is saying that I have had, for many a day, the sweet sense of living,
æsthetically, at really high pressure without, as it were, drawing
on the great fund. By the great fund I mean the public show, the show
for admission to which you are charged and overcharged, made to taste
of the tree of possible disappointment. The beauty of old Suffolk in
general, and above all of the desperate depth of it from which I write,
is that these things whisk you straight out of conceivable relation to
that last danger.

I defy any one, at desolate, exquisite Dunwich, to be disappointed in
anything. The minor key is struck here with a felicity that leaves no
sigh to be breathed, no loss to be suffered; a month of the place is
a real education to the patient, the inner vision. The explanation of
this is, appreciably, that the conditions give you to deal with not,
in the manner of some quiet countries, what is meagre and thin, but
what has literally, in a large degree, ceased to be at all. Dunwich
is not even the ghost of its dead self; almost all you can say of it
is that it consists of the mere letters of its old name. The coast,
up and down, for miles, has been, for more centuries than I presume to
count, gnawed away by the sea. All the grossness of its positive life
is now at the bottom of the German Ocean, which moves for ever, like a
ruminating beast, an insatiable, indefatigable lip. Few things are so
melancholy—and so redeemed from mere ugliness by sadness—as this long,
artificial straightness that the monster has impartially maintained.
If at low tide you walk on the shore, the cliffs, of little height,
show you a defence picked as bare as a bone; and you can say nothing
kinder of the general humility and general sweetness of the land than
that this sawlike action gives it, for the fancy, an interest, a sort
of mystery, that more than makes up for what it may have surrendered.
It stretched, within historic times, out into towns and promontories
for which there is now no more to show than the empty eye-holes of
a skull; and half the effect of the whole thing, half the secret of
the impression, and what I may really call, I think, the source of
the distinction, is this very visibility of the mutilation. Such at
any rate is the case for a mind that can properly brood. There is a
presence in what is missing—there is history in there being so little.
It is so little, to-day, that every item of the handful counts.

The biggest items are of course the two ruins, the great church and
its tall tower, now quite on the verge of the cliff, and the crumbled,
ivied wall of the immense cincture of the Priory. These things have
parted with almost every grace, but they still keep up the work that
they have been engaged in for centuries and that cannot better be
described than as the adding of mystery to mystery. This accumulation,
at present prodigious, is, to the brooding mind, unconscious as the
shrunken little Dunwich of to-day may be of it, the beginning and the
end of the matter. I hasten to add that it is to the brooding mind
only, and from it, that I speak. The mystery sounds for ever in the
hard, straight tide, and hangs, through the long, still summer days
and over the low, diked fields, in the soft, thick light. We play with
it as with the answerless question, the question of the spirit and
attitude, never again to be recovered, of the little city submerged.
For it _was_ a city, the main port of Suffolk, as even its poor relics
show; with a fleet of its own on the North Sea, and a big religious
house on the hill. We wonder what were then the apparent conditions
of security, and on what rough calculation a community could so build
itself out to meet its fate. It keeps one easy company here to-day
to think of the whole business as a magnificent mistake. But Mr.
Swinburne, in verses of an extraordinary poetic eloquence, quite brave
enough for whatever there may have been, glances in the right direction
much further than I can do. Read moreover, for other glances, the
“Letters of Edward FitzGerald,” Suffolk worthy and whimsical subject,
who, living hard by at Woodbridge, haunted these regions during most
of his life, and has left, in delightful pages, at the service of
the emulous visitor, the echo of every odd, quaint air they could
draw from his cracked, sweet instrument. He has paid his tribute, I
seem to remember, to the particular delicate flower—the pale Dunwich
rose—that blooms on the walls of the Priory. The emulous visitor,
only yesterday, on the most vulgar of vehicles—which, however, he is
quite aware he must choose between using and abusing—followed, in the
mellow afternoon, one of these faint hints across the land and as far
as the old, old town of Aldeburgh, the birthplace and the commemorated
“Borough” of the poet Crabbe.

FitzGerald, devoted to Crabbe, was apparently not less so to this small
break in the wide, low, heathery bareness that brings the sweet Suffolk
commons—rare purple and gold when I arrived—nearly to the edge of the
sea. We don’t, none the less, always gather the particular impression
we bravely go forth to seek. We doubtless gather another indeed that
will serve as well any such turn as here may wait for it; so that if
it was somehow not easy to work FitzGerald into the small gentility of
the sea-front, the little “marina,” as of a fourth-rate watering-place,
that has elbowed away, evidently in recent years, the old handful of
character, one could at least, to make up for that, fall back either
on the general sense of the happy trickery of genius or on the special
beauty of the mixture, in the singer of Omar Khayyam, that, giving him
such a place for a setting, could yet feed his fancy so full. Crabbe,
at Aldeburgh, for that matter, is perhaps even more wonderful—in the
light, I mean, of what is left of the place by one’s conjuring away
the little modern vulgar accumulation. What is left is just the stony
beach and the big gales and the cluster of fishermen’s huts and the
small, wide, short street of decent, homely, shoppy houses. These
are the private emotions of the historic sense—glimpses in which we
recover for an hour, or rather perhaps, with an intensity, but for the
glimmer of a minute, the conditions that, grimly enough, could engender
masterpieces, or at all events classics. What a mere pinch of manners
and customs in the midst of winds and waves! Yet if it was a feature
of these to return a member to Parliament, what wonder that, up to the
Reform Bill, dead Dunwich should have returned two?

The glimpses I speak of are, in all directions, the constant company of
the afternoon “spin.” Beginning, modestly enough, at Dunwich itself,
they end, for intensity, as far inland as you have time to go; far
enough—this is the great point—to have shown you, in their quiet
vividness of type, a placid series of the things into which you may
most read the old story of what is softest in the English complexity.
I scarce know what murmur has been for weeks in my ears if it be not
that of the constant word that, as a recall of the story, may serve
to be put under the vignette. And yet this word is in its last form
nothing more eloquent than the mere admonition to be pleased. Well, so
you are, even as I was yesterday at Wesselton with the characteristic
“value” that expressed itself, however shyly, in the dear old red inn
at which I halted for the queer restorative—I thus discharge my debt to
it—of a bottle of lemonade with a “dash.” The dash was only of beer,
but the refreshment was immense. So even was that of the sight of a
dim, draped, sphinx-like figure that loomed, at the end of a polished
passage, out of a little dusky back parlour which had a windowful of
the choked light of a small green garden—a figure proving to be an
old woman desirous to dilate on all the years she had sat there with
rheumatism “most cruel.” So, inveterately—and in these cases without
the after-taste—is that of the pretty little park gates you pass to
skirt the walls and hedges beyond which the great affair, the greatest
of all, the deep, still home, sits in the midst of its acres and
strikes you all the more for being, precisely, so unrenowned. It is the
charming repeated lesson that the amenity of the famous seats in this
country is nothing to that of the lost and buried ones. This impression
in particular may bring you round again harmoniously to Dunwich and
above all perhaps to where the Priory, laid, as I may say, flat on its
back, rests its large outline on what was once the high ground, with
the inevitable “big” house, beyond and a little above, folded, for
privacy, in a neat, impenetrable wood. Here as elsewhere the cluster
offers without complication just the signs of the type. At the base of
the hill are the dozen cottages to which the village has been reduced,
and one of which contains, to my hearing, though by no means, alas, to
his own, a very ancient man who will count for you on his fingers, till
they fail, the grand acres that, in his day, he has seen go the way of
the rest. He likes to figure that he ploughed of old where only the sea
ploughs now. Dunwich, however, will still last his time; and that of as
many others as—to repeat my hint—may yet be drawn here (though not, I
hope, on the instance of these prudent lines) to judge for themselves
into how many meanings a few elements can compose. One never need be
bored, after all, when “composition” really rules. It rules in the way
the brown hamlet really disposes itself, and the grey square tower of
the church, in just the right relation, peeps out of trees that remind
me exactly of those which, in the frontispieces of Birket Foster,
offered to my childish credulity the very essence of England. Let me
put it directly for old Suffolk that this credulity finds itself here,
at the end of time, more than ever justified. Let me put it perhaps
also that the very essence of England has a way of presenting itself
with completeness in almost any fortuitous combination of rural objects
at all, so that, wherever you may be, you get, reduced and simplified,
the whole of the scale. The big house and its woods are always at hand;
with a “party” always, in the intervals of shooting, to bring down to
the rustic sports that keep up the tradition of the village green. The
russet, low-browed inn, the “ale-house” of Shakespeare, the immemorial
fountain of beer, looking over that expanse, swings, with an old-time
story-telling creak, the sign of the Marquis of Carabas. The pretty
girls, within sight of it, alight from the Marquis’s wagonette; the
young men with the one eye-glass and the new hat sit beside them on
the benches supplied for their sole accommodation, and thanks to which
the meditator on manners has, a little, the image, gathered from faded
fictions by female hands, of the company brought over, for the triumph
of the heroine, to the hunt or the county ball. And it is always Hodge
and Gaffer that, at bottom, _font les frais_—always the mild children
of the glebe on whom, in the last resort, the complex superstructure
rests.

  [Illustration: IN OLD SUFFOLK]

The discovery, in the twilight of time, of the merits, as a
building-site, of Hodge’s broad bent back remains surely one of the
most sagacious strokes of the race from which the squire and the parson
were to be evolved. He is there in force—at the rustic sports—in force
or in feebleness, with Mrs. Hodge and the Miss Hodges, who participate
with a silent glee in the chase, over fields where their shadows are
long, of a pig with a greased tail. He pulls his forelock in the tent
in which, after the pig is caught, the rewards of valour are dispensed
by the squire’s lady, and if he be in favour for respectability and
not behind with rent, he penetrates later to the lawn within the wood,
where he is awaited by a band of music and a collation of beer, buns,
and tobacco.

I mention these things as some of the light notes, but the picture
is never too empty for a stronger one not to sound. The strongest, at
Dunwich, is indeed one that, without in the least falsifying the scale,
counts immensely for filling in. The palm in the rustic sports is for
the bluejackets; as, in England, of course, nothing is easier than for
the village green to alternate with the element that Britannia still
more admirably rules. I had often dreamed that the ideal refuge for a
man of letters was a cottage so placed on the coast as to be circled,
as it were, by the protecting arm of the Admiralty. I remember to
have heard it said in the old country—in New York and Boston—that the
best place to live in is next to an engine-house, and it is on this
analogy that, at Dunwich, I have looked for ministering peace in near
neighbourhood to one of those stations of the coast-guard that, round
all the edge of England, at short intervals, on rock and sand and
heath, make, with shining whitewash and tar, clean as a great state is
at least theoretically clean, each its own little image of the reach
of the empire. It is in each case an image that, for one reason and
another, you respond to with a sort of thrill; and the thing becomes
as concrete as you can wish on your discovering in the three or four
individual members of the simple staff of the establishment all sorts
of educated decency and many sorts of beguilement to intercourse. Prime
among the latter, in truth, is the great yarn-spinning gift. It differs
from man to man, but here and there it glows like a cut ruby. May the
last darkness close before I cease to care for sea-folk!—though this,
I hasten to add, is not the private predilection at which, in these
incoherent notes, I proposed most to glance. Let me have mentioned it
merely as a sign that the fault is all my own if, this summer, the arm
of the Admiralty has not, in the full measure of my theory, represented
the protection under which the long literary morning may know—abyss of
delusion!—nothing but itself.

     DUNWICH, August 31, 1879.

  [Illustration]



INDEX


     Abergavenny, 247.

     “Adam Bede,” locality of, 216, 217.

     Aldeburgh, birthplace of Crabbe, 323, 324.

     Apsley House, 20, 21.

     Arnold, Matthew, 24;
       “The Sick King in Bokhara,” quoted, 29.

     Avon River, 90.


     Baillie, Joanna, 44.

     Banbury, 218.

     Becket, Thomas A’, his assassination at Canterbury, 149, 150;
       his shrine, 150, 151.

     Belgravia, 15, 16; in dog-days, 154.

     Blackheath, the Common, 168.

     Black Prince, the (_see_ Edward Plantagenet).

     Blunderstone, 318, 319.

     Bonchurch, 253, 254.

     Brighton, 278;
       gaiety of, 279.

     Broughton Castle, 219, 220.

     Browning, Robert, 51-59.

     Buckingham Palace, 21, 23.

     Bury St. Edmunds, 266;
       ruined abbey at, 267.


     Cambridge University, famous chapel of King’s College, 264, 265.

     Cambridgeshire, Newmarket Heath, 265, 266;
       shooting-boxes in, 266;
       Bury St. Edmunds, 266, 267.

     Canterbury, 142;
       the cathedral, 147-152;
       King’s School, 148, 149;
       where Becket was killed, 149, 150;
       tomb of the Black Prince, 150;
       Lady Chapel, 151;
       the pilgrimage to, 151.

     Charing Cross, 7;
       railway station, 42.

     Chatsworth, 87.

     Chaucer, his story-telling cavalcade, 151.

     Chelsea, 42, 43.

     Chester, ancient wall, 62-67;
       cathedral, 66, 72-76;
       the Rows, 67-72;
       Anglican service, 73, 74;
       Canon Kingsley, 73-75.

     Chichester, the cathedral, 257, 260;
       an old market cross, 259.

     Clapham, a classic community, 178, 179.

     Climate, richness of London, 17.

     Compton Wyniates, 220.

     Coventry, charity foundations, 210, 212, 213.

     Crabbe, George, birthplace of, 323, 324.


     “Daniel Deronda,” recalled in Warwickshire, 202, 203.

     “David Copperfield,” 290;
       retrospective pictures in, 65;
       sleeps under a cannon at Chatham, 145;
       his birthplace visited, 317, 318;
       home of the Peggottys, 319.

     “Denis Duval,” locality of, 288-315.

     Devonshire, beauties of, 93, 94.

     Dickens, Charles, retrospective pictures in “David Copperfield,”
         65;
       his Gadshill house, 143;
       recalled by talkative shopkeeper, 144;
       background of “Oliver Twist” identified, 274;
       birthplace of David visited, 317, 318.

     Doré, Gustave, his drawing suggested by Devon seacoast, 104.

     Dover, 142.

     Du Maurier, George, 19.

     Dunwich, a desolate seaport, 320-322;
       ruins of, 322, 323;
       FitzGerald’s tribute to quaintness of, 323;
       the Priory, 326;
       inroads of the sea, 326, 327;
       rural merry-making, 327, 328.


     Edward Plantagenet, his tomb, 150;
       “Fleur-de-Lis” inn named in honour of, 151;
         in the sea-fight off Winchelsea, 310.

     Edward III, fights Spaniards off Winchelsea, 310, 311.

     Eliot, George, characters in “Daniel Deronda” suggested, 202, 203;
       locality of “Adam Bede” and “Middlemarch,” 216, 217.

     England, its social discipline, 121, 122;
       universal church-going, 123-125;
       social usages, 125, 126;
       Easter exodus from London, 126;
       holiday spirit, 128, 129;
       Passion Week, 130-138;
       its people handsome, 136-138;
       its poverty depressing, 137;
       proletariat funeral, 138-141;
       no public entertainments, 157-159;
       prestige of, 170-173;
       the Egyptian occupation, 172, 173;
       Derby Day, 175-188;
       the country the basis of society, 176;
       a rural Sunday, 204, 205;
       types of English beauty, 206-208;
       rural scenery, 225-230;
       an English New Year, 269-275;
       watering-places in winter, 277-286.

     Epsom, Derby Day, 175-188.

     Exeter, the cathedral, 95-97.


     FitzGerald, Edward, tribute to Suffolk in his “Letters,” 323;
       fond of Crabbe’s birthplace, 323, 324.

     Fletcher, John, born at Rye, 309.

     Fog, London, 32, 33, 35, 131, 272.

     Foster, Birket, 327.


     Gladstone, William Ewart, speech on Egyptian occupation, 173.

     Glastonbury, 115, 116;
       ruined abbey of, 115-117.

     Green Park, 21-23.

     Greenwich, 43;
       dining at, 161-163;
       river excursion to, 164, 165;
       observatory and park, 166.

     Grosvenor Place, 21.


     Haddon Hall, 83-87.

     Hampstead, 43, 44.

     Hastings, 277;
       a little London, 278, 279;
       inns and hotels, 280-284;
       a quiet retreat, 285, 286.

     “Henry Esmond,” lines from, recalled, 5, 6;
       its Kensington setting, 44.

     Hyde Park, 18;
       the Row, 19, 20;
       the Corner, 20-23, 46;
       in dog-days, 153.


     Ilfracombe, 97-101.

     “Ingoldsby Legends,” an incident suggests, 5.

     Isle of Wight, detestable railways of, 251;
       Ryde, 251;
       Ventnor, 251-253;
       Bonchurch, 253, 254;
       Shanklin, 254.


     Johnson, Samuel, first glimpse of Temple Bar, 79;
       birthplace, 78-83.

     Jones, Inigo, 167.


     Kenilworth, 198-201.

     Kensington Gardens, enchanting vista in, 18.

     Kingsley, Charles, discourse at Chester, 74, 75.


     Lichfield, Dr. Johnson’s birth-house, 78;
       cathedral, 79-83;
       Haddon Hall, 83-87;
       Chatsworth, 87.

     Liverpool, first impression of, 2, 3, 5;
       journey from, to London, 3-5.

     London, first impressions of, 1, 4, 7, 8;
       St. Paul’s, 4;
       Morley’s Hotel, 4, 5;
       Temple Bar, 5;
       Ludgate Hill, 6;
       Strand, 6, 7;
       Charing Cross, 7;
       Piccadilly, 7, 8;
       its immensity an advantage, 8-13;
       creeds and coteries, 11;
       home of human race, 13;
       headquarters of English speech, 14;
       absence of style, 15;
       accident of style replaces intention, 16, 17;
       parks, 16-25;
       rural impressions, 18, 19;
       rustic walk from Notting Hill to Whitehall, 18-25;
       Hyde Park, 19-22;
       Hyde Park Corner, 20;
       Grosvenor Place 21;
       Apsley House, 20, 21;
       Green Park, 21-23;
       Buckingham Palace, 21-23;
       levelling tendencies of London life, 25-28;
       beautiful women the great admiration, 28;
       liberal hospitality, 29;
       cultivation of the abrupt, 29, 30;
       lights and shades, 31-36, 134;
       holidays, 34;
       railway stations, 37, 38;
       bookstalls, 38, 39;
       Thames River, 40-43;
       Hampstead, 43, 44;
       Kensington, 44;
         the Season, 45-51;
       Easter exodus, 126-128;
       Passion Week, 130-138;
       architectural ugliness, 133, 134;
       people of the slums, 137;
       proletariat funeral, 138-141;
       the Tower, 142, 143;
       dog-days in, 153-161;
       no “public fund” of amusement, 157-159;
       tramps, 160, 161;
       convivial gatherings, 162-164.

     Ludgate Hill, 6.

     Ludlow, a charming old town, 240;
       provincial society at, 241-243.

     Lynton, 102-104.


     Mayfair, mind of, residences of, 15, 16.

     “Middlemarch,” locality of, 216, 217.

     “Mill on the Floss,” retrospective pictures in, 65.

     Milton, John, 14.

     Monmouthshire, April in, 245, 246;
       the Skirrid, 246, 247;
       Abergavenny, 247;
       a mediæval church, 247-249;
       feudal manors, 249, 250.


     Newmarket Heath, 265, 266.

     Notting Hill, rustic walk to Whitehall, 18-25.

     North Devon, 93-105;
       Exeter Cathedral, 95-97;
       beauties of Ilfracombe, 97-101;
       Lynton, 102-104;
       Somerset, 104, 105.


     Odger, George, radical agitator, his funeral, 138-141.

     “Oliver Twist,” visit to a workhouse recalls, 274.

     Oxford, 41;
       at Commemoration, 189-196;
       typifies union of science and sense, 261;
       Trinity College, 261-264.


     “Pall Mall Gazette,” 176.

     Pall Mall, 32, 33.

     Piccadilly, 7, 8, 14, 21;
       funeral procession on, 130, 140;
       the “White House,” 177.

     Portsmouth, untidy and prosaic, 255, 256;
       Nelson’s “Victory,” 256, 257.

     “Punch,” 7.


     Queen Anne, statue of, 6.


     Rembrandt, pictures at Warwick Castle, 90.

     Rochester, the Dickens country, 143-145;
       Watts’s shelter, 144;
       the cathedral, 145-147.

     Ryde, 251.

     Rye, locality of “Denis Duval,” 288-315;
       old shipyards, 304, 306;
       old gardens, 304-306;
       haunt of artists, 306-308;
       birthplace of Fletcher, 309;
       landscape beauties, 313-315;
       Romney Marsh, 314.


     St. Leonards, 278, 285.

     St. Paul’s, cathedral of, 4.

     Salisbury, the cathedral, 117, 118;
       Stonehenge, 118, 119;
       Wilton House, 119, 120.

     Scott, Sir Walter, 290;
       locality of “Woodstock,” 221, 222.

     Serpentine, bridge over, 17, 18.

     Shakespeare, William, 14;
       Warwickshire his country, 88, 213, 214;
       his clowns, 201;
       Dame Quickly’s ale-house identified, 201;
       a garden setting for his comedies, 216.

     Shanklin, 254.

     “Sir Roger de Coverley,” visualized at Porlock, 105.

     Skirrid, the, 246, 247.

     Somerset, 104, 105.

     Stokesay, 236;
       the castle, 237-240.

     Stonehenge, 118, 119.

     Strand, first walk in, 6;
       Exeter Hall, 6, 7.

     Stratford, 201;
       ideal home for a scholar, 214;
       a modern house in, 215.

     Suffolk, locality of “David Copperfield,” 317-319;
       Dunwich, 320-330;
       Aldeburgh, 323, 324;
       Wesselton, 325, 326.

     Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 323.


     Temple Bar, 5;
       Dr. Johnson’s first glimpse, 79.

     Thackeray, William Makepeace, locality of “Denis Duval,” 288-315;
         “Lovel the Widower,” 288;
       Adventures of Philip, 288;
       “Henry Esmond,” 289;
       “The Roundabout Papers,” 295, 296.

     Thames River, 15;
       beauties of, 40-42;
       penny steamboats on, 142, 164, 165.


     Vandyck, Anthony, pictures at Warwick Castle, 90, 91;
       portraits at Wilton House, 119, 120.

     Ventnor, 251-253.


     Warwick, 89;
       the castle, 89-91;
       Leicester’s Hospital, 210-212.

     Warwickshire, 87, 88;
       centre of English life, 197;
       Kenilworth, 198-201;
       an old rectory, 201-207;
       a Sunday in, 204, 205;
       pretty girls of, 207, 208;
       conservatism of, 208-210;
       charitable institutions, 210-213;
       Stratford, 214, 215;
       Broughton Castle, 219, 220;
       Compton Wyniates, 220;
       Wroxton Abbey, 222, 223.

     Wells, the cathedral, 107-112;
       the close, 112;
       Bishop’s Palace, 113, 114;
       beautiful church of St. Cuthbert, 114;
       Glastonbury Abbey, 115-117.

     Wesley, John, his last sermon at Winchelsea, 309.

     Wesselton, 325, 326.

     Westminster, impressive towers of, 18, 23.

     Westminster Abbey, Browning in, 51-59;
       Easter service at, 135.

     Winchelsea, locality of “Denis Duval,” 288-315;
       inroads of the sea, 302;
       her great church, 302, 303;
       plans for expansion, 303, 304;
       Wesley’s last sermon preached at, 309;
       sea-fight with Spaniards in, 310;
       atmospheric and colour effects at, 312, 313.

     “Woodstock,” its locality, 221, 222.

     Woolwich, walk from Blackheath to, 168;
       the common, 169;
       military college and arsenal, 169;
       feelings inspired by, 170-173.

     Wroxton Abbey, 222, 223.

     Wye River, 83.



FOOTNOTE


     [1] The monument in the middle of the square, with Sir Edgar
     Boehm’s four fine soldiers, had not been set up when these words
     were written.





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