of the neighborhood, which smelt of immemorial catches of fish, both from the adjacent market and from the lumpish, quaintly rigged craft crowding one another in the docks and composing in an insurpassable picturesqueness; and she directed us wherever we wanted to go.

The barbican of the citadel from which the Mayflower sailed, before there was either citadel or barbican, is no great remove from the Hoe, which may justly enough boast itself "the finest promenade in England," but it is quite in another world: a seventeenth-century world of narrow streets crooking up hill and down, and overhung by the little bulging houses which the pilgrims must have seen as they came and went on their affairs with the ship, scarcely bigger than the fishing-boats now nosing at the quay where she then lay. Whatever it was in the Mayflower's time, it is not a proud neighborhood in ours, nor has it any reason to be proud; for it is apparently what is indefinitely called a purlieu. At one point where I climbed a steep thoroughfare to look at what no doubt unwarrantably professed to be a remnant of "Cromwell's castle," I met an elderly man, who was apparently looking up truant school-children, and who said, quite without prompting, "This used to be 'ell upon earth," with something in his tone implying that it might still be a little like it. We could not get into the ruin, the solitary who tenanted its one habitable room being away on a visit, as a neighbor put her head out of a window opposite to tell us.

Probably the traveller who wishes for a just impression of the Plymouth of 1620 will get it more reliably somewhat away from the immediate scene of the Mayflower's departure. There are old houses abundantly overhanging their first stories, after the seventeenthcentury fashion, in the pleasanter streets which keep

aloof from the water. If he is more bent upon a sense of modern Plymouth he will do best to visit her group of public edifices, the Guild Hall, the Law Courts, the Library, and see all that I did not see of the vast shipping which constitutes her one of the greatest English ports, and the government works which magnify her importance among the naval stations of the world.

It is always best to leave something for a later comer, and I may seem almost to have left too much by any one whom I shall have inspired to linger in Plymouth long enough after landing to get his sea-legs off. But really I was continually finding the most charming things. The very business aspects of Plymouth had their charm. I saw a great prosperity around me, but there was no sense of the hustle which is supposed alone to create prosperity with us. I dare say that below the unruffled surface of life there is sordid turmoil enough, but I did not perceive it, and I prefer still to think of Plymouth as the first of the many places in England where the home-wearied American might spend his last days in the repose of a peaceful exile, with all the comforts, which only much money can buy with us, cheaply about him. He could live like a gentleman in Plymouth for about half what the same state would cost him in his own air, unless he went as far inland as the inexpensive Middle West, and then it would be dearer in as large a town. He could keep his republican self-respect in his agreeable banishment by remembering how Plymouth had held for the Commonwealth in Cromwell's time, and the very name of the place would bring him near to the heroic Plymouth on the other shore of the Atlantic. I speak from experience, for even in my two days' stay with the mother Plymouth I had now and then a vision of the daughter Plymouth, on the elm-shaded slopes of

her landlocked bay, filially the subordinate in numbers and riches with which she began her alien life. Still of wood, as the English Plymouth is still of stone, and newer by a thousand years, she has an antiquity of her own precious to Americans, and a gentle picturesqueness which I found endearing when I first saw her in the later eighteen-sixties, and which I now recalled as worthy of her lineage. Perhaps it was because I had always thought the younger Plymouth would be a kind dwellingplace that I fancied a potential hospitality in the elder. At any rate I thought it well, while I was on the ground, to choose a good many eligible residences, not only among the proud mansions overlooking the Hoe, but in some of the streets whose gentility had decayed, but which were still keeping up appearances in their fine roomy old houses, or again in the newer and simpler surburban avenues, where I thought I could be content in one of the pretty stone cottages costing me forty pounds a year, with my holly hedge before me belting in a little garden of all but perennial bloom.

We had chanced upon weather that we might easily have mistaken for climate. There was the lustre of soft sunshine in it, and there was the song of birds in the wooded and gardened pleasaunces which opened in several directions about the Hoe, and seemed to follow the vagarious lines of ancient fortifications. Whether weather or climate, it could not have been more suitable for the excursion we planned our last afternoon across that stretch of water which separates Plymouth from the seat of the lords who have their title from the great estate. The mansion is not one of the noble houses which are open to the public in England, and even to get into the grounds you must have leave from the manor - house. This will not quite answer

[ocr errors]

the raw American's expectation of a manor-house; it looks more like a kind of office in a Plymouth street; but if you get from it as guide a veteran of the navy with an agreeable cast in his eye, and an effect of involuntary humor in his rusty voice, you have not really so much to complain of. In our own case the veteran's intelligence seemed limited to delivering us over at gates to gardeners and the like, who gave us back to his keeping after the just recognition of their vested interests, and then left him to walk us unsparingly over the whole place, which had grown as large at least as some of our smaller States, say Connecticut or New Jersey, by the time we had compassed it. We imagined afterwards that he might have led us a long way about, not from stupidity, but from a sardonic amusement in our protests; and we were sure he knew that the bird he called a nightingale was no nightingale. It was as if he had said to himself, on our asking if there were none there, “Well, if they want a nightingale, let 'em have it," and had chosen the first songster we heard. There were already songsters enough in the trees about to choose any sort from, for we were now in Cornwall, and the spring is very early in Cornwall. There were primroses growing at the roots of the trees in the park; in the garden closes were bamboos and palms, and rhododendrons in bloom, with cork-trees and ilexes, springing from the soaked earth which the sun damply shining from the spongy heavens could never have dried. The confusion of the tropical and temperate zones in this air, which was that of neither or both, was somewhat heightened by the first we saw of those cedars of Lebanon which so abound in England that you can hardly imagine any left on LebaIt was a dark, spreading tree, with a biblical seriousness and an oriental poetry of aspect, under


whose low shelving branches one might think to find the scripturalized childhood of our race. The gardens, whether English or French or Italian, appealed to a more sophisticated consciousness; but it had all a dim, blurred fascination which words refuse to impart, and the rooks, wheeling in their aërial orbits overhead, seemed to deepen the spell with the monotony of their mystical incantations. There were woodland spaces which had the democratic friendliness of American woods, as if not knowing themselves part of a nobleman's estate, and which gave the foot a home welcome with the bedding of their fallen leaves. But the rabbits which had everywhere broken the close mossy turf with their burrowing and thrown out the red soil over the grass, must have been consciously a part of the English order. As for the deer, lying in herds, or posing statuesquely against the sky on some stretch of summit, they were as absolutely a part of it as if they had been in the peerage. A flag floated over the Elizabethan mansion of gray stone (rained a fine greenish in the long succession of springs and falls), to intimate that the family was at home, and invite the public to respect its privacy by keeping away from the grounds next about it; and in the impersonal touch of exclusion which could be so impersonally accepted, the sense of certain English things was perfected. You read of them all your life, till you imagine them things of actual experience, but when you come face to face with them you perceive that till then they have been as unreal as anything else in the romances where you frequented them, and that you have not known thier true quality and significance. In fiction they stood for a state as gracious as it was splendid, and welcomed the reader to an equal share in it; but in fact they imply the robust survival, in commer

« VorigeDoorgaan »