cial and industrial times, of a feudal condition so wholly obsolete in its alien admirer's experience that none of the imitations of it which he has seen at home suggest it more than by a picturesqueness almost as provisional as that of the theatre.

What the alien has to confess in its presence is that it is an essential part of a system which seems to work, and in the simpler terms, to work admirably; so that if he has a heart to which the ideal of human equality is dear, it must shrink with certain withering doubts as he looks on the lovely landscapes everywhere in which those who till the fields and keep the woods have no ownership, in severalty or in common. He must remember how persistently and recurrently this has been the history of mankind, how, while democracies and republics have come and gone, patrician and plebeian, sovereign and subject, have remained, or have returned after they had passed. If he is a pilgrim reverting from the new world to which the outgoing pilgrims sailed, there to open from the primeval woods a new heaven and a new earth, his dismay will not justly be for the persistence of the old forms which they left behind, but for the question whether these forms have not somehow fixed themselves as firmly and lastingly in his native as in his ancestral country. I do not say that any such anxieties spoiled the pleasure of my afternoon. I was perhaps expecting to see much more perfect instances of the kind, and I was probably postponing the psychological effect to these. It is a fault of travel that you are always looking forward to something more typical, and you neglect immediate examples because they offer themselves at the outset, or you reject them as only approximately representative to find that they are never afterwards surpassed. That was the case with our hotel,

which was quite perfect in its way: a way rather new to England, I believe, and quite new to my knowledge of England.

It is a sort of hotel where you can live for as short or as long a time as you will at an inclusive rate for the day or week, and always in greater comfort for less money than you can at home, except in the mere matter of warmth. Warm you cannot be in-doors, and why should not you go out-doors for warmth, when the subtropical growths in the well-kept garden, which never fails to enclose that kind of hotel, are flourishing in a temperature distinctly above freezing? They always had the long windows, that opened into the garden, ajar when we came into the reading-room after dinner, and the modest little fire in the grate veiled itself under a covering of cinders or coal-siftings, so that it was not certain that the first-comer who got the chair next to it was luckiest. Yet around this cold hearth the social ice was easily broken, and there bubbled up a better sort of friendly talk than always follows our diffidence in public places at home. Without knowing it, or being able to realize it at that moment, we were confronted with a social condition which is becoming more and more general in England, where in winter even more than in summer people have the habit of leaving town for a longer or a shorter time, which they spend in a hotel like ours at Plymouth. There they meet in apparent fearlessness of the consequences of being more or less agreeable to one another, and then part as informally as they meet. But as yet we did not know that there was that sort of hotel or that we were in it, and we lost the earliest occasion of realizing a typical phase of recent English civilization.

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]



HE weather, on the morning we left Plymouth, was at once cloudy and fair, and chilly and warm, as it can be only in England. It ended by cheering up, if not quite clearing up, and from time to time the sun shone so brightly into our railway carriage that we said it would have been absurd to supplement it with the hot-water foot-warmer which, in many trains, still embodies the English notion of car-heating. The sun shone even more brightly outside, and lay in patches much larger than our compartment floor on the varied surface of that lovely English country with which we rapturously acquainted and reacquainted ourselves, as the train bore us smoothly (but not quite so smoothly as some American trains would have borne us) away from the sea and up towards the heart of the land. The trees, except the semitropical growths, were leafless yet, with no sign of budding; the grass was not so green as at Plymouth; but there were primroses (or cowslips: does it matter which?) in bloom along the railroad banks, and young lambs in the meadows where their elders nosed listlessly among the chopped turnips strewn over the turf. Whether it was in mere surfeit, or in an invincible distaste for turnips, or an instinctive repulsion from their frequent association at table, that the sheep everywhere showed this apathy, I cannot make so sure

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

as I can of such characteristic features of the landscape as the gray stone cottages with thatched roofs, and the gray stone villages with tiled roofs clustering about the knees of a venerable mother-church and then thinning off into the scattered cottages again.

As yet we were not fully sensible of the sparsity of the cottages; that is something which grows upon you in England, as the reasons for it become more a part of your knowledge. Then you realize why a far older country where the land is in a few hands must be far lonelier than ours, where each farmer owns his farm, and lives on it. Mile after mile you pass through carefully tilled fields with no sign of a human habitation, but at first your eyes and your thoughts are holden from the fact in a vision of things endeared by association from the earliest moment of your intellectual nonage. The primroses, if they are primroses and not cowslips, are a pale-yellow wash in the grass; the ivy is creeping over the banks and walls, and climbing the trees, and clothing their wintry nakedness; the hedgerows, lifted on turf-covered foundations of stone, change the pattern of the web they weave over the prospect as your train passes; the rooks are drifting high or drifting low; the little streams loiter brimful through the meadows steeped in perpetual rains; and all these material facts have a witchery from poetry and romance to transmute you to a common substance of tradition. The quick transition from the present to the past, from the industrial to the feudal, and back again as your train flies through the smoke of busy towns, and then suddenly skirts some nobleman's park where the herds of fallow deer lie motionless on the borders of the lawn sloping up to the stately mansion, is an effect of the magic that could nowhere else bring the tenth and

[ocr errors]

twentieth centuries so bewilderingly together. At times, in the open, I seemed to be traversing certain pastoral regions of southern Ohio; at other times, when the woods grew close to the railroad track, I was following the borders of Beverly Farms on the Massachusetts shore, in either case recklessly irresponsible for the illusion, which if I had been in one place or the other I could have easily reversed, and so been back in England.

The run from Plymouth to Exeter is only an hour and a half, but in that short space we stopped four or five minutes at towns where I should have been glad to have stopped as many days if I had known what I lost by hurrying on. I do not know it yet, but I know that one loses so greatly in every sort of high interest at all the towns one does not stop at in England that one departs at last a ruined, a beggared man. As it was we could only avert our faces from the pane as we drew out of each tempting station, and sigh for the certainty of Exeter's claims upon us. There our first cathedral was waiting us, and there we knew, from the words which no guide-book fails to repeat, that we should find "a typical English city . . . alike of Briton, Roman, and Englishman, the one great prize of the Christian Saxon, the city where Jupiter gave way to Christ, but where Christ never gave way to Wodin. . . . None other can trace up a life so unbroken to so remote a past." Whether, when we found it, we found it equal to the unique grandeur imputed to it, I prefer to escape saying by saying that the cathedral at Exeter is more than equal to any expectation you can form of it, even if it is not your first cathedral. A city of scarcely forty thousand inhabitants may well be forgiven if it cannot look an unbroken life from so remote a past as Exeter's.

« VorigeDoorgaan »