HERE were so many pleasing places within easy

reach of Bath that it was hard to choose among them, and Bath itself was so constantly pleasing that it was a serious loss to leave it for a day, for an hour. I do not know, now, why we should have gone first, when we gathered force to break the charm, to Bradford-onAvon. If we did not go first to Wells it was perhaps because we balanced the merits of an eighth-century Saxon Chapel against those of a twelfth-century Cathedral, and felt that the chapel had a prior claim. Possibly, spoiled as we were by the accessibility of places in England, and relaxed as we were by the air of Bath, we shrank from spending five or six hours in the run to Wells when we could get to and from Bradford in little or no time. Wells is one of the exceptions to the rule that in England everything is within easy reach from everywhere, or else Bath is an exception among the places that Wells is within easy reach of. At any rate we were at Bradford almost before we knew it, or knew anything of its history, which there is really a good deal of.

The best of this history seems to be that when in the year 652 the Saxon King of Wessex overcame the Britons in a signal victory, he did not exterminate the survivors, but allowed them to become the fellow-sub

jects of their Saxon conquerors under his rule. Just how great a blessing this was it would not be easy to say at the actual distance of time, but it seems to have been thought a good deal of a blessing for a King of Wessex to bestow. To crown it, some fifty years later, a monastery was founded in Bradford, by St. Aldhelm, a nephew of the King. A chapel was built on the site of the uncle's battle with the Britons, and such as it was then such we now saw it, the vicar of the parish having not long ago rescued it from its irreligious uses as a cottage dwelling and a free school, and restored it spiritually and materially to its original function. It is precious for being the only old church in England which is wholly unchanged in form, and though very small and very rude it is pathetically interesting. It seemed somehow much older than many monuments of my acquaintance which greatly antedated it; much older, say, than the Roman remains at Bath, for it is a relic of the remote beginning of an order of things, and not the remnant of a fading civilization. No doubt the Saxons who built it on the low hill slope where it stands, in a rude semblance of the Roman churches which were the only models of Christian architecture they could have seen, thought it an edifice of the dignity since imparted to it by the lapse of centuries. Without, the grass grew close to its foundations, in the narrow plot of ground about it, and the sturdy little fabric showed its Romanesque forms in the gray stone pierced by mere slits of windows, which gave so faint a light within that, after entering, one must wait a moment before attempting to move about in the cramped, dungeon-like space. With the simple altar, and the chairs set before it for worshippers, it gave an awful sense of that English continuity on which political and religious changes vainly

break: the parts knit themselves together again, and transmit the original consciousness from age to age. The type of beauty in the child who sold us permits to see the chapel and followed us into it was in like manner that of the Saxon maids whose hulking fathers had beaten in battle the fierce, dark little Britons on that spot twelve hundred years before: the same blazing red cheeks, the same blue, blue eyes, the same sunny hair which has always had to make up for the want of other sunniness in that dim clime, falling round the fair neck. No doubt the snuffles with which the pretty creature suffered were also of the same date and had descended from mother to daughter in the thirty generations dwelling in just such stone-cold stone cottages as that where we found her. It was one of a row of cottages near the chapel, of a red-tiled, many-gabled, leaden-sashed, diamond-paned picturesqueness that I have never seen surpassed out of the theatre, or a Kate Greenaway picture, and was damp with the immemorial dampness that inundated us from the open door when we approached. What perpetuity of colds in the head must be the lot of youth in such abodes; how rheumatism must run riot among the joints of age in the very beds and chimney-corners! Better, it sometimes seemed, the plainest prose ever devised by a Yankee carpenter in dry and comfortable wood than the deadly poetry of such dwellings.

But there were actually some wooden houses in Bradford, or partially wooden, which the driver of our fly took us to see when we had otherwise exhausted the place. They had the timbered gables of the Tudor times, when, as I have noted, the English seemed to build with an instinct for comfort earlier unknown and later lost; otherwise Bradford was of stone, stony. It

studded the slopes of its broken uplands with warts and knots of little dwellings, and had a certain foreignness, possibly imparted by the long abode of the Flemish cloth-workers whom an enterprising manufacturer invited to the place centuries before, and whose skill established its ancient industry in a finer product and a greater prosperity. Now, one reads, the competition of the same art in Yorkshire has reduced the weavers of Bradford to a fifth of their number fifty years ago. But the presence of the Flemings was so influential in the seventeenth century that they had a quarter of their own, and altogether there were intimations in Bradford so Continental, the raw rainy day of our visit, that I thought if it could have had a little sun on it there were moments when it might have looked Italian.

Perhaps not, and I do not mean that in its own way it was not delightful. We wandered from the station into it by a bridge over the Avon that was all a bridge could be asked to be by the most exacting tourist, who could not have asked more, midway, than a guardhouse which had become a chapel, and then a lock-up, and finally an object of interest merely. When we had got well into the town, and wanted a carriage, we were taken in charge by the kindest policeman that ever befriended strangers. If not the only policeman in Bradford, he was the only one on duty, and his duty was mainly, as it seemed, to do us any pleasure he could. He told us where we could find a fly, and not content with this, he went in person with us to the stable-yard, and did not leave us till he had made a boy come out and promise us a fly immediately. Never, even when girdled by the protecting arm of a blue giant resolved to bring my gray hairs in safety to some thither side of Fifth Avenue or Broadway, have I known such sweet

ness in a minister of the law. We could only thank him again and again, and vainly wish that we might do something for him in return. But what can one do for a policeman except offer him a cigar? But if one does not smoke?

The stable-boy seemed a well-grown lad in that character, but when he put on a metal-buttoned coat and a top-hat, and coachman's boots in honor of us, he shrank into the smallest-sized man. It seemed the harder, therefore, that when he proposed to bow us into the fly with fit dignity, and pulled open the door, it should come off its hinge and hang by its handle from his grasp. But we did what we could to ignore the mortifying incident, and after that we abetted him in always letting us out on the other side.

His intelligence was creditable to him as a large boy, if not as a small man, and but for him we should not have seen those timbered houses which were in a street dreadfully called, with the English frankness which never spares the sensibilities of strangers, The Shambles. With us shambles are only known in tragic poetry; in real life they veil their horror in delicate French and become abattoirs; but as that street in Bradford was probably the Shambles in 652, the year of the great Saxon victory over the Britons, it was still so called in the year of our visit, 1904. We did not complain; the houses were not so wooden as we could have wished for the sake of the rheumatism and snuffles within, but they must have been drier than houses entirely of stone. Besides we had just come warm from the Italian aspect of one of the most charming houses I saw in England, and we did not really much mind the discomfort of others. The house was that Kingston House, worldfamous for having been reproduced in papier-maché at

« VorigeDoorgaan »