No other town can present so vivid and clean-cut a fossil of the seven hundred years into which poured and melted all the dissolution of antiquity, and out of which was formed or chrystallised the highly specialised diversity of our modern Europe.
In the fascination of extreme age many English sites are richer; Winchester and Canterbury may be quoted from among a hundred. In the superimposition of age upon age of human history, Arles and Rome are far more surprising. In historic continuity most European towns surpass it, from Paris, whose public justice, worship, and market have kept to the same site for quite sixteen centuries, to London, of which the city at least preserves upon three sides the Roman limit. But no town can of its nature give as does Carcassonne this overwhelming impression of survival or resurrection.
* * * * *
The attitude and position of Carcassonne enforce its character. Up above the river, but a little set back from the valley, right against the dawn as you come to it from Toulouse through the morning, stands a long, steep, and isolated rock, the whole summit of which from the sharp cliff on the north to that other on the south is doubled in height by what seems one vast wall—and more than twenty towers. Indeed, it is at such a time, in early morning, and best in winter when the frost defines and chisels every outline, that Carcassonne should be drawn. You then see it in a band of dark blue-grey, all even in texture, serrated and battlemented and towered, with the metallic shining of the dawn behind it.
So to have seen it makes it very difficult to write of it or even to paint; what one wishes to do is rather to work it out in enamel upon a surface of bronze. This rock, wholly covered with the works of the city, stands looking at the Pyrenees and holding the only level valley between the Mediterranean and the Garonne, and even if one had read nothing concerning it one would understand why it has filled all the legends of the return of armies from Spain, why Victor Hugo could not rest from the memory of it, and why it is so strongly woven in with the story of Charlemagne.
There is another and better reason for the quality of Carcassonne, and that is the act, to which I can recall no perfect parallel in Christian history, by which St. Louis turned what had been a living town into a mere stronghold. Every inhabitant of Carcassonne was transferred, not to suburbs, but right beyond the river, a mile and more away, to the site of that delightful town which is the Carcassonne of maps and railways, the place where the seventeenth century meets you in graceful ornaments, and where is, to my certain knowledge, the best inn south of parallel 45. St. Louis turned the rock into a mere stronghold, strengthened it, built new towers, and curtained them into that unsurpassable masonry of the central Middle Ages which you may yet admire in Aigues-Mortes and in Carnarvon.
This political act, the removal of a whole city, may have been accomplished in many other places; it is certainly recorded of many: but, for the moment at least, I can remember none except Carcassonne in which its consequences have remained. To this many causes have contributed, but chiefly this, that the new town was transferred to the open plain from the trammels of a narrow plateau, just at the moment when all the towns of Western Europe were growing and breaking their bonds; just after the principal cities of north-western Europe had got their charters, and when Paris (the typical municipality of that age as of our own) was trebling its area and its population.
The transference of the population once accomplished, the rock and towers of Carcassonne ceased to change and to grow. Humanity was gone. The fortress was still of great value in war; the Black Prince attempted its destruction, and it is only within living memory that it ceased to be set down on maps (and in Government offices!) as a fortified place: but the necessity for immediate defence, and the labour which would have remodelled it, had disappeared. There had disappeared also that eager and destructive activity which accompanies any permanent gathering of French families. The new town on the plain changed perpetually, and is changing still. It has lost almost everything of the Middle Ages; it carries, by a sort of momentum, a flavour of Louis XIV, but the masons are at it as they are everywhere, from the Channel to the Mediterranean; for to pull down and rebuild is the permanent recreation of the French. The rock remains. It is put in order whenever a stone falls out of place—no one of weight has talked nonsense here against restoration, for the sense of the past is too strong—but though it is minutely and continually repaired, Old Carcassonne does not change. There is no other set of walls in Europe of which this is true.
* * * * *
Walking round the circuit of these walls and watching from their height the long line of the mountains, one is first held by that modern subject, the landscape, or that still more modern fascination of great hills. Next one feels what the Middle Ages designed of mass and weight and height, and wonders by what accident of the mind they so succeeded in suggesting infinity: one remembers Beauvais, which is infinitely high at evening, and the tower of Portrut, which seems bigger than any hill.
But when these commoner emotions are passed, one comes upon a very different thing. A little tower there, jutting out perilously from the wall, shows three courses of a small red brick set in a mortar-like stone. When I saw this kind of building I went close up and touched it with my hand. It was Roman. I knew the signal well. I had seen that brick, and picked it loose from an Arab stable on the edge of the Sahara, and I had seen it jutting through moss on the high moors of Northumberland. I know a man who reverently brought home to Sussex such another, which he had found unbroken far beyond Damascus upon the Syrian sand.
It is easy to speak of the Empire and to say that it established its order from the Tyne to the Euphrates; but when one has travelled alone and on foot up and down the world and seen its vastness and its complexity, and yet everywhere the unity even of bricks in their courses, then one begins to understand the name of Rome.
Every man that lands in Lynn feels all through him the antiquity and the call of the town; but especially if he comes, as I came in with another man in springtime, from the miles and miles of emptiness and miles of bending grass and the shouting of the wind. After that morning, in which one had been a little point on an immense plane, with the gale not only above one, as it commonly is, but all around one as it is at sea; and after having steeped one's mind in the peculiar loneliness which haunts a stretch of ill-defined and wasted shore, the narrow, varied, and unordered streets of the port enhance the creations of man and emphasise his presence.
Words so few are necessarily obscure. Let me expand them. I mean that the unexpected turning of the ways in such a port is perpetually revealing something new; that the little spaces frame, as it were, each unexpected sight: thus at the end of a street one will catch a patch of the Fens beyond the river, a great moving sail, a cloud, or the sculptured corner of an excellent house.
The same history also that permitted continual encroachment upon the public thoroughfares and that built up a gradual High Street upon the line of some cow-track leading from the fields to the ferry, the spirit that everywhere permitted the powerful or the cunning to withstand authority—that history (which is the history of all our little English towns) has endowed Lynn with an endless diversity.
It is not only that the separate things in such towns are delightful, nor only that one comes upon them suddenly, but also that these separate things are so many. They have characters as men have. There is nothing of that repetition which must accompany the love of order and the presence of strong laws. The similar insistent forms which go with a strong civilisation, as they give it majesty, so they give it also gloom, and a heavy feeling of finality: these are quite lacking here in England, where the poor have for so long submitted to the domination of the rich, and the rich have dreaded and refused a central government. Everything that goes with the power of individuals has added peculiarity and meaning to all the stones of Lynn. Moreover, a quality whose absence all men now deplore was once higher in England than anywhere else, save, perhaps, in the northern Italian hills. I mean ownership, and what comes from ownership—the love of home.
You can see the past effect of ownership and individuality in Lynn as clearly as you can catch affection or menace in a human voice. The outward expression is most manifest, and to pass in and out along the lanes in front of the old houses inspires in one precisely those emotions which are aroused by a human crowd.
All the roofs of Lynn and all its pavements are worthy (as though they were living beings) of individual names.
Along the river shore, from the race of the ebb that had so nearly drowned me many years before, I watched the walls that mark the edge of the town against the Ouse, and especially that group towards which the ferry-boat was struggling against the eddy and tumble of the tide.
They were walls of every age, not high, brick of a dozen harmonious tones, with the accidents, corners, and breaches of perhaps seven hundred years. Beyond, to the left, down the river, stood the masts in the new docks that were built to preserve the trade of this difficult port. Up-river, great new works of I know not what kind stood like a bastion against the plain; and in between ran these oldest bits of Lynn, somnolescent and refreshing—permanent.
The lanes up from the Ouse when I landed I found to be of a slow and natural growth, with that slight bend to them that comes, I believe, from the drying of fishing-nets. For it is said that courts of this kind grew up in our sea-towns all round our eastern and the southern coast in such a manner. It happened thus.
The town would begin upon the highest of the bank, for it was flatter for building, drier and easier to defend than that part next to the water. Down from the town to the shore the fishermen would lay out their nets to dry. How nets look when they are so laid, their narrowness and the curve they take, everybody knows. Then on the spaces between the nets shanties would be built, or old boats turned upside down for shelter, so that the curing of fish and the boiling of tar and the serving and parcelling of ropes could be done under cover. Then as the number of people grew, the squatters' land got value, and houses were raised (you will find many small freeholds in such rows to this day), but the lines of the net remained in the alley-ways between the houses.
All this I was once told by an old man who helped me to take my boat down Breydon. He wore trousers of a brick red, and the stuff of them as thick as boards, and had on also a very thick jersey and a cap of fur. He was shaved upon his lips and chin, but all round the rest of his face was a beard. He smoked a tiny pipe, quite black, and upon matters within his own experience he was a great liar; but upon matters of tradition I was willing to believe him.
Within the town, when I had gained it from that lane which has been the ferry-lane, I suppose, since the ferry began, age and distinction were everywhere.
Where else, thought I, in England could you say that nine years would make no change? Whether, indeed, the Globe had that same wine of the nineties I could not tell, for the hour was not congenial to wine; but if it has some store of its Burgundy left from those days it must be better still by now, for Burgundy wine takes nine years to mature, for nine years remains in the plenitude of its powers, and for nine years more declines into an honourable age; and this is also true of claret, but in claret it goes by sevens.
* * * * *
The open square of the town, which one looks at from the Globe, gives one a mingled pleasure of reminiscence and discovery. It breaks on one abruptly. It is as wide as the pasture field, and all the houses are ample and largely founded. Indeed, throughout this country, elbow-room—the sense that there is space enough and to spare in such flats and under an open sky—has filled the minds of builders. You may see it in all the inland towns of the Fens; and one found it again here upon the further bank, upon the edge of the Fens; for though Lynn is just off the Fens, yet it looks upon their horizon and their sky, and belongs to them in spirit.
In this large and comfortable square a very steadfast and most considerable English bank is to be discovered. It is of honest brown brick! its architecture is of the plainest; its appearance is such that its credit could never fail, and that the house alone by its presence could conduct a dignified business for ever. The rooms in it are so many and so great that the owners of such a bank (having become princes by its success) could inhabit them with a majesty worthy of their new title. But who lives above his shop since Richardson died? And did old Richardson? Lord knows!... Anyhow, the bank is glorious, and it is but one of the fifty houses that I saw in Lynn.
Thus, in the same street as the Globe, was a facade of stone. If it was Georgian, it was very early Georgian, for it was relieved with ornaments of a delicate and accurate sort, and the proportions were exactly satisfying to the eye that looked on it. The stone also was of that kind (Portland stone, I think) which goes black and white with age, and which is better suited than any other to the English climate.
In another house near the church I saw a roof that might have been a roof for a town. It covered the living part and the stables, and the outhouse and the brewhouse, and the barns, and for all I know the pig-pens and the pigeons' as well. It was a benediction of a roof—a roof traditional, a roof patriarchal, a roof customary, a roof of permanence and unity, a roof that physically sheltered and spiritually sustained, a roof majestic, a roof eternal. In a word, it was a roof catholic.
And what, thought I, is paid yearly in this town for such a roof as that? I do not know; but I know of another roof at Goudhurst, in Kent, which would have cost me less than L100 a year, only I could not get it for love or money.
Then is also in Lynn a Custom House not very English, but very beautiful. The faces carved upon it were so vivid that I could not but believe them to have been carved in the Netherlands, and from this Custom House looks down the pinched, unhappy face of that narrow gentleman whom the great families destroyed—James II.
There is also in Lynn what I did not know was to be seen out of Sussex—a Tudor building of chipped flints, and on it the mouldering arms of Elizabeth.
The last Gothic of this Bishop's borough which the King seized from the Church clings to chance houses in little carven masks and occasional ogives: there is everywhere a feast for whatever in the mind is curious, searching, and reverent, and over the town, as over all the failing ports of our silting eastern seaboard, hangs the air of a great past time, the influence of the Baltic and the Lowlands.
* * * * *
For these ancient places do not change, they permit themselves to stand apart and to repose and—by paying that price—almost alone of all things in England they preserve some historic continuity, and satisfy the memories in one's blood.
* * * * *
So having come round to the Ouse again, and to the edge of the Fens at Lynn, I went off at random whither next it pleased me to go.
I had slept perhaps seven hours when a lantern woke me, flashed in my face, and I wondered confusedly why there was straw in my bed; then I remembered that I was not in bed at all, but on manoeuvres. I looked up and saw a sergeant with a bit of paper in his hand. He was giving out orders, and the little light he carried sparkled on the gold of his great dark-blue coat.
"You, the Englishman," he said (for that was what they called me as a nickname), "go with the gunners to-day. Where is Labbe?"
Labbe (that man by profession a cook, by inclination a marquis, and now by destiny a very good driver of guns) the day before had gone on foot. To-day he was to ride. I pointed him out where he still lay sleeping. The sergeant stirred him about with his foot, and said, "Pacte and Basilique"; and Labbe grunted. In this simple way every one knew his duty—Labbe that he had another hour's sleep and more, and that he was to take my horses: I, that I must rise and get off to the square.
Then the sergeant went out of the barn, cursing the straw on his spurs, and I lit a match and brushed down my clothes and ran off to the square. It was not yet two in the morning.
The gunners were drawn up in a double line, and we reserve drivers stood separate (there were only a dozen of us), and when they formed fours we were at the tail. There was a lieutenant with us and a sergeant, also two bombardiers—all mounted; and so we went off, keeping step till we were out of the town, and then marching as we chose and thanking God for the change. For it is no easy matter for drivers to march with gunners; their swords impede them, and though the French drivers have not the ridiculous top-boots that theatricalise other armies, yet even their simple boots are not well suited for the road.
This custom of sending forward reserve drivers on foot, in rotation, has a fine name to it. It is called "Haut-le-pied," "High-the-foot," and must therefore be old.
A little way out of the town we had leave to sing, and we began, all together, one of those long and charming songs with which the French soldiery make-believe to forget the tedium of the road and the hardship of arms.
Now, if a man desired to answer once and for all those pedants who refuse to understand the nature of military training (both those who make a silly theatre-show of it and those who make it hideous and diabolical), there could be no better way than to let him hear the songs of soldiers. In the French service, at least, these songs are a whole expression of the barrack-room; its extreme coarseness, its steady and perpetual humour, its hatred of the hard conditions of discipline; and also these songs continually portray the distant but delightful picture of things—I mean of things rare and far off—which must lie at the back of men's minds when they have much work to do with their hands and much living in the open air and no women to pour out their wine.
Moreover, these songs have another excellent quality. They show all through that splendid unconsciousness of the soldier, that inability in him to see himself from without, or to pose as civilians always think and say he poses.
We sang that morning first, the chief and oldest of the songs. It dates from the Flemish wars of Louis XIV, and is called "Aupres de ma Blonde." Every one knows the tune. Then we sang "The Song of the Miller," and then many other songs, each longer than the last. For these songs, like other lyrics, have it for an object to string out as many verses as possible in order to kill the endless straight roads and the weariness.
We had need to sing. No sun rose, but the day broke over an ugly plain with hardly any trees, and that grey and wretched dawn came in with a cold and dispiriting rain unrefreshed by wind. Colson, who was a foolish little man (the son of a squire), marching by my side, wondered where and how we should be dried that day. The army was for ever producing problems for Colson, and I was often his comforter. He liked to talk to me and hear about England, and the rich people and their security, and how they never served as soldiers (from luxury), and how (what he could not understand) the poor had a bargain struck with them by the rich whereby they also need not serve. I could learn from him the meaning of many French words which I did not yet know. He had some little education; had I asked the more ignorant men of my battery, they would only have laughed, but he had read, in common books, of the differences between nations, and could explain many things to me.
Colson, then, complaining of the rain, and wondering where he should get dried, I told him to consider not so much the happy English, but rather his poor scabbard and how he should clean it after the march, and his poor clothes, all coated with mud, and needing an hour's brushing, and his poor temper, which, if he did not take great care, would make him grow up to be an anti-militarist and a byword.
So we wrangled, and it still rained. Our songs grew rarer, and there was at last no noise but the slush of all those feet beating the muddy road, and the occasional clank of metal as a scabbard touched some other steel, or a slung carbine struck the hilt of a bayonet. It was well on in the morning when the guns caught us up and passed us; the drivers all shrouded in their coats and bending forward in the rain; the guns coated and splashed with thick mud, and the horses also threatened hours of grooming. I looked mine up and down as Labbe passed on them, and I groaned, for it is a rule that a man grooms his own horses whether he has ridden them or no, and after all, day in and day out, it works fair. The guns disappeared into the mist of rain, and we went on through more hours of miserable tramping, seeing no spire ahead of us, and unable to count on a long halt.
Still, as we went, I noticed that we were on some great division, between provinces perhaps, or between river valleys, for in France there are many bare upland plateaus dividing separate districts; and it is a feature of the country that the districts so divided have either formed separate provinces in the past or, at any rate (even if they have not had political recognition), have stood, and do still stand, for separate units in French society. It was more apparent with every mile as we went on that we were approaching new things. The plain was naked save for rare planted trees, and here and there, a long way off (on the horizon, it seemed) a farm or two, unprotected and alone.
The rain ceased, and the steady grey sky broke a little as we marched on, still in silence, and by this time thirsty and a little dazed. A ravine opened in a bare plateau, and we saw that it held a little village. They led us into it, down a short steep bit of road, and lined us up by a great basin of sparkling water, and every man was mad to break ranks and drink; but no one dared. The children of the village gathered in a little group and looked at us, and we envied their freedom. When we had stood thus for a quarter of an hour or so, an orderly came riding in all splashed, and his horse's coat rough with the rain and steaming up into the air. He came up to the lieutenant in command and delivered an order; then he rode away fast northward along the ravine and out of the village. The lieutenant, when he had gone, formed us into a little column, and we, who had expected to dismiss at any moment, were full of anger, and were sullen to find that by some wretched order or other we had to take another hour of the road: first we had to go back four miles along the road we had already come, and then to branch off perpendicular to our general line of march, and (as it seemed to us) quite out of our way.
It is a difficult thing to move a great mass of men through a desolate country by small units and leave them dependent on the country, and it is rather wonderful that they do it so neatly and effect the junctions so well; but the private soldier, who stands for those little black blocks on the military map, has a boy's impatience in him; and a very wise man, if he wishes to keep an army in spirit, will avoid counter-marching as much as he can, for—I cannot tell why—nothing takes the heart out of a man like having to plod over again the very way he has just come. So, when we had come to a very small village in the waste and halted there, finding our guns and drivers already long arrived, we made an end of a dull and meaningless day—very difficult to tell of, because the story is merely a record of fatigue. But in a diary of route everything must be set down faithfully; and so I have set down all this sodden and empty day.
That night I sat at a peasant's table and heard my four stable-companions understanding everything, and evidently in their world and at home, although they were conscripts. This turned me silent, and I sat away from the light, looking at the fire and drying myself by its logs. As I heard their laughter I remembered Sussex and the woods above Arun, and I felt myself to be in exile. Then we slept in beds, and the goodwife had our tunics dry by morning, for she also had a son in the service, who was a long way off at Lyons, and was not to return for two years.
* * * * *
There are days in a long march when a man is made to do too much, and others when he is made to do what seems meaningless, doubling backward on his road, as we had done; there are days when he seems to advance very little; but they are not days of repose, for they are full of halting and doubts and special bits of work. Such a day had come to us with the next dawn.
The reason of all these things—I mean, of the over-long marches, of the counter-marches, and of the short days—was the complexity of the only plan by which a great number of men and guns can be taken from one large place to another without confusion by the way—living, as they must do, upon the country, and finding at the end of every march water and hay for the horses, food and some kind of shelter for the men. And this plan, as I have said before, consists (in a European country) in dividing your force, marching by roads more or less parallel, and converging, after some days, on the object of the march.
It is evident that in a somewhat desolate region of small and distant hamlets the front will be broader and the columns smaller, but when a large town stands in the line of march, advantage will be taken of it to mass one's men.
Such a town was Bar-le-Duc, and it was because our battery was so near to it that this fourth day was a short march of less than eight miles.
They sent the gunners in early; we drivers started later than usual, and the pace was smart at first under a happy morning sun, but still around us were the bare fields, all but treeless, and the road was part of the plain, not divided by hedges. The bombardier trotted by my side and told me of the glories of Rheims, which was his native town. He was a mild man, genial and good, and little apt for promotion. He interlarded his conversation with official remarks to show a zeal he never felt, telling one man that his tracks were slack, and another that his led-horse was shirking, and after each official remark he returned up abeam of me to tell me more of the riches and splendour of Rheims. He chose me out for this favour because I already knew the countryside of the upper Champagne, and had twice seen his city. He promised me that when we got our first leave from camp he would show me many sights in the town; but this he said hoping that I would pay for the entertainment, as indeed I did.
We did not halt, nor did we pass the gunners that morning; but when we had gone about four miles or so the road began to descend through a wide gully, and we saw before us the secluded and fruitful valley of the Meuse. It is here of an even width for miles, bounded by regular low hills. We were coming down the eastern wall of that valley, and on the parallel western side a similar height, with similar ravines and gullies leading down to the river, bounded our narrow view. I caught the distant sound of trumpets up there beyond us, and nearer was the unmistakable rumble of the guns. The clatter of horses below in the valley road and the shouting of commands were the signs that the regiment was meeting. The road turned. On a kind of platform, just before it joined the main highway, a few feet above it, we halted to wait our order—and we saw the guns go by!
Only half the regiment was to halt at Bar-le-Duc. But six batteries, thirty-six guns, their men, horses, apparatus, forges, and waggons occupying and advancing in streams over a valley are a wonderful sight. Clouds of dust and the noise of the metal woke the silent places of the Meuse, and sometimes river birds would rise and wheel in the air as the clamour neared them. Far off a lonely battery was coming down the western slope to join the throng in its order, and for some reason their two trumpets were still playing the march and lending to this great display the unity of music. We dismounted and watched from the turf of the roadside a pageant which the accident of an ordered and servile life afforded us; for it is true of armies that the compensation of their drudgery and miserable subjection is the continual opportunity of these large emotions; and not only by their vastness and arrangement, but by the very fact that they merge us into themselves, do armies widen the spirit of a man and give it communion with the majesty of great numbers. One becomes a part of many men.
The seventh battery, with which we had little to do (for in quarters they belonged to the furthest corner from our own), first came by and passed us, with that interminable repetition of similar things which is the note of a force on the march, and makes it seem like a river flowing. We recognised it by the figure of one Chevalier, a major attached to them. He was an absent-minded man of whom many stories were told—kindly, with a round face; and he wore eyeglasses, either for the distinction they afforded or because he was short of sight. The seventh passed us, and their forge and waggon ended the long train. A regulation space between them and the next allowed the dust to lie a little, and then the ninth came by; we knew them well, because in quarters they were our neighbours. At their head was their captain, whose name was Levy. He was a Jew, small, very sharp-featured, and a man who worked astonishingly hard. He was very popular with his men, and his battery was happy and boasted. He cared especially for their food, and would go into their kitchen daily to taste the soup. He was also a silent man. He sat his horse badly, bent and crouched, but his eyes were very keen; and he again was a character of whom the men talked and told stories. I believe he was something of a mathematician; but we knew little of such things where our superiors were concerned.
As the ninth battery passed us we were given the order to mount, and knew that our place came next. The long-drawn Ha-a-lte! and the lifted swords down the road contained for a while the batteries that were to follow, and we filed out of our side road into the long gap they had left us. Then, taking up the trot, ourselves, we heard the order passing down infinitely till it was lost in the length of the road; the trumpets galloped past us and formed at the head of the column; a much more triumphant noise of brass than we had yet heard heralded us with a kind of insolence, and the whole train with its two miles and more of noisy power gloried into the old town of Bar-le-Duc, to the great joy of its young men and women at the windows, to the annoyance of the householders, to the stupefaction of the old, and doubtless to the ultimate advantage of the Republic.
When we had formed park in the grey market-square, ridden our horses off to water at the river and to their quarters, cleaned kit and harness, and at last were free—that is, when it was already evening—Matthieu, a friend of mine who had come by another road with his battery, met me strolling on the bridge. Matthieu was of my kind, he had such a lineage as I had and such an education. We were glad to meet. He told me of his last halting-place—Pagny—hidden on the upper river. It is the place where the houses of Luxembourg were buried, and some also of the great men who fell when Henry V of England was fighting in the North, and when on this flank the Eastern dukes were waging the Burgundian wars. It was not the first time that the tumult of men in arms had made echoes along the valley. Matthieu and I went off together to dine. He lent me a pin of his, a pin with a worked head, to pin my tunic with where it was torn, and he begged me to give it back to him. But I have it still, for I have never seen him since; nor shall I see him, nor he me, till the Great Day.
THE LOOE STREAM
Of the complexity of the sea, and of how it is manifold, and of how it mixes up with a man, and may broaden or perfect him, it would be very tempting to write; but if one once began on this, one would be immeshed and drowned in the metaphysic, which never yet did good to man nor beast. For no one can eat or drink the metaphysic, or take any sustenance out of it, and it has no movement or colour, and it does not give one joy or sorrow; one cannot paint it or hear it, and it is too thin to swim about in. Leaving, then, all these general things, though they haunt me and tempt me, at least I can deal little by little and picture by picture with that sea which is perpetually in my mind, and let those who will draw what philosophies they choose. And the first thing I would like to describe is that of a place called the Looe Stream, through which in a boat only the other day I sailed for the first time, noticing many things. When St. Wilfrid went through those bare heaths and coppices, which were called the forest of Anderida, and which lay all along under the Surrey Downs, and through which there was a long, deserted Roman road, and on this road a number of little brutish farms and settlements (for this was twelve hundred years ago), he came out into the open under the South Downs, and crossed my hills and came to the sea plain, and there he found a kind of Englishman more savage than the rest, though Heaven knows there were none of them particularly refined or gay. From these Englishmen the noble people of Sussex are descended.
Already the rest of England had been Christian a hundred years when St. Wilfrid came down into the sea plain, and found, to his astonishment, this sparse and ignorant tribe. They were living in the ruins of the Roman palaces; they were too stupid to be able to use any one of the Roman things they had destroyed. They had kept, perhaps, some few of the Roman women, certainly all the Roman slaves. They had, therefore, vague memories of how the Romans tilled the land.
But those memories were getting worse and worse, for it was nearly two hundred years since the ships of Aella had sailed into Shoreham (which showed him to be a man of immense determination, for it is a most difficult harbour, and there were then no piers and lights)—it was nearly two hundred years, and there was only the least little glimmering twilight left of the old day. These barbarians were going utterly to pieces, as barbarians ever will when they are cut off from the life and splendour of the south. They had become so cretinous and idiotic, that when St. Wilfrid came wandering among them they did not know how to get food. There was a famine, and as their miserable religion, such as it was (probably it was very like these little twopenny-halfpenny modern heresies of their cousins, the German pessimists)—their religion, I say, not giving them the jolly energy which all decent Western religion gives a man, they being also by the wrath of God deprived of the use of wine (though tuns upon tuns of it were waiting for them over the sea a little way off, but probably they thought their horizon was the end of the world)—their religion, I say, being of this nature, they had determined, under the pressure of that famine which drove them so hard, to put an end to themselves, and St. Wilfrid saw them tying themselves together in bands (which shows that they knew at least how to make rope) and jumping off the cliffs into the sea. This practice he determined to oppose.
He went to their King—who lived in Chichester, I suppose, or possibly at Bramber—and asked him why the people were going on in this fashion, who said to him: "It is because of the famine."
St. Wilfrid, shrugging his shoulders, said: "Why do they not eat fish?"
"Because," said the King, "fish, swimming about in the water, are almost impossible to catch. We have tried it in our hunger a hundred times, but even when we had the good luck to grasp one of them, the slippery thing would glide from our fingers."
St. Wilfrid then in some contempt said again:
"Why do you not make nets?"
And he explained the use of nets to the whole Court, preaching, as it were, a sermon upon nets to them, and craftily introducing St. Peter and that great net which they hang outside his tomb in Rome upon his feast day—which is the 29th of June. The King and his Court made a net and threw it into the sea, and brought out a great mass of fish. They were so pleased that they told St. Wilfrid they would do anything he asked. He baptised them and they made him their first bishop; and he took up his residence in Selsey, and since then the people of Sussex have gone steadily forward, increasing in every good thing, until they are now by far the first and most noble of all the people in the world.
There is I know not what in history, or in the way in which it is taught, which makes people imagine that it is something separate from the life they are living, and because of this modern error, you may very well be wondering what on earth this true story of the foundation of our country has to do with the Looe Stream. It has everything to do with it. The sea, being governed by a pagan god, made war at once, and began eating up all those fields which had specially been consecrated to the Church, civilisation, common sense, and human happiness. It is still doing so, and I know an old man who can remember a forty-acre field all along by Clymping having been eaten up by the sea; and out along past Rustington there is, about a quarter of a mile from the shore, a rock, called the Church Rock, the remains of a church which quite a little time ago people used for all the ordinary purposes of a church.
The sea then began to eat up Selsey. Before the Conquest—though I cannot remember exactly when—the whole town had gone, and they had to remove the cathedral to Chichester. In Henry VIII's time there was still a park left out of the old estates, a park with trees in it; but this also the sea has eaten up; and here it is that I come to the Looe Stream. The Looe Stream is a little dell that used to run through the park, and which to-day,—right out at sea, furnishes the only gate by which ships can pass through the great maze of banks and rocks which go right out to sea from Selsey Bill, miles and miles, and are called the Owers.
On the chart that district is still called "The Park," and at very low tides stumps of the old trees can be seen; and for myself I believe, though I don't think it can be proved, that in among the masses of sand and shingle which go together to make the confused dangers of the Owers, you would find the walls of Roman palaces, and heads of bronze and marble, and fragments of mosaic and coins of gold.
The tide coming up from the Channel finds, rising straight out of the bottom of the sea, the shelf of this old land, and it has no avenue by which to pour through save this Looe Stream, which therefore bubbles and runs like a mill-race, though it is in the middle of the sea.
If you did not know what was underneath you, you could not understand why this river should run separate from the sea all round, but when you have noticed the depths on the chart, you see a kind of picture in your mind: the wall of that old mass of land standing feet above the floor of the Channel, and the top of what was once its fields and its villas, and its great church almost awash at low tides, and through it a cleft, which was, I say, a dell in the old park, but is now that Looe Stream buoyed up on either side, and making a river by itself running in the sea.
Sailing over it, and remembering all these things at evening, I got out of the boil and tumble into deep water. It got darker, and the light on the Nab ship showed clearly a long way off, and purple against the west stood the solemn height of the island. I set a course for this light, being alone at the tiller, while my two companions slept down below. When the night was full the little variable air freshened into a breeze from the south-east; it grew stronger and stronger, and lifted little hearty following seas, and blowing on my quarter drove me quickly to the west, whither I was bound. The night was very warm and very silent, although little patches of foam murmured perpetually, and though the wind could be heard lightly in the weather shrouds.
The star Jupiter shone brightly just above my wake, and over Selsey Bill, through a flat band of mist, the red moon rose slowly, enormous.
Sitting one day in Pampeluna, which occupies the plain just below the southern and Spanish escarpment of the Pyrenees, I and another remembered with an equal desire that we had all our lives desired to see Roncesvalles and the place where Roland died. This town (we said) was that which Charlemagne destroyed upon his march to the Pass, and I, for my part, desired here, as in every other part of Europe where I had been able to find his footsteps, to follow them, and so to re-create his time.
The road leads slantwise through the upper valleys of Navarre, crossing by passes the various spurs of the mountains, but each pass higher than the last and less frequented, for each is nearer the main range. As you leave Pampeluna the road grows more and more deserted, and the country through which it cuts more wild. The advantages of wealth which are conferred by the neighbourhood of the capital of Navarre are rapidly lost as one proceeds; the houses grow rarer, the shrines more ruinous and more aged, until one comes at last upon the bleak valley which introduces the final approach to Roncesvalles.
The wealth and order everywhere associated with the Basque blood have wholly disappeared. This people is not receding—it holds its own, as it deserves to do; but as there are new fields which it has occupied within the present century upon the more western hills, so there are others to the east, and this valley among them, from whence it has disappeared. The Basque names remain, but the people are no longer of the Basque type, and the tongue is forgotten.
So gradual is the ascent and so continual the little cols which have to be surmounted, that a man does not notice how much upward he is being led towards the crest of the ridge. And when he comes at last upon the grove from which he sees the plateau of Roncesvalles spread before him, he wonders that the chain of the Pyrenees (which here lie out along in cliffs like sharp sunward walls, stretching in a strict perspective to the distant horizon) should seem so low. The reason that this white wall of cliffs seems so low is that the traveller is standing upon the last of a series of great steps which have led him up towards the frontier, much as the prairie leads one up towards the Rockies in Colorado. When he has passed through the very pleasant wood which lies directly beneath the cliffs, and reaches the little village of Roncesvalles itself, he wonders still more that so famous a pass should be so small a thing. The pass from this side is so broad, with so low a saddle of grass, that it seems more like the crossing of the Sussex Downs than the crossing of an awful range of mountains. It is a rounded gap, up to which there lifts a pretty little wooded combe; and no one could be certain, during the half-hour spent in climbing such a petty summit, that he was, in so climbing, conquering Los Altos, the high Pyrenees.
But when the summit is reached, then the meaning of the "Imus Pyrenaeus," and the place that passage has taken in history, is comprehended in a moment. One sees at what a height one was in that plain of Roncesvalles, and one sees how the main range dominates the world; for down below one an enormous cleft into the stuff of the mountains falls suddenly and almost sheer, and you see unexpectedly beneath you the approach from France into Spain. The gulf at its narrowest is tremendous; but, more than that, when the floor of the valley is reached, that floor itself slopes away down and down by runs and by cascades towards the very distant plains of the north, upon which the funnel debouches. Moreover, it was up this gulf, and from the north, that the armies came; it was this vision of a precipice that seized them when their leaders had determined to invade the Peninsula. This also was what, for so many generations, so many wanderers must have seen who came to wonder at the place where the rearguard of Charlemagne had been destroyed.
The whole of the slope is covered with an ancient wood, and this wood is so steep that it would be impossible or dangerous to venture down it. The old Carolingian road skirts the mountain-side with difficulty, clinging well up upon its flank; the great modern road, which is excellent and made for artillery, has to go even nearer the summit; below them there falls away a slant or edge to which the huge beech trees cling almost parallel to the steep earth, running their perpendicular lines so high and close against the hill that they look like pines. As you peer down in among the trunks, you see the darkness increasing until the eye can penetrate no more, and dead, enormous trees that have lived their centuries, and have fallen perhaps for decades, lie across the aisles of the wood, propped up against their living fellows; for, by one of those political accidents which are common throughout the whole length of the Pyrenees, both sides of the watershed belong to Spain, so that no Government or modern energy has come to disturb the silence. One would swear that the last to order this wood were the Romans.
I had thought to find so famous a valley peopled, or at least visited. I found it utterly alone, and even free from travellers, as though the wealthier part of Europe had forgotten the most famous of Christian epics. I saw no motor-cars, nor any women—only at last, in the very depths of the valley, a boy cutting grass in a tiny patch of open land. And it was hereabouts, so far as I could make out, that the Peers were killed.
The song, of course, makes them fall on the far side of the summit, upon the fields of Roncesvalles, with the sun setting right at them along the hills. And that is as it should be, for it is evident that (in a poem) the hero fighting among hills should die upon the enemy's side of the hills. But that is not the place where Roland really died. The place where he really died, he and Oliver and Turpin and all the others, was here in the very recess of the Northern Valley. It was here only that rocks could have been rolled down upon an army, and here is that narrow, strangling gorge where the line of march could most easily have been cut in two by the fury of the mountaineers. Also Eginhard says very clearly that they had already passed the hills and seen France, and that is final. It was from these cliffs, then, that such an echo was made by the horn of Roland, and it was down that funnel of a valley that the noise grew until it filled Christendom; and it was up that gorge that there came, as it says in the song—
The host in a tide returning: Charles the King and his Barony.
This was the place. And any man who may yet believe (I know such a discussion is pedantry)—any man who may yet believe the song of Roland to have been a Northern legend had better come to this place and drink the mountains in. For whoever to-day
High are the hills and huge and dim with cloud, Down in the deeps, the living streams are loud,
had certainly himself stood in the silence and majesty of this valley.
It was already nearly dark when we two men had clambered down to that place, and up between the walls of the valley we had already seen the early stars. We pushed on to the French frontier in an eager appetite for cleanliness and human food.
The last Spanish town is called Val Carlos, as it ought to be, considering that Charlemagne himself had once come roaring by. When we reached it in the darkness we had completed a forced march of forty-two miles, going light, it is true, and carrying nothing each of us but a gourd of wine and a sack, but we were very tired. There, at the goal of our effort, one faint sign of Government and of men at last appeared. It was in character with all the rest. One might not cross the frontier upon the road without a written leave. The written leave was given us, and in half an hour Spain was free.
THE SLANT OFF THE LAND
We live a very little time. Before we have reached the middle of our time perhaps, but not long before, we discover the magnitude of our inheritance. Consider England. How many men, I should like to know, have discovered before thirty what treasures they may work in her air? She magnifies us inwards and outwards; her fields can lead the mind down towards the subtle beginning of things; the tiny irridescence of insects; the play of light upon the facets of a blade of grass. Her skies can lead the mind up infinitely into regions where it seems to expand and fill, no matter what immensities.
It was the wind off the land that made me think of all this possession in which I am to enjoy so short a usufruct. I sat in my boat holding that tiller of mine, which is not over firm, and is but a rough bar of iron. There was no breeze in the air, and the little deep vessel swung slightly to the breathing of the sea. Her great mainsail and her baloon-jib came over lazily as she swung, and filled themselves with the cheating semblance of a wind. The boom creaked in the goose-neck, and at every roll the slack of the mainsheet tautened with a kind of little thud which thrilled the deck behind me. I saw under the curve of my headsail the long and hazy line, which is the only frontier of England; the plain that rather marries with than defies her peculiar seas. For it was in the Channel, and not ten miles from the coastline of my own country, that these thoughts rose in me during the calm at the end of winter, and the boat was drifting down more swiftly than I knew upon the ebb of the outer tide. Far off to the south sunlight played upon the water, and was gone again. The great ships did not pass near me, and so I sat under a hazy sky restraining the slight vibration of the helm and waiting for the wind.
In whatever place a man may be the spring will come to him. I have heard of men in prison who would note the day when its influence passed through the narrow window that was their only communion with their kind. It comes even to men in cities; men of the stupid political sort, who think in maps and whose interest is in the addition of numbers. Indeed, I have heard such men in London itself expressing pleasure when a south-west gale came up in April from over the pines of Hampshire and of Surrey and mixed the Atlantic with the air of the fields. To me this year the spring came suddenly, like a voice speaking, though a low one—the voice of a person subtle, remembered, little known, and always desired. For a wind blew off the land.
The surface of the sea northward between me and the coast of Sussex had been for so many hours elastic, smooth, and dull, that I had come to forget the indications of a change. But here and there, a long way off, little lines began to show, which were indeed broad spaces of ruffled water, seen edgeways from the low free-board of my boat. These joined and made a surface all the way out towards me, but a surface not yet revealed for what it was, nor showing the movement and life and grace of waves. For no light shone upon it, and it was not yet near enough to be distinguished. It grew rapidly, but the haze and silence had put me into so dreamy a state that I had forgotten the ordinary anxiety and irritation of a calm, nor had I at the moment that eager expectancy of movement which should accompany the sight of that dark line upon the sea.
Other things possessed me, the memory of home and of the Downs. There went before this breeze, as it were, attendant servants, outriders who brought with them the scent of those first flowers in the North Wood or beyond Gumber Corner, and the fragrance of our grass, the savour which the sheep know at least, however much the visitors to my dear home ignore it. A deeper sympathy even than that of the senses came with those messengers and brought me the beeches and the yew trees also, although I was so far out at sea, for the loneliness of this great water recalled the loneliness of the woods, and both those solitudes—the real and the imaginary—mixed in my mind together as they might in the mind of a sleeping man.
Before this wind as it approached, the sky also cleared: not of clouds, for there were none, but of that impalpable and warm mist which seems to us, who know the south country and the Channel, to be so often part of the sky, and to shroud without obscuring the empty distances of our seas. There was a hard clear light to the north; and even over the Downs, low as they were upon the horizon, there was a sharp belt of blue. I saw the sun strike the white walls of Lady Newburgh's Folly, and I saw, what had hitherto been all confused, the long line of the Arundel Woods contrasting with the plain. Then the boom went over to port, the jib filled, I felt the helm pulling steadily for the first time in so many hours, and the boat responded. The wind was on me; and though it was from the north, that wind was warm, for it came from the sheltered hills.
Then, indeed, I quite forgot those first few moments, which had so little to do with the art of sailing, and which were perhaps unworthy of the full life that goes with the governing of sails and rudders. For one thing, I was no longer alone; a man is never alone with the wind—and the boat made three. There was work to be done in pressing against the tiller and in bringing her up to meet the seas, small though they were, for my boat was also small. Life came into everything; the Channel leapt and (because the wind was across the tide) the little waves broke in small white tips: in their movement and my own, in the dance of the boat and the noise of the shrouds, in the curtsy of the long sprit that caught the ridges of foam and lifted them in spray, even in the free streaming of that loose untidy end of line which played in the air from the leach, as young things play from wantonness, in the rush of the water, just up to and sometimes through the lee scuppers, and in the humming tautness of the sheet, in everything about me there was exuberance and joy. The sun upon the twenty million faces of the waves made, music rather than laughter, and the energy which this first warmth of the year had spread all over the Channel and shore, while it made life one, seemed also to make it innumerable. We were now not only three, the wind and my boat and I; we were all part (and masters for the moment) of a great throng. I knew them all by their names, which I had learnt a long time ago, and had sung of them in the North Sea. I have often written them down. I will not be ashamed to repeat them here, for good things never grow old. There was the Wave that brings good tidings, and the Wave that breaks on the shore, and the Wave of the island, and the Wave that helps, and the Wave that lifts forrard, the kindly Wave and the youngest Wave, and Amathea the Wave with bright hair, all the waves that come up round Thetis in her train when she rises from the side of the old man, her father, where he sits on his throne in the depth of the sea; when she comes up cleaving the water and appears to her sons in the upper world.
The Wight showed clear before me. I was certain with the tide of making the Horse Buoy and Spithead while it was yet afternoon, and before the plenitude of that light and movement should have left me. I settled down to so much and such exalted delight as to a settled task. I lit my pipe for a further companion (since it was good to add even to so many). I kept my right shoulder only against the tiller, for the pressure was now steady and sound. I felt the wind grow heavy and equable, and I caught over my shoulder the merry wake of this very honest moving home of mine as she breasted and hissed through the sea.
Here, then, was the proper end of a long cruise. It was springtime, and the season for work on land. I had been told so by the heartening wind. And as I went still westward, remembering the duties of the land, the sails still held full, the sheets and the weather shrouds still stood taut and straining, and the little clatter of the broken water spoke along the lee rail. And so the ship sailed on.
[Greek: 'En d thnemos presen mxson istion, thmphi de kuma] [Greek: Sseire porphureon megal' iache, neos iouses.]
A man might discuss with himself what it was that made certain great sights of the world famous, and what it is that keeps others hidden. This would be especially interesting in the case of mountains. For there is no doubt that there is a modern attraction in mountains which may not endure, but which is almost as intense in our generation as it was in that of our fathers. The emotion produced by great height and by the something unique and inspiring which distinguishes a mountain from a hill has bitten deeply into the modern mind. Yet there are some of the most astounding visions of this sort in Europe which are, and will probably remain, unemphasised for travellers.
The vision of the Berenese Oberland when it breaks upon one from the crest of Jura has been impressed—upon English people, at least—in two fine passages: the one written by Ruskin, the other, if I remember right, in a book called A Cruise upon Wheels. The French have, I believe, no classical presentment of that view, nor perhaps have the Germans. The line of the Alps as one sees it upon very clear days from the last of the Apennines—this, I think, has never been properly praised in any modern book—not even an Italian. The great red mountain-face which St. Bruno called "the desert" I do not remember to have read of anywhere nor to have heard described; for it stands above an unfrequented valley, and the regular approach to the Chartreuse is from the other side. Yet it is something which remains as vivid to those few who have suddenly caught sight of it from a turn of the Old Lyons road as though they had seen it in a fantastic dream. That astonishing circle of cliffs which surrounds Bourg d'Oisans, though it has been written of now and then, has not, so to speak, taken root in people's imagination.
Even in this country there are twenty great effects which, though they have, of course, suffered record, are still secure from general praise; for instance, that awful trench which opens under your feet, as it were, up north and beyond Plynlimmon. It is a valley as unexpected and as incredible in its steepness and complete isolation as any one may see in the drawings of the romantic generation of English water-colour, yet perhaps no one has drawn it; there is certainly no familiar picture of it anywhere.
When one comes to think of it, the reason of such exceptions to fame as are these is usually that such and such an unknown but great sight lies off the few general roads of travel. It is a vulgar reason, but the true one. Unless men go to a mountain to climb because it is difficult to climb, or unless it often appears before them along one of their main journeys, it will remain quiet. Among such masses is the Canigou.
Here is a mountain which may be compared to Etna. It is lower, indeed, in the proportion of nine to eleven; but when great isolated heights of this sort are in question, such a difference hardly counts. It can be seen, as Etna can, from the sea, though it stands a good deal more inland; it dominates, as Etna does, a very famous plain, but modern travel does nothing to bring it into the general consciousness of the world. If Spain were wealthy, or if the Spanish harbours naturally led to any place which all the rich desired to visit, the name of the Canigou would begin to grow. Where the railway skirts the sea from Narbonne to Barcelona, it is your permanent companion for a good hour in the express, and for any time you like in the ordinary trains. During at least three months in the year, its isolation is peculiarly relieved and marked by the snow, which lies above an even line all along its vast bulk. It is also one of those mountains in which one can recognise the curious regularity of the "belts" which text-books talk of. There are great forests at the base of it, just above the hot Mediterranean plain; the beech comes higher than the olive, the pines last of all; after them the pastures and the rocks. In the end of February a man climbs up from a spring that is as southern as Africa to a winter that is as northern as the highlands of Scotland, and all the while he feels that he is climbing nothing confused or vague, but one individual peak which is the genius of the whole countryside.
This countryside is the Roussillon, a lordship as united as the Cerdagne; it speaks one language, shows one type of face, and is approached by but a small group of roads, and each road passes through a mountain gap. For centuries it went with Barcelona. It needed the Revolution to make it French, and it is full of Spanish memories to this day.
For the Roussillon depends upon the Canigou just as the Bay of Syracuse depends upon Etna, or that of Naples upon Vesuvius, and its familiar presence has sunk into the patriotism of the Roussillon people, as those more famous mountains have into the art and legends of their neighbours. There are I know not how many monographs upon the Canigou, but not one has been translated, I would wager, into any foreign language.
Yet it is the mountain which very many men who have hardly heard its name have been looking for all their lives. It gives as good camping as is to be had in the whole of the Pyrenees. I believe there is fishing, and perhaps one can shoot. Properly speaking, there is no climbing in it; at least, one can walk up it all the way if one chooses the right path, but there is everything else men look for when they escape from cities. It is so big that you would never learn it in any number of camps, and the change of its impressions is perpetual. From the summit the view has two interests—of colour and of the past. You have below you a plain like an inlaid work of chosen stones: the whole field is an arrangement of different culture and of bright rocks and sand; and below you, also, in a curve, is all that coast which at the close of the Roman Empire was, perhaps, the wealthiest in Europe. In the extreme north a man might make out upon a clear day the bulk of Narbonne. Perpignan is close by; the little rock harbour of Venus, Port Vendres, is to the south. From the plain below one, which has always been crammed with riches, sprang the chief influences of Southern Gaul. It was here that the family of Charlemagne took its origin, and it was perhaps from here that he saw, through the windows of a palace, that fleet of pirates which moved him to his sad prophecy. That plain, moreover, will re-arise; it is still rich, and all the Catalan province of Spain below it, of which it is the highway and the approach, must increase in value before Europe from year to year. The vast development of the French African territory is reacting upon that coast: all it needs is a central harbour, and if that harbour were formed it would do what Narbo did for the Romans at the end of their occupation;—it would tap, much better than does Cette, the wealth of Gascony, perhaps, also, an Atlantic trade, and its exchanges towards Africa and the Levant. The Mediterranean, which is perpetually increasing in wealth and in importance to-day, would have a second Marseilles, and should such a port arise—then, when our ships and our travellers are familiar with it, the Canigou (if it cares for that sort of thing) will be as happy as the Matterhorn. For the present it is all alone.
THE MAN AND HIS WOOD
I knew a man once that was a territorial magnate and had an estate in the county of Berkshire. I will not conceal his name. It was William Frederick Charles Hermann-Postlethwaite.
On his estate was a large family mansion, surrounded by tasteful gardens of a charming old kind, and next outside these a great park, well timbered. But the thing I am going to talk about was a certain wood of which he was rightly very proud. It stood on the slope of a grass down, just above the valley, and beneath it was a clean white road, and a little way along that a town, part of which belonged to Mr. Hermann-Postlethwaite, part to a local solicitor and moneylender, several bits to a brewer in Reading, and a few houses to the inhabitants. The people in the town were also fond of the wood, and called it "The Old Wood." It was not very large, but, as I have said before, it was very beautiful, and contained all manner of trees, but especially beeches, under which nothing will grow—as the poet puts it in Sussex:
Unner t' beech and t' yow Nowt 'll grow.
Well, as years passed, Mr. Hermann-Postlethwaite became fonder and fonder of the wood. He began towards 1885 to think it the nicest thing on his estate—which it was; and he would often ride out to look at it of a morning on his grey mare "Betsy." When he rode out like this of a morning his mount was well groomed, and so was he, however early it might be, and he would carry a little cane to hit the mare with and also as a symbol of authority. The people who met him would touch their foreheads, and he would wave his hand genially in reply. He was a good fellow. But the principal thing about him was his care for the old wood; and when he rode out to look at it, as I say, he would speak to any one around so early—his bailiff, as might be, or sometimes his agent, or even the foreman of the workshop or the carpenter, or any hedger or ditcher that might be there, and point out bits of the wood, and say, "That branch looks pretty dicky. No harm to cut that off short and parcel and serve the end and cap it with a zinc cap;" or, "Better be cutting the Yartle Bush for the next fallow, it chokes the gammon-rings, and I don't like to see so much standard ivy about, it's the death of trees." I am not sure that I have got the technical words right, but at any rate they were more or less like that, for I have heard him myself time and again. I often used to go out with him on another horse, called Sultan, which he lent me to ride upon.
Well, he got fonder and fonder of this wood, and kept on asking people what he should do, and how one could make most use of it, and he worried a good deal about it. He reads books about woods, and in the opening of 1891 he had down to stay with him for a few days a man called Churt, who had made a great success with woods on the Warra-Warra. But Churt was a vulgar fellow, and so Hermann-Postlethwaite's wife, Lady Gywnnys Hermann-Postlethwaite, would not have him in the house again, which was a bother. Her husband then rode over to see another man, and the upshot of it was that he put up a great board saying "Trespassers in this wood will be prosecuted," and it might as well not have been put up, for no one ever went into the wood, not even from the little town, because it was too far for them to walk, and, anyhow, they did not care for walking. And as for the doctor's son, a boy of thirteen, who went in there with an air-gun to shoot things, he paid no attention to the board.
The next thing my friend did was to have a fine strong paling put all round the wood in March, 1894. This paling was of oak; it was seven feet high; it had iron spikes along the top. There were six gates in it, and stout posts at intervals of ten yards. The boards overlapped very exactly. It was as good a bit of work as ever I saw. He had it varnished, and it looked splendid. All this took two years.
Just then he was elected to Parliament, not for Berkshire, as you might have imagined, but for a slum division of Birmingham. He was very proud of this, and quite rightly too. He said: "I am the one Conservative member in the Midlands." It almost made him forget about his wood. He shut up the Berkshire place and took a house in town, and as he could not afford Mayfair, and did not understand such things very well, the house he took was an enormous empty house in Bayswater, and he had no peace until he gave it up for a set of rooms off Piccadilly; and then his mother thought that looked so odd that he did the right thing, and got into a nice old-fashioned furnished house in Westminster, overlooking the Green Park.
But all this cost him a mint of money, and politics made him angrier and angrier. They never let him speak, and they made him vote for things he thought perfectly detestable. Then he did speak, and as he was an honest English gentleman the papers called him ridiculous names and said he had no brains. So he just jolly well threw the whole thing up and went back to Berkshire, and everybody welcomed him, and he did a thing he had never done before: he put a flag up over his house to show he was at home. Then he began to think of his wood again.
The very first time he rode out to look at it he found the paling had given way in places from the fall of trees, and that some leaned inwards and some outwards, and that one of the gates was off its hinges. There were also two cows walking about in the wood, and what annoyed him most of all, the iron spikes were rusty and the varnish had all gone rotten and white and streaky on the palings. He spoke to the bailiff about this, and hauled him out to look at it. The bailiff rubbed the varnish with his finger, smelt it, and said that it had perished. He also said there was no such thing as good varnish nowadays, and he added there wasn't any varnish, not the very best, but wouldn't go like that with rain and all. Mr. Hermann-Postlethwaite grumbled a good deal, but he supposed the bailiff knew best; so he told him to see what could be done, and for several weeks he heard no more about it.
I forgot to tell you that about this time the South African War had broken out, and as things were getting pretty tangled, Hermann-Postlethwaite went out with his regiment, the eighth battalion, not of the Berkshire, but of the Orkney regiment. While he was out there, his brother, in Dr. Charlbury's home, died, and he succeeded to the baronetcy. As he already had a V.C. and was now given a D.S.O., as well as being one of the people mentioned in dispatches, he was pretty important by the time he came home, when the war was over, just before the elections of 1900.
When he got home he had a splendid welcome, both from his tenants in Berkshire in passing through and from those of his late brother in the big place in Worcestershire. He preferred his Berkshire place, however, and, letting the big place to an American of the name of Hendrik K. Boulge, he went back to his first home. When he got there he thought of the old wood, and went out to look at it. The palings were mended, but they were covered all over with tar! He was exceedingly angry, and ordered them to be painted at once; but the bailiff assured him one could not paint over tar, and so did the carpenter and the foreman. At this he had a fit of rage, and ordered the whole damned thing to be pulled down, and swore he would be damned if he ever had a damned stick or a rail round the damned wood again. He was no longer young; he was getting stout and rather puffy; he was not so reasonable as of old. Anyhow, he had the whole thing pulled down. Next year (that is, in 1901) his wife died.
I wish I had the space to tell you all the other things he did to the wood. How a friend of his having sold a similar wood on the Thames in building lots at L500 an acre, he put up the whole wood at the same rate. How, the whole wood being 200 acres in extent, he hoped to make L100,000 out of it. How he thought this a tidy sum. How he got no offers at this price, nor at L100, nor at L50. How an artist offered him L20 for half an acre to put up a red tin bungalow upon. How he lost his temper with the artist. How at last he left the whole thing alone and tried to forget all about it.
* * * * *
The old wood to-day is just like what it was when I wandered in it as a boy. The doctor's son is a man now, and is keeping a bar in Sydney; so he is gone. The townspeople don't come any more than before. I am the only person who goes near the place. The trees are a trifle grander. I happen now and then, when I visit this Berkshire parish, upon a stump of a post or an old spike in the grass of this wood, but otherwise it is as though all this had not been.
A solemn thought: How enduring are the works of Nature—how perishable those of Man!
Friends of mine, friends all, and you also, publishers, colonials and critics, do you know that particular experience for which I am trying to find words? Do you know that glamour in the mind which arises and transforms our thought when we see the things that the men who made us saw—the things of a long time ago, the origins? I think everybody knows that glamour, but very few people know where to find it.
Every man knows that he has in him the power for such revelations, and every man wonders in what strange place he may come upon them. There are men also (very rich) who have considered all the world and wandered over it, seeking those first experiences and trying to feel as felt the earlier men in a happier time—yet these few rich men have not felt and have not so found the things which they desire. I have known men who have thought to find them in the mountains, but would not climb them simply enough and refused to leave their luxuries behind, and so lost everything, and might as well have been walking in a dirty town at home for all the little good that the mountains did to them. And I know men who have thought to find this memory and desire in foreign countries, in Africa, hunting great beasts such as our fathers hunted; yet even these have not relit those old embers, which if they lie dead and dark in a man make his whole soul dusty and useless, but which if they be once rekindled can make him part of all the centuries.
Yet there is a simple and an easy way to find what the men who made us found, and to see the world as they saw it, and to take a bath, as it were, in the freshness of beginnings; and that is to go to work as cheaply and as hardly as you can, and only as much away from men as they were away from men, and not to read or to write or to think, but to eat and drink and use the body in many immediate ways, which are at the feet of every man. Every man who will walk for some days carelessly, sleeping, rough when he must, or in poor inns, and making for some one place direct because he desires to see it, will know the thing I mean. And there is a better way still of which I shall now speak: I mean, to try the seas in a little boat not more than twenty-five feet long, preferably decked, of shallow draught, such as can enter into all creeks and havens, and so simply rigged that by oneself, or with a friend at most, one can wander all over the world.
Certainly every man that goes to sea in a little boat of this kind learns terror and salvation, happy living, air, danger, exultation, glory, and repose at the end; and they are not words to him, but, on the contrary, realities which will afterwards throughout his life give the mere words a full meaning. And for this experiment there lies at our feet, I say, the Channel.
It is the most marvellous sea in the world—the most suited for these little adventures; it is crammed with strange towns, differing one from the other; it has two opposite people upon either side, and hills and varying climates, and the hundred shapes and colours of the earth, here rocks, there sand, there cliffs, and there marshy shores. It is a little world. And what is more, it is a kind of inland sea.
People will not understand how narrow it is, crossing it hurriedly in great steamships; nor will they make it a home for pleasure unless they are rich and can have great boats; yet they should, for on its water lies the best stage for playing out the old drama by which the soul of a healthy man is kept alive. For instance, listen to this story:—
The sea being calm, and the wind hot, uncertain, and light from the east, leaving oily gaps on the water, and continually dying down, I drifted one morning in the strong ebb to the South Goodwin Lightship, wondering what to do. There was a haze over the land and over the sea, and through the haze great ships a long way off showed, one or two of them, like oblong targets which one fires at with guns. They hardly moved in spite of all their canvas set, there was so little breeze. So I drifted in the slow ebb past the South Goodwin, and I thought: "What is all this drifting and doing nothing? Let us play the fool, and see if there are no adventures left."
So I put my little boat about until the wind took her from forward, such as it was, and she crawled out to sea.
It was a dull, uneasy morning, hot and silent, and the wind, I say, was hardly a wind, and most of the time the sails flapped uselessly.
But after eleven o'clock the wind first rose, and then shifted a little, and then blew light but steady; and then at last she heeled and the water spoke under her bows, and still she heeled and ran, until in the haze I could see no more land; but ever so far out there were no seas, for the light full breeze was with the tide, the tide ebbing out as a strong, and silent as a man in anger, down the hidden parallel valleys of the narrow sea. And I held this little wind till about two o'clock, when I drank wine and ate bread and meat at the tiller, for I had them by me, and just afterwards, still through a thick haze of heat, I saw Gris-nez, a huge ghost, right up against and above me; and I wondered, for I had crossed the Channel, now for the first time, and knew now what it felt like to see new land.
Though I knew nothing of the place, I had this much sense, that I said to myself: "The tide is right-down Channel, racing through the hidden valleys under the narrow sea, so it will all go down together and all come up together, and the flood will come on this foreign side much at the same hour that it does on the home side." My boat lay to the east and the ebb tide held her down, and I lit a pipe and looked at the French hills and thought about them and the people in them, and England which I had left behind, and I was delighted with the loneliness of the sea; and still I waited for the flood.
But in a little while the chain made a rattling noise, and she lay quite slack and swung oddly; and then there were little boiling and eddying places in the water, and the water seemed to come up from underneath sometimes, and altogether it behaved very strangely, and this was the turn of the tide. Then the wind dropped also, and for a moment she lollopped about, till at last, after I had gone below and straightened things, I came on deck to see that she had turned completely round, and that the tide at last was making up my way, towards Calais, and her chain was taut and her nose pointed down Channel, and a little westerly breeze, a little draught of air, came up cool along the tide.
When this came I was very glad, for I saw that I could end my adventure before night. So I pulled up the anchor and fished it, and then turned with the tide under me, and the slight half-felt breeze just barely filling the mainsail (the sheet was slack, so powerless was the wind), and I ran up along that high coast, watching eagerly every new thing; but I kept some way out for fear of shoals, till after three good hours under the reclining sun of afternoon, which glorified the mist, I saw, far off, the roofs and spires of a town, and a low pier running well out to sea, and I knew that it must be Calais. And I ran for these piers, careless of how I went, for it was already half of the spring flood tide, and everything was surely well covered for so small a boat, and I ran up the fairway in between the piers, and saw Frenchmen walking about and a great gun peeping up over its earthwork, and plenty of clean new masonry. And a man came along and showed me where I could lie; but I was so strange to the place that I would not take a berth, but lay that night moored to an English ship.
And when I had eaten and drunk and everything was stowed away and darkness had fallen, I went on deck, and for a long time sat silent, smoking a pipe and watching the enormous lighthouse of Calais, which is built right in the town, and which turns round and round above one all night long.
And I thought: "Here is a wonderful thing! I have crossed the Channel in this little boat, and I know now what the sea means that separates France from England. I have strained my eyes for shore through a haze. I have seen new lands, and I feel as men do who have dreamt dreams."
But in reality I had had very great luck indeed, and had had no right to cross, for my coming back was to be far more difficult and dreadful, and I was to suffer many things before again I could see tall England, close by me, out of the sea.
But how I came back, and of the storm, and of its majesty, and of how the boat and I survived, I will tell you another time, only imploring you to do the same; not to tell of it, I mean, but to sail it in a little boat.
THE MOWING OF A FIELD
There is a valley in South England remote from ambition and from fear, where the passage of strangers is rare and unperceived, and where the scent of the grass in summer is breathed only by those who are native to that unvisited land. The roads to the Channel do not traverse it; they choose upon either side easier passes over the range. One track alone leads up through it to the hills, and this is changeable: now green where men have little occasion to go, now a good road where it nears the homesteads and the barns. The woods grow steep above the slopes; they reach sometimes the very summit of the heights, or, when they cannot attain them, fill in and clothe the coombes. And, in between, along the floor of the valley, deep pastures and their silence are bordered by lawns of chalky grass and the small yew trees of the Downs.
The clouds that visit its sky reveal themselves beyond the one great rise, and sail, white and enormous, to the other, and sink beyond that other. But the plains above which they have travelled and the Weald to which they go, the people of the valley cannot see and hardly recall. The wind, when it reaches such fields, is no longer a gale from the salt, but fruitful and soft, an inland breeze; and those whose blood was nourished here, feel in that wind the fruitfulness of our orchards and all the life that all things draw from the air.
In this place, when I was a boy, I pushed through a fringe of beeches that made a complete screen between me and the world, and I came to a glade called No Man's Land. I climbed beyond it, and I was surprised and glad, because from the ridge of that glade I saw the sea. To this place very lately I returned.
The many things that I recovered as I came up the countryside were not less charming than when a distant memory had enshrined them, but much more. Whatever veil is thrown by a longing recollection had not intensified nor even made more mysterious the beauty of that happy ground; not in my very dreams of morning had I, in exile, seen it more beloved or more rare. Much also that I had forgotten now returned to me as I approached—a group of elms, a little turn of the parson's wall, a small paddock beyond the graveyard close, cherished by one man, with a low wall of very old stone guarding it all round. And all these things fulfilled and amplified my delight, till even the good vision of the place, which I had kept so many years, left me and was replaced by its better reality. "Here," I said to myself, "is a symbol of what some say is reserved for the soul: pleasure of a kind which cannot be imagined save in a moment when at last it is attained."
When I came to my own gate and my own field, and had before me the house I knew, I looked around a little (though it was already evening), and I saw that the grass was standing as it should stand when it is ready for the scythe. For in this, as in everything that a man can do—of those things at least which are very old—there is an exact moment when they are done best. And it has been remarked of whatever rules us that it works blunderingly, seeing that the good things given to a man are not given at the precise moment when they would have filled him with delight. But, whether this be true or false, we can choose the just turn of the seasons in everything we do of our own will, and especially in the making of hay. Many think that hay is best made when the grass is thickest; and so they delay until it is rank and in flower, and has already heavily pulled the ground. And there is another false reason for delay, which is wet weather. For very few will understand (though it comes year after year) that we have rain always in South England between the sickle and the scythe, or say just after the weeks of east wind are over. First we have a week of sudden warmth, as though the south had come to see us all; then we have the weeks of east and south-east wind; and then we have more or less of that rain of which I spoke, and which always astonishes the world. Now it is just before, or during, or at the very end of that rain—but not later—that grass should be cut for hay. True, upland grass, which is always thin, should be cut earlier than the grass in the bottoms and along the water meadows; but not even the latest, even in the wettest seasons, should be left (as it is) to flower and even to seed. For what we get when we store our grass is not a harvest of something ripe, but a thing just caught in its prime before maturity: as witness that our corn and straw are best yellow, but our hay is best green. So also Death should be represented with a scythe and Time with a sickle; for Time can take only what is ripe, but Death comes always too soon. In a word, then, it is always much easier to cut grass too late than too early; and I, under that evening and come back to these pleasant fields, looked at the grass and knew that it was time. June was in full advance: it was the beginning of that season when the night has already lost her foothold of the earth and hovers over it, never quite descending, but mixing sunset with the dawn.
Next morning, before it was yet broad day, I awoke, and thought of the mowing. The birds were already chattering in the trees beside my window, all except the nightingale, which had left and flown away to the Weald, where he sings all summer by day as well as by night in the oaks and the hazel spinneys, and especially along the little river Adur, one of the rivers of the Weald. The birds and the thought of the mowing had awakened me, and I went down the stairs and along the stone floors to where I could find a scythe; and when I took it from its nail, I remembered how, fourteen years ago, I had last gone out with my scythe, just so, into the fields at morning. In between that day and this were many things, cities and armies, and a confusion of books, mountains and the desert, and horrible great breadths of sea.
When I got out into the long grass the sun was not yet risen, but there were already many colours in the eastern sky, and I made haste to sharpen my scythe, so that I might get to the cutting before the dew should dry. Some say that it is best to wait till all the dew has risen, so as to get the grass quite dry from the very first. But, though it is an advantage to get the grass quite dry, yet it is not worth while to wait till the dew has risen. For, in the first place, you lose many hours of work (and those the coolest), and next—which is more important—you lose that great ease and thickness in cutting which comes of the dew. So I at once began to sharpen my scythe.
There is an art also in the sharpening of a scythe, and it is worth describing carefully. Your blade must be dry, and that is why you will see men rubbing the scythe-blade with grass before they whet it. Then also your rubber must be quite dry, and on this account it is a good thing to lay it on your coat and keep it there during all your day's mowing. The scythe you stand upright, with the blade pointing away from you, and you put your left hand firmly on the back of the blade, grasping it: then you pass the rubber first down one side of the blade-edge and then down the other, beginning near the handle and going on to the point and working quickly and hard. When you first do this you will, perhaps, cut your hand; but it is only at first that such an accident will happen to you.
To tell when the scythe is sharp enough this is the rule. First the stone clangs and grinds against the iron harshly; then it rings musically to one note; then, at last, it purrs as though the iron and stone were exactly suited. When you hear this, your scythe is sharp enough; and I, when I heard it that June dawn, with everything quite silent except the birds, let down the scythe and bent myself to mow.
When one does anything anew, after so many years, one fears very much for one's trick or habit. But all things once learnt are easily recoverable, and I very soon recovered the swing and power of the mower. Mowing well and mowing badly—or rather not mowing at all—are separated by very little; as is also true of writing verse, of playing the fiddle, and of dozens of other things, but of nothing more than of believing. For the bad or young or untaught mower without tradition, the mower Promethean, the mower original and contemptuous of the past, does all these things: He leaves great crescents of grass uncut. He digs the point of the scythe hard into the ground with a jerk. He loosens the handles and even the fastening of the blade. He twists the blade with his blunders, he blunts the blade, he chips it, dulls it, or breaks it clean off at the tip. If any one is standing by he cuts him in the ankle. He sweeps up into the air wildly, with nothing to resist his stroke. He drags up earth with the grass, which is like making the meadow bleed. But the good mower who does things just as they should be done and have been for a hundred thousand years, falls into none of these fooleries. He goes forward very steadily, his scythe-blade just barely missing the ground, every grass falling; the swish and rhythm of his mowing are always the same.
So great an art can only be learnt by continual practice; but this much is worth writing down, that, as in all good work, to know the thing with which you work is the core of the affair. Good verse is best written on good paper with an easy pen, not with a lump of coal on a whitewashed wall. The pen thinks for you; and so does the scythe mow for you if you treat it honourably and in a manner that makes it recognise its service. The manner is this. You must regard the scythe as a pendulum that swings, not as a knife that cuts. A good mower puts no more strength into his stroke than into his lifting. Again, stand up to your work. The bad mower, eager and full of pain, leans forward and tries to force the scythe through the grass. The good mower, serene and able, stands as nearly straight as the shape of the scythe will let him, and follows up every stroke closely, moving his left foot forward. Then also let every stroke get well away. Mowing is a thing of ample gestures, like drawing a cartoon. Then, again, get yourself into a mechanical and repetitive mood: be thinking of anything at all but your mowing, and be anxious only when there seems some interruption to the monotony of the sound. In this mowing should be like one's prayers—all of a sort and always the same, and so made that you can establish a monotony and work them, as it were, with half your mind: that happier half, the half that does not bother.
In this way, when I had recovered the art after so many years, I went forward over the field, cutting lane after lane through the grass, and bringing out its most secret essences with the sweep of the scythe until the air was full of odours. At the end of every lane I sharpened my scythe and looked back at the work done, and then carried my scythe down again upon my shoulder to begin another. So, long before the bell rang in the chapel above me—that is, long before six o'clock, which is the time for the Angelus—I had many swathes already lying in order parallel like soldiery; and the high grass yet standing, making a great contrast with the shaven part, looked dense and high. As it says in the Ballad of Val-es-Dunes, where—
The tall son of the Seven Winds Came riding out of Hither-hythe,
and his horse-hoofs (you will remember) trampled into the press and made a gap in it, and his sword (as you know)
... was like a scythe In Arcus when the grass is high And all the swathes in order lie, And there's the bailiff standing by A-gathering of the tithe.
So I mowed all that morning, till the houses awoke in the valley, and from some of them rose a little fragrant smoke, and men began to be seen.
I stood still and rested on my scythe to watch the awakening of the village, when I saw coming up to my field a man whom I had known in older times, before I had left the Valley.
He was of that dark silent race upon which all the learned quarrel, but which, by whatever meaningless name it may be called—Iberian, or Celtic, or what you will—is the permanent root of all England, and makes England wealthy and preserves it everywhere, except perhaps in the Fens and in a part of Yorkshire. Everywhere else you will find it active and strong. These people are intensive; their thoughts and their labours turn inward. It is on account of their presence in these islands that our gardens are the richest in the world. They also love low rooms and ample fires and great warm slopes of thatch. They have, as I believe, an older acquaintance with the English air than any other of all the strains that make up England. They hunted in the Weald with stones, and camped in the pines of the green-sand. They lurked under the oaks of the upper rivers, and saw the legionaries go up, up the straight paved road from the sea. They helped the few pirates to destroy the towns, and mixed with those pirates and shared the spoils of the Roman villas, and were glad to see the captains and the priests destroyed. They remain; and no admixture of the Frisian pirates, or the Breton, or the Angevin and Norman conquerors, has very much affected their cunning eyes.
To this race, I say, belonged the man who now approached me. And he said to me, "Mowing?" And I answered, "Ar." Then he also said "Ar," as in duty bound; for so we speak to each other in the Stenes of the Downs.
Next he told me that, as he had nothing to do, he would lend me a hand; and I thanked him warmly, or, as we say, "kindly." For it is a good custom of ours always to treat bargaining as though it were a courteous pastime; and though what he was after was money, and what I wanted was his labour at the least pay, yet we both played the comedy that we were free men, the one granting a grace and the other accepting it. For the dry bones of commerce, avarice and method and need, are odious to the Valley; and we cover them up with a pretty body of fiction and observances. Thus, when it comes to buying pigs, the buyer does not begin to decry the pig and the vendor to praise it, as is the custom with lesser men; but tradition makes them do business in this fashion:—