HotFreeBooks.com
Old Roads and New Roads
by William Bodham Donne
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

The modern highway is seldom in a direct line. A hill, a ford, or a wood sufficed to render it circuitous. All roads indeed through hilly countries were originally struck out by drivers of pack-horses, who, to avoid bogs, chose the upper ground. Roads were first made the subject of legislation in England in the sixteenth century: until then, they had been made at will and repaired at pleasure. A similar neglect of uniformity may be seen in Hungary and in Eastern Europe generally, even in the present day. The roads are made by each county, and as it depends in great measure upon the caprice or convenience of the particular proprietors or townships whether there shall be a road at all, or whether it shall be at all better than a drift-way or a bridle-track, it often happens that after bowling along for a score of miles upon a highway worthy of Macadam, the carriage of the traveller plunges into wet turf or heavy sand, merely because it has entered upon the boundary of a new county. Nay, even where the roads have been hitherto good, it often happens that the new Vicegespann, or Sheriff, a personage on whose character a good deal depends in county business, allows them to go to ruin for want of seasonable repairs. A similar irregularity was, in our own country, put a stop to in the reign of Mary, when it was enacted that each parish should maintain its own roads. A custom was borrowed from the feudal system: the lord of the manor was empowered to demand from his vassals certain portions of their labour, including the use of such rude implements as were then in use. The peasant was bound by the tenure of his holding, to aid in cutting, carting, and housing his lord's hay and corn, to repair his bridges, and to mend his roads. A portion of such services was, in the sixteenth century, transferred from the lord to the parish or the district; and the charges of repairing the highways and bridges fell upon the copyholder. He was compelled to give his labour for six days in the year, and his work was apportioned and examined by a surveyor. If this compulsory labour did not suffice, hired labour was defrayed by a parochial rate: and although the obligation is seldom enforced, yet it survives in letter in the majority of the court-rolls of our manors.

So entirely indeed was speed in travelling regarded by our ancestors as of secondary importance to safety and convenience, that even in journeying by a public coach the length of a day's journey was often determined by the vote of the passengers. The better or worse accommodation of the roadside inns was taken into account; and it was "mine host's" interest to furnish good ale and beef, since he was tolerably certain that, with such attractions within-doors, the populous and heavy-laden mail would not pass by the sign of the Angel or the Griffin. Long and ceremonious generally were the meals of our forefathers; nor did they abate one jot from their courtesies when travelling on "urgent business." On arriving at the morning or noontide baiting-place, and after mustering in the common room of the inn, the first thing to be done was to appoint a chairman, who mostly retained his post of honour during the journey. At the breakfast or dinner there was none of that indecorous hurry in eating and drinking which marks our degenerate days. Had the travellers affected such thin potations as tea and soup, there was ample time for them to cool. But they preferred the sirloin and the tankard; and that no feature of a generous reception might be wanting, the landlord would not fail to recommend his crowning cup of sack or claret. The coachman, who might now and then feel some anxiety to proceed, would yet merely admonish his fare that the day was wearing on; but his scruples would vanish before a grace-cup, and he would even connive at a proposal to take a pipe of tobacco, before the horn was permitted to summon the passengers to resume their places. Hence the great caution observable in the newspaper advertisements of coach-travelling. We have now before us an announcement of the kind, dated in the year 1751. It sets forth that, God willing, the new Expedition coach! will leave the Maid's Head, Norwich, on Wednesday or Thursday morning, at seven o'clock, and arrive at the Boar in Aldgate on the Friday or Saturday, "as shall seem good" to the majority of the passengers. It appears from the appellation of the vehicle, "the new Expedition," that such a rate of journeying was considered to be an advance in speed, and an innovation worthy of general notice and patronage. Fifty years before the same journey had occupied a week; and in 1664 Christopher Milton, the poet's brother, and afterwards one of King James II.'s justices, had taken eight-and-forty hours to go from the Belle Sauvage to Ipswich! At the same period the stage-coach which ran between London and Oxford required two days for a journey which is now performed in about two hours on the Great Western line. The stage to Exeter occupied four days. In 1703, when Prince George of Denmark visited the stately mansion of Petworth, with the view of meeting Charles III. of Spain, the last nine miles of the journey took six hours. Several of the carriages employed to convey his retinue were upset or otherwise injured; and an unlucky courier in attendance complains that during fourteen hours he never once alighted, except when the coach overturned or was stuck in the mud.

Direction-posts in the seventeenth century were almost unknown. Thoresby of Leeds, the well-known antiquary, relates in his Diary, that he had well-nigh lost his way on the great north road, one of the best in the kingdom, and that he actually lost himself between Doncaster and York. Pepys, travelling with his wife in his own carriage, lost his way twice in one short hour, and on the second occasion narrowly escaped passing a comfortless night on Salisbury Plain. So late indeed as the year 1770 no material improvement had been effected in road-making. The highways of Lancashire, the county which gave to the world the earliest important railroad, were peculiarly infamous. Within the space of eighteen miles a traveller passed three carts broken down by ruts four feet deep, that even in summer floated with mud, and which were mended with large loose stones shot down at random by the surveyors. So dangerous were the Lancashire thoroughfares that one writer of the time charges all travellers to shun them as they would the devil, "for a thousand to one they break their necks or their limbs by overthrows or breaking down." In the winter season stage-coaches were laid up like so many ships during Arctic frosts, since it was impossible for any number of horses to drag them through the intervening impediments, or for any strength of wheel or perch to resist the rugged and precipitous inequalities of the roads. "For all practical purposes," as Mr. Macaulay remarks, "the inhabitants of London were further from Reading than they are now from Edinburgh, and further from Edinburgh than they are now from Vienna."

France generally is still far behind Britain in all the appurtenances of swift and easy travelling. In the eighteenth century it was relatively at par with this country. The following misadventures of Voltaire and two female companions, when on an excursion from Paris to the provinces, are thus sketched by the pen of Thomas Carlyle:—

"Figure a lean and vivid-tempered philosopher starting from Paris, under cloud of night, during hard frost, in a large lumbering coach, or rather waggon, compared with which indeed the generality of modern waggons were a luxurious conveyance. With four starved and perhaps spavined hacks, he slowly sets forth under a mountain of bandboxes. At his side sits the wandering virago, Marquise du Chatelet, in front of him a serving maid, with additional bandboxes, et divers effets de sa maitresse. At the next stage the postilions have to be beat up: they came out swearing. Cloaks and fur-pelisses avail little against the January cold; 'time and hours' are the only hope. But lo! at the tenth mile, this Tyburn coach breaks down. One many-voiced discordant wail shrieks through the solitude, making night hideous—but in vain: the axle-tree has given way; the vehicle has overset, and marchionesses, chamber-maids, bandboxes, and philosophers are weltering in inextricable chaos. The carriage was in the stage next Nangis, about half-way to that town, when the hind axle-tree broke, and it tumbled on the road to M. de Voltaire's side. Madame du Chatelet and her maid fell above him, with all their bundles and bandboxes, for these were not tied to the front but only piled up on both hands of the maid; and so, observing the law of gravitation and equilibrium of bodies, they rushed toward the corner where M. de Voltaire lay squeezed together. Under so many burdens, which half-suffocated him, he kept shouting bitterly; but it was impossible to change place; all had to remain as it was till the two lackeys, one of whom was hurt by the fall, could come up, with the postilions, to disencumber the vehicle; they first drew out all the luggage, next the women, and then M. de Voltaire. Nothing could be got out except by the top, that is, by the coach-door, which now opened upwards. One of the lackeys and a postilion, clambering aloft and fixing themselves on the body of the vehicle, drew them up as from a well, seizing the first limb that came to hand, whether arm or leg, and then passed them down to the two stationed below, who set them firmly on the ground."

It was not entirely for state or distinction of ranks that noblemen of yore were attended on their journeys by running footmen. A few supernumerary hands were needed in case of accidents on the road. A box of carpenters' tools formed an indispensable part of the baggage, and the accompanying lackeys were skilful in handling them, as well as in replacing the cast shoes of the horses, for many districts would not afford a Wayland Smith. The state of travelling was doubtless increased by these 'cursive appendages, bearing white wands, and decked in the gay liveries of the house which they served. In the 'Bride of Lammermoor' we have a graphic picture of these pedestrian accompaniments of the coaches of "Persons of Quality."

"The privilege of nobility in those days," says Sir Walter Scott, "had something in it impressive on the imagination: the dresses and liveries, and number of their attendants, their style of travelling, the imposing and almost warlike air of the armed men who surrounded them, placed them far above the laird who travelled with his brace of footmen; and as to rivalry from the mercantile part of the community, these would as soon have thought of imitating the state and equipage of the Sovereign. . . . Two running footmen, dressed in white, with black jockey caps, and long staves in their hands, headed the train; and such was their agility that they found no difficulty in keeping the necessary advance which the etiquette of their station required before the carriage and horsemen. Onward they came at an easy swinging trot, arguing unwearied speed in their long-breathed calling. Behind these glowing meteors, who footed it as if the avenger of blood had been behind them, came a cloud of dust, raised by riders who preceded, attended, or followed, the state-carriage."

In times when persons of quality journeyed in this stately and sumptuous fashion, it was often needful to mend the roads specially on their account. The approach of a Royal Progress, or the Lord Lieutenant of the county, was a signal for a general 'turn-out' of labourers and masons to lay gravel over the most suspicious places, and to render the bridges at least temporarily secure. Scarcely a Quarter sessions in the seventeenth century passed over without presentments from the Grand Jury against certain districts of the county; and few and favoured were the districts which escaped a good round fine from the Judges, as a set-off against the bruises and other damages which their Lordships sustained on their circuit. It was no unusual accident for the Court to be kept waiting many hours for the arrival of the Judge. Either his Lordship had been dug out of a bog, or his official wardrobe had been carried away by a bridgeless stream. Often, too, the patience of jurors was severely tried by the non-appearance of counsel. These inconveniences became more apparent after it had ceased to be the fashion for the Judges and the Bar to travel on horseback from one assize-town to another. Cowper, writing to his pedestrian friend Rose, playfully imagines that when he should attain to the dignity of the ermine, he would institute the practice of 'walking' the circuit. But equestrian circuits were long in use, and the Bar turned out as if their chase had been deer instead of John Doe and Richard Roe. When however it came to be thought indecorous for a Judge to wear jack-boots, the danger of wheel-carriages was sensibly felt by the luminaries of the law, and the periodical journeys of the votaries of Themis tended directly to the correction of ways as well as to the suppression of vice. A zealous High Sheriff or a loyal Lord Lieutenant would sometimes contribute out of his private purse to the security of the Bench: and the more enterprising towns began to think it concerned their honour that the delegates of Majesty should reach their gates scatheless and unwearied by the toils of the road.

But road-making entrusted to the separate discretion of parochial authorities was often performed in a slovenly, and always in an unsystematic, manner. In adopting a direct or a circuitous line of way innumerable predilections interfered, and parishes not rarely indulged in acrimonious controversies, especially when the time came for walking the boundaries. The dispute between broad and narrow gauges is indeed merely a modern form of a long-standing quarrel. A market-town and a seaport would naturally desire to have ample verge and room enough on their highways for the transport of grain, hides, and timber from the interior, and for carriage of cloth and manufactured or imported goods to the inland. On the other hand isolated parishes would contend that driftways were all-sufficient for their demands, and that they could house their crops or bring their flour from the mill through the same ruts which had served their forefathers. But in Charles II.'s reign, after the civil wars had given an impetus to the public mind, and while, although our foreign policy was disgraceful, and each cabinet more indecorous than its predecessor, the country at large was steadily advancing in prosperity, this lack of uniformity was acknowledged to be no longer tolerable. Compulsory labour and parochial rates, or hired labour and occasional outlays, were found alike insufficient to ensure good roads. An act was accordingly passed authorizing a small toll to pay the needful expenses. The turnpike-gate to which we are accustomed was originally a bar supported on two posts on the opposite sides of the road, and the collector sat, sub dio, at his seat of customs. It was long however before the advantages of this plan were acknowledged by the people. Riots, resembling the Rebecca riots, were of frequent occurrence in the less-frequented counties: the road-surveyor was as odious as the collector of the chimney-tax; the toll-bar was seen blazing at night; its guardian deemed himself fortunate to escape with a few kicks; and it was not until a much later day that a public or private coach could trundle along the roads without encountering deep and dislocating ruts, or rocking over a surface of unbroken stones. Frost and rain were more effective than the duly appointed surveyor in breaking up these rude materials, and reducing the surface to something resembling a level.

A few years since some of the most strenuous opponents of railways were to be found among the squirearchy. "Why," argued these rural magnates, "should our woods be levelled and our corn-lands bisected, our game scared away and our parks disfigured by noise and smoke, to suit the convenience of the dingy denizens of Manchester, or the purse-proud merchants of Liverpool?" Similar arguments were urged not more than a century ago against the formation of new turnpike roads. The bittern, it was said, would be driven from his pool, the fox from his earth, the wild fowl would be frightened away from the marshes, and many a fine haunch of venison would be sent to London markets without the proper ceremonies of turning off and running down the buck. Merrie England could not exist without miry roads. In 1760 there was no turnpike road between the port of Lynn and the great corn and cattle market at Norwich. In 1762 an opulent gentleman, who had resided for a generation of mortal life in Lisbon, was desirous to revisit his paternal home among the meres of the eastern counties. His wish was further stimulated by the circumstance that his sister and sole surviving relative dwelt beside one of the great Broads, which, in these regions, penetrate far inland from the sea-coast. From London to the capital town of his native county his way was tolerably smooth and prosperous. The distance was about a hundred and ten miles, and by the aid of a mail coach he performed the journey in three days. But now commenced his real labours. Between his sister's dwelling and the provincial capital lay some twenty miles of alternate ridges of gravel and morass. Had he been a young man he might have walked safely and speedily under the guidance of some frugal swain or tripping dairymaid returning from market. Had he been a wise man he would have hired a nag, and trotted soberly along such bridle-roads as he found. But he was neither a young nor a wise man. His better years had been passed in the counting-houses of Santarem, and his bodily activity was impaired by long and copious infusions of generous old port. So, as he could neither walk nor ride, he deposited his portly and withal somewhat gouty person in a coach-and-six, and set forth upon his fraternal quest. He had little reason to plume himself upon the pomp and circumstance of his equipage. The six hired coach-horses, albeit of the strong Flanders breed, were in a few hours engulfed in a black pool; his coach, or rather his travelling mansion, was inextricably sunk in the same slimy hollow; and the merchant himself, whose journeys had hitherto been made on the sober back of a Lusitanian mule, was ignominiously dragged by two cowherds through his coach-windows,—and mounted on one of the wheelers, he was brought back, drenched and weary, to the place whence he set out. In high dudgeon, the purveyor of Bacchus returned to London, and could never be induced to resume the search of his "Anna soror."

Such imperfect means of transit materially affected both the manners and the intelligence of the age. Postal arrangements indeed existed, but of the rudest kind. It was common for letters to be left at the principal inns on the main road, to be delivered when called for. They remained often in the bar until the address was illegible, or smoke had dyed the paper a saffron-yellow. Special announcements of deaths and births or urgent business were necessarily entrusted to special messengers; and the title and superscription of these privately-sent letters generally contain very minute and even peremptory injunctions of a certain and swift delivery. But for such cautions, a rich uncle might have been quietly inurned without his expectant nephews hearing of his decease; and a whole college kept waiting, till the year of grace had passed, for the news of a fat rector's much-desired apoplexy. The death of good Queen Bess was not known in some of the remoter parishes of Devonshire until the courtiers of James had ceased to wear mourning for her. The Hebrews of York heard with quivering lips and ashen brows of the massacre of their people in London at Richard I.'s coronation, six weeks after it was perpetrated; and the churches of the Orkneys put up prayers for King James three months after the abdicated monarch had fled to St. Germain's. There was in nearly all rural districts the king of London and the king of the immediate neighbourhood. The Walpoles and Townshends in their own domains were far more formidable personages than George I.; and at a time when the King of Prussia's picture was commonly hung out at ale-house doors as an incitement to try the ale, {72} an ancient dame near Doncaster exclaimed, on being informed of his majesty's decease, "Lord a' mercy, is he! and, pray, who is to be the new Lord Mayor?"

A considerable improvement in the roads of Great Britain took place in the latter half of the preceding century. This change was partly owing to the advancing civilization of the larger towns and cities, and partly to the march of the Highlanders into England under Prince Charles Edward, in 1745. At that period communication was so imperfect that the Pretender had advanced a hundred miles from Edinburgh without exciting any peculiar alarm in the midland or southern counties, while in the metropolis itself no certain information could be obtained of the movements of the rebel army for some days after their departure southward. The Duke of Cumberland's march northward was much impeded by the difficulty of transporting his park of artillery. But after the decisive day of Culloden, the erection of Fort William, and the establishment of military posts at the foot of the Grampians, the expediency of readier communication between the capitals of South and North Britain was universally felt. Scotland could henceforward be held in permanent subordination only by means of good military highways. Accordingly in the year 1782 we find a German traveller (Moritz) speaking of the roads in the neighbourhood of London as "incomparable." He is astonished "how they got them so firm and solid;" and he thus describes his stage of sixteen miles from Dartford, the place of his disembarkation, to the metropolis:—

"Our little party now separated and got into two post-chaises, each of which held three persons, though it must be owned that three cannot sit quite so commodiously in these chaises as two; the hire of a post-chaise is a shilling for every English mile. They may be compared to our extra-posts, because they are to be had at all times. But these carriages are very neat and lightly built, so that you hardly perceive their motion, as they roll along these firm smooth roads; they have windows in front and on both sides; the horses are generally good, and the postilions particularly smart and active, and always ride at a full trot. The one we had wore his hair cut short, a round hat, and a brown jacket, of tolerably fine cloth, with a nosegay in his bosom. Now and then, when he drove very hard, he looked round, and with a smile seemed to solicit our approbation. A thousand charming spots and beautiful landscapes, on which my eye would long have dwelt with rapture, were now rapidly passed with the speed of an arrow."

It was one of Samuel Johnson's wishes that he might be driven rapidly in a post-chaise, with a pretty woman, capable of understanding his conversation, for his travelling companion. The smartness of the English postboy was emulated in France,—not, as might have been expected, by his professional brethren, who until very recently retained their ponderous jackboots, three-cornered hats, and heavy knotted whips, but by the younger members of la haute noblesse. To look like an English jockey or postilion, was long the object of fashionable ambition with Parisian dandies. "Vous me crottez, Monsieur," said poor patient Louis XVI. to one of these exquisite centaurs, as he rode beside the royal carriage near Versailles. "Oui, Sire, a l'Anglaise," rejoined the self-satisfied dandy, understanding his majesty to have complimented his trotting (trottez), and taking it as a tribute to the skill of his imitation.

Pedlars and packhorses were a necessary accompaniment of bad and narrow roads. The latter have long disappeared from our highways; the former linger in less-frequented districts of the country, but miserably shorn of their former importance. A licensed hawker is now a very unromantic personage. His comings and goings attract no more attention among the rustics or at the squire's hall than the passing by of a plough or a sheep. The fixed shop has deprived him of his utility, and daily newspapers of his attractions. He is content to sell his waistcoat or handkerchief pieces; but he is no longer the oracle of the village inn or the housekeeper's room. In the days however when neither draper's nor haberdasher's wares could be purchased without taking a day's journey at the least through miry ways to some considerable market-town, the pedlar was the merchant and newsman of the neighbourhood. He was as loquacious as a barber. He was nearly as ubiquitous as the Wandering Jew. He had his winter circuit and his summer circuit. He was as regular in the delivery of news as the postman; nay, he often forestalled that government official in bringing down the latest intelligence of a landing on the French coast; of an execution at Tyburn; of a meteor in the sky; of a strike at Spitalfields; and of prices in the London markets. He was a favourite with the village crones, for he brought down with him the latest medicines for ague, rheumatism, and the evil. He wrote love-letters for village beauties. He instructed alehouse politicians in the last speech of Bolingbroke, Walpole, or Pitt. His tea, which often had paid no duty, emitted a savour and fragrance unknown to the dried sloe-leaves vended by ordinary grocers. He was the milliner of rural belles. He was the purveyor for village songsters, having ever in his pack the most modern and captivating lace and ribbons, and the newest song and madrigal. He was competent by his experience to advise in the adjustment of top-knots and farthingales, and to show rustic beaux the last cock of the hat and the most approved method of wielding a cane. He was an oral 'Belle Assemblee.' He was full of "quips and cranks and wreathed smiles." 'Indifferent' honest, he was not the less welcome for being a bit of a picaroon. Autolycus, the very type of his profession,—and such as the pedlar was in the days of Queen Bess, such also was he in the days of George II.,—was littered under Mercury, and a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles. His songs would draw three souls out of one weaver. His pack was furnished with

"Lawn, as white as driven snow; Cyprus, black as e'er was crow; Gloves, as sweet as damask roses, Masks for faces and for noses; Bugle-bracelet, necklace amber, Perfume for a lady's chamber; Golden quoifs and stomachers For my lads to give their dears; Pins and poking-sticks of steel,— What maids lack from head to heel."

Then did he chant after the following fashion, at "holy-ales and festivals"—

"Will you buy any tape, Or lace for your cape, My dainty duck, my dear—a? Any silk, any thread, Any toys for your head, Of the new'st and fin'st, fin'st wear—a? Come to the pedlar, Money's a meddler, That doth alter all men's wear—a!"

One accident in pedlar life was some drawback to its general pleasantness. He often bore not only a great charge of goods, but of gold also. His steps were dogged by robbers, and many a skeleton, since disinterred in solitary places, is the mortal framework of some wandering merchant who had met with foul play on his circuit. The packman's ghost too is no unusual spectre in many of our shires.

How important a personage among the dramatis personae of rural life the pedlar was, at even a recent period, in the northern counties of England, may be inferred from Wordsworth's choice of him for the hero of his 'Excursion.' Much ridicule, and even obloquy, did the staunch poet of Rydal incur for choosing such a character, when he might have taken Laras and Conrads by the score, and been praised for his choice. But "the vagrant merchant under a heavy load," being a portion of the mountain life which surrounded the poet's home, was better than any hero of romance for his purpose; and a younger generation has confirmed the poet's choice of a hero, and few remain now to mock at the Pedlar. Wordsworth's pedlar indeed was no Bryce Snailsfoot, nor Donald Bean, nor even such a one as was first cousin to Andrew Fairservice, but rather, by virtue of a poetic diploma, a philosopher of the ancient stamp. For

"From his native hills He wandered far; much did he see of men, Their manners, their enjoyments and pursuits, Their passions and their feelings; chiefly those Essential and eternal in the heart, That, 'mid the simpler forms of rural life Exist more simple in their elements, And speak a plainer language. In the woods, A lone enthusiast, and among the fields, Itinerant in this labour, he had passed The better portion of his time; and there Spontaneously had his affections thriven Amid the bounties of the year, the peace And liberty of nature; there he kept In solitude and solitary thought, His mind in a just equipoise of love."

Lucian, in his vision of Hades, beheld the Shades of the Dead set by pitiless Minos or Rhadamanthus to perform tasks most alien to their occupations while they were yet denizens of earth. Nero, according to Rabelais, who improves on Lucian's hint, was an angler in the Lake of Darkness; Alexander the Great a cobbler of shoes; and "imperial Caesar dead and turned to clay" a hawker of petty wares. It was easier to fit the shadows of monarchs with employment than it would be to find business for departed coachmen. "A coachman, Sir," said one of these worthies to ourselves, who was sorrowfully contemplating the approaching day of his extinction by a nearly completed railway,—"a coachman, if he really be one, is fit for nothing else. The hand which has from boyhood—or rather horsekeeper-hood—grasped the reins, cannot close upon the chisel or the shuttle. He cannot sink into a book-keeper, for his fingers could as soon handle a lancet as a pen. His bread is gone when his stable-door is shut." We attempted to console him by pointing out that it was a law of nature for certain races of mankind to become extinct. Were not the Red Men fading away before the sons of the White Spirit? Was not the Cornish tongue, and were not the old Cornish manners, for ever lost to earth, on the day when the old shrewish fishwife, Dolly Pentrath, departed this life towards the middle of the reign of King George III.? Seeing these things are so, and that "all beneath the moon doth suffer change," why should coachmen endure for ever? But our consolation was poured into deaf ears, and some two years afterwards we recognized our desponding Jehu under the mournful disfigurements of the driver of a hearse. The days of pedlars and stage-coachmen have reached their eve, and look not for restoration. They are waning into the Hades of extinct races, with the sumpnours and the limitours of the Canterbury Pilgrims.

We have described some of the difficulties and dangers to which travellers were subjected in the days of Old Roads. Yet the ancient Highways were not without their attending compensations. Pleasant it was to travel in company, as Chaucer voucheth: pleasant to linger by the way, as Montaigne testifies. To meditative and imaginative persons there was delight in sauntering through a fair country, viewing leisurely its rivers, meadows, hills, and towns. Burton prescribes travelling among his cures for melancholy, and he would not have recommended railway speed or even a fast coach to sad and timid men. His advice presupposed sober progress, gliding down rivers, patient winding round lofty hills, contemplation by woodsides and in green meadows, relaxation not tension of nerve and brain. "No better physick," he says, "for a melancholy man than change of aire and variety of places, to travel abroad and see fashions. Leo Afer speakes of many of his countrymen so cured without all other physick. No man, saith Lipsius, in an epistle to Phil. Lanoius, a noble friend of his, now ready to make a voyage, can be such a stock or stone, whom that pleasant speculation of countries, cities, towns, rivers, will not affect. For peregrination charms our senses with such unspeakable and sweet variety, that some count him unhappy that never travelled, a kinde of prisoner, and pity his case, that from his cradle to old age beholds the same still; insomuch that Rhasis doth not only commend but enjoyn travell, and such variety of objects to a melancholy man, and to lye in diverse innes, to be drawn into severall companies. A good prospect alone will ease melancholy, as Gomesius contends. The citizens of Barcino, saith he, are much delighted with that pleasant prospect their city hath into the sea, which, like that of old Athens, besides AEgina, Salamina, and other pleasant islands, had all the variety of delicious objects; so are those Neapolitanes and inhabitants of Genua, to see the ships, boats, and passengers go by, out of their windows, their whole cities being sited on the side of an hill like Pera by Constantinople. Yet these are too great a distance: some are especially affected with such objects as be near, to see passengers go by in some great road-way or boats in a river, in subjectum forum despicere, to oversee a fair, a market-place, or out of a pleasant window into some thoroughfare street to behold a continual concourse, a promiscuous rout, coming and going."

Indifferent roads and uneasy carriages, riding post, and dread of highwaymen, darkness or the inclemency of the seasons, led, as by a direct consequence, to the construction of excellent inns in our island. The superiority of our English hotels in the seventeenth century is thus described by the most picturesque of modern historians:—"From a very early period," says Mr. Macaulay, "the inns of England had been renowned. Our first great poet had described the excellent accommodation which they afforded to the pilgrims of the fourteenth century. Nine and twenty persons, with their horses, found room in the wide chambers and stables of the Tabard, in Southwark. The food was of the best, and the wines such as drew the company to drink largely. Two hundred years later, under the reign of Elizabeth, William Harrison gave a lively description of the plenty and comfort of the great hostelries. The continent of Europe, he said, could show nothing like them. There were some in which two or three hundred people, with their horses, could without difficulty be lodged and fed. The bedding, the tapestry, above all the abundance of clean and fine linen was matter of wonder. Valuable plate was often set on the tables. Nay, there were signs which had cost thirty or forty pounds. {82} In the seventeenth century, England abounded with excellent inns of every rank. The traveller sometimes in a small village lighted on a public-house, such as Walton has described, where the brick floor was swept clean, where the walls were stuck round with ballads, where the sheets smelt of lavender, and where a blazing fire, a cup of good ale, and a dish of trout fresh from the neighbouring brook, were to be procured at small charge. At the larger houses of entertainment were to be found beds hung with silk, choice cookery, and claret equal to the best which was drunk in London. The innkeepers too, it was said, were not like other innkeepers. On the continent the landlord was the tyrant of those who crossed his threshold. In England he was a servant. Never was an Englishman more at home than when he took his ease in his inn.

"Many conveniences which were unknown at Hampton Court and Whitehall in the seventeenth century, are to be found in our modern hotels. Yet on the whole it is certain that the improvement of our houses of public entertainment has by no means kept pace with the improvement of our roads and conveyances. Nor is this strange; for it is evident that, all other circumstances being supposed equal, the inns will be best where the means of locomotion are worst. The quicker the rate of travelling, the less important is it that there should be numerous agreeable resting-places for the travellers. A hundred and sixty years ago a person who came up to the capital from a remote county generally required twelve or fifteen meals, and lodging for five or six nights by the way. If he were a great man, he expected the meals and lodging to be comfortable and even luxurious. At present we fly from York or Chester to London by the light of a single winter's day. At present therefore a traveller seldom interrupts his journey merely for the sake of rest and refreshment. The consequence is that hundreds of excellent inns have fallen into decay. In a short time no good houses of that description will be found, except at places where strangers are likely to be detained by business or pleasure."

Highwaymen, pedlars, inns, coachmen, and well-appointed coaches have now nearly vanished from our roads. Some of the more excellent breeds of English horses have gone with them, or will soon follow them. In another generation no one will survive who has seen a Norfolk hackney. This race of sure-footed indefatigable trotters has already become so few in number that "a child may count them." "The oldest inhabitant"—that universal referee with some persons on all disputed points—never set eye on a genuine Flemish coach-horse in England; and the gallant high-stepping hybrid—half thoroughbred, half hackney—which whirled along the fast coaches at the rate of twelve miles in the hour will in a few years be nowhere found. The art of 'putting to' four horses in a few seconds will become one of the 'artes deperditae;' and the science of driving so as to divide equally the weight and the speed between the team, and to apportion the strength of the cattle to the variations of the road, will have become a tradition. Perfect as mechanism was the discipline of a well-trained leader. He knew the road, and the duty expected of him. Docile and towardly during his seven- or nine-mile stage, he refused to perform more than his allotted task. Attached to his yoke-fellow, he resented the intrusion of a stranger into his harness: and a mere change of hands on the box would often convert the willing steed into a recusant against the collar, whom neither soothing nor severity would induce to budge a step. Some suffering indeed has been spared to the equine world by the substitution of brass and iron for blood and sinews; but the poetry of the road is gone with the quadrigae that a few years ago tripped lightly and proudly over the level of the Macadamized road. No latter-day Homer will again indite such a verse as

"[Greek text]."

The Four-in-hand Club is extinct, or, with those ancient charioteers at Troy, courses in Hades over meadows of asphodel.

Of the old roads of the Continent during the Dark and Middle Ages, we have little to record. The central energy of Rome had suffered collapse. Europe was partitioned into feeble kingdoms and powerful fiefs. War was the normal condition of its provinces; the sports of the field were unfavourable to agriculture, and directly opposed to the promotion of commerce and the growth of towns. So long as it was conducive to the pleasures of the manorial lord to keep large tracts of land uncultivated, it was contrary to his interests to form great thoroughfares. We have in the 'Tesoretto' of Brunetto a striking picture of the desolation of northern Spain in the thirteenth century. He thus describes his journey over the plain of Roncesvalles.

"There a scholar I espied, On a bay mule that did ride. Well away! what fearful ground In that savage part I found. If of art I aught could ken, Well behoved me use it then. More I look'd, the more I deem'd That it wild and desert seem'd: Not a road was there in sight; Not a house and not a wight; Not a bird and not a brute, Not a rill, and not a root; Not an emmet, not a fly, Not a thing I mote descry: Sore I doubted therewithal Whether death would me befall. Nor was wonder, for around Full three hundred miles of ground, Right across on every side Lay the desert bare and wide." {87}

As Ser Brunetto was despatched on very urgent business, it may be presumed that he was journeying by the most direct road which he could find. Until the reign of Charlemagne indeed there were but few towns, and consequently few roads, in Germany. The population generally was widely spread over the surface of the land. "A house, with its stables and farm-buildings," says Mr. Hallam, "surrounded by a hedge or inclosure, was called a court, or as we find it in our law-books, a curtilage: the toft or homestead of a more genuine English dialect. One of these, with the adjacent arable fields and woods, had the name of a villa or manse. Several manses composed a march; and several marches formed a Pagus, or district." There was indeed little temptation or need to move from place to place, when nearly every article of consumption was produced or wrought at home. For several centuries there is perhaps not a vestige to be discovered of any considerable manufacture. Each district furnished for itself its own articles of common utility. Rich men kept domestic artizans among their servants; even kings, in the ninth century, had their clothes made by the women upon their farms. The weaver, the smith, and the currier were often born and bred on the estate where they pursued their several crafts.

The position of Rome as the ecclesiastical metropolis of the world caused both a general and periodical recourse of embassies, deputations, pilgrims, and travellers to the Italian peninsula, yet we cannot discover that any especial conveniences were provided for the wayfarers. Even in the great and solemn years of the Jubilee the roads were merely patched up, and the bridges temporarily repaired by the Roman government, and only in such places as had become actually impassable. The floating capital of the more commercial of the Italian Republics was employed rather upon their docks and arsenals than upon their roads and causeways. Venice indeed, which for central vigour was the most genuine offspring of Imperial Rome, paved its continental possessions with broad thoroughfares. But neither Padua, Ravenna, nor Florence followed the example of the Adriatic Queen. On the contrary, Dante, when in his descent to Hell he meets with any peculiarly difficult or precipitous track, frequently compares it to some road well known to his countrymen, which fallen rocks had blocked up, or a wintry flood had rendered impermeable. Spain presented, as it presents at this day, to the engineer, almost insurmountable difficulties. The Moorish provinces of the south alone possessed any tolerable roads; nor were the ways of Arragon or Castile mended after the wealth of Mexico and Peru had been poured into the Spanish exchequer. Portugal owed its first good roads in modern times to its good king Emmanuel; and the Dutch and Flemings, the most commercial people of Europe from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries, found in their rivers and canals an easier transit than roads would have afforded them, for the wares which they brought from Archangel on the one hand and from the Spice Islands on the other. The military restlessness of France indeed led to the earlier formation of great roads. Yet France was a land long divided in itself; and the Duchies of Burgundy and Bretagne had little in common with the enterprising spirit of Paris, Lyons, and Marseilles. Upon the whole the roads of England, bad as they were, were at least upon a par with those of the Continent.

In this retrospect, hasty and imperfect as it is, we must not pass over the roads of Asia. And here ancient history affords us at least glimpses of definite knowledge. In that portion of the Asiatic continent which is seated between the Euxine Sea, the chain of Mount Taurus, and the AEgean, the crowded population, the activity of the Greek colonies, and the necessity for direct communication with the interior and seat of government, led to the construction of good and uniform highways. In the Ionian Revolt large bodies of troops were readily brought to bear upon the insurgents, and the preparations of Xerxes for his invasion of Greece cannot have been made without a previous provision of military roads. An exact scale of taxation was drawn up by Darius Hystaspes for all the provinces of his vast empire; and as the system survived the extinction of the royal house of Persia, and was adopted by the Macedonian conquerors in all its more important details, it may be inferred that such system worked with tolerable regularity and success. But as the tithes and tolls of Persia were paid both in money and in kind, it is obvious that the communication between the capital and satrapies of the empire must have been well organized. Such organization implies the existence of main roads radiating from Sousa and Ecbatana. Nor are we left to conjecture only. The establishment of running posts and couriers was a distinguishing feature of the Persian empire; and the speed at which they journeyed from the sea-coast or the banks of the Hyphasis to the seat of government proves that the roads were in good order and the stations and relays of runners well ascertained. The Anabasis of Cyrus—his "march up" the country—affords another proof. The narrative of Xenophon, in its earlier portions at least, and so long as the ten thousand Greeks kept to the main roads, resembles in the precision with which it marks distances and stations a Roman Itinerary or a Bradshaw's Guide. On this day, says the historical captain of mercenaries, we marched seven parasangs and bivouacked in an empty fort; on such a day we marched five parasangs and encamped in a pleasant park or 'paradise' of the great king. It is only after the Greeks have been forced from the 'Road-down' by the clouds of Persian cavalry, that they enter upon more rugged and devious mountain-paths. The account of Xenophon is confirmed by Arrian in his history of Alexander's Anabasis; and so long as the Macedonian conqueror was within the bounds of Persia proper, we rarely meet with any impediments to his progress arising out of the badness of the roads.

We have made some mention of the more conspicuous of ancient travellers. But travelling, either for business or pleasure, among the moderns, dates from the era of the Crusades. The barriers of the East were once again thrown open by that general ferment in the European world. Piety, the passion of enterprise, the dawning instincts of commerce, a new thirst for exotic luxuries, all contributed to inspire a desire for exploring the seats of the most ancient civilization. To this desire and to its effects we owe some of the most graphic and entertaining of modern writings. If we were, through any misadventure, sent to jail, we would stipulate for permission to carry into our cell Hakluyt's Voyages. The narratives of modern travellers are often learned, more often flimsy, and from the universality of locomotion, much given, like the prayers of the old Pharisees, to tedious repetitions. A tour in Greece or Italy now affects us with unutterable weariness. A journey from London to York affords more real novelty than many of these excursions. Sir Charles Fellows or Mr. Layard write in the spirit of the old travellers, and we would willingly wander any-whither with George Borrow. But, for the most part, the art of writing travels is lost—its imaginativeness, its credulity, its cherishing of mystery, and its proneness to awe. The old travellers are never sentimental—and sentiment is the very bane of road-books,—and they never describe for description's sake. The world was much too wonderful in their eyes for such unprofitable excursions of fancy. Beauty and danger, difficulty and strangeness, novel fashions and unknown garbs, were to them earnest and absorbing realities. The aspect of cities and havens, and leagues of forest and solitary plains, were to them "as a banner broad unfurled," and inscribed with mystic signs and legends. They were not whirled about from place to place: they had leisure to mark the forms and the colours of objects. They were in perils often: if they escaped shipwreck they were in danger of slavery; they journeyed with their lives in their hands, and were often yoke-fellows with hunger and nakedness, and the fury of the elements. Luckily for us who read their narratives, they were most unscientific, and ascribed the howling of the night-wind, the bursting of icebergs, the noise of tempests, and the echoes that traverse boundless plains after great heats, or are imprisoned in rock and fell, to the voice of demons exulting or lamenting to each other. We now cross the desert with nearly as much ease as we hail an omnibus, or book ourselves for Paris. But such was not the spirit in which Marco Polo, in the thirteenth, century, traversed the wilderness of Lop.

"In the city of Lop," says the hardy and veracious merchant of Venice, "they who desire to pass over the desert cause all necessaries to be provided for them; and when victuals begin to fail in the desert, they kill their camels and asses and eat them. They mostly make it their choice to use camels, because they are sustained with little meat, and bear great burdens. They must purvey victuals for a month to cross it only, for to go through it lengthways would require a year's time. They go through the sands and barren mountains, and daily find water; yet at times it is so little that it will hardly suffice fifty or a hundred men with their beasts; and in three or four places the water is salt and bitter. The rest of the road, for eight-and-twenty days, is very good. In it there are not either beasts or birds; they say that there dwell many spirits in this wilderness, which cause great and marvellous illusions to travellers, and make them perish; for if any stay behind, and cannot see his company, he shall be called by his name, and so going out of the way be lost. {94a} In night they hear as it were the noise of a company, which, taking to be theirs, they perish likewise. Concerts of musical instruments are sometimes heard in the air, like noise of drums and armies. {94b} They go therefore close together, hang bells on their beasts' neck, and set marks, if any stray."

The Hebrews, dispersed over every region of the world, civilized or uncivilized, were necessarily great travellers. There was, in the first place, their central connection with Palestine, which they generally visited once in their lives, and whither thousands of them, as age advanced, flocked to lay their bones. There were the claims of kindred, prompting them to seek out and visit the children of dispersion, whether seated on the banks of the Vistula, the Euphrates, or the Nile; and there were the incentives of commerce, which drew them through the perils of land and sea. From the instructions given to their travelling agents in the medieval period, we derive much curious information respecting the internal state of Europe. It were indeed much to be wished that competent Hebrew scholars, instead of devoting themselves to the inane obscurity of the Rabbins, would employ their learning upon the history of the Jews in the Middle Ages. Much curious and interesting knowledge might be disinterred from the piles of Hebrew manuscripts that now lie amid the dust and spiders' webs of the Escurial. Above all things the itineraries of the Jewish travellers should be explored, as containing probably the most minute and accurate description of the social state of Europe at that period. Both for their personal security and for the despatch of their affairs, it was essential for the Jews to obtain and circulate the most exact information of the markets and population of the cities on their route. They required to know whom to shun and whom to seek; the towns in which the Jews' quarter was most commodious and secure; and the intervening tracts, often many days' journey in extent, which were most free from robbers or feudal oppressors. The following draft of instructions for a Spanish Jew, whose occasions led him from Spain to Greece, will afford the reader some conception of the historical value of such itineraries. Its date is apparently not later than the sixteenth century:—

"Whoever wants to go from Saragossa, Huesca, Teruel, or any other town in Arragon, to Constantinople, the great city where the Turk reigns, must follow the route herein contained, and beware of the dangers that we are going to specify. The fugitive must first of all go to Jaca, where they will ask him the object of his voyage; he must say that he escapes to France, on account of his creditors, and he will not be disturbed. Thence he will go to Canfranc, and thence to Oleron, the first town in France, where, if questioned respecting the object of his voyage, he must say that he is going on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Loretto. From Oleron to Pau, to Tarbes, to Toulouse, to Gaillac, to Villefranche, and to Lyons: in this latter place the traveller will be obliged to show whatever money he carries, and pay one out of every forty pieces, whether silver or gold. At Lyons he will ask his way to Milan, and say that he is going to visit St. Mark of Venice; but when within five leagues of the former city, he must leave it on the right, and pass behind the mountain, so as not to enter the territory of the emperor. From thence he must direct his course towards the State of Venice; and when he arrives at Verona, not go through the city, for they make every one pay one real at the gates. In Verona he must ask his way to Padua, where he will embark on the river and go to Venice; the passage will cost him half a real. He will land on the Piazza di San Marco, and then he must look out for an inn to go to; he must be cautious in making his bargain with the innkeeper first; he must not pay more than half a real a day for his bed; and he is warned not to let the landlord provide him with anything, for he will charge him double for everything. On the day after his arrival he must go to the Piazza di San Marco, and there he will see some men with white turbans, and others with yellow; the first are Turks, the latter Jews. From these he will get every assistance and advice, whether he wants to go to Salonica or to any port of Greece."

At the time when Marco Polo, Rubruquis, Benjamin of Tudela, etc., journeyed in Asia, the East was still unspoiled—it was still the authentic Ophir of gold and barbaric pearl, and gorgeous armour, and solemn processions. At the same time Asia was but little behind Europe in the general elements of civilization, so that the contrast which is so glaring at the present day, between the state of a sultan and a pasha, and the squalid poverty of his subjects and servants, was then less startling. The courts of Europe were comparatively poor and mean, while the palaces of the oriental monarchs powerfully affected the imagination of the traveller. At a time too when the manners of the European nobility exhibited little refinement, the dignified courtesy and elaborate ceremonies of Bagdad and Ispahan were not less imposing than the pomp and splendour of their garb and its decorations. The Eastern chivalry also was to the full as efficient as that of the West; for what it lacked in weight of metal, it gained in superior adroitness in the use of weapons, in the greater facility of its movements, and the better temper and flexibility of its armour. All these features of a high—though, as it proved, a less enduring—civilization are noted with wonder and applause by the early travellers, who cannot sufficiently express their admiration of such opulence and such brilliant displays.

But for our immediate purpose, we can only speak of the great roads and inns of "Cathaian Khan." Marco Polo thus describes the great roads and excellent inns in the neighbourhood of Cambalu.

"There are many public roads from the city of Cambalu, which conduct to the neighbouring provinces, and in every one of them, at the end of five-and-twenty or thirty miles, are lodgings or inns built, called lambs, that is, post-houses, with large and fair courts, chambers furnished with beds and other provisions, every way fit to entertain great men, nay, even to lodge a king. The provisions are laid in from the country adjacent: there are about four hundred horses, which are in readiness for messengers and ambassadors, who there leave their tired horses, and take fresh; and in mountainous places, where are no villages, the Great Khan sends people to inhabit, about ten thousand at a place, where these lambs or post-houses are built, and the people cultivating the ground for their provisions. These excellent regulations continue unto the utmost limits of the empire, so that, on the public ways throughout the whole of the Khan's dominions, about ten thousand of the king's inns are found; and the number of the horses appointed for the service of the messengers in those inns are more than two hundred thousand—a thing almost incredible: hence it is that in a little while, with change of men and horses, intelligence comes, without stop, to the court. The horses are employed by turns, so that of the four hundred, two hundred are in the stables ready, the other two hundred at grass, each a month at a time. Their cities also, that are adjoining to rivers and lakes, are appointed to have ferry-boats in readiness for the posts, and cities on the borders of deserts are directed to have horses and provisions for the use of such as pass through those deserts: and they have a reasonable allowance for this service from the Khan. In cases of great moment the posts will ride two hundred miles a-day, or sometimes two hundred and fifty. Also they ride all night, foot-posts running by them with lights, if the moon does not shine.

"There are also between these inns other habitations, three or four miles distant from one another, in which there are a few houses, where foot-posts live, having each of them his girdle hung full of shrill-sounding bells. These keep themselves always ready, and as often as the Khan's letters are sent to them convey them speedily to the posts at the next village, who, hearing the sound of the foot-post coming when at a distance, expect him and receive his letters, and presently carry them to the next watch; and so, the letters passing through several hands, are conveyed, without delay, to the place whither they ought to come; and it often happens that by this the king learns news, or receives new fruits, from a place ten days' journey distant, in two days. As, for instance, fruits growing at Cambalu in the morning, by the next day at night are at Xanadu."

Such were the general features of the old roads of Asia and Europe centuries ago. But it must be regarded as one of the caprices of civilization that the only roads, in the fifteenth century, which rivalled the Roman Viae, were constructed in another hemisphere, and by a people whom the Europeans were wont to regard with disdain, as barbarous. The gold and silver furniture of the Peruvian palaces excited the cupidity of the Spanish invaders; but even avarice, for a moment, yielded to admiration, when the file-leaders of Pizarro's columns beheld for the first time the great Roads of the Incas. The Peruvians have been eloquently vindicated from the charge of barbarism by a modern historian, native of the great continent which Columbus discovered. From the moment when Cortes had gained the crest of the sierra of Ahualco, his progress was comparatively easy. Broad and even roads or long and solid causeways across the lakes and marshes conducted the Spaniards and their allies through the valley of Mexico or Tenochtitlan; and as they descended from the regions of sleet and snow, a gay and gorgeous panorama greeted them on every side, "of water, woodland, and cultivated plains," diversified with bold and shadowy hills, and studded with the roofs and towers of populous cities. The running posts of the Aztecs rivalled in speed and regularity their brethren in Cathay, and Montezuma could boast that his dominions displayed at least one element of civilization—rapid communication between the provinces and the capital—which in that age and long afterwards was unknown to the empire of his rival and conqueror, the 'white king beyond the seas.' The roads of Peru were however more wonderful than even those of Mexico. We now borrow Mr. Prescott's description.

"Those," he says, "who may distrust the accounts of Peruvian industry, will find their doubts removed on a visit to the country. The traveller still meets, especially in the regions of the tableland, with memorials of the past, remains of temples, palaces, fortresses, terraced mountains, great military roads, aqueducts, and other public works, which, whatever degree of science they may display in their execution, astonish him by their number, the massive character of the materials, and the grandeur of the design. Among them, perhaps the most remarkable are the great roads, the broken remains of which are still in sufficient preservation to attest their former magnificence. There were many of their roads traversing different parts of the kingdom; but the most considerable were the two which extended from Quito to Cuzco, and again diverging from the capital, continued in a southern direction towards Chili.

"One of these roads passed over the grand plateau, and the other along the lowlands on the borders of the ocean. The former was much the more difficult achievement, from the character of the country. It was conducted over pathless sierras buried in snow; galleries were cut for leagues through the living rock; rivers were crossed by means of bridges that swung suspended in the air; precipices were scaled by stair-ways hewn out of the native bed; ravines of hideous depth were filled up with solid masonry: in short, all the difficulties that beset a wild and mountainous region, and which might appal the most courageous engineer of modern times, were encountered and successfully overcome. The length of the road, of which scattered fragments only remain, is variously estimated at from fifteen hundred to two thousand miles, and stone pillars, in the manner of European milestones, were erected at stated intervals of somewhat more than a league, all along the route.

"The other great road of the Incas lay through the level country between the Andes and the ocean. It was constructed in a different manner, as demanded by the nature of the ground, which was for the most part low, and much of it sandy. The causeway was raised on a high embankment of earth, and defended on either side by a parapet or wall of clay; and trees and odoriferous shrubs were placed along the margin, regaling the sense of the traveller with their perfume, and refreshing him by their shade, so grateful under the burning sky of the tropics. In the midst of sandy wastes, which occasionally intervened, where the light and volatile soil was incapable of sustaining a road, huge piles were driven into the ground to indicate the route of the traveller."

Mr. Prescott might have added, that these magnificent works were constructed by a people ignorant of the use of iron, and unsupplied with wheel-carriages. The only beast of burden was the llama; and the long files of these patient and docile animals, winding along the broad causeways of the Andes recalled to the invaders the long strings of mules stepping in single file along the rocky paths cut out from the sides of the Iberian sierras. Iron and fire-arms alone were wanting to the Peruvians to enable them to rival the most potent of the European kingdoms both in the arts and arms which maintain empires.

Of New Roads we shall speak very briefly, and rather of their effects than of their history. It would indeed be idle, in a rapid sketch like the present, to be diffuse upon a subject which those who travel may study with their own eyes, and those who stay at home may learn from many excellent recent books. {104}

The defiance of natural obstacles, the massive piles of masonry, the filling up of valleys, the perforated hill, the arch bestriding the river or the morass, the attraction of towns towards the line of transit, the creation of new markets, the connection of inland cities with the coast, the interweaving of populations hitherto isolated from one another, the increase of land-carriage, the running to and fro of thousands whose fathers were born and died in the same town or the same district,—all these are features in common with the Flaminian and AEmilian ways, and with the roads laid down by the genius and enterprise of Stephenson. The old and the new roads, both in their resemblance and in their difference, suggest and express many of the organic distinctions and affinities of the old and the new phases of civilization.

For, apart from a feature of distinction already noticed, that in the ancient world all or nearly all public works were executed by and for the State, we may here remark that in England especially, where centralization is feeble, and local or personal interests are strong, the construction and conduct—the curatio, as the Romans phrased it—of great roads are entirely in the hands of voluntary associations, and the State interferes so far only as to shield individual life and property from wanton wrong and aggression. Secondly, that the primary purpose of the Roman Viae was that of extending and securing conquest, while the primary end of the railroad is to diffuse and facilitate commerce. In the one case, civilization was a fortunate accident. Gaul imbibed the arts and manners of Latium, because Gaul had been first subdued, and was permanently held by the strong Roman arm. But, in the other case, traffic and communication are the direct objects, while war, if hereafter wars should arise, will be the crime or the infelicity of those who engage in it. War indeed, as all ancient history shows, was the normal condition of Heathendom; Peace, although so often in the past ages rudely interrupted, is the normal state of Christendom. Again, the Roman road rendered invasion, encroachment, and the lust of conquest easy to project, execute, and gratify; whereas the modern Viae, by bringing nations into speedy and immediate contact with one another, are diminishing with each year the chances of hostile collision. The Roman roads, with all their magnificent apparatus of bridges, causeways, of uplifted hollows and levelled heights, were constructed at an enormous cost of manual labour and of personal oppression and suffering, and with comparatively a trifling amount of science. But the railroad is the idea of the philosopher embodied by the free and cheerfully accorded toil of the labourer and artizan. When an Appius Claudius or a Marcus Flaminius determined to mark the year of his consulship or censorship by some colossal road-work, the husbandman was summoned from his field, the herdsman was brought from his pasture-ground, a contingent was demanded from the allies, a conscription was enforced upon the subjects of Rome, harder task-work was imposed on the slave, and more irksome punishment inflicted upon the prisoner. {107} The great works of antiquity indeed, from the pyramids downward to the mausoleum of Hadrian, are too often the monuments of human toil, privation, and death. But the roads of our more fortunate times are not cemented with the tears of myriads, nor reared upon piles of bleached bones. On the contrary, the construction of them has given employment to thousands who, but for them, would have crowded to the parish for relief, or have wandered anxiously in search of work, or sauntered listlessly at the alehouse door in despair of finding it. The great radii of peaceful communication have been executed by willing hands, and a fair day's wages has been the recompense of a fair day's work. We do not undervalue the skill and energy of the engineers of antiquity. Yet by their fruits we know and judge of the works of the Curatores Viarum, and of our Brunels and Stephensons. "Peace has its victories no less than war." And the modern road does not more surpass the ancient in the science of its constructors, than in the objects for which it has been planned and executed.

But before these results were attained, the air was tried, and the water was tried, as likely to afford a more rapid medium of transit and communication than the solid earth. Of balloons and canals however our limits do not permit us to speak, although either of them might well furnish a little volume like the one now presented to the reader. We are now concerned, however, with the social and civilizing effects of Railways.

"For a succession of ages," says Dr. Lardner, "the little intercourse that was maintained between the various parts of Great Britain was effected almost exclusively by rude footpaths, traversed by pedestrians, or at best by horses. Hills were surmounted, valleys crossed, and rivers forded by these rude agents of transport, in the same manner as the savage and settler of the backwoods of America or the slopes of the Rocky Mountains communicate with each other."

The effects of high civilization may perhaps be best estimated by its contrast—the rude and infant stages of society. Let us imagine for a moment the destruction of Railways, the neglect of Turnpike and Highway Roads, and the consequent interruption of our present modes of rapid and regular locomotion.

Gentle Reader, in the first place, your breakfast is rendered thoroughly uncomfortable, or, like Viola's history—a blank. Your copy of the 'Times' or 'Morning Chronicle' has not arrived; your letters are lying six miles off, and you have to send a special messenger—who may, and will most probably, get drunk on his road—to fetch them. If you should chance to be in business, you will hear of a profitable investment for capital just two hours after some one else has closed the bargain; if you are a physician, you will most probably miss a lucrative patient; if a lawyer, a most seductive fee. All calculations will be disturbed. Manchester and Norwich will be more remote from each other than Paris and Marseilles. In place of a railway station there will be a swamp, and instead of a turnpike gate, a wood. Mighty towns and spacious cities will shrink into obscure villages; smiling and fertile districts relapse into original barrenness; kinsfolk and acquaintance be put nearly out of sight. There are no mails; there is no penny post; the last new novel will not reach you. The Bishop of Exeter may become a cardinal, or Colonel Sibthorpe commander of the forces, six weeks before you hear of their promotion. The union between Scotland and England will be again as good as divorced by distance and difficulty of transit. Your fish from Billingsgate will be ancient, and your tailor will be sure to disappoint you of your mourning or your marriage suit. Your commodious carpet-bag must be exchanged for a trunk capacious enough to contain all your "household stuff," except the kitchen range; your utmost speed will amount to difficult stages of six miles an hour; you will journey in terror; and you will arrive at your inn with the fixed determination of never again quitting your home.

We will conclude our rambles over the old roads of four continents with the words of one whose wisdom was not surpassed by his wit, although his wit surpassed most of the wisdom of his contemporaries. "It is of some importance," says Sydney Smith, (it is wrong to add 'the Reverend,' for no one says Mr. William Shakspeare or Mr. John Milton,) "at what period a man is born. A young man alive at this period hardly knows to what improvement of human life he has been introduced; and I would bring before his notice the changes which have taken place in England since I began to breathe the breath of life—a period amounting to seventy years. Gas was unknown. I groped about the streets of London in all but utter darkness of a twinkling oil lamp, under the protection of watchmen in their grand climacteric, and exposed to every species of degradation and insult. I have been nine hours in sailing from Dover to Calais, before the invention of steam. It took me nine hours to go from Taunton to Bath before the invention of railroads, and I now go in six hours from Taunton to London! In going from Taunton to Bath I suffered between ten thousand and twelve thousand severe contusions, before stone-breaking Macadam was born. I paid fifteen pounds in a single year for repairs of carriage-springs on the pavement of London, and I now glide without noise or fracture on wooden pavement. I can walk, by the assistance of the police, from one end of London to the other without molestation; or, if tired, get into a cheap and active cab, instead of those cottages on wheels which the hackney coaches were at the beginning of my life. Whatever miseries I suffered, there was no post to whisk my complaints for a single penny to the remotest corners of the empire; and yet, in spite of all these privations, I lived on quietly, and am now ashamed that I was not more discontented, and utterly surprised that all these changes and inventions did not occur two centuries ago. I forgot to add that, as the basket of stagecoaches in which the luggage was then carried had no springs, your clothes were rubbed all to pieces; and that, even in the best society, one-third of the gentlemen at least were always drunk."

And now, Gentle Reader, have we not kept both troth and tryste with you? We put it to you seriously, did you ever chance to read a more rambling volume than the one now presented to you? You may talk to a pleasant companion in your first or second class carriage without losing the thread of our argument; you may indulge in a comfortable nap without its being necessary for you to mark the page where you dropped off. It may be better to begin at the beginning, and read in ordinary fashion to the close. But it will not be much worse if you have a fancy for commencing with the end. In short, you cannot go wrong, so you do but read in a charitable spirit—not being extreme to mark the much which is amiss.

Finally, we entreat of you to read this book in the temper which a certain English worthy recommends for his own.

"One or two things yet I was desirous to have amended, if I could, concerning the manner of handling this my subject, for which I must apologize, deprecari, and upon better advice give the friendly reader notice. I neglect phrases, and labour wholly to inform my reader's understanding, not to please his ear. 'Tis my study to express myself readily and plainly as it happens: so that, as a river runs, sometimes precipitate and swift, then dull and slow: now direct, then per ambages: now deep, then shallow: now muddy, then clear: now broad, then narrow; doth my style flow now serious, then light, as the present subject required, or as at the time I was affected. And if thou vouchsafe to read this Treatise, it shall seem to thee no otherwise than the way to an ordinary traveller, sometimes fair, sometimes foul; here champion, there enclosed; barren in one place, better soil in another. By woods, groves, hills, dales, plains, and lead thee per ardua montium et lubrica vallium et roscida cespitum et glebosa camporum, through variety of objects, to that which thou shalt like or haply dislike."

If thou art scholarly, Gentle Reader, running to and fro on Old or New Roads may do thee good. It will afford thee time to rest eye and hand, and furnish thee with more glimpses of this working world than are to be seen from a library-window. But if it chance that thou be not clerkly, then mayest thou both 'run to and fro' and 'increase thy knowledge' even with the aid of so poor a guide as he who now bids thee "Heartily Farewell."



Footnotes:

{9} The appellation of this, the earliest Roman road, affords another instructive example of the connection between the necessary wants of man and civilization. Salt, among the first needs of the city of Romulus, produced the path from the Salt-works; and the convenience of the Salt-work Road led ultimately to the construction of the Appian, Flaminian, and AEmilian.

{10} The first introduction of stirrups was probably not earlier than the end of the sixth century, A.D. See Beckmann's 'History of Inventions and Discoveries,' Eng. Trans., 1817, vol. ii. pp. 255-270.

{18} It is acknowledged on all hands that no people talk so much about weather as the English. It is also true that no literature contains so many descriptions of the sensations dependent on the seasons. A French or Italian poet generally goes to Arcadia to fetch images proper for "a fine day." We, on the contrary, paint from the life. Chaucer luxuriates, in his opening lines of the 'Canterbury Tales,' on the blessings and virtues of "April shoures." Our modern novelists are always very diffuse meteorologists. In lands where the seasons are unhappily uniform, the natives are debarred from this unfailing topic of conversation. Hajji Baba, in Mr. Morier's pleasant tale, is amazed at being told at Ispahan, by the surgeon of the English Embassy, that "it was a fine day." On the banks of the South American rivers, mosquitoes afford a useful substitute for meteorological remarks.—"How did you sleep last night?" "Sleep! not a wink. I was hitting at the mosquitoes all night, and am, you see, bitten like a roach notwithstanding."

{21a} The historian might have added to this description of Roman carriages an allusion to the sumptuousness of Roman harness. Apuleius informs us that "necklaces of gold and silver thread embroidered with pearls encircled the necks of the horses; that the head-bands glittered with gems; and the saddles, traces, and reins were cased in bright ribbons."

{21b} Not always, on horseback: for while the knight, as his Latin designation eques implied, was always mounted on a charger, his lady sometimes rode beside him on an ass:—

"A loyely ladie rode him faire beside, Upon a lowly asse, more white than snow; Yet she much whiter; but the same did hide Under a vele, that wimpled was full low; And over all a black stole did she throw: As one that inly mourned so was she sad, And heavie sate upon her palfrey slow."

{30} We do not remember to have seen it remarked that Shakspeare has described all the good points of a horse, as well as (in the passage in the text) every imaginable bad one. The horse of Adonis was

"Round-hoofed, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long, Broad breast, full eye, small head, and nostril wide, High crest, short ears, straight legs, and passing strong, Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide."

{48} Riding as a Squire of Dames was occasionally a service of some danger. The long hair-pins which the ladies wore in their capillary towers were, as it appears from the following story, "as sharp as any swords." "Pardon me, good signor Don Quixote," says the duenna Donna Rodriguez to that unrivalled knight, "but as often as I call to mind my unhappy spouse, my eyes are brim-full. With what stateliness did he use to carry my lady behind him on a puissant mule, for in those days coaches and side-saddles were not in fashion, and the ladies rode behind their squires. On a certain day, at the entrance into St. James's Street in Madrid, which is very narrow, a judge of one of the courts happened to be coming out with two of his officers, and as soon as my good squire saw him—so well-bred and punctilious was my husband—he turned his mule about, as if he designed to wait upon him home. My lady, who was behind him, said to him in a low voice, 'What are you doing, blockhead? am I not here?' The Judge civilly stopped his horse and said, 'Keep on your way, Sir, for it is my business rather to wait on my lady Donna Casilda.' My husband persisted, cap in hand, in his intention to wait upon the Judge, which my lady perceiving, full of choler and indignation, she pulled out a great pin and stuck it into his back; whereupon my husband bawled out, and, writhing his body, down he came with his lady to the ground. My mistress was forced to walk home on foot, and my husband went to a barber-surgeon's, telling him he was run quite through and through the bowels. But because of this, and also because he was a little short-sighted, my lady turned him away; the grief whereof, I believe, verily was the death of him."

{56} One of the most affecting of Wordsworth's pictures of rural manners is his sketch of the Old Cumberland Beggar. The opening lines of this excellent poem mark the usual station of the mendicant:—

"I saw an aged Beggar in my walk; And he was seated by the highway side, On a low structure of rude masonry Built at the foot of a huge hill, that they Who lead their horses down the steep rough road May thence remount at ease."

{72} The practice of complimenting distinguished personages by suspending their portraits over ale-house doors sometimes indeed led to ludicrous consequences. We all remember the conversion of Sir Roger de Coverley's good-humoured visage into a frowning Saracen's Head. Soon after Dr. Watson had been installed at Llandaff, a rural Boniface exchanged for his original sign of the Cock an effigy of his new Diocesan. But somehow the ale was not so well relished by his customers as formerly. The head of the Bishop proved less inviting to the thirsty than the comb and spurs of the original Chanticleer. So to win back again the golden opinions of the public, mine host adopted an ingenious device. From reverence to the Church he retained the portrait of Dr. Watson, but as a concession to popular preferences he caused to be written under it the following inscription:—

"This is the old Cock."

{82} The splendour and costliness of English signboards seem to have struck foreigners very forcibly. Moritz, from whom we have already quoted, says that "the amazing large signs which, at the entrance of villages, hang in the middle of the street, being fastened to large beams, which are extended across the street from one house to another opposite to it, particularly struck me. These sign-posts have the appearance of gates, or gateways, for which I at first took them, but the whole apparatus, unnecessarily large as it seems to be, is intended for nothing more than to tell the inquisitive traveller that there is an inn." It marks in some degree the territorial prejudices of the English people that the principal inn of a hamlet usually "hangs out" the crest of the family, if it be indeed an ancient house, at the neighbouring hall or great house, whether it be a Swan, a Griffin, a St. George, or other heraldic or historic emblem or hero.

{87} We have availed ourselves of Mr. Cary's skilful translation of Brunetto's description of his journey from Florence to Valladolid, whither he had been sent on an embassy by the Guelph party:—"Un scolaio—Sur un muletto baio," etc.

{94a} It is perhaps scarcely necessary to observe how much indebted our great poets have been to the early travellers. Milton had perhaps this passage in his memory when he wrote the speech of the Lady in 'Comus':—

"A thousand fantasies Begin to throng into my memory, Of calling shapes, and beck'ning shadows dire, And aery tongues, that syllable men's names On sands and shores and desert wildernesses."

{94b} "The isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices, That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep, Will make me sleep again."—Tempest, act iii. sc. 2.

{104} Among the most satisfactory of such works, we would especially mention 'A History of the English Railway,' by John Francis, in two volumes, 8vo, to which our own sketch is under great obligations.

{107} The staff of an ancient Curator Viarum resembled very nearly the accompaniments of a modern Railway contractor. "Caius Gracchus," says Plutarch, "was appointed supreme director for making roads, etc. The people were charmed to see him followed by such numbers of architects, artificers, ambassadors, and magistrates: and he applied to the whole with as much activity, and despatched it with as much ease, as if there had been only one thing for him to attend to: insomuch that they who both hated and feared the man were struck with his amazing industry, and the celerity of his operations."

THE END

Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse