Blasts from the Channel, with raining scud, and spume of mist breaking upon the hills, have kept me indoors all day. Yet not for a moment have I been dull or idle, and now, by the latter end of a sea-coal fire, I feel such enjoyment of my ease and tranquillity that I must needs word it before going up to bed.
Of course one ought to be able to breast weather such as this of to-day, and to find one's pleasure in the strife with it. For the man sound in body and serene of mind there is no such thing as bad weather; every sky has its beauty, and storms which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously. I remember the time when I would have set out with gusto for a tramp along the wind-swept and rain-beaten roads; nowadays, I should perhaps pay for the experiment with my life. All the more do I prize the shelter of these good walls, the honest workmanship which makes my doors and windows proof against the assailing blast. In all England, the land of comfort, there is no room more comfortable than this in which I sit. Comfortable in the good old sense of the word, giving solace to the mind no less than ease to the body. And never does it look more homely, more a refuge and a sanctuary, than on winter nights.
In my first winter here, I tried fires of wood, having had my hearth arranged for the purpose; but that was a mistake. One cannot burn logs successfully in a small room; either the fire, being kept moderate, needs constant attention, or its triumphant blaze makes the room too hot. A fire is a delightful thing, a companion and an inspiration. If my room were kept warm by some wretched modern contrivance of water-pipes or heated air, would it be the same to me as that beautiful core of glowing fuel, which, if I sit and gaze into it, becomes a world of wonders? Let science warm the heaven-forsaken inhabitants of flats and hotels as effectually and economically as it may; if the choice were forced upon me, I had rather sit, like an Italian, wrapped in my mantle, softly stirring with a key the silver-grey surface of the brasier's charcoal. They tell me we are burning all our coal, and with wicked wastefulness. I am sorry for it, but I cannot on that account make cheerless perhaps the last winter of my life. There may be waste on domestic hearths, but the wickedness is elsewhere -- too blatant to call for indication. Use common sense, by all means, in the construction of grates; that more than half the heat of the kindly coal should be blown up the chimney is desired by no one; but hold by the open fire as you hold by whatever else is best in England. Because, in the course of nature, it will be some day a thing of the past (like most other things that are worth living for), is that a reason why it should not be enjoyed as long as possible? Human beings may ere long take their nourishment in the form of pills; the prevision of that happy economy causes me no reproach when I sit down to a joint of meat.
See how friendly together are the fire and the shaded lamp; both have their part alike in the illumining and warming of the room. As the fire purrs and softly crackles, so does my lamp at intervals utter a little gurgling sound when the oil flows to the wick, and custom has made this a pleasure to me. Another sound, blending with both, is the gentle ticking of the clock. I could not endure one of those bustling little clocks which tick like a fever pulse and are only fit for a stockbroker's office; mine hums very slowly, as though it savoured the minutes no less than I do; and when it strikes, the little voice is silver-sweet, telling me without sadness that another hour of life is reckoned, another of the priceless hours --
After extinguishing the lamp, and when I have reached the door, I always turn to look back; my room is so cosily alluring in the light of the last gleeds that I do not easily move away. The warm glow is reflected on shining wood, on my chair, my writing-table, on the bookcases, and from the gilt title of some stately volume; it illumes this picture, it half disperses the gloom on that. I could imagine that, as in a fairy tale, the books do but await my departure to begin talking among themselves. A little tongue of flame shoots up from a dying ember; shadows shift upon the ceiling and the walls. With a sigh of utter contentment, I go forth and shut the door softly.
I came home this afternoon just at twilight, and feeling tired after my walk, a little cold too, I first crouched before the fire, then let myself drop lazily upon the hearth-rug. I had a book in my hand and began to read it by the firelight. Rising in a few minutes, I found the open page still legible by the pale glimmer of day. This sudden change of illumination had an odd effect upon me; it was so unexpected, for I had forgotten that dark had not yet fallen. And I saw in the queer little experience an intellectual symbol. The book was verse. Might not the warm rays from the fire exhibit the page as it appears to an imaginative and kindred mind, whilst that cold, dull light from the window showed it as it is beheld by eyes to which poetry has but a poor, literal meaning, or none at all?
It is a pleasant thing enough to be able to spend a little money without fear when the desire for some indulgence is strong upon one; but how much pleasanter the ability to give money away! Greatly as I relish the comforts of my wonderful new life, no joy it has brought me equals that of coming in aid to another's necessity. The man forever pinched in circumstances can live only for himself. It is all very well to talk about doing moral good; in practice, there is little scope or hope for anything of that kind in a state of material hardship. To-day I have sent S---- a cheque for fifty pounds; it will come as a very boon of heaven, and assuredly blesseth him that gives as much as him that takes. A poor fifty pounds, which the wealthy fool throws away upon some idle or base fantasy and never thinks of it; yet to S---- it will mean life and light. And I, to whom this power of benefaction is such a new thing, sign the cheque with a hand trembling, so glad and proud I am. In the days gone by, I have sometimes given money, but with trembling of another kind; it was as likely as not that I myself, some black foggy morning, might have to go begging for my own dire needs. That is one of the bitter curses of poverty; it leaves no right to be generous. Of my abundance -- abundance to me, though starveling pittance in the view of everyday prosperity -- I can give with happiest freedom; I feel myself a man, and no crouching slave with his back ever ready for the lash of circumstance. There are those, I know, who thank the gods amiss, and most easily does this happen in the matter of wealth. But oh, how good it is to desire little, and to have a little more than enough!
After two or three days of unseasonable and depressing warmth, with lowering but not rainy sky, I woke this morning to find the land covered with a dense mist. There was no daybreak, and till long after the due hour, no light save a pale, sad glimmer at the window; now, at midday, I begin dimly to descry gaunt shapes of trees, whilst a haunting drip, drip on the garden soil tells me that the vapour has begun to condense and will pass in rain. But for my fire, I should be in indifferent spirits on such a day as this; the flame sings and leaps, and its red beauty is reflected in the window-glass. I cannot give my thoughts to reading; if I sat unoccupied, they would brood with melancholy fixedness on I know not what. Better to betake myself to the old mechanic exercise of the pen, which cheats my sense of time wasted.
I think of fogs in London, fogs of murky yellow or of sheer black, such as have often made all work impossible to me, and held me, a sort of dyspeptic owl, in moping and blinking idleness. On such a day, I remember, I once found myself at an end both of coal and of lamp oil, with no money to purchase either; all I could do was to go to bed, meaning to lie there till the sky once more became visible. But a second day found the fog dense as ever. I rose in darkness; I stood at the window of my garret and saw that the street was illumined as at night, lamps and shop-fronts perfectly visible, with folk going about their business. The fog, in fact, had risen, but still hung above the house-tops, impermeable by any heavenly beam. My solitude being no longer endurable, I went out and walked the town for hours. When I returned, it was with a few coins which permitted me to buy warmth and light. I had sold to a second-hand bookseller a volume which I prized, and was so much the poorer for the money in my pocket.
Years after that, I recall another black morning. As usual at such times, I was suffering from a bad cold. After a sleepless night, I fell into a torpor, which held me unconscious for an hour or two. Hideous cries aroused me; sitting up in the dark, I heard men going along the street, roaring news of a hanging that had just taken place. "Execution of Mrs." -- I forget the name of the murderess. "Scene on the scaffold!" It was a little after nine o'clock; the enterprising paper had promptly got out its gibbet edition. A morning of midwinter, roofs and ways covered with soot-grimed snow under the ghastly fog-pall; and whilst I lay there in my bed, that woman had been led out and hanged -- hanged. I thought with horror of the possibility that I might sicken and die in that wilderness of houses, nothing above me but "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours." Overcome with dread, I rose and bestirred myself. Blinds drawn, lamp lit, and by a blazing fire, I tried to make believe that it was kindly night.
Walking along the road after nightfall, I thought all at once of London streets, and by a freak of mind, wished I were there. I saw the shining of shop-fronts, the yellow glistening of a wet pavement, the hurrying people, the cabs, the omnibuses -- and I wished I were amid it all.
What did it mean, but that I wished I were young again? Not seldom I have a sudden vision of a London street, perhaps the dreariest and ugliest, which for a moment gives me a feeling of home-sickness. Often it is the High Street of Islington, which I have not seen for a quarter of a century, at least; no thoroughfare in all London less attractive to the imagination, one would say; but I see myself walking there -- walking with the quick, light step of youth, and there, of course, is the charm. I see myself, after a long day of work and loneliness, setting forth from my lodging. For the weather I care nothing; rain, wind, fog -- what does it matter! The fresh air fills my lungs; my blood circles rapidly; I feel my muscles, and have a pleasure in the hardness of the stone I tread upon. Perhaps I have money in my pocket; I am going to the theatre, and afterwards, I shall treat myself to supper -- sausage and mashed potatoes, with a pint of foaming ale. The gusto with which I look forward to each and every enjoyment! At the pit-door, I shall roll and hustle amid the throng, and find it amusing. Nothing tires me. Late at night, I shall walk all the way back to Islington, most likely singing as I go. Not because I am happy -- nay, I am anything but that; but my age is something and twenty; I am strong and well.
Put me in a London street this chill, damp night, and I should be lost in barren discomfort. But in those old days, if I am not mistaken, I rather preferred the seasons of bad weather; I had, in fact, the true instinct of townsfolk, which finds pleasure in the triumph of artificial circumstance over natural conditions, delighting in a glare and tumult of busy life under hostile heavens which, elsewhere, would mean shivering ill-content. The theatre, at such a time, is doubly warm and bright; every shop is a happy harbour of refuge -- there, behind the counter, stand persons quite at their ease, ready to chat as they serve you; the supper bars make tempting display under their many gas-jets; the public houses are lull of people who all have money to spend. Then clangs out the piano-organ -- and what could be cheerier!
I have much ado to believe that I really felt so. But then, if life had not somehow made itself tolerable to me, how should I have lived through those many years? Human creatures have a marvellous power of adapting themselves to necessity. Were I, even now, thrown back into squalid London, with no choice but to abide and work there -- should I not abide and work? Notwithstanding thoughts of the chemist's shop, I suppose I should.
One of the shining moments of my day is that when, having returned a little weary from an afternoon walk, I exchange boots for slippers, out-of-doors coat for easy, familiar, shabby jacket, and, in my deep, soft-elbowed chair, await the tea-tray. Perhaps it is while drinking tea that I most of all enjoy the sense of leisure. In days gone by I could but gulp down the refreshment, hurried, often harassed by the thought of the work I had before me; often I was quite insensible of the aroma, the flavour of what I drank. Now how delicious is the soft yet penetrating odour which floats into my study with the appearance of the tea-pot! What solace in the first cup, what deliberate sipping of that which follows! What a glow does it bring after a walk in chilly rain! The while, I look around at my books and pictures, tasting the happiness of their tranquil possession. I cast an eye towards my pipe; perhaps I prepare it, with seeming thoughtfulness, for the reception of tobacco. And never, surely, is tobacco more soothing, more suggestive of humane thoughts, than when it comes just after tea -- itself a bland inspirer.
In nothing is the English genius for domesticity more notably declared than in the institution of this festival -- almost one may call it so -- of afternoon tea. Beneath simple roofs, the hour of tea has something in it of sacred; for it marks the end of domestic work and worry, the beginning of restful, sociable evening. The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose. I care nothing for your five o'clock tea of modish drawing-rooms, idle and wearisome like all else in which that world has part; I speak of tea where one is at home in quite another than the worldly sense. To admit mere strangers to your tea-table is profanation; on the other hand, English hospitality has here its kindliest aspect; never is friend more welcome than when he drops in for a cup of tea. Where tea is really a meal, with nothing between it and nine o'clock supper, it is -- again in the true sense -- the homeliest meal of the day. Is it believable that the Chinese, in who knows how many centuries, have derived from tea a millionth part of the pleasure or the good which it has brought to England in the past one hundred years?
I like to look at my housekeeper when she carries in the tray. Her mien is festal, yet in her smile there is a certain gravity, as though she performed an office which honoured her. She has dressed for the evening; that is to say, her clean and seemly attire of working hours is exchanged for garments suitable to fireside leisure; her cheeks are warm, for she has been making fragrant toast. Quickly her eye glances about my room, but only to have the pleasure of noting that all is in order; inconceivable that anything serious should need doing at this hour of the day. She brings the little table within the glow of the hearth, so that I can help myself without changing my easy position. If she speaks, it will only be a pleasant word or two; should she have anything important to say, the moment will be after tea, not before it; this she knows by instinct. Perchance she may just stoop to sweep back a cinder which has fallen since, in my absence, she looked after the fire; it is done quickly and silently. Then, still smiling, she withdraws, and I know that she is going to enjoy her own tea, her own toast, m the warm, comfortable, sweet-smelling kitchen.
One has heard much condemnation of the English kitchen. Our typical cook is spoken of as a gross, unimaginative creature, capable only of roasting or seething. Our table is said to be such as would weary or revolt any but gobbet-bolting carnivores. We are told that our bread is the worst in Europe, an indigestible paste; that our vegetables are diet rather for the hungry animal than for discriminative man; that our warm beverages, called coffee and tea, are so carelessly or ignorantly brewed that they preserve no simple virtue of the drink as it is known in other lands. To be sure, there is no lack of evidence to explain such censure. The class which provides our servants is undeniably coarse and stupid, and its handiwork of every kind too often bears the native stamp. For all that, English victuals are, in quality, the best in the world, and English cookery is the wholesomest and the most appetizing known to any temperate clime.
As in so many other of our good points, we have achieved this thing unconsciously. Your ordinary Englishwoman engaged in cooking probably has no other thought than to make the food masticable; but reflect on the results, when the thing is well done, and there appears a culinary principle. Nothing could be simpler, yet nothing more right and reasonable. The aim of English cooking is so to deal with the raw material of man's nourishment as to bring out, for the healthy palate, all its natural juices and savours. And in this, when the cook has any measure of natural or acquired skill, we most notably succeed. Our beef is veritably beef; at its best, such beef as can be eaten in no other country under the sun; our mutton is mutton in its purest essence -- think of a shoulder of Southdown at the moment when the first jet of gravy starts under the carving knife! Each of our vegetables yields its separate and characteristic sweetness. It never occurs to us to disguise the genuine flavour of food; if such a process be necessary, then something is wrong with the food itself. Some wiseacre scoffed at us as the people with only one sauce. The fact is, we have as many sauces as we have kinds of meat; each, in the process of cookery, yields its native sap, and this is the best of all sauces conceivable. Only English folk know what is meant by gravy; consequently, the English alone are competent to speak on the question of sauce.
To be sure, this culinary principle presupposes food of the finest quality. If your beef and your mutton have flavours scarcely distinguishable, whilst both this and that might conceivably be veal, you will go to work in quite a different way; your object must then be to disguise, to counterfeit, to add an alien relish -- in short, to do anything except insist upon the natural quality of the viand. Happily, the English have never been driven to these expedients. Be it flesh, fowl, or fish, each comes to table so distinctly and eminently itself that by no possibility could it be confused with anything else. Give your average cook a bit of cod, and tell her to dress it in her own way. The good creature will carefully boil it, and there an end of the matter; and by no exercise of art could she have so treated the fish as to make more manifest and enjoyable that special savour which heaven has bestowed upon cod. Think of our array of joints; how royal is each in its own way, and how utterly unlike any of the others. Picture a boiled leg of mutton. It is mutton, yes, and mutton of the best; nature has bestowed upon man no sweeter morsel; but the same joint roasted is mutton too, and how divinely different! The point is that these differences are natural; that, in eliciting them, we obey the eternal law of things, and no human caprice. Your artificial relish is here not only needless, but offensive.
In the case of veal, we demand "stuffing." Yes, for veal is a somewhat insipid meat, and by experience we have discovered the best method of throwing into relief such inherent goodness as it has. The stuffing does not disguise, nor seek to disguise; it accentuates. Good veal stuffing -- reflect! -- is in itself a triumph of culinary instinct; so bland it is, and yet so powerful upon the gastric juices.
Did I call veal insipid? I must add that it is only so in comparison with English beef and mutton. When I think of the "brown" on the edge of a really fine cut of veal ----!
As so often when my thought has gone forth in praise of things English, I find myself tormented by an afterthought -- the reflection that I have praised a time gone by. Now, in this matter of English meat. A newspaper tells me that English beef is non-existent; that the best meat bearing that name has merely been fed up in England for a short time before killing. Well, well; we can only be thankful that the quality is still so good. Real English mutton still exists, I suppose. It would surprise me if any other country could produce the shoulder I had yesterday.
Who knows? Perhaps even our own cookery has seen its best days. It is a lamentable fact that the multitude of English people nowadays never taste roasted meat; what they call by that name is baked in the oven -- a totally different thing, though it may, I admit, be inferior only to the right roast. Oh, the sirloin of old times, the sirloin which I can remember thirty or forty years ago! That was English and no mistake, and all the history of civilization could show nothing on the table of mankind to equal it. To clap that joint into a steamy oven would have been a crime unpardonable by gods and man. Have I not with my own eyes seen it turning, turning on the spit? The scent it diffused was in itself a cure for dyspepsia.
It is very long since I tasted a slice of boiled beef; I have a suspicion that the thing is becoming rare. In a household such as mine, the "round" is impracticable; of necessity it must be large, altogether too large for our requirements. But what exquisite memories does my mind preserve! The very colouring of a round, how rich it is, yet how delicate, and how subtly varied! The odour is totally distinct from that of roast beef, and yet it is beef incontestable. Hot, of course with carrots, it is a dish for a king; but cold it is nobler. Oh, the thin broad slice, with just its fringe of consistent fat!
We are sparing of condiments, but such as we use are the best that man has invented. And we know how to use them. I have heard an impatient innovator scoff at the English law on the subject of mustard, and demand why, in the nature of things, mustard should not be eaten with mutton. The answer is very simple; this law has been made by the English palate -- which is impeccable. I maintain it is impeccable! Your educated Englishman is an infallible guide in all that relates to the table. "The man of superior intellect," said Tennyson -- justifying his love of boiled beef and new potatoes -- "knows what is good to eat;" and I would extend it to all civilized natives of our country. We are content with nothing but the finest savours, the truest combinations; our wealth and happy natural circumstances have allowed us an education of the palate of which our natural aptitude was worthy. Think, by the by, of those new potatoes just mentioned. Our cook, when dressing them, puts into the saucepan a sprig of mint. This is genius. No otherwise could the flavour of the vegetable be so perfectly, yet so delicately, emphasized. The mint is there, and we know it; yet our palate knows only the young potato.
There is to me an odd pathos in the literature of vegetarianism. I remember the day when I read these periodicals and pamphlets with all the zest of hunger and poverty, vigorously seeking to persuade myself that flesh was an altogether superfluous, and even a repulsive, food. If ever such things fall under my eyes nowadays, I am touched with a half humorous compassion for the people whose necessity, not their will, consents to this chemical view of diet. There comes before me a vision of certain vegetarian restaurants, where, at a minim outlay, I have often enough made believe to satisfy my craving stomach; where I have swallowed "savoury cutlet," "vegetable steak," and I know not what windy insufficiencies tricked up under specious names. One place do I recall where you had a complete dinner for sixpence -- I dare not try to remember the items. But well indeed do I see the faces of the guests -- poor clerks and shopboys, bloodless girls and women of many sorts -- all endeavouring to find a relish in lentil soup and haricot something-or-other. It was a grotesquely heart-breaking sight.
I hate with a bitter hatred the names of lentils and haricots -- those pretentious cheats of the appetite, those tabulated humbugs, those certificated aridities calling themselves human food! An ounce of either, we are told, is equivalent to -- how many pounds? -- of the best rump-steak. There are not many ounces of common sense in the brain of him who proves it, or of him who believes it. In some countries, tins stuff is eaten by choice; in England only dire need can compel to its consumption. Lentils and haricots are not merely insipid; frequent use of them causes something like nausea. Preach and tabulate as you will, the English palate -- which is the supreme judge -- rejects this farinaceous makeshift. Even as it rejects vegetables without the natural concomitant of meat; as it rejects oatmeal-porridge and griddle-cakes for a midday meal; as it rejects lemonade and ginger-ale offered as substitutes for honest beer.
What is the intellectual and moral state of that man who really believes that chemical analysis can be an equivalent for natural gusto? -- I will get more nourishment out of an inch of right Cambridge sausage; aye, out of a couple of ounces of honest tripe; than can be yielded me by half a hundredweight of the best lentils ever grown.
Talking of vegetables, can the inhabited globe offer anything to vie with the English potato justly steamed? I do not say that it is always -- or often -- to be seen on our tables, for the steaming of a potato is one of the great achievements of culinary art; but, when it is set before you, how flesh and spirit exult! A modest palate will find more than simple comfort in your boiled potato of everyday, as served in the decent household. New or old, it is beyond challenge delectable. Try to think that civilized nations exist to whom this food is unknown -- nay, who speak of it on hearsay, with contempt! Such critics, little as they suspect it, never ate a potato in their lives. What they have swallowed under that name was the vegetable with all its exquisite characteristics vulgarized or destroyed. Picture the "ball of flour" (as old-fashioned housewives call it) lying in the dish, diffusing the softest, subtlest aroma, ready to crumble, all but to melt, as soon as it is touched; recall its gust and its after-gust, blending so consummately with that of the joint, hot or cold. Then think of the same potato cooked in any other way, and what sadness will come upon you!
It angers me to pass a grocer's shop and see in the window a display of foreign butter. This is the kind of thing that makes one gloom over the prospects of England. The deterioration of English butter is one of the worst signs of the moral state of our people. Naturally, this article of food would at once betray a decline in the virtues of its maker; butter must be a subject of the dairyman's honest pride, or there is no hope of its goodness. Begin to save your labour, to aim at dishonest profits, to feel disgust or contempt for your work -- and the churn declares every one of these vices. They must be very prevalent, for it is getting to be a rare thing to eat English butter which is even tolerable. What! England dependent for dairy-produce upon France, Denmark, America? Had we but one true statesman -- but one genuine leader of the people -- the ears of English landowners and farmers would ring and tingle with this proof of their imbecility.
Nobody cares. Who cares for anything but the show and bluster which are threatening our ruin? English food, not long ago the best in the world, is falling off in quality, and even our national genius for cooking shows a decline; to anyone who knows England, these are facts significant enough. Foolish persons have prated about "our insular cuisine," demanding its reform on continental models, and they have found too many like unto themselves who were ready to listen; the result will be, before long, that our excellence will be forgotten, and paltry methods be universally introduced, together with the indifferent viands to which they are suited. Yet, if any generality at all be true, it is a plain fact that English diet and English virtue -- in the largest sense of the word -- are inseparably bound together.
Our supremacy in this matter of the table came with little taking of thought; what we should now do is to reflect upon the things which used to be instinctive, perceive the reasons of our excellence, and set to work to re-establish it. Of course the vilest cooking in the kingdom is found in London; is it not with the exorbitant growth of London that many an ill has spread over the land? London is the antithesis of the domestic ideal; a social reformer would not even glance in that direction, but would turn all his zeal upon small towns and country districts, where blight may perhaps be arrested, and whence, some day, a reconstituted national life may act upon the great centre of corruption. I had far rather see England covered with schools of cookery than with schools of the ordinary kind; the issue would be infinitely more hopeful. Little girls should be taught cooking and baking more assiduously than they are taught to read. But with ever in view the great English principle -- that food is only cooked aright when it yields the utmost of its native and characteristic savour. Let sauces be utterly forbidden -- save the natural sauce made of gravy. In the same way with sweets; keep in view the insurpassable English ideals of baked tarts (or pies, if so you call them) and boiled puddings; as they are the wholesomest, so are they the most delicious of sweet cakes yet invented; it is merely a question of having them well-made and cooked. Bread, again; we are getting used to bread of poor quality, and ill-made, but the English loaf at its best -- such as you were once sure of getting in every village -- is the faultless form of the staff of life. Think of the glorious revolution that could be wrought in our troubled England if it could be ordained that no maid, of whatever rank, might become a wife unless she had proved her ability to make and bake a perfect loaf of bread.
The good S---- writes me a kindly letter. He is troubled by the thought of my loneliness. That I should choose to live in such a place as this through the summer, he can understand; but surely I should do better to come to town for the winter? How on earth do I spend the dark days and the long evenings?
I chuckle over the good S----'s sympathy. Dark days are few in happy Devon, and such as befall have never brought me a moment's tedium. The long, wild winter of the north would try my spirits; but here, the season that follows autumn is merely one of rest, nature's annual slumber. And I share in the restful influence. Often enough I pass an hour in mere drowsing by the fireside; frequently I let my book drop, satisfied to muse. But more often than not the winter day is blest with sunshine -- the soft beam which is nature's smile in dreaming. I go forth and wander far. It pleases me to note changes of landscape when the leaves have fallen; I see streams and ponds which during summer were hidden; my favourite lanes have an unfamiliar aspect, and I become better acquainted with them. Then, there is a rare beauty in the structure of trees ungarmented; and if perchance snow or frost have silvered their tracery against the sober sky, it becomes a marvel which never tires.
Day by day I look at the coral buds on the lime tree. Something of regret will mingle with my joy when they begin to break.
In the middle years of my life -- those years that were the worst of all -- I used to dread the sound of a winter storm which woke me in the night. Wind and rain lashing the house filled me with miserable memories and apprehensions; I lay thinking of the savage struggle of man with man, and often saw before me no better fate than to be trampled down into the mud of life. The wind's wail seemed to me the voice of a world in anguish; rain was the weeping of the feeble and the oppressed. But nowadays I can lie and listen to a night-storm with no intolerable thoughts; at worst, I fall into a compassionate sadness as I remember those I loved and whom I shall see no more. For myself, there is even comfort in the roaring dark; for I feel the strength of the good walls about me, and my safety from squalid peril such as pursued me through all my labouring life. "Blow, blow, thou winter wind!" Thou canst not blow away the modest wealth which makes my security. Nor can any "rain upon the roof" put my soul to question; for life has given me all I ever asked -- infinitely more than I ever hoped -- and in no corner of my mind does there lurk a coward fear of death.
If some stranger from abroad asked me to point out to him the most noteworthy things in England, I should first of all consider his intellect. Were he a man of everyday level, I might indicate for his wonder and admiration Greater London, the Black Country, South Lancashire, and other features of our civilization which, despite eager rivalry, still maintain our modern pre-eminence in the creation of ugliness. If, on the other hand, he seemed a man of brains, it would be my pleasure to take him to one of those old villages, in the midlands or the west, which lie at some distance from a railway station and in aspect are still untouched by the baser tendencies of the time. Here, I would tell my traveller, he saw something which England alone can show. The simple beauty of the architecture, its perfect adaptation to the natural surroundings, the neatness of everything though without formality, the general cleanness and good repair, the grace of cottage gardens, that tranquillity and security which make a music in the mind of him who gazes -- these are what a man must see and feel if he would appreciate the worth and the power of England. The people which has made for itself such homes as these is distinguished, above all things, by its love of order; it has understood, as no other people, the truth that "order is heaven's first law." With order it is natural to find stability, and the combination of these qualities, as seen in domestic life, results in that peculiarly English product, our name for which -- though but a pale shadow of the thing itself -- has been borrowed by other countries: comfort.
Then Englishman's need of "comfort" is one of his best characteristics; the possibility that he may change in this respect and become indifferent to his old ideal of physical and mental ease is the gravest danger manifest in our day. For "comfort," mind you, does not concern the body alone; the beauty and orderliness of an Englishman's home derive their value, nay, their very existence, from the spirit which directs his whole life. Walk from the village to the noble's mansion. It, too, is perfect of its kind; it has the dignity of age, its walls are beautiful, the gardens, the park about it are such as can be found only in England, lovely beyond compare; and all this represents the same moral characteristics as the English cottage, but with greater activities and responsibilities. If the noble grow tired of his mansion, and letting it to some crude owner of millions, go to live in hotels and hired villas; if the cottager sicken of his village roof, and transport himself to the sixth floor of a "block" in Shoreditch; one sees but too well that the one and the other have lost the old English sense of comfort, and in losing it, have suffered degradation alike as men and as citizens. It is not a question of exchanging one form of comfort for another; the instinct which made an Englishman has in these cases perished. Perhaps it is perishing from among us altogether, killed by new social and political conditions; one who looks at villages of the new type, at the working-class quarters of towns, at the rising of "flats" among the dwellings of the wealthy has little choice but to think so. There may soon come a day when, though the word "comfort" continues to be used in many languages, the thing it signifies will be discoverable nowhere at all.
If the ingenious foreigner found himself in some village of manufacturing Lancashire, he would be otherwise impressed. Here something of the power of England might be revealed to him, but of England's worth, little enough. Hard ugliness would everywhere assail his eyes; the visages and voices of the people would seem to him thoroughly akin to their surroundings. Scarcely could one find in any civilized nation a more notable contrast than that between these two English villages and their inhabitants.
Yet Lancashire is English, and there among the mill chimneys, in the hideous little street, folk are living whose domestic thoughts claim undeniable kindred with those of the villagers of the kinder south. But to understand how "comfort" and the virtues it implies can exist amid such conditions, one must penetrate to the hearthside; the door must be shut, the curtain drawn; here "home" does not extend beyond the threshold. After all, this grimy row of houses, ugliest that man ever conceived, is more representative of England to-day than the lovely village among the trees and meadows. More than a hundred years ago, power passed from the south of England to the north. The vigorous race on the other side of Trent only found its opportunity when the age of machinery began; its civilization, long delayed, differs in obvious respects from that of older England. In Sussex or in Somerset, however dull and clownish the typical inhabitant, he plainly belongs to an ancient order of things, represents an immemorial subordination. The rude man of the north is -- by comparison -- but just emerged from barbarism, and under any circumstances would show less smooth a front. By great misfortune, he has fallen under the harshest lordship the modern world has known -- that of scientific industrialism, and all his vigorous qualities are subdued to a scheme of life based upon the harsh, the ugly, the sordid. His racial heritage, of course, marks him to the eye; even as ploughman or shepherd, he differs notably from him of the same calling in the weald or on the downs. But the frank brutality of the man in all externals has been encouraged, rather than mitigated, by the course his civilization has taken, and hence it is that, unless one knows him well enough to respect him, he seems even yet stamped with the half-savagery of his folk as they were a century and a half ago. His fierce shyness, his arrogant self-regard are notes of a primitive state. Naturally, he never learned to house himself as did the Southerner, for climate as well as social circumstance was unfavourable to all the graces of life. And now one can only watch the encroachment of his rule upon that old, that true England whose strength and virtue were so differently manifested. This fair broad land of the lovely villages signifies little save to the antiquary, the poet, the painter. Vainly, indeed, should I show its beauty and its peace to the observant foreigner; he would but smile, and with a glance at the traction-engine just coming along the road, indicate the direction of his thoughts.
Nothing in all Homer pleases me more than the bedstead of Odysseus. I have tried to turn the passage describing it into English verse, thus --
Did anyone ever imitate the admirable precedent? Were I a young man and an owner of land assuredly I would do so. Choose some goodly tree, straight-soaring; cut away head and branches; leave just the clean trunk and build your house about it in such manner that the top of the rooted timber rises a couple of feet above your bedroom floor. The trunk need not be manifest in the lower part of the house, but I should prefer to have it so; I am a tree-worshipper; it should be as the visible presence of a household god. And how could one more nobly symbolize the sacredness of home? There can be no home without the sense of permanence, and without home there is no civilization -- as England will discover when the greater part of her population have become flat-inhabiting nomads. In some ideal commonwealth, one can imagine the Odyssean bed a normal institution, every head of a household, cottager, or lord (for the commonwealth must have its lords, go to!), lying down to rest, as did his fathers, in the Chamber of the Tree. This, one fancies, were a somewhat more fitting nuptial chamber than the chance bedroom of a hotel. Odysseus building his home is man performing a supreme act of piety; through all the ages that picture must retain its profound significance. Note the tree he chose, the olive, sacred to Athena, emblem of peace. When he and the wise goddess meet together to scheme destruction of the princes, they sit (by the holy olive tree). Their talk is of bloodshed, true; but in punishment of those who have outraged the sanctity of the hearth, and to re-establish, after purification, domestic calm and security. It is one of the dreary aspects of modern life that natural symbolism has all but perished. We have no consecrated tree. The oak once held a place in English hearts, but who now reveres it? -- our trust is in gods of iron. Money is made at Christmas out of holly and mistletoe, but who save the vendors would greatly care if no green branch were procurable? One symbol, indeed, has obscured all others -- the minted round of metal. And one may safely say that of all the ages since a coin first became the symbol of power, ours is that in which it yields to the majority of its possessors the poorest return in heart's contentment.
I have been dull to-day, haunted by the thought of how much there is that I would fain know, and how little I can hope to learn. The scope of knowledge has become so vast. I put aside nearly all physical investigation; to me it is naught, or only at moments, a matter of idle curiosity. This would seem to be a considerable clearing of the field; but it leaves what is practically the infinite. To run over a list of only my favourite subjects, those to which all my life long I have more or less applied myself, studies which hold in my mind the place of hobbies, is to open vistas of intellectual despair. In an old notebook I jotted down such a list -- "things I hope to know and to know well." I was then four and twenty. Reading it with the eyes of fifty-four, I must needs laugh. There appear such modest items as "The history of the Christian Church up to the Reformation" -- "all Greek poetry" -- "The field of Mediaeval Romance" -- "German literature from Lessing to Heine" -- "Dante!" Not one of these shall I ever "know and know well"; not any one of them. Yet here I am buying books which lead me into endless paths of new temptation. What have I to do with Egypt? Yet I have been beguiled by Flinders Petrie and by Maspêro. How can I pretend to meddle with the ancient geography of Asia Minor? Yet here have I bought Prof. Ramsay's astonishing book and have even read with a sort of troubled enjoyment a good many pages of it; troubled, because I have but to reflect a moment, and I see that all this kind of thing is mere futile effort of the intellect when the time for serious intellectual effort is over.
And, in doing so, become perhaps an owl-eyed pedant, to whom would be forever dead the possibility of such enjoyment as I know in these final years. Who can say? Perhaps the sole condition of my progress to this state of mind and heart which make my happiness was that very stumbling and erring which I so regret.
Why do I give so much of my time to the reading of history? Is it in any sense profitable to me? What new light can I hope for on the nature of man? What new guidance for the direction of my own life through the few years that may remain to me? But it is with no such purpose that I read these voluminous books; they gratify -- or seem to gratify -- a mere curiosity; and scarcely have I closed a volume, when the greater part of what I have read in it is forgotten.
Heaven forbid that I should remember all! Many a time I have said to myself that I would close the dreadful record of human life, lay it forever aside, and try to forget it. Somebody declares that history is a manifestation of the triumph of good over evil. The good prevails now and then, no doubt, but how local and transitory is such triumph. If historic tomes had a voice, it would sound as one long moan of anguish. Think steadfastly of the past, and one sees that only by defect of imaginative power can any man endure to dwell with it. History is a nightmare of horrors; we relish it, because we love pictures and because all that man has suffered is to man rich in interest, But make real to yourself the vision of every blood-stained page -- stand in the presence of the ravening conqueror, the savage tyrant -- tread the stones of the dungeon and of the torture-room -- feel the fire of the stake -- hear the cries of that multitude which no man can number, the victims of calamity, of oppression, of fierce injustice in its myriad forms, in every land, in every age -- and what joy have you of your historic reading? One would need to be a devil to understand it thus, and yet to delight in it.
Injustice -- there is the loathed crime which curses the memory of the world. The slave doomed by his lord's caprice to perish under tortures -- one feels it a dreadful and intolerable thing; but it is merely the crude presentment of what has been done and endured a million 'times in every stage of civilization. Oh, the last thoughts of those who have agonized unto death amid wrongs to which no man would give ear! That appeal of innocence in anguish to the hard, mute heavens! Were there only one such instance in all the chronicles of time, it should doom the past to abhorred oblivion. Yet injustice, the basest, the most ferocious, is inextricable from warp and woof in the tissue of things gone by. And if anyone soothes himself with the reflection that such outrages can happen no more, that mankind has passed beyond such hideous possibility, he is better acquainted with books than with human nature.
It were wiser to spend my hours with the books which bring no aftertaste of bitterness -- with the great poets whom I love, with the thinkers, with the gentle writers of pages that soothe and tranquillize. Many a volume regards me from the shelf as though reproachfully; shall I never again take it in my hands? Yet the words are golden, and I would fain treasure them all in my heart's memory. Perhaps the last fault of which I shall cure myself is that habit of mind which urges me to seek knowledge. Was I not yesterday on the point of ordering a huge work of erudition, which I should certainly never have read through and which would only have served to waste precious days? It is the Puritan in my blood, I suppose, which forbids me to recognize frankly that all I have now to do is to enjoy. This is wisdom. The time for acquisition has gone by. I am not foolish enough to set myself learning a new language; why should I try to store my memory with useless knowledge of the past?
Come, once more before I die I will read Don Quixote.
Somebody has been making a speech, reported at a couple of columns' length in the paper. As I glance down the waste of print, one word catches my eye again and again. It's all about "science" -- and therefore doesn't concern me.
I wonder whether there are many men who have the same feeling with regard to "science" as I have? It is something more than a prejudice; often it takes the form of a dread, almost a terror. Even those branches of science which are concerned with things that interest me -- which deal with plants and animals and the heaven of stars -- even these. I cannot contemplate without uneasiness, a spiritual disaffection; new discoveries, new theories, however they engage my intelligence, soon weary me and in some way depress. When it comes to other kinds of science -- the sciences blatant and ubiquitous -- the science by which men become millionaires -- I am possessed with an angry hostility, a resentful apprehension. This was born in me, no doubt; I cannot trace it to circumstances of my life, or to any particular moment of my mental growth. My boyish delight in Carlyle doubtless nourished the temper, but did not Carlyle so delight me because of what was already in my mind? I remember as a lad looking at complicated machinery with a shrinking uneasiness which, of course, I did not understand; I remember the sort of disturbed contemptuousness with which, in my time of "examinations," I dismissed "science papers." It is intelligible enough to me, now, that unformed fear: the ground of my antipathy has grown clear enough. I hate and fear "science" because of my conviction that for long to come, if not forever, it will be the remorseless enemy of mankind. I see it destroying all simplicity and gentleness of life, all the beauty of the world; I see it restoring barbarism under a mask of civilization; I see it darkening men's minds and hardening their hearts I see it bringing a time of vast conflicts, which will pale into insignificance "the thousand wars of old," and as likely as not, will whelm all the laborious advances of mankind in blood-drenched chaos.
Yet to rail against it is as idle as to quarrel with any other force of nature. For myself, I can hold apart, and see as little as possible of the thing I deem accursed. But I think of some who are dear to me, whose life will be lived in the hard and fierce new age. The roaring "jubilee" of last summer was for me an occasion of sadness; it meant that so much was over and gone -- so much of good and noble, the like of which the world will not see again, and that a new time of which only the perils are clearly visible is rushing upon us. Oh, the generous hopes and aspirations of forty years ago! Science, then, was seen as the deliverer; only a few could prophesy its tyranny, could foresee that it would revive old evils, and trample on the promises of its beginning. This is the course of things; we must accept it. But it is some comfort to me that I -- poor little mortal -- have had no part in bringing the tyrant to his throne.
The Christmas bells drew me forth this morning. With but half-formed purpose, I walked through soft, hazy sunshine towards the city, and came into the Cathedral Close, and after lingering awhile, heard the first notes of the organ, and so entered. I believe it is more than thirty years since I was in an English church on Christmas-day. The old time and the old faces lived again for me; I saw myself on the far side of the abyss of years -- that self which is not myself at all, though I mark points of kindred between the beings of then and now. He who in that other world sat to hear the Christmas gospel, either heeded it not at all -- rapt in his own visions -- or listened only as one in whose blood was heresy. He loved the notes of the organ, but even in his childish mind, distinguished clearly between the music and its local motive. More than that, he could separate the melody of word and of thought from their dogmatic significance, enjoying the one whilst wholly rejecting the other. "On earth peace, goodwill to men" -- already that line was among the treasures of his intellect, but only no doubt, because of its rhythm, its sonority. Life, to him, was a half-conscious striving for the harmonic in thought and speech -- and through what a tumult of unmelodious circumstance was he beginning to fight his way!
To-day I listen with no heretical promptings. The music, whether of organ or word, is more to me than ever; the literal meaning causes me no restiveness. I felt only glad that I had yielded to the summons of the Christmas bells. I sat among a congregation of shadows, not in the great cathedral, but in a little parish church far from here. When I came forth, it astonished me to see the softly radiant sky and to tread on the moist earth; my dream expected a wind-swept canopy of cold grey, and all beneath it the gleam of new-fallen snow. It is a piety to turn awhile and live with the dead, and who can so well indulge it as he whose Christmas is passed in no unhappy solitude? I would not now, if I might, be one of a joyous company; it is better to hear the long-silent voices and to smile at happy things which I alone can remember. When I was scarce old enough to understand, I heard read by the fireside the Christmas stanzas of "In Memoriam." To-night I have taken down the volume, and the voice of so long ago has read to me once again -- read as no other ever did, that voice which taught me to know poetry, the voice which never spoke to me but of good and noble things. Would I have those accents overborne by a living tongue, however welcome its sound at another time? Jealously I guard my Christmas solitude.
Is it true that the English are deeply branded with the vice of hypocrisy? The accusation, of course, dates from the time of the roundheads; before that, nothing in the national character could have suggested it. The England of Chaucer, the England of Shakespeare, assuredly was not hypocrite. The change wrought by Puritanism introduced into the life of the people that new element which ever since, more or less notably, has suggested to the observer a habit of double-dealing in morality and religion. The scorn of the Cavalier is easily understood; it created a traditional Cromwell, who, till Carlyle arose, figured before the world as our arch-dissembler. With the decline of genuine Puritanism came that peculiarly English manifestation of piety and virtue which is represented by Mr. Pecksniff -- a being so utterly different from Tartufe, and perhaps impossible to be understood save by Englishmen themselves. But it is in our own time that the familiar reproach has been persistently levelled at us. It often sounds upon the lips of our emancipated youth; it is stereotyped for daily impression in the offices of Continental newspapers. And for the reason one has not far to look. When Napoleon called us a "nation of shop-keepers," we were nothing of the kind; since his day we have become so, in the strictest sense of the word; and consider the spectacle of a flourishing tradesman, anything but scrupulous in his methods of business, who loses no opportunity of bidding all mankind to regard him as a religious and moral exemplar. This is the actual show of things with us; this is the England seen by our bitterest censors. There is an excuse for those who charge us with "hypocrisy."
But the word is ill-chosen and indicates a misconception. The characteristic of your true hypocrite is the assumption of a virtue which not only he has not, but which he is incapable of possessing, and in which he does not believe. The hypocrite may have, most likely has (for he is a man of brains), a conscious rule of life, but it is never that of the person to whom his hypocrisy is directed. Tartufe incarnates him once for all. Tartufe is by conviction an atheist and a sensualist; he despises all who regard life from the contrasted point of view. But among Englishmen such an attitude of mind has always been extremely rare; to presume it in our typical money-maker who has edifying sentiments on his lips is to fall into a grotesque error of judgment. No doubt that error is committed by the ordinary foreign journalist, a man who knows less than little of English civilization. More enlightened critics, if they use the word at all, do so carelessly; when speaking with more precision, they call the English "pharisaic" -- and come nearer the truth.
Our vice is self-righteousness. We are essentially an Old Testament people; Christianity has never entered into our soul; we see ourselves as the chosen, and by no effort of spiritual aspiration can attain unto humility. In this there is nothing hypocritic. The blatant upstart who builds a church, lays out his money in that way not merely to win social consideration; in his curious little soul he believes (so far as he can believe anything) that what he has done is pleasing to God and beneficial to mankind. He may have lied and cheated for every sovereign he possesses; he may have polluted his life with uncleanness; he may have perpetrated many kinds of cruelty and baseness -- but all these things has he done against his conscience, and as soon as the opportunity comes, he will make atonement for them in the way suggested by such faith as he has, the way approved by public opinion. His religion, strictly defined, is an ineradicable belief in his own religiousness. As an Englishman, he holds as birthright the true piety, the true morals. That he has "gone wrong" is, alas, undeniable, but never -- even when leering most satirically -- did he deny his creed. When, at public dinners and elsewhere, he tuned his voice to the note of edification, this man did not utter the lie of the hypocrite; he meant every word he said. Uttering high sentiments, he spoke, not as an individual, but as an Englishman, and most thoroughly did he believe that all who heard him owed in their hearts allegiance to the same faith. He is, if you like, a Pharisee -- but do not misunderstand; his Phariseeism has nothing personal. That would be quite another kind of man; existing, to be sure, in England, but not as a national type. No; he is a Pharisee in the minor degree with regard to those of his countrymen who differ from him in dogma; he is Pharisee absolute with regard to the foreigner. And there he stands, representing an empire.
The word hypocrisy is perhaps most of all applied to our behaviour in matters of sexual morality, and here with specially flagrant misuse. Multitudes of Englishmen have thrown aside the national religious dogma, but very few indeed have abandoned the conviction that the rules of morality publicly upheld in England are the best known in the world. Any one interested in doing so can but too easily demonstrate that English social life is no purer than that of most other countries. Scandals of peculiar grossness, at no long intervals, give rich opportunity to the scoffer. The streets of our great towns nightly present an exhibition the like of which cannot be seen elsewhere in the world. Despite all this, your average Englishman takes for granted his country's moral superiority, and loses no chance of proclaiming it at the expense of other peoples. To call him hypocrite, is simply not to know the man. He may, for his own part, be gross-minded and lax of life; that has nothing to do with the matter; he believes in virtue. Tell him that English morality is mere lip-service, and he will blaze with as honest anger as man ever felt. He is a monument of self-righteousness, again not personal but national.
I make use of the present tense, but am I speaking truly of present England? Such powerful agencies of change have been at work during the last thirty years; and it is difficult, nay impossible, to ascertain in what degree they have affected the national character thus far. One notes the obvious: decline of conventional religion, free discussion of the old moral standards; therewith, a growth of materialism which favours every anarchic tendency. Is it to be feared that self-righteousness may be degenerating into the darker vice of true hypocrisy? For the English to lose belief in themselves -- not merely in their potential goodness, but in their preeminence as examples and agents of good -- would mean as hopeless a national corruption as any recorded in history. To doubt their genuine worship, in the past, of a very high (though not, of course, the highest) ethical ideal is impossible for any one born and bred in England; no less impossible to deny that those who are rightly deemed "best" among us, the men and women of gentle or humble birth who are not infected by the evils of the new spirit, still lead, in a very true sense, "honest, sober, and godly" lives. Such folk, one knows, were never in a majority, but of old they had a power which made them veritable representatives of the English ethos. If they thought highly of themselves, why, the fact justified them; if they spoke, at times, as Pharisees, it was a fault of temper which carried with it no grave condemnation. Hypocrisy was, of all forms of baseness, that which they most abhorred. So is it still with their descendants. Whether these continue to speak among us with authority, no man can certainly say. If their power is lost, and those who talk of English hypocrisy no longer use the word amiss, we shall soon know it.
It is time that we gave a second thought to Puritanism. In the heyday of release from forms which had lost their meaning, it was natural to look back on that period of our history with eyes that saw in it nothing but fanatical excess; we approved the picturesque phrase which showed the English mind going into prison and having the key turned upon it. Now, when the peril of emancipation becomes as manifest as was the hardship of restraint, we shall do well to remember all the good that lay in that stern Puritan discipline, how it renewed the spiritual vitality of our race, and made for the civic freedom which is our highest national privilege. An age of intellectual glory is wont to be paid for in the general decline of that which follows. Imagine England under Stuart rule, with no faith but the Protestantism of the Tudor. Imagine (not to think of worse) English literature represented by Cowley, and the name of Milton unknown. The Puritan came as the physician; he brought his tonic at the moment when lassitude and supineness would naturally have followed upon a supreme display of racial vitality. Regret, if you will, that England turned for her religion to the books of Israel; this suddenly revealed sympathy of our race with a fierce Oriental theocracy is perhaps not difficult to explain, but one cannot help wishing that its piety had taken another form; later, there had to come the "exodus from Houndsditch," with how much conflict and misery! Such, however, was the price of soul's health; we must accept the fact and be content to see its better meaning. Health, of course, in speaking of mankind, is always a relative term. From the point of view of a conceivable civilization, Puritan England was lamentably ailing; but we must always ask not how much better off a people might be, but how much worse. Of all theological systems, the most convincing is Manichæism, which, of course under another name, was held by the Puritans themselves. What we call Restoration morality -- the morality, that is to say, of a king and court -- might well have become that of the nation at large under a Stuart dynasty safe from religious revolution.
The political services of Puritanism were inestimable; they will be more feelingly remembered when England has once more to face the danger of political tyranny. I am thinking now of its effects upon social life. To it we owe the characteristic which, in other some countries, is expressed by the term English prudery, the accusation implied being part of the general charge of hypocrisy. It is said by observers among ourselves that the prudish habit of mind is dying out, and this is looked upon as a satisfactory thing, as a sign of healthy emancipation. If by prude be meant a secretly vicious person who affects an excessive decorum, by all means let the prude disappear, even at the cost of some shamelessness. If, on the other hand, a prude is one who, living a decent life, cultivates, either by bent or principle, a somewhat extreme delicacy of thought and speech with regard to elementary facts of human nature, then I say that this is most emphatically a fault in the right direction, and I have no desire to see its prevalence diminish. On the whole, it is the latter meaning which certain foreigners have in mind when they speak of English prudery -- at all events, as exhibited by women; it being, not so much an imputation on chastity, as a charge of conceited foolishness. An English woman who typifies the bégueule may be spotless as snow; but she is presumed to have snow's other quality, and at the same time to be a thoroughly absurd and intolerable creature. Well, here is the point of difference. Fastidiousness of speech is not a direct outcome of Puritanism, as our literature sufficiently proves; it is a refinement of civilization following upon absorption into the national life of all the best things which Puritanism had to teach. We who know English women by the experience of a lifetime are well aware that their careful choice of language betokens, far more often than not, a corresponding delicacy of mind. Landor saw it as a ridiculous trait that English people were so mealy-mouthed in speaking of their bodies; De Quincey, taking him to task for this remark, declared it a proof of blunted sensibility due to long residence in Italy; and, whether the particular explanation held good or not, as regards the question at issue De Quincey was perfectly right. It is very good to be mealy-mouthed with respect to everything that reminds us of the animal in man. Verbal delicacy in itself will not prove an advanced civilization, but civilization, as it advances, assuredly tends that way.
All through the morning the air was held in an ominous stillness. Sitting over my books I seemed to feel the silence; when I turned my look to the window, I saw nothing but the broad, grey sky, a featureless expanse, cold, melancholy. Later, just as I was bestirring myself to go out for an afternoon walk, something white fell softly across my vision. A few minutes more, and all was hidden with a descending veil of silent snow.
It is a disappointment. Yesterday I half believed that the winter drew to its end; the breath of the hills was soft; spaces of limpid azure shone amid slow-drifting clouds and seemed the promise of spring. Idle by the fireside, in the gathering dusk, I began to long for the days of light and warmth. My fancy wandered, leading me far and wide in a dream of summer England. . . .
This is the valley of the Blythe. The stream ripples and glances over its brown bed warmed with sunbeams; by its bank the green flags wave and rustle, and all about, the meadows shine in pure gold of buttercups. The hawthorn hedges are a mass of gleaming blossom, which scents the breeze. There above rises the heath, yellow-mantled with gorse, and beyond, if I walk for an hour or two, I shall come out upon the sandy cliffs of Suffolk and look over the northern sea. . . .
I am in Wensleydale, climbing from the rocky river that leaps amid broad pastures up to the rolling moor. Up and up, till my feet brush through heather, and the grouse whirrs away before me. Under a glowing sky of summer, this air of the uplands has still a life which spurs to movement, which makes the heart bound. The dale is hidden; I see only the brown and purple wilderness, cutting against the blue with great round shoulders, and far away. to the west, an horizon of sombre heights. . . .
I ramble through a village in Gloucestershire, a village which seems forsaken in this drowsy warmth of the afternoon. The houses of grey stone are old and beautiful,. telling of a time when Englishmen knew how to build whether for rich or poor; the gardens glow with flowers, and the air is delicately sweet. At the village end, I come into a lane, which winds upwards between grassy slopes, to turf and bracken and woods of noble beech. Here I am upon a spur of the Cotswolds, and before me spreads the wide vale of Evesham, with its ripening crops, its fruiting orchards, watered by sacred Avon. Beyond, softly blue, the hills of Malvern. On the branch hard by warbles a little bird, glad in his leafy solitude. A rabbit jumps through the fern. There sounds the laugh of a woodpecker from the copse in yonder hollow. . . .
In the falling of a summer night, I walk by Ullswater. The sky is still warm with the afterglow of sunset, a dusky crimson smouldering above the dark mountain line. Below me spreads a long reach of the lake, steel-grey between its dim colourless shores. In the profound stillness, the trotting of a horse beyond the water sounds strangely near; it serves only to make more sensible the repose of nature in this her sanctuary. I feel a solitude unutterable, yet nothing akin to desolation; the heart of the land I love seems to beat in the silent night gathering around me; amid things eternal, I touch the familiar and the kindly earth. Moving, I step softly, as though my footfall were an irreverence. A turn in the road, and there is wafted to me a faint perfume, that of meadow-sweet. Then I see a light glimmering in the farmhouse window -- a little ray against the blackness of the great hillside, below which the water. . . .
A pathway leads me by the winding of the river Ouse. Far on every side stretches a homely landscape, tilth and pasture, hedgerow and clustered trees, to where the sky rests upon the gentle hills. Slow, silent, the river lapses between its daisied banks, its grey-green osier beds. Yonder is the little town of St. Neots. In all England no simpler bit of rural scenery; in all the world nothing of its kind more beautiful. Cattle are lowing amid the rich meadows. Here one may loiter and dream in utter restfulness, whilst the great white clouds mirror themselves in the water as they pass above. . . .
I am walking upon the South Downs. In the valleys the sun lies hot, but here sings a breeze which freshens the forehead and fills the heart with gladness. My foot upon the short, soft turf has an unwearied lightness; I feel capable of walking on and on, even to that farthest horizon where the white cloud casts its floating shadow. Below me, but far off, is the summer sea, still, silent, its ever-changing blue and green dimmed at the long limit with luminous noontide mist. Inland spreads the undulant vastness of the sheep-spotted downs, beyond them the tillage and the woods of Sussex weald, coloured like to the pure sky above them, but in deeper tint. Near by, all but hidden among trees in yon lovely hollow, lies an old, old hamlet, its brown roofs decked with golden lichen; I see the low church-tower and the little graveyard about it. Meanwhile, high in the heaven, a lark is singing. It descends; it drops to its nest; and I could dream that half the happiness of its exultant song was love of England. . . .
It is all but dark. For a quarter of an hour I must have been writing by a glow of firelight reflected on to my desk; it seemed to me the sun of summer. Snow is still falling. I see its ghostly glimmer against the vanishing sky. To-morrow it will be thick upon my garden, and perchance for several days. But when it melts, when it melts, it will leave the snowdrop. The crocus, too, is waiting, down there under the white mantle which warms the earth.
Time is money -- says the vulgarest saw known to any age or people. Turn it round about, and you get a precious truth -- money is time. I think of it on these dark, mist-blinded mornings, as I come down to find a glorious fire crackling and leaping in my study. Suppose I were so poor that I could not afford that heartsome blaze, how different the whole day would be! Have I not lost many and many a day of my life for lack of the material comfort which was necessary to put my mind in tune? Money is time. With money I buy for cheerful use the hours which otherwise would not in any sense be mine; nay, which would make me their miserable bondsman. Money is time, and heaven be thanked, there needs so little of it for this sort of purchase. He who has overmuch is wont to be as badly off in regard to the true use of money as he who has not enough. What are we doing all our lives but purchasing, or trying to purchase, time? And most of us, having grasped it with one hand, throw it away with the other.
The dark days are drawing to an end. Soon it will be spring once more; I shall go out into the fields, and shake away these thoughts of discouragement and fear which have lately too much haunted my fireside. For me, it is a virtue to be self-centred; I am much better employed, from every point of view, when I live solely for my own satisfaction than when I begin to worry about the world. The world frightens me, and a frightened man is no good for anything. I know only one way in which I could have played a meritorious part as an active citizen -- by becoming a schoolmaster in some little country town, and teaching half a dozen teachable boys to love study for its own sake. That I could have done, I daresay. Yet, no; for I must have had as a young man the same mind that I have in age, devoid of idle ambitions, undisturbed by unattainable ideals. Living as I do now, I deserve better of my country than at any time in my working life; better, I suspect, than most of those who are praised for busy patriotism.
Not that I regard my life as an example for any one else; all I say is that it is good for me, and in so far an advantage to the world. To live in quiet content is surely a piece of good citizenship. If you can do more, do it, and God-speed! I know myself for an exception. And I ever find it a good antidote to gloomy thoughts to bring before my imagination the lives of men, utterly unlike me in their minds and circumstances, who give themselves with glad and hopeful energy to the plain duties that lie before them. However one's heart may fail in thinking of the folly and baseness which make so great a part of today's world, remember how many bright souls are living courageously, seeing the good wherever it may be discovered, undismayed by portents, doing what they have to do with all their strength. In every land there are such, no few of them, a great brotherhood, without distinction of race or faith; for they, indeed, constitute the race of man rightly designated, and their faith is one, the cult of reason and of justice. Whether the future is to them or to the talking anthropoid, no one can say. But they live and labour guarding the fire of sacred hope.
In my own country, dare I think that they are fewer than of old? Some I have known; they give me assurance of the many, near and far. Hearts of noble strain, intrepid, generous; the clear head, the keen eye; a spirit equal alike to good fortune and to ill. I see the true-born son of England, his vigour and his virtues yet unimpaired. In his blood is the instinct of honour, the scorn of meanness; he cannot suffer his word to be doubted, and his hand will give away all he has rather than profit by a plebeian parsimony. He is frugal only of needless speech. A friend staunch to the death; tender with a grave sweetness to those who claim his love; passionate, beneath stoic seeming, for the causes he holds sacred. A hater of confusion and of idle noise, his place is not where the mob presses; he makes no vaunt of what he has done, no boastful promise of what he will do; when the insensate cry is loud, the counsel of wisdom overborne, he will hold apart, content with plain work that lies nearest to his hand, building, strengthening, whilst others riot in destruction. He was ever hopeful and deems it a crime to despair of his country. "Non, si male nunc, et olim sic erit." Fallen on whatever evil days and evil tongues, he remembers that Englishman of old, who, under every menace, bore right onwards; and like him, if so it must be, can make it his duty and his service to stand and wait.
Impatient for the light of spring, I have slept lately with my blind drawn up, so that at waking I have the sky in view. This morning I awoke just before sunrise. The air was still; a faint flush of rose to westward told me that the east made fair promise. I could see no cloud, and there before me, dropping to the horizon, glistened the horned moon.
The promise held good. After breakfast I could not sit down by the fireside; indeed, a fire was scarce necessary; the sun drew me forth, and I walked all the morning about the moist lanes, delighting myself with the scent of earth.
On my way home I saw the first celandine.
So, once more, the year has come full circle. And how quickly; alas, how quickly! Can it be a whole twelve-month since the last spring? Because I am so content with life, must life slip away, as though it grudged me my happiness? Time was when a year drew its slow length of toil and anxiety and ever frustrate waiting. Further away, the year of childhood seemed endless. It is familiarity with life that makes time speed quickly. When every day is a step in the unknown, as for children, the days are long with gathering of experience; the week gone by is already far in retrospect of things learned, and that to come, especially if it foretell some joy, lingers in remoteness. Past mid-life, one learns little and expects little. To-day is like unto yesterday, and to that which shall be the morrow. Only torment of mind or body serves to delay the indistinguishable hours. Enjoy the day, and behold, it shrinks to a moment.
I could wish for many another year; yet, if I knew that not one more awaited me, I should not grumble. When I was ill at ease in the world, it would have been hard to die; I had lived to no purpose that I could discover; the end would have seemed abrupt and meaningless. Now my life is rounded; it began with the natural irreflective happiness of childhood, it will close in the reasoned tranquillity of the mature mind. How many a time after long labour on some piece of writing, brought at length to its conclusion, have I laid down the pen with a sigh of thankfulness; the work was full of faults, but I had wrought sincerely, had done what time and circumstance and my own nature permitted. Even so may it be with me in my last hour. May I look back on life as a long task duly completed -- a piece of biography; faulty enough, but good as I could make it -- and, with no thought but one of contentment, welcome the repose to follow when I have breathed the word "Finis."
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