"My Winter Garden"
By Charles Kingsley. 1
So, my friend: you ask me to tell you how I contrive to support this monotonous country life; how, fond as I am of excitement, adventure, society, scenery, art, literature, I go cheerfully through the daily routine of a commonplace country profession, never requiring a six weeks' holiday; not caring to see the Continent, hardly even to spend a day in London; having never yet actually got to Paris.
You wonder why I do not grow dull as those round me, whose talk is of bullocks -- as indeed mine is, often enough; why I am not by this time "all over blue mould"; why I have not been tempted to bury myself in my study, and live a life of dreams among old books.
I will tell you. I am a minute philosopher: though one, thank Heaven, of a different stamp from him whom the great Bishop Berkeley silenced -- alas! only for a while. I am possibly, after all, a man of small mind, content with small pleasures. So much the better for me. Meanwhile, I can understand your surprise, though you cannot understand my content. You have played a greater game than mine; have lived a life perhaps more fit for an Englishman, certainly more in accordance with the taste of our common fathers, the Vikings, and their patron Odin "the goer," father of all them that go ahead. You have gone ahead, and over many lands; and I reverence you for it, though I envy you not. You have commanded a regiment -- indeed an army, and "drank delight of battle with your peers"; you have ruled provinces, and done justice and judgment, like a noble Englishman as you are, old friend, among thousands who never knew before what justice and judgment were. You have tasted (and you have deserved to taste) the joy of old David's psalm, when he has hunted down the last of the robber lords of Palestine. You have seen " a people whom you have not known serve you. As soon as they heard of you, they obeyed you; but the strange children dissembled with you"; yet before you, too, "the strange children failed, and trembled in their hill-forts."
Noble work that was to do, and nobly you have done it; and I do not wonder that to a man who has been set to such a task, and given power to carry it through, all smaller work must seem paltry; that such a man's very amusements, in that grand Indian land, and that free, adventurous Indian life, exciting the imagination, calling out all the self-help and daring of a man, should have been on a par with your work; that when you go a-sporting, you ask for no meaner preserve than the primeval forest, no lower park wall than the snow-peaks of the Himalaya.
Yes; you have been a "burra Shikarree" as well as a "burra Sahib." You have played the great game in your work, and killed the great game in your play. How many tons of mighty monsters have you done to death, since we two were schoolboys together, five-and-twenty years ago? How many starving villages have you fed with the flesh of elephant or buffalo? How many have you delivered from man-eating tigers, or wary old alligators, their craws full of poor girls' bangles? Have you not been charged by rhinoceroses, all but ripped up by boars? Have you not seen face to face Ovis Ammon himself, the giant mountain sheep-primeval ancestor, perhaps, of all the flocks on earth? Your memories must be like those of Theseus and Hercules, full of slain monsters. Your brains must be one fossiliferous deposit, in which gaur and sambur, hog and tiger, rhinoceros and elephant, lie heaped together, as the old ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs are heaped in the lias rocks at Lyme. And therefore I like to think of you. I try to picture your feelings to myself. I spell over with my boy Mayne Reid's amusing books, or the "Old Forest Ranger," or Williams's old "Tiger Book," with Howitt's plates; and try to realize the glory of a burra Shikarree: and as I read and imagine, feel, with Sir Hugh Evans, "a great dispositions to cry."
For there were times, full many a year ago, when my brains were full of bison and grizzly bear, mustang, and big-horn, Blackfoot and Pawnee, and hopes of wild adventure in the Far West, which I shall never see; for ere I was three-and-twenty, I discovered, plainly enough, that my lot was to stay at home and earn my bread in a very quiet way; that England was to be henceforth my prison or my palace as I should choose to make it; and I have made it, by Heaven's help, the latter.
I will confess to you, though, that in those first heats of youth, this little England -- or rather this little patch of moor in which I have struck roots as firm as the wild fir-trees do -- looked at moments rather like a prison than a palace; that my foolish young heart would sigh, "Oh! that I had wings" not as a dove, to fly home to its nest and croodle but as an eagle, to swoop away over land and sea, in a rampant and self-glorifying fashion, on which I now look back as altogether unwholesome and undesirable. But the thirst for adventure and excitement was strong in me, as perhaps it ought to be in all at twenty-one. Others went out to see the glorious new worlds of the West, the glorious old worlds of the east -- why should not I? Others rambled over Alps and Apennines, Italian picture-galleries and palaces, filling their minds with fair memories -- why should not I? Others discovered new wonders in botany and zoology -- why should not I? Others too, like you, fulfilled to the utmost that strange lust after the burra shikar, which even now makes my pulse throb as often as I see the stags'heads in our friend A---'s hall-why should not I? It is not learned in a day, the golden lesson of the old Collect, to "love the thing which is commanded, and desire that which is promised. "Not in a day, but in fifteen years one can spell out a little of its worth; and when one finds one's self on the wrong side of forty, and the first gray hairs begin to show on the temples, and one can no longer jump as high as one's third button -- scarcely, alas! to any button at all; and what with innumerable sprains, bruises, soakings, and chillings, one's lower limbs feel in a cold thaw, much like an old post-horse's, why, one makes a virtue of necessity: and if one still lusts after sights, takes the nearest, and looks for wonders, not in the Himalayas or Lake Ngami, but in the turf on the lawn and the brook in the park; and with good Alphonse Karr enjoys the macro-microcosm in one "Tour autour de mon jardin."
For there it is, friend, the whole infinite miracle of nature in every tuft of grass, if we have only eyes to see it, and can disabuse our minds of that tyrannous phantom of size. Only recollect that great and small are but relative terms; that, in truth, nothing is great or small, save in proportion to the quantity of creative thought which has been exercised in making it; that the fly who basks upon one of the trilithons of Stonehenge, is in truth infinitely greater than all Stonehenge together, though he may measure the tenth of an inch, and the stone on which he sits five-and-twenty feet. You differ from me? Be it so. Even if you prove me wrong I will believe myself in the right: I cannot afford to do otherwise. If you rob me of my faith in "minute philosophy," -- you rob me of a continual source of content, surprise, delight.
So go your way and I mine, each working with all his might, and playing with all his might, in his own place and way. Remember only, that though I never can come round to your sphere, you must some day come round to me, when wounds, or weariness, or merely, as I hope, a healthy old age, shall shut you out for once and for all from burra shikar, whether human or quadruped. -- For you surely will not take to politics in your old age? You will not surely live to solicit (as many a fine fellow, alas! did but last year) the votes, not even of the people, but merely of the snobocracy, on the ground of your having neither policy nor principles, nor even opinions, upon any matter in heaven or earth ? Then in that day will you be forced, my friend, to do what I have done this many a year: to refrain your soul, and keep it low. You will see more and more the depth of human ignorance, the vanity or human endeavors. You will feel more and more that the world is going God's way, and not yours, or mine, or any man's; and that if you have been allowed to do good work on earth, that work is probably as different from what you fancy it as the tree is from the seed whence it springs. You will grow content, therefore, not to see the real fruit of your labors; because if you saw it you would probably be frightened at it, and what is very good in the eyes of God would not be very good in yours; content, also, to receive your discharge, and work and fight no more, sure that God is working and fighting, whether you are in hospital or in the field. And with this growing sense of the pettiness of human struggles will grow on you a respect for simple labors, a thankfulness for simple pleasures, a sympathy with simple people, and possibly, my trusty friend, with me and my little tours about that moorland which I call my winter-garden, and which is to me as full of glory and of instruction as the Himalaya or the Punjab are to you, and in which I contrive to find as much health and amusement as I have time for-and who ought to have more?
I call the said garden mine, not because I own it in any legal sense (for only in a few acres have I a life interest), but in that higher sense in which ten thousand people can own the same thing, and yet no man's right interfere with another's. To whom does the Apollo Belvedere belong, but to all who have eyes to see its beauty? So does my winter garden; and therefore to me among the rest.
Besides (which is a gain to a poor man), my pleasure in it is a very cheap one. So are all those of a minute philosopher, except his microscope. But my winter garden, which is far larger, at all events, than that famous one at Chatsworth, costs me not one penny in keeping up. Poor, did I call myself? Is it not true wealth to have all I want without paying for it? Is it not true wealth, royal wealth, to have some twenty gentlemen and noblemen, nay, even royal personages, planting and improving for me? Is it not more than royal wealth to have sun and frost, Gulf Stream and southwesters, laws of geology, phytology, physiology, and other ologies--in a word, the whole universe and the powers thereof, day and night, paving, planting, roofing, lighting, coloring my winter garden for me, without my even having the trouble to rub a magic ring and tell the genii to go to work?
Yes. I am very rich, as every man may be who will. In the doings of our little country neighborhood I find tragedy and comedy, too fantastic, sometimes too sad, to be written down. In the words of those whose talk is of bullocks I find the materials of all possible metaphysic, and long weekly that I had time to work them out. In fifteen miles of moorland I find the materials of all possible physical science, and long that I had time to work out one smallest segment of that great sphere. How can I be richer, if I have lying at my feet all day a thousand times more wealth than I can use?
Some people -- most people -- in these runabout railway days, would complain of such a life, in such a "narrow sphere," so they call it, as monotonous. Very likely it is so. But is it to be complained of on that account? Is monotony in itself an evil? Which is better, to know many places ill or to know one place well? Certainly -- if a scientific habit of mind be a gain -- it is only by exhausting as far as possible the significance of an individual phenomenon (is not that sentence a true scientific one in its magniloquence?) that you can discover any glimpse of the significance of the universal. Even men of boundless knowledge, like Humboldt, must have had once their specialty, their pet subject, or they would have, strictly speaking, no knowledge at all. The volcanoes of Mexico, patiently and laboriously investigated in his youth, were to Humboldt, possibly, the key of the whole Cosmos. I learn more studying over and over again the same Bagshot sand gravel heaps, than I should by roaming all Europe in search of new geologic wonders. Fifteen years have I been puzzling at the same questions and have only guessed at a few of the answers. What sawed out the edges of the moors into long narrow banks of gravel? What cut them off all flat atop? What makes Erica tetralix grow in one soil and the bracken in another? How did three species of club-moss -- one of them quite an Alpine one -- get down here, all the way from Wales perhaps, upon this isolated patch of gravel? Why did that one patch of Carex arenaria settle in the only square yard for miles and miles which bore sufficient resemblance to its native sand-hill by the seashore, to make it comfortable? Why did Myosurus minimus which I had hunted for in vain for fourteen years, appear by dozens in the fifteenth, upon a new-made bank, which had been for at least two hundred years a farmyard gateway? Why does it generally rain here from the southwest, not when the barometer falls, but when it begins to rise again? Why -- why is everything which lies under my feet all day long? I don't know; and you can't tell me. And till I have found out, I cannot complain of monotony, with still undiscovered puzzles waiting to be explained, and so to create novelty at every turn.
Besides, monotony is pleasant in itself; morally pleasant and morally useful. Marriage is monotonous; but there I much, I trust, to be said in favor of holy wedlock. Living in the same house is monotonous; but three removes, say the wise, are as bad as a fire. Locomotion is regarded as an evil by our Litany. The Litany, as usual, is right. "Those who travel by land or sea" are to be objects of our pity and our prayers; and I do pity them. I delight in that same monotony. It saves curiosity, anxiety, excitement, disappointment, and a host of bad passions. It gives the man the blessed, invigorating feeling that he is at home; that he has roots, deep and wide, struck down into all he sees; and that only The Being who will do nothing cruel or useless can tear them up. It is pleasant to look down on the same parish day after day, and say, I know all that lies beneath, and all beneath know me. If I want a friend, I know where to find him; if I want work done, I know who will do it. It is pleasant and good to see the same trees year after year; the same birds coming back in spring to the same shrubs; the same banks covered with the same flowers, and broken (if they be stiff ones) by the same gaps. Pleasant and good it is to ride the same horse, to sit in the same chair, to wear the same old coat. That man who offered twenty pounds' reward for a lost carpet-bag full of old boots was a sage, and I wish I knew him. Why should one change one's place any more than one's wife or one's children? Is a hermit-crab, slipping his tail out of one strange shell into another, in the hopes of its fitting him a little better, either a dignified, safe, or graceful animal? No; George Riddler was a true philosopher:
"Let vules go sarching vur and nigh,and become there, not only wiser, but more charitable; for the oftener one sees, the better one knows; and the better one knows, the more one loves.
We bides at Whum, my dog and I;"
It is an easy philosophy; especially in the case of the horse, where a man cannot afford more than one, as I cannot. To own a stud of horses, after all, is not to own horses at all, but riding-machines. Your rich man who rides Crimea in the morning, Sir Guy in the afternoon, and Sultan to-morrow, and something else the next day, may be a very gallant rider; but it is a question whether be enjoys the pleasure which one horse gives to the poor man who rides him day after day; one horse, who is not a slave but a friend; who has learned all his tricks of voice, hand, heel, and knows what his mast wants, even without being told; who will bear with his master's infirmities, and feels secure that his master will bear with his in turn.
Possibly, after all, the grapes are sour; and were one rich one would do even as the rich are wont to do: but still, I an a minute philosopher. And therefore, this afternoon, after have I done the same work, visited the same people, and said the same words to them, which I have done for years past and shall, I trust, for many a year to come, I shall go wandering out into the same winter garden on the same old mare and think the same thoughts, and see the same fir-trees, and meet perhaps the same good fellows hunting of their fox, as I have done with full content this many a year; and rejoice, as I said before, in my own boundless wealth, who have the whole universe to, look at, without being charged one penny for the show.
As I have said, the grapes may be sour, and I enjoy the want of luxuries only because I cannot get them; but if my self deception be useful to me, leave it alone.
No one is less inclined to depreciate that magnificent winter garden at the Crystal Palace: yet let me, if I choose, prefer my own; I argue that, in the first place, it is far larger. You may drive, I hear, through the grand one at Chatsworth for a quarter of a mile. You may ride through mine for fifteen miles on end. I prefer, too, to any glass roof which Sir Joseph Paxton ever planned, that dome above my head some three miles high, of soft dappled gray and yellow cloud, through the vast lattice-work whereof the blue sky peeps, an sheds down tender gleams on yellow bogs, and softly rounded heather knolls, and pale chalk ranges gleaming far away. But, above all, I glory in my evergreens. What winter garden can compare for them with mine? True, I have but four kinds -- Scotch fir, holly, furze, and the heath; and by way of relief to them, only brows of brown fern, sheets of yellow bog-gras and here and there a leafless birch, whose purple tresses are even more lovely to my eye than those fragrant green ones which she puts on in spring. Well: in painting as in music what effects are more grand than those produced by the scientific combination, in endless new variety, of a few simple elements? Enough for me is the one purple birch; the bright hollies round its stem sparkling with scarlet beads; the furzepatch, rich with its lace-work of interwoven light and shade, tipped here and there with a golden bud; the deep soft heather carpet, which invites you to lie down and dream for hours; and behind all, the wall of red fir-stems, and the dark fir-roof with its jagged edges a mile long, against the soft gray sky.
An ugly, straight-edged, monotonous fir-plantation? Well, I like it, outside and inside. I need no saw-edge of mountain peaks to stir up my imagination with the sense of the sublime, while I can watch the saw-edge of those fir peaks against the red sunset. They are my Alps; little ones it may be: but after all, as I asked before, what is size? A phantom of our brain; an optical delusion. Grandeur, if you will consider wisely, consists in form, and not in size: and to the eye of the philosopher, the curve drawn on a paper two inches long is just as magnificent, just as symbolic of divine mysteries and melodies, as when embodied in the span of some cathedral roof. Have you eyes to see? Then lie down on the grass, and look near enough to see something more of what is to be seen; and you will find tropic jungles in every square foot of turf; mountain cliffs and debacles at the mouth of every rabbit burrow: dark strids, tremendous cataracts, "deep glooms and sudden glories," in every foot-broad rill which wanders through the turf. All is there for you to see, if you will but rid yourself of "that idol of space"; and Nature, as everyone will tell you who has seen dissected an insect under the microscope, is as grand and graceful in her smallest as in her hugest forms.
The March breeze is chilly: but I can be always warm if I like in my winter garden. I turn my horse's head to the red wall of fir-stems, and leap over the furze-grown bank into my cathedral, wherein if there be no saints, there are likewise no priestcraft and no idols, but endless vistas of smooth, red, green-veined shafts holding up the warm dark roof, lessening away into endless gloom, paved with rich brown fir-needle -- a carpet at which Nature has been at work for forty years. Red shafts, green roof, and here and there a pane of blue sky -- neither Owen Jones nor Willement can improve upon that ecclesiastical ornamentation -- while for incense I have the fresh healthy turpentine fragrance, far sweeter to my nostrils than the stifling narcotic odor which fills a Roman Catholic cathedral. There is not a breath of air within: but the breeze sighs over the roof above in a soft whisper. I shut my eyes and listen. Surely that is the murmur of the summer sea upon the summer sands in Devon far away. I hear the innumerable wavelets spend themselves gently upon the shore, and die away to rise again. And with the innumerable wave-sighs come innumerable memories, and faces which 1 shall never see again upon this earth. I will not tell even you of that, old friend.
It has two notes, two keys rather, that Aeolian harp of firneedles above my head; according as the wind is east or west, the needles dry or wet. This easterly key of to-day is shriller, more cheerful, warmer in sound, though the day itself be colder: but grander still, as well as softer, is the sad soughing key in which the southwest wind roars on, rain-laden, over the forest, and calls me forth -- being a minute philosopher -- to catch trout in the nearest chalk-stream.
The breeze is gone awhile; and I am in perfect silence -- a silence which may be heard. Not a sound; and not a moving object; absolutely none. The absence of animal life is solemn, startling. That ring dove, who was cooing half a mile away, has hushed his moan; that flock of long-tailed titmice, which were twinging and pecking about the fir-cones a few minutes since, are gone: and now there is not even a gnat to quiver in the slant sun-rays. Did a spider run over these dead leaves, I almost fancy I could hear his footfall. The creaking of the saddle, the soft step of the mare upon the fir-needles, jar my ears. I seem alone in a dead world. A dead world: and yet so full of life, if I had eyes to see! "Above my head, every firneedle is breathing -- breathing forever; currents unnumbered circulate in every bough, quickened by some undiscovered miracle; around me every fir-stem is distilling strange juices, which no laboratory of man can make; and where my dull eye sees only death, the eye of God sees boundless life and motion, health and use.
Slowly I wander on beneath the warm roof of the winter garden, and meditate upon that one word -- Life; and specially on all that Mr. Lewes2 has written so well thereon-for instance --
"We may consider Life itself as an ever-increasing identification with Nature. The simple cell, from which the plant or animal arises, must draw light and heat from the sun, nutriment from the surrounding world, or else it will remain quiescent, not alive, though latent with life; as the grains in the Egyptian tombs, which after lying thousands of years in those sepulchres, are placed in the earth, and smile forth as golden wheat. What we call growth, is it not a perpetual absorption of Nature, the identification of the individual with the universal? And may we not, in speculative moods, consider Death as the grand impatience of the soul to free itself from the circle of individual activity -- the yearning of the creature to be united with the Creator?True: yet not all the truth. But who knows all the truth?
As with Life, so with knowledge, which is intellectual life. In the early days of man's history, Nature and her marvelous ongoings were regarded with but a casual and careless eye, or else with the merest wonder. It was late before profound and reverent study of her laws could wean man from impatient speculations; and now, what is our intellectual activity based on, except on the more thorough mental absorption of Nature? When that absorption is completed the mystic drama will be sunny clear, and all Nature's processes be visible to man, as a Divine Effluence and Life."
Not I. "We see through a glass darkly," said St. Paul of old; and what is more, dazzle and weary our eyes, like clumsy microscopists, by looking too long and earnestly through the imperfect and by no means achromatic lens. Enough. I will think of something else. I will think of nothing at all --
Stay. There was a sound at last; a light footfall.
A hare races towards us through the ferns, her great bright eyes full of terror, her ears aloft to catch some sound behind. She sees us, turns short, and vanishes into the gloom. The mare pricks up her ears too, listens, and looks; but not the way the hare has gone. There is something more coming; I can trust the finer sense of the horse, to which (and no wonder) the Middle Age attributed the power of seeing ghosts and fairies impalpable to man's gross eyes. Besides, that hare was not traveling in search of food. She was not loping along, looking around to her right and left; but galloping steadily. She has been frightened; she has been put up: but what has put her up? And there, far away among the fir-stems, rings the shriek of a startled blackbird. What has put him up?
That, old mare, at sight whereof your wise eyes widen till they are ready to burst, and your ears are first shot forward towards your nose, and then laid back with vicious intent. Stand still, old woman! Do you think still, after fifteen winters, that you can catch a fox?
A fox it is indeed; a great dog-fox, as red as the fir-stems between which he glides. And yet his legs are black with fresh peat-stains.
He is a hunted fox; but he has not been up long.
The mare stands like a statue; but I can feel her trembling between my knees. Positively he does not see us. He sits down in the middle of a ride, turns his great ears right and left, and then scratches one of them with his hind foot, seemingly to make it hear the better. Now he is up again and on.
Beneath yon firs, some hundred yards away, standeth, or rather lieth, for it is on dead flat ground, the famous castle of Malepartus, which beheld the base murder of Lampe the hare, and many a seely soul besides. I knew it well; a patch of sandheaps, mingled with great holes, amid the twining fir-roots; ancient home of the last of the wild beasts. And thither, unto Malepartus safe and strong, trots Reinecke, where he hopes to be snug among the labyrinthine windings, and innumerable starting-holes, as the old apologue has it, of his ballium, covertway, and donjon keep. Full blown in self-satisfaction he trots, lifting his toes delicately, and carrying his brush aloft, as full of cunning and conceit as that world-famous ancestor of his, whose deeds of unchivalry were the delight, if not the model, of knight and kaiser, lady and burgber, in the Middle Age.
Suddenly he halts at the great gate of Malepartus; examines it with his nose; goes on to a postern; examines that also, and then another, and another; while I perceive afar, projecting from every cave's mouth, the red and green end of a new fir-faggot. Ah, Reinecke! fallen is thy conceit, and fallen thy tail therewith. Thou hast worse foes to deal with than Bruin the bear, or Isegrim the wolf, or any foolish brute whom thy great ancestor outwitted. Man the many-counseled has been beforehand with thee; and the earths are stopped.
One moment he sits down to meditate, and scratches those trusty counselors, his ears, as if he would tear them off, "revolving swift thoughts in a crafty mind."
He has settled it now. He is up and off-and at what a pace! Out of the way Fauns and Hamadryads, if any be left in the forest. What a pace! And with what a grace besides!
0 Reinecke, beautiful thou art, of a surety, in spite of thy great naughtiness! Art thou some fallen spirit, doomed to be hunted for thy sins in this life, and in some future life rewarded for thy swiftness, and grace, and cunning, by being made a very messenger of the immortals? Who knows? Not I.
I am rising fast to Pistol's vein. Shall I ejaculate? Shall notify? Shall I waken the echoes? Shall I break the grand silence by that scream which the vulgar view-halloo call?
It is needless; for louder and louder every moment swells up a sound which makes my heart leap into my mouth, and my mare into the air.
Music? Well-beloved soul of Hullah, would that thou wert here this day, and not in St. Martin's Hall, to hear that chorus, as it pours round the fir-stems, rings against the roof above, shatters up into a hundred echoes, till the air is alive with sound! You love madrigals, and whatever Weekes, or Wilbye, or Orlando Gibbons sang of old. So do I. Theirs is music fit for men: worthy of the age of heroes, of Drake and Raleigh, Spenser and Shakespeare: but oh, that you could hear this madrigal! If you must have "four parts," then there they are. Deep-mouthed bass, rolling along the ground; rich joyful tenor; wild wistful alto; and leaping up here and there above the throng of sounds, delicate treble shrieks and trills of trembling joy. I know not whether you can fit it into your laws of music, any more than You can the song of that Ariel sprite who dwells in the Aeolian harp, or the roar of the waves on the rock, or
"Myriads of rivulets hurrying through the lawn,But music it is. A madrigal? Rather a whole opera of "Der Freischutz" -- demoniac element and all -- to judge by those red lips, fierce eyes, wild, hungry voices; and such as should make Reinecke, bad be strong aesthetic sympathies, well content to be hunted from his cradle to his grave, that such sweet sounds might by him enrich the air. Heroes of old were glad to die, if but some vates-sacer would sing their fame in worthy strains: and shalt not thou too be glad, Reinecke? Content thyself with thy fate. Music soothes care; let it soothe thine, as thou runnest for thy life; thou shalt have enough of it in the next hour. For as the Etruscans (says Athenaeus) were so luxurious that they used to flog their slaves to the sound of the flute, so shall luxurious Chanter and Challenger, Sweetlips and Melody, eat thee to the sound of rich organ-pipes, that so thou mayest,
And murmuring of innumerable bees."
"Like that old fabled swan, in music die."And now appear, dim at first and distant, but brightening an nearing fast, many a right good-fellow and many a right good horse. I know three out of four of them, their private histories, the private histories of their horses; and could tell you many a good story of them: but shall not, being an English gentleman, and not an American littérateur. They may not all be very clever, or very learned, or very anything except gallant men; but they are all good enough company for me, or anyone: and each has his own specialité, for which I like him. That huntsman I have known for fifteen years, and sat many an hour beside his father's death-bed. I am godfather to that whip's child. I have seen the servants of the hunt, as I have the hounds, grow up round me for two generations, and I feel for them as old friends; and like to look into their brave, honest, weather-beaten faces. That red coat there, I knew him when he was a school-boy; and now he is a captain in the Guards, and won his Victoria Cross at Inkermann: that bright green coat is the best farmer, as well as the hardest rider, for many a mile round; one who plays, as he works, with all his might, and might have been a beau sabreur and colonel of dragoons. So might that black coat, who now brews good beer, and stands up for the poor at the Board of Guardians, and rides, like the green coat, as well as he works. That other black coat is a county banker; but he knows more of the fox than the fox knows of himself, and where the hounds are, there will he be this day. That red coat has hunted kangaroo Australia: that one, as clever and good as he is brave and simple, has stood by Napier's side in many an Indian, fight: that one won his Victoria at Delhi, and was cut up at Lucknow, with more than twenty wounds: that one has -- but what matter to you who each man is? Enough that each one can tell one a good story, welcome one cheerfully, and give one out here, in the wild forest, the wholesome feeling of being at home among friends.
There is music, again, if you will listen, in the soft tread of these hundred horse-hoofs upon the spongy vegetable soil. They are trotting now in "common time." You may hear the whole Croats' March (the finest trotting march in in world) played by those iron heels; the time, as it does in the Croats' March, breaking now and then, plunging, jingling, struggling through heavy ground, bursting for a moment into a jubilant canter as it reaches a sound spot.
The hounds feather a moment round Malepartus, puzzled by the windings of Reinecke's footsteps. You can hear the flap and snort of the dogs' nostrils as they canter round; and one likes it. It is exciting: but why -- who can tell?
What beautiful creatures they are too! Next to a Greek statue (I mean a real old Greek one: for I am a thoroughly anti-pre-Raphaelite benighted pagan heathen in taste, and intend some day to get up a Cinque-Cento Club, for the total abolition of Gothic art) -- next to a Greek statue, I say, I know few such combinations of grace and strength as in a fine foxhound. It is the beauty of the Theseus -- light and yet massive; and light not in spite of its masses, but on account of the perfect disposition of them. 1 do not care for grace in man, woman, or animal, which is obtained (as in the old German painters) at the expense of honest flesh and blood. It may be all very pure, and unearthly, and saintly, and what not; but it is not healthy; and, therefore, it is not really high art, let it call itself such as much as it likes. The highest art must be that in which the outward is the most perfect symbol of the inward; and, therefore, a healthy soul can be only expressed by a healthy body; and starved limbs and a hydrocephalous forehead must be either taken as incorrect symbols of spiritual excellence, or as -- what they were really meant for -- symbols of certain spiritual diseases which were in the Middle Age considered as ecclesiastical graces and virtues. Wherefore I like pagan and naturalist art; consider Titian and Correggio as unappreciated geniuses, whose excellences the world will in some saner mood rediscover; hold, in direct opposition to Rio, that Raphael improved steadily all his life through, and that his noblest works are not his somewhat simpering Madonnas and somewhat impish Bambinos (very lovely though they are), but his great, coarse, naturalist, Protestant cartoons, which (with Andrea Mantegna's "Heathen Triumph") Cromwell saved for the British nation. Probably no one will agree with all this for the next quarter of a century; but after that I have hopes. The world will grow tired of pretending to admire Manichaean pictures in an age of natural science; and Art will let the dead bury their dead, and beginning again where Michael Angelo and Raphael left off, work forward into a nobler, truer, freer, and more divine school than the world has yet seen-at least, so I hope.
And all this has grown out of those fox-hounds. Why not? Theirs is the sort of form which expresses to me what I want art to express -- nature not limited, but developed, by high civilization. The old savage ideal of beauty was the lion, type of mere massive force. That was succeeded by an over-civilized ideal, say the fawn, type of delicate grace. By cunning breeding and choosing, through long centuries, man has combined both, and has created the fox-hound -- lion and fawn in one; just as he might create noble human beings, did be take half as much trouble about politics (in the true old sense of the word) as he does about fowls. Look at that old hound, who stands doubtful, looking up at his master for advice. Look at the severity, delicacy, lightness of every curve. His bead is finer than a deer's; his hind legs tense as steel springs; his fore legs straight as arrows: and yet see the depth of chest, the sweep of loin, the breadth of paw, the mass of arm and thigh; and if you have an eye for form, look at the absolute majesty of his attitude at this moment. Majesty is the only word for it. If he were six feet high, instead of twenty-three inches, with what animal on earth could you compare him? Is it not a joy to see such a thing alive? It is to me, at least. I should like to have one in my study all day long, as I would have a statue or a picture; and when Mr. Morrell gave (as they say) two hundred guineas for Hercules alone, I believe the dog was well worth the money, only to look at. But I am a minute philosopher.
I cap them on to the spot at which Reinecke disappeared. Old Virginal's stern flourishes; instantly her pace quickens. One whimper, and she is away, full-mouthed through the wood, and the pack after her: but not I.
I am not going with them. My hunting days are over. Let it suffice that I have, in the days of my vanity, "drunk delight of battle with my peers, far on the ringing plains" of many a county, grass and forest, down and vale. No, my gallant friends. You know that I could ride, if I chose and I vain enough to be glad that you know it. But useless are your coaxings, solicitations, wavings of honest right hands. "Life," as my friend Tom Brown says, "is not all beer and skittles;" it is past two now and I have four old women to read to at three, and an old man to bury at four; and I think, on the whole, that you will respect me the more for going home and doing my duty. That I should like to see this fox fairly killed, or even fairly lost, I deny not. That I should like it as much as I can like any earthly and outward thing, I deny not. But sugar to one's bread and butter is not good; and if my winter garden represent the bread and butter then will fox-hunting stand to it in the relation of superfluous and unwholesome sugar; so farewell; and long may your noble sport prosper -- "the image of war with only half its danger," to train you and your sons after, into gallant soldiers -- full of
"The reason firm, the temperate will,So homeward I go through a labyrinth of fir-stem and, what is worse, fir-stumps, which need both my eyes and my horse's at every moment; and woe to the "anchorite," as old Bunbury names him, who carries his nose in the air, and his fore feet well under him. Woe to the self-willed or hard-hided horse who cannot take the slightest hint of the heel, and wince hind legs or fore out of the way of those jagged points which lie in wait for him. Woe, in fact, to all who are clumsy or cowardly, or in any wise not "masters of the situation."
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill."
Pleasant riding it is, though, if you dare look anywhere but over your horse's nose, under the dark roof, between the red fir-pillars, in that rich subdued light. Now I plunge into a gloomy dell, wherein is no tinkling rivulet, ever pure; but instead a bog, hewn out into a chess-board of squares, parted by deep narrow ditches some twenty feet apart. Blundering among the stems I go, fetlock-deep in peat, and jumping at every third stride one of the said uncanny gripes, half hidden in long hassock grass. 0 Aira caespitosa, most stately and most variable of British grasses, why will you always grow where you are not wanted? Through you the mare all but left her hinds legs in that last gripe. Through you a red coat ahead of me, avoiding one of your hassocks, jumped with his horse's nose full butt against a fir-stem, and stopped,
"As one that is struck deadas we shall soon, in spite of the mare's cleverness. Would we were out of this!
By lightning ere he falls,"
Out of it we shall be soon. I see daylight ahead at last, bright between the dark stems. Up a steep slope, and over a bank which is not very big, but being composed of loose gravel and peat mould, gives down with me, nearly sending me head over heels in the heather, and leaving me a sheer gap to scramble through, and out on the open moor.
Grand old moor! stretching your brown flats right away toward Windsor for many a mile. Far to our right is the new Wellington College, looking stately enough here all alone in the wilderness, in spite of its two ugly towers and pinched waist. Close over me is the long fir-fringed ride of Easthampstead, ending suddenly in Caesar's camp; and hounds and huntsmen are already far ahead, and racing up the Roman road, which the clods of these parts, unable to give a better account of it, call the Devil's Highway.
Racing indeed; for as Reinecke gallops up the narrow heather-fringed pathway, he brushes off his scent upon the twigs at every stride; and the hounds race after him, showing no head indeed, and keeping, for convenience, in one long line upon the track: but going heads up, sterns down, at a pace which no horse can follow. I only hope they may not overrun the scent.
They have overrun it; halt, and put their heads down a moment. But with one swift cast in full gallop they have hit it off again, fifty yards away in the heather, long ere the horse men are up to them; for those hounds can hunt a fox because they are not hunted themselves, and so have learned to trust themselves, and act for themselves; as boys should learn at school, even at the risk of a mistake or two. Now they are showing head indeed, down a half-cleared valley, and over a few ineffectual turnips withering in the peat, a patch of growing civilization in the heart of the wilderness; and then over the brook, while I turn slowly away, through a green wilderness of self-sown firs.
There they stand in thousands, the sturdy Scots, colonizing the desert in spite of frost, and gales, and barrenness; and clustering together, too, as Scotsmen always do abroad, little and big, everyone under his neighbor's lee, according to the good old proverb of their native land, "Caw me, and I'll caw thee."
I respect them, those Scotch firs. I delight in their forms, from James I's gnarled giants up in Brarmshill Park -- the only place in England where a painter can learn what Scotch firs are -- down to the little green pyramids which stand up out of the heather, triumphant over tyranny, and the strange woes of an untoward youth. Seven years on an average have most of them spent in ineffectual efforts to become a foot high. Nibbled off by hares, trodden down by cattle, cut down by turf-parers, seeing hundreds of their brethren cut up and carried off in the turf-fuel, they are as gnarled and stubbed near the ground as an old thorn-bush in a pasture. But they have conquered at last, and are growing away, eighteen inches a year, with fair green brushes silver-tipped, reclothing the wilderness with a vegetation which it has not seen for -- how many thousand years?
No man can tell. For when last the Scotch fir was indigenous to England, and, mixed with the larch, stretched in one vast forest from Norfolk into Wales, England was not as it is now. Snowdon was, it may be, fifteen thousand feet in height, and from the edges of its glaciers the marmot and the musk-ox, the elk and the bear, wandered down into the lowlands, and the hyena and the lion dwelt in those caves where fox and badger only now abide. And how did the Scotch fir die out? did the whole land sink slowly from its sub-Alpine elevation into a warmer climate below? Or was it never raised at all? Did some change of the Atlantic sea-floor turn for the first time the warm Gulf Stream to these shores; and with its soft sea-breezes melt away the "Age of Ice," till glaciers and pines, marmots and musk-oxen, perspired to death, and vanished for an aeon? Who knows? Not I. But of the fact there can be no doubt. Whether, as we hold traditionally here, the Scotch fir was reintroduced by James I when he built Bramshill for Raleigh's hapless pet, Henry the Prince, or whatever may have been the date of their reintroduction, here they are, and no one can turn them out. In countless thousands the winged seeds float down the southwest gales from the older trees; and every seed which falls takes root in ground which, however unable to bear broad-leaved trees, is ready by long re for the seeds of the needle-leaved ones. Thousands perish yearly; but the eastward march of the whole, up hill and down dale, is sure and steady as that of Lynceus's Goths in Goethe's "Helena" --
"Ein lang und breites Volksgewicht,--till, as you stand upon some eminence, you see, stretching to the eastward of each tract of older trees, a long cloud younger ones, like a green comet's tail -- I wish their substance was as yielding this day. Truly beautiful -- grand indeed to: it is -- to see young live Nature thus carrying on a great savage process in the heart of this old and seemingly all-artificial English land; and reproducing here, as surely as in the Australian bush, a native forest, careless of mankind. Still, I wish it were easier to ride through. Stiff are those Scotchmen, and close and stout they stand by each other, and claw at you as you twist through them, the biggest aiming at your head or, even worse, at your knees; while the middle-sized slip their brushes between your thigh and the saddle; and the little babies tickle your horse's stomach, or twine about his fore feet. Whish -- whish; we are enveloped in what seems an atmosphere scrubbing-brushes. Fain would I shut my eyes; but dare not, or I shall ride against a tree. Whish -- whish; alas for the horse which cannot wind and turn like a hare! Plunge -- stagger. What is this? A broad line of ruts; perhaps some Celtic trackway, two thousand years old, now matted over with firs; dangerous enough out on the open moor, when only masked by a line of higher and darker heath: but doubly dangerous now when masked by dark undergrowth. You must find your own way here, mare. I will positively have nothing to do with it. I disclaim all responsibility. There are the reins on your neck; do what you will, only do something -- and if you can, get forward, and not back.
Der erste wusstc vom letzen nicht.
Der erste fiel, der zweite stand,
Des dritten Lanze war zur Hand,
Ein jeder hundertfach gestärkt;
Erschlagene Tausend unbemerkt,"
There is daylight at last, and fresh air. I trot contemptuously through the advanced skirmishers of the Scotch invading army; and watch my friends some mile and a half off, who have threaded a practicable trackway through a long dreary yellow bog, too wet for firs to root in, and are away in "a streamer." Now a streamer is produced in this wise. There is but one possible gap in a bank, one possible ford in a brook; one possible path in a cover; and as each man has to wait till the man before him gets through, and then gallops on, each man loses twenty yards or more on the man before him: wherefore, by all laws of known arithmetic, if ten men tail through a gap, then will the last of the ten find himself two hundred yards behind the foremost, which process several times repeated, produces the phenomenon called a streamer, viz., twenty men galloping absurdly as hard as they can, in a line half a mile long, and in humors which are celestial in the few foremost, contented in the central, and gradually becoming darker in the hindmost; till in the last man they assume a hue altogether Tartarean. Farewell, brave gentlemen! I watch, half sadly, half self-contented, the red coats scattered like sparks of fire over hill and dale, and turn slowly homeward, to visit my old women.
I pass through a gateway, out upon a village green, planted with rows of oaks, surrounded by trim, sunny cottages, a pleasant oasis in the middle of the wilderness. Across the village cricket-ground -- we are great cricketers in these parts, and long may the good old game live among us; and then up another hollow lane, which leads between damp shaughs and copses toward the further moor.
Curious things to a minute philosopher are these same hollow lanes. They set him on archaeological questions, more than he can solve; and I meditate as I go, how many centuries it took to saw through the warm sandbanks this dyke ten feet deep, up which he trots, with the oak-boughs meeting over his head. Was it ever worth men's while to dig out the soil? Surely not. The old method must have been, to remove the softer upper spit, till they got to tolerably hard ground; and then, Macadam's metal being as yet unknown, the rains and the wheels of generations sawed it gradually deeper and deeper, till this road-ditch was formed. But it must have taken centuries to do it. Many of these hollow lanes, especially those on flat ground, must be as old or older than the Conquest. In Devonshire I am sure that they are. But there many of them, one suspects, were made not of malice, but of cowardice prepense. Your indigenous Celt was, one fears, a sneaking animal, and liked to keep when he could under cover of banks and hill-sides; while your bold Roman made his raised roads straight over hill and dale, as "ridge-ways" from which, as from an eagle's eyrie, he could survey the conquered lowlands far and wide. It marks strongly the difference between the two races, that difference between the Roman paved road with its established common way for all passengers, its regular stations and milestones, and the Celtic trackway winding irresolutely along in innumerable ruts, parting to meet again, as if each savage (for they were little better) had taken his own fresh path when he found the next line of ruts too heavy for his cattle. Around the spurs of Dartmoor I have seen many ancient roads, some of them long disused, which could have been hollowed out for no other purpose but that of concealment.
So I go slowly up the hill, till the valley lies beneath me like a long, green garden between its two banks of brown moor; and on through a cheerful little green, with red brick cottages scattered all round, each with its large, neat garden, and beehives, and pigs, and geese, and turf-stack, and clipped yews and hollies before the door, and rosy, dark-eyed children, and all the simple healthy comforts of a wild "heth-cropper's" home. When he can, the good-man of the house works at farm labor, or cuts his own turf; and when work is scarce, he cuts copses and makes heath-brooms, and does a little poaching. True, he seldom goes to church, save to be christened, married, or buried; but he equally seldom gets drunk. For church and public stand together two miles off; so that social wants sometimes bring their own compensations with them, and there are two sides to every question.
Hark! A faint, dreary hollo off the moor above. And then another, and another. My friends may trust it; for the clod of these parts delights in the chase like any bare-legged Paddy, and casts away flail and fork wildly, to run, shout, assist, and interfere in all possible ways, out of pure love. The descendant of many generations of broom-squires and deer-stealers, the instinct of sport is strong within him still, though no more of the King's deer are to be shot in the winter turnip-fields, or worse, caught by an apple-baited hook hung from an orchard bough. He now limits his aspirations to hares and pheasants, and too probably once in his life, "hits the keeper into the river," and reconsiders himself for awhile after over a crank in Winchester gaol. Well, he has his faults; and I have mine. But he is a thorough good-fellow nevertheless; quite as good as I: civil, contented, industrious, and often very handsome; and a far shrewder fellow too -- owing to his dash of wild forest blood, from gypsy, highwayman, and what not -- than his bulletheaded and flaxen-polled cousin, the pure South-Saxon of the Chalk-downs. Dark-haired he is, ruddy, and tall of bone; swaggering in his youth; but when he grows old, a thorough gentleman, reserved, stately, and courteous as a prince. Sixteen years have I lived with him hail fellow well met, and never yet had a rude word or action from him.
With him I have cast in my lot, to live and die, and be buried by his side; and to him I go home contented, to look after his petty interests, cares, sorrows -- petty truly, seeing that they include the whole primal mysteries of life -- food, raiment, and work to earn them withal; love and marriage, birth and death, right-doing and wrong-doing, "Schicksal und eigene Schuld"; and all those commonplaces of humanity which in the eyes of a minute philosopher are most divine, because they are most commonplace -- catholic as the sunshine and the rain which come down from the Heavenly Father, alike upon the evil and the good. As for doing fine things, my friend, with you, I have learned to believe that I am not set to do fine things, simply because I am not able to do them; and as for seeing fine things, with you, I have learned to see the sight as well as to try to do the duty -- which lies nearest me; and to comfort myself with the fancy that if I make good use of my eyes and brain in this life, I shall see -- if it be of any use to me -- all the fine things, or perhaps finer still, in the life to come. But if not -- what matter? In any life, in any state, however simple or humble, there will be always sufficient to occupy a minute philosopher: and if a man be busy, and busy about his duty, what more does he require, for time or for eternity?
1 Coming out of Magdalene College (Cambridge), Kingsley had intended to take up the law but abandoned that idea and entered the church becoming the rector at Eversley at Hampshire and spent the rest of his life there. He is best known for his novel, Westward Ho! which dealt with Elizabethan England and the Spanish Main.
2 Here, I imagine, Kingsley quotes George Henry Lewes (1817-78), English littérateur. Lewes was to study in Germany for a period of time and was to write Life and Works of Goethe (1855). He had a connection with George Eliot which lasted from 1854 through to Lewes' death in 1878.
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