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EFORE taking leave of England, I traversed the counties
of Lancaster, Chester, Salop, Warwick, Oxford, Middlesex, Cambridge, Huntington, Kent, Bucks, Lincoln, York, Westmoreland and Cumberland, and traveling leisurely, had a good opportunity of seeing the English country, east, west, north and south. If I did not see the best, which most Englishmen insist is in Devonshire, I think I saw the worst, in the moors of Yorkshire, and plenty that was "fair to middling."
Of the beauty of Cheshire, where I first saw sunshine and green grass in England, and of the comparative excellence of Shropshire, I have already spoken, and I have alluded to the poverty of Warwick and the country between Stratford and London. Had I seen only that region, I should have come away with a poor opinion of English ground and English farming. Fortunately, I went farther and fared better.
The famous county of Kent I saw on a sunshiny morning, as I have before stated, in coming from Queenboro to London. It is a county of hills and dales, never monotonous on one hand, nor striking on the other. Its hop fields are its most remarkable agricultural feature.
It was September when I left London going north, and there was a keen reminder of autumn in the air, and the trees had already begun to dull and fade; the summer had been an uncommonly wet one, even for England, and one was constantly reminded by the temperature of an American October, although the harvest was in progress. Reapers of a peculiarly lumbering pattern were going in some fields, and in others I saw, for the first time in my life, gleaners; ragged, red-faced women, who, like Eugene Ware's geese and cranes, were “picking up the golden grains.” To one who had seen ears of corn enough wasted along the muddy roads of Illinois to feed England a week or so, this gleaning business looked like the depth of poverty. To make the “seeming" worse, I was told that gleaning was not as profitable as formerly. I suppose in the old times a kind-hearted husbandman, with a sickle or cradle, let fall a few stalks occasionally for pity's sake; but a reaping-machine has no bowels of compassion.
It happened that this very September, when this povertystricken spectacle so impressed me, was the rich man's holiday, for it was the opening of the shooting season, which the imposition of a new gun tax had made more genteel than ever. Bushes were stuck up in some pastures to indicate that the ground was reserved by Lord Somebodyorother, and that no other man, even with a stamped shot-gun, might blaze away therein. I saw some of this hunting. Four or five men moved in skirmishing order across a turnip field, with a boy carrying a game-bag, and popped away at birds which were as tame as cats. It was not nearly as exciting as the boy's pursuit of the ground-hog, and it lacked his excuse of dire necessity.
To get back to what I know about farming. The turnip fields are a great English institution; they seem to occupy the place filled by corn in America. The undemonstrative, cold, hard, solid, practical turnip is at home in England. I think it must have been invented there. The landscape everywhere is broken by the pale, watery green of turnip fields, affording the greatest possible contrast with the waving pomp of our Indian corn, handsomest of all agricultural productions. In England there is no corn, but there are turnips and turnips.
In the pastures reside in ease and opulence the glory of England, the cattle and sheep. Coming from a country where the farmers prefer to raise dogs, I was greatly interested in the British sheep, such great, white, broad-backed creatures were they. They scarcely seemed of the same species as the American sheep. Perhaps a republican form of government is not adapted to sheepraising; but certain it is, that under the British constitution, mutton is mutton, such as no Yankee ever dreamed of. The cattle in all the English counties all looked like the prize animals at our State fairs.
A novel feature on the route from London to Cambridge was the mustard fields, which comprised many acres. The great mustard man of England is named Colman; his posters meet you everywhere; he is one of the largest advertisers in the kingdom, and he lives in a palace. So much for smartness.
The succession of fields and pastures is often broken by the parks of the nobility. A park is simply an inclosed wood, such as cover about half of our Eastern States. These grounds were originally kept for the deer they contained, but I think they are now maintained for the enjoyment of that seclusion which an Englishman associates with dignity, power, glory, self-respect, and so on. A man's fortune or social position in England may be known by the number of bolts and that shut him in. When in merely comfortable circumstances, the man has between him and the public a small door-yard and an iron fence, and keeps his front door locked. A higher grade and a longer purse are designated by a large yard so full of shrubbery that you
cannot see the house, and a lock and bell to the front gate, which opens through a very high iron fence, suitable for a penitentiary. Greater grandeur manifests itself in the shape of a high stone wall around the premises, the top thereof bristling with broken glass set in mortar, to prevent any one from climbing up and looking over at the august owner; finally, a landed gentleman or nobleman incloses all the ground he can get hold of with a prison wall, devotes the ground to a wilderness, and lives in the middle of his forest, as happy as a most imperial snail in his ancestral shell. To get at him in this magnificent retreat, it is necessary to apply at the lodge gate, and to go through as many formalities as are requisite in order to see the Emperor of China, who is brother to the sun, uncle to the moon, and attorney for the planets generally.
Amid the expanse of pasture, field and park are scattered the little villages, which are numberless, and which bear a family resemblance all over the country. You see the gray, square tower of the village church above the trees, in whatever direction you turn your eyes. Along the line of the railways are dull old places, midway between a village and a town. They lack the life seen about American railway stations, for the arrival of a train is not much of an event where, as at Rugby Junction, for instance, four hundred trains pass every twenty-four hours. But of these, and more especially of rural villages, I shall speak further on.
It was a bright morning when I came to Cambridge, and stopped off to look at the university. It is hard to tell which is Cambridge and which is the university. Instead of the rows of educational barracks situated in a public square, with which we are familiar in America, the colleges are scattered all over town, and jammed in among the houses. Some are very old, and lighted with latticed windows, the little three-cornered panes set in leaden sashes; others are more modern in appearance, and some are even now building -or being built — for I forget which Mr. Richard Grant White has decided upon. The old quadrangles, the inclosures of brightest turf shining in contrast with timeblackened old walls, are lovely spots. Cambridge, too, is full of grand old trees - nobody knows how old - under which successive generations of students have strayed. Cambridge is a sweet, quiet old town, and doubtless is fondly remembered by men, in blooming youth and wintry age, in every clime and by the shores of every sea.
Once in Cambridgeshire, the country changes and spreads out in great plains toward the sea. I looked over the low-lying country in the shimmering light of the afternoon, and it looked like that land of which one says that "it seemed always afternoon." Wide fields stretched away, and the sky-line was broken by white wind-mills, like lighthouses for the land. And through this smiling region I came to St. Ives.
I had been followed all over England by scraps of nursery rhymes, and St. Ives had long before been introduced to me by a certain verse which records that, “As I was going to St. Ives, I met seven wives: every wife had seven sacks; every sack had seven cats; every cat had seven kits.” In respectful remembrance of the kits, cats, sacks and wives, and also to deliver a letter intrusted to me, I too went to St. Ives.