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Essays of Travel by Robert Louis Stevenson

Part 4 out of 4

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certain troubled delight in his existence which can nowhere else be
paralleled. He is perhaps no happier, but he is stingingly alive.
It does not, perhaps, come out of him in work or exercise, yet he
feels an enthusiasm of the blood unknown in more temperate
climates. It may not be health, but it is fun.

There is nothing more difficult to communicate on paper than this
baseless ardour, this stimulation of the brain, this sterile
joyousness of spirits. You wake every morning, see the gold upon
the snow-peaks, become filled with courage, and bless God for your
prolonged existence. The valleys are but a stride to you; you cast
your shoe over the hilltops; your ears and your heart sing; in the
words of an unverified quotation from the Scotch psalms, you feel
yourself fit 'on the wings of all the winds' to 'come flying all
abroad.' Europe and your mind are too narrow for that flood of
energy. Yet it is notable that you are hard to root out of your
bed; that you start forth, singing, indeed, on your walk, yet are
unusually ready to turn home again; that the best of you is
volatile; and that although the restlessness remains till night,
the strength is early at an end. With all these heady jollities,
you are half conscious of an underlying languor in the body; you
prove not to be so well as you had fancied; you weary before you
have well begun; and though you mount at morning with the lark,
that is not precisely a song-bird's heart that you bring back with
you when you return with aching limbs and peevish temper to your

It is hard to say wherein it lies, but this joy of Alpine winters
is its own reward. Baseless, in a sense, it is more than worth
more permanent improvements. The dream of health is perfect while
it lasts; and if, in trying to realise it, you speedily wear out
the dear hallucination, still every day, and many times a day, you
are conscious of a strength you scarce possess, and a delight in
living as merry as it proves to be transient.

The brightness--heaven and earth conspiring to be bright--the
levity and quiet of the air; the odd stirring silence--more
stirring than a tumult; the snow, the frost, the enchanted
landscape: all have their part in the effect and on the memory,
'tous vous tapent sur la tete'; and yet when you have enumerated
all, you have gone no nearer to explain or even to qualify the
delicate exhilaration that you feel--delicate, you may say, and yet
excessive, greater than can be said in prose, almost greater than
an invalid can bear. There is a certain wine of France known in
England in some gaseous disguise, but when drunk in the land of its
nativity still as a pool, clean as river water, and as heady as
verse. It is more than probable that in its noble natural
condition this was the very wine of Anjou so beloved by Athos in
the 'Musketeers.' Now, if the reader has ever washed down a
liberal second breakfast with the wine in question, and gone forth,
on the back of these dilutions, into a sultry, sparkling noontide,
he will have felt an influence almost as genial, although strangely
grosser, than this fairy titillation of the nerves among the snow
and sunshine of the Alps. That also is a mode, we need not say of
intoxication, but of insobriety. Thus also a man walks in a strong
sunshine of the mind, and follows smiling, insubstantial
meditations. And whether he be really so clever or so strong as he
supposes, in either case he will enjoy his chimera while it lasts.

The influence of this giddy air displays itself in many secondary
ways. A certain sort of laboured pleasantry has already been
recognised, and may perhaps have been remarked in these papers, as
a sort peculiar to that climate. People utter their judgments with
a cannonade of syllables; a big word is as good as a meal to them;
and the turn of a phrase goes further than humour or wisdom. By
the professional writer many sad vicissitudes have to be undergone.
At first he cannot write at all. The heart, it appears, is unequal
to the pressure of business, and the brain, left without
nourishment, goes into a mild decline. Next, some power of work
returns to him, accompanied by jumping headaches. Last, the spring
is opened, and there pours at once from his pen a world of blatant,
hustling polysyllables, and talk so high as, in the old joke, to be
positively offensive in hot weather. He writes it in good faith
and with a sense of inspiration; it is only when he comes to read
what he has written that surprise and disquiet seize upon his mind.
What is he to do, poor man? All his little fishes talk like
whales. This yeasty inflation, this stiff and strutting
architecture of the sentence has come upon him while he slept; and
it is not he, it is the Alps, who are to blame. He is not,
perhaps, alone, which somewhat comforts him. Nor is the ill
without a remedy. Some day, when the spring returns, he shall go
down a little lower in this world, and remember quieter inflections
and more modest language. But here, in the meantime, there seems
to swim up some outline of a new cerebral hygiene and a good time
coming, when experienced advisers shall send a man to the proper
measured level for the ode, the biography, or the religious tract;
and a nook may be found between the sea and Chimborazo, where Mr.
Swinburne shall be able to write more continently, and Mr. Browning
somewhat slower.

Is it a return of youth, or is it a congestion of the brain? It is
a sort of congestion, perhaps, that leads the invalid, when all
goes well, to face the new day with such a bubbling cheerfulness.
It is certainly congestion that makes night hideous with visions,
all the chambers of a many-storeyed caravanserai, haunted with
vociferous nightmares, and many wakeful people come down late for
breakfast in the morning. Upon that theory the cynic may explain
the whole affair--exhilaration, nightmares, pomp of tongue and all.
But, on the other hand, the peculiar blessedness of boyhood may
itself be but a symptom of the same complaint, for the two effects
are strangely similar; and the frame of mind of the invalid upon
the Alps is a sort of intermittent youth, with periods of
lassitude. The fountain of Juventus does not play steadily in
these parts; but there it plays, and possibly nowhere else.


No amateur will deny that he can find more pleasure in a single
drawing, over which he can sit a whole quiet forenoon, and so
gradually study himself into humour with the artist, than he can
ever extract from the dazzle and accumulation of incongruous
impressions that send him, weary and stupefied, out of some famous
picture-gallery. But what is thus admitted with regard to art is
not extended to the (so-called) natural beauties no amount of
excess in sublime mountain outline or the graces of cultivated
lowland can do anything, it is supposed, to weaken or degrade the
palate. We are not at all sure, however, that moderation, and a
regimen tolerably austere, even in scenery, are not healthful and
strengthening to the taste; and that the best school for a lover of
nature is not to the found in one of those countries where there is
no stage effect--nothing salient or sudden,--but a quiet spirit of
orderly and harmonious beauty pervades all the details, so that we
can patiently attend to each of the little touches that strike in
us, all of them together, the subdued note of the landscape. It is
in scenery such as this that we find ourselves in the right temper
to seek out small sequestered loveliness. The constant recurrence
of similar combinations of colour and outline gradually forces upon
us a sense of how the harmony has been built up, and we become
familiar with something of nature's mannerism. This is the true
pleasure of your 'rural voluptuary,'--not to remain awe-stricken
before a Mount Chimborazo; not to sit deafened over the big drum in
the orchestra, but day by day to teach himself some new beauty--to
experience some new vague and tranquil sensation that has before
evaded him. It is not the people who 'have pined and hungered
after nature many a year, in the great city pent,' as Coleridge
said in the poem that made Charles Lamb so much ashamed of himself;
it is not those who make the greatest progress in this intimacy
with her, or who are most quick to see and have the greatest gusto
to enjoy. In this, as in everything else, it is minute knowledge
and long-continued loving industry that make the true dilettante.
A man must have thought much over scenery before he begins fully to
enjoy it. It is no youngling enthusiasm on hilltops that can
possess itself of the last essence of beauty. Probably most
people's heads are growing bare before they can see all in a
landscape that they have the capability of seeing; and, even then,
it will be only for one little moment of consummation before the
faculties are again on the decline, and they that look out of the
windows begin to be darkened and restrained in sight. Thus the
study of nature should be carried forward thoroughly and with
system. Every gratification should be rolled long under the
tongue, and we should be always eager to analyse and compare, in
order that we may be able to give some plausible reason for our
admirations. True, it is difficult to put even approximately into
words the kind of feelings thus called into play. There is a
dangerous vice inherent in any such intellectual refining upon
vague sensation. The analysis of such satisfactions lends itself
very readily to literary affectations; and we can all think of
instances where it has shown itself apt to exercise a morbid
influence, even upon an author's choice of language and the turn of
his sentences. And yet there is much that makes the attempt
attractive; for any expression, however imperfect, once given to a
cherished feeling, seems a sort of legitimation of the pleasure we
take in it. A common sentiment is one of those great goods that
make life palatable and ever new. The knowledge that another has
felt as we have felt, and seen things, even if they are little
things, not much otherwise than we have seen them, will continue to
the end to be one of life's choicest pleasures.

Let the reader, then, betake himself in the spirit we have
recommended to some of the quieter kinds of English landscape. In
those homely and placid agricultural districts, familiarity will
bring into relief many things worthy of notice, and urge them
pleasantly home to him by a sort of loving repetition; such as the
wonderful life-giving speed of windmill sails above the stationary
country; the occurrence and recurrence of the same church tower at
the end of one long vista after another: and, conspicuous among
these sources of quiet pleasure, the character and variety of the
road itself, along which he takes his way. Not only near at hand,
in the lithe contortions with which it adapts itself to the
interchanges of level and slope, but far away also, when he sees a
few hundred feet of it upheaved against a hill and shining in the
afternoon sun, he will find it an object so changeful and
enlivening that he can always pleasurably busy his mind about it.
He may leave the river-side, or fall out of the way of villages,
but the road he has always with him; and, in the true humour of
observation, will find in that sufficient company. From its subtle
windings and changes of level there arises a keen and continuous
interest, that keeps the attention ever alert and cheerful. Every
sensitive adjustment to the contour of the ground, every little dip
and swerve, seems instinct with life and an exquisite sense of
balance and beauty. The road rolls upon the easy slopes of the
country, like a long ship in the hollows of the sea. The very
margins of waste ground, as they trench a little farther on the
beaten way, or recede again to the shelter of the hedge, have
something of the same free delicacy of line--of the same swing and
wilfulness. You might think for a whole summer's day (and not have
thought it any nearer an end by evening) what concourse and
succession of circumstances has produced the least of these
deflections; and it is, perhaps, just in this that we should look
for the secret of their interest. A foot-path across a meadow--in
all its human waywardness and unaccountability, in all the grata
protervitas of its varying direction--will always be more to us
than a railroad well engineered through a difficult country. {7}
No reasoned sequence is thrust upon our attention: we seem to have
slipped for one lawless little moment out of the iron rule of cause
and effect; and so we revert at once to some of the pleasant old
heresies of personification, always poetically orthodox, and
attribute a sort of free-will, an active and spontaneous life, to
the white riband of road that lengthens out, and bends, and
cunningly adapts itself to the inequalities of the land before our
eyes. We remember, as we write, some miles of fine wide highway
laid out with conscious aesthetic artifice through a broken and
richly cultivated tract of country. It is said that the engineer
had Hogarth's line of beauty in his mind as he laid them down. And
the result is striking. One splendid satisfying sweep passes with
easy transition into another, and there is nothing to trouble or
dislocate the strong continuousness of the main line of the road.
And yet there is something wanting. There is here no saving
imperfection, none of those secondary curves and little
trepidations of direction that carry, in natural roads, our
curiosity actively along with them. One feels at once that this
road has not has been laboriously grown like a natural road, but
made to pattern; and that, while a model may be academically
correct in outline, it will always be inanimate and cold. The
traveller is also aware of a sympathy of mood between himself and
the road he travels. We have all seen ways that have wandered into
heavy sand near the sea-coast, and trail wearily over the dunes
like a trodden serpent. Here we too must plod forward at a dull,
laborious pace; and so a sympathy is preserved between our frame of
mind and the expression of the relaxed, heavy curves of the
roadway. Such a phenomenon, indeed, our reason might perhaps
resolve with a little trouble. We might reflect that the present
road had been developed out of a tract spontaneously followed by
generations of primitive wayfarers; and might see in its expression
a testimony that those generations had been affected at the same
ground, one after another, in the same manner as we are affected
to-day. Or we might carry the reflection further, and remind
ourselves that where the air is invigorating and the ground firm
under the traveller's foot, his eye is quick to take advantage of
small undulations, and he will turn carelessly aside from the
direct way wherever there is anything beautiful to examine or some
promise of a wider view; so that even a bush of wild roses may
permanently bias and deform the straight path over the meadow;
whereas, where the soil is heavy, one is preoccupied with the
labour of mere progression, and goes with a bowed head heavily and
unobservantly forward. Reason, however, will not carry us the
whole way; for the sentiment often recurs in situations where it is
very hard to imagine any possible explanation; and indeed, if we
drive briskly along a good, well-made road in an open vehicle, we
shall experience this sympathy almost at its fullest. We feel the
sharp settle of the springs at some curiously twisted corner; after
a steep ascent, the fresh air dances in our faces as we rattle
precipitately down the other side, and we find it difficult to
avoid attributing something headlong, a sort of ABANDON, to the
road itself.

The mere winding of the path is enough to enliven a long day's walk
in even a commonplace or dreary country-side. Something that we
have seen from miles back, upon an eminence, is so long hid from
us, as we wander through folded valleys or among woods, that our
expectation of seeing it again is sharpened into a violent
appetite, and as we draw nearer we impatiently quicken our steps
and turn every corner with a beating heart. It is through these
prolongations of expectancy, this succession of one hope to
another, that we live out long seasons of pleasure in a few hours'
walk. It is in following these capricious sinuosities that we
learn, only bit by bit and through one coquettish reticence after
another, much as we learn the heart of a friend, the whole
loveliness of the country. This disposition always preserves
something new to be seen, and takes us, like a careful cicerone, to
many different points of distant view before it allows us finally
to approach the hoped-for destination.

In its connection with the traffic, and whole friendly intercourse
with the country, there is something very pleasant in that
succession of saunterers and brisk and business-like passers-by,
that peoples our ways and helps to build up what Walt Whitman calls
'the cheerful voice of the public road, the gay, fresh sentiment of
the road.' But out of the great network of ways that binds all
life together from the hill-farm to the city, there is something
individual to most, and, on the whole, nearly as much choice on the
score of company as on the score of beauty or easy travel. On some
we are never long without the sound of wheels, and folk pass us by
so thickly that we lose the sense of their number. But on others,
about little-frequented districts, a meeting is an affair of
moment; we have the sight far off of some one coming towards us,
the growing definiteness of the person, and then the brief passage
and salutation, and the road left empty in front of us for perhaps
a great while to come. Such encounters have a wistful interest
that can hardly be understood by the dweller in places more
populous. We remember standing beside a countryman once, in the
mouth of a quiet by-street in a city that was more than ordinarily
crowded and bustling; he seemed stunned and bewildered by the
continual passage of different faces; and after a long pause,
during which he appeared to search for some suitable expression, he
said timidly that there seemed to be a GREAT DEAL OF MEETING
THEREABOUTS. The phrase is significant. It is the expression of
town-life in the language of the long, solitary country highways.
A meeting of one with one was what this man had been used to in the
pastoral uplands from which he came; and the concourse of the
streets was in his eyes only an extraordinary multiplication of
such 'meetings.'

And now we come to that last and most subtle quality of all, to
that sense of prospect, of outlook, that is brought so powerfully
to our minds by a road. In real nature, as well as in old
landscapes, beneath that impartial daylight in which a whole
variegated plain is plunged and saturated, the line of the road
leads the eye forth with the vague sense of desire up to the green
limit of the horizon. Travel is brought home to us, and we visit
in spirit every grove and hamlet that tempts us in the distance.
Sehnsucht--the passion for what is ever beyond--is livingly
expressed in that white riband of possible travel that severs the
uneven country; not a ploughman following his plough up the shining
furrow, not the blue smoke of any cottage in a hollow, but is
brought to us with a sense of nearness and attainability by this
wavering line of junction. There is a passionate paragraph in
Werther that strikes the very key. 'When I came hither,' he
writes, 'how the beautiful valley invited me on every side, as I
gazed down into it from the hill-top! There the wood--ah, that I
might mingle in its shadows! there the mountain summits--ah, that I
might look down from them over the broad country! the interlinked
hills! the secret valleys! Oh to lose myself among their
mysteries! I hurried into the midst, and came back without finding
aught I hoped for. Alas! the distance is like the future. A vast
whole lies in the twilight before our spirit; sight and feeling
alike plunge and lose themselves in the prospect, and we yearn to
surrender our whole being, and let it be filled full with all the
rapture of one single glorious sensation; and alas! when we hasten
to the fruition, when THERE is changed to HERE, all is afterwards
as it was before, and we stand in our indigent and cramped estate,
and our soul thirsts after a still ebbing elixir.' It is to this
wandering and uneasy spirit of anticipation that roads minister.
Every little vista, every little glimpse that we have of what lies
before us, gives the impatient imagination rein, so that it can
outstrip the body and already plunge into the shadow of the woods,
and overlook from the hill-top the plain beyond it, and wander in
the windings of the valleys that are still far in front. The road
is already there--we shall not be long behind. It is as if we were
marching with the rear of a great army, and, from far before, heard
the acclamation of the people as the vanguard entered some friendly
and jubilant city. Would not every man, through all the long miles
of march, feel as if he also were within the gates?


It is a difficult matter to make the most of any given place, and
we have much in our own power. Things looked at patiently from one
side after another generally end by showing a side that is
beautiful. A few months ago some words were said in the Portfolio
as to an 'austere regimen in scenery'; and such a discipline was
then recommended as 'healthful and strengthening to the taste.'
That is the text, so to speak, of the present essay. This
discipline in scenery, it must be understood, is something more
than a mere walk before breakfast to whet the appetite. For when
we are put down in some unsightly neighbourhood, and especially if
we have come to be more or less dependent on what we see, we must
set ourselves to hunt out beautiful things with all the ardour and
patience of a botanist after a rye plant. Day by day we perfect
ourselves in the art of seeing nature more favourably. We learn to
live with her, as people learn to live with fretful or violent
spouses: to dwell lovingly on what is good, and shut our eyes
against all that is bleak or inharmonious. We learn, also, to come
to each place in the right spirit. The traveller, as Brantome
quaintly tells us, 'fait des discours en soi pour soutenir en
chemin'; and into these discourses he weaves something out of all
that he sees and suffers by the way; they take their tone greatly
from the varying character of the scene; a sharp ascent brings
different thoughts from a level road; and the man's fancies grow
lighter as he comes out of the wood into a clearing. Nor does the
scenery any more affect the thoughts than the thoughts affect the
scenery. We see places through our humours as through differently
coloured glasses. We are ourselves a term in the equation, a note
of the chord, and make discord or harmony almost at will. There is
no fear for the result, if we can but surrender ourselves
sufficiently to the country that surrounds and follows us, so that
we are ever thinking suitable thoughts or telling ourselves some
suitable sort of story as we go. We become thus, in some sense, a
centre of beauty; we are provocative of beauty, much as a gentle
and sincere character is provocative of sincerity and gentleness in
others. And even where there is no harmony to be elicited by the
quickest and most obedient of spirits, we may still embellish a
place with some attraction of romance. We may learn to go far
afield for associations, and handle them lightly when we have found
them. Sometimes an old print comes to our aid; I have seen many a
spot lit up at once with picturesque imaginations, by a
reminiscence of Callot, or Sadeler, or Paul Brill. Dick Turpin has
been my lay figure for many an English lane. And I suppose the
Trossachs would hardly be the Trossachs for most tourists if a man
of admirable romantic instinct had not peopled it for them with
harmonious figures, and brought them thither with minds rightly
prepared for the impression. There is half the battle in this
preparation. For instance: I have rarely been able to visit, in
the proper spirit, the wild and inhospitable places of our own
Highlands. I am happier where it is tame and fertile, and not
readily pleased without trees. I understand that there are some
phases of mental trouble that harmonise well with such
surroundings, and that some persons, by the dispensing power of the
imagination, can go back several centuries in spirit, and put
themselves into sympathy with the hunted, houseless, unsociable way
of life that was in its place upon these savage hills. Now, when I
am sad, I like nature to charm me out of my sadness, like David
before Saul; and the thought of these past ages strikes nothing in
me but an unpleasant pity; so that I can never hit on the right
humour for this sort of landscape, and lose much pleasure in
consequence. Still, even here, if I were only let alone, and time
enough were given, I should have all manner of pleasures, and take
many clear and beautiful images away with me when I left. When we
cannot think ourselves into sympathy with the great features of a
country, we learn to ignore them, and put our head among the grass
for flowers, or pore, for long times together, over the changeful
current of a stream. We come down to the sermon in stones, when we
are shut out from any poem in the spread landscape. We begin to
peep and botanise, we take an interest in birds and insects, we
find many things beautiful in miniature. The reader will recollect
the little summer scene in Wuthering Heights--the one warm scene,
perhaps, in all that powerful, miserable novel--and the great
feature that is made therein by grasses and flowers and a little
sunshine: this is in the spirit of which I now speak. And,
lastly, we can go indoors; interiors are sometimes as beautiful,
often more picturesque, than the shows of the open air, and they
have that quality of shelter of which I shall presently have more
to say.

With all this in mind, I have often been tempted to put forth the
paradox that any place is good enough to live a life in, while it
is only in a few, and those highly favoured, that we can pass a few
hours agreeably. For, if we only stay long enough we become at
home in the neighbourhood. Reminiscences spring up, like flowers,
about uninteresting corners. We forget to some degree the superior
loveliness of other places, and fall into a tolerant and
sympathetic spirit which is its own reward and justification.
Looking back the other day on some recollections of my own, I was
astonished to find how much I owed to such a residence; six weeks
in one unpleasant country-side had done more, it seemed, to quicken
and educate my sensibilities than many years in places that jumped
more nearly with my inclination.

The country to which I refer was a level and tree-less plateau,
over which the winds cut like a whip. For miles and miles it was
the same. A river, indeed, fell into the sea near the town where I
resided; but the valley of the river was shallow and bald, for as
far up as ever I had the heart to follow it. There were roads,
certainly, but roads that had no beauty or interest; for, as there
was no timber, and but little irregularity of surface, you saw your
whole walk exposed to you from the beginning: there was nothing
left to fancy, nothing to expect, nothing to see by the wayside,
save here and there an unhomely-looking homestead, and here and
there a solitary, spectacled stone-breaker; and you were only
accompanied, as you went doggedly forward, by the gaunt telegraph-
posts and the hum of the resonant wires in the keen sea-wind. To
one who had learned to know their song in warm pleasant places by
the Mediterranean, it seemed to taunt the country, and make it
still bleaker by suggested contrast. Even the waste places by the
side of the road were not, as Hawthorne liked to put it, 'taken
back to Nature' by any decent covering of vegetation. Wherever the
land had the chance, it seemed to lie fallow. There is a certain
tawny nudity of the South, bare sunburnt plains, coloured like a
lion, and hills clothed only in the blue transparent air; but this
was of another description--this was the nakedness of the North;
the earth seemed to know that it was naked, and was ashamed and

It seemed to be always blowing on that coast. Indeed, this had
passed into the speech of the inhabitants, and they saluted each
other when they met with 'Breezy, breezy,' instead of the customary
'Fine day' of farther south. These continual winds were not like
the harvest breeze, that just keeps an equable pressure against
your face as you walk, and serves to set all the trees talking over
your head, or bring round you the smell of the wet surface of the
country after a shower. They were of the bitter, hard, persistent
sort, that interferes with sight and respiration, and makes the
eyes sore. Even such winds as these have their own merit in proper
time and place. It is pleasant to see them brandish great masses
of shadow. And what a power they have over the colour of the
world! How they ruffle the solid woodlands in their passage, and
make them shudder and whiten like a single willow! There is
nothing more vertiginous than a wind like this among the woods,
with all its sights and noises; and the effect gets between some
painters and their sober eyesight, so that, even when the rest of
their picture is calm, the foliage is coloured like foliage in a
gale. There was nothing, however, of this sort to be noticed in a
country where there were no trees and hardly any shadows, save the
passive shadows of clouds or those of rigid houses and walls. But
the wind was nevertheless an occasion of pleasure; for nowhere
could you taste more fully the pleasure of a sudden lull, or a
place of opportune shelter. The reader knows what I mean; he must
remember how, when he has sat himself down behind a dyke on a
hillside, he delighted to hear the wind hiss vainly through the
crannies at his back; how his body tingled all over with warmth,
and it began to dawn upon him, with a sort of slow surprise, that
the country was beautiful, the heather purple, and the far-away
hills all marbled with sun and shadow. Wordsworth, in a beautiful
passage of the 'Prelude,' has used this as a figure for the feeling
struck in us by the quiet by-streets of London after the uproar of
the great thoroughfares; and the comparison may be turned the other
way with as good effect:-

'Meanwhile the roar continues, till at length,
Escaped as from an enemy, we turn
Abruptly into some sequester'd nook,
Still as a shelter'd place when winds blow loud!'

I remember meeting a man once, in a train, who told me of what must
have been quite the most perfect instance of this pleasure of
escape. He had gone up, one sunny, windy morning, to the top of a
great cathedral somewhere abroad; I think it was Cologne Cathedral,
the great unfinished marvel by the Rhine; and after a long while in
dark stairways, he issued at last into the sunshine, on a platform
high above the town. At that elevation it was quite still and
warm; the gale was only in the lower strata of the air, and he had
forgotten it in the quiet interior of the church and during his
long ascent; and so you may judge of his surprise when, resting his
arms on the sunlit balustrade and looking over into the Place far
below him, he saw the good people holding on their hats and leaning
hard against the wind as they walked. There is something, to my
fancy, quite perfect in this little experience of my fellow-
traveller's. The ways of men seem always very trivial to us when
we find ourselves alone on a church-top, with the blue sky and a
few tall pinnacles, and see far below us the steep roofs and
foreshortened buttresses, and the silent activity of the city
streets; but how much more must they not have seemed so to him as
he stood, not only above other men's business, but above other
men's climate, in a golden zone like Apollo's!

This was the sort of pleasure I found in the country of which I
write. The pleasure was to be out of the wind, and to keep it in
memory all the time, and hug oneself upon the shelter. And it was
only by the sea that any such sheltered places were to be found.
Between the black worm-eaten head-lands there are little bights and
havens, well screened from the wind and the commotion of the
external sea, where the sand and weeds look up into the gazer's
face from a depth of tranquil water, and the sea-birds, screaming
and flickering from the ruined crags, alone disturb the silence and
the sunshine. One such place has impressed itself on my memory
beyond all others. On a rock by the water's edge, old fighting men
of the Norse breed had planted a double castle; the two stood wall
to wall like semi-detached villas; and yet feud had run so high
between their owners, that one, from out of a window, shot the
other as he stood in his own doorway. There is something in the
juxtaposition of these two enemies full of tragic irony. It is
grim to think of bearded men and bitter women taking hateful
counsel together about the two hall-fires at night, when the sea
boomed against the foundations and the wild winter wind was loose
over the battlements. And in the study we may reconstruct for
ourselves some pale figure of what life then was. Not so when we
are there; when we are there such thoughts come to us only to
intensify a contrary impression, and association is turned against
itself. I remember walking thither three afternoons in succession,
my eyes weary with being set against the wind, and how, dropping
suddenly over the edge of the down, I found myself in a new world
of warmth and shelter. The wind, from which I had escaped, 'as
from an enemy,' was seemingly quite local. It carried no clouds
with it, and came from such a quarter that it did not trouble the
sea within view. The two castles, black and ruinous as the rocks
about them, were still distinguishable from these by something more
insecure and fantastic in the outline, something that the last
storm had left imminent and the next would demolish entirely. It
would be difficult to render in words the sense of peace that took
possession of me on these three afternoons. It was helped out, as
I have said, by the contrast. The shore was battered and bemauled
by previous tempests; I had the memory at heart of the insane
strife of the pigmies who had erected these two castles and lived
in them in mutual distrust and enmity, and knew I had only to put
my head out of this little cup of shelter to find the hard wind
blowing in my eyes; and yet there were the two great tracts of
motionless blue air and peaceful sea looking on, unconcerned and
apart, at the turmoil of the present moment and the memorials of
the precarious past. There is ever something transitory and
fretful in the impression of a high wind under a cloudless sky; it
seems to have no root in the constitution of things; it must
speedily begin to faint and wither away like a cut flower. And on
those days the thought of the wind and the thought of human life
came very near together in my mind. Our noisy years did indeed
seem moments in the being of the eternal silence; and the wind, in
the face of that great field of stationary blue, was as the wind of
a butterfly's wing. The placidity of the sea was a thing likewise
to be remembered. Shelley speaks of the sea as 'hungering for
calm,' and in this place one learned to understand the phrase.
Looking down into these green waters from the broken edge of the
rock, or swimming leisurely in the sunshine, it seemed to me that
they were enjoying their own tranquillity; and when now and again
it was disturbed by a wind ripple on the surface, or the quick
black passage of a fish far below, they settled back again (one
could fancy) with relief.

On shore too, in the little nook of shelter, everything was so
subdued and still that the least particular struck in me a
pleasurable surprise. The desultory crackling of the whin-pods in
the afternoon sun usurped the ear. The hot, sweet breath of the
bank, that had been saturated all day long with sunshine, and now
exhaled it into my face, was like the breath of a fellow-creature.
I remember that I was haunted by two lines of French verse; in some
dumb way they seemed to fit my surroundings and give expression to
the contentment that was in me, and I kept repeating to myself -

'Mon coeur est un luth suspendu,
Sitot qu'on le touche, il resonne.'

I can give no reason why these lines came to me at this time; and
for that very cause I repeat them here. For all I know, they may
serve to complete the impression in the mind of the reader, as they
were certainly a part of it for me.

And this happened to me in the place of all others where I liked
least to stay. When I think of it I grow ashamed of my own
ingratitude. 'Out of the strong came forth sweetness.' There, in
the bleak and gusty North, I received, perhaps, my strongest
impression of peace. I saw the sea to be great and calm; and the
earth, in that little corner, was all alive and friendly to me.
So, wherever a man is, he will find something to please and pacify
him: in the town he will meet pleasant faces of men and women, and
see beautiful flowers at a window, or hear a cage-bird singing at
the corner of the gloomiest street; and for the country, there is
no country without some amenity--let him only look for it in the
right spirit, and he will surely find.


{1} The Second Part here referred to is entitled 'ACROSS THE
PLAINS,' and is printed in the volume so entitled, together with
other Memories and Essays.

{2} I had nearly finished the transcription of the following pages
when I saw on a friend's table the number containing the piece from
which this sentence is extracted, and, struck with a similarity of
title, took it home with me and read it with indescribable
satisfaction. I do not know whether I more envy M. Theuriet the
pleasure of having written this delightful article, or the reader
the pleasure, which I hope he has still before him, of reading it
once and again, and lingering over the passages that please him

{3} William Abercrombie. See Fasti Ecclesia Scoticanae, under
'Maybole' (Part iii.).

{4} 'Duex poures varlez qui n'ont nulz gages et qui gissoient la
nuit avec les chiens.' See Champollion--Figeac's Louis et Charles
d'Orleans, i. 63, and for my lord's English horn, ibid. 96.

{5} Reprinted by permission of John Lane.

{6} 'Jehovah Tsidkenu,' translated in the Authorised Version as
'The Lord our Righteousness' (Jeremiah xxiii. 6 and xxxiii. 16).

{7} Compare Blake, in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
'Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads, without
improvement, are roads of Genius.'

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