Part 4 out of 4
port, and its inward seas are narrow--and the fares are ridiculously
low. If you are a young man you can go almost anywhere for almost
anything, sitting up by night on deck, and not expecting too much
courtesy. But, of course, if you shirk the sea you are a prisoner.
Well, then, supposing you abroad, or even in some other part of this
highly varied kingdom in which you live, and supposing you to have
reached some chosen place by some common road--what I desire to dilate
upon here is the truth which every little excursion of business or of
leisure (and precious few of leisure) makes me more certain of every
day: That just a little way off the road is fairyland.
It was exactly three days ago that I had occasion to go down the railway
line that is the most frequented in Europe: I was on business, not
leisure, but in the business I had two days' leisure, and I did what I
would advise all other men to do in such a circumstance.
I took a train to nowhere, fixing my starting-point thus:--
I first looked at the map and saw where nearest to me was a
quadrilateral bare of railways. This formula, to look for a
quadrilateral bare of railways, is a very useful formula for the man who
is seeking another world. Then I fixed at random upon one little
roadside station upon the main line; I determined to get out there and
to walk aimlessly and westward until I should strike the other side of
the quadrilateral. I made no plan, not even of the hours of the day.
I came into my roadside station at half-past eight of the long summer
night, broad daylight that is, but with night advancing. I got out and
began my westward march. At once there crowded upon me any number of
unexpected and entertaining things!
The first thing I found was a street which was used by horses as well as
by men, and yet was made up of broad steps. It was a sort of stair-case
going up a hill. At the top of it I found a woman leading a child by the
hand. I asked her the name of the steps. She told me they were called
"The Steps of St. John."
A quarter of a mile further down the narrow lane I saw to my
astonishment an enormous castle, ruined and open to the sky. There are
many such ruins famous in Europe, but of this one I had never even
heard. I went lonely under the evening and looked at its main gate and
saw on it a moulded escutcheon, carved, and the motto in French,
"Henceforward," which word made me think a great deal, but resolved no
problem in my mind.
I went on again westward as the darkness fell and saw what I had not
seen before, though my reading had told me of its existence, a long line
of trees marking a ridge on the horizon, which line was the border of
that ancient road the Roman soldiers built leading from the west into
Amiens. "Along that road," thought I, "St. Martin rode before he became
a monk, and while he was yet a soldier and was serving under Julian the
Apostate. Along that road he came to the west gate of Amiens and there
cut his cloak in two and gave the half of it to a beggar."
The memory of St. Martin's deed entertained me for some miles of my way,
and I remembered how, when I was a child, it had seemed to me ridiculous
to cut your coat in two whether for a beggar or for anybody else. Not
that I thought charity ridiculous--God forbid!--but that a coat seemed
to me a thing you could not cut in two with any profit to the user of
either half. You might cut it in latitude and turn it into an Eton
jacket and a kilt, neither of much use to a Gallo-Roman beggar. Or you
might cut it in meridian and leave but one sleeve: mere folly.
Considering these things, I went on over the rolling plateau. I saw a
great owl flying before me against the sky, different from the owls of
home. I saw Jupiter shining above a cloud and Venus shining below one.
The long light lingered in the north above the English sea. At last I
came quite unexpectedly upon that delight and plaything of the French: a
light railway, or steam tram such as that people build in great
profusion to link up their villages and their streams. The road where I
came upon it made a level crossing, and there was a hut there, and a
woman living in it who kept the level crossing and warned the
passers-by. She told me no more trains, or rather little trams, would
pass that night, but that three miles further on I should come to a
place called "The Mills of the Vidame."
Now the name "Vidame" reminded me that a "Vidame" was the lay protector
of a Cathedral Chapter in feudal times, so the name gave me a renewed
But it was now near midnight, and when I came to this village I
remembered how in similar night walks I had sometimes been refused
lodging. When I got among the few houses all was dark. I found, however,
in the darkness two young men, each bearing an enormous curled trumpet
of the kind which the French call _cors de chasse_, that is,
hunting horns, so I asked them where the inn was. They took me to it and
woke up the hostess, who received us with oaths. This she did lest the
young men with hunting horns should demand a commission. Her heart,
however, was better than her mouth, and she put me up, but she charged
me tenpence for my room, counting coffee in the morning, which was, I am
sure, more than her usual rate.
Next day I took the little steam tram away from the place and went on
vaguely whither it should please God to take me, until the plateau
changed and the light railway fell into a charming valley, and, seeing a
town rooted therein, I got out and paid my fare and visited the town. In
this town I went to church, as it was early morning (you must excuse the
foible), and, coming out of church, I had an argument with a working man
upon the matter of religion, in which argument, as I believe, I was the
victor. I then went on north out of this town and came into a wood of
enormous size. It was miles and miles across, and the trees were higher
than anything I have seen outside of California. It was an enchanted
wood. The sun shone down through a hundred feet of silence by little
rounds between the leaves, and there was silence everywhere. In this
wood I sojourned all day long, making slowly westward, till, in the very
midst of it, I found a troubled man. He was a man of middle age, short,
intelligent, fat, and weary. He said to me:
"Have you noticed any special mark upon the trees? A white mark of the
"No," said I. "Are there any wild boars in this forest?"
"Yes," he answered, "a few, but not of use. I am looking for trees
marked in white with the number 90. I have paid a price for them, and I
cannot find them."
I saluted him and went on my way. At last I came to an open clearing,
where there was a town, and in the town I found a very delightful inn,
where they would cook anything one felt inclined for, within reason, and
charged one very moderately indeed. I have retained its name.
By this time I was completely lost, and in the heart of Fairyland, when
suddenly I remembered that everyone that strikes root in Fairyland loses
something, at the least his love and at the worst his soul, and that it
is a perilous business to linger there, so I asked them in that hotel
how they worked it when they wanted to go west into the great towns.
They put me into an omnibus, which charged me fourpence for a journey of
some two miles. It took me, as Heaven ordained, to a common great
railway, and that common great railway took me through the night to the
town of Dieppe, which I have known since I could speak and before, and
which was about as much of Fairyland to me as Piccadilly or Monday
Thus ended those two days, in which I had touched again the unknown
places--and all that heaven was but two days, and cost me not fifty
Excuse the folly of this.
I wish I had been one of those men who first sailed beyond the Pillars
of Hercules and first saw, as they edged northward along a barbarian
shore, the slow swinging of the sea. How much, I wonder, did they think
themselves enlarged? How much did they know that all the civilization
behind them, the very ancient world of the Mediterranean, was something
protected and enclosed from which they had escaped into an outer world?
And how much did they feel that here they were now physically caught by
the moving tides that bore them in the whole movement of things?
For the tide is of that kind; and the movement of the sea four times
daily back and forth is a consequence, a reflection, and a part of the
ceaseless pulse and rhythm which animates all things made and which
links what seems not living to what certainly lives and feels and has
power over all movement of its own. The circuits of the planets stretch
and then recede. Their ellipses elongate and flatten again to the
semblance of circles. The Poles slowly nod once every many thousand
years, there is a libration to the moon; and in all this vast harmonious
process of come and go the units of it twirl and spin, and, as they
spin, run more gravely in ordered procession round their central star:
that star moves also to a beat, and all the stars of heaven move each in
times of its own as well, and their movement is one thing altogether.
Whoever should receive the mighty business moving in one ear would get
the music of it in a perfect series of chords, superimposed the one upon
the other, but not a tremble of them out of tune.
The great scheme is not infinite, for were it infinite such rhythms
could not be. It was made, and it moves in order to the scheme of its
making without caprice, not wayward anywhere, but in and out and back
and forth as to a figure set for it. It must be so, or these exact
arrangements could not be.
Now with this regulated breathing and expiration, playing itself out in
a million ways and co-extensive with the universe of things, the tides
keep time, and they alone of earthly things bring its actual force to
our physical perception, to our daily life. We see the sea in movement
and power before us heaving up whatever it may bear, and we feel in an
immediate way its strong backward sagging when the rocks appear above it
as it falls. We have our hand on the throb of the current turning in a
salting river inland between green hills; we are borne upon it bodily as
we sail, its movement kicks the tiller in our grasp, and the strength
beneath us and around us, the rush and the compulsion of the stream, its
silence and as it were its purpose, all represent to us, immediately and
here, that immeasurable to and fro which rules the skies.
When the Roman soldiers came marching northward with Caesar and first
saw the shores of ocean: when, after that occupation of Gaul which has
changed the world, they first mounted guard upon the quays of the Itian
port under Gris-Nez, or the rocky inlets of the Veneti by St. Malo and
the Breton reefs, they were appalled to see what for centuries chance
traders and the few curious travellers, the men of Marseilles and of the
islands, had seen before them. They saw in numbers and in a corporate
way what hitherto individuals alone had seen; they saw the sea like a
living thing, advancing and retreating in an ordered dance, alive with
deep sighs and intakes, and ceaselessly proceeding about a work and a
doing which seemed to be the very visible action of an unchanging will
still pleased with calculated change. It was the presence of the Roman
army upon the shores of the Channel which brought the Tide into the
general conscience of Europe, and that experience, I think, was among
the greatest, perhaps the greatest, of those new things which rushed
upon the mind of the Empire when it launched itself by the occupation of
The tide, when it is mentioned in brief historical records of times long
since, suddenly strikes one with vividness and with familiarity, so that
the past is introduced at once, presented to us physically, and obtruded
against our modern senses alive. I know of no other physical thing
mentioned in this fashion, in chronicle or biography, which has so
powerful an effect to restore the reality of a dead century.
The Venerable Bede is speaking in one place of Southampton Water, in his
ecclesiastical history, or, rather, of the Isle of Wight, whence those
two Princes were baptized and died under Cadwalla. As the historian
speaks of the place he says:
"In this sea" (which is the Solent) "comes a double tide out of the seas
which spring from the infinite ocean of the Arctic surrounding all
And he tells us how these double tides rush together and fight together,
sweeping as they do round either side of the island by the Needles and
by Spithead into the land-locked sheet within.
Now that passage in Bede's fourth book is more real to me than anything
in all his chronicle, for in Southampton Water to-day the living thing
which we still note as we sail is the double tide. You take a falling
tide at the head of the water, near Southampton Town, and if you are not
quick with your business it is checked in two hours and you meet a
strange flood, the second flood, before you have rounded Calshott
Then there is a Charter of Newcastle. Or, rather, the inviolable Customs
of that town, very old, drawn up nearly eight hundred years ago, but
beginning from far earlier; and in these customs you find written:
"If a plea shall arise between a burgess and a merchant it must be
determined before the third flowing of the sea"--that is, within three
tides; a wise provision! For thus the merchant would not miss the last
tide of the day after the quarrel. How living it is, a phrase of that
sort coming in the midst of those other phrases!
All the rest, worse luck, has gone. Burgage-tenure, and the economic
independence of the humble, and the busy, healthy life of men working to
enrich themselves, not others, and that corporate association which was
the blood of the Middle Ages, and the power of popular opinion, and, in
general, freedom. But out of all these things that have perished, the
tide remains, and in the eighteen clauses of the Customs, the tidal
clause alone stands fresh and still has meaning. The capital, great
clinching clause by which men owned their own land within the town has
gone utterly and altogether. The modern workman on the Tyne would not
understand you perhaps, to whom in that very place you should say, "Many
centuries ago the men that came before you here, your fathers, were not
working precariously at a wage, or paying rent to others, but living
under their own roofs and working for themselves." There is only one
passage in the document that all could understand in Newcastle
to-day--the very few rich who are hardly secure, the myriads of poor who
are not secure at all--and that passage is the passage which talks of
the third tide; for even to-day there is some good we have left
undestroyed and the sea still ebbs and flows.
This little note of the Newcastle men, and of the flowing and the ebbing
of their sea, is to be found, you say, in the archives of England? Not
at all! It is to be found in the Acts of the Parliament of Scotland--at
least, so my book assures me, but why I do not know. Perhaps of the
times when between Tyne and Tees, men looked northward and of the times
when they looked southward (for they alternately did one and the other
during many hundreds of years) those times when they looked northward
seemed the more natural to them. Anyhow, the reference is to the Acts of
the Parliament of Scotland, and that is the end of it.
On a Great Wind
It is an old dispute among men, or rather a dispute as old as mankind,
whether Will be a cause of things or no; nor is there anything novel in
those moderns who affirm that Will is nothing to the matter, save their
ignorant belief that their affirmation is new.
The intelligent process whereby I know that Will not seems but is, and
can alone be truly and ultimately a cause, is fed with stuff and
strengthens sacramentally as it were, whenever I meet, and am made the
companion of, a great wind.
It is not that this lively creature of God is indeed perfected with a
soul; this it would be superstition to believe. It has no more a person
than any other of its material fellows, but in its vagary of way, in the
largeness of its apparent freedom, in its rush of purpose, it seems to
mirror the action of mighty spirit. When a great wind comes roaring over
the eastern flats towards the North Sea, driving over the Fens and the
Wringland, it is like something of this island that must go out and
wrestle with the water, or play with it in a game or a battle; and when,
upon the western shores, the clouds come bowling up from the horizon,
messengers, outriders, or comrades of a gale, it is something of the sea
determined to possess the land. The rising and falling of such power,
its hesitations, its renewed violence, its fatigue and final repose--all
these are symbols of a mind; but more than all the rest, its exultation!
It is the shouting and the hurrahing of the wind that suits a man.
Note you, we have not many friends. The older we grow and the better we
can sift mankind, the fewer friends we count, although man lives by
friendship. But a great wind is every man's friend, and its strength is
the strength of good-fellowship; and even doing battle with it is
something worthy and well chosen. If there is cruelty in the sea, and
terror in high places, and malice lurking in profound darkness, there is
no one of these qualities in the wind, but only power. Here is strength
too full for such negations as cruelty, as malice, or as fear; and that
strength in a solemn manner proves and tests health in our own souls.
For with terror (of the sort I mean--terror of the abyss or panic at
remembered pain, and in general, a losing grip of the succours of the
mind), and with malice, and with cruelty, and with all the forms of that
Evil which lies in wait for men, there is the savour of disease. It is
an error to think of such things as power set up in equality against
justice and right living. We were not made for them, but rather for
influences large and soundly poised; we are not subject to them but to
other powers that can always enliven and relieve. It is health in us, I
say, to be full of heartiness and of the joy of the world, and of
whether we have such health our comfort in a great wind is a good test
indeed. No man spends his day upon the mountains when the wind is out,
riding against it or pushing forward on foot through the gale, but at
the end of his day feels that he has had a great host about him. It is
as though he had experienced armies. The days of high winds are days of
innumerable sounds, innumerable in variation of tone and of intensity,
playing upon and awakening innumerable powers in man. And the days of
high wind are days in which a physical compulsion has been about us and
we have met pressure and blows, resisted and turned them; it enlivens us
with the simulacrum of war by which nations live, and in the just
pursuit of which men in companionship are at their noblest.
It is pretended sometimes (less often perhaps now than a dozen years
ago) that certain ancient pursuits congenial to man will be lost to him
under his new necessities; thus men sometimes talk foolishly of horses
being no longer ridden, houses no longer built of wholesome wood and
stone, but of metal; meat no more roasted, but only baked; and even of
stomachs grown too weak for wine. There is a fashion of saying these
things, and much other nastiness. Such talk is (thank God!) mere folly;
for man will always at last tend to his end, which is happiness, and he
will remember again to do all those things which serve that end. So it
is with the uses of the wind, and especially the, using of the wind with
No man has known the wind by any of its names who has not sailed his own
boat and felt life in the tiller. Then it is that a man has most to do
with the wind, plays with it, coaxes or refuses it, is wary of it all
along; yields when he must yield, but comes up and pits himself again
against its violence; trains it, harnesses it, calls it if it fails him,
denounces it if it will try to be too strong, and in every manner
conceivable handles this glorious playmate.
As for those who say that men did but use the wind as an instrument for
crossing the sea, and that sails were mere machines to them, either they
have never sailed or they were quite unworthy of sailing. It is not an
accident that the tall ships of every age of varying fashions so
arrested human sight and seemed so splendid. The whole of man went into
their creation, and they expressed him very well; his cunning, and his
mastery, and his adventurous heart. For the wind is in nothing more
capitally our friend than in this, that it has been, since men were men,
their ally in the seeking of the unknown and in their divine thirst for
travel which, in its several aspects--pilgrimage, conquest, discovery,
and, in general, enlargement--is one prime way whereby man fills himself
I love to think of those Norwegian men who set out eagerly before the
north-east wind when it came down from their mountains in the month of
March like a god of great stature to impel them to the West. They pushed
their Long Keels out upon the rollers, grinding the shingle of the beach
at the fjord-head. They ran down the calm narrows, they breasted and
they met the open sea. Then for days and days they drove under this
master of theirs and high friend, having the wind for a sort of captain,
and looking always out to the sea line to find what they could find. It
was the springtime; and men feel the spring upon the sea even more
surely than they feel it upon the land. They were men whose eyes, pale
with the foam, watched for a landfall, that unmistakable good sight
which the wind brings us to, the cloud that does not change and that
comes after the long emptiness of sea days like a vision after the
sameness of our common lives. To them the land they so discovered was
We have no cause to regret the youth of the world, if indeed the world
were ever young. When we imagine in our cities that the wind no longer
calls us to such things, it is only our reading that blinds us, and the
picture of satiety which our reading breeds is wholly false. Any man
to-day may go out and take his pleasure with the wind upon the high
seas. He also will make his landfalls to-day, or in a thousand years;
and the sight is always the same, and the appetite for such discoveries
is wholly satisfied even though he be only sailing, as I have sailed,
over seas that he has known from childhood, and come upon an island far
away, mapped and well known, and visited for the hundredth time.
If you ask me why it is now three weeks since I received your letter
and why it is only today that I answer it, I must tell you the truth
lest further things I may have to tell you should not be worthy of your
dignity or of mine. It was because at first I dared not, then later I
reasoned with myself, and so bred delay, and at last took refuge in more
delay. I will offer no excuse: I will not tell you that I suffered
illness, or that some accident of war had taken me away from this old
house, or that I have but just returned from a journey to my hill and my
view over the Plain and the great River.
Your messenger I have kept, and I have entertained him well. I looked at
him a little narrowly at his first coming, thinking perhaps he might be
a gentleman of yours, but I soon found that he was not such, and that he
bore no disguise, but was a plain rider of your household. I put him in
good quarters by the Hunting Stables. He has had nothing to do but to
await my resolution, which is now at last taken, and which you receive
But how shall I begin, or how express to you what not distance but a
slow and bitter conclusion of the mind has done?
I shall not return to Meudon. I shall not see the woods, the summer
woods turning to autumn, nor follow the hunt, nor take pleasure again in
what is still the best of Europe at Versailles. And now that I have said
it, you must read it so; for I am unalterably determined. Believe me, it
is something much more deep than courtesy which compels me to give you
my reasons for this final and irrevocable doom.
We were children together. Though we leant so lightly in our
conversations of this spring upon all we knew in common, I know your age
and all your strong early experience--and you know mine. Your mother
will recall that day's riding when I came back from my first leave and
you were home, not, I think, for good, from the convent. A fixed
domestic habit blinded her, so that she could then still see in us no
more than two children; yet I was proud of my sword, and had it on, and
you that day were proud of a beauty which could no longer be hidden even
from yourself; I would then have sacrificed, and would now, all I had or
was or had or am to have made that beauty immortal.
I say, you remember that day's riding, and how after it the world was
changed for you and me, and how that same evening the elders saw that it
You will remember that for two years we were not allowed to meet again.
When the two years were passed we met indeed by a mere accident of that
rich and tedious life wherein we were both now engaged. I was returned
from leave before Tournay; you had heard, I think, a false report that I
had been wounded in the dreadful business at Fontenoy (which to remember
even now horrifies me a little). I had heard and knew which of the great
names you now bore by marriage. The next day it was your husband who
rode with me to Marly. I liked him well enough. I have grown to like him
better. He is an honest man, though I confess his philosophers weary me.
When I say "an honest man" I am giving the highest praise I know.
My dear, that was sixteen years ago.
You may not even now understand, so engrossing is the toilsome and
excited ritual of that rich world at Versailles, how blest you are: your
children are growing round you: your daughters are beginning to reveal
your own beauty, and your sons will show in these next years immediately
before us that temper which in you was a spirit and a height of being,
and in them, men, will show as plain courage. During that long space of
years your house has remained well ordered (it was your husband's
doing). His great fortune and yours have jointly increased: if I may
tell you so, it is a pleasure to all who understand fitness to know that
this is so, and that your lineage and his will hold so great a place in
As you review those sixteen years you may, if you will--I trust you will
not--recall those occasions when I saw the woods of Meudon and mixed by
chance with your world, and when we renewed the rides which had ended
our childhood. As for me I have not to recall those things. They are,
alas, myself, and beyond them there is nothing that I can call a memory
or a being at all. Nevertheless, as I have told you, I shall not come to
Meudon: I shall not hear again the delightful voices of those many
friends (now in mid-life as am I) who are my equals at Versailles. I
shall not see your face.
I did not take service with the Empire from any pique or folly, but from
a necessity for adventure and for the refounding of my house. It might
have chanced that I should marry: the land demanded an heir. My
impoverishment weighed upon me like an ill deed, for all this belt of
land is dependent upon the old house, which I can with such difficulty
retain and from which I write to-day. I spent all those years in the
service of the Empire (and even of Russia) from no uncertain temper and
from no imaginary quarrel. It is so common or so necessary for men and
women to misjudge each other that I believe you thought me wayward, or
at least unstable. If you did so you did me a wrong. Those two good
seasons when we met again, and this last of but a month ago, were not
accidents or fitful recoveries. They were all I possessed in my life and
all that will perish with me when I die.
But now, to tell you the very core of my decision, it is this: The years
that pass carry with them an increasing weight at once sombre and
majestic. There are things belonging to youth which habit continues
strangely longer than the season to which they properly belong: if, when
we discover them to be too prolonged as cling to their survival, why,
then, we eat dust. So long as we possess the illusion and so long as the
dearest things of youth maintain unchanged, in one chamber of our life
at least, our twentieth year, so long all is well. But there is a cold
river which we must pass in our advance towards nothingness and age. In
the passage of that stream we change: and you and I have passed it.
There is no more endurance in that young mood of ours than in any other
human thing. One always wakes from it at last. One sees what it is. The
soul sees and counts with hard eyes the price at which a continuance of
such high dreams must be purchased, and the heart has a prevision of the
evil that the happy cheat will work as maturity is reached by each of
us, and as each of us fully takes on the burden of the world.
Therefore I must not return.
Foolishly and without thinking of real things, acting as though indeed
that life of dream and of illusion were still possible to me, I
yesterday cut with great care a rose, one from the many that have now
grown almost wild upon the great wall overlooking the Danube. Then ... I
could not but smile to myself when I remembered how by the time that
rose should have reached you every petal would be wasted and fallen in
the long week's ride. There is a fixed term of life for roses also as
for men. I do not cite this to you by way of parable. I have no heart
for tricks of the pen to-night; but the two images came together, and
you will understand. If I do not return, it is for the same reason that
I could not send the rose.
Everybody knows, I suppose, that kind of landscape in which hills seem
to lie in a regular manner, fold on fold, one range behind the other,
until, at last, behind them all some higher and grander range dominates
and frames the whole.
The infinite variety of light and air and accident of soil provide all
men save those who live in the great plains with examples of this sort.
The traveller in the dry air of California or of Spain, watching great
distances from the heights, will recollect such landscapes all his life.
They were the reward of his long ascents and the visions which attended
his effort as he climbed up to the ridge of his horizon. Such a
landscape does a man see from the Western edges of the Guadarrama,
looking eastward and south toward the very distant hills that guard
Toledo and the Gulf of the Tagus. Such a landscape does a man see at
sunrise from the highest of the Cevennes looking right eastward to the
dawn as it comes up in the pure and cold air beyond the Alps, and shows
you the falling of the foothills to the Rhone. And by such a landscape
is a man gladdened when upon the escarpments of the Tuolumne he turns
back and looks westward over the plain towards the vast range.
The experience of such a sight is one peculiar in travel, or, for that
matter, if a man is lucky enough to enjoy it at home, insistent and
reiterated upon the mind of the home-dwelling man. Such a landscape, for
instance, makes a man praise God if his house is upon the height of
Mendip, and he can look over falling hills right over the Vale of Severn
toward the ridge above ridge of the Welsh solemnities beyond, until the
straight line and high of the Black Mountains ends his view.
It is the character of these landscapes to suggest at once a vastness,
diversity, and seclusion. When a man comes upon them unexpectedly he can
forget the perpetual toil of men and imagine that those who dwell below
in the near side before him are exempt from the necessities of this
world. When such a landscape is part of a man's dwelling-place, though
he well knows that the painful life of men within those hills is the
same hard business that it is throughout the world, yet his knowledge is
modified and comforted by the permanent glory of the thing he sees.
The distant and high range that bounds his view makes a sort of veiling,
cutting it off and guarding it from whatever may be beyond. The
succession of lower ranges suggests secluded valleys, and the reiterated
woods, distant and more distant, convey an impression of fertility more
powerful than that of corn in harvest upon the lowlands.
Sometimes it is a whole province that is thus grasped by the eye,
sometimes in the summer haze but a few miles; always this scenery
inspires the onlooker with a sense of completion and of repose, and at
the same time, I think, with worship and with awe.
Now one such group of valleys there was, hill above hill, forest above
forest, and beyond it a great noble range, unwooded and high against
heaven, guarding it, which I for my part knew when first I knew anything
of this world. There is a high place under fir trees, a place of sand
and bracken, in South England whence such a view was always present to
eye in childhood and "There," said I to myself (even in childhood) "a
man should make his habitation." In those valleys is the proper off-set
And so there was.
It was a little place which had grown up as my county grows. The house
throwing out arms and layers. One room was panelled in the oak of the
seventeenth century--but that had been a novelty in its time, for the
walls upon which the panels stood were of the late fifteenth, oak and
brick intermingled. Another room was large and light built in the manner
of one hundred and fifty years ago, which people call Georgian. It had
been thrown out south (which is quite against our older custom, for our
older houses looked east and west to take all the sun and to present a
corner to the south-west and the storms. So they stand still). It had
round it a solid cornice which the modern men of the towns would have
called ugly, but there was ancestry in it. Then, further on this house
had modern roominess stretching in one new wing after another; and it
had a great steading and there was a copse and some six acres of land.
Over a deep ravine looked the little town that was the mother of the
place, and altogether it was enclosed, silent, and secure.
"The fish that misses the hook regrets the worm." If this is not a
Chinese proverb it ought to be. That little farm and steading and those
six acres, that ravine, those trees, that aspect of the little mothering
town; the wooded hills fold above fold, the noble range beyond, will not
For all I know, some man quite unacquainted with that land took them
grumbling for a debt; or again, for all I know, they may have been
bought by a blind man who could not see the hills, or by some man who,
seeing them, perpetually regretted the flat marshes of the fens. One
day, up high on Egdean Side, not thinking of such things, through a gap
in the trees I saw again after so many years, set one behind the other,
the forests wave upon wave, the summer heat, the high, bare range
guarding all, and in the midst of that landscape, set like a toy, the
little Sabine Farm.
Then I said to it, "Continue. Go and serve whom you will, my little
Sabine Farm. You were not mine because you would not be, and you are not
mine at all to-day. You will regret it perhaps, and perhaps you will
not. There was verse in you, perhaps, or prose, or--infinitely
more!--contentment for a man (for all I know). But you refused. You lost
your chance. Goodbye." And with that I went on into the wood and beyond
the gap, and saw the sight no more.
It was ten years since I had seen it last. It may be ten years before I
see it again, or it may be for ever. But as I went through the woods
saying to myself:
"You lost your chance, my little Sabine Farm, you lost your chance!"
another part of me at once replied:
"Ah! And so did _you_!"
Then, by way of riposte, I answered in my mind:
"Not at all, for the chance I never had, but what I lost was my desire."
"No, not your desire," said the voice to me within, "but the fulfilment
of it, in which you would have lost your desire." And when that reply
came I naturally turned as all men do on hearing such interior replies,
to a general consideration of regret, and was prepared, if any honest
publisher should have come whistling through that wood, with an offer
proper to the occasion, namely, to produce no less than five volumes on
the Nature of Regret, its mortal sting, its bitter-sweetness, its power
to keep alive in man the pure passions of the soul, its hints at
immortality, its memory of Heaven. But the wood was empty of publishers.
The offer did not come. The moment was lost. The five volumes will
hardly now be written. In place of them I offer poor this, which you may
take or leave. But I beg leave before I end to cite certain words very
nobly attached to that great inn "The Griffin," which has its foundation
set far off in another place, in the town of March, in the Fen Land:
"England my desire, what have you not refused?"
The End Of The World
One day I met a man who was sitting quite silent near Whitney, in the
Thames Valley, in a very large, long, low inn that stands in those
parts, or at least stood then, for whether it stands now or not depends
upon the Fussyites, whose business it is to Fuss, and in their Fussing
to disturb mankind.
He had nothing to say for himself at all, and he looked not gloomy but
sad. He was tall and thin, with high cheekbones. His face was the colour
of leather that has been some time in the weather, and he despised us
altogether: he would not say a word to us, until one of the company
said, rising from his meat and drink: "Very well, there's a thing we
shall never know till the end of the world" (he was talking about some
discussion or other which the young men had been holding together).
"There's a thing we shall never know till the end of the world--and
about that nobody knows!"
"You will pardon me," said the tall, thin, and elderly man with a face
like leather that has been exposed to the weather, "I know about the End
of the World, for I have been there."
This was so interesting that we all sat down again to listen.
"I wasn't talking of place, but of time," murmured the young man whom
the stranger had answered.
"I cannot help that," said the stranger decisively; "the End of the
World is the End of the World, and whether you are talking of space or
of time it does not matter, for when you have got to the end you have
got to the end, as may be proved in several ways."
"How did you get to it?" said one of our companions.
"That is very simply answered," said the elder man; "you get to it by
walking straight in front of you."
"Anyone could do that," said the other.
"Anyone could," said the elder man, "but nobody does. I did.... When I
was quite a boy in my father's parsonage (for my father was a parson),
having heard so much about the End of the World and seeing that people's
descriptions of it differed so much and that everybody was quite sure of
his own, I used to take my father's friends and guests aside privately,
for I was afraid to take my father himself, and I used to ask them how
they knew what the End of the World was really like, and whether they
had seen it. Some laughed, others were silent, and others were angry;
but no one gave me any information. At last I decided (and it was very
wise of me) that the only way to find out a thing of that sort was to
find it out for one's self, and not to go by hearsay, so I determined to
go straight on without stopping until I got to the End of the World."
"Which way did you walk?" said yet another of my companions.
"Young man," said the stranger, with solemnity, "I walked westward
toward the setting sun ... I walked and I walked and I walked, day after
day and year after year. Whenever I came to the seacoast I would take
work on board a ship--and remember it is always easy to get work if you
will take the wages that are offered, and always difficult to get it if
you will not. Well, then, I went in this way through all known lands and
over all known seas, until at last I came to the shore of a sea beyond
which (so the people told me who lived there) there was no further
shore. 'I cannot help that,' said I; 'I have not yet come to the End of
the World, and it is common sense that such a lot of water must have
something at the back of it to hold it up; besides which there is a
strong wind blowing out of the gates of the west and from the sunset.
Now that wind must rise somewhere, and I am going on to see where it
rises.' One of them was kind enough to lend me a boat with oars; I
thanked him prettily, and then I set out to row toward the End of the
World, taking with me two or three days' provisions.
"When I had rowed a long time I went asleep, and when I woke up next
morning I rowed again all day until the second night I went to sleep. On
the third day I rowed again: a little before sunset on the third day I
saw before me high hills, all in peaks like a great saw. On the very
highest of the peaks there were streaks of snow, and at about six
o'clock in the afternoon I grounded my boat upon that gravelly shore and
pulled it up upon the shingle, though it was evident either that the
tide was high or that there was no tide in these silent places.
"I offered up a prayer to the genius of the land, and tied the painter
of the boat to two great stones, so that no wave reaching it might move
it, and then I went on inland. When I had gone a little way I saw a
signpost on which was written, 'To the End of the World One Mile' and
there was a rough track along which it pointed. I went along this track.
Everything was completely silent. There were no birds, there was no wind,
there was nothing in the sky. But one thing I did notice, which was that
the sun was much larger than it used to be, and that as I went along this
last mile or so it seemed to get larger still--but that may have been my
imagination, for I must tell you my imagination is pretty strong.
"Well then, gentlemen, when I had gone a mile or so I saw another
signpost, on which there was a large board marked 'Danger,' and a
hundred yards beyond the track went between two great dark rocks--and
there I was! The road had stopped short; it was broken off, jagged, just
like a torn bit of paper ... and there was the End of the World."
"How do you mean?" said one of the younger men in an awed tone.
"What I say," said the stranger decidedly. "I had come to the end; there
was nothing beyond. You looked down over a precipice where there was
moss and steep grass, and on the ledges trees far below, and then more
precipice, and then--oh, miles below--a few more trees or so clinging to
the steep, then more precipice, and then darkness; and far away before
me was the whole expanse of sky; and in the midst of it I saw the broad
red sun setting into the brume; it was not yet dark enough to see the
stars, and there was no moon in the sky.
"I assure you it was a very wonderful sight, and I was awed though I was
not afraid. And how glad I was to find that the world had an edge to it,
and that all that talk about its being round was nonsense!
"When the sun was set it grew dark, and I returned to find my boat; but
I must have missed my way, for the track became broader and better, and
at last I came to a gate of a human sort, with an initial on it, which
showed that it had been put up by some landlord. It was an open gate,
and after I had entered it I came upon a broad highway, beautifully
metalled, and when I had gone along this for less than half a mile I
came to this inn where I am now sitting. That was a week ago, and I have
been here ever since. They took me in kindly enough, but they would not
believe what I had to tell them about the End of the World. It is a
great pity, gentlemen, for that wonderful sight is to be discovered
somewhere hereabouts, and a mere accident of my losing my way in the
darkness makes it difficult for me to find it by daylight."
Having said all this, the stranger was silent.
One of my companions whispered to me that the old man must be mad. The
stranger overheard him, and said with a thin smile:
"Oh, I know all about that; several have suggested it already; but it is
no answer, for if I did not come from the End of the World, where did I
come from? No one has seen me hereabouts during the last few days until
I came to this inn. And all the first part of my journey I can very
easily explain, for I have notes of it, and it lasted for years. It is
only this last part which seems to me so difficult.... I tell you I lost
my way, and when a man has lost his way at night he can never find it
again in the daytime."
As he spoke he took a little piece of folded paper, rather dirty, out of
his inner pocket, on which a rough sketch-map was drawn, and he began
touching it with a stump of pencil that he held in his hand. His eyes
seemed to grow dimmer as he did so, and he leaned his head upon his
hand. "I think I have got hold of it, gentlemen," he said.
We did not get up or go too near him, for we thought he might be
"I think, gentlemen," he repeated in a more mumbling and lower and less
certain voice, "I think I have got hold of it. I go backwards again
through the gate to the right, just as then I went to the left, and
after that it cannot be very far, for I see those two rocks in front of
me. Besides which," he muttered less and less coherently, "I ought to
have remembered of course those very high and silent hills with nothing
living upon them...." And he added, half asleep, as his head dropped
upon his hand, "It was westward.... I had forgotten that."
Having so spoken, he seemed to fall asleep altogether, and his head fell
back upon the corner of the wainscoting behind the bench where he sat.
He made no noise in breathing as he slept.
It was the first time that any of us young men had come across this
fairly common sight of a man who took things within for things without;
some of us were frightened, and all of us wished to be rid of the place
and to get away. As we went out we told the landlord nothing either of
the old fellow's vagaries or of his sleep, but we went out and reached
the town of Whitney, and when we had stayed there a couple of hours or
so we went out southward to the station and waited there for the train
which should take us back to Oxford.
While we were waiting there in the station two farmers were talking
together. One said to the other:
"Ar, if he'd paid them they wouldn't have minded so much."
To which the other answered:
"Ar, 'tisn't only the paying: it's always an awkward thing when a man
dies in your house, specially if it's licensed. My wife's brother was
caught that way."
Then as they went on talking we found that they were talking of the man
in the inn, who it seems had not slept very long, but was dead, and had
died in that same room. It was a shocking thing to hear. The first
farmer said to the second in the railway carriage when we had all got
"Where'd he come from?"
The other, who was an old man, grinned and said:
"Where we all come from, I suppose, and where we all go to." He touched
his forehead with his hand. "He said he'd come from the End of the
"Ar," said the other gloomily in answer, "like enough!" And after that
they talked no more about the matter.