Part 2 out of 4
ruined the citizens of the State.
So was it not in this place of which I speak, for all the people were
industrious, wealthy, kind, amenable, and free.
I took a ticket for the only town on the railway list whose history I
knew, and then in a third-class carriage made entirely of wood I settled
down to a conversation with my kind; for though these people were not of
my blood--indeed, I am certain that for some hundreds of years not a
drop of their blood has mingled with my own--yet we understood each
other by a common tongue called Lingua Franca, of which I have spoken in
another place and am a past master.
As all the people round began their talk of cattle, land, and weather,
two men next me, or rather the one next me and the other opposite me,
began to talk of the election which had been held in that delightful
plain: by which, as I learnt, a dealer in herds had been defeated by a
somewhat usurious and perhaps insignificant attorney. In this election
more than half the voters--that is, a good third of the families in the
plain--had gone up to the little huts of wood and had made a mark upon a
bit of paper, some on one part, some on the other. About a sixth of the
families had desired the dealer in herds to make their laws, and about a
sixth the attorney. Of the rest some could not, some would not, go and
make the little mark of which I speak. Many more could by law make it,
and would have made it, if they had thought it useful to any possible
purpose under the sun. One-sixth, I say, had made their mark for the
aged and money-lending attorney, and one-sixth for the venerable but
avaricious dealer in herds, and since the first sixth was imperceptibly
larger than the second it was the lawyer, not the merchant, who stood to
make the laws for the people. But not only to make laws: he was also in
some mystic way the Persona and Representative of all the plain. The
long sun-lit fields; the infinite past--Carolingian, enormous; the
delicate fronds of young trees; the distant sight of the mountains,
which is the note of all that land; the invasions it had suffered, the
conquests it might yet achieve; its soul and its material self, were all
summed up in the solicitor, not in the farmer, and he was to vote on
peace or war, on wine or water, on God or no God in the schools. For the
people of the plain were self-governing; they had no lords.
Of my two companions, the one had voted for the cow-buyer, but the other
for the scribbler upon parchment, and they discussed their action
without heat, gently and with many reasons.
The one said: "It cannot be doubted that the solidarity of society
demands that the homogeneity of economic interests should be recognised
by the magistrate." The other said: "The first need is rather that the
historic continuity of society should be affirmed by the momentary
depositaries of the executive."
For these two men were of some education, and saw things from a higher
standpoint than the peasants around us, who continued to discourse, now
angrily, now merrily, but always loudly and rapidly, upon the
insignificant matter of their lives: that is, strong, red, bubbling
wine, healthy and well-fed beef, rich land and housing, the marriage of
daughters, and the putting forward of sons.
Then one of the two, who had long guessed by my dress and face from what
country I came, said to me: "And you, how is it in your country?" I told
him we met from time to time, upon occasions not less often than seven
years apart, and did just as they had done. That one-sixth of us voted
one way and one-sixth the other; the first, let us say, for a
moneylender, and the second for a man remarkable for motor-cars or
famous for the wealth of his mother; and whichever sixth was
imperceptibly larger than the other, that sixth carried its man, and he
stood for the flats of the Wash or for the clear hills of Cumberland, or
for Devon, which is all one great and lonely hill.
"This man," said I, "in some very mystic way is _Ourselves_--he is our
past and our great national memory. By his vote he decides what shall be
done; but he is controlled."
"By what is he controlled?" said my companions eagerly. Evidently they
had a sneaking love of seeing representatives controlled.
"By a committee of the rich," said I promptly.
At this they shrugged their shoulders and said: "It is a bad system!"
"And by what are yours?" said I.
At this the gravest and oldest of them, looking as it were far away with
his eyes, answered: "By the name of our country and a wholesome terror
of the people."
"Your system," said I, shrugging my shoulders in turn, but a little
awkwardly, "is different from ours."
After this, we were silent all three. We remembered, all three of us,
the times when no such things were done in Europe, and yet men hung
well together, and a nation was vaguer and yet more instinctive and
ready. We remembered also--for it was in our common faith--the gross,
permanent, and irremediable imperfection of human affairs. There arose
perhaps in their minds a sight of the man they had sent to be the spirit
and spokesman, or rather the very self, of that golden plateau which the
train was crawling through, and certainly in my mind there rose the
picture of a man--small, false, and vile--who was, by some fiction, the
voice of a certain valley in my own land.
Then I said to them as I left the train at the town I spoke of: "Days,
knights!"--for so one addresses strangers in that country. And they
answered: "Your grace, we commend you to God."
The use and the pleasure of travel are closely mingled, because the use
of it is fulfilment, and in fulfilling oneself a great pleasure is
enjoyed. Every man bears within him not only his own direct experience,
but all the past of his blood: the things his own race has done are part
of himself, and in him also is what his race will do when he is dead.
This is why men will always read _records_, and why, even when letters
are at their lowest, _records_ still remain. Thus, if a diary be known
to be true, then it seems vivid and becomes famous where if it were
fiction no one would find any merit in it. History, therefore, once a
man has begun to know it, becomes a necessary food for the mind, without
which it cannot sustain its new dimension. It is an aggregate of
universal experience, nor, other things being equal, is any man's
judgment so thin and weak as the judgment of a man who knows nothing of
the past. But history, if it is to be kept just and true and not to
become a set of airy scenes, fantastically coloured by our later time,
must be continually corrected and moderated by the seeing and handling
If the West of Europe be one place and one people separate from all the
rest of the world, then that unity is of the last importance to us; and
that it is so, the wider our learning the more certain we are. All our
religion and custom and mode of thought are European. A European State
is only a State because it is a State of Europe; and the demarcations
between the ever-shifting States of Europe are only dotted lines, but
between the Christian and the non-Christian the boundary is hard and
Now, a man who recognises this truth will ask, "Where could I find a
model of the past of that Europe? In what place could I find the best
single collection of all the forms which European energy has created,
and of all the outward symbols in which its soul has been made manifest?
To such a man the answer should be given, 'You will find these things
better in the town of _Arles_ than in any other place.'" A man asking
such a question would mean to travel. He ought to travel to _Arles_.
Long before men could write, this hill (which was the first dry land at
the head of the Rhone delta, beyond the early mud-flats which the river
was pushing out into the sea) was inhabited by our ancestors. Their
barbaric huts were grouped round the shelving shore; their axes and
their spindles remain.
When thousands of years later the Greeks pushed northward from Massilia,
Arles was the first great corner in their road and the first
halting-place after the useless deserts that separated their port from
the highway of the Rhone valley.
At the close of Antiquity Rome came to Arles in the beginning of her
expansion, and the strong memories of Rome which Arles still holds are
famous. Every traveller has heard of the vast unbroken amphitheatre and
the ruined temple in a market square that is still called the Forum;
they are famous--but when you see them it seems to you that they should
be more famous still. They have something about them so familiar and yet
so unexpected that the centuries in which they were built come actively
* * * * *
The city of Arles is small and packed. A man may spend an hour in it
instead of a day or a year, but in that hour he can receive full
communion with antiquity. For as you walk along the tortuous lane
between high houses, passing on either hand as you go the ornaments of
every age, you turn some dirty little corner or other and come suddenly
upon the titanic arches of Rome. There are the huge stones which appal
you with the Roman weight and perpetuate in their arrangement an order
that has modelled the world. They lie exact and mighty; they are
unmoved, clamped with metal, a little worn, enduring. They are none the
less a domestic and native part of the living town in which they stand.
You pass from the garden of a house that was built in your grandfather's
time, and you see familiarly before you in the street a pedestal and a
column. They are two thousand years old. You read a placard idly upon
the wall; the placard interests you; it deals with the politics of the
place or with the army, but the wall might be meaningless. You look more
closely, and you see that that wall was raised in a fashion that has
been forgotten since the Antonines, and these realities still press upon
you, revealed and lost again with every few steps you walk within the
limited circuit of the town.
Rome slowly fell asleep. The sculpture lost its power; something
barbaric returned. You may see that decline in capitals and masks still
embedded in buildings of the fifth century. The sleep grew deeper. There
came five hundred years of which so little is left in Europe that Paris
has but one doubtful tower and London nothing. Arles still preserves its
relics. When Charlemagne was dead and Christendom almost extinguished
the barbarian and the Saracen alternately built, and broke against, a
keep that still stands and that is still so strong that one might still
defend it. It is unlit. It is a dungeon; a ponderous menace above the
main street of the city, blind and enormous. It is the very time it
When all that fear and anarchy of the mind had passed, and when it was
discovered that the West still lived, a dawn broke. The medieval
civilisation began to sprout vigorously through the eleventh and twelfth
centuries, as an old tree sprouts before March is out. The memorials of
that transition are common enough. We have them here in England in great
quantity; we call them the "Norman" architecture. A peculiarly vivid
relic of that springtime remains at Arles. It is the door of what was
then the cathedral--the door of St. Trophimus. It perpetuates the
beginning of the civilisation of the Middle Ages. And of that
civilisation an accident which has all the force of a particular design
has preserved here, attached to this same church, another complete type.
The cloisters of this same Church of St. Trophimus are not only the
Middle Ages caught and made eternal, they are also a progression of that
great experiment from its youth to its sharp close.
You come into these cloisters from a little side street and a neglected
yard, which give you no hint of what you are going to see. You find
yourself cut off at once and put separately by. Silence inhabits the
place; you see nothing but the sky beyond the border of the low roofs.
One old man there, who cannot read or write and is all but blind, will
talk to you of the Rhone. Then as you go round the arches, "withershins"
against the sun (in which way lucky progression has always been made in
sacred places), there pass you one after the other the epochs of the
Middle Ages. For each group of arches come later than the last in the
order of sculpture, and the sculptors during those 300 years went
withershins as should you.
You have first the solemn purpose of the early work. This takes on
neatness of detail, then fineness; a great maturity dignifies all the
northern side. Upon the western you already see that spell beneath which
the Middle Ages died. The mystery of the fifteenth century; none of its
wickedness but all its final vitality is there. You see in fifty details
the last attempt of our race to grasp and permanently to retain the
When the circuit is completed the series ends abruptly--as the medieval
story itself ended.
There is no way of writing or of telling history which could be so true
as these visions are. Arles, at a corner of the great main road of the
Empire, never so strong as to destroy nor so insignificant as to cease
from building, catching the earliest Roman march into the north, the
Christian advance, the full experience of the invasions; retaining in a
vague legend the memory of St. Paul; drawing in, after the long trouble,
the new life that followed the Crusades, can show such visions better, I
think, than Rome herself can show them.
A specialist told me once in Ealing that no inn could compare with the
Griffin, a Fenland inn. "It is painted green" he said, "and stands in
the town of March. If you would enjoy the Griffin, you must ask your way
to that town, and as you go ask also for the Griffin, for many who may
not have heard of March will certainly have heard of the Griffin."
So I set out at once for the Fens and came at the very beginning of them
to a great ditch, which barred all further progress. I wandered up and
down the banks for an hour thinking of the inn, when I met a man who was
sadder and more silent even than the vast level and lonely land in which
he lived. I asked him how I should cross the great dyke. He shook his
head, and said he did not know. I asked him if he had heard of the
Griffin, but he said no. I broke away from him and went for miles along
the bank eastward, seeing the rare trees of the marshes dwindling in the
distance, and up against the horizon a distant spire, which I thought
might be the Spire of March. For March and the Griffin were not twenty
miles away. And still the great ditch stood between me and my
* * * * *
These dykes of the Fens are accursed things: they are the separation of
friends and lovers. Here is a man whose crony would come and sit by his
fireside at evening and drink with him, a custom perhaps of twenty
years' standing, when there comes another man from another part armed
with public power, and digs between them a trench too wide to leap and
too soft to ford. The Fens are full of such tragedies.
One may march up and down the banks all day without finding a boat, and
as for bridges there are none, except, indeed, the bridges which the
railway makes; for the railways have grown to be as powerful as the
landlords or the brewers, and can go across this country where they
choose. And here the Fens are typical, for it may be said that these
three monopolies--the landlords, the railways, and the brewers--govern
* * * * *
But at last, at a place called Oxlode, I found a boat, and the news that
just beyond lay another dyke. I asked where that could be crossed, but
the ferryman of Oxlode did not know. He pointed two houses out, however,
standing close together out of the plain, and said they were called
"Purles' Bridge," and that I would do well to try there. But when I
reached them I found that the water was between me and them and, what is
more, that there was no bridge there and never had been one since the
beginning of time. Of these jests the Fens are full.
In half an hour a man came out of one of the houses and ferried me
across in silence. I asked him also if he had heard of the Griffin. He
laughed and shook his head as the first one had done, but he showed me a
little way off the village of Monea, saying that the people of that
place knew every house for a day's walk around. So I trudged to Monea,
which is a village on one of the old dry islands of the marsh; but no
one at Monea knew. There was, none the less, one old man who told me he
had heard the name, and his advice to me was to go to the cross roads
and past them towards March, and then to ask again. So I went outwards
to the cross roads, and from the cross roads outward again it seemed
without end, a similar land repeating itself for ever. There was the
same silence, the same completely even soil, the same deep little
trenches, the same rare distant and regular rows of trees.
* * * * *
Since it was useless to continue thus for you--one yard was as good as
twenty miles--and since you could know nothing more of these silences,
even if I were to give you every inch of the road, I will pass at once
to the moment in which I saw a baker's cart catching me up at great
speed. The man inside had an expression of irritable poverty. I did not
promise him money, but gave it him. Then he took me aboard and rattled
on, with me by his side.
I had by this time a suspicion that the Griffin was a claustral thing
and a mystery not to be blurted out. I knew that all the secrets of
Hermes may be reached by careful and long-drawn words, and that the
simplest of things will not be told one if one asks too precipitately;
so I began to lay siege to his mind by the method of dialogue. The words
MYSELF: This land wanted draining, didn't it?
THE OTHER MAN: Ah!
MYSELF: It seems to be pretty well drained now.
THE OTHER MAN: Ugh!
MYSELF: I mean it seems dry enough.
THE OTHER MAN: It was drownded only last winter.
MYSELF: It looks to be good land.
THE OTHER MAN: It's lousy land; it's worth nowt.
MYSELF: Still, there are dark bits--black, you may say--and thereabouts
it will be good.
THE OTHER MAN: That's where you're wrong; the lighter it is the better
it is ... ah! that's where many of 'em go wrong. (_Short silence_.)
MYSELF: (_cheerfully_): A sort of loam?
THE OTHER MAN (_calvinistically_): Ugh!--sand!... (_shaking his head_).
It blaws away with a blast of wind. (_A longer silence_.)
MYSELF (_as though full of interest_): Then you set your drills to sow
deep about here?
THE OTHER MAN (_with a gesture of fatigue_): Shoal. (_Here he sighed
After this we ceased to speak to each other for several miles. Then:
MYSELF: Who owns the land about here?
THE OTHER MAN: Some owns parts and some others.
MYSELF (_angrily pointing to an enormous field with a little new house
in the middle_): Who owns that?
THE OTHER MAN (_startled by my tone_): A Frenchman. He grows onions.
Now if you know little of England and of the temper of the English (I
mean of 0.999 of the English people and not of the 0.001 with which you
associate), if, I say, you know little or nothing of your
fellow-countrymen, you may imagine that all this conversation was
wasted. "It was not to the point," you say. "You got no nearer the
Griffin." You are wrong. Such conversation is like the kneading of dough
or the mixing of mortar; it mollifies and makes ready; it is
three-quarters of the work; for if you will let your fellow-citizen
curse you and grunt at you, and if you will but talk to him on matters
which he knows far better than you, then you have him ready at the end.
So had I this man, for I asked him point-blank at the end of all this:
"_What about the Griffin?_" He looked at me for a moment almost with
intelligence, and told me that he would hand me over in the next village
to a man who was going through March. So he did, and the horse of this
second man was even faster than that of the baker. The horses of the
Fens are like no horses in the world for speed.
* * * * *
This horse was twenty-three years old, yet it went as fast as though all
that tomfoolery men talk about progress were true, and as though things
got better by the process of time. It went so fast that one might
imagine it at forty-six winning many races, and at eighty standing
beyond all comparison or competition; and because it went so fast I went
hammering right through the town of March before I had time to learn its
name or to know whither I was driving; it whirled me past the houses and
out into the country beyond; only when I had pulled up two miles beyond
did I know what I had done and did I realise that I had missed for ever
one of those pleasures which, fleeting as they are, are all that is to
be discovered in human life. It went so fast, that before I knew what
had happened the Griffin had flashed by me and was gone.
* * * * *
Yet I will affirm with the tongue of faith that it is the noblest house
of call in the Fens.
* * * * *
It is better to believe than to handle or to see. I will affirm with the
tongue of faith that the Griffin is, as it were, the captain and chief
of these plains, and has just managed to touch perfection in all the
qualities that an inn should achieve. I am speaking not of what I know
by the doubtful light of physical experience, but of what I have seen
with the inward eye and felt by something that transcends gross taste
Low rooms of my repose! Beams of comfort and great age; drowsy and
inhabiting fires; ingle-nooks made for companionship. You also, beer
much better, much more soft, than the beer of lesser towns; beans,
bacon, and chicken cooked to the very limit of excellence; port drawn
from barrels which the simple Portuguese had sent to Lynn over the
cloud-shadowed sea, and honourable Lynn without admixture had sent upon
a cart to you, port undefined, port homogeneous, entirely made of wine:
you also beds! Wooden beds with curtains around them, feathers for
sleeping on, and every decent thing which the accursed would attempt to
destroy; candles (I trust)--and trust is more perfect than proof--bread
made (if it be possible) out of English wheat; milk drawn most certainly
from English cows, and butter worthy of the pastures of England all
around. Oh, glory to the Fens, Griffin, it shall not be said that I have
not enjoyed you!
* * * * *
There is a modern habit, I know, of gloom, and men without faith upon
every side recount the things that they have not enjoyed. For my part I
will yield to no such habit. I will consider that I have more perfectly
tasted in the mind that which may have been denied to my mere body, and
I will produce for myself and others a greater pleasure than any
pleasure of the sense. I will do what the poets and the prophets have
always done, and satisfy myself with vision, and (who knows?) perhaps by
this the Griffin of the Idea has been made a better thing (if that were
possible!) than the Griffin as it is--as it materially stands in this
evil and uncertain world.
So let the old horse go by and snatch me from this chance of joy: he has
not taken everything in his flight, and there remains something in spite
of time, which eats us all up.
And yet ... what is that in me which makes me regret the Griffin, the
real Griffin at which they would not let me stay? The Griffin painted
green: the real rooms, the real fire ... the material beer? Alas for
mortality! Something in me still clings to affections temporal and
mundane. England, my desire, what have you not refused me!
THE FIRST DAY'S MARCH
I very well remember the spring breaking ten years ago in Lorraine. I
remember it better far than I shall ever remember another spring,
because one of those petty summits of emotion that seem in boyhood like
the peaks of the world was before me. We were going off to camp.
Since every man that fires guns or drives them in France--that is, some
hundred thousand and more at any one time, and taking in reserves, half
a million--must go to camp in his time, and that more than once, it
seems monstrous that a boy should make so much of it; but then to a boy
six months is a little lifetime, and for six months I had passed through
that great annealing fire of drill which stamps and moulds the French
people to-day, putting too much knowledge and bitterness into their
eyes, but a great determination into their gestures and a trained
tenacity into the methods of their thought.
To me also this fire seemed fiercer and more transforming because, until
the day when they had marched me up to barracks in the dark and the rain
with a batch of recruits, I had known nothing but the easy illusions and
the comfort of an English village, and had had but journeys or short
visits to teach me that enduring mystery of Europe, the French temper:
whose aims and reticence, whose hidden enthusiasms, great range of
effort, divisions, defeats, and resurrections must now remain the
principal problem before my mind; for the few who have seen this sight
know that the French mind is the pivot on which Europe turns.
I had come into the regiment faulty in my grammar and doubtful in
accent, ignorant especially of those things which in every civilisation
are taken for granted but never explained in full; I was ignorant,
therefore, of the key which alone can open that civilisation to a
stranger. Things irksome or a heavy burden to the young men of my age,
born and brought up in the French air, were to me, brought up with
Englishmen an Englishman, odious and bewildering. Orders that I but half
comprehended; simple phrases that seemed charged with menace; boasting
(a habit of which I knew little), coupled with a fierce and, as it were,
expected courage that seemed ill suited to boasting--and certainly
unknown outside this army; enormous powers of endurance in men whose
stature my English training had taught me to despise; a habit of
fighting with the fists, coupled with a curious contempt for the
accident of individual superiority--all these things amazed me and put
me into a topsy-turvy world where I was weeks in finding my feet.
But strangest of all, and (as I now especially believe) most pregnant
with meaning for the future, was to find the inherited experience in me
of so much teaching and careful habit--instinct of command, if you
will--all that goes to make what we call in Western Europe a
"gentleman," put at the orders and the occasional insult of a hierarchy
of office, many of whose functionaries were peasants and artisans.
Stripes on the arm, symbols, suddenly became of overwhelming value; what
I had been made with so much care in an English public school was here
thought nothing but a hindrance and an absurdity. This had seemed to me
first a miracle, then a grievous injustice, then most unpractical, and
at last, like one that sees the answer to a riddle, I saw (when I had
long lost my manners and ceased to care for refinements) that the French
were attempting, a generation before any others in the world, to
establish an army that should be a mere army, and in which a living man
counted only as one numbered man.
Whether that experiment will hold or not I cannot tell; it shocks the
refinement of the whole West of Europe; it seems monstrous to the
aristocratic organisation of Germany; it jars in France also with the
traditions of that decent elder class of whom so many still remain to
guide the Republic, and in whose social philosophy the segregation of a
"directing class" has been hitherto a dogma. But soon I cared little
whether that experiment was to succeed or no in its final effort, or
whether the French were to perfect a democracy where wealth has one vast
experience of its own artificiality, or to fail. The intellectual
interest of such an experiment, when once I seized it, drove out every
I became like a man who has thoroughly awaked from a long sleep and
finds that in sleep he has been taken overseas. I merged into the great
system whose wheels and grindings had at first astonished or disgusted
me, and I found that they had made of me what they meant to make. I
cared more for guns than for books; I now obeyed by instinct not men,
but symbols of authority. No comfortable fallacy remained; it no longer
seemed strange that my captain was a man promoted from the ranks; that
one of my lieutenants was an Alsatian charity boy and the other a rich
fellow mixed up with sugar-broking; that the sergeant of my piece should
be a poor young noble, the wheeler of No. 5 a wealthy and very vulgar
chemist's son, the man in the next bed ("my ancient," as they say in
that service) a cook of some skill, and my bombardier a mild young
farmer. I thought only in terms of the artillery: I could judge men from
their aptitude alone, and in me, I suppose, were accomplished many
things--one of Danton's dreams, one of St. Just's prophecies, the
fulfilment also of what a hundred brains had silently determined twenty
years before when the staff gave up their swords outside Metz; the army
and the kind of army of which Chanzy had said in the first breath of the
armistice, "A man who forgets it should be hanged, but a man who speaks
of it before its time should be shot with the honours of his rank."
All this had happened to me in especial in that melting-pot up in the
eastern hills, and to thirty thousand others that year in their separate
In the process things had passed which would seem to you incredible if I
wrote them all down. I cared little in what vessel I ate, or whether I
had to tear meat with my fingers. I could march in reserve more than
twenty miles a day for day upon day. I knew all about my horses; I could
sweep, wash, make a bed, clean kit, cook a little, tidy a stable, turn
to entrenching for emplacement, take a place at lifting a gun or
changing a wheel. I took change with a gunner, and could point well. And
all this was not learnt save under a grinding pressure of authority and
harshness, without which in one's whole life I suppose one would never
properly have learnt a half of these things--at least, not to do them so
readily, or in such unison, or on so definite a plan. But (what will
seem astonishing to our critics and verbalists), with all this there
increased the power, or perhaps it was but the desire, to express the
greatest thoughts--newer and keener things. I began to understand De
Vigny when he wrote, "If a man despairs of becoming a poet, let him
carry his pack and march in the ranks."
Thus the great hills that border the Moselle, the distant frontier, the
vast plain which is (they say) to be a battlefield, and which lay five
hundred feet sheer below me, the far guns when they were practising at
Metz, the awful strength of columns on the march moved me. The sky also
grew more wonderful, and I noticed living things. The Middle Ages, of
which till then I had had but troubling visions, rose up and took flesh
in the old town, on the rare winter evenings when I had purchased the
leisure to leave quarters by some excessive toil. A man could feel
France going by.
It was at the end of these six months, when there was no more darkness
at roll-call, and when the bitter cold (that had frozen us all winter)
was half forgotten, that the spring brought me this excellent news,
earlier than I had dared to expect it--the news that sounds to a recruit
half as good as active service. We were going to march and go off right
away westward over half a dozen horizons, till we could see the real
thing at Chalons, and with this news the world seemed recreated.
Seven times that winter we had been mobilised: four times in the dead of
the night; once at midday, once at evening, and once at dawn. Seven
times we had started down the wide Metz road, hoping in some vague way
that they would do something with us and give us at least some
manoeuvres, and seven times we had marched back to barracks to undo all
that serious packing and to return to routine.
Once, for a week in February, the French and German Governments, or,
more probably, two minor permanent officials, took it into their silly
heads that there was some danger of war. We packed our campaign saddles
every night and put them on the pegs behind the stalls; we had the
emergency rations served out, and for two days in the middle of that
time we had slept ready. But nothing came of it. Now at least we were
off to play a little at the game whose theory we had learnt so wearily.
And the way I first knew it would easily fill a book if it were told as
it should be, with every detail and its meaning unrolled and with every
joy described: as it is, I must put it in ten lines. Garnon (a
sergeant), three others, and I were sent out (one patrol out of fifty)
to go round and see the reserve horses on the farms. That was delight
enough, to have a vigorous windy morning with the clouds large and white
and in a clear sky, and to mix with the first grain of the year, "out of
We took the round they gave us along the base of the high hills, we got
our papers signed at the different stables, we noted the hoofs of the
horses and their numbers; a good woman at a large farm gave us food of
eggs and onions, and at noon we turned to get back to quarters for the
grooming. Everything then was very well--to have ridden out alone
without the second horse and with no horrible great pole to crush one's
leg, and be free--though we missed it--of the clank of the guns. We felt
like gentlemen at ease, and were speaking grandly to each other, when I
heard Garnon say to the senior of us a word that made things seem better
still, for he pointed out to a long blue line beyond Domremy and
overhanging the house of Joan of Arc, saying that the town lay there.
"What town?" said I to my Ancient; and my Ancient, instead of answering
simply, took five minutes to explain to me how a recruit could not know
that the round of the reserve horses came next before camp, and that
this town away on the western ridge was the first halting-place upon the
road. Then my mind filled with distances, and I was overjoyed, saving
for this one thing, that I had but two francs and a few coppers left,
and that I was not in reach of more.
When we had ridden in, saluted, and reported at the guard, we saw the
guns drawn up in line at the end of the yard, and we went into grooming
and ate and slept, hardly waiting for the morning and the long
regimental call before the reveille; the notes that always mean the high
road for an army, and that are as old as Fontenoy.
* * * * *
That next morning they woke us all before dawn--long before dawn. The
sky was still keen, and there was not even a promise of morning in the
air, nor the least faintness in the eastern stars. They twinkled right
on the edges of the world over the far woods of Lorraine, beyond the
hollow wherein lay the town; it was even cold like winter as we
harnessed; and I remember the night air catching me in the face as I
staggered from the harness-room, with my campaign saddle and the traces
and the girths and the saddle cloth, and all the great weight that I had
to put upon my horses.
We stood in the long stables all together, very hurriedly saddling and
bridling and knotting up the traces behind. A few lanterns gave us an
imperfect light. We hurried because it was a pride to be the first
battery, and in the French service, rightly or wrongly, everything in
the artillery is made for speed, and to speed everything is sacrificed.
So we made ready in the stable and brought our horses out in order
before the guns in the open square of quarters. The high plateau on
which the barracks stood was touched with a last late frost, and the
horses coming out of the warm stables bore the change ill, lifting their
heads and stamping. A man could not leave the leaders for a moment, and,
while the chains were hooked on, even my middle horses were restive and
had to be held. My hands stiffened at the reins, and I tried to soothe
both my beasts, as the lantern went up and down wherever the work was
being done. They quieted when the light was taken round behind by the
tumbrils, where two men were tying on the great sack of oats exactly as
though we were going on campaign.
These two horses of mine were called Pacte and Basilique. Basilique was
saddled; a slow beast, full of strength and sympathy, but stupid and
given to sudden fears. Pacte was the led horse, and had never heard
guns. It was prophesied that when first I should have to hold him in
camp when we were practising he would break everything near him, and
either kill me or get me cells. But I did not believe these prophecies,
having found my Ancient and all third-year men too often to be liars,
fond of frightening the younger recruits. Meanwhile Pacte stood in the
sharp night, impatient, and shook his harness. Everything had been
We filed out of quarters, passed the lamp of the guard, and saw huddled
there the dozen or so that were left behind while we were off to better
things. Then a drawn-out cry at the head of the column was caught up all
along its length, and we trotted; the metal of shoes and wheel-rims rang
upon the road, and I felt as a man feels on a ship when it leaves
harbour for great discoveries.
We had climbed the steep bank above St. Martin, and were on the highest
ridge of land dominating the plain, when the sky first felt the approach
of the sun. Our backs were to the east, but the horizon before us caught
a reflection of the dawn; the woods lost their mystery, and one found
oneself marching in a partly cultivated open space with a forest all
around. The road ran straight for miles like an arrow, and stretched
swarmingly along it was the interminable line of guns. But with the full
daylight, and after the sun had risen in a mist, they deployed us out of
column into a wide front on a great heath in the forest, and we halted.
There we brewed coffee, not by batteries, but gun by gun.
Warmed by this little meal, mere coffee without sugar or milk, but with
a hunk left over from yesterday's bread and drawn stale from one's
haversack (the armies of the Republic and of Napoleon often fought all
day upon such sustenance, and even now, as you will see, the French do
not really eat till a march is over--and this may be a great advantage
in warfare)--warmed, I say, by this little meal, and very much refreshed
by the sun and the increasing merriment of morning, we heard the first
trumpet-call and then the shouted order to mount.
We did not form one column again. We went off at intervals, by
batteries; and the reason of this was soon clear, for on getting to a
place where four roads met, some took one and some took another, the
object being to split up the unwieldy train of thirty-six guns, with all
their waggons and forges, into a number of smaller groups, marching by
ways more or less parallel towards the same goal; and my battery was
left separate, and went at last along a lane that ran through pasture
land in a valley.
The villages were already awake, and the mist was all but lifted from
the meadows when we heard men singing in chorus in front of us some way
off. These were the gunners that had left long before us and had gone on
forward afoot. For in the French artillery it is a maxim (for all I
know, common to all others--if other artilleries are wise) that you
should weight your limber (and therefore your horses) with useful things
alone; and as gunners are useful only to fire guns, they are not
carried, save into action or when some great rapidity of movement is
desired. I do, indeed, remember one case when it was thought necessary
to send a group of batteries during the manoeuvres right over from the
left to the right of a very long position which our division was
occupying on the crest of the Argonne. There was the greatest need for
haste, and we packed the gunners on to the limber (there were no seats
on the gun in the old type--there are now) and galloped all the way down
the road, and put the guns in action with the horses still panting and
exhausted by that extra weight carried at such a speed and for such a
distance. But on the march, I say again, we send the gunners forward,
and not only the gunners, but as you shall hear when we come to
Commercy, a reserve of drivers also. We send them forward an hour or
two before the guns start; we catch them up with the guns on the road;
they file up to let us pass, and commonly salute us by way of formality
and ceremony. Then they come into the town of the halt an hour or two
after we have reached it.
So here in this silent and delightful valley, through which ran a river,
which may have been the Meuse or may have been a tributary only, we
caught up our gunners. Their song ceased, they were lined up along the
road, and not till we were passed were they given a little halt and
repose. But when we had gone past with a huge clattering and dust, the
bombardier of my piece, who was a very kindly man, a young farmer, and
who happened to be riding abreast of my horses, pointed them out to me
behind us at a turning in the road. They were taking that five minutes'
rest which the French have borrowed from the Germans, and which comes at
the end of every hour on the march. They had thrown down their knapsacks
and were lying flat taking their ease, I could not long look backwards,
but a very little time after, when we had already gained nearly half a
mile upon them, we again heard the noise of their singing, and knew that
they had reshouldered their heavy packs. And this pack is the same in
every unmounted branch of the service, and is the heaviest thing, I
believe, that has been carried by infantry since the Romans.
It was not yet noon, and extremely hot for the time of year and for the
coldness of the preceding night, when they halted us at a place where
the road bent round in a curve and went down a little hollow. There we
dismounted and cleaned things up a little before getting into the town,
where we were to find what the French call an _etape_; that is, the town
at which one halts at the end of one's march, and the word is also used
for the length of a march itself. It is not in general orders to clean
up in this way before coming in, and there were some commanders who were
never more pleased than when they could bring their battery into town
covered with dust and the horses steaming and the men haggard, for this
they thought to be evidence of a workmanlike spirit. But our colonel had
given very contrary orders, to the annoyance of our captain, a man
risen from the ranks who loved the guns and hated finery.
Then we went at a walk, the two trumpets of the battery sounding the
call which is known among French gunners as "the eighty hunters,"
because the words to it are, "_quatre-vingt, quatre-vingt, quatre-vingt,
quatre-vingt, quatre-vingt, quatre-vingt, quatre-vingt, chasseurs_,"
which words, by their metallic noise and monotony, exactly express the
long call that announces the approach of guns. We went right through the
town, the name of which is Commercy, and the boys looked at us with
pride, not knowing how hateful they would find the service when once
they were in for its grind and hopelessness. But then, for that matter,
I did not know myself with what great pleasure I should look back upon
it ten years after. Moreover, nobody knows beforehand whether he will
like a thing or not; and there is the end of it.
We formed a park in the principal place of the town; there were
appointed two sentinels to do duty until the arrival of the gunners who
should relieve them and mount a proper guard, and then we were marched
off to be shown our various quarters. For before a French regiment
arrives at a town others have ridden forward and have marked in chalk
upon the doors how many men and how many horses are to be quartered here
or there, and my quarters were in a great barn with a very high roof;
but my Ancient, upon whom I depended for advice, was quartered in a
house, and I was therefore lonely.
We groomed our horses, ate our great midday meal, and were free for a
couple of hours to wander about the place. It is a garrison, and, at
that time, it was full of cavalry, with whom we fraternised; but the
experiment was a trifle dangerous, for there is always a risk of a
quarrel when regiments meet as there is with two dogs, or two of any
other kind of lively things.
Then came the evening, and very early, before it was dark, I was asleep
in my clothes in some straw, very warm; but I was so lazy that I had not
even taken off my belt or sword. And that was the end of the first day's
THE SEA-WALL OF THE WASH
The town of Wisbeach is very like the town of Boston. It stands upon a
river which is very narrow and which curves, and in which there rises
and falls a most considerable tide, and which is bounded by slimy wooden
sides. Here, as at Boston, the boats cannot turn round; if they come in
frontways they have to go out backwards, like Mevagissey bees: an
As I sat there in the White Hart, waiting for steak and onions, I read
in a book descriptive of the place that a whale had come to Wisbeach
once, and I considered that a whale coming up to Wisbeach on a tide
would certainly stay there; not indeed for the delights of the town (of
which I say nothing), but because there would be no room to turn round;
and a whale cannot swim backwards. The only fish that can swim backwards
is an eel. This I have proved by observation, and I challenge any
fisherman to deny it.
So much for Wisbeach, which stands upon the River Nene or Nen, which is
the last of the towns defended by the old sea-wall--which is the third
of the Fen ports--the other two being Boston and Lynn, which is served
by two lines of railway and which has two stations.
Very early next morning, and by one of these stations, another man and I
took train to a bridge called Sutton Bridge, where one can cross the
River Nen, and where (according to the map) one can see both the
sea-walls, the old and the new. It was my plan to walk along the shore
of the Wash right across the flats to Lynn, and so at last perhaps
comprehend the nature of this curious land.
* * * * *
When I got to Sutton Bridge I discovered it to be a monstrous thing of
iron standing poised upon a huge pivot in mid-stream. It bore the
railway and the road together. It was that kind of triumphant
engineering which once you saw only in England, but which now you will
see all over the world. It was designed to swing open on its central
pivot to let boats go up the River Nen, and then to come back exactly to
its place with a clang; but when we got to it we found it neither one
thing nor the other. It was twisted just so much that the two parts of
the roads (the road on the bridge and the road on land) did not join.
Was a boat about to pass? No. Why was it open thus? A man was cleaning
it. The bridge is not as big as the Tower Bridge, but it is very big,
and the man was cleaning it with a little rag. He was cleaning the under
part, the mechanisms and contraptions that can only be got at when the
bridge is thus ajar. He cleaned without haste and without exertion, and
as I watched him I considered the mightiness of the works of Man
contrasted with His Puny Frame. I also asked him when I should pass, but
he answered nothing.
As we thus waited men gathered upon either side--men of all characters
and kinds, men holding bicycles, men in carts, afoot, on horseback,
vigorous men and feeble, old men, women also and little children, and
youths witless of life, and innocent young girls; they gathered and
increased, they became as numerous as leaves, they stretched out their
hands in a desire for the further shore: but the river ran between.
Then, as being next the gate, I again called out: When might we pass? A
Fenland man who was on duty there doing nothing said, I could pass when
the bridge was shut again. I said: When would that be? He said: Could I
not see that the man was cleaning the bridge? I said that, contrasting
the bridge with him and his little rag, he might go on from now to the
Disestablishment of the English Church before he had done; but as for
me, I desired to cross, and so did all that multitude.
Without grace they shut the bridge for us, the gate opened of itself,
and in a great clamorous flood, like an army released from a siege, we
poured over, all of us, rejoicing into Wringland; for so is called this
flat, reclaimed land, which stands isolated between the Nen and the
* * * * *
Was I not right in saying when I wrote about Ely that the corner of a
corner of England is infinite, and can never be exhausted?
Along the cut which takes the Nen out to sea, then across some level
fields, and jumping a ditch or two, one gets to the straight, steep, and
high dyke which protects the dry land and cuts off the plough from the
sea marshes. When I had climbed it and looked out over endless flats to
the sails under the brune of the horizon I understood the Fens.
* * * * *
Nowhere that I have been to in the world does the land fade into the sea
The coasts of western England are like the death of a western man in
battle--violent and heroic. The land dares all, and plunges into a noisy
sea. This coast of Eastern England is like the death of one of these
eastern merchants here--lethargic, ill-contented, drugged with ease. The
dry land slips, and wallows into a quiet, very shallow water, confused
with a yellow thickness and brackish with the weight of inland water
I have heard of the great lakes, especially of the marshes at the mouth
of the Volga, in the Caspian, where the two elements are for miles
indistinguishable, and where no one can speak of a shore; but here the
thing is more marvellous, because it is the true sea. You have, I say,
the true sea, with great tides, and bearing ships, and seaports to which
the ships can go; and on the other side you have, inhabited, an ancient
land. There should be a demarcation between them, a tide mark or limit.
There is nothing. You cannot say where one begins and the other ends.
One does not understand the Fens until one has seen that shore.
The sand and the mud commingle. The mud takes on little tufts of salt
grass barely growing under the harsh wind. The marsh is cut and wasted
into little islands covered at every high tide, except, perhaps, the
extreme of the neaps. Down on that level, out from the dyke to the
uncertain line of the water, you cannot walk a hundred yards without
having to cross a channel more or less deep, a channel which the working
of the muddy tides has scoured up into the silt and ooze of the sodden
land. These channels are yards deep in slime, and they ramify like the
twisted shoots of an old vine. Were you to make a map of them as they
engrave this desolate waste it would look like the fine tortuous cracks
that show upon antique enamel, or the wandering of threads blown at
random on a woman's work-table by the wind.
There are miles and miles of it right up to the EMBANKMENT, the great
and old SEA-WALL, which protects the houses of men. You have but to
eliminate that embankment to imagine what the whole countryside must
have been like before it was raised, and the meaning of the Fens becomes
clear to you. The Fens were long ago but the continuation inland of this
sea-morass. The tide channels of the marsh were all of one kind, though
they differed so much in size. Some of these channels were small without
name; some a little larger, and these had a local name; others were a
little larger again, and worthy to be called rivers--the Ouse, the Nen,
the Welland, the Glen, the Witham. But, large or small, they were
nothing, all of them, but the scouring of tide-channels in the light and
sodden slime. It was the high tide that drowned all this land, the low
tide that drained it; and wherever a patch could be found just above the
influence of the tide or near enough to some main channel for the rush
and swirl of the water to drain the island, there the villages grew.
Wherever such a patch could be found men built their first homes.
Sometimes, before men civic, came the holy hermits. But man, religious,
or greedy, or just wandering, crept in after each inundation and began
to tame the water and spread out even here his slow, interminable
conquest. So Wisbeach, so March, so Boston grew, and so--the oldest of
them all--the Isle of Ely.
The nature of the country (a nature at which I had but guessed whenever
before this I had wandered through it, and which I had puzzled at as I
viewed its mere history) was quite clear, now that I stood upon the wall
that fenced it in from the salt water. It was easy to see not only what
judgments had been mistaken, but also in what way they had erred. One
could see why and how the homelessness of the place had been
exaggerated. One could see how the level was just above (not, as in
Holland, below) the mean of the tides. One could discover the manner in
which communication from the open sea was possible. The deeps lead out
through the sand; they are but continuations under water of that
tide-scouring which is the note of all the place inland, and out, far
out, we could see the continuation of the river-beds, and at their
mouths far into the sea, the sails.
A man sounding as he went before the north-east wind was led by force
into the main channels. He was "shepherded" into Lynn River or Wisbeach
River or Boston River, according as he found the water shoaler to one
side or other of his boat. So must have come the first Saxon pirates
from the mainland: so (hundreds of years later) came here our portion of
that swarm of Pagans, which all but destroyed Europe; so centuries
before either of them, in a time of which there is no record, the
ignorant seafaring men from the east and the north must have come right
up into our island, as the sea itself creeps right up into the land
through these curious crevices and draughts in the Fenland wall.
Men--at least the men of our race--have made everything for themselves;
and they will never cease. They continue to extend and possess. It is
not only the architecture; it is the very landscape of Europe which has
been made by Europeans. In what way did we begin to form this difficult
place, which is neither earth nor water, and in which we might have
despaired? It was conquered by human artifice, of course, somewhat as
Frisia and the Netherlands, and, as we may believe, the great bay of the
Cotentin were conquered; but it has certain special characters of its
own, and these again are due to the value in this place of the tides,
and to the absence of those natural dykes of sand which were, a thousand
years ago, the beginnings of Holland.
* * * * *
Two methods, working side by side, have from the beginning of human
habitation reclaimed the Fens. The first has been the canalisation, the
fencing in of the tideways; the second has been the banking out of the
general sea. The spring tides covered much of this land, and when they
retired left it drowned. Against their universal advancing sheet of
water a bank could be made. Such a bank cut off the invasion of the
hundreds of runnels, small and great, by which the more ordinary tides
that could not cover the surface had yet crept into the soil and soaked
When such a bank had been built, gates, as it were, permitted the water
to spend its force and also to use its ebb and flow for the draining of
the land beyond. The gates which let the tide pour up and down the main
ways became the new mouths of the main rivers; inland the courses of the
rivers (which now took all the sea and thus became prodigious) were
carefully guarded. Even before trenches were dug to drain the fields
around, earth was thrown up on either side of the rivers to confine them
each to one permanent channel; nor did the level of the rivers rise, or
their beds gets clogged; the strength of the tide sufficed for the
deepening of their channels. Into the rivers so fortified the other
waterways of the Fens were conducted.
By these methods alone much of the land was rendered habitable and
subject to the plough. Probably these methods were enough to make it all
it was in the Middle Ages. It was only far later, almost in our own
time, that water was gathered by trenches in the lowland beneath the
rivers and pumped out artificially with mills; nor is it quite certain
even now that this method (borrowed from Holland) is the best; for the
land, as I have said, is above and not below the sea.
Of these words, whose tradition is immemorial, the greatest, of course,
are the sea-walls.
Perhaps the river-walls came first, but the great bank which limited
and protected the land against the sea is also older than any history.
It is called Roman, and relics of Rome have been found in it, but it has
not the characteristic of Roman work. It runs upon no regular lines; its
contour is curved and variable. It is surely far older than the Roman
occupation. Earth, heaped and beaten hard, is the most enduring of
things; the tumuli all over England have outlasted even the monoliths,
and the great defensive mounds at Norwich and at Oxford are stronger and
clearer cut than anything that the Middle Ages have left. This bank,
which first made Fenland, still stands most conspicuous. You may follow
it from the Nene above Sutton Bridge right over to Lynn River, and again
northward from Sutton Bridge (or rather, from the ferry above it) right
round _outside_ Long Sutton and Holbeach, and by Forsdyke Bridge and
_outside_ Swyneshead; everywhere it encloses and protects the old
parishes, and everywhere seaward of it the names of the fields mark the
newest of endeavours.
* * * * *
We returned from a long wandering upon the desolate edges of the sea to
the bank which we proposed to follow right round to the mouth of the
Ouse: a bank that runs not straight, but in great broken lines, as in
old-fashioned fortification, and from which far off upon the right one
sees the famous churches of the Wringland, far off upon the left a hint
beyond the marshes and the sands of the very distant open sea.
A gale had risen with the morning, and while it invigorated the
travellers in these wastes it seemed to increase their loneliness, for
it broke upon nothing, and it removed the interest of the eye from the
monotonous sad land to the charge and change of the torn sky above, but
in a sense also it impelled us, as though we were sailing before it as
it swept along the edge of the bank and helped us to forget the
The birds for whom this estuary is a kind of sanctuary and a place of
secure food in all weathers, the birds swept out in great flocks over
the flats towards the sea. They were the only companionship afforded to
us upon this long day, and they had, or I fancied they had, in their
demeanour a kind of contempt for the rare human beings they might see,
as though knowing how little man could do upon those sands. They fed all
together upon the edge of the water, upon the edge of the falling tide,
very far off, making long bands of white that mixed with the tiny
breaking wavelets. Now and then they rose in bodies, and so rising
disappeared; but as they would turn and wheel against the wind, seeking
some other ground, they sent from moment to moment flashes of delicate
and rare light from the great multitude of their wings. I know of
nothing to which one may compare these glimpses of evanescent shining
but these two things--the flash of a sword edge and the rapid turning in
human hands of a diaphanous veil held in the light. It shone or glinted
for a moment, then they would all wheel together and it disappeared.
So, watching them as a kind of marvel, we saw distant across the sea a
faint blue tower, and recognised it for Boston Stump, so many, many
But for the birds and this landmark, which never left us, all the length
of the dyke was empty of any sight save the mixing of the sea and the
land. Then gradually the heights in Norfolk beyond grew clearer, a
further shore narrowed the expanse of waters, and we came to the river
mouth of the Ouse, and caught sight, up the stream, of the houses of a
There is a part of Europe of which for the moment most people have not
heard, but which in a few years everybody will know; so it is well worth
telling before it is changed what it is like to-day. It is called the
Cerdagne. It is a very broad valley, stretching out between hills whose
height is so incredible--or at least, whose appearance of height is so
incredible--that when they are properly painted no one will believe them
to be true. Indeed, I know a man who painted them just as they are, and
those who saw the picture said it was fantastic and out of Nature, like
Turner's drawings. But those who had been with him and had seen the
place, said that somehow he had just missed the effect of height.
It is remarkable that in any country, even if one does not know that
country well, what is unusual to the country strikes the traveller at
once. And so it is with the Cerdagne. For all the valleys of the
Pyrenees except this one are built upon the same plan. They are deep
gorges, narrowing in two places to gates or profound corridors, one of
these places being near the crest and one near the plain; and down these
valleys fall violent torrents, and in them there is only room for tiny
villages or very little towns, squeezed in between the sheer surfaces of
the rock or the steep forests.
So it is with the Valley of Laruns, and with that of Meuleon, and with
that of Luz, and with those of the two Bagneres, and with the Val
d'Aran, and with the Val d'Esera, and with the very famous Valley of
With valleys so made the mountains are indeed more awful than they might
be in the Alps: but you never see them standing out and apart, and the
mastering elevation of the Pyrenees is not apprehended until you come to
the cirque or hollow at the end of each valley just underneath the main
ridge; by that time you have climbed so far that you have halved the
height of the barrier.
But the Cerdagne, unlike all the other valleys, is as broad as half a
county, and is full of towns and fields and men and mules and slow
rivulets and corn; so, standing upon either side and looking to the
other, you see all together and in the large its mountain boundaries. It
is like the sight of the Grampians from beyond Strathmore, but very much
more grand. Moreover, as no one has written sufficiently about it to
prepare the traveller for what he is to see (and in attempting to do so
here I am probably doing wrong, but a man must write down what he has
seen), the Cerdagne breaks upon him quite unexpectedly, and his descent
into that wealthy plain is the entry into a new world. He may have
learnt the mountains by heart, as we had, in many stumbling marches and
many nights slept out beneath the trees, and many crossings of the main
chain by those precipitous cols which make the ridge of the Pyrenees
more like a paling than a mountain crest, but though he should know them
thoroughly all the way from the Atlantic for two hundred miles, the
Cerdagne will only appear to him the more astonishing. It renews in any
man however familiar he may be with great mountains, the impressions of
that day when he first saw the distant summits and thought them to be
Apart from all this, the Cerdagne is full of a lively interest, because
it preserves far better than any other Pyrenean valley those two
Pyrenean things--the memory of European history and the intense local
spirit of the Vals.
The memory of European history is to be seen in the odd tricks which the
frontier plays. It was laid down by the commissioners of Mazarin two
hundred and fifty years ago, and instead of following the watershed
(which would leave the Cerdagne all Spanish politically as it is Catalan
by language and position) it crosses the valley from one side to
another, leaving the top end of it and the sources of its rivers under
That endless debate as to whether race or government will most affect a
people can here be tested, though hardly decided. The villages are
Spanish, the hour of meals is Spanish, and the wine is Spanish wine. But
the clocks keep time, and the streets are swept, and, oddest of all, the
cooking is French cooking. The people are Spanish in that they are slow
to serve you or to find you a mount or to show you the way, but they are
French in that they are punctual in the hour at which they have promised
to do these things; and they are Spanish in the shapes of their ricks
and the nature of their implements, but French in the aspect of their
fields. One might also discuss--it would be most profitable of
all--where they are Spanish and where they are French in their
observance of religion.
This freak which the frontier plays in cutting so united a countryside
into two by an imaginary line is further emphasised by an island of
Spanish territory which has been left stranded, as it were, in the midst
of the valley. It is called Llivia, and is about as large as a large
English country parish, with a small country town in the middle.
One comes across the fields from villages where the signs and villagers
and the very look of the surface of the road are French; one suddenly
notices Spanish soldiers, Spanish signs, and Spanish prices in the
streets of the little place; one leaves it, and in five minutes one is
in France again. It is connected with its own country by a neutral road,
but it is an island of territory all the same, and the reason that it
was so left isolated is very typical of the old regime, with its solemn
legal pedantry, which we in England alone preserve in all Western
Europe. For the treaty which marked the limits here ceded to the French
"the valley and all its villages." The Spaniards pleaded that Llivia was
not a village but a town, and their plea was admitted.
I began by saying that this wide basin of land, with its strong people
and its isolated traditions, though it was so little known to-day, would
soon be too well known. So it will be, and the reason is this, that the
very low pass at one end of it will soon be crossed by a railway. It is
the only low pass in the Pyrenees, and it is so gradual and even (upon
the Spanish side) that the railway will everywhere be above ground.
Within perhaps five years it will be for the Pyrenees what the Brenner
is for the Alps, and when that is done any one who has read this may go
and see for himself whether it is not true that from that plain at
evening the frontier ridge of Andorra seems to be the highest thing in
Carcassonne differs from other monumental towns in this: that it
preserves exactly the aspect of many centuries up to a certain moment,
and from that moment has "set," and has suffered no further change. You
see and touch, as you walk along its ramparts, all the generations from
that crisis in the fifth century when the public power was finally
despaired of--and after which each group of the Western Empire began to
see to its own preservation--down to that last achievement of the
thirteenth, when medieval civilisation had reached its full flower and
was ready for the decline that followed the death of St. Louis and the
extinction of the German phantasy of empire.
No other town can present so vivid and clean-cut a fossil of the seven
hundred years into which poured and melted all the dissolution of
antiquity, and out of which was formed or chrystallised the highly
specialised diversity of our modern Europe.
In the fascination of extreme age many English sites are richer;
Winchester and Canterbury may be quoted from among a hundred. In the
superimposition of age upon age of human history, Arles and Rome are far
more surprising. In historic continuity most European towns surpass it,
from Paris, whose public justice, worship, and market have kept to the
same site for quite sixteen centuries, to London, of which the city at
least preserves upon three sides the Roman limit. But no town can of its
nature give as does Carcassonne this overwhelming impression of survival
* * * * *
The attitude and position of Carcassonne enforce its character. Up
above the river, but a little set back from the valley, right against
the dawn as you come to it from Toulouse through the morning, stands a
long, steep, and isolated rock, the whole summit of which from the sharp
cliff on the north to that other on the south is doubled in height by
what seems one vast wall--and more than twenty towers. Indeed, it is at
such a time, in early morning, and best in winter when the frost defines
and chisels every outline, that Carcassonne should be drawn. You then
see it in a band of dark blue-grey, all even in texture, serrated and
battlemented and towered, with the metallic shining of the dawn behind
So to have seen it makes it very difficult to write of it or even to
paint; what one wishes to do is rather to work it out in enamel upon a
surface of bronze. This rock, wholly covered with the works of the city,
stands looking at the Pyrenees and holding the only level valley between
the Mediterranean and the Garonne, and even if one had read nothing
concerning it one would understand why it has filled all the legends of
the return of armies from Spain, why Victor Hugo could not rest from the
memory of it, and why it is so strongly woven in with the story of
There is another and better reason for the quality of Carcassonne, and
that is the act, to which I can recall no perfect parallel in Christian
history, by which St. Louis turned what had been a living town into a
mere stronghold. Every inhabitant of Carcassonne was transferred, not to
suburbs, but right beyond the river, a mile and more away, to the site
of that delightful town which is the Carcassonne of maps and railways,
the place where the seventeenth century meets you in graceful ornaments,
and where is, to my certain knowledge, the best inn south of parallel
45. St. Louis turned the rock into a mere stronghold, strengthened it,
built new towers, and curtained them into that unsurpassable masonry of
the central Middle Ages which you may yet admire in Aigues-Mortes and in
This political act, the removal of a whole city, may have been
accomplished in many other places; it is certainly recorded of many:
but, for the moment at least, I can remember none except Carcassonne in
which its consequences have remained. To this many causes have
contributed, but chiefly this, that the new town was transferred to the
open plain from the trammels of a narrow plateau, just at the moment
when all the towns of Western Europe were growing and breaking their
bonds; just after the principal cities of north-western Europe had got
their charters, and when Paris (the typical municipality of that age as
of our own) was trebling its area and its population.
The transference of the population once accomplished, the rock and
towers of Carcassonne ceased to change and to grow. Humanity was gone.
The fortress was still of great value in war; the Black Prince attempted
its destruction, and it is only within living memory that it ceased to
be set down on maps (and in Government offices!) as a fortified place:
but the necessity for immediate defence, and the labour which would have
remodelled it, had disappeared. There had disappeared also that eager
and destructive activity which accompanies any permanent gathering of
French families. The new town on the plain changed perpetually, and is
changing still. It has lost almost everything of the Middle Ages; it
carries, by a sort of momentum, a flavour of Louis XIV, but the masons
are at it as they are everywhere, from the Channel to the Mediterranean;
for to pull down and rebuild is the permanent recreation of the French.
The rock remains. It is put in order whenever a stone falls out of
place--no one of weight has talked nonsense here against restoration,
for the sense of the past is too strong--but though it is minutely and
continually repaired, Old Carcassonne does not change. There is no other
set of walls in Europe of which this is true.
* * * * *
Walking round the circuit of these walls and watching from their height
the long line of the mountains, one is first held by that modern
subject, the landscape, or that still more modern fascination of great
hills. Next one feels what the Middle Ages designed of mass and weight
and height, and wonders by what accident of the mind they so succeeded
in suggesting infinity: one remembers Beauvais, which is infinitely high
at evening, and the tower of Portrut, which seems bigger than any hill.
But when these commoner emotions are passed, one comes upon a very
different thing. A little tower there, jutting out perilously from the
wall, shows three courses of a _small red brick_ set in a mortar-like
stone. When I saw this kind of building I went close up and touched it
with my hand. It was Roman. I knew the signal well. I had seen that
brick, and picked it loose from an Arab stable on the edge of the
Sahara, and I had seen it jutting through moss on the high moors of
Northumberland. I know a man who reverently brought home to Sussex such
another, which he had found unbroken far beyond Damascus upon the Syrian
It is easy to speak of the Empire and to say that it established its
order from the Tyne to the Euphrates; but when one has travelled alone
and on foot up and down the world and seen its vastness and its
complexity, and yet everywhere the unity even of bricks in their
courses, then one begins to understand the name of Rome.
Every man that lands in Lynn feels all through him the antiquity and the
call of the town; but especially if he comes, as I came in with another
man in springtime, from the miles and miles of emptiness and miles of
bending grass and the shouting of the wind. After that morning, in which
one had been a little point on an immense plane, with the gale not only
above one, as it commonly is, but all around one as it is at sea; and
after having steeped one's mind in the peculiar loneliness which haunts
a stretch of ill-defined and wasted shore, the narrow, varied, and
unordered streets of the port enhance the creations of man and emphasise
Words so few are necessarily obscure. Let me expand them. I mean that
the unexpected turning of the ways in such a port is perpetually
revealing something new; that the little spaces frame, as it were, each
unexpected sight: thus at the end of a street one will catch a patch of
the Fens beyond the river, a great moving sail, a cloud, or the
sculptured corner of an excellent house.
The same history also that permitted continual encroachment upon the
public thoroughfares and that built up a gradual High Street upon the
line of some cow-track leading from the fields to the ferry, the spirit
that everywhere permitted the powerful or the cunning to withstand
authority--that history (which is the history of all our little English
towns) has endowed Lynn with an endless diversity.
It is not only that the separate things in such towns are delightful,
nor only that one comes upon them suddenly, but also that these separate
things are so many. They have characters as men have. There is nothing
of that repetition which must accompany the love of order and the
presence of strong laws. The similar insistent forms which go with a
strong civilisation, as they give it majesty, so they give it also
gloom, and a heavy feeling of finality: these are quite lacking here in
England, where the poor have for so long submitted to the domination of
the rich, and the rich have dreaded and refused a central government.
Everything that goes with the power of individuals has added peculiarity
and meaning to all the stones of Lynn. Moreover, a quality whose absence
all men now deplore was once higher in England than anywhere else, save,
perhaps, in the northern Italian hills. I mean ownership, and what comes
from ownership--the love of home.
You can see the past effect of ownership and individuality in Lynn as
clearly as you can catch affection or menace in a human voice. The
outward expression is most manifest, and to pass in and out along the
lanes in front of the old houses inspires in one precisely those
emotions which are aroused by a human crowd.
All the roofs of Lynn and all its pavements are worthy (as though they
were living beings) of individual names.
Along the river shore, from the race of the ebb that had so nearly
drowned me many years before, I watched the walls that mark the edge of
the town against the Ouse, and especially that group towards which the
ferry-boat was struggling against the eddy and tumble of the tide.
They were walls of every age, not high, brick of a dozen harmonious
tones, with the accidents, corners, and breaches of perhaps seven
hundred years. Beyond, to the left, down the river, stood the masts in
the new docks that were built to preserve the trade of this difficult
port. Up-river, great new works of I know not what kind stood like a
bastion against the plain; and in between ran these oldest bits of Lynn,
somnolescent and refreshing--permanent.
The lanes up from the Ouse when I landed I found to be of a slow and
natural growth, with that slight bend to them that comes, I believe,
from the drying of fishing-nets. For it is said that courts of this
kind grew up in our sea-towns all round our eastern and the southern
coast in such a manner. It happened thus.
The town would begin upon the highest of the bank, for it was flatter
for building, drier and easier to defend than that part next to the
water. Down from the town to the shore the fishermen would lay out their
nets to dry. How nets look when they are so laid, their narrowness and
the curve they take, everybody knows. Then on the spaces between the
nets shanties would be built, or old boats turned upside down for
shelter, so that the curing of fish and the boiling of tar and the
serving and parcelling of ropes could be done under cover. Then as the
number of people grew, the squatters' land got value, and houses were
raised (you will find many small freeholds in such rows to this day),
but the lines of the net remained in the alley-ways between the houses.
All this I was once told by an old man who helped me to take my boat
down Breydon. He wore trousers of a brick red, and the stuff of them as
thick as boards, and had on also a very thick jersey and a cap of fur.
He was shaved upon his lips and chin, but all round the rest of his face
was a beard. He smoked a tiny pipe, quite black, and upon matters within
his own experience he was a great liar; but upon matters of tradition I
was willing to believe him.
Within the town, when I had gained it from that lane which has been the
ferry-lane, I suppose, since the ferry began, age and distinction were
Where else, thought I, in England could you say that nine years would
make no change? Whether, indeed, the Globe had that same wine of the
nineties I could not tell, for the hour was not congenial to wine; but
if it has some store of its Burgundy left from those days it must be
better still by now, for Burgundy wine takes nine years to mature, for
nine years remains in the plenitude of its powers, and for nine years
more declines into an honourable age; and this is also true of claret,
but in claret it goes by sevens.
* * * * *
The open square of the town, which one looks at from the Globe, gives
one a mingled pleasure of reminiscence and discovery. It breaks on one
abruptly. It is as wide as the pasture field, and all the houses are
ample and largely founded. Indeed, throughout this country,
elbow-room--the sense that there is space enough and to spare in such
flats and under an open sky--has filled the minds of builders. You may
see it in all the inland towns of the Fens; and one found it again here
upon the further bank, upon the edge of the Fens; for though Lynn is
just off the Fens, yet it looks upon their horizon and their sky, and
belongs to them in spirit.
In this large and comfortable square a very steadfast and most
considerable English bank is to be discovered. It is of honest brown
brick! its architecture is of the plainest; its appearance is such that
its credit could never fail, and that the house alone by its presence
could conduct a dignified business for ever. The rooms in it are so many
and so great that the owners of such a bank (having become princes by
its success) could inhabit them with a majesty worthy of their new
title. But who lives above his shop since Richardson died? And did old
Richardson? Lord knows!... Anyhow, the bank is glorious, and it is but
one of the fifty houses that I saw in Lynn.
Thus, in the same street as the Globe, was a facade of stone. If it was
Georgian, it was very early Georgian, for it was relieved with ornaments
of a delicate and accurate sort, and the proportions were exactly
satisfying to the eye that looked on it. The stone also was of that kind
(Portland stone, I think) which goes black and white with age, and which
is better suited than any other to the English climate.
In another house near the church I saw a roof that might have been a
roof for a town. It covered the living part and the stables, and the
outhouse and the brewhouse, and the barns, and for all I know the
pig-pens and the pigeons' as well. It was a benediction of a roof--a
roof traditional, a roof patriarchal, a roof customary, a roof of
permanence and unity, a roof that physically sheltered and spiritually
sustained, a roof majestic, a roof eternal. In a word, it was a roof
And what, thought I, is paid yearly in this town for such a roof as
that? I do not know; but I know of another roof at Goudhurst, in Kent,
which would have cost me less than L100 a year, only I could not get it
for love or money.
Then is also in Lynn a Custom House not very English, but very
beautiful. The faces carved upon it were so vivid that I could not but
believe them to have been carved in the Netherlands, and from this
Custom House looks down the pinched, unhappy face of that narrow
gentleman whom the great families destroyed--James II.
There is also in Lynn what I did not know was to be seen out of
Sussex--a Tudor building of chipped flints, and on it the mouldering
arms of Elizabeth.
The last Gothic of this Bishop's borough which the King seized from the
Church clings to chance houses in little carven masks and occasional
ogives: there is everywhere a feast for whatever in the mind is curious,
searching, and reverent, and over the town, as over all the failing
ports of our silting eastern seaboard, hangs the air of a great past
time, the influence of the Baltic and the Lowlands.
* * * * *
For these ancient places do not change, they permit themselves to stand
apart and to repose and--by paying that price--almost alone of all
things in England they preserve some historic continuity, and satisfy
the memories in one's blood.
* * * * *
So having come round to the Ouse again, and to the edge of the Fens at
Lynn, I went off at random whither next it pleased me to go.
I had slept perhaps seven hours when a lantern woke me, flashed in my
face, and I wondered confusedly why there was straw in my bed; then I
remembered that I was not in bed at all, but on manoeuvres. I looked up
and saw a sergeant with a bit of paper in his hand. He was giving out
orders, and the little light he carried sparkled on the gold of his
great dark-blue coat.
"You, the Englishman," he said (for that was what they called me as a
nickname), "go with the gunners to-day. Where is Labbe?"
Labbe (that man by profession a cook, by inclination a marquis, and now
by destiny a very good driver of guns) the day before had gone on foot.
To-day he was to ride. I pointed him out where he still lay sleeping.
The sergeant stirred him about with his foot, and said, "Pacte and
Basilique"; and Labbe grunted. In this simple way every one knew his
duty--Labbe that he had another hour's sleep and more, and that he was
to take my horses: I, that I must rise and get off to the square.
Then the sergeant went out of the barn, cursing the straw on his spurs,
and I lit a match and brushed down my clothes and ran off to the square.
It was not yet two in the morning.
The gunners were drawn up in a double line, and we reserve drivers stood
separate (there were only a dozen of us), and when they formed fours we
were at the tail. There was a lieutenant with us and a sergeant, also
two bombardiers--all mounted; and so we went off, keeping step till we
were out of the town, and then marching as we chose and thanking God for
the change. For it is no easy matter for drivers to march with gunners;
their swords impede them, and though the French drivers have not the
ridiculous top-boots that theatricalise other armies, yet even their
simple boots are not well suited for the road.
This custom of sending forward reserve drivers on foot, in rotation, has
a fine name to it. It is called "Haut-le-pied," "High-the-foot," and
must therefore be old.
A little way out of the town we had leave to sing, and we began, all
together, one of those long and charming songs with which the French
soldiery make-believe to forget the tedium of the road and the hardship
Now, if a man desired to answer once and for all those pedants who
refuse to understand the nature of military training (both those who
make a silly theatre-show of it and those who make it hideous and
diabolical), there could be no better way than to let him hear the songs
of soldiers. In the French service, at least, these songs are a whole
expression of the barrack-room; its extreme coarseness, its steady and
perpetual humour, its hatred of the hard conditions of discipline; and
also these songs continually portray the distant but delightful picture
of things--I mean of things rare and far off--which must lie at the back
of men's minds when they have much work to do with their hands and much
living in the open air and no women to pour out their wine.
Moreover, these songs have another excellent quality. They show all
through that splendid unconsciousness of the soldier, that inability in
him to see himself from without, or to pose as civilians always think
and say he poses.
We sang that morning first, the chief and oldest of the songs. It dates
from the Flemish wars of Louis XIV, and is called "Aupres de ma Blonde."
Every one knows the tune. Then we sang "The Song of the Miller," and
then many other songs, each longer than the last. For these songs, like
other lyrics, have it for an object to string out as many verses as
possible in order to kill the endless straight roads and the weariness.
We had need to sing. No sun rose, but the day broke over an ugly plain
with hardly any trees, and that grey and wretched dawn came in with a
cold and dispiriting rain unrefreshed by wind. Colson, who was a foolish
little man (the son of a squire), marching by my side, wondered where
and how we should be dried that day. The army was for ever producing
problems for Colson, and I was often his comforter. He liked to talk to
me and hear about England, and the rich people and their security, and
how they never served as soldiers (from luxury), and how (what he could
not understand) the poor had a bargain struck with them by the rich
whereby they also need not serve. I could learn from him the meaning of
many French words which I did not yet know. He had some little
education; had I asked the more ignorant men of my battery, they would
only have laughed, but he had read, in common books, of the differences
between nations, and could explain many things to me.
Colson, then, complaining of the rain, and wondering where he should get
dried, I told him to consider not so much the happy English, but rather
his poor scabbard and how he should clean it after the march, and his
poor clothes, all coated with mud, and needing an hour's brushing, and
his poor temper, which, if he did not take great care, would make him
grow up to be an anti-militarist and a byword.
So we wrangled, and it still rained. Our songs grew rarer, and there was
at last no noise but the slush of all those feet beating the muddy road,
and the occasional clank of metal as a scabbard touched some other
steel, or a slung carbine struck the hilt of a bayonet. It was well on
in the morning when the guns caught us up and passed us; the drivers all
shrouded in their coats and bending forward in the rain; the guns coated
and splashed with thick mud, and the horses also threatened hours of
grooming. I looked mine up and down as Labbe passed on them, and I
groaned, for it is a rule that a man grooms his own horses whether he
has ridden them or no, and after all, day in and day out, it works fair.
The guns disappeared into the mist of rain, and we went on through more
hours of miserable tramping, seeing no spire ahead of us, and unable to
count on a long halt.
Still, as we went, I noticed that we were on some great division,
between provinces perhaps, or between river valleys, for in France there
are many bare upland plateaus dividing separate districts; and it is a
feature of the country that the districts so divided have either formed
separate provinces in the past or, at any rate (even if they have not
had political recognition), have stood, and do still stand, for separate
units in French society. It was more apparent with every mile as we went
on that we were approaching new things. The plain was naked save for
rare planted trees, and here and there, a long way off (on the horizon,
it seemed) a farm or two, unprotected and alone.
The rain ceased, and the steady grey sky broke a little as we marched
on, still in silence, and by this time thirsty and a little dazed. A
ravine opened in a bare plateau, and we saw that it held a little
village. They led us into it, down a short steep bit of road, and lined
us up by a great basin of sparkling water, and every man was mad to
break ranks and drink; but no one dared. The children of the village
gathered in a little group and looked at us, and we envied their
freedom. When we had stood thus for a quarter of an hour or so, an
orderly came riding in all splashed, and his horse's coat rough with the
rain and steaming up into the air. He came up to the lieutenant in
command and delivered an order; then he rode away fast northward along
the ravine and out of the village. The lieutenant, when he had gone,
formed us into a little column, and we, who had expected to dismiss at
any moment, were full of anger, and were sullen to find that by some
wretched order or other we had to take another hour of the road: first
we had to go back four miles along the road we had already come, and
then to branch off perpendicular to our general line of march, and (as
it seemed to us) quite out of our way.
It is a difficult thing to move a great mass of men through a desolate
country by small units and leave them dependent on the country, and it
is rather wonderful that they do it so neatly and effect the junctions
so well; but the private soldier, who stands for those little black
blocks on the military map, has a boy's impatience in him; and a very
wise man, if he wishes to keep an army in spirit, will avoid
counter-marching as much as he can, for--I cannot tell why--nothing
takes the heart out of a man like having to plod over again the very way
he has just come. So, when we had come to a very small village in the
waste and halted there, finding our guns and drivers already long
arrived, we made an end of a dull and meaningless day--very difficult to
tell of, because the story is merely a record of fatigue. But in a diary
of route everything must be set down faithfully; and so I have set down
all this sodden and empty day.
That night I sat at a peasant's table and heard my four
stable-companions understanding everything, and evidently in their world
and at home, although they were conscripts. This turned me silent, and I
sat away from the light, looking at the fire and drying myself by its
logs. As I heard their laughter I remembered Sussex and the woods above
Arun, and I felt myself to be in exile. Then we slept in beds, and the
goodwife had our tunics dry by morning, for she also had a son in the
service, who was a long way off at Lyons, and was not to return for two
* * * * *
There are days in a long march when a man is made to do too much, and
others when he is made to do what seems meaningless, doubling backward
on his road, as we had done; there are days when he seems to advance
very little; but they are not days of repose, for they are full of
halting and doubts and special bits of work. Such a day had come to us
with the next dawn.
The reason of all these things--I mean, of the over-long marches, of the
counter-marches, and of the short days--was the complexity of the only
plan by which a great number of men and guns can be taken from one large
place to another without confusion by the way--living, as they must do,
upon the country, and finding at the end of every march water and hay
for the horses, food and some kind of shelter for the men. And this
plan, as I have said before, consists (in a European country) in
dividing your force, marching by roads more or less parallel, and
converging, after some days, on the object of the march.
It is evident that in a somewhat desolate region of small and distant
hamlets the front will be broader and the columns smaller, but when a
large town stands in the line of march, advantage will be taken of it to
mass one's men.
Such a town was Bar-le-Duc, and it was because our battery was so near
to it that this fourth day was a short march of less than eight miles.
They sent the gunners in early; we drivers started later than usual, and
the pace was smart at first under a happy morning sun, but still around
us were the bare fields, all but treeless, and the road was part of the
plain, not divided by hedges. The bombardier trotted by my side and told
me of the glories of Rheims, which was his native town. He was a mild
man, genial and good, and little apt for promotion. He interlarded his
conversation with official remarks to show a zeal he never felt, telling
one man that his tracks were slack, and another that his led-horse was
shirking, and after each official remark he returned up abeam of me to
tell me more of the riches and splendour of Rheims. He chose me out for
this favour because I already knew the countryside of the upper
Champagne, and had twice seen his city. He promised me that when we got
our first leave from camp he would show me many sights in the town; but
this he said hoping that I would pay for the entertainment, as indeed I
We did not halt, nor did we pass the gunners that morning; but when we
had gone about four miles or so the road began to descend through a wide
gully, and we saw before us the secluded and fruitful valley of the
Meuse. It is here of an even width for miles, bounded by regular low
hills. We were coming down the eastern wall of that valley, and on the
parallel western side a similar height, with similar ravines and
gullies leading down to the river, bounded our narrow view. I caught the
distant sound of trumpets up there beyond us, and nearer was the
unmistakable rumble of the guns. The clatter of horses below in the
valley road and the shouting of commands were the signs that the
regiment was meeting. The road turned. On a kind of platform, just
before it joined the main highway, a few feet above it, we halted to
wait our order--and we saw the guns go by!
Only half the regiment was to halt at Bar-le-Duc. But six batteries,
thirty-six guns, their men, horses, apparatus, forges, and waggons
occupying and advancing in streams over a valley are a wonderful sight.
Clouds of dust and the noise of the metal woke the silent places of the
Meuse, and sometimes river birds would rise and wheel in the air as the
clamour neared them. Far off a lonely battery was coming down the
western slope to join the throng in its order, and for some reason their
two trumpets were still playing the march and lending to this great
display the unity of music. We dismounted and watched from the turf of
the roadside a pageant which the accident of an ordered and servile life
afforded us; for it is true of armies that the compensation of their
drudgery and miserable subjection is the continual opportunity of these
large emotions; and not only by their vastness and arrangement, but by
the very fact that they merge us into themselves, do armies widen the
spirit of a man and give it communion with the majesty of great numbers.
One becomes a part of many men.
The seventh battery, with which we had little to do (for in quarters
they belonged to the furthest corner from our own), first came by and
passed us, with that interminable repetition of similar things which is
the note of a force on the march, and makes it seem like a river
flowing. We recognised it by the figure of one Chevalier, a major
attached to them. He was an absent-minded man of whom many stories were
told--kindly, with a round face; and he wore eyeglasses, either for the
distinction they afforded or because he was short of sight. The seventh
passed us, and their forge and waggon ended the long train. A
regulation space between them and the next allowed the dust to lie a
little, and then the ninth came by; we knew them well, because in
quarters they were our neighbours. At their head was their captain,
whose name was Levy. He was a Jew, small, very sharp-featured, and a man
who worked astonishingly hard. He was very popular with his men, and his
battery was happy and boasted. He cared especially for their food, and
would go into their kitchen daily to taste the soup. He was also a
silent man. He sat his horse badly, bent and crouched, but his eyes were
very keen; and he again was a character of whom the men talked and told
stories. I believe he was something of a mathematician; but we knew
little of such things where our superiors were concerned.
As the ninth battery passed us we were given the order to mount, and
knew that our place came next. The long-drawn _Ha-a-lte!_ and the lifted
swords down the road contained for a while the batteries that were to
follow, and we filed out of our side road into the long gap they had
left us. Then, taking up the trot, ourselves, we heard the order passing
down infinitely till it was lost in the length of the road; the trumpets
galloped past us and formed at the head of the column; a much more
triumphant noise of brass than we had yet heard heralded us with a kind
of insolence, and the whole train with its two miles and more of noisy
power gloried into the old town of Bar-le-Duc, to the great joy of its
young men and women at the windows, to the annoyance of the
householders, to the stupefaction of the old, and doubtless to the
ultimate advantage of the Republic.
When we had formed park in the grey market-square, ridden our horses off
to water at the river and to their quarters, cleaned kit and harness,
and at last were free--that is, when it was already evening--Matthieu, a
friend of mine who had come by another road with his battery, met me
strolling on the bridge. Matthieu was of my kind, he had such a lineage
as I had and such an education. We were glad to meet. He told me of his
last halting-place--Pagny--hidden on the upper river. It is the place
where the houses of Luxembourg were buried, and some also of the great
men who fell when Henry V of England was fighting in the North, and when
on this flank the Eastern dukes were waging the Burgundian wars. It was
not the first time that the tumult of men in arms had made echoes along
the valley. Matthieu and I went off together to dine. He lent me a pin
of his, a pin with a worked head, to pin my tunic with where it was
torn, and he begged me to give it back to him. But I have it still, for
I have never seen him since; nor shall I see him, nor he me, till the
THE LOOE STREAM
Of the complexity of the sea, and of how it is manifold, and of how it
mixes up with a man, and may broaden or perfect him, it would be very
tempting to write; but if one once began on this, one would be immeshed
and drowned in the metaphysic, which never yet did good to man nor
beast. For no one can eat or drink the metaphysic, or take any
sustenance out of it, and it has no movement or colour, and it does not
give one joy or sorrow; one cannot paint it or hear it, and it is too
thin to swim about in. Leaving, then, all these general things, though
they haunt me and tempt me, at least I can deal little by little and
picture by picture with that sea which is perpetually in my mind, and
let those who will draw what philosophies they choose. And the first
thing I would like to describe is that of a place called the Looe
Stream, through which in a boat only the other day I sailed for the
first time, noticing many things. When St. Wilfrid went through those
bare heaths and coppices, which were called the forest of Anderida, and
which lay all along under the Surrey Downs, and through which there was
a long, deserted Roman road, and on this road a number of little brutish
farms and settlements (for this was twelve hundred years ago), he came
out into the open under the South Downs, and crossed my hills and came
to the sea plain, and there he found a kind of Englishman more savage
than the rest, though Heaven knows there were none of them particularly
refined or gay. From these Englishmen the noble people of Sussex are
Already the rest of England had been Christian a hundred years when St.
Wilfrid came down into the sea plain, and found, to his astonishment,
this sparse and ignorant tribe. They were living in the ruins of the
Roman palaces; they were too stupid to be able to use any one of the
Roman things they had destroyed. They had kept, perhaps, some few of the
Roman women, certainly all the Roman slaves. They had, therefore, vague
memories of how the Romans tilled the land.
But those memories were getting worse and worse, for it was nearly two
hundred years since the ships of Aella had sailed into Shoreham (which
showed him to be a man of immense determination, for it is a most
difficult harbour, and there were then no piers and lights)--it was
nearly two hundred years, and there was only the least little glimmering
twilight left of the old day. These barbarians were going utterly to
pieces, as barbarians ever will when they are cut off from the life and
splendour of the south. They had become so cretinous and idiotic, that
when St. Wilfrid came wandering among them they did not know how to get
food. There was a famine, and as their miserable religion, such as it
was (probably it was very like these little twopenny-halfpenny modern
heresies of their cousins, the German pessimists)--their religion, I
say, not giving them the jolly energy which all decent Western religion
gives a man, they being also by the wrath of God deprived of the use of
wine (though tuns upon tuns of it were waiting for them over the sea a
little way off, but probably they thought their horizon was the end of
the world)--their religion, I say, being of this nature, they had
determined, under the pressure of that famine which drove them so hard,
to put an end to themselves, and St. Wilfrid saw them tying themselves
together in bands (which shows that they knew at least how to make rope)
and jumping off the cliffs into the sea. This practice he determined to
He went to their King--who lived in Chichester, I suppose, or possibly
at Bramber--and asked him why the people were going on in this fashion,
who said to him: "It is because of the famine."
St. Wilfrid, shrugging his shoulders, said: "Why do they not eat fish?"
"Because," said the King, "fish, swimming about in the water, are
almost impossible to catch. We have tried it in our hunger a hundred
times, but even when we had the good luck to grasp one of them, the
slippery thing would glide from our fingers."
St. Wilfrid then in some contempt said again:
"Why do you not make nets?"
And he explained the use of nets to the whole Court, preaching, as it
were, a sermon upon nets to them, and craftily introducing St. Peter and
that great net which they hang outside his tomb in Rome upon his feast
day--which is the 29th of June. The King and his Court made a net and
threw it into the sea, and brought out a great mass of fish. They were
so pleased that they told St. Wilfrid they would do anything he asked.
He baptised them and they made him their first bishop; and he took up
his residence in Selsey, and since then the people of Sussex have gone
steadily forward, increasing in every good thing, until they are now by
far the first and most noble of all the people in the world.
There is I know not what in history, or in the way in which it is
taught, which makes people imagine that it is something separate from
the life they are living, and because of this modern error, you may very
well be wondering what on earth this true story of the foundation of our
country has to do with the Looe Stream. It has everything to do with it.
The sea, being governed by a pagan god, made war at once, and began
eating up all those fields which had specially been consecrated to the
Church, civilisation, common sense, and human happiness. It is still
doing so, and I know an old man who can remember a forty-acre field all
along by Clymping having been eaten up by the sea; and out along past
Rustington there is, about a quarter of a mile from the shore, a rock,
called the Church Rock, the remains of a church which quite a little
time ago people used for all the ordinary purposes of a church.
The sea then began to eat up Selsey. Before the Conquest--though I
cannot remember exactly when--the whole town had gone, and they had to
remove the cathedral to Chichester. In Henry VIII's time there was still
a park left out of the old estates, a park with trees in it; but this
also the sea has eaten up; and here it is that I come to the Looe
Stream. The Looe Stream is a little dell that used to run through the
park, and which to-day,--right out at sea, furnishes the only gate by
which ships can pass through the great maze of banks and rocks which go
right out to sea from Selsey Bill, miles and miles, and are called the
On the chart that district is still called "The Park," and at very low
tides stumps of the old trees can be seen; and for myself I believe,
though I don't think it can be proved, that in among the masses of sand
and shingle which go together to make the confused dangers of the Owers,
you would find the walls of Roman palaces, and heads of bronze and
marble, and fragments of mosaic and coins of gold.
The tide coming up from the Channel finds, rising straight out of the
bottom of the sea, the shelf of this old land, and it has no avenue by
which to pour through save this Looe Stream, which therefore bubbles and
runs like a mill-race, though it is in the middle of the sea.
If you did not know what was underneath you, you could not understand
why this river should run separate from the sea all round, but when you
have noticed the depths on the chart, you see a kind of picture in your
mind: the wall of that old mass of land standing feet above the floor of
the Channel, and the top of what was once its fields and its villas, and
its great church almost awash at low tides, and through it a cleft,
which was, I say, a dell in the old park, but is now that Looe Stream
buoyed up on either side, and making a river by itself running in the
Sailing over it, and remembering all these things at evening, I got out
of the boil and tumble into deep water. It got darker, and the light on
the _Nab_ ship showed clearly a long way off, and purple against the
west stood the solemn height of the island. I set a course for this
light, being alone at the tiller, while my two companions slept down
below. When the night was full the little variable air freshened into a
breeze from the south-east; it grew stronger and stronger, and lifted
little hearty following seas, and blowing on my quarter drove me
quickly to the west, whither I was bound. The night was very warm and
very silent, although little patches of foam murmured perpetually, and
though the wind could be heard lightly in the weather shrouds.
The star Jupiter shone brightly just above my wake, and over Selsey
Bill, through a flat band of mist, the red moon rose slowly, enormous.
Sitting one day in Pampeluna, which occupies the plain just below the
southern and Spanish escarpment of the Pyrenees, I and another
remembered with an equal desire that we had all our lives desired to see
Roncesvalles and the place where Roland died. This town (we said) was
that which Charlemagne destroyed upon his march to the Pass, and I, for
my part, desired here, as in every other part of Europe where I had been
able to find his footsteps, to follow them, and so to re-create his
The road leads slantwise through the upper valleys of Navarre, crossing
by passes the various spurs of the mountains, but each pass higher than
the last and less frequented, for each is nearer the main range. As you
leave Pampeluna the road grows more and more deserted, and the country
through which it cuts more wild. The advantages of wealth which are
conferred by the neighbourhood of the capital of Navarre are rapidly
lost as one proceeds; the houses grow rarer, the shrines more ruinous
and more aged, until one comes at last upon the bleak valley which
introduces the final approach to Roncesvalles.
The wealth and order everywhere associated with the Basque blood have
wholly disappeared. This people is not receding--it holds its own, as it
deserves to do; but as there are new fields which it has occupied within
the present century upon the more western hills, so there are others to
the east, and this valley among them, from whence it has disappeared.
The Basque names remain, but the people are no longer of the Basque
type, and the tongue is forgotten.
So gradual is the ascent and so continual the little cols which have to
be surmounted, that a man does not notice how much upward he is being
led towards the crest of the ridge. And when he comes at last upon the
grove from which he sees the plateau of Roncesvalles spread before him,
he wonders that the chain of the Pyrenees (which here lie out along in
cliffs like sharp sunward walls, stretching in a strict perspective to
the distant horizon) should seem so low. The reason that this white wall
of cliffs seems so low is that the traveller is standing upon the last
of a series of great steps which have led him up towards the frontier,
much as the prairie leads one up towards the Rockies in Colorado. When
he has passed through the very pleasant wood which lies directly beneath
the cliffs, and reaches the little village of Roncesvalles itself, he
wonders still more that so famous a pass should be so small a thing. The
pass from this side is so broad, with so low a saddle of grass, that it
seems more like the crossing of the Sussex Downs than the crossing of an
awful range of mountains. It is a rounded gap, up to which there lifts a
pretty little wooded combe; and no one could be certain, during the
half-hour spent in climbing such a petty summit, that he was, in so
climbing, conquering Los Altos, the high Pyrenees.