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Hills and the Sea by H. Belloc

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But when the summit is reached, then the meaning of the "_Imus
Pyrenaeus_," and the place that passage has taken in history, is
comprehended in a moment. One sees at what a height one was in that
plain of Roncesvalles, and one sees how the main range dominates the
world; for down below one an enormous cleft into the stuff of the
mountains falls suddenly and almost sheer, and you see unexpectedly
beneath you the approach from France into Spain. The gulf at its
narrowest is tremendous; but, more than that, when the floor of the
valley is reached, that floor itself slopes away down and down by runs
and by cascades towards the very distant plains of the north, upon which
the funnel debouches. Moreover, it was up this gulf, and from the north,
that the armies came; it was this vision of a precipice that seized them
when their leaders had determined to invade the Peninsula. This also
was what, for so many generations, so many wanderers must have seen who
came to wonder at the place where the rearguard of Charlemagne had been

The whole of the slope is covered with an ancient wood, and this wood is
so steep that it would be impossible or dangerous to venture down it.
The old Carolingian road skirts the mountain-side with difficulty,
clinging well up upon its flank; the great modern road, which is
excellent and made for artillery, has to go even nearer the summit;
below them there falls away a slant or edge to which the huge beech
trees cling almost parallel to the steep earth, running their
perpendicular lines so high and close against the hill that they look
like pines. As you peer down in among the trunks, you see the darkness
increasing until the eye can penetrate no more, and dead, enormous trees
that have lived their centuries, and have fallen perhaps for decades,
lie across the aisles of the wood, propped up against their living
fellows; for, by one of those political accidents which are common
throughout the whole length of the Pyrenees, both sides of the watershed
belong to Spain, so that no Government or modern energy has come to
disturb the silence. One would swear that the last to order this wood
were the Romans.

I had thought to find so famous a valley peopled, or at least visited. I
found it utterly alone, and even free from travellers, as though the
wealthier part of Europe had forgotten the most famous of Christian
epics. I saw no motor-cars, nor any women--only at last, in the very
depths of the valley, a boy cutting grass in a tiny patch of open land.
And it was hereabouts, so far as I could make out, that the Peers were

The song, of course, makes them fall on the far side of the summit, upon
the fields of Roncesvalles, with the sun setting right at them along the
hills. And that is as it should be, for it is evident that (in a poem)
the hero fighting among hills should die upon the enemy's side of the
hills. But that is not the place where Roland really died. The place
where he really died, he and Oliver and Turpin and all the others, was
here in the very recess of the Northern Valley. It was here only that
rocks could have been rolled down upon an army, and here is that narrow,
strangling gorge where the line of march could most easily have been cut
in two by the fury of the mountaineers. Also Eginhard says very clearly
that they had already passed the hills and seen France, and that is
final. It was from these cliffs, then, that such an echo was made by the
horn of Roland, and it was down that funnel of a valley that the noise
grew until it filled Christendom; and it was up that gorge that there
came, as it says in the song--

The host in a tide returning:
Charles the King and his Barony.

This was the place. And any man who may yet believe (I know such a
discussion is pedantry)--any man who may yet believe the song of Roland
to have been a Northern legend had better come to this place and drink
the mountains in. For whoever to-day

High are the hills and huge and dim with cloud,
Down in the deeps, the living streams are loud,

had certainly himself stood in the silence and majesty of this valley.

It was already nearly dark when we two men had clambered down to that
place, and up between the walls of the valley we had already seen the
early stars. We pushed on to the French frontier in an eager appetite
for cleanliness and human food.

The last Spanish town is called Val Carlos, as it ought to be,
considering that Charlemagne himself had once come roaring by. When we
reached it in the darkness we had completed a forced march of forty-two
miles, going light, it is true, and carrying nothing each of us but a
gourd of wine and a sack, but we were very tired. There, at the goal of
our effort, one faint sign of Government and of men at last appeared. It
was in character with all the rest. One might not cross the frontier
upon the road without a written leave. The written leave was given us,
and in half an hour Spain was free.


We live a very little time. Before we have reached the middle of our
time perhaps, but not long before, we discover the magnitude of our
inheritance. Consider England. How many men, I should like to know, have
discovered before thirty what treasures they may work in her air? She
magnifies us inwards and outwards; her fields can lead the mind down
towards the subtle beginning of things; the tiny irridescence of
insects; the play of light upon the facets of a blade of grass. Her
skies can lead the mind up infinitely into regions where it seems to
expand and fill, no matter what immensities.

It was the wind off the land that made me think of all this possession
in which I am to enjoy so short a usufruct. I sat in my boat holding
that tiller of mine, which is not over firm, and is but a rough bar of
iron. There was no breeze in the air, and the little deep vessel swung
slightly to the breathing of the sea. Her great mainsail and her
baloon-jib came over lazily as she swung, and filled themselves with the
cheating semblance of a wind. The boom creaked in the goose-neck, and at
every roll the slack of the mainsheet tautened with a kind of little
thud which thrilled the deck behind me. I saw under the curve of my
headsail the long and hazy line, which is the only frontier of England;
the plain that rather marries with than defies her peculiar seas. For it
was in the Channel, and not ten miles from the coastline of my own
country, that these thoughts rose in me during the calm at the end of
winter, and the boat was drifting down more swiftly than I knew upon the
ebb of the outer tide. Far off to the south sunlight played upon the
water, and was gone again. The great ships did not pass near me, and so
I sat under a hazy sky restraining the slight vibration of the helm and
waiting for the wind.

In whatever place a man may be the spring will come to him. I have heard
of men in prison who would note the day when its influence passed
through the narrow window that was their only communion with their kind.
It comes even to men in cities; men of the stupid political sort, who
think in maps and whose interest is in the addition of numbers. Indeed,
I have heard such men in London itself expressing pleasure when a
south-west gale came up in April from over the pines of Hampshire and of
Surrey and mixed the Atlantic with the air of the fields. To me this
year the spring came suddenly, like a voice speaking, though a low
one--the voice of a person subtle, remembered, little known, and always
desired. For a wind blew off the land.

The surface of the sea northward between me and the coast of Sussex had
been for so many hours elastic, smooth, and dull, that I had come to
forget the indications of a change. But here and there, a long way off,
little lines began to show, which were indeed broad spaces of ruffled
water, seen edgeways from the low free-board of my boat. These joined
and made a surface all the way out towards me, but a surface not yet
revealed for what it was, nor showing the movement and life and grace of
waves. For no light shone upon it, and it was not yet near enough to be
distinguished. It grew rapidly, but the haze and silence had put me into
so dreamy a state that I had forgotten the ordinary anxiety and
irritation of a calm, nor had I at the moment that eager expectancy of
movement which should accompany the sight of that dark line upon the

Other things possessed me, the memory of home and of the Downs. There
went before this breeze, as it were, attendant servants, outriders who
brought with them the scent of those first flowers in the North Wood or
beyond Gumber Corner, and the fragrance of our grass, the savour which
the sheep know at least, however much the visitors to my dear home
ignore it. A deeper sympathy even than that of the senses came with
those messengers and brought me the beeches and the yew trees also,
although I was so far out at sea, for the loneliness of this great water
recalled the loneliness of the woods, and both those solitudes--the real
and the imaginary--mixed in my mind together as they might in the mind
of a sleeping man.

Before this wind as it approached, the sky also cleared: not of clouds,
for there were none, but of that impalpable and warm mist which seems to
us, who know the south country and the Channel, to be so often part of
the sky, and to shroud without obscuring the empty distances of our
seas. There was a hard clear light to the north; and even over the
Downs, low as they were upon the horizon, there was a sharp belt of
blue. I saw the sun strike the white walls of Lady Newburgh's Folly, and
I saw, what had hitherto been all confused, the long line of the Arundel
Woods contrasting with the plain. Then the boom went over to port, the
jib filled, I felt the helm pulling steadily for the first time in so
many hours, and the boat responded. The wind was on me; and though it
was from the north, that wind was warm, for it came from the sheltered

Then, indeed, I quite forgot those first few moments, which had so
little to do with the art of sailing, and which were perhaps unworthy of
the full life that goes with the governing of sails and rudders. For one
thing, I was no longer alone; a man is never alone with the wind--and
the boat made three. There was work to be done in pressing against the
tiller and in bringing her up to meet the seas, small though they were,
for my boat was also small. Life came into everything; the Channel leapt
and (because the wind was across the tide) the little waves broke in
small white tips: in their movement and my own, in the dance of the boat
and the noise of the shrouds, in the curtsy of the long sprit that
caught the ridges of foam and lifted them in spray, even in the free
streaming of that loose untidy end of line which played in the air from
the leach, as young things play from wantonness, in the rush of the
water, just up to and sometimes through the lee scuppers, and in the
humming tautness of the sheet, in everything about me there was
exuberance and joy. The sun upon the twenty million faces of the waves
made, music rather than laughter, and the energy which this first warmth
of the year had spread all over the Channel and shore, while it made
life one, seemed also to make it innumerable. We were now not only
three, the wind and my boat and I; we were all part (and masters for the
moment) of a great throng. I knew them all by their names, which I had
learnt a long time ago, and had sung of them in the North Sea. I have
often written them down. I will not be ashamed to repeat them here, for
good things never grow old. There was the Wave that brings good tidings,
and the Wave that breaks on the shore, and the Wave of the island, and
the Wave that helps, and the Wave that lifts forrard, the kindly Wave
and the youngest Wave, and Amathea the Wave with bright hair, all the
waves that come up round Thetis in her train when she rises from the
side of the old man, her father, where he sits on his throne in the
depth of the sea; when she comes up cleaving the water and appears to
her sons in the upper world.

The Wight showed clear before me. I was certain with the tide of making
the Horse Buoy and Spithead while it was yet afternoon, and before the
plenitude of that light and movement should have left me. I settled down
to so much and such exalted delight as to a settled task. I lit my pipe
for a further companion (since it was good to add even to so many). I
kept my right shoulder only against the tiller, for the pressure was now
steady and sound. I felt the wind grow heavy and equable, and I caught
over my shoulder the merry wake of this very honest moving home of mine
as she breasted and hissed through the sea.

Here, then, was the proper end of a long cruise. It was springtime, and
the season for work on land. I had been told so by the heartening wind.
And as I went still westward, remembering the duties of the land, the
sails still held full, the sheets and the weather shrouds still stood
taut and straining, and the little clatter of the broken water spoke
along the lee rail. And so the ship sailed on.

[Greek: 'En d thnemos presen mxson istion, thmphi de kuma]
[Greek: Sseire porphureon megal' iache, neos iouses.]


A man might discuss with himself what it was that made certain great
sights of the world famous, and what it is that keeps others hidden.
This would be especially interesting in the case of mountains. For there
is no doubt that there is a modern attraction in mountains which may not
endure, but which is almost as intense in our generation as it was in
that of our fathers. The emotion produced by great height and by the
something unique and inspiring which distinguishes a mountain from a
hill has bitten deeply into the modern mind. Yet there are some of the
most astounding visions of this sort in Europe which are, and will
probably remain, unemphasised for travellers.

The vision of the Berenese Oberland when it breaks upon one from the
crest of Jura has been impressed--upon English people, at least--in two
fine passages: the one written by Ruskin, the other, if I remember
right, in a book called _A Cruise upon Wheels_. The French have, I
believe, no classical presentment of that view, nor perhaps have the
Germans. The line of the Alps as one sees it upon very clear days from
the last of the Apennines--this, I think, has never been properly
praised in any modern book--not even an Italian. The great red
mountain-face which St. Bruno called "the desert" I do not remember to
have read of anywhere nor to have heard described; for it stands above
an unfrequented valley, and the regular approach to the Chartreuse is
from the other side. Yet it is something which remains as vivid to those
few who have suddenly caught sight of it from a turn of the Old Lyons
road as though they had seen it in a fantastic dream. That astonishing
circle of cliffs which surrounds Bourg d'Oisans, though it has been
written of now and then, has not, so to speak, taken root in people's

Even in this country there are twenty great effects which, though they
have, of course, suffered record, are still secure from general praise;
for instance, that awful trench which opens under your feet, as it were,
up north and beyond Plynlimmon. It is a valley as unexpected and as
incredible in its steepness and complete isolation as any one may see in
the drawings of the romantic generation of English water-colour, yet
perhaps no one has drawn it; there is certainly no familiar picture of
it anywhere.

When one comes to think of it, the reason of such exceptions to fame as
are these is usually that such and such an unknown but great sight lies
off the few general roads of travel. It is a vulgar reason, but the true
one. Unless men go to a mountain to climb because it is difficult to
climb, or unless it often appears before them along one of their main
journeys, it will remain quiet. Among such masses is the Canigou.

Here is a mountain which may be compared to Etna. It is lower, indeed,
in the proportion of nine to eleven; but when great isolated heights of
this sort are in question, such a difference hardly counts. It can be
seen, as Etna can, from the sea, though it stands a good deal more
inland; it dominates, as Etna does, a very famous plain, but modern
travel does nothing to bring it into the general consciousness of the
world. If Spain were wealthy, or if the Spanish harbours naturally led
to any place which all the rich desired to visit, the name of the
Canigou would begin to grow. Where the railway skirts the sea from
Narbonne to Barcelona, it is your permanent companion for a good hour in
the express, and for any time you like in the ordinary trains. During at
least three months in the year, its isolation is peculiarly relieved and
marked by the snow, which lies above an even line all along its vast
bulk. It is also one of those mountains in which one can recognise the
curious regularity of the "belts" which text-books talk of. There are
great forests at the base of it, just above the hot Mediterranean
plain; the beech comes higher than the olive, the pines last of all;
after them the pastures and the rocks. In the end of February a man
climbs up from a spring that is as southern as Africa to a winter that
is as northern as the highlands of Scotland, and all the while he feels
that he is climbing nothing confused or vague, but one individual peak
which is the genius of the whole countryside.

This countryside is the Roussillon, a lordship as united as the
Cerdagne; it speaks one language, shows one type of face, and is
approached by but a small group of roads, and each road passes through a
mountain gap. For centuries it went with Barcelona. It needed the
Revolution to make it French, and it is full of Spanish memories to this

For the Roussillon depends upon the Canigou just as the Bay of Syracuse
depends upon Etna, or that of Naples upon Vesuvius, and its familiar
presence has sunk into the patriotism of the Roussillon people, as those
more famous mountains have into the art and legends of their neighbours.
There are I know not how many monographs upon the Canigou, but not one
has been translated, I would wager, into any foreign language.

Yet it is the mountain which very many men who have hardly heard its
name have been looking for all their lives. It gives as good camping as
is to be had in the whole of the Pyrenees. I believe there is fishing,
and perhaps one can shoot. Properly speaking, there is no climbing in
it; at least, one can walk up it all the way if one chooses the right
path, but there is everything else men look for when they escape from
cities. It is so big that you would never learn it in any number of
camps, and the change of its impressions is perpetual. From the summit
the view has two interests--of colour and of the past. You have below
you a plain like an inlaid work of chosen stones: the whole field is an
arrangement of different culture and of bright rocks and sand; and below
you, also, in a curve, is all that coast which at the close of the Roman
Empire was, perhaps, the wealthiest in Europe. In the extreme north a
man might make out upon a clear day the bulk of Narbonne. Perpignan is
close by; the little rock harbour of Venus, Port Vendres, is to the
south. From the plain below one, which has always been crammed with
riches, sprang the chief influences of Southern Gaul. It was here that
the family of Charlemagne took its origin, and it was perhaps from here
that he saw, through the windows of a palace, that fleet of pirates
which moved him to his sad prophecy. That plain, moreover, will
re-arise; it is still rich, and all the Catalan province of Spain below
it, of which it is the highway and the approach, must increase in value
before Europe from year to year. The vast development of the French
African territory is reacting upon that coast: all it needs is a central
harbour, and if that harbour were formed it would do what Narbo did for
the Romans at the end of their occupation;--it would tap, much better
than does Cette, the wealth of Gascony, perhaps, also, an Atlantic
trade, and its exchanges towards Africa and the Levant. The
Mediterranean, which is perpetually increasing in wealth and in
importance to-day, would have a second Marseilles, and should such a
port arise--then, when our ships and our travellers are familiar with
it, the Canigou (if it cares for that sort of thing) will be as happy as
the Matterhorn. For the present it is all alone.


I knew a man once that was a territorial magnate and had an estate in
the county of Berkshire. I will not conceal his name. It was William
Frederick Charles Hermann-Postlethwaite.

On his estate was a large family mansion, surrounded by tasteful gardens
of a charming old kind, and next outside these a great park, well
timbered. But the thing I am going to talk about was a certain wood of
which he was rightly very proud. It stood on the slope of a grass down,
just above the valley, and beneath it was a clean white road, and a
little way along that a town, part of which belonged to Mr.
Hermann-Postlethwaite, part to a local solicitor and moneylender,
several bits to a brewer in Reading, and a few houses to the
inhabitants. The people in the town were also fond of the wood, and
called it "The Old Wood." It was not very large, but, as I have said
before, it was very beautiful, and contained all manner of trees, but
especially beeches, under which nothing will grow--as the poet puts it
in Sussex:

Unner t' beech and t' yow Nowt 'll grow.

Well, as years passed, Mr. Hermann-Postlethwaite became fonder and
fonder of the wood. He began towards 1885 to think it the nicest thing
on his estate--which it was; and he would often ride out to look at it
of a morning on his grey mare "Betsy." When he rode out like this of a
morning his mount was well groomed, and so was he, however early it
might be, and he would carry a little cane to hit the mare with and also
as a symbol of authority. The people who met him would touch their
foreheads, and he would wave his hand genially in reply. He was a good
fellow. But the principal thing about him was his care for the old wood;
and when he rode out to look at it, as I say, he would speak to any one
around so early--his bailiff, as might be, or sometimes his agent, or
even the foreman of the workshop or the carpenter, or any hedger or
ditcher that might be there, and point out bits of the wood, and say,
"That branch looks pretty dicky. No harm to cut that off short and
parcel and serve the end and cap it with a zinc cap;" or, "Better be
cutting the Yartle Bush for the next fallow, it chokes the gammon-rings,
and I don't like to see so much standard ivy about, it's the death of
trees." I am not sure that I have got the technical words right, but at
any rate they were more or less like that, for I have heard him myself
time and again. I often used to go out with him on another horse, called
Sultan, which he lent me to ride upon.

Well, he got fonder and fonder of this wood, and kept on asking people
what he should do, and how one could make most use of it, and he worried
a good deal about it. He reads books about woods, and in the opening of
1891 he had down to stay with him for a few days a man called Churt, who
had made a great success with woods on the Warra-Warra. But Churt was a
vulgar fellow, and so Hermann-Postlethwaite's wife, Lady Gywnnys
Hermann-Postlethwaite, would not have him in the house again, which was
a bother. Her husband then rode over to see another man, and the upshot
of it was that he put up a great board saying "Trespassers in this wood
will be prosecuted," and it might as well not have been put up, for no
one ever went into the wood, not even from the little town, because it
was too far for them to walk, and, anyhow, they did not care for
walking. And as for the doctor's son, a boy of thirteen, who went in
there with an air-gun to shoot things, he paid no attention to the

The next thing my friend did was to have a fine strong paling put all
round the wood in March, 1894. This paling was of oak; it was seven feet
high; it had iron spikes along the top. There were six gates in it, and
stout posts at intervals of ten yards. The boards overlapped very
exactly. It was as good a bit of work as ever I saw. He had it
varnished, and it looked splendid. All this took two years.

Just then he was elected to Parliament, not for Berkshire, as you might
have imagined, but for a slum division of Birmingham. He was very proud
of this, and quite rightly too. He said: "I am the one Conservative
member in the Midlands." It almost made him forget about his wood. He
shut up the Berkshire place and took a house in town, and as he could
not afford Mayfair, and did not understand such things very well, the
house he took was an enormous empty house in Bayswater, and he had no
peace until he gave it up for a set of rooms off Piccadilly; and then
his mother thought that looked so odd that he did the right thing, and
got into a nice old-fashioned furnished house in Westminster,
overlooking the Green Park.

But all this cost him a mint of money, and politics made him angrier and
angrier. They never let him speak, and they made him vote for things he
thought perfectly detestable. Then he did speak, and as he was an honest
English gentleman the papers called him ridiculous names and said he had
no brains. So he just jolly well threw the whole thing up and went back
to Berkshire, and everybody welcomed him, and he did a thing he had
never done before: he put a flag up over his house to show he was at
home. Then he began to think of his wood again.

The very first time he rode out to look at it he found the paling had
given way in places from the fall of trees, and that some leaned inwards
and some outwards, and that one of the gates was off its hinges. There
were also two cows walking about in the wood, and what annoyed him most
of all, the iron spikes were rusty and the varnish had all gone rotten
and white and streaky on the palings. He spoke to the bailiff about
this, and hauled him out to look at it. The bailiff rubbed the varnish
with his finger, smelt it, and said that it had perished. He also said
there was no such thing as good varnish nowadays, and he added there
wasn't any varnish, not the very best, but wouldn't go like that with
rain and all. Mr. Hermann-Postlethwaite grumbled a good deal, but he
supposed the bailiff knew best; so he told him to see what could be
done, and for several weeks he heard no more about it.

I forgot to tell you that about this time the South African War
had broken out, and as things were getting pretty tangled,
Hermann-Postlethwaite went out with his regiment, the eighth battalion,
not of the Berkshire, but of the Orkney regiment. While he was out
there, his brother, in Dr. Charlbury's home, died, and he succeeded to
the baronetcy. As he already had a V.C. and was now given a D.S.O., as
well as being one of the people mentioned in dispatches, he was pretty
important by the time he came home, when the war was over, just before
the elections of 1900.

When he got home he had a splendid welcome, both from his tenants in
Berkshire in passing through and from those of his late brother in the
big place in Worcestershire. He preferred his Berkshire place, however,
and, letting the big place to an American of the name of Hendrik K.
Boulge, he went back to his first home. When he got there he thought of
the old wood, and went out to look at it. The palings were mended, but
they were covered all over with tar! He was exceedingly angry, and
ordered them to be painted at once; but the bailiff assured him one
could not paint over tar, and so did the carpenter and the foreman. At
this he had a fit of rage, and ordered the whole damned thing to be
pulled down, and swore he would be damned if he ever had a damned stick
or a rail round the damned wood again. He was no longer young; he was
getting stout and rather puffy; he was not so reasonable as of old.
Anyhow, he had the whole thing pulled down. Next year (that is, in 1901)
his wife died.

I wish I had the space to tell you all the other things he did to the
wood. How a friend of his having sold a similar wood on the Thames in
building lots at L500 an acre, he put up the whole wood at the same
rate. How, the whole wood being 200 acres in extent, he hoped to make
L100,000 out of it. How he thought this a tidy sum. How he got no offers
at this price, nor at L100, nor at L50. How an artist offered him L20
for half an acre to put up a red tin bungalow upon. How he lost his
temper with the artist. How at last he left the whole thing alone and
tried to forget all about it.

* * * * *

The old wood to-day is just like what it was when I wandered in it as a
boy. The doctor's son is a man now, and is keeping a bar in Sydney; so
he is gone. The townspeople don't come any more than before. I am the
only person who goes near the place. The trees are a trifle grander. I
happen now and then, when I visit this Berkshire parish, upon a stump of
a post or an old spike in the grass of this wood, but otherwise it is as
though all this had not been.

A solemn thought: How enduring are the works of Nature--how perishable
those of Man!


Friends of mine, friends all, and you also, publishers, colonials and
critics, do you know that particular experience for which I am trying to
find words? Do you know that glamour in the mind which arises and
transforms our thought when we see the things that the men who made us
saw--the things of a long time ago, the origins? I think everybody knows
that glamour, but very few people know where to find it.

Every man knows that he has in him the power for such revelations, and
every man wonders in what strange place he may come upon them. There are
men also (very rich) who have considered all the world and wandered over
it, seeking those first experiences and trying to feel as felt the
earlier men in a happier time--yet these few rich men have not felt and
have not so found the things which they desire. I have known men who
have thought to find them in the mountains, but would not climb them
simply enough and refused to leave their luxuries behind, and so lost
everything, and might as well have been walking in a dirty town at home
for all the little good that the mountains did to them. And I know men
who have thought to find this memory and desire in foreign countries, in
Africa, hunting great beasts such as our fathers hunted; yet even these
have not relit those old embers, which if they lie dead and dark in a
man make his whole soul dusty and useless, but which if they be once
rekindled can make him part of all the centuries.

Yet there is a simple and an easy way to find what the men who made us
found, and to see the world as they saw it, and to take a bath, as it
were, in the freshness of beginnings; and that is to go to work as
cheaply and as hardly as you can, and only as much away from men as they
were away from men, and not to read or to write or to think, but to eat
and drink and use the body in many immediate ways, which are at the feet
of every man. Every man who will walk for some days carelessly,
sleeping, rough when he must, or in poor inns, and making for some one
place direct because he desires to see it, will know the thing I mean.
And there is a better way still of which I shall now speak: I mean, to
try the seas in a little boat not more than twenty-five feet long,
preferably decked, of shallow draught, such as can enter into all creeks
and havens, and so simply rigged that by oneself, or with a friend at
most, one can wander all over the world.

Certainly every man that goes to sea in a little boat of this kind
learns terror and salvation, happy living, air, danger, exultation,
glory, and repose at the end; and they are not words to him, but, on the
contrary, realities which will afterwards throughout his life give the
mere words a full meaning. And for this experiment there lies at our
feet, I say, the Channel.

It is the most marvellous sea in the world--the most suited for these
little adventures; it is crammed with strange towns, differing one from
the other; it has two opposite people upon either side, and hills and
varying climates, and the hundred shapes and colours of the earth, here
rocks, there sand, there cliffs, and there marshy shores. It is a little
world. And what is more, it is a kind of inland sea.

People will not understand how narrow it is, crossing it hurriedly in
great steamships; nor will they make it a home for pleasure unless they
are rich and can have great boats; yet they should, for on its water
lies the best stage for playing out the old drama by which the soul of a
healthy man is kept alive. For instance, listen to this story:--

The sea being calm, and the wind hot, uncertain, and light from the
east, leaving oily gaps on the water, and continually dying down, I
drifted one morning in the strong ebb to the South Goodwin Lightship,
wondering what to do. There was a haze over the land and over the sea,
and through the haze great ships a long way off showed, one or two of
them, like oblong targets which one fires at with guns. They hardly
moved in spite of all their canvas set, there was so little breeze. So I
drifted in the slow ebb past the South Goodwin, and I thought: "What is
all this drifting and doing nothing? Let us play the fool, and see if
there are no adventures left."

So I put my little boat about until the wind took her from forward, such
as it was, and she crawled out to sea.

It was a dull, uneasy morning, hot and silent, and the wind, I say, was
hardly a wind, and most of the time the sails flapped uselessly.

But after eleven o'clock the wind first rose, and then shifted a little,
and then blew light but steady; and then at last she heeled and the
water spoke under her bows, and still she heeled and ran, until in the
haze I could see no more land; but ever so far out there were no seas,
for the light full breeze was with the tide, the tide ebbing out as a
strong, and silent as a man in anger, down the hidden parallel valleys
of the narrow sea. And I held this little wind till about two o'clock,
when I drank wine and ate bread and meat at the tiller, for I had them
by me, and just afterwards, still through a thick haze of heat, I saw
Gris-nez, a huge ghost, right up against and above me; and I wondered,
for I had crossed the Channel, now for the first time, and knew now what
it felt like to see new land.

Though I knew nothing of the place, I had this much sense, that I said
to myself: "The tide is right-down Channel, racing through the hidden
valleys under the narrow sea, so it will all go down together and all
come up together, and the flood will come on this foreign side much at
the same hour that it does on the home side." My boat lay to the east
and the ebb tide held her down, and I lit a pipe and looked at the
French hills and thought about them and the people in them, and England
which I had left behind, and I was delighted with the loneliness of the
sea; and still I waited for the flood.

But in a little while the chain made a rattling noise, and she lay
quite slack and swung oddly; and then there were little boiling and
eddying places in the water, and the water seemed to come up from
underneath sometimes, and altogether it behaved very strangely, and this
was the turn of the tide. Then the wind dropped also, and for a moment
she lollopped about, till at last, after I had gone below and
straightened things, I came on deck to see that she had turned
completely round, and that the tide at last was making up my way,
towards Calais, and her chain was taut and her nose pointed down
Channel, and a little westerly breeze, a little draught of air, came up
cool along the tide.

When this came I was very glad, for I saw that I could end my adventure
before night. So I pulled up the anchor and fished it, and then turned
with the tide under me, and the slight half-felt breeze just barely
filling the mainsail (the sheet was slack, so powerless was the wind),
and I ran up along that high coast, watching eagerly every new thing;
but I kept some way out for fear of shoals, till after three good hours
under the reclining sun of afternoon, which glorified the mist, I saw,
far off, the roofs and spires of a town, and a low pier running well out
to sea, and I knew that it must be Calais. And I ran for these piers,
careless of how I went, for it was already half of the spring flood
tide, and everything was surely well covered for so small a boat, and I
ran up the fairway in between the piers, and saw Frenchmen walking about
and a great gun peeping up over its earthwork, and plenty of clean new
masonry. And a man came along and showed me where I could lie; but I was
so strange to the place that I would not take a berth, but lay that
night moored to an English ship.

And when I had eaten and drunk and everything was stowed away and
darkness had fallen, I went on deck, and for a long time sat silent,
smoking a pipe and watching the enormous lighthouse of Calais, which is
built right in the town, and which turns round and round above one all
night long.

And I thought: "Here is a wonderful thing! I have crossed the Channel in
this little boat, and I know now what the sea means that separates
France from England. I have strained my eyes for shore through a haze. I
have seen new lands, and I feel as men do who have dreamt dreams."

But in reality I had had very great luck indeed, and had had no right to
cross, for my coming back was to be far more difficult and dreadful, and
I was to suffer many things before again I could see tall England, close
by me, out of the sea.

But how I came back, and of the storm, and of its majesty, and of how
the boat and I survived, I will tell you another time, only imploring
you to do the same; not to tell of it, I mean, but to sail it in a
little boat.


There is a valley in South England remote from ambition and from fear,
where the passage of strangers is rare and unperceived, and where the
scent of the grass in summer is breathed only by those who are native to
that unvisited land. The roads to the Channel do not traverse it; they
choose upon either side easier passes over the range. One track alone
leads up through it to the hills, and this is changeable: now green
where men have little occasion to go, now a good road where it nears the
homesteads and the barns. The woods grow steep above the slopes; they
reach sometimes the very summit of the heights, or, when they cannot
attain them, fill in and clothe the coombes. And, in between, along the
floor of the valley, deep pastures and their silence are bordered by
lawns of chalky grass and the small yew trees of the Downs.

The clouds that visit its sky reveal themselves beyond the one great
rise, and sail, white and enormous, to the other, and sink beyond that
other. But the plains above which they have travelled and the Weald to
which they go, the people of the valley cannot see and hardly recall.
The wind, when it reaches such fields, is no longer a gale from the
salt, but fruitful and soft, an inland breeze; and those whose blood was
nourished here, feel in that wind the fruitfulness of our orchards and
all the life that all things draw from the air.

In this place, when I was a boy, I pushed through a fringe of beeches
that made a complete screen between me and the world, and I came to a
glade called No Man's Land. I climbed beyond it, and I was surprised and
glad, because from the ridge of that glade I saw the sea. To this place
very lately I returned.

The many things that I recovered as I came up the countryside were not
less charming than when a distant memory had enshrined them, but much
more. Whatever veil is thrown by a longing recollection had not
intensified nor even made more mysterious the beauty of that happy
ground; not in my very dreams of morning had I, in exile, seen it more
beloved or more rare. Much also that I had forgotten now returned to me
as I approached--a group of elms, a little turn of the parson's wall, a
small paddock beyond the graveyard close, cherished by one man, with a
low wall of very old stone guarding it all round. And all these things
fulfilled and amplified my delight, till even the good vision of the
place, which I had kept so many years, left me and was replaced by its
better reality. "Here," I said to myself, "is a symbol of what some say
is reserved for the soul: pleasure of a kind which cannot be imagined
save in a moment when at last it is attained."

When I came to my own gate and my own field, and had before me the house
I knew, I looked around a little (though it was already evening), and I
saw that the grass was standing as it should stand when it is ready for
the scythe. For in this, as in everything that a man can do--of those
things at least which are very old--there is an exact moment when they
are done best. And it has been remarked of whatever rules us that it
works blunderingly, seeing that the good things given to a man are not
given at the precise moment when they would have filled him with
delight. But, whether this be true or false, we can choose the just turn
of the seasons in everything we do of our own will, and especially in
the making of hay. Many think that hay is best made when the grass is
thickest; and so they delay until it is rank and in flower, and has
already heavily pulled the ground. And there is another false reason for
delay, which is wet weather. For very few will understand (though it
comes year after year) that we have rain always in South England between
the sickle and the scythe, or say just after the weeks of east wind are
over. First we have a week of sudden warmth, as though the south had
come to see us all; then we have the weeks of east and south-east wind;
and then we have more or less of that rain of which I spoke, and which
always astonishes the world. Now it is just before, or during, or at the
very end of that rain--but not later--that grass should be cut for hay.
True, upland grass, which is always thin, should be cut earlier than the
grass in the bottoms and along the water meadows; but not even the
latest, even in the wettest seasons, should be left (as it is) to flower
and even to seed. For what we get when we store our grass is not a
harvest of something ripe, but a thing just caught in its prime before
maturity: as witness that our corn and straw are best yellow, but our
hay is best green. So also Death should be represented with a scythe and
Time with a sickle; for Time can take only what is ripe, but Death comes
always too soon. In a word, then, it is always much easier to cut grass
too late than too early; and I, under that evening and come back to
these pleasant fields, looked at the grass and knew that it was time.
June was in full advance: it was the beginning of that season when the
night has already lost her foothold of the earth and hovers over it,
never quite descending, but mixing sunset with the dawn.

Next morning, before it was yet broad day, I awoke, and thought of the
mowing. The birds were already chattering in the trees beside my window,
all except the nightingale, which had left and flown away to the Weald,
where he sings all summer by day as well as by night in the oaks and the
hazel spinneys, and especially along the little river Adur, one of the
rivers of the Weald. The birds and the thought of the mowing had
awakened me, and I went down the stairs and along the stone floors to
where I could find a scythe; and when I took it from its nail, I
remembered how, fourteen years ago, I had last gone out with my scythe,
just so, into the fields at morning. In between that day and this were
many things, cities and armies, and a confusion of books, mountains and
the desert, and horrible great breadths of sea.

When I got out into the long grass the sun was not yet risen, but there
were already many colours in the eastern sky, and I made haste to
sharpen my scythe, so that I might get to the cutting before the dew
should dry. Some say that it is best to wait till all the dew has risen,
so as to get the grass quite dry from the very first. But, though it is
an advantage to get the grass quite dry, yet it is not worth while to
wait till the dew has risen. For, in the first place, you lose many
hours of work (and those the coolest), and next--which is more
important--you lose that great ease and thickness in cutting which comes
of the dew. So I at once began to sharpen my scythe.

There is an art also in the sharpening of a scythe, and it is worth
describing carefully. Your blade must be dry, and that is why you will
see men rubbing the scythe-blade with grass before they whet it. Then
also your rubber must be quite dry, and on this account it is a good
thing to lay it on your coat and keep it there during all your day's
mowing. The scythe you stand upright, with the blade pointing away from
you, and you put your left hand firmly on the back of the blade,
grasping it: then you pass the rubber first down one side of the
blade-edge and then down the other, beginning near the handle and going
on to the point and working quickly and hard. When you first do this you
will, perhaps, cut your hand; but it is only at first that such an
accident will happen to you.

To tell when the scythe is sharp enough this is the rule. First the
stone clangs and grinds against the iron harshly; then it rings
musically to one note; then, at last, it purrs as though the iron and
stone were exactly suited. When you hear this, your scythe is sharp
enough; and I, when I heard it that June dawn, with everything quite
silent except the birds, let down the scythe and bent myself to mow.

When one does anything anew, after so many years, one fears very much
for one's trick or habit. But all things once learnt are easily
recoverable, and I very soon recovered the swing and power of the mower.
Mowing well and mowing badly--or rather not mowing at all--are separated
by very little; as is also true of writing verse, of playing the
fiddle, and of dozens of other things, but of nothing more than of
believing. For the bad or young or untaught mower without tradition, the
mower Promethean, the mower original and contemptuous of the past, does
all these things: He leaves great crescents of grass uncut. He digs the
point of the scythe hard into the ground with a jerk. He loosens the
handles and even the fastening of the blade. He twists the blade with
his blunders, he blunts the blade, he chips it, dulls it, or breaks it
clean off at the tip. If any one is standing by he cuts him in the
ankle. He sweeps up into the air wildly, with nothing to resist his
stroke. He drags up earth with the grass, which is like making the
meadow bleed. But the good mower who does things just as they should be
done and have been for a hundred thousand years, falls into none of
these fooleries. He goes forward very steadily, his scythe-blade just
barely missing the ground, every grass falling; the swish and rhythm of
his mowing are always the same.

So great an art can only be learnt by continual practice; but this much
is worth writing down, that, as in all good work, to know the thing with
which you work is the core of the affair. Good verse is best written on
good paper with an easy pen, not with a lump of coal on a whitewashed
wall. The pen thinks for you; and so does the scythe mow for you if you
treat it honourably and in a manner that makes it recognise its service.
The manner is this. You must regard the scythe as a pendulum that
swings, not as a knife that cuts. A good mower puts no more strength
into his stroke than into his lifting. Again, stand up to your work. The
bad mower, eager and full of pain, leans forward and tries to force the
scythe through the grass. The good mower, serene and able, stands as
nearly straight as the shape of the scythe will let him, and follows up
every stroke closely, moving his left foot forward. Then also let every
stroke get well away. Mowing is a thing of ample gestures, like drawing
a cartoon. Then, again, get yourself into a mechanical and repetitive
mood: be thinking of anything at all but your mowing, and be anxious
only when there seems some interruption to the monotony of the sound.
In this mowing should be like one's prayers--all of a sort and always
the same, and so made that you can establish a monotony and work them,
as it were, with half your mind: that happier half, the half that does
not bother.

In this way, when I had recovered the art after so many years, I went
forward over the field, cutting lane after lane through the grass, and
bringing out its most secret essences with the sweep of the scythe until
the air was full of odours. At the end of every lane I sharpened my
scythe and looked back at the work done, and then carried my scythe down
again upon my shoulder to begin another. So, long before the bell rang
in the chapel above me--that is, long before six o'clock, which is the
time for the _Angelus_--I had many swathes already lying in order
parallel like soldiery; and the high grass yet standing, making a great
contrast with the shaven part, looked dense and high. As it says in the
_Ballad of Val-es-Dunes,_ where--

The tall son of the Seven Winds
Came riding out of Hither-hythe,

and his horse-hoofs (you will remember) trampled into the press and made
a gap in it, and his sword (as you know)

... was like a scythe
In Arcus when the grass is high
And all the swathes in order lie,
And there's the bailiff standing by
A-gathering of the tithe.

So I mowed all that morning, till the houses awoke in the valley, and
from some of them rose a little fragrant smoke, and men began to be

I stood still and rested on my scythe to watch the awakening of the
village, when I saw coming up to my field a man whom I had known in
older times, before I had left the Valley.

He was of that dark silent race upon which all the learned quarrel, but
which, by whatever meaningless name it may be called--Iberian, or
Celtic, or what you will--is the permanent root of all England, and
makes England wealthy and preserves it everywhere, except perhaps in
the Fens and in a part of Yorkshire. Everywhere else you will find it
active and strong. These people are intensive; their thoughts and their
labours turn inward. It is on account of their presence in these islands
that our gardens are the richest in the world. They also love low rooms
and ample fires and great warm slopes of thatch. They have, as I
believe, an older acquaintance with the English air than any other of
all the strains that make up England. They hunted in the Weald with
stones, and camped in the pines of the green-sand. They lurked under the
oaks of the upper rivers, and saw the legionaries go up, up the straight
paved road from the sea. They helped the few pirates to destroy the
towns, and mixed with those pirates and shared the spoils of the Roman
villas, and were glad to see the captains and the priests destroyed.
They remain; and no admixture of the Frisian pirates, or the Breton, or
the Angevin and Norman conquerors, has very much affected their cunning

To this race, I say, belonged the man who now approached me. And he said
to me, "Mowing?" And I answered, "Ar." Then he also said "Ar," as in
duty bound; for so we speak to each other in the Stenes of the Downs.

Next he told me that, as he had nothing to do, he would lend me a hand;
and I thanked him warmly, or, as we say, "kindly." For it is a good
custom of ours always to treat bargaining as though it were a courteous
pastime; and though what he was after was money, and what I wanted was
his labour at the least pay, yet we both played the comedy that we were
free men, the one granting a grace and the other accepting it. For the
dry bones of commerce, avarice and method and need, are odious to the
Valley; and we cover them up with a pretty body of fiction and
observances. Thus, when it comes to buying pigs, the buyer does not
begin to decry the pig and the vendor to praise it, as is the custom
with lesser men; but tradition makes them do business in this fashion:--

First the buyer will go up to the seller when he sees him in his own
steading, and, looking at the pig with admiration, the buyer will say
that rain may or may not fall, or that we shall have snow or thunder,
according to the time of year. Then the seller, looking critically at
the pig, will agree that the weather is as his friend maintains. There
is no haste at all; great leisure marks the dignity of their exchange.
And the next step is, that the buyer says: "That's a fine pig you have
there, Mr. ----" (giving the seller's name). "Ar, powerful fine pig."
Then the seller, saying also "Mr." (for twin brothers rocked in one
cradle give each other ceremonious observance here), the seller, I say,
admits, as though with reluctance, the strength and beauty of the pig,
and falls into deep thought. Then the buyer says, as though moved by a
great desire, that he is ready to give so much for the pig, naming half
the proper price, or a little less. Then the seller remains in silence
for some moments; and at last begins to shake his head slowly, till he
says: "I don't be thinking of selling the pig, anyways." He will also
add that a party only Wednesday offered him so much for the pig--and he
names about double the proper price. Thus all ritual is duly
accomplished; and the solemn act is entered upon with reverence and in a
spirit of truth. For when the buyer uses this phrase: "I'll tell you
what I _will_ do," and offers within half a crown of the pig's value,
the seller replies that he can refuse him nothing, and names half a
crown above its value; the difference is split, the pig is sold, and in
the quiet soul of each runs the peace of something accomplished.

Thus do we buy a pig or land or labour or malt or lime, always with
elaboration and set forms; and many a London man has paid double and
more for his violence and his greedy haste and very unchivalrous
higgling. As happened with the land at Underwaltham, which the
mortgagees had begged and implored the estate to take at twelve hundred,
and had privately offered to all the world at a thousand, but which a
sharp direct man, of the kind that makes great fortunes, a man in a
motor-car, a man in a fur coat, a man of few words, bought for two
thousand three hundred before my very eyes, protesting that they might
take his offer or leave it; and all because he did not begin by praising
the land.

Well then, this man I spoke of offered to help me, and he went to get
his scythe. But I went into the house and brought out a gallon jar of
small ale for him and for me; for the sun was now very warm, and small
ale goes well with mowing. When we had drunk some of this ale in mugs
called "I see you," we took each a swathe, he a little behind me because
he was the better mower; and so for many hours we swung, one before the
other, mowing and mowing at the tall grass of the field. And the sun
rose to noon and we were still at our mowing; and we ate food, but only
for a little while, and we took again to our mowing. And at last there
was nothing left but a small square of grass, standing like a square of
linesmen who keep their formation, tall and unbroken, with all the dead
lying around them when the battle is over and done.

Then for some little time I rested after all those hours; and the man
and I talked together, and a long way off we heard in another field the
musical sharpening of a scythe.

The sunlight slanted powdered and mellow over the breadth of the valley;
for day was nearing its end. I went to fetch rakes from the steading;
and when I had come back the last of the grass had fallen, and all the
field lay flat and smooth, with the very green short grass in lanes
between the dead and yellow swathes.

These swathes we raked into cocks to keep them from the dew against our
return at daybreak; and we made the cocks as tall and steep as we could,
for in that shape they best keep off the dew, and it is easier also to
spread them after the sun has risen. Then we raked up every straggling
blade, till the whole field was a clean floor for the tedding and the
carrying of the hay next morning. The grass we had mown was but a little
over two acres; for that is all the pasture on my little tiny farm.

When we had done all this, there fell upon us the beneficent and
deliberate evening; so that as we sat a little while together near the
rakes, we saw the valley more solemn and dim around us, and all the
trees and hedgerows quite still, and held by a complete silence. Then I
paid my companion his wage, and bade him a good night, till we should
meet in the same place before sunrise.

He went off with a slow and steady progress, as all our peasants do,
making their walking a part of the easy but continual labour of their
lives. But I sat on, watching the light creep around towards the north
and change, and the waning moon coming up as though by stealth behind
the woods of No Man's Land.


The other day (it was Wednesday, and the air was very pure) I went into
the stable upon my way toward the wood, and there I saw my horse Monster
standing by himself, regarding nothingness. And when I had considered
what a shame it was to take one's pleasure in a wood and leave one's
helpless horse at home, I bridled him and saddled him and took him out,
and rode him the way that I had meant to go alone. So we went together
along the Stene under the North Wood until we got to the edge of the
forest, and then we took the green Ride to the right, for it was my
intention to go and look at the Roman road.

Behind my house, behind my little farm, there are as many miles of turf
as one cares to count, and then behind it also, but the other way, there
goes this deep and lonely forest. It is principally of beech, which is
the tree of the chalk, and no one has cut it or fenced it or thought
about it (except to love it), since the parts about my village took
their names: Gumber and Fairmile Bay Combe, the Nore, and the stretch
called No Man's Land.

Into the darkness of these trees I rode very quietly with Monster, my
horse, but whether the autumn air were pleasanter to him or to me
neither of us could decide, for there is no bridge between two souls.
That is, if horses have a soul, which I suppose they have, for they are
both stupid and kindly, and they fear death as though a part, and but a
part, of them were immortal. Also they see things in the dark and are
cognisant of evil.

When I had gone some hundred yards towards the Roman road I saw, bending
lower than the rest on the tree from which it hung, a golden bough, and
I said to myself that I had had good luck, for such a thing has always
been the sign of an unusual experience and of a voyage among the dead.
All the other leaves of the tree were green, but the turn of the year,
which sends out foragers just as the spring does, marking the way it is
to go, had come and touched this bough and changed it, so that it shone
out by itself in the recesses of the forest and gleamed before and
behind. I did not ask what way it led me, for I knew; and so I went
onwards, riding my horse, until I came to that long bank of earth which
runs like a sort of challenge through this ancient land to prove what
our origins were, and who first brought us merry people into the circuit
of the world.

When I saw the Roman road the sharper influence which it had had upon my
boyhood returned to me, and I got off my horse and took his bit out of
his mouth so that he could play the fool with the grass and leaves
(which are bad for him), and I hitched the snaffle to a little broken
peg of bough so that he could not wander. And then I looked up and down
along the boles of the great North Wood, taking in the straight line of
the way.

I have heard it said that certain professors, the most learned of their
day, did once deny that this was a Roman road. I can well believe it,
and it is delightful to believe that they did. For this road startles
and controls a true man, presenting an eternal example of what Rome
could do. The peasants around have always called it the "Street." It
leads from what was certainly one Roman town to what was certainly
another. That sign of Roman occupation, the modern word "Cold Harbour,"
is scattered up and down it. There are Roman pavements on it. It goes
plumb straight for miles, and at times, wherever it crosses undisturbed
land, it is three or four feet above the level of the down. Here, then,
was a feast for the learned: since certainly the more obvious a thing
is, the more glory there must be in denying it. And deny it they did (or
at least, so I am told), just as they will deny that Thomas a Becket was
a Papist, or that Austerlitz was fought in spite of Trafalgar, or that
the Gospel of St. John is the Gospel of St. John.

Here then, sitting upon this Roman road I considered the nature of such
men, and when I had thought out carefully where the nearest Don might be
at that moment, I decided that he was at least twenty-three miles away,
and I was very glad: for it permitted me to contemplate the road with
common sense and with Faith, which is Common Sense transfigured; and I
could see the Legionaries climbing the hill. I remembered also what a
sight there was upon the down above, and I got upon my horse again to go
and see it.

When one has pushed one's way through the brambles and the rounded great
roots which have grown upon this street--where no man has walked perhaps
for about a thousand years--one gets to the place where it tops the
hill, and here one sees the way in which the line of it was first struck
out. From where one stands, right away like a beam, leading from rise to
rise, it runs to the cathedral town. You see the spot where it enters
the eastern gate of the Roman walls; you see at the end of it, like the
dot upon an "i," the mass of the cathedral. Then, if you turn and look
northward, you see from point to point its taut stretch across the weald
to where, at the very limit of the horizon, there is a gap in the chain
of hills that bars your view.

The strict design of such a thing weighs upon one as might weigh upon
one four great lines of Virgil, or the sight of those enormous stones
which one comes upon, Roman also, in the Algerian sands. The plan of
such an avenue by which to lead great armies and along which to drive
commands argues a mixture of unity and of power as intimate as the lime
and the sand of which these conquerors welded their imperishable cement.
And it does more than this. It suggests swiftness and certitude of aim
and a sort of eager determination which we are slow to connect with
Government, but which certainly underlay the triumph of this people. A
road will give one less trouble if it winds about and feels the contours
of the land. It will pay better if it is of earth and broken stones
instead of being paved, nor would any one aiming at wealth or comfort
alone laboriously raise its level, as the level of this road is raised.
But in all that the Romans did there was something of a monument. Where
they might have taken pipes down a valley and up the opposing side they
preferred the broad shoulders of an arcade, and where a seven-foot door
would have done well enough to enter their houses by they were content
with nothing less than an arch of fifty. In all their work they were
conscious of some business other than that immediately to hand, and
therefore it is possible that their ruins will survive the establishment
of our own time as they have survived that of the Middle Ages. In this
wild place, at least, nothing remained of all that was done between
their time and ours.

These things did the sight on either side of the summit suggest to me,
but chiefly there returned as I gazed the delicious thought that learned
men, laborious and heavily endowed, had denied the _existence_ of this
Roman road.

See with what manifold uses every accident of human life is crammed!
Here was a piece of pedantry and scepticism, which might make some men
weep and some men stamp with irritation, and some men, from sheer
boredom, fall asleep, but which fed in my own spirit a fountain of pure
joy, as I considered carefully what kind of man it is who denies these
things; the kind of way he walks; the kind of face he has; the kind of
book he writes; the kind of publisher who chisels him; and the kind of
way in which his works are bound. With every moment my elation grew
greater and more impetuous, until at last I could not bear to sit any
longer still, even upon so admirable a beast, nor to look down even at
so rich a plain (though that was seen through the air of Southern
England), but turning over the downs I galloped home, and came in
straight from the turf to my own ground--for what man would live upon a
high road who could go through a gate right off the turf to his own
steading and let the world go hang?

And so did I. But as they brought me beer and bacon at evening, and I
toasted the memory of things past, I said to myself: "Oxford,
Cambridge, Dublin, Durham--you four great universities--you terrors of
Europe--that road is older than you: and meanwhile I drink to your
continued healths, but let us have a little room ... air, there, give us
air, good people. I stifle when I think of you."


There is a hill not far from my home whence it is possible to see
northward and southward such a stretch of land as is not to be seen from
any eminence among those I know in Western Europe. Southward the
sea-plain and the sea standing up in a belt of light against the sky,
and northward all the weald.

From this summit the eye is disturbed by no great cities of the modern
sort, but a dozen at least of those small market towns which are the
delight of South England hold the view from point to point, from the
pale blue downs of the island over, eastward, to the Kentish hills.

A very long way off, and near the sea-line, the high faint spire of that
cathedral which was once the mother of all my county goes up without
weight into the air and gathers round it the delicate and distant
outlines of the landscape--as, indeed, its builders meant that it should
do. In such a spot, on such a high watch-tower of England, I met, three
days ago, a man.

I had been riding my kind and honourable horse for two hours, broken,
indeed, by a long rest in a deserted barn.

I had been his companion, I say, for two hours, and had told him a
hundred interesting things--to which he had answered nothing at
all--when I took him along a path that neither of us yet had trod. I had
not, I know; he had not (I think), for he went snorting and doubtfully.
This path broke up from the kennels near Waltham, and made for the High
Wood between Gumber and No Man's Land. It went over dead leaves and
quite lonely to the thick of the forest; there it died out into a
vaguer and a vaguer trail. At last it ceased altogether, and for half an
hour or so I pushed carefully, always climbing upwards, through the
branches, and picked my way along the bramble-shoots, until at last I
came out upon that open space of which I had spoken, and which I have
known since my childhood. As I came out of the wood the south-west wind
met me, full of the Atlantic, and it seemed to me to blow from Paradise.

I remembered, as I halted and so gazed north and south to the weald
below me, and then again to the sea, the story of that Sultan who
publicly proclaimed that he had possessed all power on earth, and had
numbered on a tablet with his own hand each of his happy days, and had
found them, when he came to die, to be seventeen. I knew what that
heathen had meant, and I looked into my heart as I remembered the story,
but I came back from the examination satisfied, for "So far," I said to
myself, "this day is among my number, and the light is falling. I will
count it for one." It was then that I saw before me, going easily and
slowly across the downs, the figure of a man.

He was powerful, full of health and easy; his clothes were rags; his
face was open and bronzed. I came at once off my horse to speak with
him, and, holding my horse by the bridle, I led it forward till we met.
Then I asked him whither he was going, and whether, as I knew these open
hills by heart, I could not help him on his way.

He answered me that he was in no need of help, for he was bound nowhere,
but that he had come up off the high road on to the hills in order to
get his pleasure and also to see what there was on the other side. He
said to me also, with evident enjoyment (and in the accent of a lettered
man), "This is indeed a day to be alive!"

I saw that I had here some chance of an adventure, since it is not every
day that one meets upon a lonely down a man of culture, in rags and
happy. I therefore took the bridle right off my horse and let him
nibble, and I sat down on the bank of the Roman road holding the
leather of the bridle in my hand, and wiping the bit with plucked grass.
The stranger sat down beside me, and drew from his pocket a piece of
bread and a large onion. We then talked of those things which should
chiefly occupy mankind: I mean, of happiness and of the destiny of the
soul. Upon these matters I found him to be exact, thoughtful, and just.

First, then, I said to him: "I also have been full of gladness all this
day, and, what is more, as I came up the hill from Waltham I was
inspired to verse, and wrote it inside my mind, completing a passage I
had been working at for two years, upon joy. But it was easy for me to
be happy, since I was on a horse and warm and well fed; yet even for me
such days are capricious. I have known but few in my life. They are each
of them distinct and clear, so rare are they, and (what is more) so
different are they in their very quality from all other days."

"You are right," he said, "in this last phrase of yours.... They are
indeed quite other from all the common days of our lives. But you were
wrong, I think, in saying that your horse and clothes and good feeding
and the rest had to do with these curious intervals of content. Wealth
makes the run of our days somewhat more easy, poverty makes them more
hard--or very hard. But no poverty has ever yet brought of itself
despair into the soul--the men who kill themselves are neither rich nor
poor. Still less has wealth ever purchased those peculiar hours. I also
am filled with their spirit to-day, and God knows," said he, cutting his
onion in two, so that it gave out a strong savour, "God knows I can
purchase nothing."

"Then tell me," I said, "whence do you believe these moments come? And
will you give me half your onion?"

"With pleasure," he replied, "for no man can eat a whole onion; and as
for that other matter, why I think the door of heaven is ajar from time
to time, and that light shines out upon us for a moment between its
opening and closing." He said this in a merry, sober manner; his black
eyes sparkled, and his large beard was blown about a little by the
wind. Then he added: "If a man is a slave to the rich in the great
cities (the most miserable of mankind), yet these days come to him. To
the vicious wealthy and privileged men, whose faces are stamped hard
with degradation, these days come; they come to you, you say, working (I
suppose) in anxiety like most of men. They come to me who neither work
nor am anxious so long as South England may freely import onions."

"I believe you are right," I said. "And I especially commend you for
eating onions; they contain all health; they induce sleep; they may be
called the apples of content, or, again, the companion fruits of

"I have always said," he answered gravely, "that when the couple of them
left Eden they hid and took away with them an onion. I am moved in my
soul to have known a man who reveres and loves them in the due measure,
for such men are rare."

Then he asked, with evident anxiety: "Is there no inn about here where a
man like me will be taken in?"

"Yes," I told him. "Down under the Combe at Duncton is a very good inn.
Have you money to pay? Will you take some of my money?"

"I will take all you can possibly afford me," he answered in a cheerful,
manly fashion. I counted out my money and found I had on me but 3s.7d.
"Here is 3s. 7d.," I said.

"Thank you, indeed," he answered, taking the coins and wrapping them in
a little rag (for he had no pockets, but only holes).

"I wish," I said with regret, "we might meet and talk more often of many
things. So much do we agree, and men like you and me are often lonely."

He shrugged his shoulders and put his head on one side, quizzing at me
with his eyes. Then he shook his head decidedly, and said: "No, no--it
is certain that we shall never meet again." And thanking me with great
fervour, but briefly, he went largely and strongly down the escarpment
of the Combe to Duncton and the weald; and I shall never see him again
till the Great Day....


In Calais harbour, it being still very early in the morning, about
half-past five, I peered out to see how things were looking, for if that
coast corresponded at all to ours, the tide should be making westerly by
six o'clock that day--the ebb tide--and it was on the first of that tide
that I should make the passage to England, for at sea you never can
tell. At sea you never can tell, and you must take every inch the gods
allow you. You will need that and more very often before evening. Now,
as I put my head out I saw that I could not yet start, for there was a
thick white mist over everything, so that I could not even see the
bowsprit of my own boat. Everything was damp: the decks smelt of fog,
and from the shore came sounds whose cause I could not see. Looking over
the iron bulwarks of the big English cargo ship, alongside of which I
was moored, was a man with his head upon his folded arms. He told me
that he thought the fog would lift; and so I waited, seeking no more
sleep, but sitting up there in the drifting fog, and taking pleasure in
a bugle call which the French call "La Diane," and which they play to
wake the soldiers. But in summer it wakes nobody, for all the world is
waking long before.

Towards six the mist blew clean away before a little air from the
north-east; it had come sharp over those miles and miles of sand dunes
and flats which stretched away from Gris-nez on to Denmark. From
Gris-nez all the way to the Sound there is no other hill; but coarse
grass, wind-swept and flying sand. Finding this wind, I very quickly set
sail, and as I did not know the harbour I let down the peak of the
mainsail that she might sail slowly, and crept along close to the
eastern pier, for fear that when I got to the open work the westerly
tide should drive me against the western pier; but there was no need for
all this caution, since the tide was not yet making strongly. Yet was I
wise to beware, for if you give the strange gods of the sea one little
chance they will take a hundred, and drown you for their pleasure. And
sailing, if you sail in all weathers, is a perpetual game of skill
against them, the heartiest and most hazardous game in the world.

So then, when I had got well outside, I found what is called "a lump."
The sea was jumbling up and down irregularly, as though great animals
had just stopped fighting there. But whatever was the cause of it, this
lump made it difficult to manage the boat I was in, for the air was
still light and somewhat unsteady; sometimes within a point of north,
and then again dropping and rising free within a point of east: on the
whole, north-east. To windward the sea was very clear, but down towards
the land there was a haze, and when I got to the black buoy which is
three miles from Calais, and marks the place where you should turn to go
into the harbour, I could barely see the high land glooming through the
weather, and Calais belfry and lighthouse tower I could not see at all.
I looked at my watch and saw it was seven, and immediately afterwards
the wind became steady and true, and somewhat stronger, and work began.

She would point very nearly north, and so I laid her for that course,
though that would have taken me right outside the Goodwins, for I knew
that the tide was making westerly down the Channel, ebbing away faster
and faster, and that, like a man crossing a rapid river in a ferry-boat,
I had to point up far above where I wanted to land, which was at Dover,
the nearest harbour. I sailed her, therefore, I say, as close as she
would lie, and the wind rose.

The wind rose, and for half an hour I kept her to it. She had no more
sail than she needed; she heeled beautifully and strongly to the wind;
she took the seas, as they ran more regular, with a motion of mastery.
It was like the gesture of a horse when he bends his head back to his
chest, arching his neck with pride as he springs upon our Downs at
morning. So set had the surging of the sea become that she rose and fell
to it with rhythm, and the helm could be kept quite steady, and the
regular splash of the rising bows and the little wisps of foam came in
ceaseless exactitude like the marching of men, and in all this one mixed
with the life of the sea.

But before it was eight o'clock (and I had eaten nothing) the wind got
stronger still, and I was anxious and gazed continuously into it, up to
windward, seeing the white caps beginning on the tops of the seas,
although the wind and tide were together. She heeled also much more, and
my anxiety hardened with the wind, for the wind had strengthened by
about half-past eight, so that it was very strong indeed, and she was
plainly over-canvased, her lee rail under all the time and all the
cordage humming; there it stood, and by the grace and mercy of God the
wind increased no more, for its caprice might have been very different.

Then began that excellent game which it is so hard to play, but so good
to remember, and in which all men, whether they admit it or not, are
full of fear, but it is a fear so steeped in exhilaration that one would
think the personal spirit of the sea was mingled with the noise of the

For a whole great hour she roared and lifted through it still, taking
the larger seas grandly, with disdain, as she had taken the smaller, and
still over the buried lee rail the stream of the sea went by rejoicing
and pouring, and the sheets and the weather runner trembled with the
vigour of the charge, and on she went, and on. I was weary of the seas
ahead (for each and individually they struck my soul as they came, even
more strongly than they struck the bows--steep, curling, unintermittent,
rank upon rank upon rank, as innumerable cavalry); still watching them,
I say, I groped round with my hand behind the cabin door and pulled out
brandy and bread, and drank brandy and ate bread, still watching the
seas. And, as men are proud of their companions in danger, so I was
proud to see the admirable lift and swing of that good boat, and to note
how, if she slowed for a moment under the pounding, she recovered with
a stride, rejoicing; and as for my fears, which were now fixed and
considerable, I found this argument against them: that, though I could
see nothing round me but the sea, yet soon I should be under the lee of
the Goodwins, for, though I could not exactly calculate my speed, and
though in the haze beyond nothing appeared, it was certain that I was
roaring very quickly towards the further shore.

When, later, the sea grew confused and full of swirls and boiling, I
said to myself: "This must be the tail of the Goodwins." But it was,
not. For, though I did not know it, the ebb of the great spring tide had
carried me right away down Channel, and there was not twelve feet of
water under the keel, for the seething of the sea that I noticed came
from the Varne--the Varne, that curious, long, steep hill, with its twin
ridge close by, the Colbert; they stand right up in the Channel between
France and England; they very nearly lift their heads above the waves. I
passed over the crest of them, unknowing, into the deep beyond, and
still the ship raced on. Then, somewhat suddenly, so suddenly that I
gave a cry, I saw right up above me, through what was now a thick haze,
the cliffs of England, perhaps two miles away, and showing very faintly
indeed, a bare outline upon the white weather. A thought ran into my
mind with violence, how, one behind the other, beyond known things,
beyond history, the men from whom I came had greeted this sight after
winds like these and danger and the crossing of the narrow seas. I
looked at my watch; it was ten o'clock, so that this crossing had taken
three hours, and to see the land again like that was better than any
harbour, and I knew that all those hours my mind had been at strain. I
looked again at the vague cliffs narrowly, thinking them the South
Foreland, but as they cleared I saw to my astonishment that I had blown
all down the Straits, and that Folkestone and the last walls of the
chalk were before me.'

The wind dropped; the sea went on uneasily, tumbling and rolling, but
within a very little while--before eleven, I think--there was no breeze
at all; and there I lay, with Folkestone harbour not a mile away, but
never any chance of getting there; and I whistled, but no wind came. I
sat idle and admired the loneliness of the sea. Till, towards one, a
little draught of air blew slantwise from the land, and under it I crept
to the smooth water within the stone arm of the breakwater, and here I
let the anchor go, and settling everything, I slept.

It is pleasant to remember these things.


There is in that part of England which is very properly called her Eden
(that centre of all good things and home of happy men, the county of
Sussex), there is, I say, in that exalted county a valley which I shall
praise for your greater pleasure, because I know that it is too
jealously guarded for any run of strangers to make it common, and
because I am very sure that you may go and only make it the more
delightful by your presence. It is the valley of the River Rother; the
sacred and fruitful river between the downs and the weald.

Now, here many travelling men, bicyclists even and some who visit for a
livelihood, will think I mean the famous River Rother that almost
reaches the sea. The Rother into which the foreigners sailed for so many
hundred years, the River of the Marshes, the river on which stands Rye;
the easy Rother along whose deep meadows are the sloping kilns, the
bright-tilted towns and the steep roads; the red Rother that is fed by
streams from the ironstone. This Rother also all good men know and love,
both those that come in for pleasure, strangers of Kent, and those that
have a distant birthright in East Sussex, being born beyond Ouse in the
Rape of Bramber.

But it is not this Rother that I am telling of, though I would love to
tell of it also--as indeed I would love to tell at length of all the
rivers of Sussex--the Brede, the Ouse, the Adur, the Cuckmere; all the
streams that cut the chalk hills. But for this I have no space and you
no patience. Neither can I tell you of a thousand adventures and
wonderful hazards along the hills and valley of this eastern Rother; of
how I once through a telescope on Brightling Hill saw the meet at
Battle, and of how it looked quite near; of how I leapt the River Rother
once, landing on the far side safely (which argues the river narrow or
the leap tremendous); of how I poached in the wood of a friend who is
still my friend; of how I rode a horse into Robertsbridge; of the inn.
All these things could I tell with growing fervour, and to all these
would you listen with an increasing delight. But I must write of the
River Rother under Petworth, the other Rother in the West. Why? Because
I started out so to do, and no man should let himself be led away by a
word, or by any such little thing.

Let me therefore have done with this eastern river, far away from my
home, a river at the end of long journeys, and speak of that other noble
Rother, the Rother of quiet men, the valley that is like a shrine in

Many famous towns and villages stand in the valley of this river and
even (some of them) upon its very banks. Thus there are the three
principal towns of this part, Midhurst and Petworth and Pulborough: but
these have been dealt with and written of in so many great books and by
such a swarm of new men that I have no business further to describe
their merits and antiquity. But this I will add to all that is known of
them. Midhurst takes its name from standing in the middle, for it is
half-way between the open downs and the thick woods on the borders of
Surrey. Petworth has a steeple that slopes to one side; not so much as
Chesterfield, but somewhat more than most steeples. Pulborough stands
upon a hill, and is famous for its corn-market, to which people come
from far and near, from as far off as Burpham or as close by as Bury.
All these noble towns have (as I said before) been written of in books,
only no book that I know puts them all together and calls them "the
Valley of the Rother." That is the title that such a book should have if
it is to treat of the heart of West Sussex, and I make no doubt that
such a book would be read lovingly by many men.

For the Valley of the Rother breeds men and is the cause of many
delightful villages, all the homes of men. I know that Cobden was born
there, the last of the yeomen: I hope that Cobbett lived here too.
Manning was here in his short married life; he lived at Barlton (which
foolish men call Barlavington), under the old Downs, where the steep
woods make a hollow. In this valley also are Fittleworth (the only place
in England that rhymes with Little Worth); Duncton, about which there is
nothing to be said; Burton, which is very old and has its church right
in the grounds of the house; Westburton, where the racehorses were;
Graffham, Bignor, Sutton, and I know not how many delightful hamlets.

In the Valley of the River Rother no hurried men ever come, for it leads
nowhere. They cross it now and then, and they forget it; but who, unless
he be a son or a lover, has really known that plain? It leads nowhere:
to the no man's land, the broken country by Liss. It has in it no
curious sight, but only beauty. The rich men in it (and thank Heaven
they are few) are of a reticent and homing kind, or (when the worst
comes to the worst) they have estates elsewhere, and go north for their

Foxes are hunted in the Valley of the Rother, but there are not very
many. Pheasants and partridges are shot, but I never heard of great
bags; one animal indeed there is in profusion. The rabbit swarms and
exults in this life of Southern England. Do you stalk him? He sits and
watches you. Do you hunt him with dogs? He thinks it a vast bother about
a very little matter. Do you ferret him? He dies, and rejoices to know
that so many more will take his place. The rabbit is the sacred emblem
of my river, and when we have a symbol, he shall be our symbol. He loves
men and eats the things they plant, especially the tender shoots of
young trees, wheat, and the choice roots in gardens. He only remains,
and is happy all his little life in the valley from which we depart when
our boyhood ends.

The Valley of the Rother is made of many parts. There is the chalk of
the Southern Down-land, the belt of the loam beneath it; then the
curious country of sand, full of dells and dark with pine woods; then
the luxurious meadows, which are open and full of cattle, colts, and
even sheep; then the woods. It is, in a few miles, a little England.
There are also large heaths--larger, you would think, than such a corner
of the earth could contain; old elms and oaks; many wide parks; fish
ponds; one trout stream and half a score of mills. There are men of many
characters, but all happy, honest, good, witty, and hale. And when I
have said all I could say of this delightful place (which indeed I think
is set apart for the reward of virtue) I should not have given you a
tithe of its prosperity and peace and beneficence. There is the picture
of the Valley of the River Rother. It flows in a short and happy murmur
from the confined hills by Hindhead to the Arun itself; but of the Arun
no one could write with any justice except at the expense of far more
space and time than I have given me.

If ever again we have a religion in the South Country, we will have a
temple to my darling valley. It shall be round, with columns and a wall,
and there I will hang a wreath in thanksgiving for having known the


My companion said to me that there was a doom over the day and the reign
and the times, and that the turn of the nation had come. He felt it in
the sky.

The day had been troubled: from the forest ridge to the sea there was
neither wind nor sun, but a dull, even heat oppressed the fields and the
high downs under the uncertain, half-luminous confusion of grey clouds.
It was as though a relief was being denied, and as though something
inexorable had come into that air which is normally the softest and most
tender in the world. The hours of the low tide were too silent. The
little inland river was quite dead, the reeds beside it dry and
motionless; even in the trees about it no leaves stirred.

In the late afternoon, as the heat grew more masterful, a slight wind
came out of the east. It was so faint and doubtful in quantity that one
could not be certain, as one stood on the deserted shore, whether it
blew from just off the land or from the sullen level of the sea. It
followed along the line of the coast without refreshment and without
vigour, even hotter than had been the still air out of which it was
engendered. It did not do more than ruffle here and there the uneasy
surface of our sea; that surface moved a little, but with a motion
borrowed from nothing so living or so natural as the wind. It was a dull
memory of past storms, or perhaps that mysterious heaving from the lower
sands which sailors know, but which no silence has yet explained.

In such an influence of expectation and of presage--an influence having
in it that quality which seemed to the ancients only Fate, but to us
moderns a something evil--in the strained attention for necessary and
immovable things that cannot hear and cannot pity--the hour came for me
to reascend the valley to my home. Already upon the far and confused
horizon two or three motionless sails that had been invisible began to
show white against a rising cloud. This cloud had not the definition of
sudden conquering storms, proper to the summer, and leaving a blessing
behind their fury. The edge of it against the misty and brooding sky had
all the vagueness of smoke, and as it rose up out of the sea its growth
was so methodical and regular as to disconnect it wholly in one's mind
from the little fainting breeze that still blew, from rain, or from any
daily thing. It advanced with the fall of the evening till it held half
the sky. There it seemed halted for a while, and lent by contrast an
unnatural brightness to the parched hills beneath it; for now the sun
having set, we had come north of the gap, and were looking southward
upon that spectacle as upon the climax of a tragedy. But there was
nothing of movement or of sound. No lightning, no thunder; and soon the
hot breath of the afternoon had itself disappeared before the advance of
this silent pall. The night of June to the north was brighter than
twilight, and still southward, a deliberate spectacle, stood this great
range of vague and menacing cloud, shutting off the sky and towering
above the downs, so that it seemed permissible to ascribe to those
protecting gods of our valley a burden of fear.

Just when all that scene had been arranged to an adjustment that no art
could have attained, the first great fire blazed out miles and miles to
the west, somewhere above Midhurst: I think near No Man's Land. Then we
saw, miles to the east again, a glare over Mount Harry, the signal of
Lewes, and one after another all the heights took it up in a
chain--above Bramber, above Poynings, above Wiston, on Amberley Mount (I
think), certainly on the noble sweep of Bury. Even in those greater
distances which the horizon concealed they were burning and answering
each other into Hampshire: perhaps on the beaten grass of the high forts
above Portsmouth, and to the left away to the flat Rye level, and to
the eastern Rother; for we saw the line of red angry upon that cloud
which had come to receive it, an endless line which suddenly called up
what one had heard old men say of the prairie fires.

It was easy, without covering the face and without abstracting the mind
from the whirl of modern circumstance, it was easy, merely looking at
the thing, to be seized with an impression of disaster. The stars were
so pale on the lingering white light of the pure north, the smoky cloud
so deep and heavy and steadfast and low above the hills, the fire so
near to it, so sharp against it, and so huge, that the awe and sinister
meaning of conflagrations dominated the impression of all the scene.
There arose in the mind that memory which associates such a glare and
the rising and falling fury of flames with sacrifice or with vengeance,
or with the warning of an enemy's approach, or with the mark of his
conquest; for with such things our race (for how many thousand years!)
has watched the fires upon the hills far off. It touched one as does the
reiterated note of a chaunt; if not with an impression of doom, at least
with that of calamity.

When the fires had died down to a sullen glow, and the men watching them
had gone home under the weight of what they had seen, the storm broke
and occupied the whole sky. A very low wind rose and a furious rain
fell. It became suddenly cold; there was thunder all over the weald, and
the lightning along the unseen crest of the downs answered the lightning
above the forest.


I lay once alone upon the crest of a range whose name I have never seen
spelt, but which is pronounced "Haueedja," from whence a man can see
right away for ever the expanse of the Sahara.

It is well known that Mount Atlas and those inhabited lands where there
is a sufficient rainfall and every evidence of man's activity, the
Province of Africa, the plateaux which are full of the memories of Rome,
end abruptly towards the sun, and are bounded by a sort of cliff which
falls sheer upon the desert. On the summit of this cliff I lay and
looked down upon the sand. It was impressed upon my mind that here was
an influence quite peculiar, not to be discovered in any other climate
of the world; that all Europe received that influence, and yet that no
one in Europe had accepted it save for his hurt.

God forbid that any man should pretend that the material environment of
mankind determines the destiny of mankind. Those who say such things
have abandoned the domain of intelligence. But it is true that the soul
eagerly seeks for and receives the impressions of the world about it,
and will be moved to a different creed or to a different poetry,
according as the body perceives the sea or the hills or the rainless and
inhuman places which lie to the south of Europe; and certainly the souls
of those races which have inhabited the great zone of calms between the
trade winds and the tropics, those races which have felt nothing
beneficent, but only something awful and unfamiliar in the earth and
sky, have produced a peculiar philosophy.

It is to be remarked that this philosophy is not atheist; those races
called Semitic have never denied either the presence or the personality
of God. It is, on the contrary, their boast that they have felt His
presence, His unity, and His personality in a manner more pointed than
have the rest of mankind; and those of us who pretend to find in the
Desert a mere negation, are checked by the thought that within the
Desert the most positive of religions have appeared. Indeed, to deny God
has been the sad privilege of very few in any society of men; and those
few, if it be examined, have invariably been men in whom the power to
experience was deadened, usually by luxury, sometimes by distress.

It is not atheist; but whatever it is, it is hurtful, and has about it
something of the despair and strength of atheism. Consider the Book of
Job; consider the Arab Mohammedan; consider the fierce heresies which
besieged the last of the Romans in this Province of Africa, and which
tortured the short history of the Vandals; consider the modern tragedies
which develop among the French soldiers to the north and to the south of
this wide belt of sand; and you will see that the thing which the Sahara
and its prolongation produce is something evil, or at least to us evil.
There is in the idea running through the mind of the Desert an intensity
which may be of some value to us if it be diluted by a large admixture
of European tradition, or if it be mellowed and transformed by a long
process of time, but which, if we take it at its source and inspire
ourselves directly from it, warps and does hurt to our European sense.

It may be taken that whatever form truth takes among men will be the
more perfect in proportion as the men who receive that form are more
fully men. The whole of truth can never be comprehended by anything
finite; and truth as it appears to this species or to that is most true
when the type which receives it is the healthiest and the most normal of
its own kind. The truth as it is to men is most true when the men who
receive it are the healthiest and the most normal of men. We in Europe
are the healthiest and most normal of our kind. It is to us that the
world must look for its headship; we have the harbours, the continual
presence of the sea through all our polities; we have that high
differentiation between the various parts of our unity which makes the
whole of Europe so marvellous an organism; we alone change without
suffering decay. To the truth as Europe accepts it I cannot but bow
down; for if that is not the truth, then the truth is not to be found
upon earth. But there conies upon us perpetually that "wind of Africa";
and it disturbs us. As I lay that day, a year ago, upon the crest of the
mountain, my whole mind was possessed with the influence of such a gale.

Day after day, after day, the silent men of the Desert go forward across
its monotonous horizons; their mouths are flanked with those two deep
lines of patience and of sorrow which you may note to-day in all the
ghettoes of Europe; their smile, when they smile, is restrained by a
sort of ironic strength in the muscles of the face. Their eyes are more
bright than should be eyes of happy men; they are, as it were, inured to
sterility; there is nothing in them of that repose which we Westerners
acquire from a continual contemplation of deep pastures and of
innumerable leaves; they are at war, not only among themselves, but
against the good earth; in a silent and powerful way they are also

You may note that their morals are an angry series of unexplained
commands, and that their worship does not include that fringe of
half-reasonable, wholly pleasant things which the true worship of a true
God must surely contain. All is as clear-cut as their rocks, and as
unfruitful as their dry valleys, and as dreadful as their brazen sky;
"thou shalt not" this, that, and the other. Their God is jealous; he is
vengeful; he is (awfully present and real to them!) a vision of that
demon of which we in our happier countries make a quaint legend. He
catches men out and trips them up; he has but little relation to the
Father of Christian men, who made the downs of South England and the
high clouds above them.

The good uses of the world are forgotten in the Desert, or fiercely
denied. Love is impure; so are birth, and death, and eating, and every
other necessary part in the life of a man. And yet, though all these
things are impure, there is no lustration. We also feel in a genial
manner that this merry body of ours requires apology; but those others
to south of us have no toleration in their attitude; they are awfully

I have continually considered, as I have read my history, the special
points in which their influence is to be observed in the development of
Europe. It takes the form of the great heresies; the denial of the
importance of matter (sometimes of its existence); the denial that
anything but matter exists; the denial of the family; the denial of
ownership; the over-simplicity which is peculiarly a Desert product runs
through all such follies, as does the rejection of a central and
governing power upon earth, which is again just such a rebellion as the
Desert would bring. I say the great heresies are the main signs of that
influence; but it is in small and particular matters that you may see
its effect most clearly.

For instance, the men of the Desert are afraid of wine. They have good
reason; if you drink wine in the Desert you die. In the Desert, a man
can drink only water; and, when he gets it, it is like diamonds to him,
or, better still, it is like rejuvenation. All our long European legends
which denounce and bring a curse upon the men who are the enemies of
wine, are legends inspired by our hatred of the thing which is not
Europe, and that bounds Europe, and is the enemy of Europe.

So also with their attachment to numbers. For instance, the seventh day
must have about it something awful and oppressive; the fast must be
seven times seven days, and so forth. We Europeans have always smiled in
our hearts at these things. We would take this day or that, and make up
a scheme of great and natural complexity, full of interlacing seasons;
and nearly all our special days were days of rejoicing. We carried
images about our fields further to develop and enhance the nature of our
religion; we dedicated trees and caves; and the feasts of one place were
not the feasts of another. But to the men of the Desert mere unfruitful
number was a god.

Then again, the word, especially the written word, the document,
overshadows their mind. It has always had for them a power of something
mysterious. To engrave characters was to cast a spell; and when they
seek for some infallible authority upon earth, they can only discover it
in the written characters traced in a sacred book. All their expression
of worship is wrought through symbols. With us, the symbol is clearly
retained separate from that for which it stands, though hallowed by that
for which it stands. With them the symbol is the whole object of

On this account you will find in the men of the Desert a curious panic
in the presence of statues, which is even more severe than the panic
they suffer in the presence of wine. It is as though they said to
themselves: "Take this away; if you leave it here I shall worship it."
They are subject to possession.

Side by side with this fear of the graphic representation of men or of
animals, you will find in them an incapacity to represent them well. The
art of the iconoclasts is either childish, weak, or, at its strongest,

And especially among all these symptoms of the philosophy from which
they suffer is their manner of comprehending the nature of creation. Of
creation in any form they are afraid; and the infinite Creator is on
that account present to them almost as though He were a man, for when we
are afraid of things we see them very vividly indeed. On this account
you will find in the legends of the men of the Desert all manner of
fantastic tales incomprehensible to us Europeans, wherein God walks,
talks, eats, and wrestles. Nor is there any trace in this attitude of
theirs of parable or of allegory. That mixture of the truth, and of a
subtle unreal glamour which expands and confirms the truth, is a mixture
proper to our hazy landscapes, to our drowsy woods, and to our large
vision. We, who so often see from our high village squares soft and
distant horizons, mountains now near, now very far, according as the
weather changes: we, who are perpetually feeling the transformation of
the seasons, and who are immersed in a very ocean of manifold and
mysterious life, we need, create, and live by legends. The line between
the real and imaginary is vague and penumbral to us. We are justly
influenced by our twilights, and our imagination teaches us. How many
deities have we not summoned up to inhabit groves and lakes--special
deities who are never seen, but yet have never died?

To the men of the Desert, doubt and beauty mingled in this fashion
seemed meaningless. That which they worship they see and almost handle.
In the dreadful silence which surrounds them, their illusions turn into
convictions--the haunting voices are heard; the forms are seen.

Of two further things, native to us, their starved experience has no
hold; of nationality (or if the term be preferred, of "The City") and of
what we have come to call "chivalry." The two are but aspects of one
thing without a name; but that thing all Europeans possess, nor is it
possible for us to conceive of a patriotism unless it is a patriotism
which is chivalric. In our earliest stories, we honour men fighting
odds. Our epics are of small numbers against great; humility and charity
are in them, lending a kind of magic strength to the sword. The Faith
did not bring in that spirit, but rather completed it. Our boundaries
have always been intensely sacred to us. We are not passionate to cross
them save for the sake of adventure; but we are passionate to defend
them. In all that enormous story of Rome, from the dim Etrurian origins
right up to the end of her thousand years, the Wall of the Town was more
sacred than the limits of the Empire.

The men of the Desert do not understand these things. They are by
compulsion nomad, and for ever wandering; they strike no root; their
pride is in mere expansion; they must colonise or fail; nor does any man
die for a city.

As I looked from the mountain I thought the Desert which I had come so
far to see had explained to me what hitherto I had not understood in the
mischances of Europe. I remained for a long while looking out upon the

But when I came down again, northward from the high sandstone hill, and
was in the fields again near running water, and drinking wine from a cup
carved with Roman emblems, I began to wonder whether the Desert had not
put before my mind, as they say it can do before the eye of the
traveller, a mirage. Is there such an influence? Are there such men?


Once, in Barbary, I grew tired of unusual things, especially of palms,
and desired to return to Europe and the things I knew; so I went down
from the hills to the sea coast, and when after two days I had reached
the railway, I took a train for Algiers and reached that port at

From Algiers it is possible to go at once and for almost any sum one
chooses to any part of the world. The town is on a sharp slope of a
theatre of hills, and in the quiet harbour below it there are all sorts
of ships, but mostly steamships, moored with their sterns towards the
quay. For there is no tide here, and the ships can lie quite still.

I sat upon a wall of the upper town and considered how each of these
ships were going to some different place, and how pleasant it was to
roam about the world. Behind the ships, along the stone quays, were a
great number of wooden huts, of offices built, into archways, of little
houses, booths, and dens, in each of which you could take your passage
to some place or other.

"Now," said I to myself, "now is the time to be free." For one never
feels master of oneself unless one is obeying no law, plan, custom,
trend, or necessity, but simply spreading out at ease and occupying the
world. In this also Aristotle was misled by fashion, or was ill-informed
by some friend of his, or was, perhaps, lying for money when he said
that liberty was obedience to a self-made law; for the most distant hint
of law is odious to liberty. True, it is more free to obey a law of
one's own making than of some one else's; just as if a man should give
himself a punch in the eye it would be less hurtful and far less
angering than one given by a passer-by; yet to suffer either would not
be a benefit of freedom. Liberty cannot breathe where the faintest odour
of regulation is to be discovered, but only in that ether whose very
nature is largeness. Oh! Diviner Air! how few have drunk you, and in
what deep draughts have I!

I had a great weight of coined, golden, metallic money all loose in my
pocket. There was no call upon me nor any purpose before me. I spent an
hour looking down upon the sea and the steamships, and taking my pick
out of all the world.

One thing, however, guided me, which was this: that desire, to be
satisfied at all, must be satisfied at once; and of the many new
countries I might seek that would most attract me whose ship was
starting soonest. So I looked round for mooring cables in the place of
anchor chains, for Blue Peter, for smoke from funnels, for little boats
coming and going, and for all that shows a steamboat to be off; when I
saw, just behind a large new boat in such a condition of bustle, a sign
in huge yellow letters staring on a bright black ground, which said, "To
the Balearic Islands, eight shillings"; underneath, in smaller yellow
letters, was written: "Gentlemen The Honourable Travellers are warned
that they must pay for any food they consume." When I had read this
notice I said to myself: "I will go to the Balearic Islands, of which
the rich have never heard. I, poor and unencumbered, will go and visit
these remote places, which have in their time received all the
influences of the world, and which yet have no history; for I am tired
of this Africa, where so many men are different from me." As I said this
to myself I saw a little picture in my mind of three small islands
standing in the middle of the sea, quite alone, and inhabited by happy
men; but this picture, as it always is with such pictures, was not at
all the same as what I saw when next morning the islands rose along the
north to which we steered.

I went down to the quay by some large stone steps which an Englishman
had built many years ago, and I entered the office above which this
great sign was raised. Within was a tall man of doubtful race, smoking
a cigarette made of loose paper, and gazing kindly at the air. He was
full of reveries. Of this man I asked when the boat would be starting.
He told me it started in half an hour, a little before the setting of
the sun. So I bought a ticket for eight shillings, upon which it was
clearly printed in two languages that I had bound myself to all manner
of things by the purchase, and especially that I might not go below, but
must sit upon deck all night; nevertheless, I was glad to hold that
little bit of printed prose, for it would enable me to reach the
Balearic Islands, which for all other men are names in a dream. I then
went up into the town of Algiers, and was careful to buy some ham from a
Jew, some wine from a Mohammedan, and some bread and chocolate from a
very indifferent Christian. After that I got aboard. As I came over the
side I heard the sailors, stokers, and people all talking to each other
in low tones, and I at once recognised the tongue called Catalan.

I had heard this sort of Latin in many places, some lonely and some
populous. I had heard it once from a chemist at Perpignan who dressed a
wound of mine, and this was the first time I heard it. Very often after
in the valleys of the Pyrenees, in the Cerdagne, and especially in
Andorra, hundreds of men had spoken to me in Catalan. At Urgel, that
notable city where there is only one shop and where the streets are
quite narrow and Moorish, a woman and six or seven men had spoken
Catalan to me for nearly one hour: it was in a cellar surrounded by
great barrels, and I remember it well. So, also, on the River Noguera,
coming up again into the hills, a girl who took the toll at the wooden
bridge had spoken Catalan to me. But none of these had I ever answered
so that they could understand, and on this account I was very grieved to
hear the Catalan tongue, though I remembered that if I spoke to them
with ordinary Spanish words or in French with a strong Southern accent
they would usually have some idea of what I was saying.

As the evening fell the cables were slipped without songs, and with
great dignity, rapidity, and order the ship was got away.

I knew a man once, a seafaring man, a Scotchman, with whom I travelled
on a very slow old boat in the Atlantic, who told me that the Northern
people of Europe were bravest in a unexpected danger, but the Southern
in a danger long foreseen. He said he had known many of both kinds, and
had served under them and commanded them. He said that in sudden
accident the Northerner was the more reliable man, but that if an act of
great danger had to be planned and coolly achieved, then the Southerner
was strongest in doing what he had to do. He said that in taking the
ground he would rather have a Northern, but in bringing in a short ship
a Southern crew.

He was a man who observed closely, and never said a thing because he had
read it. Indeed, he did not read, and he had in a little hanging shelf
above his bunk only four or five tattered books, and even these were
magazines. I remembered his testimony now as I watched these Catalans
letting the ship go free, and I believed it, comparing it with history
and the things I had myself seen. They did everything with such
regularity and so silently that it was a different deck from what one
would have had in the heave of the Channel. With Normans or Bretons, or
Cornishmen or men of Kent, but especially with men from London river,
there would have been all sorts of cursing and bellowing, and they could
not have touched a rope without throwing themselves into attitudes of
violence. But these men took the sea quite quietly, nor could you tell
from their faces which was rich and which was poor.

It was not till the ship was out throbbing swiftly Over the smooth sea
and darkness had fallen that they began to sing. Then those of them who
were not working gathered together with a stringed instrument forward
and sang of pity and of death. One of them said to me, "Knight, can your
grace sing?" I told him that I could sing, certainly, but that my
singing was unpleasing, and that I only knew foreign songs. He said that
singing was a great solace, and desired to hear a song of my own
country. So I sang them a song out of Sussex, to which they listened in
deep silence, and when it was concluded their leader snapped and twanged
at the strings again and began another song about the riding of horses
in the hills.

So we passed the short night until the sky upon our quarter grew faintly
pale and the little wind that rises before morning awakened the sea.


A pilgrimage is, of course, an expedition to some venerated place to
which a vivid memory of sacred things experienced, or a long and
wonderful history of human experience in divine matters, or a personal
attraction affecting the soul impels one. This is, I say, its essence.
So a pilgrimage may be made to the tomb of Descartes, in Paris, or it
may be a little walk uphill to a neighbouring and beloved grave, or a
modern travel, even in luxury, on the impulse to see something that
greatly calls one.

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