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SEVEN ENGLISH CITIES
W. D. HOWELLS
[Illustration: A VIEW OF MONK BAR]
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BOOKS OF TRAVEL AND COMMENT BY WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS
ROMAN HOLIDAYS…………………………. net $3.00 Traveller’s Edition…………………. net 3.00
CERTAIN DELIGHTFUL ENGLISH TOWNS, Ill’d…… net 3.00 Traveller’s Edition…………………. net 3.00
LONDON FILMS. Illustrated……………….. net 2.25 Traveller’s Edition…………………. net 2.25
A LITTLE SWISS SOJOURN………………….. .50
MY YEAR IN A LOG CABIN. Illustrated………. .50
CRITICISM AND FICTION…………………… 1.00
HEROINES OF FICTION. Illustrated…………. net 3.75
IMPRESSIONS AND EXPERIENCES……………… 1.50
LITERARY FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCE. Ill’d….. 2.50
LITERATURE AND LIFE…………………….. net 2.25
MODERN ITALIAN POETS. Illustrated………… 2.00
MY LITERARY PASSIONS……………………. 1.75
STOPS OF VARIOUS QUILLS…………………. 2.50 Limited Edition……………………. 15.00
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A MODEST LIKING FOR LIVERPOOL
SOME MERITS OF MANCHESTER
IN SMOKIEST SHEFFIELD
NINE DAYS’ WONDER IN YORK
TWO YORKISH EPISODES
A DAY AT DONCASTER AND AN HOUR OUT OF DURHAM THE MOTHER OF THE AMERICAN ATHENS
ABERYSTWYTH, A WELSH WATERING-PLACE LLANDUDNO, ANOTHER WELSH WATERING-PLACE
GLIMPSES OF ENGLISH CHARACTER
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A VIEW OF MONK BAR
ST. GEORGE’S HALL, LIVERPOOL
THE WELLINGTON MONUMENT, LIVERPOOL
THE LIVERPOOL DOCKS
TOWN HALL, MANCHESTER
THE MANCHESTER SHIP-CANAL
TOWN HALL, SHEFFIELD
YORK MINSTER–THE GRANDEST IN ALL ENGLAND BOOTHAM BAR AND THE MINSTER
WALMGATE BAR HAS A BARBICAN
ST. MARY’S ABBEY
YORK AS SEEN FROM THE RIVER
DURHAM CATHEDRAL–NORTHWEST VIEW
DURHAM CATHEDRAL–ITS MATCHLESS SEAT ON THE BLUFFS OF THE RIVER THE “STUMP” OF ST. BOTOLPH’S CHURCH AGAINST THE SKY THE WORTHY ANCESTRESS OF FANEUIL HALL AND QUINCY MARKET-PLACES THE RIVER AT EVENING
LIFTING ITS TOWER FROM THE BRINK OF THE WITHAM FISHING-SHIPS AT GREAT GRIMSBY
THE BEACH, ABERYSTWYTH
ABERYSTWYTH FROM CRAIG GLAS ROCKS
LLANDUDNO–THE CITY AND HARBOR
LLANDUDNO FROM GREAT ORME’S NECK
THE GREAT PIER, LLANDUDNO
A PRESENTATION AT COURT
THE ENGLISH HOUSEMAID
LEADS A LIFE OF GAYETY ON THE SANDS
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A MODEST LIKING FOR LIVERPOOL
Why should the proud stomach of American travel, much tossed in the transatlantic voyage, so instantly have itself carried from Liverpool to any point where trains will convey it? Liverpool is most worthy to be seen and known, and no one who looks up from the bacon and eggs of his first hotel breakfast after landing, and finds himself confronted by the coal-smoked Greek architecture of St. George’s Hall, can deny that it is of a singularly noble presence. The city has moments of failing in the promise of this classic edifice, but every now and then it reverts to it, and reminds the traveller that he is in a great modern metropolis of commerce by many other noble edifices.
Liverpool does not remind him of this so much as the good and true Baedeker professes, in the dockside run on the overhead railway (as the place unambitiously calls its elevated road); but then, as I noted in my account of Southampton, docks have a fancy of taking themselves in, and eluding the tourist eye, and even when they “flank the Mersey for a distance of 6-7 M.” they do not respond to American curiosity so frankly as could be wished. They are like other English things in that, however, and it must be said for them that when apparent they are sometimes unimpressive. From my own note-book, indeed, I find that I pretended to think them “wonderful and almost endless,” and so I dare say they are. But they formed only a very perfunctory interest of our day at Liverpool, where we had come to meet, not to take, a steamer.
Our run from London, in the heart of June, was very quick and pleasant, through a neat country and many tidy towns. In the meadows the elms seemed to droop like our own rather than to hold themselves oakenly upright like the English; the cattle stood about in the yellow buttercups, knee-deep, white American daisies, and red clover, and among the sheep we had our choice of shorn and unshorn; they were equally abundant. Some of the blossomy May was left yet on the hawthorns, and over all the sky hovered, with pale-white clouds in pale-blue spaces of air like an inverted lake of bonnyclabber. We stopped the night at Chester, and the next evening, in the full daylight of 7.40, we pushed on to Liverpool, over lovely levels, with a ground swell like that of Kansas plains, under a sunset drying its tears and at last radiantly smiling.
The hotel in Liverpool swarmed and buzzed with busy and murmurous American arrivals. One could hardly get at the office window, on account of them, to plead for a room. A dense group of our countrywomen were buying picture-postals of the rather suave office-ladies, and helplessly fawning on them in the inept confidences of American women with all persons in official or servile attendance. “Let me stay here,” one of them entreated, “because there’s such a draught at the other window. May I?” She was a gentle child of forty-five or fifty; and I do not know whether she was allowed to stay in the sheltered nook or not, tender creature. As she was in every one else’s way there, possibly she was harshly driven into the flaw at the other window.
[Illustration: ST. GEORGE’S HALL, LIVERPOOL]
The place was a little America which swelled into a larger with the arrivals of the successive steamers, though the soft swift English trains bore our co-nationals away as rapidly as they could. Many familiar accents remained till the morning, and the breakfast-room was full of a nasal resonance which would have made one at home anywhere in our East or West. I, who was then vainly trying to be English, escaped to the congenial top of the farthest bound tram, and flew, at the rate of four miles an hour, to the uttermost suburbs of Liverpool, whither no rumor of my native speech could penetrate. It was some balm to my wounded pride of country to note how pale and small the average type of the local people was. The poorer classes swarmed along a great part of the tram-line in side streets of a hard, stony look, and what characterized itself to me as a sort of iron squalor seemed to prevail. You cannot anywhere have great prosperity without great adversity, just as you cannot have day without night, and the more Liverpool evidently flourished the more it plainly languished. I found no pleasure in the paradox, and I was not overjoyed by the inevitable ugliness of the brick villas of the suburbs into which these obdurate streets decayed. But then, after divers tram changes, came the consolation of beautiful riverside beaches, thronged with people who looked gay at that distance, and beyond the Mersey rose the Welsh hills, blue, blue.
At the end of the tram-line, where we necessarily dismounted, we rejected a thatched cottage, offering us tea, because we thought it too thatched and too cottage to be quite true (though I do not now say that there were vermin in the straw roof), and accepted the hospitality of a pastry-cook’s shop. We felt the more at home with the kind woman who kept it because she had a brother at Chicago in the employ of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and had once been in Stratford-on-Avon; this doubly satisfied us as cultivated Americans. She had a Welsh name, and she testified to a great prevalence of Welsh and Irish in the population of Liverpool; besides, she sent us to a church of the Crusaders at Little Crosby, and it was no fault of hers that we did not find it. We found one of the many old crosses for which Little Crosby is named, and this was quite as much as we merited. It stood at the intersection of the streets in what seemed the fragment of a village, not yet lost in the vast maw of the city, and it calmed all the simple neighborhood, so that we sat down at its foot and rested a long, long minute till the tram came by and took us back into the loud, hard heart of Liverpool.
I do not mean to blame it, for it was no louder or harder than the hearts of other big towns, and it had some alleviation from the many young couples who were out together half-holidaying in the unusually pleasant Saturday weather. I wish their complexions had been better, but you cannot have South-of-England color if you live as far north as Liverpool, and all the world knows what the American color is. The young couples abounded in the Gallery of Fine Arts, where they frankly looked at one another instead of the pictures. The pictures might have been better, but then they might have been worse (there being examples of Filippo Lippi, Memmi, Holbein, and, above all, the _Dante’s Dream_ of Rossetti); and in any case those couples could come and see them when they were old men and women; but now they had one another in a moment of half-holiday which could not last forever.
In the evening there were not so many lovers at the religious meetings before the classic edifice opposite the hotel, where the devotions were transacted with the help of a brass-band; but there were many youths smoking short pipes, and flitting from one preacher to another, in the half-dozen groups. Some preachers were nonconformist, but there was one perspiring Anglican priest who labored earnestly with his hearers, and who had more of his aspirates in the right place. Many of his hearers were in the rags which seem a favorite wear in Liverpool, and I hope his words did their poor hearts good.
Slightly apart from the several congregations, I found myself with a fellow-foreigner of seafaring complexion who addressed me in an accent so unlike my own American that I ventured to answer him in Italian. He was indeed a Genoese, who had spent much time in Buenos Ayres and was presently thinking of New York; and we had some friendly discourse together concerning the English. His ideas of them were often so parallel with my own that I hardly know how to say he thought them an improvident people. I owned that they spent much more on state, or station, than the Americans; but we neither had any censure for them otherwise. He was of that philosophic mind which one is rather apt to encounter in the Latin races, and I could well wish for his further acquaintance. His talk rapt me to far other and earlier scenes, and I seemed to be conversing with him under a Venetian heaven, among objects of art more convincing than the equestrian statue of the late Queen, who had no special motive I could think of for being shown to her rightly loving subjects on horseback. We parted with the expressed hope of seeing each other again, and if this should meet his eye and he can recall the pale young man, with the dark full beard, who chatted with him between the pillars of the Piazzetta, forty years before our actual encounter I would be glad of his address.
How strange are the uses of travel! There was a time when the mention of Liverpool would have conjured up for me nothing but the thought of Hawthorne, who spent divers dull consular years there, and has left a record of them which I had read, with the wish that it were cheerfuler. Yet, now, here on the ground his feet might have trod, and in the very smoke he breathed, I did not once think of him. I thought as little of that poor Felicia Hemans, whose poetry filled my school-reading years with the roar of the wintry sea breaking from the waveless Plymouth Bay on the stern and rock-bound coast where the Pilgrim Fathers landed on a bowlder measuring eight by ten feet, now fenced in against the predatory hammers and chisels of reverent visitors. I knew that Gladstone was born at Liverpool, but not Mrs. Oliphant, and the only literary shade I could summon from a past vague enough to my ignorance was William Roscoe, whose _Life of Leo X._, in the Bohn Library, had been too much for my young zeal when my zeal was still young. My other memories of Liverpool have been acquired since my visit, and I now recur fondly to the picturesque times when King John founded a castle there, to the prouder times when Sir Francis Bacon represented it in Parliament; or again to the brave days when it resisted Prince Rupert for three weeks, and the inglorious epoch when the new city (it was then only some four or five hundred years old) began to flourish on the trade in slaves with the colonies of the Spanish Main, and on the conjoint and congenial traffic in rum, sugar, and tobacco.
[Illustration: THE WELLINGTON MONUMENT, LIVERPOOL]
It will be suspected from these reminiscences that I have been studying a page of fine print in Baedeker, and I will not deceive the reader. It is true; but it is also true that I had some wonder, altogether my own, that so great a city should make so small an appeal to the imagination. In this it outdoes almost any metropolis of our own. Even in journalism, an intensely modern product, it does not excel; Manchester has its able and well- written _Guardian_, but what has Liverpool? Glasgow has its Glasgow School of Painting, but again what has Liverpool? It is said that not above a million of its people live in it; all the rest, who can, escape to Chester, where they perhaps vainly hope to escape the Americans. There, intrenched in charming villas behind myrtle hedges, they measurably do so; but Americans are very penetrating, and I would not be sure that the thickest and highest hedge was invulnerable to them. As it is, they probably constitute the best society of Liverpool, which the natives have abandoned to them, though they do not constitute it permanently, but consecutively. Every Cunarder, every White Star, pours out upon a city abandoned by its own good society a flood of cultivated Americans, who eddy into its hotels, and then rush out of them by every train within twenty-four hours, and often within twenty-five minutes. They understand that there are no objects of interest in Liverpool; and they are not met at the Customs with invitations to breakfast, luncheon, and dinner from the people of rank and fashion with whom they have come to associate. These have their stately seats in the lovely neighboring country, but they are not at the landing-stage, and even the uncultivated American cannot stay for the vast bourgeoisie of which Liverpool, like the cities of his own land, is composed. Our own cities have a social consciousness, and are each sensible of being a centre, with a metropolitan destiny; but the strange thing about Liverpool and the like English towns is that they are without any social consciousness. Their meek millions are socially unborn; they can come into the world only in London, and in their prenatal obscurity they remain folded in a dreamless silence, while all the commercial and industrial energies rage round them in a gigantic maturity.
The time was when Liverpool was practically the sole port of entry for our human cargoes, indentured apprentices of the beautiful, the historical. With the almost immediate transference of the original transatlantic steamship interests from Bristol, Liverpool became the only place where you could arrive. American lines, long erased from the seas, and the Inman line, the Cunard line, the White Star line, and the rest, would land you nowhere else. Then heretical steamers began to land you at Glasgow; worse schismatics carried you to Southampton; there were heterodox craft that touched at Plymouth, and now great swelling agnostics bring you to London itself. Still, Liverpool remains the greatest port of entry for our probationers, who are bound out to the hotels and railroad companies of all Europe till they have morally paid back their fare. The superstition that if you go in a Cunarder you can sleep on both ears is no longer so exclusive as it once was; yet the Cunarder continues an ark of safety for the timid and despairing, and the cooking is so much better than it used to be that if in contravention of the old Cunard rule against a passenger’s being carried overboard you do go down, you may be reasonably sure of having eaten something that the wallowing sea-monsters will like in you.
[Illustration: THE LIVERPOOL DOCKS]
I have tried to give some notion of the fond behavior of the arriving Americans in the hotels; no art can give the impression of their exceeding multitude. Expresses, panting with as much impatience as the disciplined English expresses ever suffer themselves to show, await them in the stations, which are effectively parts of the great hotels, and whir away to London with them as soon as they can drive up from the steamer; but many remain to rest, to get the sea out of their heads and legs, and to prepare their spirits for adjustment to the novel conditions. These the successive trains carry into the heart of the land everywhere, these and their baggage, to which they continue attached by their very heart-strings, invisibly stretching from their first-class corridor compartments to the different luggage- vans. I must say they have very tenderly, very perfectly imagined us, all those hotel people and railroad folk, and fold us, anxious and bewildered exiles, in a reassuring and consoling embrace which leaves all their hands–they are Briarean–free for the acceptance of our wide, wild tips. You may trust yourself implicitly to their care, but if you are going to Oxford do not trust the head porter who tells you to take the London and Northwestern, for then you will have to change four times on the way and at every junction personally see that your baggage is unladen and started anew to its destination.
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SOME MERITS OF MANCHESTER
I will suppose the reader not to be going to Oxford, but, in compliance with the scheme of this paper, to Manchester, where there is perhaps no other reason for his going. He will there, for one thing, find the supreme type of the railroad hotel which in England so promptly shelters and so kindly soothes the fluttered exile. At Manchester, even more than at Liverpool, we are imagined in the immense railroad station hotel, which is indeed perhaps superorganized and over-convenienced after an American ideal: one does not, for instance, desire a striking, or even a ticking, clock in the transom above one’s bedroom door; but the like type of hotel is to be found at every great railroad centre or terminal in England, and it is never to be found quite bad, though of course it is sometimes better and sometimes worse. It is hard to know if it is more hotel or more station; perhaps it is a mixture of each which defies analysis; but in its well- studied composition you pass, as it were, from your car to your room, as from one chamber to another. This is putting the fact poetically; but, prosaically, the intervening steps are few at the most; and when you have entered your room your train has ceased to be. The simple miracle would be impossible in America, where our trains, when not shrieking at the tops of their whistles, are backing and filling with a wild clangor of their bells, and making a bedlam of their stations; but in England they
“Come like shadows, so depart,”
and make no sound within the vast caravansary where the enchanted traveller has changed from them into a world of dreams.
These hotels are, next to the cathedrals, perhaps the greatest wonder of England, and in Manchester the railway hotel is in some ways more wonderful than the cathedral, which is not so much planned on our native methods. Yet this has the merit, if it is a merit, of antedating our Discovery by nearly a century, and pre- historically it is indefinitely older. My sole recorded impression of it is that I found it smelling strongly of coal- gas, such as comes up the register when your furnace is mismanaged; but that is not strange in such a manufacturing centre; and it would be paltering with the truth not to own a general sense of the beauty and grandeur in it which no English cathedral is without. The morning was fitly dim and chill, and one could move about in the vague all the more comfortably for the absence of that appeal of thronging monuments which harasses and bewilders the visitor in other cathedrals; one could really give one’s self up to serious emotion, and not be sordidly and rapaciously concerned with objects of interest. Manchester has been an episcopal see only some fifty years; before that the cathedral was simply T’ Owd Church, and in this character it is still venerable, and is none the less so because of the statue of Oliver Cromwell which holds the chief place in the open square before it. Call it an incongruity, if you will, but that enemy of episcopacy is at least not accused of stabling his horses in The Old Church at Manchester, or despoiling it of its sacred images and stained glass, and he merits a monument there if anywhere.
[Illustration: MANCHESTER CATHEDRAL]
With the constantly passing trams which traverse the square, he is undoubtedly more significant of modern Manchester than the episcopacy is, and perhaps of that older Manchester which held for him against the king, and that yet older Manchester of John Bradford, the first martyr of the Reformation to suffer death at the stake in Smithfield. Of the still yet older, far older Manchester, which trafficked with the Greeks of Marseilles, and later passed under the yoke of Agricola and was a Roman military station, and got the name of Maen-ceaster from the Saxons, and was duly bedevilled by the Danes and mishandled by the Normans, there may be traces in the temperament of the modern town which would escape even the scrutiny of the hurried American. Such a compatriot was indeed much more bent upon getting a pair of cotton socks, like those his own continent wears almost universally in summer, but a series of exhaustive visits to all the leading haberdashers in Manchester developed the strange fact that there, in the world-heart of the cotton-spinning industry, there was no such thing to be found. In Manchester there are only woollen socks, heavier or lighter, to be bought, and the shopmen smile pityingly if you say, in your strange madness, that woollen socks are not for summer wear. Possibly, however, it was not summer in Manchester, and we were misled by the almanac. Possibly we had been spoiled by three weeks of warm, sunny rain on the Welsh coast, and imagined a vain thing in supposing that the end of August was not the beginning of November.
I thought Manchester, however, as it shows itself in its public edifices, a most dignified town, with as great beauty as could be expected of a place which has always had so much to do besides looking after its figure and complexion. The very charming series or system of parks, public gardens, and playgrounds, unusual in their number and variety, had a sympathetic allure in the gray, cool light, even to the spectator passing in a hurried hansom. They have not the unity of the Boston or Chicago parkways, and I will own that I had not come to Manchester for them. What interested me more were the miles and miles of comfortable- looking little brick houses in which, for all I knew, the mill- labor dwelt. Very possibly it did not; the mills themselves are now nearly all, or mostly, outside of Manchester, and perhaps for this reason I did not find the slums, when shown them, very slummy, and I saw no such dreadful shapes of rags and dirt as in Liverpool. We passed through a quarter of large, old-fashioned mansions, as charming as they were unimagined of Manchester; but these could not have been the dwellings of the mill-hands, any more than of the mill-owners. The mill-owners, at least, live in suburban palaces and villas, which I fancy by this time are not
–“pricking a cockney ear,”
as in the time of Tennyson’s “Maud.”
What wild and whirling insolences, however, the people who have greatly made the greatness of England have in all times suffered from their poets and novelists, with few exceptions! One need not be a very blind devotee of commercialism or industrialism to resent the affronts put upon them, when one comes to the scenes of such mighty achievement as Liverpool, and Manchester, and Sheffield; but how mildly they seem to have taken it all–with what a meek subordination and sufferance! One asks one’s self whether the society of such places can be much inferior to that of Pittsburg, or Chicago, or St. Louis, which, even from the literary attics of New York, we should not exactly allow ourselves to spit upon. Practically, I know nothing about society in Manchester, or rather, out of it; and I can only say of the general type, of richer or poorer, as I saw it in the streets, that it was uncommonly good. Not so many women as men were abroad in such weather as we had, and I cannot be sure that the sex shows there that superiority physically which it has long held morally with us. One learns in the north not to look for the beautiful color of the south and west; but in Manchester the average faces were intelligent and the figures good.
With such a journal as the Manchester _Guardian_ still keeping its high rank among English newspapers, there cannot be question of the journalistic sort of thinking in the place. Of the sort that comes to its effect in literature, such as, say, Mrs. Gaskell’s novels, there may also still be as much as ever; and I will not hazard my safe ignorance in a perilous conjecture. I can only say that of the Unitarianism which eventuated in that literature, I heard it had largely turned to episcopacy, as Unitarianism has in our own Boston. I must not forget that one of our religions, now a dying faith, was invented in Manchester by Ann Lee, who brought, through the usual persecutions, Shakerism to such spiritual importance as it has now lost in these States. Only those who have known the Shakers, with their good lives and gentle ways, can regret with me the decline of the celibate communism which their foundress imagined in her marital relations with the Lancashire blacksmith she left behind her.
I am reminded (or perhaps instructed) by Mr. Hope Moncrieff in Black’s excellent _Guide to Manchester_ that before Mrs. Gaskell’s celebrity the fitful fame of De Quincey shed a backward gleam upon his native place, which can still show the house where he was probably born and the grammar-school he certainly ran away from. In my forgetfulness, or my ignorance, that Manchester was the mother of this tricksy master-spirit of English prose, who was an idol of my youth, I failed to visit either house. The renown of Cobden and of Bright is precious to a larger world than mine; and the name of the stalwart Quaker friend of man is dear to every American who remembers the heroic part he played in our behalf during our war for the Union. It is one of the amusing anomalies of the British constitution, that the great city from whose political fame these names are inseparable should have had no representation in Parliament from Cromwell’s time to Victoria’s. Fancy Akron, Ohio, or Grand Rapids, Michigan, without a member of Congress!
[Illustration: TOWN HALL, MANCHESTER]
The “Manchester school” of political economy has long since passed into reproach if not obloquy with people for whom a byword is a potent weapon, and perhaps the easiest they can handle, and I am not myself so extreme a _laissez-faireist_ as to have thought of that school with pathos in the city of its origin; but I dare say it was a good thing in its time. We are only now slowly learning how to apply the opposite social principles in behalf of the Man rather than the Master, and we have not yet surmounted all the difficulties or dangers of the experiment. It is droll how, in a tolerably well-meaning world like this, any sort of contempt becomes inclusive, and a whole population suffers for the vice, or it may be the virtue, of a very small majority, or a very powerful minority. Probably the most liberal and intelligent populations of Great Britain are those of Manchester and Birmingham, names which have stood for a hard and sordid industrialism, unrelieved by noble sympathies and impulses. It is quite possible that a less generous spirit than mine would have censured the “Manchester school” for the weather of the place, and found in its cold gray light the effect of the Gradgrind philosophy which once wrapt a world of fiction in gloom.
I can only be sure that the light, what little there was of it, was very cold and gray, but it quite sufficed to show the huge lowries, as the wagons are called, passing through the streets with the cotton fabrics of the place in certain stages of manufacture: perhaps the raw, perhaps the finished material. In Manchester itself one sees not much else of “the cotton-spinning chorus” which has sent its name so far. The cotton is now spun in ten or twenty towns in the nearer or farther neighborhood of the great city, as every one but myself and some ninety millions of other Americans well know. I had seen something of cotton-mills in our Lowell, and I was eager, if not willing, to contrast them with the mills of Manchester; but such of these as still remained there were, for my luckless moment, inoperative. Personal influences brought me within one or two days of their starting up; one almost started up during my brief stay; but a great mill, employing perhaps a thousand hands, cannot start up for the sake of the impression desired by the aesthetic visitor, and I had to come away without mine.
I had to come away without that personal acquaintance with the great Manchester ship-canal which I almost equally desired. Coming or going, I asked about it, and was told, looking for it from the car window, there, _there_ it was! but beyond a glimpse of something very long and very straight marking the landscape with lines no more convincing than those which science was once decided, and then undecided, to call canals on the planet Mars, I had no sight of it. I do not say this was not my fault; and I will not pretend that the canal, like the mills of Manchester, was not running. I dare say I was not in the right hands, but this was not for want of trying to get into them. In the local delusion that it was then summer, those whose kindness might have befriended the ignorance of the stranger were “away on their holidays”: that was exactly the phrase.
When, by a smiling chance, I fell into the right hands and was borne to the Cotton Exchange I did not fail of a due sense of the important scene, I hope. The building itself, like the other public buildings of Manchester, is most dignified, and the great hall of the exchange is very noble. I would not, if I could, have repressed a thrill of pride in seeing our national colors and emblems equalled with those of Great Britain at one end of the room, but these were the only things American in the impression left. We made our way through the momently thickening groups on the floor, and in the guidance of a member of the exchange found a favorable point of observation in the gallery. From this the vast space below showed first a moving surface of hats, with few silk toppers among them, but a multitude of panamas and other straws. The marketing was not carried on with anything like the wild, rangy movement of our Stock Exchange, and the floor sent up no such hell-roaring (there is no other phrase for it) tumult as rises from the mad but not malign demons of that most dramatic representation of perdition. The merchants, alike staid, whether old or young, congregated in groups which, dealing in a common type of goods, kept the same places till, toward three o’clock, they were lost in the mass which covered the floor. Even then there was no uproar, no rush or push, no sharp cries or frenzied shouting; but from the crowd, which was largely made up of elderly men, there rose a sort of surd, rich hum, deepening ever, and never breaking into a shriek of torment or derision. It was not histrionic, and yet for its commercial importance it was one of the most moving spectacles which could offer itself to the eye in the whole world.
[Illustration: THE MANCHESTER SHIP-CANAL]
I cannot pretend to have profited by my visit to that immensely valuable deposit of books, bought from the Spencer family at Althorp, and dedicated as the Rylands library to the memory of a citizen of Manchester. Books in a library, except you have time and free access to them, are as baffling as so many bottles in a wine-cellar, which are not opened for you, and which if they were would equally go to your head without final advantage. I find, therefore, that my sole note upon the Rylands Library is the very honest one that it smelt, like the cathedral, of coal-gas. The absence of this gas was the least merit of the beautiful old Chetham College, with its library dating from the seventeenth century, and claiming to have been the first free library in England, and doubtless the world. In the cloistered picturesqueness of the place, its mediaeval memorials, and its ancient peace, I found myself again in those dear Middle Ages which are nowhere quite wanting in England, and against which I rubbed off all smirch of the modernity I had come to Manchester for.
* * * * *
IN SMOKIEST SHEFFIELD
If I had waited a little till I had got into the beautiful Derbyshire country which lies, or rather rolls, between Manchester and Sheffield, I could as easily have got rid of my epoch in the smiling agricultural landscape. I do not know just the measure of the Black Country in England, or where Sheffield begins to be perhaps the blackest spot in it; but I am sure that nothing not surgically clean could be whiter than the roads that, almost as soon as we were free of Manchester, began to climb the green, thickly wooded hills, and dip into the grassy and leafy valleys. In the very heart of the loveliness we found Sheffield most nobly posed against a lurid sunset, and clouding the sky, which can never be certain of being blue, with the smoke of a thousand towering chimneys. From whatever point you have it, the sight is most prodigious, but no doubt the subjective sense of the great ducal mansions and estates which neighbor the mirky metropolis of steel and iron has its part in heightening the dramatic effect.
The English, with their love of brevity and simplicity, call these proud seats the Dukeries, but our affair was not with them, and I shall not be able to follow the footmen or butlers or housekeepers who would so obligingly show them to the reader in my company. I had a fine consciousness of passing some of them on my way into the town, and when there of being, however, incongruously, in the midst of them. Worksop, more properly than Sheffield, is the plebeian heart of these aristocratic homes, or sojourns, which no better advised traveller, or less hurried, will fail to see. But I was in Sheffield to see the capital of the Black Country in its most characteristic aspects, and I thought it felicitously in keeping, after I had dined (less well than I could have wished, at the railway hotel which scarcely kept the promise made for it by other like hotels) that I should be tempted beyond my strength to go and see that colored opera which we had lately sent, after its signal success with us, to an even greater prosperity in England. _In Dahomey_ is a musical drama not pitched in the highest key, but it is a genuine product of our national life, and to witness its performance by the colored brethren who invented it, and were giving it with great applause in an atmosphere quite undarkened by our racial prejudices, was an experience which I would not have missed for many Dukeries. The kindly house was not so suffocatingly full that it could not find breath for cheers and laughter; but I proudly felt that no one there could delight so intelligently as the sole American, in the familiar Bowery figures, the blue policemen, the varying darky types, which peopled a scene largely laid in Africa. The local New York suggestions were often from Mr. Edward Harrigan, and all the more genuine for that, but there was a final cake-walk which owed its inspiration wholly to the genius of a race destined to greater triumphs in music and art, and perhaps to a kindlier civilization than our ideals have evolved in yet. It was pleasant to look upon those different shades of color, from dead black to creamy blond, in their novel relief against an air of ungrudging, of even respectful, appreciation, and I dare say the poor things liked it for themselves as much as I liked it for them. At a fine moment of the affair I was aware of a figure in evening dress, standing near me, and regarding the stage with critical severity: a young man, but shrewd and well in hand, who, as the unmistakable manager, was, I hope, finally as well satisfied as the other spectators.
I myself came away entirely satisfied, indeed, but for the lasting pang I inflicted upon myself by denying a penny to the ragged wretch who superfluously opened the valves of my hansom for me. My explanation to my soul was that I had no penny in my pocket, and that it would have been folly little short of crime to give so needy a wretch sixpence. But would it? Would it have corrupted him, since pauperize him further it could not? I advise the reader who finds himself in the like case to give the sixpence, and if he cares for the peace of my conscience, to make it a shilling; or, come! a half-crown, if he wishes to be truly handsome. It is astonishing how these regrets persist; but perhaps in this instance I owe the permanence of my pang to those frequent appeals to one’s pity which repeated themselves in Sheffield. As I had noted at Liverpool I now noted at Sheffield that you cannot have great prosperity without having adversity, just as you cannot have heat without cold or day without dark. The one substantiates and verifies the other; and I perceived that wherever business throve it seemed to be at the cost of somebody; though even when business pines it is apparently no better. The thing ought to be looked into.
At the moment of my visit to Sheffield, it happened that many works were running half-time or no time, and many people were out of work. At one place there was a little oblong building between branching streets, round which sat a miserable company of Murchers, as I heard them called, on long benches under the overhanging roof, who were too obviously, who were almost offensively, out of work. Some were old and some young, some dull and some fierce, some savage and some imbecile in their looks, and they were all stained and greasy and dirty, and looked their apathy or their grim despair. Even the men who were coming to or from their work at dinner-time looked stunted and lean and pale, with no color of that south of England bloom with which they might have favored a stranger. Slatternly girls and women abounded, and little babies carried about by a little larger babies, and of course kissed on their successive layers of dirt. There were also many small boys who, I hope, were not so wicked as they were ragged. At noon-time they hung much about the windows of cookshops which one would think their sharp hunger would have pierced to the steaming and smoking dishes within. The very morning after I had denied that man a penny at the theatre door, and was still smarting to think I had not given him sixpence, I saw a boy of ten, in the cut-down tatters of a man, gloating upon a meat-pie which a cook had cruelly set behind the pane in front of him. I took out the sixpence which I ought to have given that poor man, and made it a shilling, and put it into the boy’s wonderfully dirty palm, and bade him go in and get the pie. He looked at me, and he looked at the shilling, and then I suppose he did as he was bid. But I ought to say, in justice to myself, that I never did anything of the kind again as long as I remained in Sheffield. I felt that I owed a duty to the place and must not go about corrupting the populace for my selfish pleasure.
Between our hotel and the main part of the town there yawned a black valley, rather nobly bridged, or viaducted, and beyond it in every direction the chimneys of the many works thickened in the perspectives. It was really like a dead forest, or like thick-set masts of shipping in a thronged port; or the vents of tellurian fires, which send up their flames by night and their smoke by day. It was splendid, it was magnificent, it was insurpassably picturesque. People must have painted it often, but if some bravest artist-soul would come, reverently, not patronizingly, and portray the sight in its naked ugliness, he would create one of the most beautiful masterpieces in the world. On our first morning the sun, when it climbed to the upper heavens, found a little hole in the dun pall, and shone down through it, and tried to pierce through the more immediate cloud above the works; but it could not, and it ended by shutting the hole under it, and disappearing.
Beyond the foul avenues thridding the region of the works, and smelling of the decay of market-houses, were fine streets of shops and churches, and I dare say comely dwellings, with tram- cars ascending and descending their hilly slopes. The stores I find noted as splendid, and in my pocket-book I say that outside of the market-house, before you got to those streets, there are doves and guinea-pigs as well as a raven for sale in cages; and the usual horrible English display of flesh meats. The trams were one story, like our trolleys, without roof-seats, and there were plenty of them; but nothing could keep me, I suppose, till I had seen one of the works. Each of these stands in a vast yard, or close, by itself, with many buildings, and they are of all sorts; but I chose what I thought the most typical, and overcame the reluctance of the manager to let me see it. He said I had no idea what tricks were played by other makers to find out any new processes and steal them; but this was after I had pleaded my innocent trade of novelist, and assured him of my congenital incapability of understanding, much less conveying from the premises, the image of the simplest and oldest process. Then he gave me for guide an intelligent man who was a penknife-maker by trade, but was presently out of work, and glad to earn my fee.
My guide proved a most decent, patient, and kindly person, and I hope it is no betrayal of confidence to say that he told me the men in these multitudinous shops work by the piece. The grinders furnish their grindstones and all their tools for making the knives; there is no dry grinding, such as used to fill the lungs of the grinders with deadly particles of steel and stone, and bring them to an early death; but sometimes a stone, which ordinarily lasts six months, will burst and drive the grinder through the roof. The blade-makers do their own forging and hammering, and it is from first to last apparently all hand-work. But it is head-work and heart-work too, and the men who wrought at it wrought with such intensity and constancy that they did not once look up or round where we paused to look on. I was made to know that trade was dull and work slack, and these fellows were lucky fellows to have anything to do. Still I did not envy them; and I felt it a distinct relief to pass from their shops into the cool, dim crypt which was filled with tusks of ivory, in all sizes from those of the largest father elephant to those of the babes of the herd; these were milk-tusks, I suppose. They get dearer as the elephants get scarcer; and that must have been why I paid as much for a penknife in the glittering showroom as it would have cost me in New York, with the passage money and the duties added. Because of the price, perhaps, I did not think of buying the two-thousand-bladed penknife I saw there; but I could never have used all the blades, now that we no longer make quill pens. I looked fondly at the maker’s name on the knife I did buy, and said that the table cutlery of a certain small household which set itself up forty years ago had borne the same: but the pleasant salesman did not seem to feel the pathos of the fact so much as I.
There is not only a vast deal of industry in Sheffield, but there is an unusual abundance of history, as there might very well be in a place that began life, in the usual English fashion, under the Britons and grew into municipal consciousness in the fostering care of the Romans and the ruder nurture of the Saxons, Danes, and Normans. Lords it had of the last, and the great line of the Earls of Shrewsbury presently rose and led Sheffield men back to battle in France, where the first earl fell on the bloody field, and so many of the men died with him in 1453 that there was not a house in all the region which did not mourn a loss. Which of the Roses Sheffield held for, White or Red, I am not sure; but we will say that it duly suffered for one or the other; and it is certain that the great Cardinal Wolsey rested eighteen days at Sheffield Manor just before he went to die at Leicester; and Mary Queen of Scots spent fourteen years of sorrowful captivity, sometimes at the Manor and sometimes in Sheffield Castle. This hold was taken by the Parliamentarians in the Civil War; but the famous industries of the place had begun long before; so that Chaucer could say of one of his pilgrims,
“A Sheffield thwytel bare he in his hose.”
Thwytels, or whittles, figured in the broils and stage-plays of Elizabethan times, and three gross of them were exported from Liverpool in 1589, when the Sheffield penknife was already famed the best in the world. Manufactures flourished there apace when England turned to them from agriculture, and Sheffield is now a city of four hundred thousand or more. Apparently it has been growing radical, as the centres of prosperity and adversity always do, and the days of the Chartist agitation continued there for ten years, from 1839 till it came as near open rebellion as it well could in a plot for an armed uprising. Then that cause of the people, like many another, failed, and liberty there, as elsewhere in England, was fain to
“broaden slowly down
From precedent to precedent.”
Labor troubles, patient or violent, have followed, as labor troubles must, but leisure has always been equal to their pacification, and now Sheffield takes its adversity almost as quietly as its prosperity.
[Illustration: TOWN HALL, SHEFFIELD]
We were not there, though, for others’ labor or leisure, which we have plenty of at home; but even before I appeased such conscience as I had about seeing a type of the works, we went a long drive up out of the town to that Manor where the poor, brilliant, baddish Scotch queen was imprisoned by her brilliant, baddish English cousin. In any question of goodness, there was little to choose between them; both were blood-stained liars; but it is difficult being a good woman and a queen too, and they only failed where few have triumphed. Mary is the more appealing to the fancy because she suffered beyond her deserts, but Elizabeth was to be pitied because Mary had made it politically imperative for her to kill her. All this we had threshed out many times before, and had said that, cat for cat, Mary was the more dangerous because she was the more feminine, and Elizabeth the more detestable because she was the more masculine in her ferocity. We were therefore in the right mood to visit Mary’s prison, and we were both indignant and dismayed to find that our driver, called from a mews at a special price set upon his intelligence, had never heard of it and did not know where it was.
We reported his inability to the head porter, who came out of the hotel in a fine flare of sarcasm. “You call yourself a Sheffield man and not know where the Old Manor is!” he began, and presently reduced that proud ignoramus of a driver to such a willingness to learn that we thought it at least safe to set out with him, and so started for the long climb up the hills that hold Sheffield in their hollow. When we reached their crest, we looked down and back through the clearer air upon as strange and grand a sight as could be. It was as if we were looking into the crater of a volcano, which was sending up its smoke through a thousand vents. All detail of the works and their chimneys was lost in the retrospect; one was aware only of a sort of sea of vapor through which they loomed and gloomed.
Our ascent was mostly through winding and climbing streets of little dirty houses, with frowsy gardens beside them, and the very dirtiest-faced children in England playing about them. From time to time our driver had to ask his way of the friendly flat- bosomed slatterns, with babies in their arms, on their thresholds, or the women tending shop, or peddling provisions, who were all kind to him, and assured him with varying degrees of confidence that the Old Manor was a bit, or a goodish bit, beyond. All at once we came upon the sight of it on an open top, hard by what is left of the ruins of the real Manor, where Wolsey stayed that little while from death. The relics are broken walls, higher here, lower there; with some Tudor fireplaces showing through their hollow windows. What we saw in tolerable repair was the tower of the Manor, or the lodge, and we drove to it across a field, on a track made by farm carts, and presently kept by a dog that showed his teeth in a grin not wholly of amusement at our temerity. While we debated whether we had not better let the driver get down and knock, a farmer-like man came to the door and called the dog off. Then, in a rich North Country accent, he welcomed us to his kitchen parlor, where his wife was peeling potatoes for their midday dinner, and so led us up the narrow stone stairs of the tower to the chambers where Mary miserably passed those many long years of captivity.
The rooms were visibly restored in every point where they could have needed restoration, but they were not ruthlessly or too insistently restored. There was even an antique chair, but when our guide was put on his honor as to whether it was one of the original chairs he answered, “Well, if people wanted a chair!” He was a rather charmingly quaint, humorous person, with that queer conscience, and he did not pretend to be moved by the hard inexorable stoniness of the place which had been a queen’s prison for many years. One must not judge it too severely, though: bowers and prisons of that day looked much alike, and Mary Stuart may have felt this a bower, and only hated it because she could not get out of it, or anyhow break the relentless hold of that Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury whose captive guest she was, though she never ceased trying. We went up on the wide flat roof, of lead or stone, whither her feet must have so often heavily climbed, and looked out over the lovely landscape which she must have abhorred; and the wind that blew over it, in late August, was very cold; far colder than the air of the prison, or the bower, below.
The place belongs now to the Duke of Norfolk, the great Catholic duke, and owes its restoration to his pity and his piety. Our farmer guide was himself a Protestant, but he spoke well of the duke, with whom he reported himself in such colloquies as, “I says to Dook,” and, “Dook says to me.” When he understood that we were Americans he asked after a son of his who had gone out to our continent twenty years before. He had only heard from him once, and that on the occasion of his being robbed of all his money by a roommate. It was in a place called Massatusy; we suggested Massachusetts, and he assented that such might be the place; and Mary’s prison-house acquired an added pathos.
We drove back through the beautiful park, the Duke of Norfolk’s gift to Sheffield, which is plentifully provided, like all English towns, with public pleasure-grounds. They lie rather outside of it, but within it are many and many religious and civic edifices which merit to be seen. We chose as chiefest the ancient Parish Church, of Norman origin and modern restoration, where we visited the tomb of the Lord and Lady Shrewsbury who were Mary Stuart’s jailers; or if they were not, a pair of their family were, and it comes to the same thing, emotionally. The chapel in which they lie is most beautiful, and the verger had just brushed the carpet within the chancel to such immaculate dustlessness that he could not bring himself to let us walk over it. He let us walk round it, and we saw the chapel as a favor, which we discharged with an abnormal tip after severe debate whether a person of this verger’s rich respectability and perfect manner would take any tip at all. In the event it appeared that he would.
* * * * *
NINE DAYS’ WONDER IN YORK
Perhaps it would be better to come to York somewhat earlier in the year than the 2d of September. By that time the English summer has suffered often if not severe discouragements. It has really only two months out of the year to itself, and even July and August are not always constant to it. To be sure, their defection cannot spoil it, but they dispose it to the slights of September in a dejection from which there is no rise to those coquetries with October known to our own summer. Yet, having said so much, I feel bound to add that our nine days in York, from the 2d to the 12th of September, were more summer than autumn days, some wholly, some partly, with hours of sunshine keeping the flowers bright which the rain kept fresh. If you walked fast in this sunshine you were quite hot, and sometimes in the rain you were uncomfortably warm, or at least you were wet. If the mornings demanded a fire in the grate, the evenings were so clement that the lamp was sufficient, and the noons were very well with neither.
The day of our arrival in York began bright at Sheffield, where there was a man quarrelling so loudly and aimlessly in the station that we were glad to get away from him, as well as from the mountains of slag surrounding the iron metropolis. The train ran through a pass in these, and then we found ourselves in a plain country, and, though the day turned gray and misty, there seemed a sort of stored sunshine in the fields of wheat which the farmers were harvesting far and near. One has heard so much of the decay of the English agriculture that one sees what is apparently the contrary with nothing less than astonishment. The acreage of these wheat-fields was large, and the yield heavier than I could remember to have seen at home. Where the crop had been got in, much ploughing for the next year had been done already, and where the ploughing was finished the work of sowing by drill was going steadily forward, in the faith that such an unprecedented summer as was now passing would return another year. At all these pleasant labors, of course, the rooks were helping, or at least bossing.
We expected to stay certainly a week, and perhaps two weeks, in York, and our luck with railway hotels had been so smiling elsewhere that we had no other mind than to spend the time at the house into which we all but stepped from our train. But we had reckoned without our host, as he was represented by one of a half-dozen alert young ladies in the office, who asked how long we expected to stay, and when we expressed a general purpose of staying indefinitely, said that all her rooms were taken from the next Monday by people who had engaged them long before for the races. I did not choose to betray my ignorance to a woman, but I privately asked the head porter what races those were which were limiting our proposed sojourn, and I am now afraid he had some difficulty in keeping a head porter’s conventional respect for a formal superior in answering that we had arrived on the eve of Doncaster Week. Then I said, “Oh yes,” and affected the knowledge of Doncaster Week which I resolved to acquire by staying somewhere in York till it was over.
But as yet, that Friday afternoon, there was no hurry, and, instead of setting about a search for lodgings at once, we drove up into the town, as soon as we had tea, and visited York Minster while it was still the gray afternoon and not yet the gray evening. I thought the hour fortunate, and I do not see yet how we could have chosen a better hour out of the whole twenty-four, for the inside or the outside of the glorious fane, the grandest and beautifulest in all England, as I felt then and I feel now. If I were put to the question and were forced to say in what its supreme grandeur and beauty lay, I should perhaps say in its most ample simplicity. No doubt it is full of detail, but I keep no sense of this from that mighty interior, with its tree-like, clustered pillars, and its measureless windows, like breadths of stained foliage in autumnal woodlands. You want the scale of nature for the Minster at York, and I cannot liken it to less than all-out-doors. Some cathedrals, like that of Wells, make you think of gardens; but York Minster will not be satisfied with less than an autumnal woodland, where the trees stand in clumps, with grassy levels about them, and with spacious openings to the sky, that let in the colored evening light.
You could not get lost in it, for it was so free of all such architectural undergrowth as cumbers the perspectives of some cathedrals; besides, the afternoon of our visit there were so many other Americans that you could easily have asked your way in your own dialect. We loitered over its lengths and breadths, and wondered at its windows, which were like the gates of sunrise and sunset for magnitude, and lingered in a sumptuous delay from going into the choir, delighting in the gray twilight which seemed to gather from the gray walls inward, when suddenly what seemed a metallic curtain was dropped with a clash and the simultaneous up-flashing of electric bulbs inside it, and we were shut out from the sight but not the sound of the service that began in the choir. We could not wholly regret the incident, for as we recalled the like operation of religion in churches of our Italian travel, we were reminded how equally authoritative the Church of England and the Church of Home were, and how little they adjust their ceremonial to the individual, how largely to the collective worshipper. You could come into the Minster of York as into the basilica of St. Mark at Venice for a silent prayer amid the religious influences of the place, and be conscious of your oneness with your Source, as if there were no other one; but when the priesthood called you as one of many to your devotions, it was with the same imperative voice in both, and you must obey or be cut off from your chance. I suppose it is right; but somehow the down-clashing of that screen of the choir in the Minster at York seemed to exclude us with reproach, almost with ignominy.
[Illustration: YORK MINSTER–THE GRANDEST IN ALL ENGLAND]
We did what we could to repair our wounded self respect, and did not lay our exclusion up against the Minster itself, which I find that I noted as “scatteringly noble outside.” By this I dare say I meant it had not that artistic unity of which I brought the impression from the inside. They were doing, as they were always doing, every where, with English cathedrals, something to one of the towers; but this only enhanced its scattering nobleness, for it left that greatly bescaffolded tower largely to the imagination, in which it soared sublimer, if anything, than its compeer. Most of the streets leading to and from the rather insufficient, irregular square where the Minster stands are lanes of little houses of the fifteenth and sixteenth, centuries, which collectively curved in their line, and not only overhung at their second stories, but bulged outward involuntarily from the weakness of age. They were all quite habitable, and some much later dwellings immediately surrounding the church were the favorite sojourn, apparently, of such strangers as could have rooms at the hotels only until the Monday of Doncaster Week.
During those limited days of the week before Doncaster, I was constantly coming back to the Minster, which is not the germ of political York, or hardly religious York; the brave city was a Romano-British capital and a Romano-British episcopal see centuries before the first wooden temple was built on the site of the present edifice in 627. I should like to make believe that we found traces of that simple church in the crypt of the Minster when we went the next morning and were herded through it by the tenderest of vergers. Most of our flock were Americans, and we put our guide to such question in matters of imagination and information as the patience of a less amiable shepherd would not have borne. Many a tale, true or o’ertrue, our verger had, which he told with unction; when he ascended with us to the body of the church, and said that the stained glass of the gigantic windows suffered from the depredations of the mistaken birds which pecked holes in the joints of their panes, I felt that I had full measure from him, pressed down and running over. I do not remember why he said the birds should have done this, but it seems probable that they took the mellow colors of the glass for those of ripe fruits.
For myself, I could not get enough of those windows, in another sort of famine which ought at this time to have been sated. I was forever wondering at their grandeur outside and their glory inside. I was glad to lose my way about the town, for if I kept walking I was sure, sooner or later, to bring up at the Minster; but the last evening of our stay I made a purposed pilgrimage to it for a final emotion. It was the clearest evening we had in York, and at half-past six the sun was setting in a transparent sky, which somehow it did not flush with any of those glaring reds which the vulgarer sorts of sunsets are fond of, but bathed the air in a delicate suffusion of daffodil light, just tinged with violet. This was the best medium to see the past of the Minster in, and I can see it there now, if I did not then. I followed, or I follow, its veracious history back to the beginning of the seventh century, whence you can look back further still to the earliest Christian temples where the Romans worshipped with the Britons, whom they had enslaved and converted. But it was not till 627 that the little wooden chapel was built on the site of the Minster, to house the rite of the Northumbrian King Eadwine’s baptism. He felt so happy in his new faith that he replaced the wooden structure with stone. In the next century it was burned, but rebuilt by another pious prince, and probably repaired by yet another after the Danes took the city a hundred years later. It was then in a good state to be destroyed by that devout William the Conqueror, who came to take the Saxon world in its sins of guttling and guzzling. The first Norman archbishop reconstructed or restored the church, and then it began to rise and to spread in glory–nave, transepts, and choir, and pillars and towers, Norman and Early English, and Perpendicular and Decorated–till it found itself at last what the American tourist sees it to-day. It suffered from two great fires in the nineteenth century, the first set by a lunatic who had the fancy of seeing it burn, but who had only the satisfaction of destroying part of the roof.
It was never richly painted, but the color wanting in the walls and fretted vault was more than compensated by the mellowed splendors of the matchless windows. It was, indeed, fit to be the home of much more secular history than can be associated with it; but not till the end of the thirteenth century had the Minster a patron of its own, when St. William was canonized, and exercised his office, whatever it was, for two brief centuries. Then the Cromwell of Henry VIII. took possession of it in behalf of the crown, and the saint’s charge was practically abolished. He was even deprived of his head, for the relic was encased in gold and jewels, and was therefore worth the king’s having, who was most a friend of the reformed religion when it paid best. The later Cromwell, who beat a later king hard by at Marston Moor, must have somehow desecrated the Minster, though there is no record of any such fact. A more authentic monument of the religious difficulties of the times is the pastoral staff, bearing the arms of Catharine of Braganza, the poor little wife of Charles II., which was snatched from a Roman Catholic bishop when, to the high offence of Protestant piety, he was heading a procession in York in 1688. The verger showing us through the Minster was a good Protestant, but he held it bad taste in a predecessor of his, who when leading about a Catholic party of sight-seers took the captive staff from its place and shook it in their faces, saying, “Don’t you wish you had it?”
There is no telling to what lengths true religion, may rightly not go. I rather prize the incident as the sole fact concerning the Minster which I could make sure of even after repeated visits, and if I am indebted for my associations with it, long after the event, to Dr. Raine’s scholarly and interesting sketch of York history, there is no reason why the better-informed reader should not accompany me in my last visit fully equipped. I walked slowly all round the structure, and fancied that I got a new sense of grandeur in the effect of the east window, which was, at any rate, more impressive than the north window. It was a long walk, almost the measure of such a walk as one should take after supper for one’s health, and it had such incidents as many pauses for staring up at the many restorations going on. From point to point the incomparable Perpendicular Gothic carried the eye to the old gargoyles of the caves and towers waiting to be replaced by the new gargoyles, which lay in open-mouthed grimacing in the grass at the bases of the church. While I stood noting both, and thinking the chances were that I should never look on York Minster again, and feeling the luxurious pang of it, a verger in a skull-cap was so good as to come to a side door and parley long and pleasantly with a policeman. The simple local life went on around; people going to or from supper passed me; kind, vulgar noises came from the little houses bulging over the narrow, neighboring streets; there seemed to be the stamping of horses in a stable, and there was certainly the misaspirated talk about them. I could not have asked better material for the humble emotions I love; and I was more than content on my way home to find myself one of the congregation at the loud devotions of a detachment of the Salvation Army. After a battering of drums and a clashing of cymbals and a shouting of hymns, the worship settled to the prayer of a weak brother, who was so long in supplication that the head exhorter covered a yawn with his hand, and at the first sign of relenting in the supplicant bade the drums and cymbals strike up. Then, after a hymn, a sister, such a very plain, elderly sister, with hardly a tooth or an aitch in her head, began to relate her religious history. It appeared that she had been a much greater sinner than she looked, and that the mercy shown her had been proportionate. She was vain both of her sins and mercies, poor soul, and in her scrimp figure, with its ill-fitting uniform, Heaven knows how long she went on. I was distracted by a clergyman passing on the outside of the ring of listening women and children, and looking, I chose to think, somewhat sourly askance at the distasteful ceremonial. I wished to stop him, on his way to the Minster, if that was his way, and tell him that so Christianity must have begun, and so the latest form of it must always begin and work round after ages and ages to the beauty and respectability his own ritual has. But I now believe this would have been the greatest impertinence and hypocrisy, for I myself found the performance before us as tasteless and tawdry as he could possibly have done. He was going toward the Minster, and it would make him forget it; but I was going away from it, perhaps, for the last time, and this loud side-show of religion would make me forget the Minster.
Our railway hotel lay a little way out of the town, and after a day’s sight-seeing we were to meet or mingle with troops of wholesome-looking workmen whose sturdiness and brightness were a consolation after the pale debility of labor’s looks in Sheffield. From the chocolate-factories or the railroad-shops, which are the chief industries of York, they would be crossing the bridge of the Ouse, the famous stream on which the Romans had their town, and which suggested to the Anglicans to call their Eboracum Eurewic–a town on a river. In due time the Danes modified this name to Yerik, and so we came honestly by the name of our own New York, called after the old York, as soon as the English had robbed the Dutch of it, and the King of England had given the province to his brother the Duke of York. Both cities are still towns on rivers, but the Ouse is no more an image or forecast of the Hudson than Old York is of New York. For that reason, the bridge over it is not to be compared to our Brooklyn Bridge, or even to any bridge which is yet to span the Hudson. The difference is so greatly in our favor that we may well yield our city’s mother the primacy in her city wall. We have ourselves as yet no Plantagenet wall, and we have not yet got a mediaeval gate through which the traveller passes in returning from the Flatiron Building to his hotel in the Grand Central Station.
We do not begin to have such a hoar antiquity as is articulate in the mother city, speaking with muted voices from the innumerable monuments which the earth has yielded from the site of our hotel and its adjacent railway station. All underground York is doubtless fuller of Home than even Bath is; and it has happened that her civilization was much more largely dug up here than elsewhere when the foundations of the spreading edifices were laid. The relics are mainly the witnesses of pagan Rome, but Christianity politically began in York, as it has politically ended in New York, and doubtless some soldiers of the Sixth Legion and many of the British slaves were religiously Christians in the ancient metropolis before Constantine was elected emperor there.
I have been in many places where history is hospitably at home and is not merely an unwilling guest, as in our unmemoried land. Florence is very well, Venice is not so bad, Naples has her long thoughts, and Milan is mediaeval-minded, not to speak of Genoa, or Marseilles, or Paris, or those romantic German towns where the legends, if not the facts, abound; but, after all, for my pleasure in the past, I could not choose any place before York. You need not be so very definite in your knowledge. The event of Constantine’s presence and election is so spacious as to leave no room for particulars in the imagination; and you are so rich in it that you will even reject them from your thoughts, as you sit in the close-cropped flowery lawn of your hotel garden (try to imagine a railroad hotel garden in _New_ York!) on the sunniest of the afternoons before you are turned out for Doncaster Week, and, while you watch a little adventurous American boy climbing over a pile of rock-work, realize the most august, the most important fact in the story of the race as native to the very air you are breathing! Where you sit you are in full view of the Minster, which is to say in view of something like the towers and battlements of the celestial city. Or if you wake very early on a morning still nearer the fatal Doncaster Week of your impending banishment, and look out of your lofty windows at the sunrise reddening the level bars of cloud behind the Minster, you shall find it bulked up against the pearl-gray masses of the sunny mist which hangs in all the intervening trees, and solidifies them in unbroken masses of foliage. All round your hotel spreads a gridiron of railroad, yet such is the force of the English genius for quiet that you hear no clatter of trains; the expresses whir in and out of the station with not more noise than humming-birds; and amid this peace the past has some chance with modernity. The Britons dwell, unmolested by our latter-day clamor, in their wattled huts and dugouts; the Romans come and make them slaves and then Christians, and after three or four hundred years send word from the Tiber to the Ouse that they can stay no longer, and so leave them naked to their enemies, the Picts and Scots and Saxons and Angles; and in due course come the ravaging and burning Danes; and in due course still, the murdering and plundering and scorning Normans. But all so quietly, like the humming-bird-like expresses, with a kind of railway celerity in the foreshortened retrospect; and after the Normans have crushed themselves down into the mass of the vanquished, and formed the English out of the blend, there follow the many wars of the successions, of the Roses, of the Stuarts, with all the intermediate insurrections and rebellions. In the splendid Histories of Shakespeare, which are full of York, the imagination visits and revisits the place, and you are entreated by mouth of one of his princely personages,
“I pray you let us satisfy our eyes With the memorials and things of fame, That do renown this city,”
where his Henrys and Richards and Margarets and Edwards and Eleanors abide still and shall forever abide while the English speech lasts.
[Illustration: BOOTHAM BAR AND THE MINSTER]
Something of all this I knew, and more pretended, with a mounting indignation at the fast-coming Doncaster Week which was to turn us out of our hotel. We began our search for other lodgings with what seemed to be increasing failure. The failure had consolation in it so far as the sweet regret of people whose apartments were taken could console. They would have taken us at other hotels for double the usual price, but, when we showed ourselves willing to pay, it proved that they had no rooms at any price. From house to house, then, we went, at first vaingloriously, in the spaces about the Minster, and then meekly into any side street, wherever the legend of Apartments showed itself in a transom. At last, the second day, after being denied at seven successive houses, we found quite the refuge we wanted in the Bootham, which means very much more than the ignorant reader can imagine. Our upper rooms looked on a pretty grassy garden space behind, where there was sun when there was sun, and in front on the fine old brick dwellings of a most personable street, with a sentiment of bygone fashion. At the upper end of it was a famous city gate–Bootham Bar, namely–with a practicable portcullis, which we verified at an early moment by going up into “the chamber over the gate,” where it was once worked, and whence its lower beam, set thick with savage spikes, was dropped. Outside the gate there was a sign in the wall saying that guards were to be had there to guide travellers through the Forest of Galtres beyond Bootham, and keep them from the wolves. Now woods and wolves and guards are all gone, and Bootham Bar is never closed.
The upper room is a passageway for people who are walking round the town on the Plantagenet wall, and one morning we took this walk in sunshine that befitted the Sabbath. Half the children of York seemed to be taking it, too, with their good parents, who had stayed away from church to give them this pleasure, the fathers putting on their frock-coats and top-hats, which are worn on no other days in the provincial cities of England. For a Plantagenet wall, that of York is in excellent repair, and it is very clean, so that the children could not spoil their Sunday best by clambering on the parapet, and trying to fall over it. There was no parapet on the other side, and they could have fallen over that without trouble; but it would not have served the same purpose; for under the parapet there were the most alluringly ragged little boys, with untidy goats and delightfully dirty geese. There was no trace of a moat outside the wall, where pleasant cottages pressed close to it with their gardens full of bright flowers. At one point there were far-spreading sheep and cattle pens, where there is a weekly market, and at another the old Norman castle which cruel Conqueror William built to hold the city, and which has suffered change, not unpicturesque, into prisons for unluckier criminals, and the Assize Courts for their condemnation. From time to time the wall left off, and then we got down, perforce, and walked to the next piece of it. In these pieces we made the most of the old gates, especially Walmgate Bar, which has a barbican. I should be at a loss to say why the barbican should have commended it so; perhaps it was because we there realized, for the first time, what a barbican was; I doubt if the reader knows, now. Otherwise, I should have preferred Monk Bar or Micklegate Bar, as being more like those I was used to in the theatre. But we came back gladly to Bootham Bar, holding that a portcullis was equal any day to a barbican, and feeling as if we had got home in the more familiar neighborhood.
There were small shops in the Bootham, thread-and-needle stores, newspaper stores, and provision stores mainly, which I affected, and there was one united florist’s and fruiterer’s which I particularly liked because of the conversability of the proprietor. He was a stout man, of a vinous complexion, with what I should call here, where our speech is mostly uncouth, an educated accent, though with few and wandering aspirates in it. Him I visited every morning to buy for my breakfast one of those Spanish melons which they have everywhere in England, and which put our native cantaloupes to shame; and we always fell into a little talk over our transaction of fourpence or sixpence, as the case might be. After I had confided that I was an American, he said one day, “Ah, the Americans are clever people.” Then he added, “I hope you won’t mind my saying it, sir, but I think their ladies are rather harder than our English ladies, sir.”
“Yes,” I eagerly assented. “How do you mean? Sharper? Keener?”
“Well, not just that, sir.”
“More practical? More business-like?” I pursued.
“Well, I shouldn’t like to say that, sir. But–they seem rather harder, sir; at least, judging from what I see of them in York, sir. Rather harder, sir.”
We remained not the less friends with that mystery between us; and I bought my last melon of him on my last morning, when the early September had turned somewhat sharply chill. That turn made me ask what the winter was in York, and he boasted it very cold, with ice and snow aplenty, and degrees of frost much like our own. But apparently those York women resisted it and remained of a tenderness which contrasted to their advantage with the summer hardness of our women.
It was a pleasure, which I should be glad to share with the reader, to lose one’s self in the streets of York. They were all kinds of streets except straight, and they seemed not to go anywhere except for the joke of bringing the wayfarer unexpectedly back to, or near, his starting-point and far from his goal. The blame of their vagariousness, if it was a fault, is put upon the Danes, who found York when they captured it very rectangular, for so the Romans built it, and so the Angles kept it; but nothing would serve the Danes but to crook its streets and call them gates, so that the real gates of the city have to be called bars, or else the stranger might take them for streets. If he asked another wayfarer, he could sometimes baffle the streets, and get to the point he aimed at, but, whether he did or not, he could always amuse himself in them; they would take a friendly interest in him, and show him the old houses and churches which the American stranger prefers. They abound in the poorer sorts of buildings, of course, just as they do in the poorer sorts of people, but in their simpler courts and squares and expanses they have often dignified mansions of that Georgian architecture which seems the last word in its way, and which is known here in our older edifices as there in their newer. Some of them are said to have “richly carved ceilings, wainscoted, panelled rooms, chimneypieces with paintings framed in the over- mantel, dentilled cornices, and pedimented doors,” and I could well believe it, as I passed them with an envious heart. There were gardens behind these mansions which hung their trees over the spiked coping of their high-shouldered walls and gates, and sequestered I know not what damp social events in their flowery and leafy bounds.
[Illustration: WALMGATE BAR HAS A BARBICAN]
At times I distinctly wished to know something of the life of York, but I was not in the way of it. The nearest to an acquaintance I had there, besides my critical fruiterer, was the actor whose name I recognized on his bills as that of a brave youth who had once dramatized a novel of mine, and all too briefly played the piece, and who was now to come to York for a week of Shakespeare. Perhaps I could not forgive him the recrudescence; at any rate, I did not try to see him, and there was no other social chance for me, except as I could buy in for a few glimpses at the tidy confectioners’, where persons of civil condition resorted for afternoon tea. Even to these one could not speak, and I could only do my best in a little mercenary conversation with the bookseller about York histories. The book- stores were not on our scale, and generally the shops in York were not of the modern department type, but were perhaps the pleasanter for that reason.
In my earlier wanderings I made the acquaintance of a most agreeable market-place, stretching the length of two squares, which on a Saturday afternoon I found filled with every manner of bank and booth and canopied counter, three deep, and humming pleasantly with traffic in everything one could eat, drink, wear, or read; there seemed as many book-stalls as fruit-stalls. What I noted equally with the prettiness of the abounding flowers was the mild kindness of the market-people’s manners and their extreme anxiety to state exactly the quality of the things they had for sale. They seemed incapable of deceit, but I do not say they really were so. My own transactions were confined to the purchase of some golden-gage plums, and I advise the reader rather to buy greengages; the other plums practised the deception in their looks which their venders abhorred.
I wandered in a perfectly contemporary mood through the long ranks and lanes of the marketplace, and did not know till afterward that at one end of it, called the Pavement, the public executions used to take place for those great or small occasions which brought folks to the block or scaffold in the past. I had later some ado to verify the dismal fact from a cluster of people before a tavern who seemed to be taking bets for the Doncaster Week, and I could hardly keep them from booking me for this horse or that when I merely wanted to know whether it was on a certain spot the Earl of Northumberland had his head cut off for leading a rising against Henry IV.; or some such execution.
What riches of story has not York to browbeat withal the storyless New-Yorker who visits her! That Henry IV. was he whom I had lately seen triumphing near Shrewsbury in the final battle of the Roses, where the Red was so bloodily set above the White; and it was his poetic fancy to have Northumberland, when he bade him come to York, pass through the gateway on which the head of his son, Hotspur Harry, was festering. No wonder the earl led a rising against his liege, who had first mercifully meant to imprison him for life, and then more mercifully pardoned him. But there seems to have been fighting up and down the centuries from the beginning, in York, interspersed with praying and wedding and feasting. After the citizens drove out Conqueror William’s garrison, and Earl Waltheof provided against the Normans’ return by standing at the castle gate and chopping their heads off with his battle-axe as they came forth, William efficaciously devastated the city and the country as far as Durham. His son William gave it a church, and that “worthy peer,” King Stephen, a hospital. In his time the archbishop and barons of York beat the Scotch hard by, and the next Scotch king had to do homage to Henry II. at York for his kingdom. Henry III. married his sister at York to one Scotch king and his daughter to that king’s successor. Edward I. and his queen Eleanor honored with their presence the translation of St. William’s bones to the Minster; Edward II. retreated from his defeat at Bannockburn to York, and Edward III. was often there for a king’s varied occasions of fighting and feasting. Weak Henry VI. and his wilful Margaret, after their defeat at Towton by Edward IV., escaped from the city just in time, and Edward entered York under his own father’s head on Micklegate Bar. Richard III. was welcomed there before his rout and death at Bosworth, and was truly mourned by the citizens. Henry VII. wedded Elizabeth, the “White Rose of York,” and afterward visited her city; Mary, Queen of Scots, was once in hiding there, and her uncouth son stayed two nights in York on his way to be crowned James I. in London. His son, Charles I., was there early in his reign, and touched many for the king’s evil; later, he was there again, but could not cure the sort of king’s evil which raged past all magic in the defeat of his followers at Marston Moor by Cromwell. The city yielded to the Puritans, whose temperament had already rather characterized it. James II., as Duke of York, made it his brief sojourn; “proud Cumberland,” returning from Culloden after the defeat of the Pretender, visited the city and received its freedom for destroying the last hope of the Stuarts; perhaps the twenty-two rebels who were then put to death in York were executed in the very square where those wicked men thought I was wanting to play the horses. The reigning family has paid divers visits to the ancient metropolis, which was the capital of Britain before London was heard of. The old prophecy of her ultimate primacy must make time if it is to fulfil itself and increase York’s seventy-two thousand beyond London’s six million.
I should be at a loss to say why its English memories haunted my York less than the Roman associations of the place. They form, however, rather a clutter of incidents, whereas the few spreading facts of Hadrian’s stay, the deaths of Severus and Constantius, and the election of Constantine, his son, enlarge themselves to the atmospheric compass of the place, but leave a roominess in which the fancy may more commodiously orb about. I was on terms of more neighborly intimacy with the poor Punic emperor than with any one else in York, doubtless because, when he fell sick, he visited the temple of Bellona near Bootham Bar, and paid his devotions unmolested, let us hope, by any prevision of the misbehavior of his son Caracalla (whose baths I had long ago visited at Rome) in killing his other son Geta. Everywhere I could be an early Christian, in company with Constantine, in whom the instinct of political Christianity must have begun to stir as soon as he was chosen emperor. But I dare say I heard the muted tramp of the Sixth Legion about the Yorkish streets above all other martial sounds because I stayed as long as Doncaster Week would let me in the railway hotel, which so many of their bones made room for when the foundations of it were laid, with those of the adherent station. Their bones seem to have been left there, after the disturbance, but their sepulchres were respectfully transferred to the museum of the Philosophical Society, in the grounds where the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey rise like fragments of pensive music or romantic verse, inviting the moonlight and the nightingale, but, wanting these, make shift with the noonday and the babies in perambulators neglected by nurse-girls reading novels.
[Illustration: ST. MARY’S ABBEY]
The babies and the nurses are not allowed in the museum of antiquities, which is richer in Roman remains than any that one sees outside of Italy. There are floors of mosaic, large and perfect, taken from the villas which people are always digging up in the neighborhood of York, and, from the graves uncovered in the railway excavations, coffins of lead and stone for civilians, and of rude tiles for the soldiers of the Sixth Legion; the slaves were cast into burial-pits of tens and twenties and left to indiscriminate decay till they should be raised in the universal incorruption. Probably the slaves were the earliest Christians at York; certainly the monuments are pagan, as the inmates of the tombs must have been. Some of the monuments bear inscriptions from loving wives and husbands to the partners they have lost, and some of the stone coffins are those of children. It is all infinitely touching, and after two thousand years the heart aches for the fathers and mothers who laid their little ones away in these hard cradles for their last sleep. Faith changes, but constant death remains the same, and life is not very different in any age, when it comes to the end. The Roman exiles who had come so far to hold my British ancestors in subjection to their alien rule seemed essentially not only of the same make as me, but the same civilization. Their votive altars and inscriptions to other gods expressed a human piety of like anxiety and helplessness with ours, and called to a like irresponsive sky. A hundred witnesses of their mortal state–jars and vases and simple household utensils–fill the shelves of the museum; but the most awful, the most beautiful appeal of the past is in that mass of dark auburn hair which is kept here in a special urn and uncovered for your supreme emotion. It is equally conjectured to be the hair of a Roman lady or of a British princess, but is of a young girl certainly, dressed twenty centuries ago for the tomb in which it was found, and still faintly lucent with the fashionable unguent of the day, and kept in form by pins of jet. One thinks of the little, slender hands that used to put them there, and of the eyes that confronted themselves in the silver mirror under the warm shadow that the red-gold mass cast upon the white forehead. This sanctuary of the past was the most interesting place in that most interesting city of York, and the day of our first visit a princess of New York sat reading a book in the midst of it, waiting for the rain to be over, which was waiting for her to come out and then begin again. We knew her from having seen her at the station in relation to some trunks bearing her initials and those of her native city; and she could be about the age of the York princess or young Roman lady whose hair was kept in the urn hard by.
There is in York a little, old, old church, whose dear and reverend name I have almost forgotten, if ever I knew it, but I think it is Holy Trinity Goodramgate, which divides the heart of my adoration with the Minster. We came to it quite by accident, one of our sad September afternoons, after we had been visiting the Guildhall, Venetianly overhanging the canal calm of the Ouse, and very worthy to be seen for its York histories in stained glass. The custodian had surprised us and the gentlemen of the committee by taking us into the room where they were investigating the claims of the registered voters to the suffrage; and so, much entertained and instructed, we issued forth, and, passing by the church in which Guy Fawkes was baptized, only too ineffectually, we came quite unexpectedly upon Holy Trinity Goodramgate, if that and not another is indeed its name.
It stands sequestered in a little leafy and grassy space of its own, with a wall hardly overlooked on one side by low stone cottages, the immemorial homes of rheumatism and influenza. The church had the air of not knowing that it is of Perpendicular and Decorated Gothic, with a square, high-shouldered tower, as it bulks up to a very humble height from the turf to the boughs overhead, or that it has a nice girl sketching its doorway, where a few especially favored weddings and funerals may enter. It is open once a year for service, and when the tourist will, or can, for the sight of the time-mellowed, beautiful stained glass of its eastward window. The oaken pews are square and high- shouldered, like the low church tower; and, without, the soft yellow sandstone is crumbling away from the window traceries. The church did not look as if it felt itself a thousand years old, and perhaps it is not; but I never was in a place where I seemed so like a ghost of that antiquity. I had a sense of haunting it, in the inner twilight and the outer sunlight, where a tender wind was stirring the leaves of its embowering trees and scattering them on the graves of my eleventh and twelfth century contemporaries.
We chose the sunniest morning we could for our visit to Clifford’s Tower, which remains witness of the Norman castle the Conqueror built and rebuilt to keep the Danish-Anglian-Roman- British town in awe. But the tower was no part of the original castle, and only testifies of it by hearsay. That was built by Roger de Clifford, who suffered death with his party chief, the Earl of Lancaster, when Edward of York took the city, and it is mainly memorable as the refuge of the Jews whom the Christians had harried out of their homes. They had grown in numbers and riches, when the Jew-hate of 1190 broke out in England, as from time to time the Jew-hate breaks out in Russia now, to much the same cruel effect. They were followed and besieged in the castle, and, seeing that they must be captured, they set fire to the place, and five hundred slew themselves. Some that promised to be Christians came out and were killed by their brethren in Christ. In New York the Christians have grown milder, and now they only keep the Jews out of their clubs and their homes.
[Illustration: CLIFFORD’S TOWER]
The Clifford Tower leans very much to one side, so that as you ascend it for the magnificent view from the top you have to incline yourself the other way, as you do in the Tower of Pisa, to help it keep its balance. The morning of our visit, so gay in its forgetfulness of the tragical past, we found the place in charge of an old soldier, an Irishman who had learned, as custodian, a professional compassion for those poor Jews of nine hundred years ago, and, being moved by our confession of our nationality, owned to three “nevvies” in New Haven. So small is the world and so closely knit in the ties of a common humanity and a common citizenship, native and adoptive!
The country around York looked so beautiful from Clifford’s Tower that we would not be satisfied till we had seen it closer, and we chose a bright, cool September afternoon for our drive out of the town and over the breezy, high levels which surround it. The first British capital could hardly have been more nobly placed, and one could not help grieving that the Ouse should have indolently lost York that early dignity by letting its channel fill up with silt and spoil its navigation. The Thames managed better for York’s upstart rival London, and yet the Ouse is not destitute of sea or river craft. These were of both steam and sail, and I myself have witnessed the energy with which the reluctance of the indolent stream is sometimes overcome. I do not suppose that anywhere else, when the wind is low, is a vessel madly hurled through the water at a mile an hour by means of a rope tied to its mast and pulled by a fatherly old horse under the intermittent drivership of two boys whom he could hardly keep to the work. I loved the banks of a stream where one could see such a triumph of man over nature, and where nature herself was so captivating. All that grassy and shady neighborhood seemed a public promenade, where on a Sunday one could see the lower middle classes in their best and brightest, and it had for all its own the endearing and bewitching name of Ings. Why cannot we have Ings by the Hudson side?
* * * * *
TWO YORKISH EPISODES
Certainly I had not come to York, as certainly I would not have gone anywhere, for battle-fields, but becoming gradually sensible in that city that the battle of Marston Moor was fought a few miles away, and my enemy Charles I. put to one of his worst defeats there, I bought a third-class ticket and ran out to the place one day for whatever emotion awaited me there.
At an English station you are either overwhelmed with transportation, or you are without any except such as you were born with, and at the station for Marston Moor I asked for a fly in vain. But it was a most walkable afternoon, and the pleasant road into the region which the station-master indicated as that I was seeking invited the foot by its level stretch, sometimes under wayside trees, but mostly between open fields, newly reaped and still yellow with their stubble, or green with the rowen clover. Sometimes it ran straight and sometimes it curved, but it led so rarely near any human habitation that one would rather not have met any tramps beside one’s self on it. Presently I overtook one, a gentle old farm-wife, a withered blonde, whom I helped with the bundles she bore in either hand, in the hope that she could tell me whether I was near Marston Moor or not. But she could tell me only, what may have been of higher human interest, that her husband had the grass farm of a hundred and fifty acres, which we were coming to, for seventy-five pounds a year; and they had their own cattle, sheep, and horses, and were well content with themselves. She excused herself for not knowing more than vaguely of the battle-field, as not having been many years in the neighborhood; and being now come to a gate in the fields, she thanked me and took her way up a grassy path to the pleasant farmhouse I saw in the distance.
It must have been about this time that it rained, having shone long enough for English weather, and it hardly held up before I was overtaken by a friendly youth on a bicycle, whom I stayed with the question uppermost in my mind. He promptly got off his wheel to grapple with the problem. He was a comely young fellow, an artisan of some sort from a neighboring town, and he knew the country well, but he did not know where my lost battle-field was. He was sure that it was near by: but he was sure there was no monument to mark the spot. Then we parted friends, with many polite expressions, and he rode on and I walked on.
For a mile and more I met no other wayfarer, and as I felt that it was time to ask for Marston Moor again, I was very glad to be overtaken by a gentleman driving in a dog-cart, with his pretty young daughter on the wide seat with him. He halted at sight of the elderly pilgrim, and hospitably asked if he could not give him a lift, alleging that there was plenty of room. He was interested in my search, which he was not able definitely to promote, but he believed that if I would drive with him to his place I could find the battle-field, and, anyhow, I could get a trap back from the The Sun. I pleaded the heat I was in from walking, and the danger for an old fellow of taking cold in a drive through the cool air; and then, as old fellows do, we bantered each other about our ages, each claiming to be older than the other, and the kind, sweet young girl sat listening with that tolerance of youth for the triviality of age which is so charming. When he could do no more, he said he was sorry, and wished me luck, and drove on; and I being by this time tired with my three miles’ tramp, took advantage of a wayside farmhouse, the first in all the distance, and went in and asked for a cup of tea.
The farm-wife, who came in out of her back garden to answer my knock, pleaded regretfully that her fire was down; but she thought I could get tea at the next house; and she was very conversable about the battle-field. She did not know just where it was, but she was sure it was quite a mile farther on; and at that I gave up the hope of it along with the tea. This is partly the reader’s loss, for I have no doubt I could have been very graphic about it if I had found it; but as for Marston Moor, I feel pretty certain that if it ever existed it does not now. A moor, as I understand, implies a sort of wildness, but nothing could be more domestic than the peaceful fields between which I had come so far, and now easily found my way back to the station. Easily, I say, but there was one point where the road forked, though I was sure it had not forked before, and I felt myself confronted with some sort, any sort, of exciting adventure. By taking myself firmly in hand, and saying, “It was yonder to the left where I met my kind bicycler, and we vainly communed of my evanescent battle-field,” and so keeping on, I got safely to the station with nothing more romantic in my experience than a thrilling apprehension.
I quite forgot Marston Moor in my self-gratulation and my recognition of the civility from every one which had so ineffectively abetted my search. Simple and gentle, how hospitable they had all been to my vain inquiry, and how delicately they had forborne to visit the stranger with the irony of the average American who is asked anything, especially anything he does not know! I went thinking that the difference was a difference between human nature long mellowed to its conditions, and human nature rasped on its edges and fretted by novel circumstances to a provisional harshness. I chose to fancy that unhuman nature sympathized with the English mood; in the sheep bleating from the pastures I heard the note of Wordsworth’s verse; and by the sky, hung in its low blue with rough, dusky clouds, I was canopied as with a canvas of Constable’s.
It was the more pity, then, that at the station a shooting party, approaching from the other quarter with their servants and guns and dogs, and their bags of hares and partridges, should have given English life another complexion to the wanderer so willing to see it always rose color. The gunners gained the station platform first, and at once occupied the benches, strewing all the vacant places with their still bleeding prey. I did not fail of the opportunity to see in them the arrogance of class, which I had hitherto so vainly expected, and I disabled their looks by finding them as rude as their behavior. How different they were from the kind bicycler, or the gentleman in the dog-cart, or either one of the farm-wives who sorrowed so civilly not to know where my lost battle-field was!
In England, it is always open to the passenger to enforce a claim to his share of the public facilities, but I chose to go into the licensed victualler’s next the station and sit down to a peaceable cup of tea rather than contest a place on that bloody benching; and so I made the acquaintance of an interior out of literature, such as my beloved Thomas Hardy likes to paint. On a high-backed rectangular settle rising against the wall, and almost meeting in front of the comfortable range, sat a company of rustics, stuffing themselves with cold meat, washed down with mugs of ale, and cozily talking. They gained indefinitely in my interest from being served by a lame woman, with a rhythmical limp, and I hope it was not for my demerit that I was served apart in the chillier parlor, when I should have liked so much to stay and listen to the rustic tale or talk. The parlor was very depressingly papered, but on its walls I had the exalted company