These essays deal for the most part with Science in Arcady. 'Tis my native country: for I am not of those who 'praise the busy town.' On the contrary, in the words of the great poet who has just departed to join Milton and Shelley in a place of high collateral glory, I 'love to rail against it still,' with a naturalist's bitterness. For the town is always dead and lifeless. There are who admire it, they say--poor purblind creatures--because, forsooth, 'there is so much life there.' So much life, indeed! No grass in the streets; no flowers in the lanes; no beetles or butterflies on the dull stone pavements! Brick and mortar have killed out all life over square miles of Middlesex. For myself, I love better the densely-peopled fields than this human desert, this beflagged and macadamised man-made solitude. The country teems with life on every hand; a thousand different plants and flowers in the spangled meadows; a thousand varied denizens of pond, and air, and heath, and copses. Their ways are endless. They attract me far more with their infinite diversity than the grey and gloomy haunts of the cab-horse and the stock-broker.
But my Arcady, as you will see, is none the less tolerably broad and eclectic in its limits. These various essays have been suggested to my pen by rambles far and wide between its elastic confines. The little tractate on Mud, for example, recalls to mind some pleasant weeks among the Italian lakes and on the plain of Lombardy. A Desert Fruit owes its origin to a morning at Luxor. High Life had its key-note struck by a fortnight in the Tyrol. Tropical Education is a dim reminiscence of old Jamaican experiences. Our Eight-Legged Friends were observed at leisure on the window-panes of our own little nook at Dorking. A Hill-Top Stronghold was sketched in situ at Florence by a window that looked across the valley to Fiesole. Excursions into books or into the remoter past have given occasion for the archæological essays relegated here to the end of the volume.
My thanks are due to Messrs. Longmans for permission to reprint from their magazine My Islands, A Hill-Top Stronghold, A Desert Fruit, The Isle of Ruim, Eight-Legged Friends, and Tropical Education. I have also to acknowledge a similar courtesy on the part of Messrs. Smith & Elder with regard to Mud, The Bronze Axe, High Life, Pretty Poll, The Greenwood Tree, On the Wings of the Wind, Casters and Chesters, and Fish as Fathers, all of which originally appeared in the Cornhill. Messrs. Chatto & Windus have been equally kind as regards the paper on An English Shire contributed to the Gentleman's. A Persistent Nationality made its first bow in the North American Review, and has still to be introduced to an English audience.
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