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Leamington Spa

In the course of several visits and stays of considerable length we
acquired a homelike feeling towards Leamington, and came back thither
again and again, chiefly because we had been there before. Wandering and
wayside people, such as we had long since become, retain a few of the
instincts that belong to a more settled way of life, and often prefer
familiar and commonplace objects (for the very reason that they are so)
to the dreary strangeness of scenes that might be thought much better
worth the seeing. There is a small nest of a place in Leamington--at
No. 10, Lansdowne Circus--upon which, to this day, my reminiscences are
apt to settle as one of the coziest nooks in England or in the world; not
that it had any special charm of its own, but only that we stayed long
enough to know it well, and even to grow a little tired of it. In my
opinion, the very tediousness of home and friends makes a part of what we
love them for; if it be not mixed in sufficiently with the other elements
of life, there may be mad enjoyment, but no happiness.

The modest abode to which I have alluded forms one of a circular range of
pretty, moderate-sized, two-story houses, all built on nearly the same
plan, and each provided with its little grass-plot, its flowers, its
tufts of box trimmed into globes and other fantastic shapes, and its
verdant hedges shutting the house in from the common drive and dividing
it from its equally cosey neighbors. Coming out of the door, and taking
a turn round the circle of sister-dwellings, it is difficult to find your
way back by any distinguishing individuality of your own habitation. In
the centre of the Circus is a space fenced in with iron railing, a small
play-place and sylvan retreat for the children of the precinct, permeated
by brief paths through the fresh English grass, and shadowed by various
shrubbery; amid which, if you like, you may fancy yourself in a deep
seclusion, though probably the mark of eye-shot from the windows of all
the surrounding houses. But, in truth, with regard to the rest of the
town and the world at large, all abode here is a genuine seclusion; for
the ordinary stream of life does not run through this little, quiet pool,
and few or none of the inhabitants seem to be troubled with any business
or outside activities. I used to set them down as half-pay officers,
dowagers of narrow income, elderly maiden ladies, and other people of
respectability, but small account, such as hang on the world's skirts
rather than actually belong to it. The quiet of the place was seldom
disturbed, except by the grocer and butcher, who came to receive orders,
or by the cabs, hackney-coaches, and Bath-chairs, in which the ladies
took an infrequent airing, or the livery-steed which the retired captain
sometimes bestrode for a morning ride, or by the red-coated postman who
went his rounds twice a day to deliver letters, and again in the evening,
ringing a hand-bell, to take letters for the mail. In merely mentioning
these slight interruptions of its sluggish stillness, I seem to myself to
disturb too much the atmosphere of quiet that brooded over the spot;
whereas its impression upon me was, that the world had never found the
way hither, or had forgotten it, and that the fortunate inhabitants were
the only ones who possessed the spell-word of admittance. Nothing could
have suited me better, at the time; for I had been holding a position of
public servitude, which imposed upon me (among a great many lighter
duties) the ponderous necessity of being universally civil and sociable.

Nevertheless, if a man were seeking the bustle of society, he might find
it more readily in Leamington than in most other English towns. It is a
permanent watering-place, a sort of institution to which I do not know
any close parallel in American life: for such places as Saratoga bloom
only for the summer-season, and offer a thousand dissimilitudes even
then; while Leamington seems to be always in flower, and serves as a home
to the homeless all the year round. Its original nucleus, the plausible
excuse for the town's coming into prosperous existence, lies in the
fiction of a chalybeate well, which, indeed, is so far a reality that out
of its magical depths have gushed streets, groves, gardens, mansions,
shops, and churches, and spread themselves along the banks of the little
river Leam. This miracle accomplished, the beneficent fountain has
retired beneath a pump-room, and appears to have given up all pretensions
to the remedial virtues formerly attributed to it. I know not whether
its waters are ever tasted nowadays; but not the less does Leamington--in
pleasant Warwickshire, at the very midmost point of England, in a good
hunting neighborhood, and surrounded by country-seats and castles--
continue to be a resort of transient visitors, and the more permanent
abode of a class of genteel, unoccupied, well-to-do, but not very wealthy
people, such as are hardly known among ourselves. Persons who have no
country-houses, and whose fortunes are inadequate to a London
expenditure, find here, I suppose, a sort of town and country life in

In its present aspect the town is of no great age. In contrast with the
antiquity of many places in its neighborhood, it has a bright, new face,
and seems almost to smile even amid the sombreness of an English autumn.
Nevertheless, it is hundreds upon hundreds of years old, if we reckon up
that sleepy lapse of time during which it existed as a small village of
thatched houses, clustered round a priory; and it would still have been
precisely such a rural village, but for a certain Dr. Jephson, who lived
within the memory of man, and who found out the magic well, and foresaw
what fairy wealth might be made to flow from it. A public garden has
been laid out along the margin of the Leam, and called the Jephson
Garden, in honor of him who created the prosperity of his native spot. A
little way within the garden-gate there is a circular temple of Grecian
architecture, beneath the dome of which stands a marble statue of the
good Doctor, very well executed, and representing him with a face of
fussy activity and benevolence: just the kind of man, if luck favored
him, to build up the fortunes of those about him, or, quite as probably,
to blight his whole neighborhood by some disastrous speculation.

The Jephson Garden is very beautiful, like most other English
pleasure-grounds; for, aided by their moist climate and not too fervid
sun, the landscape-gardeners excel in converting flat or tame surfaces
into attractive scenery, chiefly through the skilful arrangement of trees
and shrubbery. An Englishman aims at this effect even in the little
patches under the windows of a suburban villa, and achieves it on a
larger scale in a tract of many acres. The Garden is shadowed with trees
of a fine growth, standing alone, or in dusky groves and dense
entanglements, pervaded by woodland paths; and emerging from these
pleasant glooms, we come upon a breadth of sunshine, where the
greensward--so vividly green that it has a kind of lustre in it--is
spotted with beds of gemlike flowers. Rustic chairs and benches are
scattered about, some of them ponderously fashioned out of the stumps of
obtruncated trees, and others more artfully made with intertwining
branches, or perhaps an imitation of such frail handiwork in iron. In a
central part of the Garden is an archery-ground, where laughing maidens
practise at the butts, generally missing their ostensible mark, but, by
the mere grace of their action, sending an unseen shaft into some young
man's heart. There is space, moreover, within these precincts, for an
artificial lake, with a little green island in the midst of it; both lake
and island being the haunt of swans, whose aspect and movement in the
water are most beautiful and stately,--most infirm, disjointed, and
decrepit, when, unadvisedly, they see fit to emerge, and try to walk upon
dry land. In the latter case, they look like a breed of uncommonly
ill-contrived geese; and I record the matter here for the sake of the
moral,--that we should never pass judgment on the merits of any person or
thing, unless we behold them in the sphere and circumstances to which
they are specially adapted. In still another part of the Garden there is
a labyrinthine maze, formed of an intricacy of hedge-bordered walks,
involving himself in which, a man might wander for hours inextricably
within a circuit of only a few yards. It seemed to me a sad emblem of
the mental and moral perplexities in which we sometimes go astray, petty
in scope, yet large enough to entangle a lifetime, and bewilder us with a
weary movement, but no genuine progress.

The Leam,--the "high complectioned Leam," as Drayton calls it,--after
drowsing across the principal street of the town beneath a handsome
bridge, skirts along the margin of the Garden without any perceptible
flow. Heretofore I had fancied the Concord the laziest river in the
world, but now assign that amiable distinction to the little English
stream. Its water is by no means transparent, but has a greenish,
goose-puddly hue, which, however, accords well with the other coloring
and characteristics of the scene, and is disagreeable neither to sight
nor smell. Certainly, this river is a perfect feature of that gentle
picturesqueness in which England is so rich, sleeping, as it does,
beneath a margin of willows that droop into its bosom, and other trees,
of deeper verdure than our own country can boast, inclining lovingly over
it. On the Garden-side it is bordered by a shadowy, secluded grove, with
winding paths among its boskiness, affording many a peep at the river's
imperceptible lapse and tranquil gleam; and on the opposite shore stands
the priory-church, with its churchyard full of shrubbery and tombstones.

The business portion of the town clusters about the banks of the Leam,
and is naturally densest around the well to which the modern settlement
owes its existence. Here are the commercial inns, the post-office, the
furniture-dealers, the iron-mongers, and all the heavy and homely
establishments that connect themselves even with the airiest modes of
human life; while upward from the river, by a long and gentle ascent,
rises the principal street, which is very bright and cheerful in its
physiognomy, and adorned with shop-fronts almost as splendid as those of
London, though on a diminutive scale. There are likewise side-streets
and cross-streets, many of which are bordered with the beautiful
Warwickshire elm, a most unusual kind of adornment for an English town;
and spacious avenues, wide enough to afford room for stately groves, with
foot-paths running beneath the lofty shade, and rooks cawing and
chattering so high in the tree-tops that their voices get musical before
reaching the earth. The houses are mostly built in blocks and ranges, in
which every separate tenement is a repetition of its fellow, though the
architecture of the different ranges is sufficiently various. Some of
them are almost palatial in size and sumptuousness of arrangement. Then,
on the outskirts of the town, there are detached villas, enclosed within
that separate domain of high stone fence and embowered shrubbery which an
Englishman so loves to build and plant around his abode, presenting to
the public only an iron gate, with a gravelled carriage-drive winding
away towards the half-hidden mansion. Whether in street or suburb,
Leamington may fairly be called beautiful, and, at some points,
magnificent; but by and by you become doubtfully suspicious of a somewhat
unreal finery: it is pretentious, though not glaringly so; it has been
built with malice aforethought, as a place of gentility and enjoyment.
Moreover, splendid as the houses look, and comfortable as they often are,
there is a nameless something about them, betokening that they have not
grown out of human hearts, but are the creations of a skilfully applied
human intellect: no man has reared any one of them, whether stately or
humble, to be his lifelong residence, wherein to bring up his children,
who are to inherit it as a home. They are nicely contrived
lodging-houses, one and all,--the best as well as the shabbiest of them,
--and therefore inevitably lack some nameless property that a home should
have. This was the case with our own little snuggery in Lansdowne
Circus, as with all the rest; it had not grown out of anybody's
individual need, but was built to let or sell, and was therefore like a
ready-made garment,--a tolerable fit, but only tolerable.

All these blocks, ranges, and detached villas are adorned with the finest
and most aristocratic manes that I have found anywhere in England,
except, perhaps, in Bath, which is the great metropolis of that
second-class gentility with which watering-places are chiefly populated.
Lansdowne Crescent, Lansdowne Circus, Lansdowne Terrace, Regent Street,
Warwick Street, Clarendon Street, the Upper and Lower Parade: such are a
few of the designations. Parade, indeed, is a well-chosen name for the
principal street, along which the population of the idle town draws
itself out for daily review and display. I only wish that my descriptive
powers would enable me to throw off a picture of the scene at a sunny
noontide, individualizing each character with a touch the great people
alighting from their carriages at the principal shop-doors; the elderly
ladies and infirm Indian officers drawn along in Bath-chairs; the comely,
rather than pretty, English girls, with their deep, healthy bloom, which
an American taste is apt to deem fitter for a milkmaid than for a lady;
the mustached gentlemen with frogged surtouts and a military air; the
nursemaids and chubby children, but no chubbier than our own, and
scampering on slenderer legs; the sturdy figure of John Bull in all
varieties and of all ages, but ever with the stamp of authenticity
somewhere about him.

To say the truth, I have been holding the pen over my paper, purposing to
write a descriptive paragraph or two about the throng on the principal
Parade of Leamington, so arranging it as to present a sketch of the
British out-of-door aspect on a morning walk of gentility; but I find no
personages quite sufficiently distinct and individual in my memory to
supply the materials of such a panorama.

Oddly enough, the only figure that comes fairly forth to my mind's eye is
that of a dowager, one of hundreds whom I used to marvel at, all over
England, but who have scarcely a representative among our own ladies of
autumnal life, so thin, careworn, and frail, as age usually makes the

I have heard a good deal of the tenacity with which English ladies retain
their personal beauty to a late period of life; but (not to suggest that
an American eye needs use and cultivation before it can quite appreciate
the charm of English beauty at any age) it strikes me that an English
lady of fifty is apt to become a creature less refined and delicate, so
far as her physique goes, than anything that we Western people class
under the name of woman. She has an awful ponderosity of frame, not
pulpy, like the looser development of our few fat women, but massive with
solid beef and streaky tallow; so that (though struggling manfully
against the idea) you inevitably think of her as made up of steaks and
sirloins. When she walks, her advance is elephantine. When she sits
down, it is on a great round space of her Maker's footstool, where she
looks as if nothing could ever move her. She imposes awe and respect by
the muchness of her personality, to such a degree that you probably
credit her with far greater moral and intellectual force than she can
fairly claim. Her visage is usually grim and stern, seldom positively
forbidding, yet calmly terrible, not merely by its breadth and
weight of feature, but because it seems to express so much well-founded
self-reliance, such acquaintance with the world, its toils, troubles, and
dangers, and such sturdy capacity for trampling down a foe. Without
anything positively salient, or actively offensive, or, indeed, unjustly
formidable to her neighbors, she has the effect of a seventy-four
gun-ship in time of peace; for, while you assure yourself that there is
no real danger, you cannot help thinking how tremendous would be her
onset, if pugnaciously inclined, and how futile the effort to inflict any
counter-injury. She certainly looks tenfold--nay, a hundred-fold--better
able to take care of herself than our slender-framed and haggard
womankind; but I have not found reason to suppose that the English
dowager of fifty has actually greater courage, fortitude, and strength of
character than our women of similar age, or even a tougher physical
endurance than they. Morally, she is strong, I suspect, only in society,
and in the common routine of social affairs, and would be found powerless
and timid in any exceptional strait that might call for energy outside of
the conventionalities amid which she has grown up.

You can meet this figure in the street, and live, and even smile at the
recollection. But conceive of her in a ball-room, with the bare, brawny
arms that she invariably displays there, and all the other corresponding
development, such as is beautiful in the maiden blossom, but a spectacle
to howl at in such an over-blown cabbage-rose as this.

Yet, somewhere in this enormous bulk there must be hidden the modest,
slender, violet-nature of a girl, whom an alien mass of earthliness has
unkindly overgrown; for an English maiden in her teens, though very
seldom so pretty as our own damsels, possesses, to say the truth, a
certain charm of half-blossom, and delicately folded leaves, and tender
womanhood shielded by maidenly reserves, with which, somehow or other,
our American girls often fail to adorn themselves during an appreciable
moment. It is a pity that the English violet should grow into such an
outrageously developed peony as I have attempted to describe. I wonder
whether a middle-aged husband ought to be considered as legally married
to all the accretions that have overgrown the slenderness of his bride,
since he led her to the altar, and which make her so much more than he
ever bargained for! Is it not a sounder view of the case, that the
matrimonial bond cannot be held to include the three fourths of the wife
that had no existence when the ceremony was performed? And as a matter
of conscience and good morals, ought not an English married pair to
insist upon the celebration of a silver-wedding at the end of twenty-five
years, in order to legalize and mutually appropriate that corporeal
growth of which both parties have individually come into possession since
they were pronounced one flesh?

The chief enjoyment of my several visits to Leamington lay in rural walks
about the neighborhood, and in jaunts to places of note and interest,
which are particularly abundant in that region. The high-roads are made
pleasant to the traveller by a border of trees, and often afford him the
hospitality of a wayside bench beneath a comfortable shade. But a
fresher delight is to be found in the foot-paths, which go wandering away
from stile to stile, along hedges, and across broad fields, and through
wooded parks, leading you to little hamlets of thatched cottages,
ancient, solitary farm-houses, picturesque old mills, streamlets, pools,
and all those quiet, secret, unexpected, yet strangely familiar features
of English scenery that Tennyson shows us in his idyls and eclogues.
These by-paths admit the wayfarer into the very heart of rural life, and
yet do not burden him with a sense of intrusiveness. He has a right to
go whithersoever they lead him; for, with all their shaded privacy, they
are as much the property of the public as the dusty high-road itself, and
even by an older tenure. Their antiquity probably exceeds that of the
Roman ways; the footsteps of the aboriginal Britons first wore away the
grass, and the natural flow of intercourse between village and village
has kept the track bare ever since. An American farmer would plough
across any such path, and obliterate it with his hills of potatoes and
Indian corn; but here it is protected by law, and still more by the
sacredness that inevitably springs up, in this soil, along the
well-defined footprints of centuries. Old associations are sure to be
fragrant herbs in English nostrils; we pull them up as weeds.

I remember such a path, the access to which is from Lovers' Grove, a
range of tall old oaks and elms on a high hill-top, whence there is a
view of Warwick Castle, and a wide extent of landscape, beautiful, though
bedimmed with English mist. This particular foot-path, however, is not a
remarkably good specimen of its kind, since it leads into no hollows and
seclusions, and soon terminates in a high-road. It connects Leamington
by a short cut with the small neighboring village of Lillington, a place
which impresses an American observer with its many points of contrast to
the rural aspects of his own country. The village consists chiefly of
one row of contiguous dwellings, separated only by party-walls, but
ill-matched among themselves, being of different heights, and apparently
of various ages, though all are of an antiquity which we should call
venerable. Some of the windows are leaden-framed lattices, opening on
hinges. These houses are mostly built of gray stone; but others, in the
same range, are of brick, and one or two are in a very old fashion,--
Elizabethan, or still older,--having a ponderous framework of oak,
painted black, and filled in with plastered stone or bricks. Judging by
the patches of repair, the oak seems to be the more durable part of the
structure. Some of the roofs are covered with earthen tiles; others
(more decayed and poverty-stricken) with thatch, out of which sprouts a
luxurious vegetation of grass, house-leeks, and yellow flowers. What
especially strikes an American is the lack of that insulated space, the
intervening gardens, grass-plots, orchards, broad-spreading shade-trees,
which occur between our own village-houses. These English dwellings have
no such separate surroundings; they all grow together, like the cells of
a honeycomb.

Beyond the first row of houses, and hidden from it by a turn of the road,
there was another row (or block, as we should call it) of small old
cottages, stuck one against another, with their thatched roofs forming a
single contiguity. These, I presume, were the habitations of the poorest
order of rustic laborers; and the narrow precincts of each cottage, as
well as the close neighborhood of the whole, gave the impression of a
stifled, unhealthy atmosphere among the occupants. It seemed impossible
that there should be a cleanly reserve, a proper self-respect among
individuals, or a wholesome unfamiliarity between families where human
life was crowded and massed into such intimate communities as these.
Nevertheless, not to look beyond the outside, I never saw a prettier
rural scene than was presented by this range of contiguous huts. For in
front of the whole row was a luxuriant and well-trimmed hawthorn hedge,
and belonging to each cottage was a little square of garden-ground,
separated from its neighbors by a line of the same verdant fence. The
gardens were chockfull, not of esculent vegetables, but of flowers,
familiar ones, but very bright-colored, and shrubs of box, some of which
were trimmed into artistic shapes; and I remember, before one door, a
representation of Warwick Castle, made of oyster-shells. The cottagers
evidently loved the little nests in which they dwelt, and did their best
to make them beautiful, and succeeded more than tolerably well,--so
kindly did nature help their humble efforts with its verdure, flowers,
moss, lichens, and the green things that grew out of the thatch. Through
some of the open doorways we saw plump children rolling about on the
stone floors, and their mothers, by no means very pretty, but as
happy-looking as mothers generally are; and while we gazed at these
domestic matters, an old woman rushed wildly out of one of the gates,
upholding a shovel, on which she clanged and clattered with a key. At
first we fancied that she intended an onslaught against ourselves, but
soon discovered that a more dangerous enemy was abroad; for the old
lady's bees had swarmed, and the air was full of them, whizzing by our
heads like bullets.

Not far from these two rows of houses and cottages, a green lane,
overshadowed with trees, turned aside from the main road, and tended
towards a square, gray tower, the battlements of which were just high
enough to be visible above the foliage. Wending our way thitherward, we
found the very picture and ideal of a country church and churchyard. The
tower seemed to be of Norman architecture, low, massive, and crowned with
battlements. The body of the church was of very modest dimensions, and
the eaves so low that I could touch them with my walking-stick. We
looked into the windows and beheld the dim and quiet interior, a narrow
space, but venerable with the consecration of many centuries, and keeping
its sanctity as entire and inviolate as that of a vast cathedral. The
nave was divided from the side aisles of the church by pointed arches
resting on very sturdy pillars: it was good to see how solemnly they held
themselves to their age-long task of supporting that lowly roof. There
was a small organ, suited in size to the vaulted hollow, which it weekly
filled with religious sound. On the opposite wall of the church, between
two windows, was a mural tablet of white marble, with an inscription in
black letters,--the only such memorial that I could discern, although
many dead people doubtless lay beneath the floor, and had paved it with
their ancient tombstones, as is customary in old English churches. There
were no modern painted windows, flaring with raw colors, nor other
gorgeous adornments, such as the present taste for mediaeval restoration
often patches upon the decorous simplicity of the gray village-church.
It is probably the worshipping-place of no more distinguished a
congregation than the farmers and peasantry who inhabit the houses and
cottages which I have just described. Had the lord of the manor been one
of the parishioners, there would have been an eminent pew near the
chancel, walled high about, curtained, and softly cushioned, warmed by a
fireplace of its own, and distinguished by hereditary tablets and
escutcheons on the enclosed stone pillar.

A well-trodden path led across the churchyard, and the gate being on the
latch, we entered, and walked round among the graves and monuments. The
latter were chiefly head-stones, none of which were very old, so far as
was discoverable by the dates; some, indeed, in so ancient a cemetery,
were disagreeably new, with inscriptions glittering like sunshine in gold
letters. The ground must have been dug over and over again, innumerable
times, until the soil is made up of what was once human clay, out of
which have sprung successive crops of gravestones, that flourish their
allotted time, and disappear, like the weeds and flowers in their briefer
period. The English climate is very unfavorable to the endurance of
memorials in the open air. Twenty years of it suffice to give as much
antiquity of aspect, whether to tombstone or edifice, as a hundred years
of our own drier atmosphere,--so soon do the drizzly rains and constant
moisture corrode the surface of marble or freestone. Sculptured edges
loose their sharpness in a year or two; yellow lichens overspread a
beloved name, and obliterate it while it is yet fresh upon some
survivor's heart. Time gnaws an English gravestone with wonderful
appetite; and when the inscription is quite illegible, the sexton takes
the useless slab away, and perhaps makes a hearthstone of it, and digs up
the unripe bones which it ineffectually tried to memorialize, and gives
the bed to another sleeper. In the Charter Street burial-ground at
Salem, and in the old graveyard on the hill at Ipswich, I have seen more
ancient gravestones, with legible inscriptions on them, than in any
English churchyard.

And yet this same ungenial climate, hostile as it generally is to the
long remembrance of departed people, has sometimes a lovely way of
dealing with the records on certain monuments that lie horizontally in
the open air. The rain falls into the deep incisions of the letters, and
has scarcely time to be dried away before another shower sprinkles the
flat stone again, and replenishes those little reservoirs. The unseen,
mysterious seeds of mosses find their way into the lettered furrows, and
are made to germinate by the continual moisture and watery sunshine of
the English sky; and by and by, in a year, or two years, or many years,
behold the complete inscription--

Here Lieth the body,

and all the rest of the tender falsehood--beautifully embossed in raised
letters of living green, a bas-relief of velvet moss on the marble slab!
It becomes more legible, under the skyey influences, after the world has
forgotten the deceased, than when it was fresh from the stone-cutter's
hands. It outlives the grief of friends. I first saw an example of this
in Bebbington churchyard, in Cheshire, and thought that Nature must needs
have had a special tenderness for the person (no noted man, however, in
the world's history) so long ago laid beneath that stone, since she took
such wonderful pains to "keep his memory green." Perhaps the proverbial
phrase just quoted may have had its origin in the natural phenomenon here

While we rested ourselves on a horizontal monument, which was elevated
just high enough to be a convenient seat, I observed that one of the
gravestones lay very close to the church,--so close that the droppings of
the eaves would fall upon it. It seemed as if the inmate of that grave
had desired to creep under the church-wall. On closer inspection, we
found an almost illegible epitaph on the stone, and with difficulty made
out this forlorn verse:--

"Poorly lived,
And poorly died,
Poorly buried,
And no one cried."

It would be hard to compress the story of a cold and luckless life,
death, and burial into fewer words, or more impressive ones; at least, we
found them impressive, perhaps because we had to re-create the
inscription by scraping away the lichens from the faintly traced letters.
The grave was on the shady and damp side of the church, endwise towards
it, the head-stone being within about three feet of the foundation-wall;
so that, unless the poor man was a dwarf, he must have been doubled up to
fit him into his final resting-place. No wonder that his epitaph
murmured against so poor a burial as this! His name, as well as I could
make it out, was Treeo,--John Treeo, I think,--and he died in 1810, at
the age of seventy-four. The gravestone is so overgrown with grass and
weeds, so covered with unsightly lichens, and so crumbly with time and
foul weather, that it is questionable whether anybody will ever be at the
trouble of deciphering it again. But there is a quaint and sad kind of
enjoyment in defeating (to such slight degree as my pen may do it) the
probabilities of oblivion for poor John Treeo, and asking a little
sympathy for him, half a century after his death, and making him better
and more widely known, at least, than any other slumberer in Lillington
churchyard: he having been, as appearances go, the outcast of them all.

You find similar old churches and villages in all the neighboring
country, at the distance of every two or three miles; and I describe
them, not as being rare, but because they are so common and
characteristic. The village of Whitnash, within twenty minutes' walk of
Leamington, looks as secluded, as rural, and as little disturbed by the
fashions of to-day, as if Dr. Jephson had never developed all those
Parades and Crescents out of his magic well. I used to wonder whether
the inhabitants had ever yet heard of railways, or, at their slow rate of
progress, had even reached the epoch of stage-coaches. As you approach
the village, while it is yet unseen, you observe a tall, overshadowing
canopy of elm-tree tops, beneath which you almost hesitate to follow the
public road, on account of the remoteness that seems to exist between the
precincts of this old-world community and the thronged modern street out
of which you have so recently emerged. Venturing onward, however, you
soon find yourself in the heart of Whitnash, and see an irregular ring of
ancient rustic dwellings surrounding the village-green, on one side of
which stands the church, with its square Norman tower and battlements,
while close adjoining is the vicarage, made picturesque by peaks and
gables. At first glimpse, none of the houses appear to be less than two
or three centuries old, and they are of the ancient, wooden-framed
fashion, with thatched roofs, which give them the air of birds' nests,
thereby assimilating them closely to the simplicity of nature.

The church-tower is mossy and much gnawed by time; it has narrow
loopholes up and down its front and sides, and an arched window over the
low portal, set with small panes of glass, cracked, dim, and irregular,
through which a bygone age is peeping out into the daylight. Some of
those old, grotesque faces, called gargoyles, are seen on the projections
of the architecture. The churchyard is very small, and is encompassed by
a gray stone fence that looks as ancient as the church itself. In front
of the tower, on the village-green, is a yew-tree of incalculable age,
with a vast circumference of trunk, but a very scanty head of foliage;
though its boughs still keep some of the vitality which perhaps was in
its early prime when the Saxon invaders founded Whitnash. A thousand
years is no extraordinary antiquity in the lifetime of a yew. We were
pleasantly startled, however, by discovering an exuberance of more
youthful life than we had thought possible in so old a tree; for the
faces of two children laughed at us out of an opening in the trunk, which
had become hollow with long decay. On one side of the yew stood a
framework of worm-eaten timber, the use and meaning of which puzzled me
exceedingly, till I made it out to be the village-stocks; a public
institution that, in its day, had doubtless hampered many a pair of
shank-bones, now crumbling in the adjacent churchyard. It is not to be
supposed, however, that this old-fashioned mode of punishment is still in
vogue among the good people of Whitnash. The vicar of the parish has
antiquarian propensities, and had probably dragged the stocks out of some
dusty hiding-place, and set them up on their former site as a curiosity.

I disquiet myself in vain with the effort to hit upon some characteristic
feature, or assemblage of features, that shall convey to the reader the
influence of hoar antiquity lingering into the present daylight, as I so
often felt it in these old English scenes. It is only an American who
can feel it; and even he begins to find himself growing insensible to its
effect, after a long residence in England. But while you are still new
in the old country, it thrills you with strange emotion to think that
this little church of Whitnash, humble as it seems, stood for ages under
the Catholic faith, and has not materially changed since Wickcliffe's
days, and that it looked as gray as now in Bloody Mary's time, and that
Cromwell's troopers broke off the stone noses of those same gargoyles
that are now grinning in your face. So, too, with the immemorial
yew-tree: you see its great roots grasping hold of the earth like
gigantic claws, clinging so sturdily that no effort of time can wrench
them away; and there being life in the old tree, you feel all the more as
if a contemporary witness were telling you of the things that have been.
It has lived among men, and been a familiar object to them, and seen them
brought to be christened and married and buried in the neighboring church
and churchyard, through so many centuries, that it knows all about our
race, so far as fifty generations of the Whitnash people can supply such

And, after all, what a weary life it must have been for the old tree!
Tedious beyond imagination! Such, I think, is the final impression on
the mind of an American visitor, when his delight at finding something
permanent begins to yield to his Western love of change, and he becomes
sensible of the heavy air of a spot where the forefathers and foremothers
have grown up together, intermarried, and died, through a long succession
of lives, without any intermixture of new elements, till family features
and character are all run in the same inevitable mould. Life is there
fossilized in its greenest leaf. The man who died yesterday or ever so
long ago walks the village-street to day, and chooses the same wife that
he married a hundred years since, and must be buried again to-morrow
under the same kindred dust that has already covered him half a score of
times. The stone threshold of his cottage is worn away with his
hobnailed footsteps, shuffling over it from the reign of the first
Plantagenet to that of Victoria. Better than this is the lot of our
restless countrymen, whose modern instinct bids them tend always towards
"fresh woods and pastures new." Rather than such monotony of sluggish
ages, loitering on a village-green, toiling in hereditary fields,
listening to the parson's drone lengthened through centuries in the gray
Norman church, let us welcome whatever change may come,--change of place,
social customs, political institutions, modes of worship,--trusting,
that, if all present things shall vanish, they will but make room for
better systems, and for a higher type of man to clothe his life in them,
and to fling them off in turn.

Nevertheless, while an American willingly accepts growth and change as
the law of his own national and private existence, he has a singular
tenderness for the stone-incrusted institutions of the mother-country.
The reason may be (though I should prefer a more generous explanation)
that he recognizes the tendency of these hardened forms to stiffen her
joints and fetter her ankles, in the race and rivalry of improvement. I
hated to see so much as a twig of ivy wrenched away from an old wall in
England. Yet change is at work, even in such a village as Whitnash. At
a subsequent visit, looking more critically at the irregular circle of
dwellings that surround the yew-tree and confront the church, I perceived
that some of the houses must have been built within no long time,
although the thatch, the quaint gables, and the old oaken framework of
the others diffused an air of antiquity over the whole assemblage. The
church itself was undergoing repair and restoration, which is but another
name for change. Masons were making patchwork on the front of the tower,
and were sawing a slab of stone and piling up bricks to strengthen the
side-wall, or possibly to enlarge the ancient edifice by an additional
aisle. Moreover, they had dug an immense pit in the churchyard, long and
broad, and fifteen feet deep, two thirds of which profundity were
discolored by human decay, and mixed up with crumbly bones. What this
excavation was intended for I could nowise imagine, unless it were the
very pit in which Longfellow bids the "Dead Past bury its Dead," and
Whitnash, of all places in the world, were going to avail itself of our
poet's suggestion. If so, it must needs be confessed that many
picturesque and delightful things would be thrown into the hole, and
covered out of sight forever.

The article which I am writing has taken its own course, and occupied
itself almost wholly with country churches; whereas I had purposed to
attempt a description of some of the many old towns--Warwick, Coventry,
Kenilworth, Stratford-on-Avon--which lie within an easy scope of
Leamington. And still another church presents itself to my remembrance.
It is that of Hatton, on which I stumbled in the course of a forenoon's
ramble, and paused a little while to look at it for the sake of old Dr.
Parr, who was once its vicar. Hatton, so far as I could discover, has no
public-house, no shop, no contiguity of roofs (as in most English
villages, however small), but is merely an ancient neighborhood of
farm-houses, spacious, and standing wide apart, each within its own
precincts, and offering a most comfortable aspect of orchards,
harvest-fields, barns, stacks, and all manner of rural plenty. It seemed
to be a community of old settlers, among whom everything had been going
on prosperously since an epoch beyond the memory of man; and they kept a
certain privacy among themselves, and dwelt on a cross-road, at the
entrance of which was a barred gate, hospitably open, but still
impressing me with a sense of scarcely warrantable intrusion. After all,
in some shady nook of those gentle Warwickshire slopes there may have
been a denser and more populous settlement, styled Hatton, which I never

Emerging from the by-road, and entering upon one that crossed it at right
angles and led to Warwick, I espied the church of Dr. Parr. Like the
others which I have described, it had a low stone tower, square, and
battlemented at its summit: for all these little churches seem to have
been built on the same model, and nearly at the same measurement, and
have even a greater family-likeness than the cathedrals. As I
approached, the bell of the tower (a remarkably deep-toned bell,
considering how small it was) flung its voice abroad, and told me that it
was noon. The church stands among its graves, a little removed from the
wayside, quite apart from any collection of houses, and with no signs of
vicarage; it is a good deal shadowed by trees, and not wholly destitute
of ivy. The body of the edifice, unfortunately (and it is an outrage
which the English church-wardens are fond of perpetrating), has been
newly covered with a yellowish plaster or wash, so as quite to destroy
the aspect of antiquity, except upon the tower, which wears the dark gray
hue of many centuries. The chancel-window is painted with a
representation of Christ upon the Cross, and all the other windows are
full of painted or stained glass, but none of it ancient, nor (if it be
fair to judge from without of what ought to be seen within) possessing
any of the tender glory that should be the inheritance of this branch of
Art, revived from mediaeval times. I stepped over the graves, and peeped
in at two or three of the windows, and saw the snug interior of the
church glimmering through the many-colored panes, like a show of
commonplace objects under the fantastic influence of a dream: for the
floor was covered with modern pews, very like what we may see in a New
England meeting-house, though, I think, a little more favorable than
those would be to the quiet slumbers of the Hatton farmers and their
families. Those who slept under Dr. Parr's preaching now prolong their
nap, I suppose, in the churchyard round about, and can scarcely have
drawn much spiritual benefit from any truths that he contrived to tell
them in their lifetime. It struck me as a rare example (even where
examples are numerous) of a man utterly misplaced, that this enormous
scholar, great in the classic tongues, and inevitably converting his own
simplest vernacular into a learned language, should have been set up in
this homely pulpit, and ordained to preach salvation to a rustic
audience, to whom it is difficult to imagine how he could ever have
spoken one available word.

Almost always, in visiting such scenes as I have been attempting to
describe, I had a singular sense of having been there before. The
ivy-grown English churches (even that of Bebbington, the first that I
beheld) were quite as familiar to me, when fresh from home, as the old
wooden meeting-house in Salem, which used, on wintry Sabbaths, to be the
frozen purgatory of my childhood. This was a bewildering, yet very
delightful emotion fluttering about me like a faint summer wind, and
filling my imagination with a thousand half-remembrances, which looked as
vivid as sunshine, at a side-glance, but faded quite away whenever I
attempted to grasp and define them. Of course, the explanation of the
mystery was, that history, poetry, and fiction, books of travel, and the
talk of tourists, had given me pretty accurate preconceptions of the
common objects of English scenery, and these, being long ago vivified by
a youthful fancy, had insensibly taken their places among the images of
things actually seen. Yet the illusion was often so powerful, that I
almost doubted whether such airy remembrances might not be a sort of
innate idea, the print of a recollection in some ancestral mind,
transmitted, with fainter and fainter impress through several descents,
to my own. I felt, indeed, like the stalwart progenitor in person,
returning to the hereditary haunts after more than two hundred years, and
finding the church, the hall, the farm-house, the cottage, hardly changed
during his long absence,--the same shady by-paths and hedge-lanes, the
same veiled sky, and green lustre of the lawns and fields,--while his own
affinities for these things, a little obscured by disuse, were reviving
at every step.

An American is not very apt to love the English people, as a whole, on
whatever length of acquaintance. I fancy that they would value our
regard, and even reciprocate it in their ungracious way, if we could give
it to them in spite of all rebuffs; but they are beset by a curious and
inevitable infelicity, which compels them, as it were, to keep up what
they seem to consider a wholesome bitterness of feeling between
themselves and all other nationalities, especially that of America. They
will never confess it; nevertheless, it is as essential a tonic to them
as their bitter ale. Therefore,--and possibly, too, from a similar
narrowness in his own character,--an American seldom feels quite as if he
were at home among the English people. If he do so, he has ceased to be
an American. But it requires no long residence to make him love their
island, and appreciate it as thoroughly as they themselves do. For my
part, I used to wish that we could annex it, transferring their thirty
millions of inhabitants to some convenient wilderness in the great West,
and putting half or a quarter as many of ourselves into their places.
The change would be beneficial to both parties. We, in our dry
atmosphere, are getting too nervous, haggard, dyspeptic, extenuated,
unsubstantial, theoretic, and need to be made grosser. John Bull, on the
other hand, has grown bulbous, long-bodied, short-legged, heavy-witted,
material, and, in a word, too intensely English. In a few more centuries
he will be the earthliest creature that ever the earth saw. Heretofore
Providence has obviated such a result by timely intermixtures of alien
races with the old English stock; so that each successive conquest of
England has proved a victory by the revivification and improvement of its
native manhood. Cannot America and England hit upon some scheme to
secure even greater advantages to both nations?

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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