It had been the intention of Mr. Willett to go with us to visit Mr. Ruskin, with whom he is in the most friendly relations. But a letter from Mr. Ruskin's sister spoke of his illness as being too serious for him to see company, and we reluctantly gave up this part of our plan.
My first wish was to revisit Stratford-on-Avon, and as our travelling host was guided in everything by our inclinations, we took the cars for Stratford, where we arrived at five o'clock in the afternoon. It had been arranged beforehand that we should be the guests of Mr. Charles E. Flower, one of the chief citizens of Stratford, who welcomed us to his beautiful mansion in the most cordial way, and made us once more at home under an English roof.
I well remembered my visit to Stratford in 1834. The condition of the old house in which Shakespeare was born was very different from that in which we see it to-day. A series of photographs taken in different years shows its gradual transformation since the time when the old projecting angular sign-board told all who approached "The immortal Shakespeare was born in this House." How near the old house came to sharing the fortunes of Jumbo under the management of our enterprising countryman, Mr. Barnum, I am not sure; but that he would have "traded" for it, if the proprietors had been willing, I do not doubt, any more than I doubt that he would make an offer for the Tower of London, if that venerable structure were in the market. The house in which Shakespeare was born is the Santa Casa of England. What with my recollections and the photographs with which I was familiarly acquainted, it had nothing very new for me. Its outside had undergone great changes, but its bare interior was little altered.
My previous visit was a hurried one,--I took but a glimpse, and then went on my way. Now, for nearly a week I was a resident of Stratford-on-Avon. How shall I describe the perfectly ideal beauty of the new home in which I found myself! It is a fine house, surrounded by delightful grounds, which skirt the banks of the Avon for a considerable distance, and come close up to the enclosure of the Church of the Holy Trinity, beneath the floor of which lie the mortal remains of Shakespeare. The Avon is one of those narrow English rivers in which half a dozen boats might lie side by side, but hardly wide enough for a race between two rowing abreast of each other. Just here the river is comparatively broad and quiet, there being a dam a little lower down the stream. The waters were a perfect mirror, as I saw them on one of the still days we had at Stratford. I do not remember ever before seeing cows walking with their legs in the air, as I saw them reflected in the Avon. Along the banks the young people were straying. I wondered if the youthful swains quoted Shakespeare to their ladyloves. Could they help recalling Romeo and Juliet? It is quite impossible to think of any human being growing up in this place which claims Shakespeare as its child, about the streets of which he ran as a boy, on the waters of which he must have often floated, without having his image ever present. Is it so? There are some boys, from eight to ten or a dozen years old, fishing in the Avon, close by the grounds of "Avonbank," the place at which we are staying. I call to the little group. I say, "Boys, who was this man Shakespeare, people talk so much about?" Boys turn round and look up with a plentiful lack of intelligence in their countenances. "Don't you know who he was nor what he was?" Boys look at each other, but confess ignorance.--Let us try the universal stimulant of human faculties. "Here are some pennies for the boy that will tell me what that Mr. Shakespeare was." The biggest boy finds his tongue at last. "He was a writer,--he wrote plays." That was as much as I could get out of the youngling. I remember meeting some boys under the monument upon Bunker Hill, and testing their knowledge as I did that of the Stratford boys. "What is this great stone pillar here for?" I asked. "Battle fought here,--great battle." "Who fought?" "Americans and British." (I never hear the expression Britishers.) "Who was the general on the American side?" "Don' know,--General Washington or somebody."--What is an old battle, though it may have settled the destinies of a nation, to the game of base-ball between the Boston and Chicago Nines which is to come off to-morrow, or to the game of marbles which Tom and Dick are just going to play together under the shadow of the great obelisk which commemorates the conflict?
The room more especially assigned to me looked out, at a distance of not more than a stone's-throw, on the northern aspect of the church where Shakespeare lies buried. Workmen were busy on the roof of the transept. I could not conveniently climb up to have a talk with the roofers, but I have my doubts whether they were thinking all the time of the dust over which they were working. How small a matter literature is to the great seething, toiling, struggling, love-making, bread-winning, child-rearing, death-awaiting men and women who fill this huge, palpitating world of ours! It would be worth while to pass a week or a month among the plain, average people of Stratford. What is the relative importance in human well-being of the emendations of the text of Hamlet and the patching of the old trousers and the darning of the old stockings which task the needles of the hard-working households that fight the battle of life in these narrow streets and alleys? I ask the question; the reader may answer it.
Our host, Mr. Flower, is more deeply interested, perhaps, than any other individual in the "Shakespeare Memorial" buildings which have been erected on the banks of the Avon, a short distance above the Church of the Holy Trinity. Under Mr. Flower's guidance we got into one of his boats, and were rowed up the stream to the Memorial edifice. There is a theatre, in a round tower which has borrowed some traits from the octagon "Globe" theatre of Shakespeare's day; a Shakespeare library and portrait gallery are forming; and in due time these buildings, of stately dimensions and built solidly of brick, will constitute a Shakespearean centre which will attract to itself many mementoes now scattered about in various parts of the country.
On the 4th of July we remembered our native land with all the affectionate pride of temporary exiles, and did not forget to drink at lunch to the prosperity and continued happiness of the United States of America. In the afternoon we took to the boat again, and were rowed up the river to the residence of Mr. Edgar Flower, where we found another characteristic English family, with its nine children, one of whom was the typical English boy, most pleasing and attractive in look, voice, and manner.
I attempt no description of the church, the birthplace, or the other constantly visited and often described localities. The noble bridge, built in the reign of Henry VII. by Sir Hugh Clopton, and afterwards widened, excited my admiration. It was a much finer piece of work than the one built long afterwards. I have hardly seen anything which gave me a more striking proof of the thoroughness of the old English workmen. They built not for an age, but for all time, and the New Zealander will have to wait a long while before he will find in any one of the older bridges that broken arch from which he is to survey the ruins of London.
It is very pleasant to pick up a new epithet to apply to the poet upon whose genius our language has nearly exhausted itself. It delights me to speak of him in the words which I have just found in a memoir not yet a century old, as "the Warwickshire bard," "the inestimable Shakespeare."
Ever since Miss Bacon made her insane attempt to unearth what is left of Shakespeare's bodily frame, the thought of doing reverently and openly what she would have done by stealth has been entertained by psychologists, artists, and others who would like to know what were his cranial developments, and to judge from the conformation of the skull and face which of the various portraits is probably the true one. There is little doubt that but for the curse invoked upon the person who should disturb his bones, in the well-known lines on the slab which covers him, he would rest, like Napoleon, like Washington, in a fitting receptacle of marble or porphyry. In the transfer of his remains the curiosity of men of science and artists would have been gratified, if decay had spared the more durable portions of his material structure. It was probably not against such a transfer that the lines were written,--whoever was their author,--but in the fear that they would be carried to the charnel-house.
"In this charnel-house was contained a vast collection of human bones. How long they had been deposited there is not easily to be determined; but it is evident, from the immense quantity contained in the vault, it could have been used for no other purpose for many ages." "It is probable that from an early contemplation of this dreary spot Shakespeare imbibed that horror of a violation of sepulture which is observable in many parts of his writings."
The body of Raphael was disinterred in 1833 to settle a question of identity of the remains, and placed in a new coffin of lead, which was deposited in a marble sarcophagus presented by the Pope. The sarcophagus, with its contents, was replaced in the same spot from which the remains had been taken. But for the inscription such a transfer of the bones of Shakespeare would have been proposed, and possibly carried out. Kings and emperors have frequently been treated in this way after death, and the proposition is no more an indignity than was that of the exhumation of the remains of Napoleon, or of André, or of the author of "Home, Sweet Home." But sentiment, a tender regard for the supposed wishes of the dead poet, and a natural dread of the consequences of violating a dying wish, coupled with the execration of its contemner, are too powerful for the arguments of science and the pleadings of art. If Shakespeare's body had been embalmed,--which there is no reason that I know of to suppose,--the desire to compare his features with the bust and the portraits would have been much more imperative. When the body of Charles the First was examined, under the direction of Sir Henry Halford, in the presence of the Regent, afterwards George the Fourth, the face would have been recognized at once by all who were acquainted with Vandyke's portrait of the monarch, if the lithograph which comes attached to Sir Henry's memoir is an accurate representation of what they found. Even the bony framework of the face, as I have had occasion to know, has sometimes a striking likeness to what it was when clothed in its natural features. As between the first engraved portrait and the bust in the church, the form of the bones of the head and face would probably be decisive. But the world can afford to live without solving this doubt, and leave his perishing vesture of decay to its repose.
After seeing the Shakespeare shrines, we drove over to Shottery, and visited the Anne Hathaway cottage. I am not sure whether I ever saw it before, but it was as familiar to me as if I had lived in it. The old lady who showed it was agreeably communicative, and in perfect keeping with the place.
A delightful excursion of ten or a dozen miles carried our party, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Flower, Mr. and Mrs. Willett, with A---- and myself, to Compton Wynyate, a most interesting old mansion, belonging to the Marquis of Northampton, who, with his daughter-in-law, Lady William Compton, welcomed us and showed us all the wonders of the place. It was a fine morning, but hot enough for one of our American July days. The drive was through English rural scenery; that is to say, it was lovely. The old house is a great curiosity. It was built in the reign of Henry the Eighth, and has passed through many vicissitudes. The place, as well as the edifice, is a study for the antiquarian. Remains of the old moat which surrounded it are still distinguishable. The twisted and variously figured chimneys are of singular variety and exceptional forms. Compton Wynyate is thought to get its name from the vineyards formerly under cultivation on the hillsides, which show the signs of having been laid out in terraces. The great hall, with its gallery, and its hangings, and the long table made from the trunk of a single tree, carries one back into the past centuries. There are strange nooks and corners and passages in the old building, and one place, a queer little "cubby-hole," has the appearance of having been a Roman Catholic chapel. I asked the master of the house, who pointed out the curiosities of the place most courteously, about the ghosts who of course were tenants in common with the living proprietors. I was surprised when he told me there were none. It was incredible, for here was every accommodation for a spiritual visitant. I should have expected at least one haunted chamber, to say nothing of blood-stains that could never be got rid of; but there were no legends of the supernatural or the terrible.
Refreshments were served us, among which were some hot-house peaches, ethereally delicate as if they had grown in the Elysian Fields and been stolen from a banquet of angels. After this we went out on the lawn, where, at Lady William Compton's request, I recited one or two poems; the only time I did such a thing in England.
It seems as if Compton Wynyate must have been written about in some novel or romance,--perhaps in more than one of both. It is the place of all others to be the scene of a romantic story. It lies so hidden away among the hills that its vulgar name, according to old Camden, was "Compton in the Hole." I am not sure that it was the scene of any actual conflict, but it narrowly escaped demolition in the great civil war, and in 1646 it was garrisoned by the Parliament army.
On the afternoon of July 6th, our hosts had a large garden-party. If nothing is more trying than one of these out-of-door meetings on a cold, windy, damp day, nothing can be more delightful than such a social gathering if the place and the weather are just what we could wish them. The garden-party of this afternoon was as near perfection as such a meeting could well be. The day was bright and warm, but not uncomfortably hot, to me, at least. The company strolled about the grounds, or rested on the piazzas, or watched the birds in the aviary, or studied rudimentary humanity in the monkey, or, better still, in a charming baby, for the first time on exhibition since she made the acquaintance of sunshine. Every one could dispose of himself or herself as fancy might suggest. I broke away at one time, and wandered alone by the side of the Avon, under the shadow of the tall trees upon its bank. The whole scene was as poetical, as inspiring, as any that I remember. It would be easy to write verses about it, but unwritten poems are so much better!
One reminiscence of that afternoon claims precedence over all the rest. The reader must not forget that I have been a medical practitioner, and for thirty-five years a professor in a medical school. Among the guests whom I met in the grounds was a gentleman of the medical profession, whose name I had often heard, and whom I was very glad to see and talk with. This was Mr. Lawson Tait, F.R.C.S., M.D., of Birmingham. Mr., or more properly Dr., Tait has had the most extraordinary success in a class of cases long considered beyond the reach of surgery. If I refer to it as a scientific hari kari, not for the taking but for the saving of life, I shall come near enough to its description. This operation is said to have been first performed by an American surgeon in Danville, Kentucky, in the year 1809. So rash and dangerous did it seem to most of the profession that it was sometimes spoken of as if to attempt it were a crime. Gradually, however, by improved methods, and especially by the most assiduous care in nursing the patient after the operation, the mortality grew less and less, until it was recognized as a legitimate and indeed an invaluable addition to the resources of surgery. Mr. Lawson Tait has had, so far as I have been able to learn, the most wonderful series of successful cases on record: namely, one hundred and thirty-nine consecutive operations without a single death.
As I sat by the side of this great surgeon, a question suggested itself to my mind which I leave the reader to think over. Which would give the most satisfaction to a thoroughly humane and unselfish being, of cultivated intelligence and lively sensibilities: to have written all the plays which Shakespeare has left as an inheritance for mankind, or to have snatched from the jaws of death more than a hundred fellow- creatures,--almost seven scores of suffering women,--and restored them to sound and comfortable existence? It would be curious to get the answers of a hundred men and a hundred women, of a hundred young people and a hundred old ones, of a hundred scholars and a hundred operatives. My own specialty is asking questions, not answering them, and I trust I shall not receive a peck or two of letters inquiring of me how I should choose if such a question were asked me. It may prove as fertile a source of dispute as "The Lady or the Tiger."
It would have been a great thing to pass a single night close to the church where Shakespeare's dust lies buried. A single visit by daylight leaves a comparatively slight impression. But when, after a night's sleep, one wakes up and sees the spire and the old walls full before him, that impression is very greatly deepened, and the whole scene becomes far more a reality. Now I was nearly a whole week at Stratford-on-Avon. The church, its exterior, its interior, the birthplace, the river, had time to make themselves permanent images in my mind. To effect this requires a certain amount of exposure, as much as in the case of a photographic negative.
* * * * * * *
And so we bade good-by to Stratford-on-Avon and its hospitalities, with grateful remembrances of our kind entertainers and all they did for our comfort and enjoyment.
Where should we go next? Our travelling host proposed Great Malvern, a famous watering-place, where we should find peace, rest, and good accommodations. So there we went, and soon found ourselves installed at the "Foley Arms" hotel. The room I was shown to looked out upon an apothecary's shop, and from the window of that shop stared out upon me a plaster bust which I recognized as that of Samuel Hahnemann. I was glad to change to another apartment, but it may be a comfort to some of his American followers to know that traces of homoeopathy,--or what still continues to call itself so,--survive in the Old World, which we have understood was pretty well tired of it.
We spent several days very pleasantly at Great Malvern. It lies at the foot of a range of hills, the loftiest of which is over a thousand feet in height. A---- and I thought we would go to the top of one of these, known as the Beacon. We hired a "four-wheeler," dragged by a much-enduring horse and in charge of a civil young man. We turned out of one of the streets not far from the hotel, and found ourselves facing an ascent which looked like what I should suppose would be a pretty steep toboggan slide. We both drew back. "Facilis ascensus," I said to myself, "sed revocare gradum." It is easy enough to get up if you are dragged up, but how will it be to come down such a declivity? When we reached it on our return, the semi-precipice had lost all its terrors. We had seen and travelled over so much worse places that this little bit of slanting road seemed as nothing. The road which wound up to the summit of the Beacon was narrow and uneven. It ran close to the edge of the steep hillside,--so close that there were times when every one of our forty digits curled up like a bird's claw. If we went over, it would not be a fall down a good honest precipice,--a swish through the air and a smash at the bottom,--but a tumbling, and a rolling over and over, and a bouncing and bumping, ever accelerating, until we bounded into the level below, all ready for the coroner. At one sudden turn of the road the horse's body projected so far over its edge that A---- declared if the beast had been an inch longer he would have toppled over. When we got close to the summit we found the wind blowing almost a gale. A---- says in her diary that I (meaning her honored parent) "nearly blew off from the top of the mountain." It is true that the force of the wind was something fearful, and seeing that two young men near me were exposed to its fury, I offered an arm to each of them, which they were not too proud to accept; A---- was equally attentive to another young person; and having seen as much of the prospect as we cared to, we were glad to get back to our four-wheeler and our hotel, after a perilous journey almost comparable to Mark Twain's ascent of the Riffelberg.
At Great Malvern we were deliciously idle. We walked about the place, rested quietly, drove into the neighboring country, and made a single excursion,--to Tewkesbury. There are few places better worth seeing than this fine old town, full of historical associations and monumental relics. The magnificent old abbey church is the central object of interest. The noble Norman tower, one hundred and thirty-two feet in height, was once surmounted by a spire, which fell during divine service on Easter Day of the year 1559. The arch of the west entrance is sixteen feet high and thirty-four feet wide. The fourteen columns of the nave are each six feet and three inches in diameter and thirty feet in height. I did not take these measurements from the fabric itself, but from the guidebook, and I give them here instead of saying that the columns were huge, enormous, colossal, as they did most assuredly seem to me. The old houses of Tewkesbury compare well with the finest of those in Chester. I have a photograph before me of one of them, in which each of the three upper floors overhangs the one beneath it, and the windows in the pointed gable above project over those of the fourth floor.
I ought to have visited the site of Holme Castle, the name of which reminds me of my own origin. "The meaning of the Saxon word 'Holme' is a meadow surrounded with brooks, and here not only did the castle bear the name, but the meadow is described as the 'Holme,--where the castle was.'" The final s in the name as we spell it is a frequent addition to old English names, as Camden mentions, giving the name Holmes among the examples. As there is no castle at the Holme now, I need not pursue my inquiries any further. It was by accident that I stumbled on this bit of archaeology, and as I have a good many namesakes, it may perhaps please some of them to be told about it. Few of us hold any castles, I think, in these days, except those châteaux en Espagne, of which I doubt not, many of us are lords and masters.
In another of our excursions we visited a venerable church, where our attention was called to a particular monument. It was erected to the memory of one of the best of husbands by his "wretched widow," who records upon the marble that there never was such a man on the face of the earth before, and never will be again, and that there never was anybody so miserable as she,--no, never, never, never! These are not the exact words, but this is pretty nearly what she declares. The story is that she married again within a year.
From my window at the Foley Arms I can see the tower of the fine old abbey church of Malvern, which would be a centre of pilgrimages if it were in our country. But England is full of such monumental structures, into the history of which the local antiquarians burrow, and pass their peaceful lives in studying and writing about them with the same innocent enthusiasm that White of Selborne manifested in studying nature as his village showed it to him.
In our long drives we have seen everywhere the same picturesque old cottages, with the pretty gardens, and abundant flowers, and noble trees, more frequently elms than any other. One day--it was on the 10th of July--we found ourselves driving through what seemed to be a gentleman's estate, an ample domain, well wooded and well kept. On inquiring to whom this place belonged, I was told that the owner was Sir Edmund Lechmere. The name had a very familiar sound to my ears. Without rising from the table at which I am now writing, I have only to turn my head, and in full view, at the distance of a mile, just across the estuary of the Charles, shining in the morning sun, are the roofs and spires and chimneys of East Cambridge, always known in my younger days as Lechmere's Point. Judge Richard Lechmere was one of our old Cambridge Tories, whose property was confiscated at the time of the Revolution. An engraving of his handsome house, which stands next to the Vassall house, long known as Washington's headquarters, and since not less celebrated as the residence of Longfellow, is before me, on one of the pages of the pleasing little volume, "The Cambridge of 1776." I take it for granted that our Lechmeres were of the same stock as the owner of this property. If so, he probably knows all that I could tell him about his colonial relatives, who were very grand people, belonging to a little aristocratic circle of friends and relatives who were faithful to their king and their church. The Baroness Riedesel, wife of a Hessian officer who had been captured, was for a while resident in this house, and her name, scratched on a window-pane, was long shown as a sight for eyes unused to titles other than governor, judge, colonel, and the like. I was tempted to present myself at Sir Edmund's door as one who knew something about the Lechmeres in America, but I did not feel sure how cordially a descendant of the rebels who drove off Richard and Mary Lechmere would be received.
From Great Malvern we went to Bath, another place where we could rest and be comfortable. The Grand Pump-Room Hotel was a stately building, and the bath-rooms were far beyond anything I had ever seen of that kind. The remains of the old Roman baths, which appear to have been very extensive, are partially exposed. What surprises one all over the Old World is to see how deeply all the old civilizations contrive to get buried. Everybody seems to have lived in the cellar. It is hard to believe that the cellar floor was once the sun surface of the smiling earth.
I looked forward to seeing Bath with a curious kind of interest. I once knew one of those dear old English ladies whom one finds all the world over, with their prim little ways, and their gilt prayer-books, and lavender-scented handkerchiefs, and family recollections. She gave me the idea that Bath, a city where the great people often congregate, was more especially the paradise of decayed gentlewomen. There, she told me, persons with very narrow incomes--not demi-fortunes, but demi-quart-de-fortunes--could find everything arranged to accommodate their modest incomes. I saw the evidence of this everywhere. So great was the delight I had in looking in at the shop-windows of the long street which seemed to be one of the chief thoroughfares that, after exploring it in its full extent by myself, I went for A----, and led her down one side its whole length and up the other. In these shops the precious old dears could buy everything they wanted in the most minute quantities. Such tempting heaps of lumps of white sugar, only twopence! Such delectable cakes, two for a penny! Such seductive scraps of meat, which would make a breakfast nourishing as well as relishing, possibly even what called itself a dinner, blushing to see themselves labelled threepence or fourpence! We did not know whether to smile or to drop a tear, as we contemplated these baits hung out to tempt the coins from the exiguous purses of ancient maidens, forlorn widows, withered annuitants, stranded humanity in every stage of shipwrecked penury. I am reminded of Thackeray's "Jack Spiggot." "And what are your pursuits, Jack? says I. 'Sold out when the governor died. Mother lives at Bath. Go down there once a year for a week. Dreadful slow. Shilling whist.'" Mrs. Gaskell's picture of "Cranford" is said to have been drawn from a village in Cheshire, but Bath must have a great deal in common with its "elegant economies." Do not make the mistake, however, of supposing that this splendid watering-place, sometimes spoken of as "the handsomest city in Britain," is only a city of refuge for people that have seen better days. Lord Macaulay speaks of it as "that beautiful city which charms even eyes familiar with the masterpieces of Bramante and Palladio." If it is not quite so conspicuous as a fashionable resort as it was in the days of Beau Nash or of Christopher Anstey, it has never lost its popularity. Chesterfield writes in 1764, "The number of people in this place is infinite," and at the present time the annual influx of visitors is said to vary from ten to fourteen thousand. Many of its public buildings are fine, and the abbey church, dating from 1499, is an object of much curiosity, especially on account of the sculptures on its western façade. These represent two ladders, with angels going up and down upon them,--suggested by a dream of the founder of the church, repeating that of Jacob.
On the 14th of July we left Bath for Salisbury. While passing Westbury, one of our fellow-passengers exclaimed, "Look out! Look out!" "What is it?" "The horse! the horse!" All our heads turned to the window, and all our eyes fastened on the figure of a white horse, upon a hillside some miles distant. This was not the white horse which Mr. Thomas Hughes has made famous, but one of much less archaic aspect and more questionable history. A little book which we bought tells us all we care to know about it. "It is formed by excoriating the turf over the steep slope of the northern escarpment of Salisbury Plain." It was "remodelled" in 1778, and "restored" in 1873 at a cost of between sixty and seventy pounds. It is said that a smaller and ruder horse stood here from time immemorial, and was made to commemorate a victory of Alfred over the Danes. However that may be, the horse we now see on the hillside is a very modern-looking and well-shaped animal, and is of the following dimensions: length, 170 feet; height from highest part of back, 128 feet; thickness of body, 55 feet; length of head, 50 feet; eye, 6 by 8 feet. It is a very pretty little object as we see it in the distance.
Salisbury Cathedral was my first love among all the wonderful ecclesiastical buildings which I saw during my earlier journey. I looked forward to seeing it again with great anticipations of pleasure, which were more than realized.
Our travelling host had taken a whole house in the Close,--a privileged enclosure, containing the cathedral, the bishop's palace, houses of the clergy, and a limited number of private residences, one of the very best of which was given over entirely into the hands of our party during our visit. The house was about as near the cathedral as Mr. Flower's house, where we stayed at Stratford-on-Avon, was to the Church of the Holy Trinity. It was very completely furnished, and in the room assigned to me as my library I found books in various languages, showing that the residence was that of a scholarly person.
If one had to name the apple of the eye of England, I think he would be likely to say that Salisbury Cathedral was as near as he could come to it, and that the white of the eye was Salisbury Close. The cathedral is surrounded by a high wall, the gates of which,--its eyelids,--are closed every night at a seasonable hour, at which the virtuous inhabitants are expected to be in their safe and sacred quarters. Houses within this hallowed precinct naturally bring a higher rent than those of the unsanctified and unprotected region outside of its walls. It is a realm of peace, glorified by the divine edifice, which lifts the least imaginative soul upward to the heavens its spire seems trying to reach; beautified by rows of noble elms which stretch high aloft, as if in emulation of the spire; beatified by holy memories of the good and great men who have worn their lives out in the service of the church of which it is one of the noblest temples.
For a whole week we lived under the shadow of the spire of the great cathedral. Our house was opposite the north transept, only separated by the road in front of it from the cathedral grounds. Here, as at Stratford, I learned what it was to awake morning after morning and find that I was not dreaming, but there in the truth-telling daylight the object of my admiration, devotion, almost worship, stood before me. I need not here say anything more of the cathedral, except that its perfect exterior is hardly equalled in beauty by its interior, which looks somewhat bare and cold. It was my impression that there is more to study than to admire in the interior, but I saw the cathedral so much oftener on the outside than on the inside that I may not have done justice to the latter aspect of the noble building.
Nothing could be more restful than our week at Salisbury. There was enough in the old town besides the cathedral to interest us,--old buildings, a museum, full of curious objects, and the old town itself. When I was there the first time, I remember that we picked up a guide-book in which we found a verse that has remained in my memory ever since. It is an epitaph on a native of Salisbury who died in Venice.
"Born in the English Venice, thou didst dye Dear Friend, in the Italian Salisbury."
This would be hard to understand except for the explanation which the local antiquarians give us of its significance. The Wiltshire Avon flows by or through the town, which is drained by brooks that run through its streets. These, which used to be open, are now covered over, and thus the epitaph becomes somewhat puzzling, as there is nothing to remind one of Venice in walking about the town.
While at Salisbury we made several excursions: to Old Sarum; to Bemerton, where we saw the residence of holy George Herbert, and visited the little atom of a church in which he ministered; to Clarendon Park; to Wilton, the seat of the Earl of Pembroke, a most interesting place for itself and its recollections; and lastly to Stonehenge. My second visit to the great stones after so long an interval was a strange experience. But what is half a century to a place like Stonehenge? Nothing dwarfs an individual life like one of these massive, almost unchanging monuments of an antiquity which refuses to be measured. The "Shepherd of Salisbury Plain" was represented by an old man, who told all he knew and a good deal more about the great stones, and sheared a living, not from sheep, but from visitors, in the shape of shillings and sixpences. I saw nothing that wore unwoven wool on its back in the neighborhood of the monuments, but sheep are shown straggling among them in the photographs.
The broken circle of stones, some in their original position, some bending over like old men, some lying prostrate, suggested the thoughts which took form in the following verses. They were read at the annual meeting, in January, of the class which graduated at Harvard College in the year 1829. Eight of the fifty-nine men who graduated sat round the small table. There were several other classmates living, but infirmity, distance, and other peremptory reasons kept them from being with us. I have read forty poems at our successive annual meetings. I will introduce this last one by quoting a stanza from the poem I read in 1851:--
As one by one is falling Beneath the leaves or snows, Each memory still recalling The broken ring shall close, Till the night winds softly pass O'er the green and growing grass, Where it waves on the graves Of the "Boys of 'Twenty-nine."
THE BROKEN CIRCLE.
I stood on Sarum's treeless plain, The waste that careless Nature owns; Lone tenants of her bleak domain, Loomed huge and gray the Druid stones.
Upheaved in many a billowy mound The sea-like, naked turf arose, Where wandering flocks went nibbling round The mingled graves of friends and foes.
The Briton, Roman, Saxon, Dane, This windy desert roamed in turn; Unmoved these mighty blocks remain Whose story none that lives may learn.
Erect, half buried, slant or prone, These awful listeners, blind and dumb, Hear the strange tongues of tribes unknown, As wave on wave they go and come.
"Who are you, giants, whence and why?" I stand and ask in blank amaze; My soul accepts their mute reply: "A mystery, as are you that gaze.
"A silent Orpheus wrought the charm From riven rocks their spoils to bring; A nameless Titan lent his arm To range us in our magic ring.
"But Time with still and stealthy stride, That climbs and treads and levels all, That bids the loosening keystone slide, And topples down the crumbling wall,--
"Time, that unbuilds the quarried past, Leans on these wrecks that press the sod; They slant, they stoop, they fall at last, And strew the turf their priests have trod.
"No more our altar's wreath of smoke Floats up with morning's fragrant dew; The fires are dead, the ring is broke, Where stood the many stand the few."
--My thoughts had wandered far away, Borne off on Memory's outspread wing, To where in deepening twilight lay The wrecks of friendship's broken ring.
Ah me! of all our goodly train How few will find our banquet hall! Yet why with coward lips complain That this must lean and that must fall?
Cold is the Druid's altar-stone, Its vanished flame no more returns; But ours no chilling damp has known,-- Unchanged, unchanging, still it burns.
So let our broken circle stand A wreck, a remnant, yet the same, While one last, loving, faithful hand Still lives to feed its altar-flame!
My heart has gone back over the waters to my old friends and my own home. When this vision has faded, I will return to the silence of the lovely Close and the shadow of the great Cathedral.