图书图片
PDF
ePub

some of the fine alluvial lands about the lakes, and lived in settlements where there were natural facilities for defence; but they needed all these facilities, for the Britons had learned from the Romans how to arm themselves better, and to fight; and for those six hundred years they held their ravines, and forests, and even their villages and hamlets, so that the Saxons could never feel secure. After those six centuries, more and more Saxons crowded to these West Moorlands, now called Westmoreland; but they came not to conquer territory, but to seek shelter from the Normans, who were upon their heels. The Saxon men of substance, who were driven out from their estates in the south by the Norman invaders,—robbed, oppressed, outraged in every way,—came up among the Fells to nourish vengeance, and form themselves into bands of outlaws, for the torment of as many Norman usurpers as they could reach. The Britons had long ceased to appear elsewhere; and from this time we hear no more of them among the Fells, and, as before, the Saxons were to be heard of as holding the Fells, long after their race had mingled with the Norman everywhere to the south. The Normans came as near as they could, but they never so far penetrated the West Moorlands as to build castles in the midst, and settle down there as inhabitants. They obtained grants of land, but they never practically took possession of them. They built monasteries and castles in the level country which stretches out around the cluster of mountains; but they only sent out their herdsmen with their flocks to encroach gradually up the mountain slopes, and over the nearer vales; or drew the inhabitants towards them by the temptations and privileges of the abbeys and the castles. First, these Normans built Furness Abbey, on a plain to the south of the mountain group; and then between the mountains and the sea, Calder Abbey, to the west. Afterwards, they restored the religious house of St. Bees, on the coast, and then a great Norman noble founded Lanercost Priory, to the northeast. Thus they invested this noble fortress of nature,—this mountain cluster,— bnt they never took it. Their race at last mingled with the Saxon, and dwelt here as everywhere else, but it was by gradual penetration, and not by force or stratagem. The feudal retainers, sent to do service in tillage and herding, became more and more free and independent of their lords, and as they became more free, they found easier access to the heart of the region, till, in course of time, they were in fact owners of portions of land, under a mere nominal subservience to the great men at a distance. This state of things is kept in mind by old customs at this day. I pay ninepence a year to Lord Lonsdale for my field, and am

nominally his tenant, while my land is, to all practical purposes, freehold. The tenure is called Customary Freehold, and the nominal lord has no power when I have once acknowledged his old feudal claim by being "made a tenant," and paying my ninepence a year.

The holders of the crofts on the mountain sides, and in the vales (the inclosures built of stones, for the protection of the flocks from wild beasts, and for promoting the growth of the coppice on which they browsed), these tenants gradually becoming owners, were the original of the Dalesmen of our time. Since the union of Scotland with England, and the consequent extinction of border warfare, these dalesmen have become some of the quietest people in the world. No more summoned to war, nothing calls them out of their retreats, except an occasional market, or a sale of household furniture in some neighbouring valley. They go on practising their old-fashioned methods of tillage and herding, living in their primitive abodes, and keeping up customs, and even a manner of speech, which are elsewhere almost obsolete. It will not be so for long. Their agriculture cannot hold its ground against modern improvements. Their homespun linen and cloth do not answer now in comparison with Manchester cottons and Yorkshire woollens. Their sons part off to the manufacturing districts, to get a better maintenance than they can find at home; and the daughters must go out to service. Still, the old croft will not support those who remain: the land is mortgaged more deeply. The interest cannot be raised; and, under this pressure, the temptation to the sinking dalesman to drown his cares in drink, becomes too strong for many a one who has no resources of education to fall back upon. Then comes the end,—the land and furniture are sold, the family disperse, and a stranger comes in who can make the land answer under modern methods of tillage. Some of these strangers have a sufficient love of what is consecrated by time, to retain as much as they can of the ancient character of the region, in the aspect of their dwellings, and the arrangement of their estates, but all cannot be expected to do this; and the antique air of the region must melt away. I have myself built a house of the gray stone of the district, in the style of three centuries ago; but I see flaring white houses, square and modern, springing up in many a valley; and I feel that from this time forward our West Moorlands will not lag behind the world—two or three centuries in the rear of adjoining counties,—so charmingly as they have done from the dawn of British history till now.

As in many other mountain districts, the highest of our peaks are in the middle. Scawfell is the highest, and Bowfell next, and they are nearly in the centre of the cluster. From this centre, not only do the ridges decline in height, but the valleys decrease in depth; so that on the outskirts, we have only gently sloping, green hills, and shallow vales, whence, in clear weather, we look up to the lofty central crags. In approaching from the south, through Lancashire, Windermere is the first of the lakes that is encountered. Gentle hills surround its southern end; and these rise and swell through the whole ten miles of its length, till, about its head, the diverging valleys are closed in by the heights of Fairfield, and the remarkable summits called the Langdale Pikes. Bowfell appears beyond them; and from some points on the lake, Scawfell itself is seen peeping over a nearer ridge. It was night when I arrived at the house of my host; and all that I knew of the road, for some miles, was that it was bordered by tufted walls, and overhung with trees which on the left hand separated it from the lake. In the morning, what a scene it was! The road was hidden, and the lawn before the windows seemed to slope down to the fringe of trees, and the graceful little wooded promontory which jutted out into the lake. The gray waters spread out here about a mile in breath. To the south they were lost among a group of wooded islands, while the head of the luke rounded off among green meadows, with here and there a rocky projection crested with black pines, which were reflected in the waters below. A hamlet of white houses appeared in and out among the trees, at the foot of the rugged mountain, called Loughrigg, which separates the two diverging valleys at the head of Windermere. From my host's porch we looked up the quiet valley of the Brathay, where a beautiful little church, built by a mercer from Bond Street, crowns a wooded rock, and overlooks the rattling river Brathay, to the glorious cluster of summits and ridges which the winter morning sun clothes with orange, crimson, and purple liues below where the snow cuts out a sharp outline against the sky. When I came to live here, I soon learned that if I wished for a calm, meditative walk after my morning's work, I had better go up this valley of the Brathay, where I was sure never to meet anybody. I could look out from its high churchyard upon its unsurpassed view, and then go down and skirt Loughrigg, and lean upon a gate, or rest upon a heathery perch of rock, without much probability of seeing a face for three hours together. Whereas, if I was tired of thinking, and sociably inclined, I had better take my way up the other valley— that of the Itotha, where the little town of Ambleside nestles under the shelter of the swelling Wansfell, and which is scattered over

with dwellings throughout its circuit. In going round this valley, a walk of about five mile's from my friend's house, it was pretty certain that we should meet the majority of our acquaintances, on any fine winter afternoon.

On going forth, the first thing that strikes the stranger's eye is probably the great abundance of evergreens. To me, the wintry aspect of the country is almost annihilated in the neighbourhood of dwellings, by the clustering and shining of the evergreens. The hollies in the hedges are tall and tree-like; and near the breakfast-room windows of their houses, the inhabitants plant a holly, to be an aviary in winter, when birds come flitting about for the sake of the berries. Then, the approaches are hedged in with laurels; the laurestina is in full flower on the lawns; the houses and walls are half covered with ivy ; and wherever, along the road, a garden wall stretches away, it runs over with evergreens, which shake off the snow as the breeze passes over them. Well, we go down the road to the toll-bar, where the good woman lives who likes her calling so well that she has no wish to leave her gate to see the world. She saw the world one afternoon for four hours, when her employer sent her to Bowncss for a frolic; and she got so tired and dull that she was glad to see her toll-house again, and declared she would never more go pleasuring. I was in the boat with her that day—a packet-boat steered by Professor Wilson, who had his friend Dr. Blair with him. The contrast of the three faces was curious,— the forlorn dulncss of the woman, who looks the picture of content when taking toll,—the abstraction of the philological Dr. Blair, and the keen, observing, and enjoying countenance of Christopher North! Just through the toll-bar, lies Waterhead, a cluster of houses on the northern margin of the lake, the prettiest of which is the low cottage under the massy sycamores, with its grass-plat spreading into the waters—the cottage where I lived while my house was building. Passing behind this cottage, the road winds somewhat inland, leaving space for a meadow between it and the lake, till it passes the Roman Camp before mentioned. Then on the right we see, across a field and almost hidden among evergreens, the cottage of poor Hartley Coleridge's tutor, the singular old clergyman who died at upwards of eighty, without a will, as if summoned untimely! Then we pass the beautiful house and most flowery garden of a Quaker friend of mine,—a place which seems in all weathers to look as cheerful as its benevolent master. In my early walk, before it is light in the winter morning, I choose this direction in February, because in a copse of my Quaker friend's which overhangs

[graphic]

the road, there is always a more glorious tumult of singing-birds than in any other spot I know. To hear these birds on the one hand, and the gush of the rapid Rotha on the other, when the day is breaking over the waters, is enough to enliven the whole succeeding winter day. The Rotha is here spanned by a bridge, which wo must cross if we mean to go round the valley. We leave tho highway now, and pass through I gate which makes the winding road half private for the whole time that we are skirting Loughrigg. Under wooded steeps and through copses we go, looking over the flat valley to the green swelling mountains on the other side, whose woods run down the ravines, and hang on the slopes, and peep out where the vales hide between. When I first came, there was a green knoll swelling up out of the meadows, under the opposite hills, with a chapel roof rising behind it, and n row of lowly gray stone cottages near. When I first marked that knoll, I little thought that on it I should build my house, and that it would afford that terrace view which would be the daily delight of my life. But there now stands my graystone old English house, with climbing plants already half covering it, and a terrace wall below, inviting my fruit trees to spread themselves over it.

Our road now skirts the Rotha, a stream too clear to fish in, except after heavy rains. There is no beguiling the trout in water as translucent as the air. We do not now cross the little Millar Bridge, by which I am wont to go almost daily to Fox ilow; but we walk on to Fox How, through whose birch copse we have to pass. Every one knows that Fox How is the abode so beloved by Dr. Arnold—the Iioubc he built, and the garden he laid out to be the retreat of his old age. Tho trees that he planted spread

and flourish, his house is almost covered with roses and climbing plants, his younger children are growing up there, and his friends assemble' in his home; but ho has long been gone. Perhaps there is not one of us that ever passes through that birch copse without vivid thoughts of him. As for me, I usually take my way through the garden, even if I have not time for more than a word at the window, or even for that. We now see the recess of Fairfield, its whole cul-de-sac, finely, unless mists are filling the basin, and curling about the ridges; and Rydal Forest stretches boldly up to the snow line. Lady Le Fleming's large, staring, yellow mansion is a blemish in the glorious view; but a little way back, we saw near it what puts all great mansions out of our heads,—Wordsworth's cottage, a little way up the lower slope of Nab Scar—the blunt end of the Fairfield horseshoe. Of that cottage we must sec more hereafter; it docs not lie in our road now. After passing four or five dwellings, more or less prettily set down in their gardens, we come to Pelter Bridge, where wo cross the Rotha again, and join the mail road. The river still sweeps beside us, among stones and under bending trees, joined here and there by a beck (brook) which has been making waterfalls in the ravines above. When wo part company with it, we pass by more and more dwellings, one of the most striking of which, from its exquisite position on a hill-side, is the large gray house built by the brother of Sir Humphry Davy. That gate is near my own. After passing both, and skirting the wall of Mr. Harrison's grounds, we come to the little town of Ambleside. Wc had better pause at the foot of the hill leading up to the church; for wc have more to say of Ambleside than wc have room for here.

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

When silent Noon hung o'er the Syrian land.
The haughty zealot of Cilicia rode
Unto Damascus, with n burning heart.
Exulting In Oppression's evil strength.

"To Heaven be honour," said he—"while I crush
These wretched followers of the Nazarcne I"
And to that pnre, blue Heaven he raised his eyes,
With a fanatic faith. Then suddenly
"There shone a great light round about his way!"
And from bis fiery steed th' affrighted Saul
Was stricken blind to earth;—while a deep voice,
Grand, clear, and sweet—as if all stars in Heaven
In choral music spake,—rang through his soul,
With wo and love and pity in its tones—
"Why persecutest thou me, Saul V it said—
And while that light his outward vision blinded,
Lol to his soul, no longer blind, there came

VOL. VI. 4

A softer glory—warm with Mercy's ray—

The smile of God!—and melted, thrilled, subdued.

Awake to all the madness of the Post,

To all the Future's glorious reparation,—

"Who art thou, Lord ?" he cried—and—" I am he,

Whom thou dost persecute,"—onoe more that voice

With love, melodious, answered.

So he learned; Serves best the Father, he who most serves man; And who would wrong humanity wrongs I He learned, at last, the lowliest life ho c Was dearer to the holy heart of God, Than he in all his arrogant bigotry! He learned while he had thought to honour Hoaven, Each blow he dealt its children in his wrath, Reaching to Him who came to save all men, Had wounded the celestial soul of Love!

« 上一页继续 »