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which could be suspected of an intent to convey information, properly so called ! A faithful reading of Murray's Guide Books will give more of that than one can use."
This is the avowal of a woman of a superior intellect, a scorner of the commonplace; and it is infinitely preferable to have the impressions left on such a mind by the new aspects continually presented to her by foreign countries, than a tedious detail of the statistics of the places she has visited.
Our fair traveller's enthusiasm is very creditable to her feelings, but we are too frequently reminded by the largeness of her admiration, that she is expressing her astonishment rather than her critical opinion.
She is certainly one of the warmest admirers of England that it has been our fortune to meet. How truly the impulsive woman's nature is shown in the following apostrophe!
“ Who shall describe the exquisite delight with which the land is welcomed at the termination of a first voyage across the ocean! To see mere earth, though it were but a handful, enough to smell and to feel, were something! but to see land, and know that it is the land towards which your curiosity, gratitude, and affections, your nursery songs, your school stories, your academic education, your studies in history, your whole literary experience, have been directing and drawing you from your cradle; to see before you the shores of merry England,' the country of Alfred, and old Canute, and Robin Hood, and Mother Goose—the land whose Christmas and Twelfth-night revels Washington Irving made so unspeakably fascinating to our imagination—the land of Shakspeare, and of Shakspeare's creatures—the only Englishmen of the ages gone as much alive now as they ever were; England ! the country to which appertain the glorious ages of Anne and Elizabeth, and the splendid
names that are blazing round those queens, and lending them a more substantial royalty in the imaginations of men, than they ever exercised in their own right; England ! the Old-country, the Mother-country-land of our fathers--fountain of our libertiessource of our laws; from whose full bosom we have not ceased to draw the milk of gentle letters, though we spurned her maternal claim to rule us ; England! the home of the noblest race earth has ever borne; the scene of a civilization without a parallel since time was. What educated American can first see the coast of England, without such a thrill as life is too short, and the heart too narrow, to afford many as keen, and deep, and universal !”
After the discomforts of a sea voyage we can well understand the exaggeration of sentimental feeling which the sight of land must raise, but Mrs. Kirkland's philosophy or good sense ought to save her from presenting this magnified appearance as a reality. Admiration and enthusiasm are fearful microscopes !
She possesses the power of presenting in a few words those mental sensations which so many have felt, but so few have well expressed. How truly she observes—“ When we stop at Chester, we seem to have plunged at once into some crypt, so subterranean do its dark streets appear after the riant freshness of the country !”.
To an American fresh from the right-angular streets of Philadelphia and New York, we doubt not the queer, old, tumble-down gabled houses of an old country town appeared strange. We are, however, somewhat amused at her considering them the Father of Romance. There is a romance to every age, and it springs from the mind and not from the matter; from men's hearts and not from their houses. In a hundred years our posterity will doubtless smile at the romantic chivalry of the nineteenth century, although it would now puzzle the shrewdest observer of human nature to find anything resembling it, according to the present standard. Railway speculations in a few centuries may be considered in the same light as the Crusades are now, and an act of generosity may be put on a parallel with the heroism of Curtius, who fell into a common sewer, or of Mucius Scævola, who burned his fingers at King Porsenna's fire. Many antiquated persons groan over the alleged decay of romance and poetry. They would have done the same had they been living in the days of Sesostris, Alexander the Great, Robin Hood, Tom Thumb, or any other Gogs and Magogs of the shadowy and fictitious past. If these admirers of the antediluvian would walk face foremost, and use their eyes, instead of turning their backs upon the future, like Moses on Pisgah, looking on the wilderness instead of towards the promised land, they would see there was more romance in a steam-engine and more poetry in a railway than either in a warrior on his charger, clad in complete steel, or in a bower full of ladies, listening to some young vagabond of a troubadour. Every age grows more and more poetical and romantic, until we shall reach the perfection of both in the world to come. We hope this assurance will comfort Mrs. Kirkland, and its realization make amends for the inevitable demolition of the tumble-down houses of Chester. We will let her speak for herself.
“ As you walk the streets you see how Romance was born in England. Instead of great staring rows of houses, in the plan of whose fronts all shadow is excluded as if it were death, we have
here upper stories projecting over the street, or in default of these, deep recesses with only a railing in front, where the family appear at their various occupations of business or pleasure—mothers getting their children ready for school, maids sweeping and dusting, and the like. It is as if the whole second story were drawn back some ten or twelve feet, leaving a shaded parlor without a frontan arrangement so contrary to the modern exclusiveness which prompts a blank white linen curtain to protect even the backs of the chairs from the view of the passers-by, that we felt it to be symbolical of older and freer and more natural times. Some of the people we saw in these recesses were fit for pictures; and one old lady whom we observed as she appeared to be dismissing her grandson on an errand with many cautions, looked and moved just as people do on the stage, in character, when they desire to seem old and quaint. Indeed we see now where the old style of stagedresses came from—they were faithful transcripts of real life in England. We had supposed the monstrous cap-border surmounted by a red bow, the gown tucked up to the waist, the flounced apron, the short sleeves and coarse black mitts, the length of black ankle, and the high-heeled shoe, were only the ideal of an old English woman of the lower class; we find them here on the very woman herself, as she moves about in every-day life. The picturesque in costume is so completely unknown in our country, where society is macadamized, as it were, that the peculiarities and individualities of English outer life form a perpetual source of amusement and interest for us, especially in these older country towns. Every man, woman, and child, seems to dress without the least reference to anybody else, wearing exactly what taste or convenience may dictate. We are inclined to hope it may be long before the roller of fashion passes over them, crushing all this variety, till daily life resembles a huge skating-pond, whose only inequality of surface consists in the flourishes cut by a few expert skaters.”
She abounds with little bits of “word-painting” which are very felicitous. She says, “ We asked for a fire, and after some time were served with a smoke.” A little further on Mrs. Kirkland makes an admission which lets us into the foundation of her romance. Breakfast, it appears, is a primary element therein:
“But a Coventry breakfast is soon dispatched, so we made our way to the railway station in good time, scarcely waiting to admire the really pretty old town as we passed. It is wonderful indeed that a bad breakfast can so starve out one's romance; but all we shall remember of Coventry will be our many resolutions of never sending any of our friends there.”
One of the peculiarities in the American people which most surprises an Englishman on first coming among them, is their perfect familiarity with all the idioms and local allusions of the old country; their intimate acquaintance also with their politics shows an infinite superiority of knowledge in the masses over the English people. They may not possibly have so many profound scholars, but for the diffusion of practical learning there is no comparison between the two countries. Mrs. Kirkland, in the conclusion to the above quotation, turns her knowledge of old English proverbs to good account.
In the next page our traveller allows, despite her admiration of the shell of romance, viz. the tumble down houses of Chester—“Any attempt to reproduce the outward semblance of that grand old style, when the spirit from which it emanated has departed, has a would-be air, false and heartless : no nearer to true dignity than the Chinese villa of the cit, or the pastediamonds of the soubrette !"