Imágenes de páginas

appearance ; the delicate green of the young seeds, and the budding leaves on the little hedge-rows that divided them ; the long, neat rows of peas and beans ; the beds of radishes and onions ; the borders of lettuces, leeks, celery, and ridges of potatoes ; all looking healthy, and promising such accessions of comfort, nay, luxury, to the poor man's lot, that hope and contentment grew up with them. What a quietly busy scene those gardens became ! By four o'clock in the morning, nay, sometimes earlier, you might see the humble proprietors at work in them, earthing up the potatoes, transplanting cabbages, and removing the destroying insects; and when evening came--the soft, sweet evenings of April and May-the reeking parlour of the public-house, with its stifling fumes, loud oaths, and angry altercations, became abandoned for the fresh, blossom-breathing air, in which the lark still carolled, and which no ruder sounds than the gleeful laughter of playing children, and such pleasant and gentle talk as springs up amongst herbs and flowers, amidst those that cultivated them, disturbed : then the hands that all day long had spent their strength in their master's service, felt renewed at the sight of their own inclosures, and worked untiringly till the stars shone ; the children too contributed their share of help, thinning the beds of their too abundant crop, clearing them of weeds, and bringing water from the neighbouring well. Can it be supposed that this supernumerary employment, and the habits of neatness and order so essential to a garden, were without their effect on the home habits of those individuals? The eye sought there the same neatness and regularity it had elsewhere effected ; and the thorough repair which Sir Gilbert ordered for the cottages was seconded by the efforts of their tenants to maintain them in it; and in the short space of twelvemonths the effect of the allotment system, and the presence of a resident landlord, had worked wonders in the village of West-brook. One who had previously passed through its apparently tottering street, would scarcely have recognised the picturesque hamlet in its state of renewal. Comfort and cleanliness have continued to grow with the age and increase of the allotments ; for after ten years' trial Sir Gilbert gave a larger grant, and I have heard that this year he has again added to it. As for our friend John May, no one has more largely profited, both in character and acquisition, than he has. The cottage in the lane is now a picture of thrift and prosperity ; the vine that for so many seasons had trailed at will, allowed to accumulate useless wood and unfruitful branches, has been carefully pruned and tended, and yields luxuriantly; a hive or two of bees are established in a sunny corner of the little garden, and if we could get & peep at the back, we should find a couple of shortlegged pigs, thriving on the refuse of the table and waste vegetables and small potatoes. Of late years the children have been sent to school, and the increase of useful literature at a low price, enables John to hear much more healthy and amusing papers read by his own hearth than those he formerly paid so dear for listening to in the tap-room of the Plough.

Mr. Woodfine has lost his prejudices in the tide of time, and now only stipulates that the allotments be limited to twenty rods, at most, to each man. They may manage that quantity (as they appear to have done) without injury to their employers, and with benefit to themselves; but a rod beyond it and all his old doubts and mistrust would return.




ONE thought has frequently recurred to my mind when I have been passing through an agricultural village-one of a hundred of dull places with thatched cottages of old gray stones. I have glanced through the gates at the parsonage, or have looked up to the old church-spire, and this has been the strain of my meditation.

“There might be a book, and a very useful book, a genuine 'tract for the times,' written upon that old spire. Various men would look upon it from various points of view. It would suggest to the Protestant a history of the Reformation, or would call forth from the Catholic a sigh for the decay of ancient piety ; but I shall look at it from neither of these points of view. One fact is certain : that spire declares, that for more than five hundred years Christian doctrine has been professed here ; that a succession of men, educated and set apart to teach the people how to live and how to die, have resided near that old church. And now I look around and ask where are the results ? . What has been done to raise the people higher and make them happier ?” In reply to this question, I will describe faithfully the condition of one of the largest of these villages which I know very well.

Let no reader try to guess the name of Our Village. To conceal its locality, I shall be sparing of topographical description. Behold, then, good reader, a long and wide street of motley houses ; some old and gray, with narrow windows made long before the good effect of light upon mind and body was appreciated; others new, slated, and stuccoed. About in the middle of the village stands the gray church-tower, and just opposite the church you see an old house, of gloomy physiognomy, where dwells that very great man (I must lay down my pen and make a bow)—the squire !

Not another word will I say of the aspect of Our Village, lest I should be caught and taken before the squire ! . Well, I turn, then, to sketch the moral aspect of the place ; in this it will, most likely, remind the reader of several other places, so I shall be out of danger. It is commonly esteemed a quiet and orderly village. People generally retire to rest at a good hour and sleep secure from disturbance in Our Village. We have no Sunday amusements excepting bell-ringing. A traveller who should occasionally pass through Our Village, would certainly give us a good character, at least he would say, “I never saw anything wrong in the place.” Happy are they who only look on the outside! but the present sketch is intended to give a glance into the inside of Our Village.

To begin at the beginning-what is the rector doing? Let us go down the lane, behind the old church, and have a peep at the reetory. It is half-past six o'clock P.m., and the Rector is taking his dinner. We can tell, without eaves-dropping, what he is talking abont. We know his topics for the table, as well as his topics for the pulpit. But our purpose does not require any meddling with the Rector's private character. It is sufficient to describe him negatively. He is, on the whole, a very quiet man. He does not interfere with the concerns of the people; but confines himself to the duties of the pulpit. There is an idea that is awakening much attention in our times--that the people are something more than machines, that they cannot be mended by mere churchgoing, that they must be stimulated to and assisted in the exercise of their moral and intellectual faculties, in short, that they must be educated ; that the true design of religion and, consequently, the proper business of a clergyman, should be to develop, in unity

and order, the best faculties of mankind ; to teach the young to love and follow the pure and refined pleasures of the intellectual life, instead of the gross and hurtful indulgences of the lower passions. Now, of all this, our Rector has never heard ; or, at least, has never understood a syllable. He would call it heterodoxy or nonsense. He is a man of routine. " That which hath been is the thing that shall be,” saith our Rector.

Well; as our Rector has been described negatively, so may Our Village be described. If you know what it is not, you may guess what it is, 1st. It is not a place of social intercourse. No family in the place is respectable enough to visit with the Squire. There are two doctors and two lawyers in the place (for Our Village is nearly a mile long) ; but the birds of a feather” do not "flock together" in this case ; for Lawyer A. has a quarrel of seven years' standing with Surgeon B. ; while Lawyer C. has discovered that Apothecary D, is a low fellow-sprung from nothing. Surgeon B, was once very frequent in his visits to the rectory, and drank many bottles of wine there : the consequence is, that now he never goes to the rectory. So much for our social or rather non-social condition. 2nd. There is no intellectual life in the place. If you require proof of this statement, you have only to walk over to the bookseller's shop in the neighbouring town of B. Ask Mr. Page what books and periodicals he sends to Our Village. He can easily tell you—“Sir, I send one Bells Life to the Queen's Head ; one Churchman's Magazine to Mrs. Church (a retired widow), and one Bell's Messenger to the Squire. I send novels, now and then, to Miss B., the surgeon's daughter, and some magazines to Mr. A., the attorney's son. Besides these I sell several copies of Moore's Almanack.” No lecturer ever comes to Our Village ; but a conjurer can generally contrive to pick a few pence out of our pockets. We were once honoured by a visit of some portion of Mr. Wombwell's carnivorous family, and for two days Our Village seemed alive. The roars of real, live lions, broke pleasantly upon our stillness.

Thirdly. There are no intellectual amusements in the place. A few old card-players meet every week at the Queen's Head ; but they hardly form an exception to our assertion. A tailor, of a melancholy visage, performs occasionally, “Oh Nannie, wilt thou gang wi' me ? ” upon the violin (but “ Nannie” never will go in proper time); and our shoemaker has been attempting, for some months, a tune it remains to be proved what tune) upon the clarionet. This is all the social music we have, with the exception of the pianos at the houses of A., B., and C., before mentioned. With regard to our music at church, it is currently reported in the neighbouring town, we make our psalm-tunes as we sing ; for nobody can recognise them. I may safely say this I believe such singing is not to be heard in all London.

So much for the negative symptoms of our place—and do they not imply all that must be said of the positive facts? You may guess what the people are doing if you know what they are not doing. There is no rule more certain than that, throughout nature, one order of life can only be displaced by another. You refuse to cultivate flowers in your garden, it is soon overgrown with rank weeds. Where intellectual life declines, sensual life rises. We need not illustrate the truth-it is a common-place, admitted and neglected—as Coleridge said, “a bed-ridden truth.”

Let us only take a walk down Our Village, and we shall find some illustration of this truth, of which our Rector will know nothing. It is seven o'clock—the shades of evening are closing around us, and the old church-tower is fading into the grey sky. How quiet seems Our Village! The music of tongues is chiefly confined to the tap-rooms. The tailor is again popping the question, “ Oh Nannie,&c., in ad libitum style, and the shoemaker has just commenced that mysterious tune on the clarionet. But where are our villagers ? You cannot see a figure in the street-look a little better-in the shade of the tree by the Squire's gateway-see you nothing ? “ Yes; two young men are standing there." Ay; and if you were an inhabitant of Our Village and knew the gentlemen, you might guess their occupation. They are indulging in some coarse jokes on the poor girl who is coming down the street, so carefully folding a shawl around a tattered dress. That poor girl's history will be a good comment on the text which our Rector will not understand. She belongs to the most degraded family in Our Village; and what, think you, led to the degradation of that family? You will smile when I tell you my opinion (which is more than an opinion-a fact)—“That girl is degraded and miserable because our Rector would not let her father lead the singing and play the bass-viol at church.” A strange cause, you say, for such an effect! Well— I will explain the case, and in so doing, I shall illustrate a great moral doctrine already stated. Here is the story then :-"Billy Hodgson, the father of that girl, is a shoemaker, or rather a mere cobbler-for he of the clarionet is our

« AnteriorContinuar »