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This audacious accusation of Nature by one of her most devoted scribes can only be compared with the spirit of the Greek and Roman poets, who seemed to think that their gods and goddesses might perform the most disgraceful actions without being in any way disgraced. But if our English weather cannot wholly be excused from the charge of inconstancy, it is, at least, splendide mendaa. Its glorious uncertainty braces our minds and bodies for meeting vicissitudes, and redeems our scenery everywhere from tameness and monotony. An English sky is in the highest degree dramatic. It has all the diversities of human temper. It can be gay, alluring, infantine in sweetness, sullen and gloomy, expansive, generous, heroic. It is able to fill our breasts with the tragic feelings of pity and terror, to rouse our resentment, and to call us out of despondency to gratitude and soothing calm. How the picturesque beauties of rocks and valleys, hill-summits, broad lakes, and sloping woodlands are diversified by mist and sunshine, passing shower and threatening thundercloud, by the rainbow and the lightning flash, by twilight and by moonlight, only those who have been blind from birth or infancy are precluded from knowing or imagining. We have, it is true, no monopoly of these theatrical properties. But we have them, so to speak, always on hand, always serviceable, and, as a rule, they are displayed to us with a reasonable moderation. We neither have rain that keeps on pelting for weeks together nor skies that remain cloudless for months. Fog in London may at times be over-persistent for want of a gale to disperse it, but, to make up for this defect, winds in this country seldom take the liberty of uprooting our houses and shifting them to a distance. It may be thought fantastic to count the wind among the elements of scenery. Nevertheless, in many respects it is of prime importance, by its influence on the clouds and on the surface of all great sheets of water. Occasionally the permanent slope of trees is determined by its prevalent direction, and in the case of foliage which is green on the upper side and silvery-grey on the lower, a striking effect is produced when a breeze, acting on a great mass of leaves, turns the underside of every one of them to the light. The waves that pass in sunshine softly over a broad expanse of ripening corn are good to make a weary spirit cheerful.
Many parts of our country are not picturesque. There are districts where the landscape is flat without being nobly extended, where the horizon is contracted without any salient features to atone for a limited outlook. The lovers of scenery do not willingly allow their lot to be cast in these regions. But when they cannot help themselves they have for consolation the raiment of fields and gardens and hedgerows and coppices richly varying with the seasons. Deciduous trees put off their leafage in the winter and artistically display their intricate branching, which in the spring is again coated with delicate tints of softest browns and greens, to be deepened as the summer progresses, and to pass in autumn into vivid tones of yellow and orange and deep reds and browns. Glorious masses of blossom enliven the springtide and early summer. Evergreen trees also pay their tribute of varied hues to the changeful year. The carpeting of the ground is not to be despised, whether pasture or arable, whether composed of golden grain set about with scarlet poppies, of brilliant sainfoin, or of humble cabbages glistening with drops of rain or dew, each like a • lady in her diamonds.' Over all is the fickle sky, constant only in inconstancy, but therewith relieving dulness by variety and animation. Suppose that in such a locality there come days of remorseless rain, which most people dread and detest, though the housewife may find them useful for making up her accounts and the scholar for keeping closer to his books. Before long assuredly the housewife and scholar and all the restless, impatient crowd will be roused to a common joy, when abruptly the spell is broken, and there comes a clear shining after rain. Then, in their song time, “melodious birds sing madrigals,' or, if they can do no more than twitter gratefully among the branches, they help the most unmusical to hear a smile' through all the realm of nature.
That Lord Avebury is not insensible to the beauties which our land derives from its living vesture is well known, and in this volume it is well attested, not only by his quotation of a delightful passage from one of Charles Kingsley's Prose Idylls, but by his own descriptions of
shore life,' of the Kent and Sussex downs, of Fenland in the past, and of moors and common lands in the present. He fully recognises, too, the charm which our kaleidoscopic climate adds to the Lake district. Many, no doubt, seeing with his eyes, will henceforth regard not a few accustomed scenes with pleasure unexpected or much enhanced respect. In such a passage as the following, for example, he makes in a sense the wilderness and the solitary place to rejoice and blossom as the rose :
'À Surrey or Kentish common is, however, no mere bit of bare, worthless land, sparsely covered with bents and other coarse grasses and weeds, but is set with birches and junipers, broom and gorse, wild roses and hollies, yews and guelder roses, clematis and honeysuckle, growing over white, pink, and blue milkwort, blue veronicas, pink heather, and yellow rock-rose; sweet with the fragrance of the furze and roses and the aromatic scent of the pinewoods.
In the hollows are many pools, fringed by reeds and rushes, irises and water-grasses, with green carpets of sphagnum studded with red sundew, and dotted over with the pure white flossy flags of cotton. grass; while on the water repose the beautiful leaves and still more lovely flowers of the lilies, over which hover many butterflies, while brilliant metallic dragon-flies flash and dart about.'
That the volume gives a comparatively small space to this branch of the subject may be accounted for by more than one reason. The author may have thought that in dealing with it only too easily one gets into the neighbour· hood of platitudes,' and that his pupils might be left to make for themselves an extended application of lessons conveyed in a few striking examples. Perhaps also he wished to avoid the risk of repeating reflexions which may have been sufficiently suggested to the numerous readers of his earlier writings. But a chief cause doubtless lay in the plan of the present work. It is entitled, in brief, 'The
Scenery of England, rather unkindly omitting all mention of Wales, perhaps out of deference to the earlier work by Mackintosh, which takes its title from both Welsh and English scenery. Among the many beautiful and instructive illustrations it is only natural that the choice of scenes should be a little biased in favour of grandiose effects, such as those exhibited by Snowdon and Cader Idris, by Striding Edge, Helvellyn, by the Lovers' Leap near Buxton, and the Falls of Aysgarth in Wensleydale. In these and such as these the absence of any standard of comparison on the pictured page enables us to compete with whatever is most magnificent of the same kind in any part of the world. It would have been pleasant and much to the purpose had there been more illustrations like the artistic little View in 'the district of the Broads, Norfolk,' where, shown in a fashion highly characteristic of the region, the sailing boats are seen gliding through the land, though the water on which they are afloat is invisible. This effect is charmingly
explained in a passage separated by a hundred pages from the sketch in question :
"A considerable part of Norfolk is a low plain intersected by a network of rivers—the Bure, the Yare, the Ant, the Waveney, &c.— which do not rush on with the haste of some rivers, or the stately flow of others which are steadily set to reach the sea, but rather seem like rivers wandering about the meadows on a holiday. They have often no natural banks, but are bounded by dense growths of tall grasses, bulrushes, reeds, and sedges, interspersed with the spires of the purple loosestrife, willow-herb, hemp-agrimony, and other flowers, while the fields are very low and protected by banks, so that the red cattle appear to be grazing below the level of the water ; and as the rivers take most unexpected turns, the sailing-boats often seem (fig. 187, p. 415) as if they were in the middle of the fields' (p. 314).
The scenery of England is not, for the majority of its inhabitants, made up of pictures wild and majestic. Nor, indeed, do views of that character form a great proportion of the illustrations here given. On the contrary, a goodly number of them are diagrammatic. Some are sections through the solid earth, such as the ordinary observer can only see with the eye of faith. A first glance at these exponents of our scenery may cause perplexity. One can fancy that, gazing on a generalised section across the London basin,' or “the diagram of a delta,' or on lenticular sheets of lava
and tuff,' some gentle readers will · look at each other with . a mild surprise, silent,' but not exactly approving. They may think that their trusted and favourite author has been playing a practical joke upon them. It is almost as though some renowned sculptor, promising a statue of Venus or Musidora, should greet the visitors to his studio with a . skeleton and other anatomical details which undoubtedly underlie the fascinations of living loveliness. The full title, however, of Lord Avebury's volume is explanatory of its method. The subject is not simple, but twofold; not purely a description of our scenery, but The Scenery of England,
and the Causes to which it is due. A warning, therefore, is given of the treatment to be expected. The only objection that can fairly be raised is that the main purpose of the work is declared in the subordinate title. Any who overlook that circumstance and enter on its pages for mere amusement may find themselves pleasantly and skilfully cheated into becoming geologists.
There is probably no equally small fraction of the earth's surface that can compare with England as in itself a geological textbook, a very cabinet of fossils, a compact museum
of illustrative strata, a picture magazine of Nature's operations through untold ages. It is, perhaps, less to be wondered at that during the last hundred and twenty years Great Britain has produced so many masters in the science of the earth's crust than that so little progress in that knowledge should have been made in our island during earlier times. Happily in the later period a succession of writers like Playfair, the exponent of Hutton, Sir Charles Lyell, Sir Archibald Geikie, and Lord Avebury have had the gift of presenting abstruse details in an attractive guise. The secret of such a gift is not to be explained by any artful rules of composition. But now and then one may perceive the sort of touches by which the dry light of scientific teaching can be made to sparkle. Those who might be scared at the discussion of Archæan rocks and Bunter sands, coral rag and red crag, Lias and Trias, Serratics' and
faults' and periods,' are conciliated by pieces of information that give them at once a proprietary interest in the whole subject. The origin and structure and age of granite lose much of their aloofness for the Londoner when he learns that the Cheesewring granite from near Liskeard was
used in the construction of Waterloo and Westminster • Bridges, the Thames Embankment, and the London • Docks. Every one this year will like to be reminded that the Lia Fail, or Coronation Stone, on which our sovereigos are crowned, is a block of Old Red Sandstone. Westminster Abbey, we are told, was mainly built of the oolitic limestone from the Isle of Portland, but Henry VII.'s Chapel from the sandstone quarries at Reigate, which were formerly considered of such consequence that they were
kept in the possession of the Crown, and a patent of • Edward III. exists authorising them to be worked for • Windsor Castle. The Trias has a still more domestic interest, for our kitchen-salt is largely obtained from the rock-salt deposits of this age in Cheshire and Worcestershire; they have been worked for more than one thousand years, as the salt of Droitwich was one of the sources of revenue granted to Worcester Cathedral by Renulph, king of the Mercians, in A.D. 816. To the Lias also household economy is indebted, for not only do the layers, of which its name is not a cockney but a quarryman's version, supply lime, and bricks, and tiles, and fuller's earth and excellent stones for buildings and pavements, but from this formation • the rich pasture-lands on the clays give the celebrated "“ Double Gloucester,” Stilton, and Cheddar cheeses ;'