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EVENINGS IN ARCADIA.
In this busy, if not wise age, when mind and body are overworked, it is necessary for those who value their intellectual freedom, and wish to retain a childlike and happy spirit, to escape occasionally from the beaten track of their daily toil, and to live under the eye of nature, and in the pleasant interchange of joyous thoughts.
I had never felt more weary of study, or more eager for a sea-change, than during last summer. Having been shut up in London for several months in one of those quiet streets that adjoin the British Museum, and having vainly searched a number of time-worn manuscripts for information on a subject which was then occupying my sole attention, I became utterly jaded with the useless effort, and longed for the repose and freshness of the country. Woods, mountains, streams, and above all the ocean, seemed to call upon me with their mystic voices to leave the dreary city, and to revel in the beauty and glory from which I had so long been separated. In my sleep I dreamed of waterfalls, I wandered by the side of mountain rivulets, I listened to the soothing whispers of the pine trees, or stretched myself in solitude and joy on the wild sea beach. Sometimes the waves would come up wooingly towards me with a gentle murmur; sometimes they
would dash in large breakers over the jagged rocks, and fall with a noise like thunder. At such moments I awoke; and then the rattling of a cab across the stones, or the wind running riot in the chimney, destroyed my happy illusion, and reminded me that I was still in the heart of the Great Babel. I must go into the country, I said to my landlady; and she, good soul! having never been beyond Margate in her life, wondered at my peripatetic vagary, deeming that the height of bachelor felicity was to be found in the pleasant apartments which I occupied on her first floor.
So having resolved to make an excursion, I walked to Charles Street to call on my friend STANLEY, and to ask him to take up his knapsack and accompany me on a pedestrian excursion. I found that he had been ill, and was still under medical treatment. He told me that his physician had recommended him to spend some weeks quietly at the sea-side, and that he had written to our friend HARTLEY, who was living at Lynton, in North Devon, to inform him of his intended visit to that place.
Why should you not accompany me? he said; we three can have a pleasant time of it together in that glorious
The proposition suited me exactly; for in truth I was in the humour for intense idleness, and felt little inclination for the excitement and fatigue of a walking tour.
On the following Monday evening, just as the summer sun was sinking, we descended into the valley of the Lyn, intending to take up our quarters at the Lyndale Hotel. HARTLEY was ready to welcome us when the coach stopped; and, after the first greetings were over, he would have
persuaded us to return with him to seek for permanent quarters on the hill. But I had set my heart on being close to the river, as I loved well to hear its waters tumbling over the rocks; and STANLEY, for another reason, acquiesced in my wishes, for he liked to be near the seaside, and to have the ocean on a level with his eye, instead of looking down on it from a lofty height. I am always for close contact with a thing of beauty, he said.
HARTLEY laughed at what he termed our eccentricity, and made some bantering allusion, which led STANLEY to propose that, while meeting each other daily in that English paradise, we should take up some of our favourite poets to read or criticise, as the humour might prompt us.
Better keep to Rural Poetry then, said HARTLEY; in summer-time I like those poets best who babble of green fields-whose verse smacks of country life, and admits us into the secret haunts of nature.
There is no limit to such a subject, I said; since, by way of illustration, you may cull bits from every poet that ever rhymed, seeing that nature's beauty is the true inspirer, the Queen of Muses and Hamadryades.
So much the better, replied HARTLEY; I like to take up any topic in which there is scope and verge enough for a variety of illustrations, feelings, and suggestions.
While thus talking I observed that the gathering darkness rendered the hills indistinct, and converted the foaming stream into a misty moving form of white, which resembled the tricksy uncle of Undine. I therefore proposed that we should defer our talk and call on Mrs. Hartley, who, her husband informed us, intended on the morrow to visit her sister at Bideford, where she pro
posed to stay for some weeks, until the said sister had done her part, towards increasing the population of the world and the capabilities of England. So up the hill we went, drinking in, as we ascended, as much of the beauty as was still visible to the eye, and feeling that undefined charm which the presence of lovely scenery, even when only faintly visible, so certainly inspires.
A bright, lively, earnest, true-hearted woman was Mrs. Hartley. Beautiful in face and figure, with an almost girlish beauty, it was difficult to believe that so slight and youthful a form belonged to a wife and mother. Lightly and gracefully did she carry the burden of her honours.
After some pleasant general conversation, HARTLEY informed his wife that during her absence we proposed to devote some time every evening to the rural poets of England; or rather, that from any poet whose works we might choose to open we should extract, if the term may be permitted, the rural element.
Necessarily, said STANLEY, these readings or discussions, -for I imagine there will be more discussion than reading, -will be extremely discursive. If we were to form any broad and definite plan, neither time nor inclination would allow us to adhere to it. The field of English rural poetry, including as it does the pastoral, idyllic, georgic, and descriptive, is almost boundless; and the greatest poets of Scotland have ever been poets of the country. But if, as will be most advisable, we exclude these latter poets altogether, we should soon weary of our task and convert a pleasure into a toil, did we undertake a comprehensive survey of the rural poetry of England. Better, then, that we pursue our scheme somewhat at random,
suffering the plan, if any there be, to develope itself as we proceed with our task.
To this proposition we assented, since our aim was not methodically to pursue the study of our rural poetry, but rather to gain from it a certain amount of intellectual enjoyment. Our raid into this pleasant region of verse proved altogether so agreeable, that I have endeavoured since my return to London to record some reminiscences of our conversations. To succeed in such an attempt, and completely to revivify past enjoyment, is, I know, impossible; yet both HARTLEY and STANLEY consider that to some extent I have been successful.