Merrie England – The Heart Of Merrie England – Introductory

THERE are two countries which we as Christians and men of Anglo-Saxon race must ever think of with affection—viz., Palestine, the birthplace of our Christianity, and England, the cradle of our civilization and our Church. Both of these lands have, apart from these considerations, had an important share in the world’s history; both lie on the western border of their respective continents, and both are small in extent and irregular in physical formation; furthermore, both were peopled by a race foreign to the soil : the Israelites came from beyond the Euphrates, and the English from beyond the German Ocean. These races, though belonging to distinct families, had in common a religious spirit, a love of freedom, commercial rather than warlike instincts, an undying affection for home and an exalted ideal of womanhood. We admire alike the heroes of both peoples men such as Barak and Gideon, who fought and won on the plain of Esdraelon ; men such as Harold Godwin, who fought and lost on the field of Senlac. Both have had their kings and prophets and poets of great excellence, and with equal pleasure the mind recalls the names of David the shepherd-king and Alfred the fugitive prince; Moses the lawgiver and Anselm the saint; the rapturous Isaiah and the holy Herbert. Nor do we remember save with the same delight the snow-crowned Lebanon, and the steep, rugged Cumbrians; the blue waters of Tiberias, and the quiet beauty of Windermere; the Jordan rushing through a ravine deserted, and the Thames meandering through vales and plains of rich fertility; the city crowned with the cross of a grand cathedral, and the city crowned with the pinnacles of a glorious temple ; the shore washed with the murmuring waves of a sunny Mediterranean, and the coast where wildly break the billows of an untamed Atlantic. Some associations would urge us to compare England and Greece, and others, again, England and Italy ; but the most precious inheritance of religion, which made both Canaan and Britain holy, God-fearing lands, suggests the linking together of the land of roses and the land which floweth with milk and honey.

England in the olden time say about the age in which Augustine and his monks sang the Alleluia of the gospel and uplifted the cross of Christ before the gates of a heathen Canterbury was a very different country from the England of the nineteenth century. Thirteen hundred years have wrought changes vast and almost inconceivable. Then the British Isles lay on, if not outside, the confines of civilization. Beyond them was nothing but the unexplored Atlantic the ocean which skirted the empty and illimitable space. A bold voyager was he who had seen the western coast of Ireland a still bolder one who had tempted the gods by venturing into the waters beyond the horizon and had ridden in his frail craft upon the green-crested billows of the blue-black sea. No keel then ploughed the Mersey ; rarely indeed did a vessel enter the Tyne, the Humber or the Thames. The country still lay in its primitive wildness. Dark and impenetrable forests spread over vast tracts of land ; deep fens and sluggish marshes covered miles of plain. The climate was wet, dreary and inhospitable. The sparse population, whether British or English, was fierce and cruel. Communication was difficult and mostly by water, while the few towns and villages which existed were rude and rough. To compare England then and now is something like comparing a storm-wrought sky in March with the star strewn heavens of July. The wilderness has been converted into a garden ; cities have arisen where once the wild boar had his lair and the bittern her nest ; the best roads in the world overspread the island ; mansions nestle in picturesque beauty where once mud cottages sheltered rugged chieftains from the inclement weather; woods have been cleared and fens drained ; the end of the earth has become the heart of the world ; and on every sea and in every breeze, from castle-tower, fortress, mast and spire, there waves the bright red cross of good Saint George. The change is vast in every way. Not only is the physical aspect of the country different, but the political, social, numerical and religious conditions of the people are also different. Instead of a score or it may have been a hundred petty tribes warring one against another, we see a strong united kingdom, the centre of an empire and the mother of nations. Instead of wending our way slowly and tediously up forest-shaded rivers or cutting a path through a trackless wild, we can walk along pleasant highways or travel in swift haste over the iron road. The reeking torch or the flickering candle which served to guide our forefathers to their bed of straw or of rushes has given place to brilliant illuminations. Even the lightning, which in its furious might split the gnarled oak, rent the black clouds and struck brave Viking hearts with fear, has been taught to turn our night into day and bear our tidings round the world. The. whole earth has changed, but no part more than England ; and, while Palestine has become a desolation and Jerusalem a heap of stones, that other holy land has become a paradise and her cities habitations of beauty.

The land, small in territory, is confessedly great in deeds. Her race seems to retain the vitality and vigor of perennial youth. It was young when Greek ships sailed the midland waters and Roman hands built the Colosseum and made captives lay the roads which should lead from the ends of the earth to the Imperial City; it was young a thousand years ago, when Charlemagne reunited the divided empire and Egbert made the Saxon principalities one kingdom ; it was young when the Nor-man duke fought on the seaside battlefield and was crowned with the crown of the island-realm in the min-stet in the marsh ; it was young when in its sturdy strength and growing ambition it wrested from John the Magna Carta of freedom and strove with kings till its voice was allowed and its rights were secured ; it was still young three hundred years ago, when the Reformation gave it the liberty of the gospel of Christ and it began its work of subduing the untrodden wilds of lands beyond the seas ; and so through the struggles of the Commonwealth, the wars in which a Marlborough, a Nelson and a Wellington won renown for themselves and glory for their land, and the political changes of the present century, its youth seems to be like that of the sun, renewed every morning, or like that of the giant oaks, slow in growth and continually reproducing them-selves in the seeds planted in the soil fertilized by their cast-off leaves. A thousand and half a thousand years ago the ships of that race went forth to conquer and to colonize from the rivers and harbors of the wild Northern sea; a thousand and half a thousand years later the ships of that race spread their sails before every breeze that stirs earth’s waters and bear from land to land and from shore to shore the riches of earth’s treasures. When the morning sun begins to cast its roseate beams on sky and sea, the banner of England is unfurled in the glory-stream and its blood-red tints fall on gentle wavelet and long-sweeping billow ; and when it sinks to rest within the Occidental clouds, it leaves peace with the many multitudes who speak the tongue of Alfred and of Spenser and name the name of Him whom Canaan rejected, but whom Britain loves. And today, while the ocean owns her as its mistress and one-seventh of the solid earth calls her queen, her men of high degree and her men of low degree, her lords who sit in purple and ermine in royal halls and her laborers who till the soil and wear rough clothing, they who abide within the old land itself and they who dwell in distant parts, all with one heart believe and with one voice proclaim that the glory of the past shall shine through the ages of the future, and that the cross of three ancient kingdoms shall be for ever the symbol and the proof of freedom, of righteousness and of law.

Where is the Heart of this Merrie England ? Some have said ” London ;” perhaps the people of England themselves say “London,” and not without reason. We think, however, that the rural districts have more right to that title, and especially that part of the island which is geographically the centre. There are twenty border counties and twenty inland counties, and in none of them is old Merry England better seen than in the fair counties of Warwick, Worcester and Oxford. Hither shall we lead our readers, only once going beyond them into distant Kent that we may look upon the glories of England’s mother-church. Untrodden ground we shall go over, with that one, and possibly a second, exception ; and when we shall finish our story, we trust we shall have vindicated our title at least to the extent of suggesting how much there is to be seen and known in the region of which we write. Alas I we can give only the fragments, only the outlines : the reader must himself allow imagination to piece together, color and picture the beautiful whole.

Nevertheless, before we begin that work, let us look somewhat at the great city itself. Everybody goes to London a book on England without some mention of London would be like the play of Hamlet with the prince left out. As to the provincial people of the land, their ambition is to visit the metropolis once in their life, at least That immediately raises a man to a pinnacle of fame far higher than he would reach by a voyage across the Atlantic, or even to the ends of the earth. He is an authority upon extraordinary matters for ever after, seeing that London is a tangible thing, and America, Australia and China are, after all, as mysterious and questionable as the mountains of the moon or the rings of Saturn.

And a wonderful place the capital is, with its five mil-lions of people, its thronging streets, its fine buildings, its restless life, its noble river and its long, thrilling history. It would take fifteen or sixteen of the largest towns in England to equal that vast population. There human life swarms ; there all that is noble and all that is base in man are developed and manifested.

One singular thing about London is that the stranger feels at home within the first hour of his entering its streets. This arises partly from the widespread information concerning the place and everything belonging to it, partly from its admirable accommodations both for travelling about and for lodging and eating, and partly from the fact that here one is left absolutely alone. Nobody looks at you ; nobody gives you a thought. Each follows out the thread of his own life and cares nothing for any one else’s. No man, however ambitious or ostentatious he may be, can make an impression in London ; he may live like a prince or dress like a beggar and nobody will take the least notice of him. He is a drop in the ocean of humanity that, and nothing more.

The Abbey is the first place to be seen. Enter as the bells are chiming for morning prayer and listen to the rendering of the service in a perfect way. The voices are correct ; the customs are simple. The General Confession is said after, and not with, the minister; the Psalms are not announced ; the reader, when he leaves his stall for the lectern, is preceded by a verger carrying a long wand. During the lesson this official holds the clergyman’s cap and at the close accompanies him back again. Owing to draughts some of the clergy wear skull-caps. Before the prayers are ended the devout worshipper will wonder if heaven itself is more impressive and beautiful than this marvellous building, with its lofty height and hallowed associations. When this duty is over, the guides are ready to take visitors around the building.

Guides are useful if they know anything. Generally speaking, they have deep sepulchral voices and depressingly melancholy manners. They go over the same story so often that their interest in it is very small. Fortunately, the means of description are not confined to them, and the intelligent visitor can, if he will, know beforehand more than they can tell him. He will Iook with reverence upon the tomb of Edward the Confessor and walk with awe near the grave of the good Queen Maud. This is the most sacred part of the building, and the dark arched recesses in the shrine remind one of the days when men knelt therein, pressed their fore-heads against the cold stone and prayed for healing or for pardon. The dust of kings and of queens is beneath almost every part of this hallowed chapel. There lie the remains of Henry III., Edward I. and the beloved Queen Eleanor, Edward III. and Henry V., and close by is the ancient coronation-chair with the veritable stone upon which Jacob slept at Bethel and on which the kings of Scotland and of England have been crowned for many centuries. The chapel of Henry VII. is one of the most lovely Gothic buildings in the world. There is the tomb of that king, and over the grave of Edward VI. a mod-ern communion-table of rich materials has been placed. Objects of interest await one at every turn-in the main structure and in the chapels. Earth’s great ones lie on every side poets, statesmen and warriors, as well as they who have borne the sceptre and worn the crown. The extent and massiveness of the building, as well as its rare beauty and splendor, are marvellous and grow upon one. Nor should the Chapter-House or the Dean’s Yard be overlooked. A day within the sacred precincts is better than a thousand elsewhere.

The effect of St. Paul’s upon the mind is different. Its vastness overpowers, but the pagan architecture can-not impress one in the same way as the Gothic. Nor has the place the history of the Abbey. The monuments are severe in tone ; the pulpit is of costly material. In the dome is the Whispering Gallery, and from the Stone Gallery outside a splendid view of the city may be had on a fine day. From the ground to this point are five hundred and sixty steps. Lord Nelson and the duke of Wellington lie in the crypt the former in the sarcophagus which Wolsey intended for himself; but he fell from favor, and it was kept unused.

Few places are more interesting than is the Tower. We were more impressed with. the buildings themselves than with the crown jewels, resplendent and of untold wealth though they are. The past came back again, only the Beefeaters, with their nice clean collars and well-blacked boots, seemed somewhat out of place. The ” Traitors’ Gate” tells its own story. In the armories are the ancient equipments of war battle-axes, swords, lances, etc. How the soldiers moved in such heavy encasements or wielded such long pikes is a question. Instruments of torture are also to be seen the thumbscrews, a model of the rack and the block and axe with which some great ones were executed. Between the White Tower and the Beauchamp Tower is the spot where the prisoners condemned to die were beheaded, and in the Beauchamp Tower itself is the room where the state offenders of high rank were kept. They seem to have spent some of their time in cutting out their names or devices in the wall. There is the name of ” Jane “—the poor lady remembered by all as one of the sweetest and most unfortunate of women. In St. Peter’s Chapel, close by, are the monuments of many of those who suffered in the Tower. Two of Henry VIII.’s wives lie side by side near the altar ; Lady Jane Grey is also there, with many another. The Beefeater told us of the honor of being put to death within the Tower : outside, a rude and thoughtless mob annoyed and maltreated the condemned prisoner, but here he died in peace. This is grim glory, and one is thankful that times have changed.

The Tower brings history home quicker than any other place in London. Its stories of woe, its legends and traditions, weird, sad, mysterious, are written in living lines. Its very ground was once trodden by mighty ones ; we see the same great walls they saw, thread our way through the same dark, narrow passages and sit in the rooms where many of them spent their last hours. It is a past full of shadows the ‘young princes smothering in the dead of the night, Anne Boleyn suffering the cruelty of a selfish king, and many another character famous in history passing through trial for charges, sometimes, of suspicion or jealousy only. Will that gloomy fortress ever reveal the secrets in its keeping ?

Up the Thames, near to the Abbey, are the Parliament Buildings, stately and large. The Victoria Tower is a work of art ; under it we enter, and pass through the Queen’s Robing-Room, the Royal Galleries and the Princes’ Chamber into the House of Lords; The paintings, statuary, decorations and architecture are elaborate; the throne and woolsack, of interest. On the way to the House of Commons are some remarkable pictures, but in the chamber where the faithful representatives of the boroughs and shires meet splendor has given place to severe simplicity. From St. Stephen’s Hall is reached the famous Westminster Hall here the carved and wide roof attracts attention. The remembrance of the historical scenes which have taken place there subdues the mind. Within these walls were tried Charles I. and the seven bishops within these walls the unfortunate Richard II. was deposed and Oliver Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector. It is a place for thinking mighty thoughts.

Of the Guildhall, with its picture-gallery, museum, library and great chamber, the Royal Exchange, the Bank of England, Paternoster Row and the Monument it is unnecessary to say anything. The British Museum contains some of the greatest wonders in the world. The buildings are so large and have so many curiosities that one can get only a vague bird’s-eye view of the whole. There are old manuscripts and illuminated books beautifully and wonderfully executed by the men of bygone days. Printing can scarcely equal some of the monkish work : the colors are bright and fresh as ever, the penmanship oftentimes exceedingly small is accurate and the binding is strong and lasting. Next to Bibles, missals, psalters and Hours of the Virgin, the most popular manuscript books were the Romaunt de la Rose and Froissart. Some of these volumes or, at least, the like —were handled by men and women whose ashes lie in the Abbey or at the Tower. In the Museum, however, one is taken back to ages which were ancient when England was young. In one of the Egyptian rooms are mummies two or three thousand years old. Some of the coffins are very elaborately painted in bright colors, with figures of gods and many devices. The face of the deceased is delineated on the coffin, and such designs differ enough from one another to make one pretty sure that they are correct, and not conventional representations. The wood of the coffin is very thick in some instances, eight inches and some bodies have two coffins. The hands of the deceased are frequently represented as crossed on the breast. There is a coffin containing the mummy of a Graeco-Egyptian child probably a girl, and about six years old dating, according to the printed label from Thebes, about A. D. 100. On the painted cover she is represented as having a wreath upon her head and a flower in her left hand somebody’s darling sent into the dark realm from amid the sorrowings of loved ones left behind. There are also the mummies of many of the great Egyptian princes and states-men; also of cats, snakes, ibis, geese and gazelles. “Tabby” is there, unmistakably. Figures of the deity are common ; so are Egyptian hairpins with the image of Aphrodite on the top, and lamps curiously ornamented with devices of Dionysos and Ariadne, Venus, and other favorite personages. There is one lamp with a cast of a locust on an ear of corn. That children have always been children the ancient toys testify.

In the Assyrian and other departments the objects of interest are as great. The wealth of collection is enormous. One is bewildered perhaps provoked with the consciousness of brief time ; there is the material for years of study. The place is worthy of England; to see the Reading-Room is itself deserving of a trip to London.

It is the correct thing to visit and admire the wax-works of Madame Tussaud in Marylebone. We did the one ; the other was not so easy. At the best the characters presented are only imitations ; there is nothing real. The ” Chamber of Horrors ” contains a ghastly array of celebrated murderers ; morbid taste which makes it the favorite corner of the building ! In the grand salon are wax figures of old men and women sitting or standing here and there, turning their heads and looking so like life that many visitors find themselves for the moment deceived.

They who love pictures will visit the Royal Academy and the National Gallery. Kew Gardens will satisfy the disciples of botany with its lovely grounds, noble vistas and extensive collection of flowers, trees and plants. The Cleopatra obelisk looks unspeakably lonely on the Thames Embankment. A day at the Zoological Gardens will not exhaust its treasures.

But we may not thus travel over London. Volumes would be needed to tell the story of its wonderful places. The people themselves are curious.

Is there a busier thoroughfare in the world than Fleet street and the Strand? A river of humanity flowing hither and thither ceaselessly ! Strange in an instant to turn aside into the calm of the Temple ! That is the peculiarity of London its quiet nooks and corners close to its noisy centres. And there are streets of rare splendor where wealth displays itself in unequalled magnificence, and there are streets of rare poverty such as the world knows nothing of elsewhere. It is not very far from Rotten Row to the slums of vice and infamy, but the contrast is beyond measuring. The want and misery, the brazen-faced sin, of these back streets and lanes, are terrible. The Church is striving to grapple with the evil, but the work is appalling. Where and how do the millions live? Yet there is no confusion, no bustle; everything is orderly : the great city has too much to do to be in a hurry.

London has some great preachers. Their names are on every one’s lips Liddon, Spurgeon and Parker. They are not to be compared together; each is a master in his own way. When they preach, thou-sands of people go to hear them. They are the world’s favorites, and each of them addresses an audience gathered from all parts of the earth. After them come others at a respectful distance some about as far as the west is from the east. There is no doubt that the English and American ideals of preaching differ, but the standard is higher on the western side of the Atlantic, the preacher is better able to attract his hearers and the people are quicker in appreciation. England, however, more than holds its own in singing. The masses have voices and the choirs a perfection of which we can only dream. On one church door I saw a notice that on the following Sunday would be held the annual baptismal service. Whether this meant that baptism was administered only once a year I do not know, but underneath the notice was, “Baptism is a sign that God loves us all, even little children.”

English is spoken in London, but among the ordinary people the aspirate suffers. One day the conductor on an omnibus cried out, “‘Yde Park!” and a gentleman said to him, ” You have dropped something.”—” What ?” he asked, in alarm, looking around.—” An H,” the gentleman replied.—” That’s nothing,” was the answer from the much relieved official; “I shall pick it up in Hislington.”

The well-paved and orderly streets attract as much attention as does the dim, smoky atmosphere. The effect of the latter on one’s linen is soon discerned ; the former are as clean as a new pin. A yellow fog is the most distressing calamity, but in the summer such rarely or never occurs. Nowhere do the people seem more happy. The bootblack and the apple-woman have the sunshine of felicity upon them. ” Misery ” appears to be a relative term. The poor are not so miserable as their betters suppose them to be ; indeed, they manage to squeeze as much pleasure out of life as they who live in palaces of cedar. Nor have the poor complained: their grievances have been made known by those in higher circumstances. Some of them love their poverty. Alas that it should be so ! for poverty means degradation and dependence in many instances, vice unnamable.

We hurry out of the smoke and bustle and seek the railway-station. Here we read of the ” Daily Service of Trains ;” the meaning is obvious, though the use is startling.

The railway-coaches appear tiny and quaint to one accustomed to the huge, pew-like cars of America. Some do not like the compartments, though a little use shows that they have advantages, and are, at any rate, snug and comfortable. If you wish for amusement, see how the open, honest-looking, apple-round faces of the railway servants expand under the genial influence of a tip. The chances for trying this experiment on others besides railway servants are of frequent occurrence in England, and, though the effect may be otherwise with the giver, there is no doubt of its pleasing efficacy with the receiver. Away rushes the train into the heart of merry and lovely England. The hay-makers are busy in the fields ; the trees and hedgerows display their sweet, fresh green ; peace and beauty rest and play in the sunshine, on the soft and velvety lawns and in the shaded lanes. Cottages and mansions spring into view, and flower-gardens rich with a profusion of roses such as can grow only in this rich land. The villages through which we pass seem to sleep in the indolence of rural glory and the quietude of honored age. One has the sign on its solitary tavern of ” The Old House at Home “—a happy suggestion.

When our journey ends, it is in one of the districts of England as delightful in its quiet beauty as it is precious to us for its associations of bygone days.