|European Letters, by T.W. Patton to
The Asheville Citizen:
Description of the Tour of the North Carolina Teachers, During the Summer of 1889
MERRIE ENGLAND. [pages 22-26]
|*Note: Copy has been re-formatted. Original two column format has been abandoned and special fonts have been standardized.|
Oxford, england, July 25, 1889.
dear citizen :—Once more in the early hours of a misty morning we glance behind us, and will try to carry your thoughts over our path of yesterday, first moralizing a little as to points which strike us on touching the soil of Merry England. Why is it styled "merry"? Why are its people so happy and contented ? Surely it will be well for us Americans, oppressed as we are from day to day with anxious thoughts, to consider this question and try if we may not gather benefit to ourselves and children from its careful study.
What first we note is the broad expanse on all sides of green fields, bright, lovely, cheerful, gay in their velvet carpet of verdure, lighted by the glorious sun and made only more gay and beautiful by its living ornaments of thousands of fat, happy cows and tens of thousands of sheep, which as they gambol in all directions add a sense of mirth to the landscape. Do you not think that possibly the influence of a scene like this may be to make this a nation of people happy, merry, contented ? Oh, why may not we of the South learn of them ? Surrender our filthy styes of disgusting hogs, wasting more than enough to support this people, burning recklessly timber for which these English would give millions sterling if they could but possess it—aye, reckless waste, want of thrift want of neatness, waste of labor in crops of corn and tobacco, on lands well suited for grass and cattle, preferring to protect thousands of worthless curs and fices of low degree, rather than give care to sheep which would afford the most delightful food on earth, after having clothed our bodies.
For all these industries our lands and climate are thoroughly well adapted, and yet we allow them all to pass unheeded and waste our time and substance. May not this be one solution of the merriness of England and of our over wrought anxiety which shortens our lives ?
Again, a feature which we note is the absolute confidence in the due execution of law which pervades these people and seems to engender a spirit of confidence in themselves and others almost ludicrous to us who are trained to be suspicious of all men. For example: We buy tickets of Cook in Edinburgh, because six trampers wish to take this midland tour and rejoin the party in London, and although we stop at many stations we are never annoyed by an impolite conductor and his suspicious looking and strapping punch, but a polite guard asks us on entering, "Are you provided with tickets, sir? Oh, don't trouble yourself to show them, please. We will call you when you reach ——," and so we are politely locked into our carriage and left to our own amusements. And up to the present time our tickets have safely nestled in our pockets, un-demanded and un-punched. Very funny, is it not? We must attribute it to our frank and honest countenance, as we cannot think all travelers are treated so.
And at our hotel at Coventry, our purses being depleted by the inevitable sixpence which is pleasantly lured from us but never demanded, we bashfully tender our check to our landlady (no landlords here), and although -utterly unknown to her, our sign manual is readily accepted, not only for our bill but to replenish our stock of sixpences in readiness for the day's excursions. All this, we repeat, is very strange to our suspicious minds, but may not this confidence be engendered by their implicit trustfulness in the protection their laws afford them against swindlers ? And, if so. may not this tend to promote their cheerful, happy and merry dispositions ?
But we have no more space for moral- ...
-izing. A glorious day is behind us, and must be described, even though faintly, and imperfectly by our feeble pen.
A hasty stroll around part of Coventry gives us a peep at the original "Peeping Tom" as he glanced from his niche at the fair lady en dishabille, and as he stood when he inspired Chaucer's story.
A hasty visit to old St. Mary's Hall and grand old St. Michael's church, now undergoing its restoration. Only a passing glimpse at each, which deserves and would well repay a week's visit, and then we mount into a nice wagon, drawn by a pair of English roadsters, who with their load of seven persons, never falter in their rapid, steady trot, making with the regularity of clockwork, eight miles per hour.
On leaving the city we glance back at a view of Tennyson's "Three Spires" of St. Michael's, St. Mary's and Christ church, and do not wonder at his inspiration, and then over an avenue lined with lovely elms we reach
Yes, here we are, viewing its massive walls, ten feet in thickness, their plain sides covered with ivy, looking down into its dark dungeons, treading its old banquet hall, gazing upwards in Leicester's house, at the place from which we imagine sweet Amy Robsart to have fallen, and finding an hour all too short, of course, but hurrying back through gardens bordered by a new kind of holly, curled and variegated, differing entirely from ours, we regain our wagon and the faithful roadsters take up once more their changeless trot to
Oh, for the power of mind and hand to give you even an idea of the glories of this spot. We approach it from the outer gate through a roadway cut out of solid rock, of which the sides ?re covered with various creeping vines, and crossing the drawbridge spanning the moat, go under the overhanging portcullis its huge spikes suspended in its groove of rock, go near by ''Grey's Tower" and the awful dungeon at whose slimy depths a glance suffices, and emerge upon—what shall we say?—an earthly heaven. The most utterly etherealized picture we ever imagined. The ivy covered battlements enclosing a smooth sward of velvet green turf, ornamented by droves of bright colored peacocks, their plumage rivaling and rivaled by the brilliant flowers in carefully tended beds of every design and pattern, and all supported and rendered more lovely by a background of the grandest beech trees we ever beheld between which the peaceful river Avon sparkled in the sunshine. Oh, indeed it was so sweet. How we did long to have all of you dear ones to enjoy it with us.
A part of the immense castle is used as the family mansion, but at certain seasons visitors are admitted, and our usual good fortune attending us we enter upon a palace such as we may have dreamed of in our youth but never expected to see. The reception room, probably 50x100 feet, floor of marble, ceiling lofty and heavily carved, walls ornamented with armor of all ages, a huge fireplace, and near it a cord of wood neatly piled in readiness for the winter's fire.
Adjoining it a gallery, or rather galleries, of lovely paintings by artists of fame, portraits from which the eyes of men and women of history and romance seem to follow yon in every turn, oaken floors as solid as iron itself and polished to a high degree, candelabras of brass fifteen feet in height, exquisitely wrought, and with branching arms in readiness to light the magnificent apartment. In short, everything that one can imagine as appropriate to the descendants ot the great Earl, the Last of the Barons, who proudly called himself "The King Maker."
Once more our time is only too short, and.awav we fly behind ourfaithfulroadsters over eight more miles of sweet elm avenue to
The following lines I found written on the register of Red Horse Inn, Stratford-upon-Avon. Aren't they sweet and pretty ?
"While evening waits and hearkens,
How different from Warwick, and yet ...
... how peacefully sweet—a suitable place to picture the great writer as strolling along the banks of the peaceful river. We go for lunch to the Red Horse Inn, of which our own Irving has so sweetly written, and get an English lunch because beauties however beautiful must have substantial support of roast beef to be well enjoyed, and walk to the "Shakespeare Memorial," a sweet little theatre, in which above all things would we like to see Macbeth.
The front of this building is ornamented with bas relief designs from the great poet. Illustrative of tragedy, "Hamlet, alas, poor Yorick"; History, poor little prince Arthur praying that his eyes might be spared; and Comedy, Jacques in "As You Like It."
The interior is most tastefully provided with paintings and engravings of eminent actors and actresses in characters of Shakespeare's creation, while without and immediately on the Avon's grassy bank is a statue of the great genius himself, seated on a pedestal, around which are Falstaff, Lady Macbeth, Hamlet and Prince Hal, all admirably executed in bronze by Lord Ronald Gower.
Hence we hasten to old Trinity church, and kneel before the tomb of him who gave the spirit of holiness to this sweet spot, and thence to his old home and the house in which he was born, a most quaint and curious old place. How little its builders foresaw the fame in store for it!
And now we are snugly housed in the excellent Clarendon hotel, of Oxford, the great university place, not of England alone, but of the world. Enough, surely, to form the topic of a letter itself.
Fancy seeing and enjoying Coventry, Kenilworth, Warwick and Stratford-ttpon-Avon all in one day, and yet living to tell the tale! But lest you may be as tired as ourselves we now say au revoir.
dear citizen:—No doubt one should be a scholar to appreciate this grand university town, and making no pretension to much learning ourselves, we must confess to a feeling of disappointment.
This sensation certainly does not arise from any previous expectation which fails of realization. No, indeed; the magnitude of the numerous schools surpasses our most vivid imagination—the innumerable thousands of volumes of untold value, portraits of all persons who can possibly lay claim to the honor, all of these things more than come up to our expectation. But with it all there is a sense of coldness pervading these heavy English walls, a want of warmth or floridity in the style of architecture which chills and oppresses us. None of the delightful cheerfulness which so charms the eye even in the dusty traceries of dear old Melrose. Moreover, the buildings and statues are grimy and scaling from the effect of ages of this damp climate, and some of the most exquisite sculptures so black as to represent the African rather than the Anglo-Saxon race, and we are tempted to recommend a free use of American sapolio.
A visit to the Bodleyan [sic] library, to a student or bookworm, would be a treat indeed, and even our uncultivated taste is charmed with the many curious old books, beautifully illuminated and written by hand. Think of the immensity of the labor! Among these we note a missal of Queen Margaret dating A. D. 1050; a manuscript edition of Wycliffe's Bible of 1382; the Coptic Gospels, A. D. 1173 ; a small horn book of the reign of Charles I, such as was used to teach the children to read. This was a most singular production, a printed paper pasted on a paddle shaped piece of wood probably 4x4 inches, the top covered with "ba be bi," etc., etc., as in our old elementary spelling book, and below this the Lord's Prayer. We also glance at the first book printed in the English language, done bv Caxton in 1474.
We next visit the Oriel College, chiefly interesting as the alma mater of Arnold, Keble and Wilberforce, and Brazenoze College (curious name!) to which we are indebted for Heber.
The most interesting of the colleges to us is that of Christchurch, in whose large dining room we view the portraits of many distinguished men ; a most striking one of Gladstone by Mabry, his almost fierce expression being set off by the sweet face of Dr. Henry Hall in an opposite corner. Of course this grand display has to be disgraced by the beefy phiz of old Henry VIII, who looks down without a blush on the spot where he accomplished
his most disgusting act, in divorcing sweet Anne Boleyn. It does, indeed, seem strange to us that Englishmen of this day can take pleasure in preserving the memory of one so debased, even though our Methodist brethren and others will insist that he was the founder of our church. God save the mark!
Before leaving the subject of portraits, we must mention that which most forcibly impressed us in the gallery of the Bodleyan [sic] library. Dean Stanley seemed to look upon us and to read our inmost soul. Never do we remember to have seen a more thoroughly speaking likeness of a thoroughly great and good man, and regret that we have no note of the artist's name.
From the large dining hall of Christ-church, in which unhappy Charles I held his last parliament, we descend to the glorious cathedral. At first we are oppressed here with a chilly sensation; its huge columns, plainly free from the ornamental fluting to which our eyes have been accustomed, and of a peculiar color, neither gray nor white, are not pleasing until one enters far enough to catch the glow of its most richly colored windows, through which the light streams with wonderful effect, bringing in the sweet cheerfulness of one of our own Southern da3's. of which, by the way, these poor English know little. Our experience (most lengthy—half a week) goes to prove that it rains on an average six times each day.
Once more our notes remind us that we intended to mention a portrait of John Locke, who, someone tells us is the greatest man ever educated at Oxford, and of especial interest to us as having drawn up the charter of the lord proprietors to the province of Carolina, both North and South.
The ambulatory in the wall of the cathedral's clerestory is especially beautiful, affording a passage for choristers in the old days in the heart of the massive walls and extending from one side of the great east window around nave, transept and aisle, back again to the opposite side of the chancel.
The revedos presented an exquisitely carved crucifix of some brown stone, in color resembling bronze, and the chancel
floor is simply adorned with the sweet words "Spes Caritas Fides."
It was our good fortune here to meet a most charming gentleman who, without a sixpence, gave us much information of deep interest, pointing ouv one window •which had been buried twenty-four years when so many others were destroyed, and in its richness affording an idea of the loss incurred by this church alone by the ardent fervor, called religion, of some of the Reformers.
This window gave a likness of the last Abbot of Oseney, the first Bishop of Oxford, while one near by, of which the fragments had been carefully collected and with great skill replaced, gave a representation of the death of Thomas A. Becket, of which the head only was wanting. A slight omission, but rather important to the full appreciation of the scene.
A ramble through the botanical gardens brings us to Magdalen College—here pronounced Maudlin, and we are told that the character of the sainted Magdalen gave rise to the English word maudlin, with all its horrible meaning. Sad thought to us. We would rather remember her, as restored to her true womanhood by the sweet mercy of the dear Savior, both hers and ours, who saw in her nothing maudlin, but only what was worthy His saving and healing influence and love. At Magdalen chapel we are struck most forcibly by an illustration upon glass of the day of judgment. This was in colors grave and somber, and yet most realistic, presenting a most awful idea of the orthodox opinion of that day, which we all agree will be ''the great and terrible day of the Lord."
A half day being all that our brief allowance can give to Oxford, we now take a swift train which soon lands us in London, and there find comfortable lodgings at most reasonable cost, where we hope to devote a week to seeing the sights which should at least have a year of our life. And it would be well and profitably spent.
Here we meet happily once more the other members of our North Carolina part}7, who have been here two days but did not enjoy as we did the jaunt through the midland counties, Warwick, Stratford and grand, oppressive old Oxford.
P. S.—You may be interested as we •were in a curious illustration of how the Jews were treated in the olden time, now happily gone forever.
While in Christchurch cathedral the kind gentleman to whom we have referred took us into an apartment called a "vestry," but differing somewhat from the one we remember in Asheville, arid pointed out a square block of stone which had only recently been discovered. Running his fingers over its dingy lines, he said: "This part was evidently done in 1280, while this could not have been earlier than 1305, showing that twenty-five years of labor was bestowed upon it. It is deeply interesting to me, because before its recovery I had read in the old records of this cathedral that somewhere in the thirteenth century, while a church celebration was progressing, an insane Jew attacked the cross bearer and threw him and his sacred burden to the ground, and that the then reigning King had decreed that the Jews should, of their own labor, provide a costly cross of stone to mark the spot of the assault, and then after an apparent lapse of time the record shows the completion of the work." It contains the questions: "Who made this cross?" "The Jews made it." "But how came they to make it?" "Because the King compelled them." "What King was it ? ——. Let us hope that H. R. H. of that day became ashamed of his meanness and had his name erased from the record. But now note the curious designs on this block of stone, dug up recently on the spot referred to in the old records. On one face stands the King, with a Jew shaped like a monkey, on either hand. On the next, Moses and the brazen serpent, typical of the crucified Christ. Next Adam and Eve in the garden, while the serpent crawling up the tree looks down with a decidedly Jewish expression of nose and face generally; and fourth, Abraham offering Isaac on what was afterwards called the Hill of Calvary.
Can you imagine any heavier or meaner punishment to be inflicted upon a devout Israelite than to be compelled to carve in stone what he would consider the disgrace of his people? Truly, we are glad that we are not a Christian of that day.