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    8. British and Foreign

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    Chapter 9
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    Strictly speaking, there is nothing really and truly British; everybody
    and everything is a naturalised alien. Viewed as Britons, we all of us,
    human and animal, differ from one another simply in the length of time
    we and our ancestors have continuously inhabited this favoured and foggy
    isle of Britain. Look, for example, at the men and women of us. Some of
    us, no doubt, are more or less remotely of Norman blood, and came over,
    like that noble family the Slys, with Richard Conqueror. Others of us,
    perhaps, are in the main Scandinavian, and date back a couple of
    generations earlier, to the bare-legged followers of Canute and Guthrum.
    Yet others, once more, are true Saxon Englishmen, descendants of
    Hengest, if there ever was a Hengest, or of Horsa, if a genuine Horsa
    ever actually existed. None of these, it is quite clear, have any just
    right or title to be considered in the last resort as true-born Britons;
    they are all of them just as much foreigners at bottom as the
    Spitalfields Huguenots or the Pembrokeshire Flemings, the Italian
    organ-boy and the Hindoo prince disguised as a crossing-sweeper. But
    surely the Welshman and the Highland Scot at least are undeniable
    Britishers, sprung from the soil and to the manner born! Not a bit of
    it; inexorable modern science, diving back remorselessly into the
    remoter past, traces the Cymry across the face of Germany, and fixes in
    shadowy hypothetical numbers the exact date, to a few centuries, of the
    first prehistoric Gaelic invasion. Even the still earlier brown
    Euskarians and yellow Mongolians, who held the land before the advent of
    the ancient Britons, were themselves immigrants; the very Autochthones
    in person turn out, on close inspection, to be vagabonds and wanderers
    and foreign colonists. In short, man as a whole is not an indigenous
    animal at all in the British Isles. Be he who he may, when we push his
    pedigree back to its prime original, we find him always arriving in the
    end by the Dover steamer or the Harwich packet. Five years, in fact, are
    quite sufficient to give him a legal title to letters of naturalisation,
    unless indeed he be a German grand-duke, in which case he can always
    become an Englishman off-hand by Act of Parliament.

    It is just the same with all the other animals and plants that now
    inhabit these isles of Britain. If there be anything at all with a claim
    to be considered really indigenous, it is the Scotch ptarmigan and the
    Alpine hare, the northern holygrass and the mountain flowers of the
    Highland summits. All the rest are sojourners and wayfarers, brought
    across as casuals, like the gipsies and the Oriental plane, at various
    times to the United Kingdom, some of them recently, some of them long
    ago, but not one of them (it seems), except the oyster, a true native.
    The common brown rat, for instance, as everybody knows, came over, not,
    it is true, with William the Conqueror, but with the Hanoverian dynasty
    and King George I. of blessed memory. The familiar cockroach, or 'black
    beetle,' of our lower regions, is an Oriental importation of the last
    century. The hum of the mosquito is now just beginning to be heard in
    the land, especially in some big London hotels. The Colorado beetle is
    hourly expected by Cunard steamer. The Canadian roadside erigeron is
    well established already in the remoter suburbs; the phylloxera battens
    on our hothouse vines; the American river-weed stops the navigation on
    our principal canals. The Ganges and the Mississippi have long since
    flooded the tawny Thames, as Juvenal's cynical friend declared the
    Syrian Orontes had flooded the Tiber. And what has thus been going on
    slowly within the memory of the last few generations has been going on
    constantly from time immemorial, and peopling Britain in all its parts
    with its now existing fauna and flora.

    But if all the plants and animals in our islands are thus ultimately
    imported, the question naturally arises, What was there in Great Britain
    and Ireland before any of their present inhabitants came to inherit
    them? The answer is, succinctly, Nothing. Or if this be a little too
    extreme, then let us imitate the modesty of Mr. Gilbert's hero and
    modify the statement into Hardly anything. In England, as in Northern
    Europe generally, modern history begins, not with the reign of Queen
    Elizabeth, but with the passing away of the Glacial Epoch. During that
    great age of universal ice our Britain, from end to end, was covered at
    various times by sea and by glaciers; it resembled on the whole the
    cheerful aspect of Spitzbergen or Nova Zembla at the present day. A few
    reindeer wandered now and then over its frozen shores; a scanty
    vegetation of the correlative reindeer-moss grew with difficulty under
    the sheets and drifts of endless snow; a stray walrus or an occasional
    seal basked in the chilly sunshine on the ice-bound coast. But during
    the greatest extension of the North-European ice-sheet it is probable
    that life in London was completely extinct; the metropolitan area did
    not even vegetate. Snow and snow and snow and snow was then the short
    sum-total of British scenery. Murray's Guides were rendered quite
    unnecessary, and penny ices were a drug in the market. England was given
    up to one unchanging universal winter.

    Slowly, however, times altered, as they are much given to doing; and a
    new era dawned upon Britain. The thermometer rose rapidly, or at least
    it would have risen, with effusion, if it had yet been invented. The
    land emerged from the sea, and southern plants and animals began to
    invade the area that was afterwards to be England, across the broad belt
    which then connected us with the Continental system. But in those days
    communications were slow and land transit difficult. You had to foot it.
    The European fauna and flora moved but gradually and tentatively
    north-westward, and before any large part of it could settle in England
    our island was finally cut off from the mainland by the long and gradual
    wearing away of the cliffs at Dover and Calais. That accounts for the
    comparative poverty of animal and vegetable life in England, and still
    more for its extreme paucity and meagreness in Ireland and the
    Highlands. It has been erroneously asserted, for example, that St.
    Patrick expelled snakes and lizards, frogs and toads, from the soil of
    Erin. This detail, as the French newspapers politely phrase it, is
    inexact. St. Patrick did not expel the reptiles, because there were
    never any reptiles in Ireland (except dynamiters) for him to expel. The
    creatures never got so far on their long and toilsome north-westward
    march before St. George's Channel intervened to prevent their passage
    across to Dublin. It is really, therefore, to St. George, rather than to
    St. Patrick, that the absence of toads and snakes from the soil of
    Ireland is ultimately due. The doubtful Cappadocian prelate is well
    known to have been always death on dragons and serpents.

    As long ago as the sixteenth century, indeed, Verstegan the antiquary
    clearly saw that the existence of badgers and foxes in England implied
    the former presence of a belt of land joining the British Islands to the
    Continent of Europe; for, as he acutely observed, nobody (before
    fox-hunting, at least) would ever have taken the trouble to bring them
    over. Still more does the presence in our islands of the red deer, and
    formerly of the wild white cattle, the wolf, the bear, and the wild
    boar, to say nothing of the beaver, the otter, the squirrel, and the
    weasel, prove that England was once conterminous with France or Belgium.
    At the very best of times, however, before Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel
    had killed positively the last 'last wolf' in Britain (several other
    'last wolves' having previously been despatched by various earlier
    intrepid exterminators), our English fauna was far from a rich one,
    especially as regards the larger quadrupeds. In bats, birds, and insects
    we have always done better, because to such creatures a belt of sea is
    not by any means an insuperable barrier; whereas in reptiles and
    amphibians, on the contrary, we have always been weak, seeing that most
    reptiles are bad swimmers, and very few can rival the late lamented
    Captain Webb in his feat of crossing the Channel, as Leander and Lord
    Byron did the Hellespont.

    Only one good-sized animal, so far as known, is now peculiar to the
    British Isles, and that is our familiar friend the red grouse of the
    Scotch moors. I doubt, however, whether even he is really indigenous in
    the strictest sense of the word: that is to say, whether he was evolved
    in and for these islands exclusively, as the moa and the apteryx were
    evolved for New Zealand, and the extinct dodo for Mauritius alone. It is
    far more probable that the red grouse is the original variety of the
    willow grouse of Scandinavia, which has retained throughout the year its
    old plumage, while its more northern cousins among the fiords and fjelds
    have taken, under stress of weather, to donning a complete white dress
    in winter, and a grey or speckled tourist suit for the summer season.

    Even since the insulation of Britain a great many new plants and
    animals have been added to our population, both by human design and in
    several other casual fashions. The fallow deer is said to have been
    introduced by the Romans, and domesticated ever since in the successive
    parks of Celt and Saxon, Dane and Norman. The edible snail, still
    scattered thinly over our southern downs, and abundant at Box Hill and a
    few other spots in Surrey or Sussex, was brought over, they tell us, by
    the same luxurious Italian epicures, and is even now confined,
    imaginative naturalists declare, to the immediate neighbourhood of Roman
    stations. The mediæval monks, in like manner, introduced the carp for
    their Friday dinners. One of our commonest river mussels at the present
    day did not exist in England at all a century ago, but was ferried
    hither from the Volga, clinging to the bottoms of vessels from the Black
    Sea, and has now spread itself through all our brooks and streams to the
    very heart and centre of England. Thus, from day to day, as in society
    at large, new introductions constantly take place, and old friends die
    out for ever. The brown rat replaces the old English black rat; strange
    weeds kill off the weeds of ancient days; fresh flies and grubs and
    beetles crop up, and disturb the primitive entomological balance. The
    bustard is gone from Salisbury Plain; the fenland butterflies have
    disappeared with the drainage of the fens. In their place the red-legged
    partridge invades Norfolk; the American black bass is making himself
    quite at home, with Yankee assurance, in our sluggish rivers; and the
    spoonbill is nesting of its own accord among the warmer corners of the
    Sussex downs.

    In the plant world, substitution often takes place far more rapidly. I
    doubt whether the stinging nettle, which renders picnicking a nuisance
    in England, is truly indigenous; certainly the two worst kinds, the
    smaller nettle and the Roman nettle, are quite recent denizens, never
    straying, even at the present day, far from the precincts of farmyards
    and villages. The shepherd's-purse and many other common garden weeds of
    cultivation are of Eastern origin, and came to us at first with the
    seed-corn and the peas from the Mediterranean region. Corn-cockles and
    corn-flowers are equally foreign and equally artificial; even the
    scarlet poppy, seldom found except in wheat-fields or around waste
    places in villages, has probably followed the course of tillage from
    some remote and ancient Eastern origin. There is a pretty blue veronica
    which was unknown in England some thirty years since, but which then
    began to spread in gardens, and is now one of the commonest and most
    troublesome weeds throughout the whole country. Other familiar wild
    plants have first been brought over as garden flowers. There is the
    wall-flower, for instance, now escaped from cultivation in every part of
    Britain, and mantling with its yellow bunches both old churches and
    houses and also the crannies of the limestone cliffs around half the
    shores of England. The common stock has similarly overrun the sea-front
    of the Isle of Wight; the monkey-plant, originally a Chilian flower, has
    run wild in many boggy spots in England and Wales; and a North American
    balsam, seldom cultivated even in cottage gardens, has managed to
    establish itself in profuse abundance along the banks of the Wey about
    Guildford and Godalming. One little garden linaria, at first employed as
    an ornament for hanging-baskets, has become so common on old walls and
    banks as to be now considered a mere weed, and exterminated accordingly
    by fashionable gardeners. Such are the unaccountable reverses of
    fortune, that one age will pay fifty guineas a bulb for a plant which
    the next age grubs up unanimously as a vulgar intruder. White of
    Selborne noticed with delight in his own kitchen that rare insect, the
    Oriental cockroach, lately imported; and Mr. Brewer observed with joy
    in his garden at Reigate the blue Buxbaum speedwell, which is now the
    acknowledged and hated pest of the Surrey agriculturist.

    The history of some of these waifs and strays which go to make up the
    wider population of Britain is indeed sufficiently remarkable. Like all
    islands, England has a fragmentary fauna and flora, whose members have
    often drifted towards it in the most wonderful and varied manner.
    Sometimes they bear witness to ancient land connections, as in the case
    of the spotted Portuguese slug which Professor Allman found calmly
    disporting itself on the basking cliffs in the Killarney district. In
    former days, when Spain and Ireland joined hands in the middle of the
    Bay of Biscay, the ancestors of this placid Lusitanian mollusk must have
    ranged (good word to apply to slugs) from the groves of Cintra to the
    Cove of Cork. But, as time rolled on, the cruel crawling sea rolled on
    also, and cut away all the western world from the foot of the Asturias
    to Macgillicuddy's Reeks. So the spotted slug continued to survive in
    two distinct and divided bodies, a large one in South-western Europe,
    and a small isolated colony, all alone by itself, around the Kerry
    mountains and the Lakes of Killarney. At other times pure accident
    accounts for the presence of a particular species in the mainlands of
    Britain. For example, the Bermuda grass-lily, a common American plant,
    is known in a wild state nowhere in Europe save at a place called
    Woodford, in county Galway. Nobody ever planted it there; it has simply
    sprung up from some single seed, carried over, perhaps, on the feet of a
    bird, or cast ashore by the Gulf Stream on the hospitable coast of
    Western Ireland. Yet there it has flourished and thriven ever since, a
    naturalised British subject of undoubted origin, without ever spreading
    to north or south above a few miles from its adopted habitat.

    There are several of these unconscious American importations in various
    parts of Britain, some of them, no doubt, brought over with seed-corn or
    among the straw of packing-cases, but others unconnected in any way with
    human agency, and owing their presence here to natural causes. That
    pretty little Yankee weed, the claytonia, now common in parts of
    Lancashire and Oxfordshire, first made its appearance amongst us, I
    believe, by its seeds being accidentally included with the sawdust in
    which Wenham Lake ice is packed for transport. The Canadian river-weed
    is known first to have escaped from the botanical gardens at Cambridge,
    whence it spread rapidly through the congenial dykes and sluices of the
    fen country, and so into the entire navigable network of the Midland
    counties. But there are other aliens of older settlement amongst us,
    aliens of American origin which nevertheless arrived in Britain, in all
    probability, long before Columbus ever set foot on the low basking
    sandbank of Cat Island. Such is the jointed pond-sedge of the Hebrides,
    a water-weed found abundantly in the lakes and tarns of the Isle of
    Skye, Mull and Coll, and the west coast of Ireland, but occurring
    nowhere else throughout the whole expanse of Europe or Asia. How did it
    get there? Clearly its seeds were either washed by the waves or carried
    by birds, and thus deposited on the nearest European shores to America.
    But if Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace had been alive in pre-Columban days
    (which, as Euclid remarks, is absurd), he would readily have inferred,
    from the frequent occurrence of such unknown plants along the western
    verge of Britain, that a great continent lay unexplored to the westward,
    and would promptly have proceeded to discover and annex it. As Mr.
    Wallace was not yet born, however, Columbus took a mean advantage over
    him, and discovered it first by mere right of primogeniture.

    In other cases, the circumstances under which a particular plant appears
    in England are often very suspicious. Take the instance of the
    belladonna, or deadly nightshade, an extremely rare British species,
    found only in the immediate neighbourhood of old castles and monastic
    buildings. Belladonna, of course, is a deadly poison, and was much used
    in the half-magical, half-criminal sorceries of the Middle Ages. Did you
    wish to remove a troublesome rival or an elder brother, you treated him
    to a dose of deadly nightshade. Yet why should it, in company with many
    other poisonous exotics, be found so frequently around the ruins of
    monasteries? Did the holy fathers--but no, the thought is too
    irreverent. Let us keep our illusions, and forget the friar and the
    apothecary in 'Romeo and Juliet.'

    Belladonna has never fairly taken root in English soil. It remains, like
    the Roman snail and the Portuguese slug, a mere casual straggler about
    its ancient haunts. But there are other plants which have fairly
    established their claim to be considered as native-born Britons, though
    they came to us at first as aliens and colonists from foreign parts.
    Such, to take a single case, is the history of the common alexanders,
    now a familiar weed around villages and farmyards, but only introduced
    into England as a pot-herb about the eighth or ninth century. It was
    long grown in cottage gardens for table purposes, but has for ages been
    superseded in that way by celery. Nevertheless, it continues to grow all
    about our lanes and hedges, side by side with another quaintly-named
    plant, bishop-weed or gout-weed, whose very titles in themselves bear
    curious witness to its original uses in this isle of Britain. I don't
    know why, but it is an historical fact that the early prelates of the
    English Church, saintly or otherwise, were peculiarly liable to that
    very episcopal disease, the gout. Whether their frequent fasting
    produced this effect; whether, as they themselves piously alleged, it
    was due to constant kneeling on the cold stones of churches; or whether,
    as their enemies rather insinuated, it was due in greater measure to the
    excellent wines presented to them by their Italian _confrères_, is a
    minute question to be decided by Mr. Freeman, not by the present humble
    inquirer. But the fact remains that bishops and gout got indelibly
    associated in the public mind; that the episcopal toes were looked upon
    as especially subject to that insidious disease up to the very end of
    the last century; and that they do say the bishops even now--but I
    refrain from the commission of _scandalum magnatum_. Anyhow, this
    particular weed was held to be a specific for the bishop's evil; and,
    being introduced and cultivated for the purpose, it came to be known
    indifferently to herbalists as bishop-weed and gout-weed. It has now
    long since ceased to be a recognised member of the British
    Pharmacopoeia, but, having overrun our lanes and thickets in its
    flush period, it remains to this day a visible botanical and
    etymological memento of the past twinges of episcopal remorse.

    Taken as a whole, one may fairly say that the total population of the
    British Isles consists mainly of three great elements. The first and
    oldest--the only one with any real claim to be considered as truly
    native--is the cold Northern, Alpine and Arctic element, comprising such
    animals as the white hare of Scotland, the ptarmigan, the pine marten,
    and the capercailzie--the last once extinct, and now reintroduced into
    the Highlands as a game bird. This very ancient fauna and flora, left
    behind soon after the Glacial Epoch, and perhaps in part a relic of the
    type which still struggled on in favoured spots during that terrible
    period of universal ice and snow, now survives for the most part only in
    the extreme north and on the highest and chilliest mountain-tops, where
    it has gradually been driven, like tourists in August, by the increasing
    warmth and sultriness of the southern lowlands. The summits of the
    principal Scotch hills are occupied by many Arctic plants, now slowly
    dying out, but lingering yet as last relics of that old native British
    flora. The Alpine milk vetch thus loiters among the rocks of Braemar and
    Clova; the Arctic brook-saxifrage flowers but sparingly near the summit
    of Ben Lawers, Ben Nevis, and Lochnagar; its still more northern ally,
    the drooping saxifrage, is now extinct in all Britain, save on a single
    snowy Scotch height, where it now rarely blossoms, and will soon become
    altogether obsolete. There are other northern plants of this first and
    oldest British type, like the Ural oxytrope, the cloudberry, and the
    white dryas, which remain as yet even in the moors of Yorkshire, or over
    considerable tracts in the Scotch Highlands; there are others restricted
    to a single spot among the Welsh hills, an isolated skerry among the
    outer Hebrides, or a solitary summit in the Lake District. But wherever
    they linger, these true-born Britons of the old rock are now but
    strangers and outcasts in the land; the intrusive foreigner has driven
    them to die on the cold mountain-tops, as the Celt drove the Mongolian
    to the hills, and the Saxon, in turn, has driven the Celt to the
    Highlands and the islands. Yet as late as the twelfth century itself,
    even the true reindeer, the Arctic monarch of the Glacial Epoch, was
    still hunted by Norwegian jarls of Orkney on the mainland of Caithness
    and Sutherlandshire.

    Second in age is the warm western and south-western type, the type
    represented by the Portuguese slug, the arbutus trees and Mediterranean
    heaths of the Killarney district, the flora of Cornwall and the Scilly
    Isles, and the peculiar wild flowers of South Wales, Devonshire, and the
    west country generally. This class belongs by origin to the submerged
    land of Lyonesse, the warm champaign country that once spread westward
    over the Bay of Biscay, and derived from the Gulf Stream the genial
    climate still preserved by its last remnants at Tresco and St. Mary's.
    The animals belonging to this secondary stratum of our British
    population are few and rare, but of its plants there are not a few, some
    of them extending over the whole western shores of England, Wales,
    Scotland, and Ireland, wherever they are washed by the Gulf Stream, and
    others now confined to particular spots, often with the oddest apparent
    capriciousness. Thus, two or three southern types of clover are peculiar
    to the Lizard Point, in Cornwall; a little Spanish and Italian
    restharrow has got stranded in the Channel Islands and on the Mull of
    Galloway; the spotted rock-rose of the Mediterranean grows only in
    Kerry, Galway, and Anglesea; while other plants of the same warm habit
    are confined to such spots as Torquay, Babbicombe, Dawlish, Cork,
    Swansea, Axminster, and the Scilly Isles. Of course, all peninsulas and
    islands are warmer in temperature than inland places, and so these
    relics of the lost Lyonesse have survived here and there in Cornwall,
    Carnarvonshire, Kerry, and other very projecting headlands long after
    they have died out altogether from the main central mass of Britain.
    South-western Ireland in particular is almost Portuguese in the general
    aspect of its fauna and flora.

    Third and latest of all in time, though almost contemporary with the
    southern type, is the central European or Germanic element in our
    population. Sad as it is to confess it, the truth must nevertheless be
    told, that our beasts and birds, our plants and flowers, are for the
    most part of purely Teutonic origin. Even as the rude and hard-headed
    Anglo-Saxon has driven the gentle, poetical, and imaginative Celt ever
    westward before him into the hills and the sea, so the rude and vigorous
    Germanic beasts and weeds have driven the gentler and softer southern
    types into Wales and Cornwall, Galloway and Connemara. It is to the
    central European population that we owe or owed the red deer, the wild
    boar, the bear, the wolf, the beaver, the fox, the badger, the otter,
    and the squirrel. It is to the central European flora that we owe the
    larger part of the most familiar plants in all eastern and southeastern
    England. They crossed in bands over the old land belt before Britain was
    finally insulated, and they have gone on steadily ever since, with true
    Teutonic persistence, overrunning the land and pushing slowly westward,
    like all other German bands before or since, to the detriment and
    discomfort of the previous inhabitants. Let us humbly remember that we
    are all of us at bottom foreigners alike, but that it is the Teutonic
    English, the people from the old Low Dutch fatherland by the Elbe, who
    have finally given to this isle its name of England, and to every one of
    us, Celt or Teuton, their own Teutonic name of Englishmen. We are at
    best, as an irate Teuton once remarked, 'nozzing but segond-hand
    Chermans.' In the words of a distinguished modern philologist of our own
    blood, 'English is Dutch, spoken with a Welsh accent.'
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