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    Chapter 1

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    Chapter 1
    Guide-Books: An Introduction

    Guide-books are so many that it seems probable we have more
    than any other country--possibly more than all the rest of the
    universe together. Every county has a little library of its
    own--guides to its towns, churches, abbeys, castles, rivers,
    mountains; finally, to the county as a whole. They are of all
    prices and all sizes, from the diminutive paper-covered
    booklet, worth a penny, to the stout cloth-bound octavo volume
    which costs eight or ten or twelve shillings, or to the
    gigantic folio county history, the huge repository from which
    the guide-book maker gets his materials. For these great
    works are also guide-books, containing everything we want to
    learn, only made on so huge a scale as to be suited to the
    coat pockets of Brobdingnagians rather than of little ordinary
    men. The wonder of it all comes in when we find that these
    books, however old and comparatively worthless they may be,
    are practically never wholly out of date. When a new work is
    brought out (dozens appear annually) and, say, five thousand
    copies sold, it does not throw as many, or indeed any, copies
    of the old book out of circulation: it supersedes nothing. If
    any man can indulge in the luxury of a new up-to-date guide to
    any place, and gets rid of his old one (a rare thing to do),
    this will be snapped up by poorer men, who will treasure it
    and hand it down or on to others. Editions of 1860-50-40, and
    older, are still prized, not merely as keepsakes but for study
    or reference. Any one can prove this by going the round of a
    dozen second-hand booksellers in his own district in London.
    There will be tons of literary rubbish, and good stuff old and
    new, but few guidebooks--in some cases not one. If you ask
    your man at a venture for, say, a guide to Hampshire, he will
    most probably tell you that he has not one in stock; then, in
    his anxiety to do business, he will, perhaps, fish out a guide
    to Derbyshire, dated 1854--a shabby old book--and offer it
    for four or five shillings, the price of a Crabbe in eight
    volumes, or of Gibbon's Decline and Fall in six volumes, bound
    in calf. Talk to this man, and to the other eleven, and they
    will tell you that there is always a sale for guide-books
    --that the supply does not keep pace with the demand. It may be
    taken as a fact that most of the books of this kind published
    during the last half-century--many millions of copies in the
    aggregate--are still in existence and are valued possessions.

    There is nothing to quarrel with in all this. As a people we
    run about a great deal; and having curious minds we naturally
    wish to know all there is to be known, or all that is
    interesting to know, about the places we visit. Then, again,
    our time as a rule being limited, we want the whole matter
    --history, antiquities, places of interest in the neighbourhood,
    etc. in a nutshell. The brief book serves its purpose well
    enough; but it is not thrown away like the newspaper and the
    magazines; however cheap and badly got up it may be, it is
    taken home to serve another purpose, to be a help to memory,
    and nobody can have it until its owner removes himself (but
    not his possessions) from this planet; or until the broker
    seizes his belongings, and guide-books, together with other
    books, are disposed of in packages by the auctioneer.

    In all this we see that guide-books are very important to us,
    and that there is little or no fault to be found with them,
    since even the worst give some guidance and enable us in
    after times mentally to revisit distant places. It may then
    be said that there are really no bad guide-books, and that
    those that are good in the highest sense are beyond praise. A
    reverential sentiment, which is almost religious in character,
    connects itself in our minds with the very name of Murray. It
    is, however, possible to make an injudicious use of these
    books, and by so doing to miss the fine point of many a
    pleasure. The very fact that these books are guides to us and
    invaluable, and that we readily acquire the habit of taking
    them about with us and consulting them at frequent intervals,
    comes between us and that rarest and most exquisite enjoyment
    to be experienced amidst novel scenes. He that visits a place
    new to him for some special object rightly informs himself of
    all that the book can tell him. The knowledge may be useful;
    pleasure is with him a secondary object. But if pleasure be
    the main object, it will only be experienced in the highest
    degree by him who goes without book and discovers what old
    Fuller called the "observables" for himself. There will
    be no mental pictures previously formed; consequently what is
    found will not disappoint. When the mind has been permitted
    to dwell beforehand on any scene, then, however beautiful or
    grand it may be, the element of surprise is wanting and
    admiration is weak. The delight has been discounted.

    My own plan, which may be recommended only to those who go out
    for pleasure--who value happiness above useless (otherwise
    useful) knowledge, and the pictures that live and glow in
    memory above albums and collections of photographs--is not to
    look at a guide-book until the place it treats of has been
    explored and left behind.

    The practical person, to whom this may come as a new idea
    and who wishes not to waste any time in experiments, would
    doubtless like to hear how the plan works. He will say that
    he certainly wants all the happiness to be got out of his
    rambles, but it is clear that without the book in his pocket
    he would miss many interesting things: Would the greater
    degree of pleasure experienced in the others be a sufficient
    compensation? I should say that he would gain more than he
    would lose; that vivid interest and pleasure in a few things
    is preferable to that fainter, more diffused feeling
    experienced in the other case. Again, we have to take into
    account the value to us of the mental pictures gathered in our
    wanderings. For we know that only when a scene is viewed
    emotionally, when it produces in us a shock of pleasure, does
    it become a permanent possession of the mind; in other words,
    it registers an image which, when called up before the inner
    eye, is capable of reproducing a measure of the original
    delight.

    In recalling those scenes which have given me the greatest
    happiness, the images of which are most vivid and lasting, I
    find that most of them are of scenes or objects which were
    discovered, as it were, by chance, which I had not heard
    of, or else had heard of and forgotten, or which I had not
    expected to see. They came as a surprise, and in the following
    instance one may see that it makes a vast difference whether
    we do or do not experience such a sensation.

    In the course of a ramble on foot in a remote district I came
    to a small ancient town, set in a cuplike depression amidst
    high wood-grown hills. The woods were of oak in spring
    foliage, and against that vivid green I saw the many-gabled
    tiled roofs and tall chimneys of the old timbered houses,
    glowing red and warm brown in the brilliant sunshine--a scene
    of rare beauty, and yet it produced no shock of pleasure;
    never, in fact, had I looked on a lovely scene for the first
    time so unemotionally. It seemed to be no new scene, but
    an old familiar one; and that it had certain degrading
    associations which took away all delight.

    The reason of this was that a great railway company had
    long been "booming" this romantic spot, and large photographs,
    plain and coloured, of the town and its quaint buildings had
    for years been staring at me in every station and every
    railway carriage which I had entered on that line. Photography
    degrades most things, especially open-air things; and in this
    case, not only had its poor presentments made the scene too
    familiar, but something of the degradation in the advertising
    pictures seemed to attach itself to the very scene. Yet even
    here, after some pleasureless days spent in vain endeavours to
    shake off these vulgar associations, I was to experience one
    of the sweetest surprises and delights of my life.

    The church of this village-like town is one of its chief
    attractions; it is a very old and stately building, and its
    perpendicular tower, nearly a hundred feet high, is one of the
    noblest in England. It has a magnificent peal of bells, and
    on a Sunday afternoon they were ringing, filling and flooding
    that hollow in the hills, seeming to make the houses and trees
    and the very earth to tremble with the glorious storm of
    sound. Walking past the church, I followed the streamlet that
    runs through the town and out by a cleft between the hills to
    a narrow marshy valley, on the other side of which are
    precipitous hills, clothed from base to summit in oak woods.
    As I walked through the cleft the musical roar of the bells
    followed, and was like a mighty current flowing through and
    over me; but as I came out the sound from behind ceased
    suddenly and was now in front, coming back from the hills
    before me. A sound, but not the same--not a mere echo; and
    yet an echo it was, the most wonderful I had ever heard.
    For now that great tempest of musical noise, composed of a
    multitude of clanging notes with long vibrations, overlapping
    and mingling and clashing together, seemed at the same time
    one and many--that tempest from the tower which had
    mysteriously ceased to be audible came back in strokes or
    notes distinct and separate and multiplied many times. The
    sound, the echo, was distributed over the whole face of the
    steep hill before me, and was changed in character, and it was
    as if every one of those thousands of oak trees had a peal of
    bells in it, and that they were raining that far-up bright
    spiritual tree music down into the valley below. As I stood
    listening it seemed to me that I had never heard anything so
    beautiful, nor had any man--not the monk of Eynsham in that
    vision when he heard the Easter bells on the holy Saturday
    evening, and described the sound as "a ringing of a marvellous
    sweetness, as if all the bells in the world, or whatsoever is
    of sounding, had been rung together at once."

    Here, then, I had found and had become the possessor of
    something priceless, since in that moment of surprise and
    delight the mysterious beautiful sound, with the whole scene,
    had registered an impression which would outlast all others
    received at that place, where I had viewed all things with but
    languid interest. Had it not come as a complete surprise, the
    emotion experienced and the resultant mental image would not
    have been so vivid; as it is, I can mentally stand in that
    valley when I will, seeing that green-wooded hill in front of
    me and listen to that unearthly music.

    Naturally, after quitting the spot, I looked at the first
    opportunity into a guide-book of the district, only to find
    that it contained not one word about those wonderful illusive
    sounds! The book-makers had not done their work well, since
    it is a pleasure after having discovered something delightful
    for ourselves to know how others have been affected by it and
    how they describe it.

    Of many other incidents of the kind I will, in this chapter,
    relate one more, which has a historical or legendary interest.
    I was staying with the companion of my walks at a village in
    Southern England in a district new to us. We arrived on a
    Saturday, and next morning after breakfast went out for a long
    walk. Turning into the first path across the fields on
    leaving the village, we came eventually to an oak wood, which
    was like an open forest, very wild and solitary. In half an
    hour's walk among the old oaks and underwood we saw no sign of
    human occupancy, and heard nothing but the woodland birds. We
    heard, and then saw, the cuckoo for the first time that
    season, though it was but April the fourth. But the cuckoo
    was early that spring and had been heard by some from the
    middle of March. At length, about half-past ten o'clock, we
    caught sight of a number of people walking in a kind of
    straggling procession by a path which crossed ours at right
    angles, headed by a stout old man in a black smock frock and
    brown leggings, who carried a big book in one hand. One of
    the processionists we spoke to told us they came from a hamlet
    a mile away on the borders of the wood and were on their way
    to church. We elected to follow them, thinking that the
    church was at some neighbouring village; to our surprise we
    found it was in the wood, with no other building in sight
    --a small ancient-looking church built on a raised mound,
    surrounded by a wide shallow grass-grown trench, on the border
    of a marshy stream. The people went in and took their seats,
    while we remained standing just by the door. Then the priest
    came from the vestry, and seizing the rope vigorously, pulled
    at it for five minutes, after which he showed us where to sit
    and the service began. It was very pleasant there, with the
    door open to the sunlit forest and the little green churchyard
    without, with a willow wren, the first I had heard, singing
    his delicate little strain at intervals.

    The service over, we rambled an hour longer in the wood, then
    returned to our village, which had a church of its own, and
    our landlady, hearing where we had been, told us the story, or
    tradition, of the little church in the wood. Its origin goes
    very far back to early Norman times, when all the land in this
    part was owned by one of William's followers on whom it had
    been bestowed. He built himself a house or castle on the edge
    of the forest, where he lived with his wife and two little
    daughters who were his chief delight. It happened that one
    day when he was absent the two little girls with their female
    attendant went into the wood in search of flowers, and that
    meeting a wild boar they turned and fled, screaming for help.
    The savage beast pursued, and, quickly overtaking them,
    attacked the hindermost, the youngest of the two little girls,
    anal killed her, the others escaping in the meantime. On the
    following day the father returned, and was mad with grief and
    rage on hearing of the tragedy, and in his madness resolved to
    go alone on foot to the forest and search for the beast and
    taste no food or drink until he had slain it. Accordingly to
    the forest he went, and roamed through it by day and night,
    and towards the end of the following day he actually found and
    roused the dreadful animal, and although weakened by his long
    fast and fatigue, his fury gave him force to fight and conquer
    it, or else the powers above came to his aid; for when he
    stood spear in hand to wait the charge of the furious beast he
    vowed that if he overcame it on that spot he would build a
    chapel, where God would be worshipped for ever. And there it
    was raised and has stood to this day, its doors open every
    Sunday to worshippers, with but one break, some time in the
    sixteenth century to the third year of Elizabeth, since when
    there has been no suspension of the weekly service.

    That the tradition is not true no one can say. We know that
    the memory of an action or tragedy of a character to stir the
    feelings and impress the imagination may live unrecorded in
    any locality for long centuries. And more, we know or
    suppose, from at least one quite familiar instance from
    Flintshire, that a tradition may even take us back to
    prehistoric times and find corroboration in our own day.

    But of this story what corroboration is there, and what do
    the books say? I have consulted the county history, and no
    mention is made of such a tradition, and can only assume that
    the author had never heard it--that he had not the curious
    Aubrey mind. He only says that it is a very early church
    --how early he does not know--and adds that it was built "for
    the convenience of the inhabitants of the place." An odd
    statement, seeing that the place has every appearance of
    having always been what it is, a forest, and that the
    inhabitants thereof are weasels, foxes, jays and such-like,
    and doubtless in former days included wolves, boars, roe-deer
    and stags, beings which, as Walt Whitman truly remarks, do not
    worry themselves about their souls.

    With this question, however, we need not concern ourselves.
    To me, after stumbling by chance on the little church in that
    solitary woodland place, the story of its origin was accepted
    as true; no doubt it had come down unaltered from generation
    to generation through all those centuries, and it moved my
    pity yet was a delight to hear, as great perhaps as it had
    been to listen to the beautiful chimes many times multiplied
    from the wooded hill. And if I have a purpose in this book,
    which is without a purpose, a message to deliver and a lesson
    to teach, it is only this--the charm of the unknown, and the
    infinitely greater pleasure in discovering the interesting
    things for ourselves than in informing ourselves of them by
    reading. It is like the difference in flavour in wild fruits
    and all wild meats found and gathered by our own hands in wild
    places and that of the same prepared and put on the table for
    us. The ever-varying aspects of nature, of earth and sea and
    cloud, are a perpetual joy to the artist, who waits and watches
    for their appearance, who knows that sun and atmosphere have
    for him revelations without end. They come and go and mock
    his best efforts; he knows that his striving is in vain--that
    his weak hands and earthy pigments cannot reproduce these
    effects or express his feeling--that, as Leighton said, "every
    picture is a subject thrown away." But he has his joy none
    the less; it is in the pursuit and in the dream of capturing
    something illusive, mysterious, and inexpressibly beautiful.
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    Chapter 1
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