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    Chapter 13

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    Chapter 13
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    Bath and Wells Revisited

    'Tis so easy to get from London to Bath, by merely stepping
    into a railway carriage which takes you smoothly without a
    stop in two short hours from Paddington, that I was amazed at
    myself in having allowed five full years to pass since my
    previous visit. The question was much in my mind as I
    strolled about noting the old-remembered names of streets and
    squares and crescents. Quiet Street was the name inscribed on
    one; it was, to me, the secret name of them all. The old
    impressions were renewed, an old feeling partially recovered.
    The wide, clean ways; the solid, stone-built houses with their
    dignified aspect; the large distances, terrace beyond terrace;
    mansions and vast green lawns and parks and gardens; avenues
    and groups of stately trees, especially that unmatched clump
    of old planes in the Circus; the whole town, the design in the
    classic style of one master mind, set by the Avon, amid green
    hills, produced a sense of harmony and repose which cannot be
    equalled by any other town in the kingdom.

    This idle time was delightful so long as I gave my attention
    exclusively to houses from the outside, and to hills, rocks,
    trees, waters, and all visible nature, which here harmonizes
    with man's works. To sit on some high hill and look down on
    Bath, sun-flushed or half veiled in mist; to lounge on Camden
    Crescent, or climb Sion Hill, or take my ease with the
    water-drinkers in the spacious, comfortable Pump Room; or,
    better still, to rest at noon in the ancient abbey--all this
    was pleasure pure and simple, a quiet drifting back until I
    found myself younger by five years than I had taken myself to
    be.

    I haunted the abbey, and the more I saw of it the more I loved
    it. The impression it had made on me during my former visits
    had faded, or else I had never properly seen it, or had not
    seen it in the right emotional mood. Now I began to think it
    the best of all the great abbey churches of England and the
    equal of the cathedrals in its effect on the mind. How rich
    the interior is in its atmosphere of tempered light or tender
    gloom! How tall and graceful the columns holding up the high
    roof of white stone with its marvellous palm-leaf sculpture!
    What a vast expanse of beautifully stained glass! I certainly
    gave myself plenty of time to appreciate it on this occasion,
    as I visited it every day, sometimes two or three times, and
    not infrequently I sat there for an hour at a stretch.

    Sitting there one day, thinking of nothing, I was gradually
    awakened to a feeling almost of astonishment at the sight of
    the extraordinary number of memorial tablets of every
    imaginable shape and size which crowd the walls. So numerous
    are they and so closely placed that you could not find space
    anywhere to put your hand against the wall. We are accustomed
    to think that in cathedrals and other great ecclesiastical
    buildings the illustrious dead receive burial, and their names
    and claims on our gratitude and reverence are recorded, but in
    no fane in the land is there so numerous a gathering of the
    dead as in this place. The inscription-covered walls were
    like the pages of an old black-letter volume without margins.
    Yet when I came to think of it I could not recall any Bath
    celebrity or great person associated with Bath except Beau
    Nash, who was not perhaps a very great person. Probably
    Carlyle would have described him as a "meeserable creature."

    Leaving my seat I began to examine the inscriptions, and found
    that they had not been placed there in memory of men belonging
    to Bath or even Somerset. These monuments were erected to
    persons from all counties in the three kingdoms, and from all
    the big towns, those to Londoners being most numerous. Nor
    were they of persons distinguished in any way. Here you
    find John or Henry or Thomas Smith, or Brown, or Jones, or
    Robinson, provision dealer, or merchant, of Clerkenwell, or
    Bermondsey, or Bishopsgate Street Within or Without; also many
    retired captains, majors, and colonels. There were hundreds
    more whose professions or occupations in life were not stated.
    There were also hundreds of memorials to ladies--widows and
    spinsters. They were all, in fact, to persons who had come to
    die in Bath after "taking the waters," and dying, they or
    their friends had purchased immortality on the walls of the
    abbey with a handful or two of gold. Here is one of several
    inscriptions of the kind I took the trouble to copy: "His
    early virtues, his cultivated talents, his serious piety,
    inexpressibly endeared him to his friends and opened to them
    many bright prospects of excellence and happiness. These
    prospects have all faded," and so on for several long lines in
    very big letters, occupying a good deal of space on the wall.
    But what and who was he, and what connection had he with Bath?
    He was a young man born in the West Indies who died in
    Scotland, and later his mother, coming to Bath for her health,
    "caused this inscription to be placed on the abbey walls"!
    If this policy or tradition is still followed by the abbey
    authorities, it will be necessary for them to build an annexe;
    if it be no longer followed, would it be going too far to
    suggest that these mural tablets to a thousand obscurities,
    which ought never to have been placed there, should now be
    removed and placed in some vault where the relations or
    descendants of the persons described could find, and if they
    wished it, have them removed?

    But it must be said that the abbey is not without a fair
    number of memorials with which no one can quarrel; the one I
    admire most, to Quin, the actor, has, I think, the best or the
    most appropriate epitaph ever written. No, one, however
    familiar with the words, will find fault with me for quoting
    them here:

    That tongue which set the table on a roar
    And charmed the public ear is heard no more.
    Closed are those eyes, the harbingers of wit,
    Which spake before the tongue what Shakespeare writ.
    Cold is that hand which living was stretched forth
    At friendship's call to succor modest worth.
    Here lies James Quin, deign readers to be taught
    Whate'er thy strength of body, force of thought,
    In Nature's happiest mood however cast,
    To this complexion thou must come at last.

    Quin's monument strikes one as the greatest there because of
    Garrick's living words, but there is another very much more
    beautiful.

    I first noticed this memorial on the wall at a distance of
    about three yards, too far to read anything in the inscription
    except the name of Sibthorpe, which was strange to me, but
    instead of going nearer to read it I remained standing to
    admire it at that distance. The tablet was of white marble,
    and on it was sculptured the figure of a young man with curly
    head and classic profile. He was wearing sandals and a loose
    mantle held to his breast with one hand, while in the other
    hand he carried a bunch of leaves and flowers. He appeared in
    the act of stepping ashore from a boat of antique shape, and
    the artist had been singularly successful in producing the
    idea of free and vigorous motion in the figure as well as of
    some absorbing object in his mind. The figure was undoubtedly
    symbolical, and I began to amuse myself by trying to guess its
    meaning. Then a curious thing happened. A person who had
    been moving slowly along near me, apparently looking with no
    great interest at the memorials, came past me and glanced
    first at the tablet I was looking at, then at me. As our eyes
    met I remarked that I was admiring the best memorial I had
    found in the abbey, and then added, "I've been trying to make
    out its meaning. You see the man is a traveller and is
    stepping ashore with a flowering spray in his hand. It
    strikes me that it may have been erected to the memory of a
    person who introduced some valuable plant into England."

    "Yes, perhaps," he said. "But who was he?"

    "I don't know yet," I returned. "I can only see that his name
    was Sibthorpe."

    "Sibthorpe!" he exclaimed excitedly. "Why, this is the very
    memorial I've been looking for all over the abbey and had
    pretty well given up all hopes of finding it." With that he
    went to it and began studying the inscription, which was in
    Latin. John Sibthorpe, I found, was a distinguished botanist,
    author of the Flora Graeca, who died over a century ago.

    I asked him why he was interested in Sibthorpe's memorial.

    "Well, you see, I'm a great botanist myself," he explained,
    "and have been familiar with his name and work all my life.
    Of course," he added, "I don't mean I'm great in the sense
    that Sibthorpe was. I'm only a little local botanist, quite
    unknown outside my own circle; I only mean that I'm a great
    lover of botany."

    I left him there, and had the curiosity to look up the great
    man's life, and found some very curious things in it. He was
    a son of Humphrey Sibthorpe, also a great botanist, who
    succeeded the still greater Dillenius as Sherardian Professor
    of Botany at Oxford, a post which he held for thirty-six
    years, and during that time he delivered one lecture, which
    was a failure. John, if he did not suck in botany with his
    mother's milk, took it quite early from his father, and on
    leaving the University went abroad to continue his studies.
    Eventually he went to Greece, inflamed with the ambition to
    identify all the plants mentioned by Dioscorides. Then he set
    about writing his Flora Graeca; but he had a rough time of it
    travelling about in that rude land, and falling ill he had to
    leave his work undone. When nearing his end he came to Bath,
    like so many other afflicted ones, only to die, and he was
    very properly buried in the abbey. In his will he left an
    estate the proceeds of which were to be devoted to the
    completion of his work, which was to be in ten folio volumes,
    with one hundred plates in each. This was done and the work
    finished forty-four years after his death, when thirty copies
    were issued to the patient subscribers at two hundred and
    forty guineas a copy. But the whole cost of the work was set
    down at 30,000 pounds! A costlier work it would be hard to
    find; I wonder how many of us have seen it?

    But I must go back to my subject. I was not in Bath just to
    die and lie there, like poor Sibthorpe, with all those strange
    bedfellows of his, nor was I in search of a vacant space the
    size of my hand on the walls to bespeak it for my own
    memorial. On the contrary, I was there, as we have seen, to
    knock five years off my age. And it was very pleasant, as I
    have said, so long as I confined my attention to Bath, the
    stone-built town of old memories and associations--so long as
    I was satisfied to loiter in the streets and wide green places
    and in the Pump Room and the abbey. The bitter came in only
    when, going from places to faces, I began to seek out the
    friends and acquaintances of former days. The familiar faces
    seemed not wholly familiar now. A change had been wrought; in
    some cases a great change, as in that of some weedy girl who
    had blossomed into fair womanhood. One could not grieve at
    that; but in the middle-aged and those who were verging on or
    past that period, it was impossible not to feel saddened at
    the difference. "I see no change in you," is a lie ready to
    the lips which would speak some pleasing thing, but it does
    not quite convince. Men are naturally brutal, and use no
    compliments to one another; on the contrary, they do not
    hesitate to make a joke of wrinkles and grey hairs--their own
    and yours. "But, oh, the difference" when the familiar face,
    no longer familiar as of old, is a woman's! This is no light
    thing to her, and her eyes, being preternaturally keen in such
    matters, see not only the change in you, but what is
    infinitely sadder, the changed reflection of herself. Your
    eyes have revealed the shock you have experienced. You cannot
    hide it; her heart is stabbed with a sudden pain, and she is
    filled with shame and confusion; and the pain is but greater
    if her life has glided smoothly--if she cannot appeal to your
    compassion, finding a melancholy relief in that saddest cry:--

    O Grief has changed me since you saw me last!

    For not grief, nor sickness, nor want, nor care, nor any
    misery or calamity which men fear, is her chief enemy. Time
    alone she hates and fears--insidious Time who has lulled her
    mind with pleasant flatteries all these years while subtly
    taking away her most valued possessions, the bloom and colour,
    the grace, the sparkle, the charm of other years.

    Here is a true and pretty little story, which may or may not
    exactly fit the theme, but is very well worth telling. A lady
    of fashion, middle-aged or thereabouts, good-looking but pale
    and with the marks of care and disillusionment on her
    expressive face, accompanied by her pretty sixteen-years-old
    daughter, one day called on an artist and asked him to show
    her his studio. He was a very great artist, the greatest
    portrait-painter we have ever had and he did not know who she
    was, but with the sweet courtesy which distinguished him
    through all his long life--he died recently at a very advanced
    age--he at once put his work away and took her round his
    studio to show her everything he thought would interest her.
    But she was restless and inattentive, and by and by leaving
    the artist talking to her young daughter she began going round
    by herself, moving constantly from picture to picture.
    Presently she made an exclamation, and turning they saw her
    standing before a picture, a portrait of a girl, staring
    fixedly at it. "Oh," she cried, and it was a cry of pain,
    "was I once as beautiful as that?" and burst into tears. She
    had found the picture she had been looking for, which she had
    come to see; it had been there twenty to twenty-five years,
    and the story of it was as follows.

    When she was a young girl her mother took her to the great
    artist to have her portrait painted, and when the work was at
    length finished she and her mother went to see it. The artist
    put it before them and the mother looked at it, her face
    expressing displeasure, and said not one word. Nor did the
    artist open his lips. And at last the girl, to break the
    uncomfortable silence, said, "Where shall we hang it, mother?"
    and the lady replied, "Just where you like, my dear, so long
    as you hang it with the face to the wall." It was an
    insolent, a cruel thing to say, but the artist did not answer
    her bitterly; he said gently that she need not take the
    portrait as it failed to please her, and that in any case he
    would decline to take the money she had agreed to pay him for
    the work. She thanked him coldly and went her way, and he
    never saw her again. And now Time, the humbler of proud
    beautiful women, had given him his revenge: the portrait,
    scorned and rejected when the colour and sparkle of life was
    in the face, had been looked on once more by its subject and
    had caused her to weep at the change in herself.

    To return. One wishes in these moments of meeting, of
    surprise and sudden revealings, that it were permissible to
    speak from the heart, since then the very truth might have
    more balm than bitterness in it. "Grieve not, dear friend of
    old days, that I have not escaped the illusion common to all
    --the idea that those we have not looked on this long time
    --full five years, let us say--have remained as they were
    while we ourselves have been moving onwards and downwards in
    that path in which our feet are set. No one, however hardened
    he may be, can escape a shock of surprise and pain; but now
    the illusion I cherished has gone--now I have seen with my
    physical eyes, and a new image, with Time's writing on it, has
    taken the place of the old and brighter one, I would not have
    it otherwise. No, not if I could would I call back the
    vanished lustre, since all these changes, above all that
    wistful look in the eyes, do but serve to make you dearer, my
    sister and friend and fellow-traveller in a land where we
    cannot find a permanent resting-place."

    Alas! it cannot be spoken, and we cannot comfort a sister if
    she cannot divine the thought; but to brood over these
    inevitable changes is as idle as it is to lament that we were
    born into this mutable world. After all, it is because of the
    losses, the sadnesses, that the world is so infinitely sweet
    to us. The thought is in Cory's Mimnernus in Church:

    All beauteous things for which we live
    By laws of time and space decay.
    But oh, the very reason why
    I clasp them is because they die.

    From this sadness in Bath I went to a greater in Wells, where
    I had not been for ten years, and timing my visit so as to
    have a Sunday service at the cathedral of beautiful memories,
    I went on a Saturday to Shepton Mallet. A small, squalid
    town, a "manufacturing town" the guide-book calls it. Well,
    yes; it manufactures Anglo-Bavarian beer in a gigantic
    brewery which looks bigger than all the other buildings
    together, the church and a dozen or twenty public-houses
    included. To get some food I went to the only eating-house
    in the place, and saw a pleasant-looking woman, plump and
    high-coloured, with black hair, with an expression of good
    humour and goodness of every description in her comely
    countenance. She promised to have a chop ready by the time I
    had finished looking at the church, and I said I would have it
    with a small Guinness. She could not provide that, the house,
    she said, was strictly temperance. "My doctor has ordered me
    to take it," said I, "and if you are religious, remember that
    St. Paul tells us to take a little stout when we find it
    beneficial."

    "Yes, I know that's what St. Paul says," she returned, with a
    heightened colour and a vicious emphasis on the saint's name,
    "but we go on a different principle."

    So I had to go for my lunch to one of the big public-houses,
    called hotels; but whether it called itself a cow, or horse,
    or stag, or angel, or a blue or green something, I cannot
    remember. They gave me what they called a beefsteak pie--a
    tough crust and under it some blackish cubes carved out of the
    muscle of an antediluvian ox-and for this delicious fare and a
    glass of stout I paid three shillings and odd pence.

    As I came away Shepton Mallet was shaken to its foundations by
    a tremendous and most diabolical sound, a prolonged lupine
    yell or yowl, as if a stupendous wolf, as big, say, as the
    Anglo-Bavarian brewery, had howled his loudest and longest.
    This infernal row, which makes Shepton seem like a town or
    village gone raving mad, was merely to inform the men, and,
    incidentally, the universe, that it was time for them to knock
    off work.

    Turning my back on the place, I said to myself, "What a fool I
    am to be sure! Why could I not have been satisfied for once
    with a cup of coffee with my lunch? I should have saved a
    shilling, perhaps eighteen-pence, to rejoice the soul of some
    poor tramp; and, better still, I could have discussed some
    interesting questions with that charming rosy-faced woman.
    What, for instance, was the reason of her quarrel with the
    apostle; by the by, she never rebuked me for misquoting his
    words; and what is the moral effect (as seen through her clear
    brown eyes) of the Anglo-Bavarian brewery on the population of
    the small town and the neighbouring villages?"

    The road I followed from Shepton to Wells winds by the
    water-side, a tributary of the Brue, in a narrow valley with
    hills on either side. It is a five-mile road through a
    beautiful country, where there is practically no cultivation,
    and the green hills, with brown woods in their hollows, and
    here and there huge masses of grey and reddish Bath stone
    cropping out on their sides, resembling gigantic castles and
    ramparts, long ruined and overgrown with ivy and bramble,
    produce the effect of a land dispeopled and gone back to a
    state of wildness.

    A thaw had come that morning, ending the severest frost
    experienced this winter anywhere in England, and the valley
    was alive with birds, happy and tuneful at the end of January
    as in April. Looking down on the stream the sudden glory of a
    kingfisher passed before me; but the sooty-brown water-ouzel
    with his white bib, a haunter, too, of this water, I did not
    see. Within a mile or so of Wells I overtook a small boy who
    belonged there, and had been to Shepton like me, noticing the
    birds. "I saw a kingfisher," I said. "So did I," he returned
    quickly, with pride. He described it as a biggish bird with a
    long neck, but its colour was not blue--oh, no! I suggested
    that it was a heron, a long-necked creature under six feet
    high, of no particular colour. No, it was not a heron; and
    after taking thought, he said, "I think it was a wild duck."

    Bestowing a penny to encourage him in his promising researches
    into the feathered world, I went on by a footpath over a hill,
    and as I mounted to the higher ground there before me rose the
    noble tower of St. Cuthbert's Church, and a little to the
    right of it, girt with high trees, the magnificent pile of the
    cathedral, with green hills and the pale sky beyond. O joy to
    look again on it, to add yet one more enduring image of it to
    the number I had long treasured! For the others were not
    exactly like this one; the building was not looked at from the
    same point of view at the same season and late hour, with the
    green hills lit by the departing sun and the clear pale winter
    sky beyond.

    Coming in by the moated palace I stood once more on the Green
    before that west front, beautiful beyond all others, in spite
    of the strange defeatures Time has written on it. I watched
    the daws, numerous as ever, still at their old mad games, now
    springing into the air to scatter abroad with ringing cries,
    only to return the next minute and fling themselves back on
    their old perches on a hundred weather-stained broken statues
    in the niches. And while I stood watching them from the
    palace trees close by came the loud laugh of the green
    woodpecker. The same wild, beautiful sound, uttered perhaps
    by the same bird, which I had often heard at that spot ten
    years ago! "You will not hear that woodland sound in any
    other city in the kingdom," I wrote in a book of sketches
    entitled "Birds and Man", published in 1901.

    But of my soul's adventures in Wells on the two or three
    following days I will say very little. That laugh of the
    woodpecker was an assurance that Nature had suffered no
    change, and the town too, like the hills and rocks and running
    waters, seemed unchanged; but how different and how sad when I
    looked for those I once knew, whose hands I had hoped to grasp
    again! Yes, some were living still; and a dog too, one I used
    to take out for long walks and many a mad rabbit-hunt--a very
    handsome white-and-liver coloured spaniel. I found him lying
    on a sofa, and down he got and wagged his tail vigorously,
    pretending, with a pretty human hypocrisy in his gentle yellow
    eyes, that he knew me perfectly well, that I was not a bit
    changed, and that he was delighted to see me.

    On my way back to Bath I had a day at Bristol. It was
    cattle-market day, and what with the bellowings, barkings, and
    shoutings, added to the buzz and clang of innumerable electric
    tramcars and the usual din of street traffic, one got the idea
    that the Bristolians had adopted a sort of Salvation Army
    theory, and were endeavouring to conquer earth (it is not
    heaven in this case) by making a tremendous noise. I amused
    myself strolling about and watching the people, and as train
    after train came in late in the day discharging loads of
    humanity, mostly young men and women from the surrounding
    country coming in for an evening's amusement, I noticed again
    the peculiarly Welsh character of the Somerset peasant--the
    shape of the face, the colour of the skin, and, above all, the
    expression.

    Freeman, when here below, proclaimed it his mission to prove
    that "Englishmen were Englishmen, and not somebody else." It
    appeared to me that any person, unbiassed by theories on such
    a subject, looking at that crowd, would have come to the
    conclusion, sadly or gladly, according to his nature, that we
    are, in fact, "somebody else."
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