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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 24
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    Troston

    I doubt if the name of this small Suffolk village, remote from
    towns and railroads, will have any literary associations for
    the reader, unless he be a person of exceptionally good
    memory, who has taken a special interest in the minor poets of
    the last century; or that it would help him if I add the names
    of Honington and Sapiston, two other small villages a couple
    of miles from Troston, with the slow sedgy Little Ouse, or a
    branch of it, flowing between them. Yet Honington was the
    birthplace of Robert Bloomfield, known as "the Suffolk poet"
    in the early part of the last century (although Crabbe was
    living then and was great, as he is becoming again after many
    years); while at Sapiston, the rustic village on the other
    side of the old stone bridge, he acquired that love of nature
    and intimate knowledge of farm life and work which came out
    later in his Farmer's Boy. Finally, Troston, the little
    village in which I write, was the home of Capel Lofft, a
    person of importance in his day, who discovered Bloomfield,
    found a publisher for his poems, and boomed it with amazing
    success.

    I dare say it will only provoke a smile of amusement in
    readers of literary taste when I confess that Bloomfield's
    memory is dear to me; that only because of this feeling for
    the forgotten rustic who wrote rhymes I am now here, strolling
    about in the shade of the venerable trees in Troston Park-the
    selfsame trees which the somewhat fantastic Capel knew in his
    day as "Homer," "Sophocles," "Virgil," "Milton," and by other
    names, calling each old oak, elm, ash, and chestnut after one
    of the immortals.

    I can even imagine that the literary man, if he chanced to be
    a personal friend, would try to save me from myself by begging
    me not to put anything of this sort into print. He would warn
    me that it matters nothing that Bloomfield's verse was
    exceedingly popular for a time, that twenty-five or thirty
    editions of his Farmer's Boy were issued within three years of
    its publication in 1800 that it continued to be read for half
    a century afterwards. There are other better tests. Is it
    alive to-day? What do judges of literature say of it now?
    Nothing! They smile and that's all. The absurdity of his
    popularity was felt in his own day. Byron laughed at it;
    Crabbe growled and Charles Lamb said he had looked at the
    Farmer's Boy and it made him sick. Well, nobody wants to look
    at it now.

    Much more might be said very easily on this side; nevertheless,
    I think I shall go on with my plea for the small verse-maker
    who has long fallen out; and though I may be unable to make a
    case out, the kindly critic may find some circumstance to
    extenuate my folly--to say, in the end, that this appears to
    be one of the little foolishnesses which might be forgiven.

    I must confess at starting that the regard I have for one of
    his poems, the Farmer's Boy, is not wholly a matter of
    literary taste or the critical faculty; it is also, to some
    extent, a matter of association,--and as the story of how this
    comes about is rather curious, I will venture to give it.

    In the distant days of my boyhood and early youth my chief
    delight was in nature, and when I opened a book it was to find
    something about nature in it, especially some expression of
    the feeling produced in us by nature, which was, in my case,
    inseparable from seeing and hearing, and was, to me, the most
    important thing in life. For who could look on earth, water,
    sky, on living or growing or inanimate things, without
    experiencing that mysterious uplifting gladness in him! In
    due time I discovered that the thing I sought for in printed
    books was to be found chiefly in poetry, that half a dozen
    lines charged with poetic feeling about nature often gave me
    more satisfaction than a whole volume of prose on such
    subjects. Unfortunately this kind of literature was not
    obtainable in my early home on the then semi-wild pampas.
    There were a couple of hundred volumes on the shelves
    --theology, history, biography, philosophy, science, travels,
    essays, and some old forgotten fiction; but no verse was
    there, except Shenstone, in a small, shabby, coverless volume.
    This I read and re-read until I grew sick of bright Roxana
    tripping o'er the green, or of gentle Delia when a tear bedews
    her eye to think yon playful kid must die. To my uncultivated
    mind--for I had never been at school, and lived in the open
    air with the birds and beasts--this seemed intolerably
    artificial; for I was like a hungry person who has nothing but
    kickshaws put before him, and eats because he is hungry until
    he loathes a food which in its taste confounds the appetite.
    Never since those distant days have I looked at a Shenstone or
    even seen his name in print or heard it spoken, without a
    slight return of that old sensation of nausea. If Shenstone
    alone had come to me, the desire for poetry would doubtless
    have been outlived early in life; but there were many
    passages, some very long, from the poets in various books on
    the shelves, and these kept my appetite alive. There was
    Brown's Philosophy, for example; and Brown loved to illustrate
    his point with endless poetic quotations, the only drawback in
    my case being that they were almost exclusively drawn from
    Akenside, who was not "rural." But there were other books in
    which other poets were quoted, and of all these the passages
    which invariably pleased me most were the descriptions of
    rural sights and sounds.

    One day, during a visit to the city of Buenos Ayres, I
    discovered in a mean street, in the southern part of the town,
    a second-hand bookshop, kept by an old snuffy spectacled
    German in a long shabby black coat. I remember him well
    because he was a very important person to me. It was the
    first shop of the kind I had seen--I doubt if there was
    another in the town; and to be allowed to rummage by the hour
    among this mass of old books on the dusty shelves and heaped
    on the brick floor was a novel and delightful experience. The
    books were mostly in Spanish, French, and German, but there
    were some in English, and among them I came upon Thomson's
    Seasons. I remember the thrill of joy I experienced when I
    snatched up the small thin octavo in its smooth calf binding.
    It was the first book in English I ever bought, and to this
    day when I see a copy of the Seasons on a bookstall, which is
    often enough, I cannot keep my fingers off it and find it hard
    to resist the temptation to throw a couple of shillings away
    and take it home. If shillings had not been wanted for bread
    and cheese I should have had a roomful of copies by now.

    Few books have given me more pleasure, and as I still return
    to it from time to time I do not suppose I shall ever outgrow
    the feeling, in spite of its having been borne in on me, when
    I first conversed with readers of poetry in England, that
    Thomson is no longer read--that he is unreadable.

    After such a find I naturally went back many times to burrow
    in that delightful rubbish heap, and was at length rewarded by
    the discovery of yet another poem of rural England--the
    Farmer's Boy. I was prepared to like it, for although I did
    not know anything about the author's early life, the few
    passages I had come across in quotations in James Rennie's and
    other old natural history compilations had given me a strong
    desire to read the whole poem. I certainly did like it--this
    quiet description in verse of a green spot in England, my
    spiritual country which so far as I knew I was never destined
    to see; and that I continue to like it is, as I have said, the
    reason of my being in this place.

    While thus freely admitting that the peculiar circumstances
    of the case caused me to value this poem, and, in fact, made
    it very much more to me than it could be to persons born in
    England with all its poetical literature to browse on, I am
    at the same time convinced that this is not the sole reason
    for my regard.

    I take it that the Farmer's Boy is poetry, not merely
    slightly poetized prose in the form of verse, although it is
    undoubtedly poetry of a very humble order.

    Mere descriptions of rural scenes do not demand the higher
    qualities of the poet--imagination and passion. The lower
    kind of inspiration is, in fact, often better suited to such
    themes and shows nature by the common light of day, as it
    were, instead of revealing it as by a succession of lightning
    flashes. Even among those who confine themselves to this
    lower plane, Bloomfield is not great: his small flame is
    constantly sinking and flickering out. But at intervals it
    burns up again and redeems the work from being wholly
    commonplace and trivial. He is, in fact, no better than many
    another small poet who has been devoured by Time since his
    day, and whose work no person would now attempt to bring back.
    It is probable, too, that many of these lesser singers whose
    fame was brief would in their day have deeply resented being
    placed on a level with the Suffolk peasant-poet. In spite of
    all this, and of the impossibility of saving most of the verse
    which is only passably good from oblivion, I still think the
    Farmer's Boy worth preserving for more reasons than one, but
    chiefly because it is the only work of its kind.

    There is no lack of rural poetry--the Seasons to begin with
    and much Thomsonian poetry besides, treating of nature in a
    general way; then we have innumerable detached descriptions of
    actual scenes, such as we find scattered throughout Cowper's
    Task, and numberless other works. Besides all this there are
    the countless shorter poems, each conveying an impression of
    some particular scene or aspect of nature; the poet of the
    open air, like the landscape painter, is ever on the look out
    for picturesque "bits" and atmospheric effects as a subject.
    In Bloomfield we get something altogether different--a simple,
    consistent, and fairly complete account of the country
    people's toilsome life in a remote agricultural district in
    England--a small rustic village set amid green and arable
    fields, woods and common lands. We have it from the inside by
    one who had part in it, born and bred to the humble life he
    described; and, finally, it is not given as a full day-to-day
    record--photographed as we may say--with all the minute
    unessential details and repetitions, but as it appeared when
    looked back upon from a distance, reliving it in memory, the
    sights and sounds and events which had impressed the boy's
    mind standing vividly out. Of this lowly poem it may be truly
    said that it is "emotion recollected in tranquillity," to use
    the phrase invented by Wordsworth when he attempted a
    definition of poetry generally and signally failed, as
    Coleridge demonstrated.

    It will be said that the facts of Bloomfield's life--that he
    was a farmer's boy whose daily tasks were to scare the crows,
    feed the pigs, and forty things besides, and that later, when
    learning the shoemaker's trade in a London garret, he put
    these memories together and made them into a poem--are wholly
    beside the question when we come to judge the work as
    literature. A peasant poet may win a great reputation in his
    own day on account of the circumstances of the case, but in
    the end his work must be tried by the same standards applied
    in other and in all cases.

    There is no getting away from this, and all that remains is to
    endeavour to show that the poem, although poor as a whole, is
    not altogether bad, but contains many lines that glow with
    beautiful poetic feeling, and many descriptive passages which
    are admirable. Furthermore, I will venture to say that
    despite the feebleness of a large part of the work (as poetry)
    it is yet worth preserving in its entirety on account of its
    unique character. It may be that I am the only person in
    England able to appreciate it so fully owing to the way in
    which it first came to my notice, and the critical reader can,
    if he thinks proper, discount what I am now saying as mere
    personal feeling. But the case is this: when, in a distant
    region of the world, I sought for and eagerly read anything I
    could find relating to country scenes and life in England
    --the land of my desire--I was never able to get an extended
    and congruous view of it, with a sense of the continuity in
    human and animal life in its relation to nature. It was all
    broken up into pieces or "bits"; it was in detached scenes,
    vividly reproduced to the inner eye in many cases, but
    unrelated and unharmonized, like framed pictures of rural
    subjects hanging on the walls of a room. Even the Seasons
    failed to supply this want, since Thomson in his great work is
    of no place and abides nowhere, but ranges on eagle's wings
    over the entire land, and, for the matter of that, over the
    whole globe. But I did get it in the Farmer's Boy. I
    visualized the whole scene, the entire harmonious life; I was
    with him from morn till eve always in that same green country
    with the same sky, cloudy or serene, above me; in the rustic
    village, at the small church with a thatched roof where the
    daws nested in the belfry, and the children played and shouted
    among the gravestones in the churchyard; in woods and green
    and ploughed fields and the deep lanes--with him and his
    fellow-toilers, and the animals, domestic and wild, regarding
    their life and actions from day to day through all the
    vicissitudes of the year.

    The poem, then, appears to fill a place in our poetic
    literature, or to fill a gap; at all events from the point of
    view of those who, born and living in distant parts of the
    earth, still dream of the Old Home. This perhaps accounts for
    the fact, which I heard at Honington, that most of the
    pilgrims to Bloomfield's birthplace are Americans.

    Bloomfield followed his great example in dividing his poem
    into the four seasons, and he begins, Thomson-like, with an
    invitation to the Muse:--

    O come, blest spirit, whatsoe'er thou art,
    Thou kindling warmth that hov'rest round my heart.

    But happily he does not attempt to imitate the lofty diction
    of the Seasons or Windsor Forest, the noble poem from which, I
    imagine, Thomson derived his sonorous style. He had a humble
    mind and knew his limitations, and though he adopted the
    artificial form of verse which prevailed down to his time he
    was still able to be simple and natural.

    "Spring" does not contain much of the best of his work, but
    the opening is graceful and is not without a touch of pathos
    in his apologetic description of himself, as Giles, the
    farmer's boy.

    Nature's sublimer scenes ne'er charmed my eyes
    Nor Science led me . . .
    From meaner objects far my raptures flow . . .
    Quick-springing sorrows, transient as the dew,
    Delight from trifles, trifles ever new.
    'Twas thus with Giles; meek, fatherless, and poor,
    Labour his portion . . .
    His life was cheerful, constant servitude . . .
    Strange to the world, he wore a bashful look,
    The fields his study, Nature was his book.

    The farm is described, the farmer, his kind, hospitable
    master; the animals, the sturdy team, the cows and the small
    flock of fore-score ewes. Ploughing, sowing, and harrowing are
    described, and the result left to the powers above:

    Yet oft with anxious heart he looks around,
    And marks the first green blade that breaks the ground;
    In fancy sees his trembling oats uprun,
    His tufted barley yellow with the sun.

    While his master dreams of what will be, Giles has enough to
    do protecting the buried grain from thieving rooks and crows;
    one of the multifarious tasks being to collect the birds that
    have been shot, for although--

    Their danger well the wary plunderers know
    And place a watch on some conspicuous bough,
    Yet oft the skulking gunner by surprise
    Will scatter death among them as they rise.

    'Tis useless, he tells us, to hang these slain robbers about
    the fields, since in a little while they are no more regarded
    than the men of rags and straw with sham rifles in their
    hands. It was for him to shift the dead from place to place,
    to arrange them in dying attitudes with outstretched wings.
    Finally, there was the fox, the stealer of dead crows, to be
    guarded against; and again at eventide Giles must trudge round
    to gather up his dead and suspend them from twigs out of reach
    of hungry night-prowlers. Called up at daybreak each morning,
    he would take his way through deep lanes overarched with oaks
    to "fields remote from home" to redistribute his dead birds,
    then to fetch the cows, and here we have an example of his
    close naturalist-like observation in his account of the
    leading cow, the one who coming and going on all occasions is
    allowed precedence, who maintains her station, "won by many a
    broil," with just pride. A picture of the cool dairy and its
    work succeeds, and a lament on the effect of the greed and
    luxury of the over-populous capital which drains the whole
    country-side of all produce, which makes the Suffolk
    dairy-wives run mad for cream, leaving nothing but the
    "three-times skimmed sky-blue" to make cheese for local
    consumption. What a cheese it is, that has the virtue of a
    post, which turns the stoutest blade, and is at last flung in
    despair into the hog-trough, where

    It rests in perfect spite,
    Too big to swallow and too hard to bite!

    We then come to the sheep, "for Giles was shepherd too," and
    here there is more evidence of his observant eye when he
    describes the character of the animals, also in what follows
    about the young lambs, which forms the best passage in this
    part. I remember that, when first reading it, being then
    little past boyhood myself, how much I was struck by the vivid
    beautiful description of a crowd of young lambs challenging
    each other to a game, especially at a spot where they have a
    mound or hillock for a playground which takes them with a sort
    of goatlike joyous madness. For how often in those days I
    used to ride out to where the flock of one to two thousand
    sheep were scattered on the plain, to sit on my pony and watch
    the glad romps of the little lambs with keenest delight! I
    cannot but think that Bloomfield's fidelity to nature in such
    pictures as these does or should count for something in
    considering his work. He concludes:-

    Adown the slope, then up the hillock climb,
    Where every mole-hill is a bed of thyme,
    Then panting stop; yet scarcely can refrain;
    A bird, a leaf, will set them off again;
    Or if a gale with strength unusual blow,
    Scattering the wild-briar roses into snow,
    Their little limbs increasing efforts try,
    Like a torn rose the fair assemblage fly.

    This image of the wind-scattered petals of the wild rose reminds
    him bitterly of the destined end of these joyous young lives--his
    white-fleeced little fellow-mortals. He sees the murdering
    butcher coming in his cart to demand the firstlings of the flock;
    he cannot suppress a cry of grief and indignation--he can only
    strive to shut out the shocking image from his soul!

    "Summer" opens with some reflections on the farmer's life in a
    prosy Crabbe-like manner; and here it may be noted that as a
    rule Bloomfield no sooner attempts to rise to a general view
    than he grows flat; and in like manner he usually fails when
    he attempts wide prospects and large effects. He is at his
    best only when describing scenes and incidents at the farm in
    which he himself is a chief actor, as in this part when, after
    the sowing of the turnip seed, he is sent out to keep the
    small birds from the ripening corn:

    There thousands in a flock, for ever gay,
    Loud chirping sparrows welcome on the day,
    And from the mazes of the leafy thorn
    Drop one by one upon the bending corn.

    Giles trudging along the borders of the field scares them with
    his brushing-pole, until, overcome by fatigue and heat, he
    takes a rest by the brakes and lying, half in sun and half in
    shade, his attention is attracted to the minute insect life
    that swarms about him:

    The small dust-coloured beetle climbs with pain
    O'er the smooth plantain leaf, a spacious plain!
    Then higher still by countless steps conveyed,
    He gains the summit of a shivering blade,
    And flirts his filmy wings and looks around,
    Exulting in his distance from the ground.

    It is one of his little exquisite pictures. Presently his
    vision is called to the springing lark:

    Just starting from the corn, he cheerly sings,
    And trusts with conscious pride his downy wings;
    Still louder breathes, and in the face of day
    Mounts up and calls on Giles to mark his way.
    Close to his eye his hat he instant bends
    And forms a friendly telescope that lends
    Just aid enough to dull the glaring light
    And place the wandering bird before his sight,
    That oft beneath a light cloud sweeps along;
    Lost for a while yet pours a varied song;
    The eye still follows and the cloud moves by,
    Again he stretches up the clear blue sky,
    His form, his motions, undistinguished quite,
    Save when he wheels direct from shade to light.

    In the end he falls asleep, and waking refreshed picks up his
    poles and starts again brushing round.

    Harvesting scenes succeed, with a picture of Mary, the village
    beauty, taking her share in the work, and how the labourers in
    their unwonted liveliness and new-found wit

    Confess the presence of a pretty face.

    She is very rustic herself in her appearance:--

    Her hat awry, divested of her gown,
    Her creaking stays of leather, stout and brown:
    Invidious barrier! why art thou so high,
    When the slight covering of her neck slips by,
    Then half revealing to the eager sight
    Her full, ripe bosom, exquisitely white?

    The leather stays have no doubt gone the way of many other
    dreadful things, even in the most rustic villages in the land;
    not so the barbarous practice of docking horses' tails,
    against which he protests in this place when describing the
    summer plague of flies and the excessive sufferings of the
    domestic animals, especially of the poor horses deprived of
    their only defence against such an enemy. At his own little
    farm there was yet another plague in the form of an old
    broken-winged gander, "the pest and tryant of the yard," whose
    unpleasant habit it was to go for the beasts and seize them by
    the fetlocks. The swine alone did not resent the attacks but
    welcomed them, receiving the assaults as caresses, and
    stretching themselves out and lying down and closing their
    pigs' eyes, they would emit grunts of satisfaction, while the
    triumphant bird, followed by the whole gabbling flock, would
    trample on the heads of their prostrate foes.

    "Autumn" opens bravely:

    Again the year's decline, 'midst storms and floods,
    The thund'ring chase, the yellow fading woods
    Invite my song.

    It contains two of the best things in the poem, the first in
    the opening part, describing the swine in the acorn season, a
    delightful picture which must be given in full:--

    No more the fields with scattered grain supply
    The restless tenants of the sty;
    From oak to oak they run with eager haste,
    And wrangling share the first delicious taste
    Of fallen acorns; yet but thinly found
    Till a strong gale has shook them to the ground.
    It comes; and roaring woods obedient wave:
    Their home well pleased the joint adventurers leave;
    The trudging sow leads forth her numerous young,
    Playful, and white, and clean, the briars among,
    Till briars and thorns increasing fence them round,
    Where last year's mould'ring leaves bestrew the ground,
    And o'er their heads, loud lashed by furious squalls,
    Bright from their cups the rattling treasure falls;
    Hot thirsty food; whence doubly sweet and cool
    The welcome margin of some rush-grown pool,
    The wild duck's lonely haunt, whose jealous eye
    Guards every point; who sits prepared to fly,
    On the calm bosom of her little lake,
    Too closely screened for ruffian winds to shake;
    And as the bold intruders press around,
    At once she starts and rises with a bound;
    With bristles raised the sudden noise they hear,
    And ludicrously wild and winged with fear,
    The herd decamp with more than swinish speed,
    And snorting dash through sedge and rush and reed;
    Through tangled thickets headlong on they go,
    Then stop and listen for their fancied foe;
    The hindmost still the growing panic spreads,
    Repeated fright the first alarm succeeds,
    Till Folly's wages, wounds and thorns, they reap;
    Yet glorying in their fortunate escape,
    Their groundless terrors by degrees soon cease,
    And Night's dark reign restores their peace.
    For now the gale subsides, and from each bough
    The roosting pheasant's short but frequent crow
    Invites to rest, and huddling side by side
    The herd in closest ambush seek to hide;
    Seek some warm slope with shagged moss o'erspread,
    Dried leaves their copious covering and their bed.
    In vain may Giles, through gathering glooms that fall,
    And solemn silence, urge his piercing call;
    Whole days and nights they tarry 'midst their store,
    Nor quit the woods till oaks can yield no more.

    It is a delightful passage to one that knows a pig--the animal
    we respect for its intelligence, holding it in this respect
    higher, more human, than the horse, and at the same time laugh
    at on account of certain ludicrous points about it, as for
    example its liability to lose its head. Thousands of years of
    comfortable domestic life have failed to rid it of this
    inconvenient heritage from the time when wild in woods it ran.
    Yet in this particular instance the terror of the swine does
    not seem wholly inexcusable, if we know a wild duck as well as
    a pig, especially the duck that takes to haunting a solitary
    woodland pool, who, when intruded on, springs up with such a
    sudden tremendous splash and flutter of wings and outrageous
    screams, that man himself, if not prepared for it, may be
    thrown off his balance.

    Passing over other scenes, about one hundred and fifty lines,
    we come to the second notable passage, when after the sowing
    of the winter wheat, poor Giles once more takes up his old
    occupation of rook-scaring. It is now as in spring and
    summer--

    Keen blows the blast and ceaseless rain descends;
    The half-stripped hedge a sorry shelter lends,

    and he thinks it would be nice to have a hovel, no matter how
    small, to take refuge in, and at once sets about its
    construction.

    In some sequestered nook, embanked around,
    Sods for its walls and straw in burdens bound;
    Dried fuel hoarded is his richest store,
    And circling smoke obscures his little door;
    Whence creeping forth to duty's call he yields,
    And strolls the Crusoe of the lonely fields.
    On whitehorn tow'ring, and the leafless rose,
    A frost-nipped feast in bright vermilion glows;
    Where clust'ring sloes in glossy order rise,
    He crops the loaded branch, a cumbrous prize;
    And on the flame the splutt'ring fruit he rests,
    Placing green sods to seat the coming guests;
    His guests by promise; playmates young and gay;
    But ah! fresh pastures lure their steps away!
    He sweeps his hearth, and homeward looks in vain,
    Till feeling Disappointment's cruel pain
    His fairy revels are exchanged for rage,
    His banquet marred, grown dull his hermitage,
    The field becomes his prison, till on high
    Benighted birds to shades and coverts fly.

    "The field becomes his prison," and the thought of this trival
    restraint, which is yet felt so poignantly, brings to mind an
    infinitely greater one. Look, he says--

    From the poor bird-boy with his roasted sloes

    to the miserable state of those who are confined in dungeons,
    deprived of daylight and the sight of the green earth, whose
    minds perpetually travel back to happy scenes,

    Trace and retrace the beaten worn-out way,

    whose chief bitterness it is to be forgotten and see no
    familiar friendly face.

    "Winter" is, I think, the best of the four parts it gives the
    idea that the poem was written as it stands, from "Spring"
    onwards, that by the time he got to the last part the writer
    had acquired a greater ease and assurance. At all events it
    is less patchy and more equal. It is also more sober in tone,
    as befits the subject, and opens with an account of the
    domestic animals on the farm, their increased dependence on
    man and the compassionate feelings they evoke in us. He is,
    we feel, dealing with realities, always from the point of view
    of a boy of sensitive mina and tender heart--one taken in
    boyhood from this life before it had wrought any change in
    him. For in due time the farm boy, however fine his spirit
    may be, must harden and grow patient and stolid in heat and
    cold and wet, like the horse that draws the plough or cart;
    and as he hardens he grows callous. In his wretched London
    garret if any change came to him it was only to an increased
    love and pity for the beasts he had lived among, who looked
    and cried to him to be fed. He describes it well, the frost
    and bitter cold, the hungry cattle following the cart to the
    fields, the load of turnips thrown out on the hard frozen
    ground; but the turnips too are frozen hard and they cannot
    eat them until Giles, following with his beetle, splits them
    up with vigorous blows, and the cows gather close round him,
    sending out a cloud of steam from their nostrils.

    The dim short winter day soon ends, but the sound of the
    flails continues in the barns till long after dark before the
    weary labourers end their task and trudge home. Giles, too,
    is busy at this time taking hay to the housed cattle, many a
    sweet mouthful being snatched from the load as he staggers
    beneath it on his way to the racks. Then follow the
    well-earned hours of "warmth and rest" by the fire in the big
    old kitchen which he describes:--

    For the rude architect, unknown to fame,
    (Nor symmetry nor elegance his aim),
    Who spread his floors of solid oak on high,
    On beams rough-hewn from age to age that lie,
    Bade his wide fabric unimpaired sustain
    The orchard's store, and cheese, and golden grain;
    Bade from its central base, capacious laid,
    The well-wrought chimney rear its lofty head
    Where since hath many a savoury ham been stored,
    And tempests howled and Christmas gambols roared.

    The tired ploughman, steeped in luxurious heat, by and by
    falls asleep and dreams sweetly until his chilblains or the
    snapping fire awakes him, and he pulls himself up and goes
    forth yawning to give his team their last feed, his lantern
    throwing a feeble gleam on the snow as he makes his way to the
    stable. Having completed his task, he pats the sides of those
    he loves best by way of good-night, and leaves them to their
    fragrant meal. And this kindly action on his part suggests
    one of the best passages of the poem. Even old well-fed
    Dobbin occasionally rebels against his slavery, and released
    from his chains will lift his clumsy hoofs and kick,
    "disdainful of the dirty wheel." Short-sighted Dobbin!

    Thy chains were freedom, and thy toils repose,
    Could the poor post-horse tell thee all his woes;
    Show thee his bleeding shoulders, and unfold
    The dreadful anguish he endures for gold;
    Hired at each call of business, lust, or rage,
    That prompts the traveller on from stage to stage.
    Still on his strength depends their boasted speed;
    For them his limbs grow weak, his bare ribs bleed;
    And though he groaning quickens at command,
    Their extra shilling in the rider's hand
    Becomes his bitter scourge . . . .

    The description, too long to quote, which follows of the
    tortures inflicted on the post-horse a century ago, is almost
    incredible to us, and we flatter ourselves that such things
    would not be tolerated now. But we must get over the ground
    somehow, and I take it that but for the invention of other
    more rapid means of transit the present generation would be as
    little concerned at the pains of the post-horse as they are at
    the horrors enacted behind the closed doors of the
    physiological laboratories, the atrocity of the steel trap,
    the continual murdering by our big game hunters of all the
    noblest animals left on the globe, and finally the annual
    massacre of millions of beautiful birds in their breeding time
    to provide ornaments for the hats of our women.

    "Come forth he must," says Bloomfield, when he describes how
    the flogged horse at length gains the end of the stage and,
    "trembling under complicated pains," when "every nerve a
    separate anguish knows," he is finally unharnessed and led to
    the stable door, but has scarcely tasted food and rest before
    he is called for again.

    Though limping, maimed and sore;
    He hears the whip; the chaise is at the door . . .
    The collar tightens and again he feels
    His half-healed wounds inflamed; again the wheels
    With tiresome sameness in his ears resound
    O'er blinding dust or miles of flinty ground.

    This is over and done with simply because the post-horse is no
    longer wanted, and we have to remember that no form of cruelty
    inflicted, whether for sport or profit or from some other
    motive, on the lower animals has ever died out of itself in
    the land. Its end has invariably been brought about by
    legislation through the devotion of men who were the "cranks,"
    the "faddists," the "sentimentalists," of their day, who were
    jeered and laughed at by their fellows, and who only succeeded
    by sheer tenacity and force of character after long fighting
    against public opinion and a reluctant Parliament, in finally
    getting their law.

    Bloomfield's was but a small voice crying in the wilderness,
    and he was indeed a small singer in the day of our greatest
    singers. As a poet he was not worthy to unloose the buckles
    of their shoes; but he had one thing in common with the best
    and greatest, the feeling of tender love and compassion for
    the lower animals which was in Thomson and Cowper, but found
    its highest expression in his own great contemporaries,
    Coleridge, Shelley, and Wordsworth. In virtue of this feeling
    he was of their illustrious brotherhood.

    In conclusion, I will quote one more passage. From the
    subject of horses he passes to that of dogs and their
    occasional reversion to wildness, when the mastiff or cur, the
    "faithful" house-dog by day, takes to sheep-killing by night.
    As a rule he is exceedingly cunning, committing his
    depredations at a distance frown home, and after getting his
    fill of slaughter he sneaks home in the early hours to spend
    the day in his kennel "licking his guilty paws." This is an
    anxious time for shepherds and farmers, and poor Giles is
    compelled to pay late evening visits to his small flock of
    heavy-sided ewes penned in their distant fold. It is a
    comfort to him to have a full moon on these lonely
    expeditions, and despite his tremors he is able to appreciate
    the beauty of the scene.

    With saunt'ring steps he climbs the distant stile,
    Whilst all around him wears a placid smile;
    There views the white-robed clouds in clusters driven
    And all the glorious pageantry of heaven.
    Low on the utmost bound'ry of the sight
    The rising vapours catch the silver light;
    Thence fancy measures as they parting fly
    Which first will throw its shadow on the eye,
    Passing the source of light; and thence away
    Succeeded quick by brighter still than they.
    For yet above the wafted clouds are seen
    (In a remoter sky still more serene)
    Others detached in ranges through the air,
    Spotless as snow and countless as they're fair;
    Scattered immensely wide from east to west
    The beauteous semblance of a flock at rest.

    This is almost the only passage in the poem in which something
    of the vastness of visible nature is conveyed. He saw the
    vastness only in the sky on nights with a full moon or when he
    made a telescope of his hat to watch the flight of the lark.
    It was not a hilly country about his native place, and his
    horizon was a very limited one, usually bounded by the
    hedgerow timber at the end of the level field. The things he
    depicts were seen at short range, and the poetry, we see, was
    of a very modest kind. It was a "humble note" which pleased
    me in the days of long ago when I was young and very ignorant,
    and as it pleases me still it may be supposed that mentally I
    have not progressed with the years. Nevertheless, I am not
    incapable of appreciating the greater music; all that is said
    in its praise, even to the extremest expressions of admiration
    of those who are moved to a sense of wonder by it, find an
    echo in me. But it is not only a delight to me to listen to
    the lark singing at heaven's gate and to the vesper
    nightingale in the oak copse--the singer of a golden throat
    and wondrous artistry; I also love the smaller vocalists--the
    modest shufewing and the lesser whitethroat and the
    yellowhammer with his simple chant. These are very dear to
    me: their strains do not strike me as trivial; they have a
    lesser distinction of their own and I would not miss them from
    the choir. The literary man will smile at this and say that
    my paper is naught but an idle exercise, but I fancy I shall
    sleep the better tonight for having discharged this ancient
    debt which has been long on my conscience.
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    Chapter 24
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