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- Afoot in England - 1/43 -




I. Guide Books: An Introduction, II. On Going Back, III. Walking and Cycling, IV. Seeking a Shelter, V. Wind, Wave, and Spirit, VI. By Swallowfield, VII. Roman Calleva, VIII. A Cold Day at Silchester, IX. Rural Rides, X. The Last of his Name, XI. Salisbury and its Doves, XII. Whitesheet Hill, XIII. Bath and Wells Revisited, XIV. The Return of the Native, XV. Summer Days on the Otter, XVI. In Praise of the Cow, XVII. An Old Road Leading Nowhere, XVIII. Branscombe, XIX. A Abbotsbury, XX. Salisbury Revisited, XXI. Stonehenge, XXII. The Tillage and "The Stones," XXIII. Following a River, XXIV. Troston, XXV. My Friend Jack,

Chapter One: 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in when we find that these books, however old and comparatively worthless they may be, are practically never wholly out of date.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

Afoot in England - 1/43

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