It had been the intention of Mr. Willett to go with us to visit Mr. Ruskin, with whom he is in the most friendly relations. But a letter from Mr. Ruskin's sister spoke of his illness as being too serious for him to see company, and we reluctantly gave up this part of our plan.
"A pard-like spirit, beautiful and swift;"
I looked forward to seeing Bath with a curious kind of interest. I once knew one of those dear old English ladies whom one finds all the world over, with their prim little ways, and their gilt prayer-books, and lavender-scented handkerchiefs, and family recollections. She gave me the idea that Bath, a city where the great people often congregate, was more especially the paradise of decayed gentlewomen. There, she told me, persons with very narrow incomes--not demi-fortunes, but demi-quart-de-fortunes--could find everything arranged to accommodate their modest incomes. I saw the evidence of this everywhere. So great was the delight I had in looking in at the shop-windows of the long street which seemed to be one of the chief thoroughfares that, after exploring it in its full extent by myself, I went for A----, and led her down one side its whole length and up the other. In these shops the precious old dears could buy everything they wanted in the most minute quantities. Such tempting heaps of lumps of white sugar, only twopence! Such delectable cakes, two for a penny! Such seductive scraps of meat, which would make a breakfast nourishing as well as relishing, possibly even what called itself a dinner, blushing to see themselves labelled threepence or fourpence! We did not know whether to smile or to drop a tear, as we contemplated these baits hung out to tempt the coins from the exiguous purses of ancient maidens, forlorn widows, withered annuitants, stranded humanity in every stage of shipwrecked penury. I am reminded of Thackeray's "Jack Spiggot." "And what are your pursuits, Jack? says I. 'Sold out when the governor died. Mother lives at Bath. Go down there once a year for a week. Dreadful slow. Shilling whist.'" Mrs. Gaskell's picture of "Cranford" is said to have been drawn from a village in Cheshire, but Bath must have a great deal in common with its "elegant economies." Do not make the mistake, however, of supposing that this splendid watering-place, sometimes spoken of as "the handsomest city in Britain," is only a city of refuge for people that have seen better days. Lord Macaulay speaks of it as "that beautiful city which charms even eyes familiar with the masterpieces of Bramante and Palladio." If it is not quite so conspicuous as a fashionable resort as it was in the days of Beau Nash or of Christopher Anstey, it has never lost its popularity. Chesterfield writes in 1764, "The number of people in this place is infinite," and at the present time the annual influx of visitors is said to vary from ten to fourteen thousand. Many of its public buildings are fine, and the abbey church, dating from 1499, is an object of much curiosity, especially on account of the sculptures on its western fa?ade. These represent two ladders, with angels going up and down upon them,--suggested by a dream of the founder of the church, repeating that of Jacob.
While at Salisbury we made several excursions: to Old Sarum; to Bemerton, where we saw the residence of holy George Herbert, and visited the little atom of a church in which he ministered; to Clarendon Park; to Wilton, the seat of the Earl of Pembroke, a most interesting place for itself and its recollections; and lastly to Stonehenge. My second visit to the great stones after so long an interval was a strange experience. But what is half a century to a place like Stonehenge? Nothing dwarfs an individual life like one of these massive, almost unchanging monuments of an antiquity which refuses to be measured. The "Shepherd of Salisbury Plain" was represented by an old man, who told all he knew and a good deal more about the great stones, and sheared a living, not from sheep, but from visitors, in the shape of shillings and sixpences. I saw nothing that wore unwoven wool on its back in the neighborhood of the monuments, but sheep are shown straggling among them in the photographs.
The university town left a very deep impression upon my mind, in which a few grand objects predominate over the rest, all being of a delightful character. I was fortunate enough to see the gathering of the boats, which was the last scene in their annual procession. The show was altogether lovely. The pretty river, about as wide as the Housatonic, I should judge, as that slender stream winds through "Canoe Meadow," my old Pittsfield residence, the gaily dressed people who crowded the banks, the flower-crowned boats, with the gallant young oarsmen who handled them so skilfully, made a picture not often equalled. The walks, the bridges, the quadrangles, the historic college buildings, all conspired to make the place a delight and a fascination. The library of Trinity College, with its rows of busts by Roubiliac and Woolner, is a truly noble hall. But beyond, above all the rest, the remembrance of King's College Chapel, with its audacious and richly wrought roof and its wide and lofty windows, glowing with old devices in colors which are ever fresh, as if just from the furnace, holds the first place in my gallery of Cambridge recollections.
but in spite of it I believe in the English hat as the best thing of its ugly kind. As for the Englishman's feeling with reference to it, a foreigner might be pardoned for thinking it was his fetich, a North American Indian for looking at it as taking the place of his own medicine-bag. It is a common thing for the Englishman to say his prayers into it, as he sits down in his pew. Can it be that this imparts a religious character to the article? However this may be, the true Londoner's hat is cared for as reverentially as a High-Church altar. Far off its coming shines. I was always impressed by the fact that even with us a well-bred gentleman in reduced circumstances never forgets to keep his beaver well brushed, and I remember that long ago I spoke of the hat as the ultimum moriens of what we used to call gentility,--the last thing to perish in the decay of a gentleman's outfit. His hat is as sacred to an Englishman as his beard to a Mussulman.
We were but partially recovered from the fatigues and trials of the voyage when our arrival pulled the string of the social shower-bath, and the invitations began pouring down upon us so fast that we caught our breath, and felt as if we should be smothered. The first evening saw us at a great dinner-party at our well-remembered friend Lady Harcourt's. Twenty guests, celebrities and agreeable persons, with or without titles. The tables were radiant with silver, glistening with choice porcelain, blazing with a grand show of tulips. This was our "baptism of fire" in that long conflict which lasts through the London season. After dinner came a grand reception, most interesting, but fatiguing to persons hardly as yet in good condition for social service. We lived through it, however, and enjoyed meeting so many friends, known and unknown, who were very cordial and pleasant in their way of receiving us.
If one wishes to know the magic of names, let him visit the places made memorable by the lives of the illustrious men of the past in the Old World. As a boy I used to read the poetry of Pope, of Goldsmith, and of Johnson. How could I look at the Bodleian Library, or wander beneath its roof, without recalling the lines from "The Vanity of Human Wishes"?